Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sacred Space

I spent a recent Saturday included in the Latino family, when I attended a workshop in Spanish on Latino worship. I’m still insecure about my Spanish language ability; so just showing up for the conference was both exhilarating and terrifying. There were about 50 people at the conference, and I was one of only four Anglos in attendance. As the first speaker talked about what it is like to live in our culture as a Latino, never free to be himself, always seen as an outsider, and considered inferior by too many people, I heard the murmurs of agreement from the other attendees and felt the visceral sadness in the auditorium where we were meeting.

            I struggled at first to keep up with the rapid-fire Spanish, but as I continued to listen, I found myself caught up in the lecture as this speaker talked about how Latinos draw strength from their community, especially during worship. He spoke of Latino worship as a place where worshippers arrive battered and bruised from the stresses and challenges of their daily lives and leave revived by their time in worship with their community. In the sacred space of worship, they can experience both joy and sadness in a place where they are free to be themselves and to laugh and to cry. In that sacred space, they are reminded that God continues to work out God’s purposes in our world.

            At the time of the conference, I had been working on a sermon on the beginning of Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel, which has been described as the Little Apocalypse, in contrast to the book of Revelation. I learned that apocalyptic literature was a familiar genre at the time Mark wrote his Gospel, so the wars and famines and earthquakes listed would have been recognized as standard symbols. Apocalyptic literature appeared especially in times of violence and calamity, such as the time period when Mark’s Gospel was written. This type of literature offered hope to those who lived in difficult circumstances with its reminder that no matter how dire those circumstances, God was still at work in their world. I realized that for Latinos in our culture the repeated revelation in worship of God’s cosmic work in the midst of their difficult life circumstances serves the same purpose as apocalyptic literature served for the first recipients of Mark’s Gospel.

            I think it is hard for those of us who live privileged lives in this world to relate to the power of true apocalyptic literature, as opposed to imitations of our time, such as the Left Behind series, even though some of us are no strangers to violence and calamity, as evidenced by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. As I think back to the time I spent in the sacred space of a gathering of the Latino family in worship, I remember that in my own faith community, and especially in our worship, I too for a time inhabit sacred space each week as I am reminded  that God is still at work in the midst of this world’s chaos and violence; that I have a part to play in that work; and that ultimately, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”[1]

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Miracle of the Cakes and the Volunteers

I watched a miracle unfold last week at the local American Legion Hall. Our church’s finance chair, Pat, had volunteered our church for an opportunity to raise funds for our youth group’s next mission trip. All we had to do was serve a hot dinner to 300 people. No kitchen is available at the American Legion Hall for those serving the dinners, so all the food had to be transported in, ready to serve, and we needed a small army of volunteers to do the serving while the food was hot. We also needed 300 servings of a variety of desserts. Pat set out to recruit volunteers to cook and to serve and to make desserts. Even with all of her efforts, however, the volunteers seemed limited. We were worried if we would have enough, and the dinner was fast approaching. The church secretary sent out a final plea for volunteers a couple of days before the dinner.

I hurried to the American Legion Hall the evening of the dinner with the two chocolate cakes I’d baked. The last I’d talked with Pat, she was still not sure if she had enough desserts for 300 or enough volunteers to serve that many dinners quickly enough. I arrived a bit later than I’d expected and told the doorkeeper that I was one of the volunteers. He pointed me toward the far corner of the American Legion Hall. When I reached the service area, I was astounded to find row upon row of cakes and cookies and pies already cut up and ready to serve as well as several dozen volunteers lined up. We had a team meeting, and our pastor offered up a prayer in the back room while we waited for the pledge of allegiance and the dinner prayer, our signal to serve dinner.

Tears filled my eyes as I looked around at the extravagant buffet of desserts and all of the volunteers who had shown up at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. Several said they’d come after the last plea from the church secretary out of fear that no one would show up to help. One young mother, whose husband is currently deployed, had left her job in Temple and driven home to Ft. Hood to pick up her kids from daycare before turning around and driving back to Temple so they could have the experience of helping the church serve others. I’m not sure why I keep having to learn the lesson that my church family is amazing at responding, and that God always provides the resources we need when we step out to serve others. Last week I was reminded once again that I could trust God and trust my church family.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, August 31, 2015

Hope Blooms

We were given a potted Esperanza plant some time ago during a difficult time in our lives. Esperenza is Spanish for hope. I loved its cheery yellow trumpet flowers. The hope plant did well until it started to outgrow its pot. My husband transplanted it beside the house, where he’s transplanted each year’s Easter lilies after their blooms have died. The hope plant made part of a year and then shriveled and died. This summer new green shoots appeared in the planting area. Neither of us recognized the leaves, but my husband left the plant to grow taller all summer. I wondered at times if we were nurturing a hardy Texas weed. Then little yellow flowers appeared, and we realized the hope plant had come back to life.

I’ve thought about the hope plant the past few weeks as I’ve watched our church begin to bloom again after a long time of sadness and struggle and change. I don’t know that hope had died exactly, but it seemed in short supply as we wrestled with financial challenges and the sadness of losing long-time members. Our latest pastor arrived almost three years ago now, and with the help of his leadership, we are watching new life bloom from seeds he has planted as well as those planted by former pastors.

Now I sit in the choir loft on Sunday mornings and watch as new families join us. We are busy with local mission projects as well as preparing to return to Nicaragua to help install our second clean water system. Our second annual Clean Water Festival and Fun Run to raise money for the Nicaragua trip is coming soon. We are regularly gathering once more to break bread together. New Sunday classes have started for all ages. There is an unmistakable new energy flowing through our life together. I’ve learned in my life never to give up on God. I’ve been reminded of that lesson as hope blooms once more in our church. God is good, and God is not through with us yet.

Grace and Peace,

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Kingdom of Heaven

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’” Matthew 19:14, NRSV

I thought about this Bible verse as I sat in church last Sunday with our youngest grandson on my lap. He’s two. He amazed his grandfather and me by sitting quietly for most of the service, except for a few loud whispers. I realized he had been listening to the sermon when our pastor said something about his own grandmother, and my grandson’s attention shifted promptly to the pulpit. His attention to the pastoral prayer, however, astounded us. He attends a preschool at his church as well as church services there regularly and has been taught to pray. When our pastor said, “Let’s pray,” he promptly stopped coloring, folded his small hands and bowed his head. We quickly realized he was repeating the last word of each phrase in the pastoral prayer, carefully praying along with the pastor. We may have a budding preacher in the family!

How blessed I am to be able to see my grandkids and to spend time with them. My prayer is that this grandson will always feel as loved and comfortable in church as he did last Sunday, and that church will be a refuge for him throughout his life. He is so innocent, and so full of love. I know the innocence will fade as he grows older, but I hope not too much. I hope the love will always remain, for where there is love, you will find the kingdom of heaven.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, June 4, 2015

At the Lakeshore

The waves lapped softly at my feet as I stood in my suit, hose, and heels on the boat ramp facing Dorothy’s family and prepared to begin her memorial service. The mid-afternoon sun blazed down, and I was grateful for the cool breeze from the lake behind me. I’m still not sure what prompted Dorothy to ask me to participate in her service. I had obsessed over it in the months since she called to ask me. I struggled with how to write a funeral sermon, something I had not done before. She was over 100 when she asked my assistance, so I had known the time would come for me to fulfill my promise. As it happened, the exigencies of family travel from both coasts to Texas for the service had dictated that the celebration of Dorothy’s life be a small memorial service at the lake, where she wanted her ashes scattered, as her husband’s had been some years before. Our pastor graciously helped me to prepare for the brief service. I had promised Dorothy I would make it short!

When the time arrived to begin the service, I began to speak as I have in various churches in the years since I graduated from seminary, but more loudly, to drown out the Jet Ski and motorboat on the adjacent boat ramp. I imagined Dorothy smiling somewhere at the commotion and fought down a bubble of laughter. I had assured her sons that I could speak loudly enough to be heard over the engine noise and had asked a member of our congregation, who was standing at the back, to wave at me if he had trouble hearing me. And so on that beautiful Sunday afternoon, we celebrated Dorothy’s long life of service to God and committed her ashes into God’s eternal care.

After all my angst leading up to the service, in the end it proceeded as smoothly as the other worship services I have conducted, except for the roar of the motors. Dorothy’s family expressed their appreciation, and I felt blessed to be with them during their time of grief and remembrance. I understand better now how my seminary classmates who became pastors can say they are blessed to be with people at such a time. I still marvel at all the ways God continues to push me way beyond my comfort zone. And how, with God’s help, I manage to muddle through in spite of my anxieties. Maybe in the next life I will worry less about being perfect and trust more that God loves me just as I am.

Grace and Peace,