Good Food, Soul Food

Grace and Peace to you,

My sisters and brothers in Christ

Wandering through the wilderness

Leaves our selves, our bodies

Parched

Starving

For nourishment

Reaching blindly out anywhere

Instead right here,

At the Table,

Where we should allow our souls to be renewed

Filled

With,

Jesus Christ

Amen.

(pause)

This indeed has been one of those weeks, beloved

When life comes crashing all around us,

And in our sorrow and struggle,

We cling to whatever comfort comes before us,

Or whatever food reminds us,

Of those who we have loved

And now, lost.

(pause)

And then the Table is set before us

And offered to us

And sometimes we are hoping for instant gratification

But when we find the Table is set,

Good Food set out before us-

Perhaps not what we were hoping for

As children of God,

We sometimes are defiant

Pushing ourselves away

From what is set before us.

Think of that one dish,

As a child

You avoided

Like the plague.

I am sure anyone of you could.

For me it was black eyed peas

But,

When our very being is invaded with illness

Or troubles

Or searching in vain for genuine comfort

Or to experience that comfort in the midst of community

That Good Food,

Becomes Soul Food.

For me now,

Black eyed peas with rice

At the end of a harried week

Centers me in the moment

The importance of my life,

How it is intertwined with many other lives

And how essential this Bond truly is

And how simple this meal says-

“Welcome.”

(pause)

For many of us, now

Homemade chicken soup

In the midst of viruses and illness

And in the midst of bravely waiting

for the healing that only God can give

Reminds us

That although we are remiss in having any physical ability

To take away the sickness plaguing our loved ones

We pour our hopes

And prayers

And Love

Into that pot, or casserole or bowl

Because sometimes its all we can do,

To let them know

Of our presence,

Saying

“You are not alone.”

(pause)

And in taking in that Soul Food

We are transformed,

Mended

Healed

From within

Here

And because of that wholeness we experience

We in turn can’t help ourselves

To share some of that Soul Food,

That Goodness birthed in Love, Mercy and Grace

With everyone we come in contact with

That’s how God’s Word should fill us

(pause)

Recently our sisters and brothers from ELCA World Hunger

Asked me to share my thoughts

For a Lenten devotional they were putting together

My assignment?

Isaiah 55

I’d like to share this with you

“When you love another human being, it means you see after their very self: their health and wellness, their wholeness. It’s sorrowful that Sunday after Sunday, people of faith enter into faith communities and churches, partake of what is freely offered at the table, and after departing, refuse to do the same for those who are wandering, rooted in the streets because that is home.”

(pause)

That observation exposes a bleak landscape

Littered with conversations gathered into everyday winds

Leave the impression upon our consciousness

Of a confused and harsh world

And how we as people of faith, fit in.

Is the Good News calling us, beloved

To stand with those who are hungry, empty-

Feeding them

Sharing with them

While lifting up our voices, singing O Freedom?

Is the Gospel calling us towards persistence?

That we continually knock at those proverbial

Impenetrable doors,

for answers,

for support for those that we love,

and those we are called to care and serve.

There are those who shake their heads and say,

It’s not our affair,

We just should preach Jesus,

And then everything will be alright

They will see the errors of their ways

We shouldn’t cross that line

That picket line

That border, line

But see,

Sunday after Sunday

These our sisters and brothers in Christ,

Stream in and out of church faith communities

Hearing the Word

And yet,

But it appears they are not consuming the Word.

The Word of God should be inhaled into who we are

Because when you have Good Food,

You should be reinvigorated

Instead many are resigned to skip the whole meal

Diving in straight for the dessert,

How many of us have done that as children

Or even adults.

Desserts, that sweetness

Makes us feel good.

We want to be happy,

We want that sugar boost,

We don’t want to be reminded about how costly Grace is

We want to concentrate on Easter Morning,

Instead of Good Friday evening

Avoiding the CORE where God’s Word challenges US

Which says

“Incline your ear, and come to me;

 listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant”

Avoiding hearing where,

Time and again,

It seems we have failed God

Continually breaking that covenant

And shockingly hearing Jesus’s Words

In our Gospel this morning,

That unless we repent

We will perish.

(pause)

 “Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!”

This final chapter

In what is known as Second Isaiah

spans from Isaiah 40-55

We are not sure if the prophet Isaiah was speaking directly

To God’s people

Or if through teachings of the prophet in public squares,

Imagine your Pastor standing out on 166th street,

Declaring to God’s People

they had not been abandoned

Just as Isaiah did so many millennia before,

Proclaiming to a people in exile

In Babylon of all places

Jerusalem, destroyed

Outcast away from the light and love of God, forever

Because of their sin.

When our own calamity and chaos happens,

Because of our impatience

When the Creator God whispers to us, to be still

Our stubbornness

Of not wanting to accept the bountiful harvest before us,

Because it means hard work and trusting in God alone

Our hastiness, to abandoning the temples

and churches

and sacred spaces

Consuming other Food from other gods,

That we can feel and touch

That fills us,

But drains our souls empty.

And so when Good News is professed,

That the Table is set,

That all are welcomed,

We hang our heads,

That we did not rely on our faith,

That it truly was our fault

We make excuses,

That we are not presentable

Because we are still sinners,

That we’re sort of obligated to continue this, meal plan

We are locked in with this damaged world.

Do you know beloved,

There are people who come into this sacred place,

Who remain in their pews,

Because they feel,

They are not worthy

Of forgiveness

Of their place at the Table?

But there is Good News!

Even when our actions are sinful

And we considered worthless,

God, Our Parent loves us

And always gives us ONE MORE DAY

To bear fruit,

Good Food!

(pause)

Do you know beloved,

There are places where we would not be welcomed

To join the faithful around the Table,

Because we are not on their “A” list.

But there is Good News!

Because when our sinful presence is not wanted or welcomed

Our hard work, struggles and failures not enough for this world,

God calls to us

“You who have no money,

Come buy and eat!”

Because this, THIS

There is no cost to receive this Good Food,

This Soul Food

Because Jesus Christ, the Son of God,

HAS ALREADY PAID that cost

The cost of His LIFE!

(pause)

So come,

This Table is NEVER HELD BACK

Because of your shortcomings

Because of your sin

Because of who you are

Know that when we are here,

This TABLE is open,

Because it is the Creator God’s command,

That ALL OF GOD’S CHILDREN be FED

Renewed,

Made Whole

Saved,

Because of Jesus.

Thanks be to God

 

 

 

 

 

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Identity Theft

Grace and Peace to you,

My sisters and brothers in Christ

Along our Lenten journey

We must be open to the constant rhythm of Creation

Which calls us back

To the presence of the One

Whose whispers blow sacred new life into our dry, dusty selves

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord

Amen

 Ash Wednesday’s meaning has definitely evolved along my journey,

From a time of lamenting and penitence

On how truly miserable we are, not fit for the Kingdom of God

Inherently disobedient

To an understanding of the power of humility and vulnerability

Immersed in a time of reflection and respite

Because the Creator God knows of our inadequacies

Knows that this journey is exhausting

And like any good Parent,

Calls us back to the place where we can be Fed,

Made whole,

So we can enter once again into the wilds of Creation

Renewed,

Ready for whatever mêlée this world ambushes in our path.

That’s a part of our normal growing throughout our spiritual life,

We are taught and prepared for that,

We are ready.

(pause)

But

What is it about Lent

That we find ourselves

Deep in the bowels of our faith

In those cobwebbed filled corners

Alone with the questions,

The problems

That have the potential to wrench us loose from the grip of the safety

Of the arms of a Parent

Who watches us wander away

And even with our Parent’s heart torn asunder

By our abandonment

There is still Love waiting for us

Regardless

(pause)

My period of absence from the church community

Was rather a strange and full of complexities

And yet, rather fruitful

And as I embraced the beginning strains of a magnificent symphony

Which would culminate into the pathway towards the Call,

Crescendo into Seminary and beyond

Those sour notes stood out and buzzed at my ears

Suddenly my whole body was as a tuning fork

Suddenly I realized that the world was not full of harmony

When it came to the subject of the Creator God

I was faced with billboard signs denouncing God

Articles, blogs, books

Calling people to atheism

Slamming the existence of God

Protesting with legal action any and every time

People of Faith expressed who they are,

Immersed normally in who they were

Because the presence of God was something that they could not

Do

Or Live without

And it began to eat away at me,

Leaving me troubled

Saddened

And in those darkened places where I was still not sure myself

My fears,

Fears of dying,

Fears of there being nothing for me

For anyone

When this life’s journey was over.

What fears that you have encountered along in your own journey,

Threaten to pull you away

Allowing a substitute, an ill replacement

For God, Our Redeemer?

Because sometimes it is fear

Not the temptations of this world

That threaten our relationship union

With God,

(pause)

We as people of Faith

Hearing this Gospel text

And the examples that Jesus encounters

Use this as a vehicle of shame

To concentrate on all of the things

We shouldn’t do

When we are weak

Because beloved,

This journey of Lent is not about conquering our temptations

So that at the end of 40 days we will be perfect

Because try as we might,

Giving up things for Lent will fail.

We’re going to have that soda, because we are tired of water

We’re going to swear up a storm in stressful situations

We’re going to eat that burger, because we want it.

We’re going to stop working out, because we don’t have the time.

And as I shared the Gospel on Ash Wednesday,

None of these things that we give up for just 40 days

Is going to advance the kingdom of God

Unless these are ways,

We are able to clear our hearts and minds of negativity

To build up one another in Love

We are able to care for ourselves,

Because WE beloved,

These bodies are sacred to us

And to the Creator

Unless these are ways

To guide us away from the temptations

That take us away

From the presence of the Living God!

(pause)

And this,

This is the core of our Gospel this morning.

Isn’t it Good News

That Jesus experienced the wilderness

So that when we go through our own wilderness

When it seems that God has abandoned us,

Here, right here-

We see God never abandoned Jesus,

And so God never abandons us

And in this wilderness journey

Jesus is showing us

Teaching us

When fears, panic

Leave a gaping hole in the center of our soul

So much so sometimes,

The darkness

The negativity

The demonic

Begins to freely hack away at our fragile self

Begins to erode our faith

It’s not the temptations of this world

Because have you noticed,

When we are feeling down,

When we stray from the pathway

There is always someone next to us

Full of faith, and love

That prays over us and for us

A community of people just like us

Who have struggled

Fallen

Failed

But whose hands and voices bring healing

Because they are filled with the Love of God!

When you are in community,

There is safety

There is sacredness

But

Removed from loving sisters and brothers in Christ and in Faith

Lost without community

Encountering

Face to face with our distorted selves in a cracked mirror

This is when we are faced with a quick fix

I will give you all authority and splendor,

If you worship me, it will all be yours”

God is not sufficient, it whispers to us

God does not care, are the lies it spouts

Abandon God,

I’ll keep you safe

I have a witness protection program

That can give you a new identity

God won’t even notice you are there

You can freely be YOU

You’ll have all the power

You will be in control

(pause)

Why is Jesus in the wilderness?

Why does God allow satan to harass and bother and tempt Him?

Because we needed to see,

The Good News of Jesus Christ

That Christ gives us the power

To say NO

To hold fast to who we are

To keep our identity as God’s BELOVED!

That does not change during Lent

It is heightened!

Each time satan attempts to rob Jesus of who Jesus is,

Jesus speaks words of Affirmation

In the promises of God our Creator

That when we fall,

When we weep

When we cry out

God is there

God is RIGHT HERE

In our Scriptures

In this Sacred, complex and deep Word

In the Life of Jesus Christ

Because of Jesus Christ,

Our place in the arms of the Creator,

Where from the dust of the cosmos,

The stars

We were created,

Is secured,

Not by anything we could ever do,

Or not do

But because of God’s unfailing love.

(pause)

Ash Wednesday afternoon I found myself taking this precious gift

Of Ashes

Of the Body and Blood

Of Jesus Christ

To not only of our homebound members

But other members of the wider community,

Sisters and brothers that I do not know

A sister in Christ even waved me down as we were leaving,

And jokingly said, “I need ashes, and you need to pray over me.”

Her colleagues nearby, I offered to them the same gift.

One of them reacted almost violently in her speech

And voice

Declaring that what I was doing was nothing more than satanic

Putting dead ashes on people

Adding to the fact I was a woman pastor.

How jarring in this moment

How easily these experiences can leave us bruised

But, then again-

Was this a condemnation of who I was

And what I represented

Or was this the negativity manifesting

Angry because when our lives fall off the cliff

When we are wandering in the wilderness

We are still running to JESUS

Running to God

Reaching for an affirmation of our identity

Marked with the sign of the Cross

A radical symbol which has transfigured death

Into Resurrected,

Eternal

LIFE!

(pause)

Thanks Be to God

 

 

Piety or Righteousness, In Love or Obligation?

Grace and Peace to you,

My fellow sisters and brothers in Christ

We are on a journey

Breaking away from those chains

That drag us down into sin

And running towards the One

Who has the power to break every chain,

Especially those of death

Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord

Amen.

 What takes us away from the Creator,

That along this Lenten journey

Immersing ourselves in the Holy Spirit

Can bring us back?

What does this season of Lent mean to you?

(pause)

Our Gospel this Ash Wednesday is familiar, right?

It is as if we have walked into church late one morning

In the midst of the Sermon,

In the midst of Jesus teaching those who are gathered there,

After the people have stalked, harassed and gathered

To be in the presence of Jesus

How would have it looked like, right?

To open the doors of the church-

And find no one here,

Because everyone is outside with Jesus Christ

Having that testifying moment

Pleading, Asking, Weeping

For healing,

Abandoning all propriety and decorum

Finding peace about releasing the darkness

which clouds their life

And we come closer to hear Jesus’s words

Instructions on righteousness

And not piety.

There is a difference,

Because our human piety can be poisonous

In building up the Kingdom of God

We are led to believe

Just because we have written an impressive amount

On a check

For a charitable donation

That we make sure all are aware of

That we have executed our duty,

And checked it off our list

And secured our rightful, fruitful place in heaven

(pause)

Just because we position ourselves in a prominent place

Among the faithful

So that our offering up of prayers

Which have been well planned

Well scripted

For all to hear,

That we have proven to everyone present

That we are virtuous

And everyone should indeed listen to what we have to say

(pause)

Just because that we have publically shared throughout emails,

On social media

Everything we are planning to give up for Lent

Even though seeing between the lines,

We begrudgingly comply

And somehow this should be enough evidence

How much of a faithful Christian we really are,

So no one should ever question us,

About where our loyalty lies.

(pause)

See what I did there, beloved?

The Creator indeed calls for us

To share our resources

To comfort those who are hurting so much,

Who have been abandoned by a thoughtless generation,

A generation who have abandoned the Word,

The Word which they have not perceived

“Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful

For theirs is the Kingdom of God”

But,

As a whole humanity has the reputation

Of judging one over the other,

And giving based on how we perceive

our fellow sisters and brothers

We ignore the fact that their stress,

Their pain,

Their homelessness

Is a product of human chaos

Is created because of human greed

We selfishly give,

When we can receive a recognition

A reward

A coveted place on the Board of Directions

A plaque on the wall

A trophy to be displayed

When we call ourselves Christians

And act with an empty heart-

How earth shattering would it be

To experience God weeping

Weeping for God’s children

Because we remove ourselves from community

(pause)

The suffering of the unknown

That we pass walking down the street,

Struggling to remain warm,

Or focused

Or maybe we pass by them in a store,

Stressed with how they will get all the groceries they need

Because they have to choose

Or even someone who comes up to us, fearful

They have hit rock bottom

Just as perhaps we too,

Remember when we hit rock bottom

The site of a fellow sisters or brother in Faith

Should wrench our spirits to a moment of despair

What can I even do?

(pause)

Maybe you are able to do something-

Maybe all you can do is stop,

And hold their hand

And pray

And struggle together in that moment.

And perhaps no one will ever know,

The kindness that you give of yourself

Because of the Love that pours down from the Creator God

The Good News is that God sees,

God comforts,

God empowers

And God teaches us through God’s Son,

Jesus Christ!

We were in such need

We ARE in such need

That when no one else cares to hear our story

Our problems

Our worries

When we are sick and tired of putting on that mask

That everything is alright,

JESUS CHRIST comes to US

US, beloved

And even all Jesus does is comfort us

WE KNOW

Everything will be alright

WE KNOW

We are not bumbling, stumbling through this world alone

WE KNOW

Along this journey of mistakes and mishaps

Jesus Christ extends forgiveness,

Grace

Mercy

JUST AS WE ARE CALLED TO DO.

(pause)

Remember that,

Giving up of donuts is not helping bring together

The Kingdom of God,

Unless that money that would have been spent

Is gathered and collected

For our sisters and brothers to have clean water

Viable food

Wellness

Giving up swearing or watching TV or even Facebook

Is not going to advance the journey towards

Righteousness

Unless removing those things that keep us bound

To the confusion of this world

Allows us to clear our hearts and minds

Of the negativity

That spews out hurt which stings

Instead of the Love of God within each one of us

Calling us,

Bringing us

To a place of forgiveness

(pause)

Forgiveness!

Remember this journey is about submitting

Submitting to the will of the One,

Who FORGAVE on the CROSS

And gave up of Himself

So that we may live!

And in turn love one another.

Be humbled, because you are made of earth,

But raise your heads

Because you are also woven with the dust of stars,

Created by God.

Thanks Be to God.

 

 

The God In Me-Meaning US

Grace and Peace to you,

My sisters and brothers in Christ

“Listen to Him!”

Listen to the One who Transforms US

As we are transfigured, seeing almost for the first time

The One who will sacrifice His Life,

For US

Binding US to the community

And to the Creator God

Amen.

 One of these stories is definitely not like the other

Clearly in our Gospel this morning

And yet, strangely enough

They do mesh

Because how could the people of God

Profess to those who perhaps, do not know

Or understand

This Way,

This Truth

This Man who brings Life to ALL

How could the disciples evangelize

about the transforming power of the Creator God

If they still hid behind a veil of obliviousness

Why does it seem as if we are there behind that veil with them?

(pause)

Each moment that we are in the midst of the wider community

Is an opportunity for us to invite into this sacred space

Our fellow brothers and sisters

For a moment of worship,

Not because of a requirement,

But an escape from the restraints

From the chaos that seeps like a bitter cold into our bones

That mountaintop experience

Of knowing that this place,

Was the one place,

You were beloved

You were human

Dr. James Cone, a theologian and father of Black Liberation Theology

in his most recent work

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Shares the stories of people of African Descent

And the mountaintop experience they had every Sunday

He quotes the author Richard Wright stating,

That church was the only place,

Where “we retain our wholeness and humanity,

Despite the blows of death.”

Where in the church,

That was the only place

That People of African Descent

Could wholly be themselves,

Where their voices mattered

And where their names, and faces,

And bodies were just as sacred

As the cross which hung above them,

As the One who suffered just as they suffered

A place where,

They were not afraid to release and exhale the Holy Spirit

Because

They felt

THEY KNEW

The presence of Jesus Christ

Was before them

THEY KNEW

That they could run to Jesus

(pause)

Isn’t this the place where we too,

Should be able to be who God created us to be?

Should be able to run to Jesus?

Because this is the place where we are wanted

Included

Uplifted?

(pause)

Isn’t this where

We as sisters and brothers in Christ

Are also in that quiet communion with God?

Shouldn’t this be the place

Where we too,

Run from the oppressiveness of this fragmented world

Rest from the feeling where we are made to feel like a motherless child

Escape from the horrible sounds of viciousness beating down

Beating upon those children of God

Isn’t this the place we stand in awe,

Just as on this mountaintop

Where Jesus Christ speaks with Moses, who brought the law

And Elijah, who spoke the power of prophecy

In the midst of this small community of faithful

Peter, John and James

To witness the Glory of God!

Which no doubt should have transformed these disciples

Cementing their faith in Jesus Christ

Or would it?

(pause)

Being exposed to a place where there is peace

Joy immersed in our very being

Love among God’s People

Power in the Blood

Celebration of the common bond we have with one another

Embedded in our worship,

Should make our hearts sing

And our bodies move

Out into the streets

And makes those who pass by us wonder

“What’s going on in that church over there?

Because the people there, their faces shine

As if they have seen the face of the Most High!”

But,

If we are not open

Taking a risk

Allowing worship to wash away everything that this world heaps on us,

If we are stubborn with our praise of happiness

With our prayers of weeping

With allowing worship to release us

With song to carve down deep within us that place where God dwells

To be the transformative vehicle that takes us

If we come with a spirit of obligation

Than a spirit of jubilation

Or supplication

How they can we proclaim the power that is rooted in our liturgy

In the power of the ritual of reflection

And connection

Through prayer?

(pause)

We profess our faith

In the words of the Apostles Creed

That we believe in the Holy Spirit,

But what does that mean?

Is the Holy Spirit an abstract after thought

Locked away in a box,

That is only taken down for Pentecost

And Holy Week

And Easter?

Or does the presence of the Holy Spirit

Rips our hearts free,

So much so

We find ourselves

Babbling

Confused

Like Peter in our Gospel this morning

(pause)

“LISTEN TO HIM”

Isn’t it confirmation to hear this voice,

The Creator’s voice shakes those

In this community gathering

That there is work to be done

And at the same time,

Opening of their hearts

Silently

This is how the Creator would meet them at the crossroads

Awaiting a moment of metamorphosis

(pause)

Or maybe that submersion into the supernatural was too much-

Witnessing the transfiguration,

Seeing the CLEAR ANSWER from the Creator God

Jesus Christ, Period

No veil,

No punches pulled

It is the Great I AM

(pause)

And yet, these disciples fail

There are moments in our lives when the Creator will clearly speak to us

Through a simple meal at a table

Perhaps we can only offer rice and peas

Or black eyed beans and rice

Or gumbo

Dishes scrape and created in poverty

to feed those who were poorer than you

Hurting more than you,

Because the world as a predator

is picking on our sisters and brothers in Faith,

In Love

Snatching them up and dashing them against rocks

Grabbing us up and shaking the sacred life out of us

This world as a beast who roams and consumes and leaves nothing,

Until we are forced to consume a spirit of despair

Untilour sisters and brothers have stapled to their very being

this cruel, repressive spirit preying on them

crowding out those places of light within us

Until we all are so lost

That we don’t know who we are,

And whose we are,

And those that love us RUN to Jesus,

Pleading

Begging

Crying out

“Teacher, I beg of you,

These are only children

The malicious spirit in this ruined world mauls at them”

(pause)

How can we confess that we are followers of Jesus Christ,

If we only leave the Triune God

On a smooth shelf

In an ornate box

For one day,

And forget

That through THIS MEAL,

RIGHT HERE

There is POWER

There is MERCY

There is GRACE

Because we heard about God’s GLORY

HERE,

In the Gospels,

In the stories

In oral stories of our testimonies,

YES-When has God impacted YOUR LIFE?

When has God made God’s Presence KNOWN in your daily walk?

When has the Gospel caused you to want to do SOMETHING

So much so you are drawn to people and places you never imagined?

What does God whisper to you,

When you are alone,

With your StarWord-you all still have them, right?

My StarWord? AFFIRMNG

And that has been my journey all along,

And still continues to be

And I stand in awe

Of seeing God before me

And hearing God’s Voice

“LISTEN TO HIM”

LISTEN!

Do you hear God calling us,

To follow the One who has the power

To shatter chains

And bring back to life,

Those whom the demonic,

The negativity

The darkness of this world attempts to control and destroy?

I say attempt,

Because we know

WE BELONG TO GOD.

(pause)

Transfiguration is not Jesus suddenly being transformed-

BUT US,

US BELOVED

So we can go on this Lenten journey,

Knowing we are never, ever alone

Thanks Be to God