Thursday, May 28, 2015

Post Surgery

My life took a sharp turn recently when my appendix ruptured. We had hoped for a simple laparoscopic procedure but ended up with major surgery. I had a wonderful team at the hospital. My surgeon is a delightful combination of talent, skill and compassion. Everything went well but the recovery simply takes time. For instance, no scooter riding for at least six weeks!

I have received cards, soup, flowers, stuffed animals, prayers and lots of love during this time. I appreciate it all so much. I know that I am not alone. It means so much to me.

When I was first out of surgery I noticed something remarkable. With my body weak and in pain; with doctors and nurses telling me how lucky I was to have gotten surgery in time; and with my physical weakness right out in the open for everyone to see; with all of that being true, my spirit was as strong as ever. 

Sometimes we are tempted to equate our strength with how our body feels or if our emotions are on the upside. Don’t take the bait. It is by the strength of our spirits that we can manage the difficulties in life. In times like these I remember Proverbs 18:14 “The human spirit will endure sickness; but a broken spirit — who can bear?”

When all else is falling down around you let God’s Pentecost Spirit and your spirit weave together to make a hammock where you can rest and regain your strength. Be patient with your recovery. Challenge yourself periodically to see how strong you are getting and then rest some more. Swing in that hammock with purpose and receive God’s love.

Peace
Pastor AnnMarie
 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day 2015

Today I am not going to be preaching about mothers. In June for Father's Day I won't be preaching about fathers. I feel like there are too many people who have to grin and bear these days for so many different reasons.

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Day_%28United_States%29
The first attempts to establish a "Mother's Day" in the United States came from women's peace groups. A common early activity was the meeting of groups of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War.
It reminds me of this song

1000 Grandmothers

 This kind of celebration I can get behind. Maybe next year!
.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Liturgy Change for May




This month I am departing somewhat from our normal liturgy. Generally we speak a unison confession and then I offer an assurance of pardon. For the month of May I have folded those two elements together.

This Eastertide I have been feeling the tension between rejoicing in the resurrection and being forthright about the experiences of brokeness and death in all of our lives. Naming it and speaking it out-loud together is important.


THE RESPONSIVE CALL to WORSHIP
Leader: We are not alone.
People: Sometimes life gets lonely.
Leader: We are not an accident.
People: Sometimes accidents in life are devastating.
Leader: We are bearers of Good News.
People: Sometimes bad news is overwhelming.
Leader: In all times and circumstances God is with us.
People: We rely on God’s love and presence.
Leader: Lift up your heads and your hearts.
People: We lift them up in hope and praise.


PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND PARDON      
Today I choose to remember that Love is my foundation. I open myself up to the mercy and grace of God. This week I have not always made the right choices. Help me, Holy Love, to open up to your forgiveness. Today I choose to bless instead of curse; to love instead of hate; to reconcile instead of fight. Today, O God, I choose your path of wonder and beauty.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Eastertide Struggle



Eastertide Struggle

I read the news
and am filled with sadness
fear
and hopelessness

I mull the devastations of the day
until I cannot eat
can barely breathe

My garden is beginning to bloom
Lettuce is growing in the greenhouse
Water flows easily from my faucets
Food fills my cupboards

Celebrating the resurrection of Jesus
and
Looking forward to Pentecost’s exuberance
offer little condolence to the atrocities happening all over

Suddenly strength comes to me
Strength of Resurrection
Strength of the Pentecost breeze

Prayers of blessing flow
for healing
for life
for fifth or fiftieth chances

I forgot that celebrating Easter and Pentecost
isn’t about me being saved or holy
It is about me
being involved

in prayers of blessing
actions toward life
getting in the way
to be vulnerable
in love

By Rev AnnMarie Kneebone


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Strength For Peace

Malachi 3:1 – 4
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

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The purification that Malachi is prophesying has to do with the religious leaders. The tribe of Levi and all his descendants were set apart to carry the Ark of the Covenant; to stand before the Lord to minister; and to be priests to the people. Because they were the priests they didn’t get an inheritance like the other tribes. Their inheritance was God. They ate and drank the offerings that the people gave to God in sacrifice. At first they were vigilant but as time wore on many of them became corrupt. They demanded more of the people than God did. Because they weren’t allowed to have anything of their own they took the best of what everyone else had. The offerings that they presented to God, because of this, were not righteous. Malachi prophesies that God is sending a messenger to purify the priesthood so that the people will be free… so that the people can live in peace.

For some of us as Christians we understand this messenger as being Jesus, the one we call The Prince Of Peace. For others of us we see this messenger as being John the Baptist. In the Gospel of Luke we read,

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Luke 3:1 – 6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

***********************
John the Baptist is a messenger. He is tough on the political and religious leaders of his day. John the Baptist points to Jesus. There are times in the gospels where Jesus points back to John. In some ways, there couldn’t have been one without the other.

Both brought distress to the leaders of their day. Both were called to bring wholeness to the people of God. Both died because of their unrelenting fervor and the audacity of their message. And both were bringers of types of peace. John, six months older than Jesus, was wild, insightful, and combative. Jesus was calm, thoughtful, and keen minded. John prepared the way for Jesus. He knew he was laying the foundation for the Messiah.

John brings peace by beginning the upset in the social and religious structures, a trend that Jesus continues in his ministry. This kind of peace-bringing isn’t calm and quiet. It is for a greater peace, something that everyone can share. Sometimes we think of peace as not upsetting the status quo or staying quiet so that nothing gets worse. God’s way of bringing peace was to expose the unrest, the conflict, and the powers so that there was a chance for true resolution. Too long the hypocrisy and corruption was covered over. Jesus was born to usher in a new covenant and to bring a new peace. In order for this to happen he needed John to lay the foundation.

This kind of calling is hard though. Peace isn’t passivity. It is getting in the way of corruption. Peace isn’t quiet. It is speaking out on behalf of those who have no voice. In Matthew and in Luke Jesus explains that they all think he has come to bring peace but no, he has come to bring unrest. Jesus is challenging their understanding of peace.

Along with this outward peace-bringing, the kind that stands in the way of  violence and often is violently opposed, there is another kind of peace. Internal peace. Here again we think in terms of stillness and calm. But this peace also can require a getting in the way of violence. Here though it is internal violence. Internal peace, or what Paul writes the Philippians in chapter 4:7 “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I like to call this the peace that doesn’t make any sense. It is this peace which will guard your hearts and minds.

A peace that guards your heart and mind. Whatever else kind of peace you are called to, the peace that guards your heart  and mind seems like a real good idea to me. John the Baptist must have had this peace when he confronted Herod and ended up getting his head lopped off. After John’s execution, Jesus had to have relied on the peace that guarded his heart and mind. I think he knew his own fate as well.  How else could he continue if not for peace guarding him? How else can you have strength to be a peace-bringer in the world?

Jesus’ ministry to “purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness” was for the sake of the people to be able to live in peace.

As we consider the babe in the manger, let us look deeply into his eyes. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, through peaceful means got in the way on behalf of others. He was born for it. It was his destiny. This is the Messiah, the Saviour, that we follow and that we celebrate.

The Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of all believers. The writer of 1st Peter puts it this way, 2:
4“Come to Jesus, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Let us be purified for the work of following in the footsteps of Jesus, bringing peace through peaceful means, even when things get messy and scary. Even at those times, there is an inward peace that must be our foundation. The peace that surpasses our understanding – having peace at a time that doesn’t make any sense for us to have peace – will guard our hearts and minds.

Here are a few questions you can answer on your card for our tree. Or you can write what you want to about peace.

Peace
How is Jesus peace to you?
How does this community help you offer the peace of Christ to others?
How do you extend peace to others?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Hope As A Foundation

Jeremiah 33:14 – 16
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

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Jeremiah said a lot of harsh things before we come to the 33rd chapter. There was a lot to be concerned about, but in general folks didn’t agree with him. He called the people to repentance. He prophesied punishment. They ignored him. Eventually they were conquered and taken into exile.

In the book, “An Introduction To The Bible” by Christian Hauer and William Young we read, “When the doom of which Jeremiah had spoken arrived, a new side of the prophet emerged. … He turned from the time of judgment to envision hope for Israel. It was not the naïve hope he had condemned other prophets for voicing. It was a long-range hope grounded in a deep faith in the love and fidelity of the Lord.”

Long-range hope. This is what the people needed. Not a superficial hope or a naïve hope. This is also what we need. And so we turn to Jeremiah. We look forward while we look back and see that what Jeremiah prophesied relates not only to his time. These words, originally meant for their current situation, can also be seen as prophecy for the time of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Additionally, the kind of hope that Jeremiah is offering can be a foundation for us to stand on while we live in the promises of God in the spirit, but still see the suffering of hunger, homelessness, bullies, and greed rampant in our society.

Placing our hope in Jesus, the incarnation of God, is a big deal. Sometimes we can see no hope in our circumstances or imagine hope for our lives. At these times can we summon up hope from the core of God’s own self based on God’s unrelenting love that led to the incarnation? This is the foundation of hope that I want us to stand on. God could have stayed as Spirit and yet desired us so greatly as to make this sacrifice to become embodied, subject to both the joys and pains of our life. And the pains were not averted for the sake of comfort, but Jesus willingly took all the pain that his life offered. He could have said no or made some convenient ways out, but he didn’t.  I am willing to live my life based on this long-range hope.

Sometimes we want a more tangible hope. It feels more concrete when we can see or touch the process that leads to hope. Paul addresses this when he writes to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:2 – 6
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

I think we can agree that circumcision is a visceral experience. I won’t tarry long on this uncomfortable subject, but let’s think for a moment about this. Paul is talking to the Galatians. Gentiles. These folks want to be real Christians and some people are telling them that in order for them to be real Christians they have to undergo the Jewish ritual of circumcision which marks a man as being a follower of Yahweh. While circumcision is what many baby boys continue to experience today, for the Jews it was a religious ritual. Because the Gentiles weren’t Jews, they weren’t circumcised.

Paul is telling the Galatians that they do not have to undergo this ritual. Through faith in Jesus the law is fulfilled. They are to cling to grace. They already are real Christians and need not prove anything by a physical act.

The ambiguity and mystery in all of this can make it challenging. How do we stand on a foundation that isn’t physical; that we can’t see or touch? For me, it is the physicality … the embodiment … of Jesus on which I stand. Jesus as a person, as the incarnation of our Divine Beloved offers me both the mystery and the visceral satisfaction that I need.

I believe that we have to be intentional about standing on this foundation. We have not seen Jesus in the flesh … or at least I haven’t. I am counting on the ancient witnesses to help me see him. I cannot walk up to Jesus but I can experience him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is a faith experience, even when my body feels it, possibly in the form of goose bumps or a sense of something ethereal. It isn’t something that I can point to and say, “Look here. See?” But that doesn’t make it less real.

For the sake of intentional waiting during this advent season I’m going to ask you to consider a few questions each week. We are going to decorate this tree with our ideas about Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. It will be our Advent Tree. I invite you to write words or draw pictures or shapes.

This week, on the subject of hope, please think about these questions. If something comes to you today, please write it down on the card provided so that we can fill up our tree. If something comes to you later you can fill it out and bring it in during the week or next Sunday. For those of you listening on the radio, you are welcome to send us your own card or a note and we will fill out a card for you and add it to the tree.

Hope
What is the hope that keeps you centered when you have lots of questions?
What are the promises of God that give you hope?
When have you experienced your hope become your truth?
How do you extend hope to others?

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Now, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pouring Out Like Water

1 Samuel 1:4-18

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: "O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head." As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine." But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time." Then Eli answered, "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him." And she said, "Let your servant find favor in your sight." Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

Lamentations 2:18 – 19 Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!

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At the time of this story, Hannah’s whole worth in society hinged on her ability to bear sons. Her husband’s love is touching and heart-warming, but it does not erase how society sees her. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, is said to be Hannah’s rival. In true form she digs at Hannah’s self-esteem and social status every chance she gets. Hannah feels worthless. She isn’t measuring up to who she is told she is supposed to be. And there is nothing she can do about it.

In her desperation she goes to God. She pours herself out like the scripture in Lamentations encourages us to do. She is mistaken by the priest, Eli, to be a drunken women making a spectacle of herself in the temple. She was praying, but no sound was coming out of her moving lips. That alone doesn’t seem like much of a spectacle to me. Why would he mistake her for being drunk? Was she standing while rocking back and forth in her great anxiety and vexation? Was she sitting while passionately gesturing with her hands and arms? What would cause Eli to accuse her of making a drunken spectacle of herself?

In the second chapter of Acts the people accused the disciples of Christ of being drunk when they started speaking in other tongues and getting excited. But they were just letting their guard down and experiencing the presence of God.

Hannah too let her guard down. She sought after the presence of God. She presented herself before the Lord in no uncertain terms. She poured herself out in her distress and made a vow to God. The way she poured herself out like water was as if she were Niagara Falls. I believe this is why Eli thought she was drunk. It was the sheer force of her pouring.

Grief and desperation expressed fully make us a little out of control, like alcohol. They flood our body with their energies. They reshape our thinking. They make us a little off balance. And that can be scary. We don’t want to be off balance. We don’t want to be out of control.

There are many times and many places where being out of control and off balance isn’t good for us. But there are other times when it is exactly the right thing for us to do. Hannah presented herself before God. She got real with God. It might have unnerved the priest a little, but he got over it. She needed to not hold it all in anymore.

Sometimes we need to not hold it all in anymore. Antiseptic mourning and polite desperation may be how we have to maintain ourselves in public, but when we go before God we can real. You can let down your guard in the presence of God. And sometimes, you will even find a person or two who can sit with you if you end up pouring yourself out like Niagara Falls.

There are scenes in movies, iconic scenes, that express for us what we feel like we dare not speak for ourselves. In “It’s A Wonderful Life” George Bailey prays, “God. Oh God. Dear Father in heaven. I’m not a praying man but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.” In the movie, “Keeping The Faith,” Father Brian Finn pours out his heart, not in prayer but in storytelling. Neither of these men seem to be able to access their expression of despair and grief unaided. They both turn to drink. Maybe that’s another reason why Eli thought Hannah was drunk. He was used to seeing people need an aid in order to open their hearts.

We watch these scenes and it is a way for us to tap into our own stuff at a safe distance. We may cry. We may examine some of our own inner workings. But pouring our own hearts out like water comes harder. And it should. It isn’t always the right time. It would be exhausting if we lived that way day in and day out. But sometimes it is the right time. Sometimes there is a right place.

I also want to acknowledge that each one of us is different. The way we pour ourselves out won’t be the same. While for some it may be like Niagara Falls, for others it may be more like the steady stream of a faucet. There isn’t one right way to pour out our hearts.

In those times when you feel worthless and you are tired of it, pour yourself out to God. When you are in great anxiety and vexation, pour yourself out to God. And when you are wrapped in joy and hope …. yes, even then …. pour yourself out to God.

After God answered Hannah she replied by pouring her heart out once again. This is the beginning part of her prayer in chapter 2,

“My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”

To which I say, Amen and Hallelujah.