Why Are You Afraid? June 22.2012

Mark 4:40-41 
Jesus said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
And the disciples were filled with great awe and said to one another,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
“Why are you afraid?” It’s such a raw question isn’t it? What drives our fears? Our deepest fears are often grounded in what we feel we might lose. That could be our independence, respect, loved ones or even our own lives.If we don’t do things well or right, will we be abandoned? Will we be left alone? Will we lose a love one, a child, parent, a partner? Will we have enough resources to survive? Can we support ourselves and families? Where will we turn if things collapse? What will become of us if we fail?Jesus answers his first question with another question, “Have you still no faith?” If we read the word faith here as believing then we can add it to the list of things we can and will at times fail at. Belief as in mind-over-matter is theoretical and intellectual. It’s something we talk about and work to describe, it’s the words and ideas we have about who God is and how we relate to God. This is important and life-giving work but not what, I think, Jesus is talking about in this passage. Jesus is not asking about faith as in belief he’s asking about faith as in trust. “Have you still no trust?” asks Jesus.

Jesus invites the disciples to understand that in the midst of the worst possible moments forgetting to trust that God is with them will surely help their fears eat them alive. Think of a time you have experienced a bad storm. Did you let your feelings of isolation and shame multiply the winds and increase the size of the waves that threatened to tip your boat or did you reach out to trusted friends, to loving family to compassionate strangers and let them in on your pain and fear?

Jesus invites us, remember to trust in God. God who joins us in the boat, who stirs the heart of all creation, who did not abandon the disciples or Christ at the cross and will not abandon us in the worst of times or the most joyful of moments.

Instead of a prayer I offer you these blessing words by Marianne Williamson today. May it be so.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”



Musical Meditation
Indigo Girls, Jewel & Sarah McLachlan
(I know what you’re thinking… what a combo!)
The Water’s Wide


Agents of Peace, June 21.2012

Mark 4:37-39 
(A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.)
But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a boat in the midst of a storm but it’s horrible. I once took the boat that goes back and forth across Lake Michigan between Michigan and Wisconsin. It’s not far, and shouldn’t take long to cross. But a storm hit the lake as we got to the middle and it was if we were powerless in the face of the mighty winds slamming into the boat from every direction. As we bobbed around like a cork the all attendants could do was tell folks to buckle up, pass out puke bags and sit down and hang on themselves. Let me tell you, it was the worst three hours I’ve ever spent in a confined space. After we docked on the other side I remember finding a bench just outside the ‘station’ and laying down in order to get my bearings. I laid there for what seemed like hours before the world stopped spinning around me.

So when I imagine an epic storm on the lake like Mark describes I think to myself, those disciples must have been desperate. Here we have some expert fisherman who know their way around a lake and a boat and they’re being tossed around and are filling up with water. When they call out to Jesus I imagine a bit of accusatory tone, “Don’t you care?! We’re going to die in this storm!” And then Jesus wakes, and looks around and speaks, not to the disciples but to the wind and to the sea. He turns to the source of the chaos and rebukes it. ‘Be at Peace’, says Jesus.

The words he uses, Peace and Be Still to bring a dead and sudden calm to the chaotic sea are the same words he uses to rebuke demons. These are the same words Jesus uses to quiet the chaos that rages in those who come seeking healing, seeking calm, seeking wholeness. Jesus stands in the boat amidst the chaos and responds with a non-anxious and commanding presence that is both frightening and inspiring.

In calming the storm Jesus claims the power of our Creator God that has worked to bring life and order to chaos since the beginning of time. God does care that we are perishing, God cares very much. God will stand in the boat with us and speak directly to the storm. Ordering it to be still, to be at peace. Sometimes we are like the disciples and we lose our nerve, we are frightened and fearful, and rightly so. There are some crazy storms out there. Other times we are called to be agents of peace, to speak with God, to stand with Christ, to model our own non-anxious presence on the saints that have gone before us. To join our voices with others who rebuke the storms, the raging and chaos, who rebuke what is evil and frightening and wrestling for power.

Can you think of the people in your life that stand up against the storms of injustice, of unfairness or illness. Who speak words of peace, sometimes gently and sometimes with passionately but always with the knowledge that God is with us?

May you be an agent of peace,
May you move forward in the storms with courage,
Knowing that Christ is with you,
That God will not allow chaos to overtake the world,
May your own voice be made stronger joined with the voice of Christ,
Claiming the power to say, Be StillBe at PeaceLove one Another.



Musical Meditation
Sarah McLachlan


Surprising Storms, June 20.2012

Mark 4:35-41 
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”
And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.
Mark’s Gospel clips along at such a fast pace Jesus and the disciples retreat to the lakeside for a moments peace. I imagine them heading out with the hopes of a few quiet hours before they are met by the crowds again on the other side. Instead of a quiet night on the lake they were greeted by a great windstorm.

Storms come up in our lives at inopportune and and unexpected times. Often times it seems as if they strike when we’re already burnt out or exhausted. Do you ever feel as if water is coming in faster than you can bale it out?

Once when working with a group of people who are living with young onset Alzheimer’s one of them talked about how difficult it was to deal with every day life, often feeling out to sea as conversations and information raged like storms around them. He talked about how when he came together as a group he remembered that he wasn’t alone. That they were all in the boat together. The difficulty of dealing with memory loss and their shifting identities and family responsibilities were not erased but being  reminded that they weren’t alone in the experience and that others truly knew their pain gave them a sense of peace even amidst the storm.

In the midst of the storms in our own lives we often forget that we don’t face them alone. The disciples aren’t alone in the boat, in the midst of the storm and neither are we.

May you remember that Christ is with you,
even in the midst of the storms that blow up out of nowhere,
May you also be with one another in the midst of life’s difficult storms,
and when the sun breaks through the clouds.





Pushing Limits, June 18.2012

Job 38:4-11 
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me if you know.
Who set its measurements? Surely you know.
Who stretched a measuring tape on it?
On what were its footings sunk; who laid its cornerstone,
while the morning stars sang in unison
and all the divine beings shouted?
Who enclosed the Sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment,
the dense clouds its wrap,
when I imposed my limit for it,
put on a bar and doors
and said, “You may come this far, no farther;
here your proud waves stop”?
In the epic tale of God’s conversation with Job these words come to Job out of a whirlwind. It’s almost as if God is saying, “Listen up Job, let’s review a few things here…”I must admit the first image that comes to mind when I read these verses is of a mother saying to their child, “I carried you in my womb for nine months, I struggled and worked through hours of labor… I could of died! Then I fed you and clothed you and loved you, I sent you to school, I listen when you talk and hold and hug and love on you when you cry… and you dare question my motives? You dare question my decisions?”

Have you heard a lecture like that one? The “After all I’ve done for you” lecture? Maybe you’ve heard it or maybe you’ve given it yourself. Most of us know what it means to give of ourselves, our time, our passion, our lives and most of us have also had someone push on our boundaries or question our significance. It seems as if it’s human nature to test boundaries.

I remember when my boys were little and I read somewhere (probably in a fit of desperation) not to worry that my child behaved all day at school and then came home and unleashed his crabby, bossy and mischievous self. The ‘expert’ assured me that my child was pushing boundaries where he felt the most comfortable, where he knew he would be loved no matter what. As I washed chalk off the wall for the hundredth time I remember thinking, “well maybe he’s a bit too comfortable.”

But maybe Job is comfortable enough with God to push God’s buttons. To shake his fist at the heavens and say, “Hey you, aren’t you going to fix this? Can’t you do better than this? I’m miserable here!” And it seems Job’s God is comfortable enough to dish it right back. “Were you there at the beginning of the world?” God asks Job. “Do you have any idea the power I have? Look around, you’ve seen my work!” It’s almost as if God is saying, “Don’t you even know me? Come on Job, I’ve got this.”

I like this conversational and sassy image of God. This God as a mother that’s just not going to put up with any nonsense. Not because God’s love isn’t big enough or strong enough to handle the pressure. Not because God hates questions. But because God insists that we recognize the depth and breadth of God’s work in us and in all of creation. Because God insists that we recognize and remember that we are not alone in this. Even in the midst of anger, despair and chaos God is with us. God has been with us from the very beginning — since the first song was sung by the first morning star; since the first giant wave rolled across the ocean and God’s not going anywhere. God’s got this.

May you live into the knowledge that God won’t leave you,
even if you have doubts or push on the boundaries of God,
even if you ask God questions or shake your fist in anger or despair.
May God’s love surround you,
May you see it in the beauty and power of God’s creation,
and in the eyes and loving touch of one another.



Musical Meditation


Where is God’s house? June 15.2012

Psalm 92:12-15 
The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the LORD is upright;
God is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Where is God’s House? How do we know where to find God? Where to be planted?

I’m rereading a favorite book with a colleague called, An Altar in the World. It’s a book about practice; about practicing at noticing God in the world. We’re reading it and then practicing noticing God together. The author, Barbara Brown Taylor tells us that when looking for God’s house we don’t have to choose between church buildings and the secular world. We don’t have to choose between beautiful sanctuaries and green ball fields, between tall cathedrals and long swimming pools, or between Sunday mornings and Friday evenings. Instead she invites us to remember that it’s all holy ground.

This Psalm reminds me that God is working wherever there is love and justice being done in the world. God is working in the gardens where the food is grown and in the forest where the trees reach for the heavens without instructions on how to do so. God is working among the strong arms that comfort the sick and sit patiently with the lost. God is working in church shaped buildings that host homeless youth and God is working in train station shaped buildings that host worship. This is the work of righteousness, this is the work of God’s kingdom and it’s our job to notice the places where God is working, to be planted in God, to be nourished by God and to build an altar from time to time that marks the holy ground we find ourselves standing on.

Where is God working in your day-to-day places? Where is God’s house in your neighborhood or corner of the world? How can you build an altar? This might mean setting the table in a sanctuary or setting a rock in the sand and saying a quick blessing for the beauty of a day at the beach.

May you find yourself in God’s house in both expected
and unexpected places,
May you have the time and courage to set an altar for God,
to say a prayer and remember your calling.
To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.
This is our call to righteousness, this is our call to flourish.
And may you know that wherever you go,
you are at home in God.



Musical Meditation


Made Glad, June 14.2012

Psalm 92:1-4 
 It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
Glad is not a word I use very much. In fact I often forget to name out loud the people, the places and the experiences that make me glad. This week I said goodbye to two of my children who will spend most of the summer in Iowa. I am sad to see them go but am reminded in their absence of how much they fill my heart with gladness. If I’m honest I will report that I am also filled with thanksgiving for the opportunity to rest. I am glad in the stillness of the morning, the gentle breeze of an evening outside and the extra time to reconnect with other blessed and important people in my life.

Our gladness is often intermixed with our sorrows. Our joys made more tangible by our disappointments.

The poetry of these Psalm verses remind us to pause our coming and going, our busy thoughts or fast past days and be reminded of what makes us glad.

How is God working in the world around you? Whether in the darkness of your sadness or grief or in the sunlit joys that fill you and surround you? May you take a moment or an afternoon… even a whole day and celebrate what makes you glad!

May you see God working in both of life’s joys and disappointments,
May the tenderness of God’s love and attention to the details of creation,
of our lives together and in our communities make you glad.
Go in peace and gladness and celebrate life.



Musical Meditation


Beginning Again, June 13.2012

Ezekiel 17:22-23 
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it,
in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live;
in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.
Have you ever had to begin again? There are moments in all of our lives in which we’re sent back to the beginning of things. Some of these are small moments, projects that didn’t go as planned or a bad day. Other times these are more than moments, there are times that relationships tear and break, we lose jobs, homes or family members. The magnitude of these losses set us back and shake us to our core.

This prophetic poem brought to us by Ezekiel marks such a time in the life of the Israelites. They are in exile, everything seems lost. Homes and family, ritual and temple, the tradition is frayed and the people are broken. And then God speaks these unbelievable and beautiful words, claiming that God will lift up a living and breathing piece of Israel, a tiny sprig of their former selves and God will plant it on a mountain top. This tiny sprig will spring forth with life so abundant and glorious, so expansive and safe that the whole community, in all its mess and diversity, in its brokenness and beauty will take comfort and make a new life in it.

This is God’s promise. Even amidst rubble and devastation God will act. Ezekiel makes the claim that God says, this is such important work that I will do it myself. God will move in and breathe on even the tiniest bit of life until life begins again. It may start as tiny seed, a sprig, an ember. But life will catch on,and life will come back, and life will bear fruit. Yours will. And so will mine.

When you’re beginning again:
May you remember that God is working with you,
and never against you.
May you experience God moving in your grief and devastation,
seeking out the sprigs of new life and planting them in rich soil.
May you live in the shelter of God’s bounty
until you can once again bear fruit,
and when you are bearing fruit
may you be the shelter for the ones who are beginning again.



Musical Meditation


Starting Small, June 12.2012

Mark 4:30-32 
Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable will we use for it?
It is like a mustard seed, which,
when sown upon the ground,
is the smallest of all the seeds on earth;
yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs,
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

I don’t know about you but I love making big plans. I love to dream big, to cast a wide net and imagine that anything is possible. Sometimes this serves me well, it helps me to think outside the box and to set high standards and reach for what seems impossible. But there are also moments in which we get so caught up in the dream that we forget to make small steps in the right direction. Or we become overwhelmed with the magnitude of an enormous goal and give up before even getting started.

Sometimes we do this with our personal lives. We set new goals for changing relationships or personal behaviors. I tell myself every year on my birthday that I’m going to start going to the gym every day. I hate going to the gym. I never do it. This is a silly goal, it’s too big. I should set a goal of walking the dog three times a week, that would be a bit more manageable!

We do this in communities as well. We dream big and make big plans but we must not’t forget the small steps to getting there. Kingdom work is hard word, it’s overwhelming work. When I imagine what Jesus means when he talks about God’s kingdom coming near or coming to fruition here on earth I imagine an end to war and violence. I imagine an end to hunger and homelessness. I imagine a place where each person know their own worth and belonging. I imagine a world in which we’ve learned to love not just one another but the earth itself. That we nurture, care for and create life rather than destroy it. These are big dreams that many of us share. And then we’re faced with the news of violence and death in our own city and across the world. We’re faced with the news of depleting resources across the globe. We’re faced with words, sounds, images and experiences of anger, fear and hatred.

In the face of all of this we can become overwhelmed. I think to myself, “Jesus, you’re mustard seed kingdom needs to grow bigger and faster!” But it doesn’t. Jesus points out to his disciples and to us, God’s work in the world comes in the shape and size of the mustard seed. It comes in the tiniest of glances. A look of love that replaces fear or mistrust. It comes in the tiniest of gestures. A gentle touch; a moment of our time, freely given without expectation or regret. It comes in the tiniest of bit knowledge, shared or used to make the space for peace, justice or understanding between strangers. It comes in the tiniest hint of compassion, the ability to love in the face of hate, to mend torn relationships and broken communities one conversation at a time. It’s slow incremental work. Work that pushes roots down first, deep into the ground. Work that builds networks of life and nutrients undetectable to the human eye. Work that pushes towards the light one day, one year, one lifetime at a time.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Tiny, stubborn, strong, pushing and pushing us towards God’s big dream for the world.

May you find your place in the kingdom work in this world,
May you take joy in the small pieces that are yours,
May God’s big dream for the world inspire and sustain you,
and may you sit in the shade of God’s big dream,
knowing that you belong even as it continues to grow.


Musical Meditation


What happens to the harvest? June 11.2012

Mark 4:26-29 
Jesus also said,
“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,
and would sleep and rise night and day,
and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
The earth produces of itself, first the stalk,
then the head, then the full grain in the head.
But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle,
because the harvest has come.”

Farmers know. Farmers know how to count the days of growing by weeks and rains. They know to watch the colors and texture of the soil, to breathe deep and smell the life of the field. Farmers know. They know when it’s time to scatter the seeds. They know to wait for the mystery to unfold from beneath the ground. They know that while they irrigate and wait and count the clouds and do chores by the rising and setting sun the wheat is rising and will push through the earth and reach for the sun. Farmers know the age of stalk of wheat or corn by it’s height, by how far it reaches for the sun. And when the seeds or fruits begin to spill out onto the ground, they know it’s time. When life is overflowing, bursting forth, they know it’s time to begin the harvest.

Jesus points us to the parable of the planting and harvesting, giving us a beautiful image of the spiritual life, or a life in God. It’s cyclical, it’s interconnected and dependent on our life in relationship to all that surrounds us, it’s a mystery where growth and meaning happen in the darkness, underground, where only God knows what’s going on. And like the grains and fruits of the harvest our lives also come to a head. The nurture and mystery, the relationships that cultivate, challenge and strengthen us lead to a time of bearing fruit.

What fruits have you born in your life? Can you remember a time when life or love or new life sprang forth from your own story? When your hard work or attention to Holy Spirit bore an unexpected or beautiful moment of peace or joy or deeper understanding? Was it a painful labor? Or one marked by love and support? What have you done with the harvesting moments in your life?

The farmer’s harvest goes to feed the animals, or the people, the family around the table, to the local or global market. Sometimes the harvest goes back in the ground to live yet another life-cycle. Where does the harvest God is tending in your life go? There are times in my own life that I’ve wasted a harvest moment, that I’ve allowed a moment with rich potential for deepening a relationship or paying forward a grace-filled moment fall on the ground. Other times I’ve witnessed God’s exploding harvest and managed to fall on my knees with thanksgiving. To name and celebrate it with others.

May you experience the work of God in your lives as unfolding mystery,
May you recognize and give thanks for the bounty in front of you,
May God sustain you through what at times feels like a famine,
May we celebrate one another’s harvest,
and share it with one another, with the hungry of belly and the hungry of heart.
and may we continuously replant the seeds of God’s creation for future generations.


Musical Meditation


Rethinking Family, June 8.2012

Mark 3: 34-35 
Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, Jesus said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers.
Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”

I was adopted when I was a tiny thing and in the church I grew up in we practiced believer baptism so instead of baptizing babies we dedicated or welcomed them into the ‘family’ when the were just born or in my case when we ‘arrived’. When my sister and I came to live with our adoptive parents we were dedicated or welcomed to the family of faith and we sang a hymn called the Family of God. We sang the same hymn on the day that I was baptized at the age of nine, and because my mom was the church musician the same hymn turned up on other important milestone moments as well. It’s a hymn that has come to symbolize what it means to be part of a family of faith for me, so much  that wherever I go I have sought ‘family’ to sustain and nurture me as I continue to grow in my own life of faith.

There is one verse of the hymn that has always stuck with me and it goes like this:

You will notice we say “brother and sister” ’round here,
It’s be-cause we’re a family and these are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And re-joice in each victory in this family so dear.  

In these verses from Mark Jesus points us to an important truth: in our commitment to our communities of faith, in the moment of our baptism and at the table when we break bread together we are reorienting ourselves to what it means to be family. We all come from particular families, from particular tribes, cultures and communities but in our lives of faith we claim another kind of family. We claim our place in the family of God and this is what Jesus is pointing us too when he identifies those around him as his mother, brothers and sisters.

Who have been your siblings in your journey of faith? Who has mentored, taught, mothered and fathered you in your faith development? Who has offered to sit vigil with you in times of heartache? Who has celebrated the movement of the Spirit in your life?

May your lives be filled with the family of God,
May you receive the love and support
of a familial bond in your community of faith,
May you be a spiritual friend, a mentor,
a mother or father, a daughter or son to another,
And may this family in Christ sustain and nurture you
alongside your family of origin now and forever.


Musical Meditation