I can’t thank you enough for my 2 weeks of vacation and 4 weeks of sabbatical! Gale and I traveled by air to Alaska with John and Nessa (youngest son and the love of his life). We saw humpback whales, harbor seals, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, bald eagles, Tundra swans, moose, caribou, muskox, wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, a porcupine and my brother-in-law. We stayed in interesting bed and breakfast establishments. On July 4 we took a flight-seeing tour of Denali National Park in a 185 Cessna that held only the 4 of us and the pilot. We visited a charming Russian Orthodox church, Native American cultural center, museums, The Ulu Factory, and the Anchorage Botanical Gardens. We ate fireweed ice cream and saw birch syrup being collected. We drove along Turnagain Arm and boated out into Prince William Sound. We visited Exit Glacier and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. And we spent a total of 14 hours flying there and back!
It is common for Alaskan summer weather to be overcast and damp. Our weather was beautiful! The temperature was in the low 70’s during the day and the high 50’s at night. The sun shone and the places we stayed had black-out shades to make sleeping easier since it gets dark for a very short time in the wee hours this time of year.
Denali (in native language “the Great One”), also called Mt. McKinley, is the highest peak in N. America. It is so massive it creates its own weather and is completely snow and ice covered. It is usually shrouded in clouds and visible less than 20% of the time. Alaskan residents say, “Denali is out today” when conditions make sight of the mountain possible. Gale has visited when Denali was hidden his entire trip. While we were there it was visible for the first 7 days!
Alaska and Texas feel like different countries. The summer workforce in Alaska is filled with Russian/Polish/Ukraine young adults and Native Americans. The people we saw looked like hikers/climbers /bicyclists or people who were really into eating bear meat and berries. We didn’t see a single What-a-Burger until we were back in Texas!
I am reminded that God’s creation is more diverse, colorful, and adventurous than I normally notice. I am also amazed by the wide variety of background, language, and experience spread out among the people of the earth.
Creation is beautiful, fearsome, elegant, raw, comforting, life-threatening, and colorful…….and God is in all of it. And God’s people are beautiful, fearsome, elegant, raw, comforting, life-threatening and colorful. How wonderful that we are all God’s people!
A while back Outlook updated and changed itself all around. Outlook didn’t ask my permission to do this. Instead, it expected me to embrace with joy the changes it imposed to my email. I should be delighted to unlearn and relearn. I should be excited about the fact nothing looked like it had looked. I should be able to follow new directions with no hesitation and want all the new features for which I had not asked. Clearly, Outlook believed it was making these changes for my own good.
The nerve! Why couldn’t they leave well-enough alone? Change for changes’ sake is great for kids but I’m a grown up. I wanted my email to look and work the way it had before the changes. I wanted no surprises. I believed I shouldn’t have to change if I didn’t want to change. And if I’m paying for it I should have some control. Shouldn’t I?
I shared this with a very wise pastor friend who listened to my tale of outrage and then said, “Hmmmm….do you suppose that is how folks feel when we change things at church?”
All of a sudden I was on the other end of the change continuum……..the one pressing for change, switching things up with the order of worship. The one making changes for our own good. I was happier being mad at Outlook than I was relating how I felt about email changes to how others might feel about Sunday morning worship changes.
Change is hard. Change can also bring a breath of fresh air into the room. Change can make us mad but it can also wake us up to new possibilities and give us new tools to engage our challenges.
I begin sabbatical in July 1. My sabbatical study is to visit as many different worship services in our community as I can. How do they do things? What is the experience of hospitality like? Is their signage adequate? Is navigating worship there clear? Is it a place I feel welcome? Do they use media? How do they use media? What is the music like? How do I relate to the message? What is their visitor follow-up like?
The outcome of this sabbatical experience may bring changes to our Sunday morning worship. I hope it won’t create the angry reaction I had to the imposed Outlook changes. But truth be told, things change and the pace of change is coming at breathtaking speed in our world.
May our worship be rich, relevant, fresh, tradition-based, and honoring to God in all ways. We will trust the Holy Spirit to help us hold steady even as we journey on a way we can’t quite see. And may our church witness to the goodness of God in ways beyond what we can even imagine now.
Blessings as you navigate the changes in your life!
I fooled my fitbit yesterday! I’ve never tricked a piece of technology before. Makes me feel youthful and smug!
It happened this way: I got home around 3 with lots of sunshine and great weather. Gale got the riding lawnmower out of the shed and took me through the annual remedial lesson on how to make it go.
I took off in sleepy turtle speed and never figured out how to go faster. But that’s ok. If riding mowers have springs, this mower doesn’t know about them. It isn’t cutting anything if the driver isn’t being jarred loose from preconceived ideas. I bounced and lurched through mowing the side yard and back acre. I’m happy to say I didn’t nick tree bark, blow clippings into the garden or fall off the mower.
The mowing took a couple of hours and when I went inside I discovered all that bouncing around made my fitbit think I was walking! I registered 13,750 steps for a day I spent mostly sitting down. This improves my stats with the daughter-in-law who challenged me in fitbit land to see which of us could log the most steps.
There is something gleeful about successful foolery – even when it is unintended! It feels cool to sound smarter than we are or appear to be harder workers than we are. And, to tell the truth, most of us probably like the appearance of exercising much more than we like actually exercising.
All of the trickery and cleverness in the world, however, doesn’t fool God. The health of my body is no secret to the Holy One regardless of how many steps my fitbit counted. Cleverness may conceal poorly done work from others and a smiling bit of donation may cloak us with the appearance of generosity but these things don’t hide our stingy self-centeredness or our lack of hard work from God even one little bit.
The danger of trickery is that we may actually fool ourselves into thinking we are more (or better, stronger, smarter, healthier, kinder) than we are. There is no harder work than the work of self-reflection and the exercise of honest repentance in the face of our personal truths.
It’s Advent…….a time of preparation and waiting. We are getting ready for the arrival of Jesus and the celebration of God’s redeeming work in the world through Jesus.
Our sanctuary is decorated with blue paraments – cloths that adorn the communion table, pulpit and lectern at the front of the church. The ribbons going on the bell banner each Sunday are blue and I preach in a white robe and blue stole.
When I grew up, none of those things decorated my Disciples sanctuary. The cloth on the communion table was maroon with gold fringe regardless of the season and the preacher was a guy in a suit. People in my congregation in the 50’s and 60’s would have called some of what we do now “fal de ral” and blasted it as being fancy or showing off.
In the beginning of the Disciples movement, there was nothing fancy in worship. The space was plain with the communion table on the same level as the chairs so that the table was open to everyone. The pulpit was on a platform above the communion table to show the importance of God’s Word.
So, when did Disciples start doing things that seem fancy? When did preachers start wearing robes and stoles? When did colors become part of our church seasons?
The beginning of the Disciple movement in the early 1800’s was all about restoration. Our founders felt that denominations were sinful because the church was established to be in unity. Restoration of the oneness of purpose experienced by the earliest Christians was the goal. The Disciples threw off the taint of denominationalism to get back to what they thought was “primitive” religion……religion the way the first disciples practiced it.
Gradually, awareness dawned that we cannot know exactly what the early experience of worship was like nor can we repeat it. Nostalgia, not spirituality, leads people to believe they would be better off if only they could return to the “good old days.”
Scholarship moved toward a realization that it is impossible to recreate the past. God’s church is moving forward and we are called to join with God in God’s ever present, ever changing expressions of mission, witness, and worship for our time and place.
We are growing in awareness that God’s church is multidimensional and amazing in its depth and breadth and kaleidoscope of expressions. No one understanding completely captures the Church. Disciples have their focus but so do other groups. This led to our participation in the ecumenical movement in the 20th century. Ecumenical comes from a Greek word meaning household. The ecumenical movement sought to embrace the whole “household” of God. It concerns all churches and their relationships with each other as well as the relationship of Christianity to other world faiths.
Exposure to the way other churches did things began to influence the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Women clergy realized wearing robes when they preached helped show their authority in a way that was attractive rather than strident. Awakening to the way churches like the Episcopal and Catholic churches incorporated seasonal themes and colors helped us move toward colorful and interesting worship spaces. Paying attention to liturgy – the components of worship whether verbal or nonverbal – allows us to experience worship in ways that acknowledge our bodies and spirits just as preaching engages our minds.
Is our way the only way? Of course not. Can we get too carried away with ritual and decoration? Absolutely. Will we always practice worship in exactly the same way? Not if we want to continue to express a relevant and life-giving worship for the new day in which we find ourselves.
I love being a Disciple of Christ. I treasure the differences among Disciples churches and with other churches. I am excited about trying new things. I believe we all need tradition to keep us grounded. And we need new experiences to keep energy and enthusiasm going.
I hope you experience our worship as an unfolding journey each Sunday as we are called to worship, gather, and then move toward the remembrance of Christ through communion and focus on God’s word through the preaching. If you have questions about why we do what we do, ask! I would love to hear your ideas and share mine.
May our worship reflect our best work together as a congregation that loves God and continues to journey with Jesus not only when we are together at church but in every moment of our lives. When we leave worship, let us be the church in the world wherever we find ourselves.
Blessings on your day and your life.
We are the church of corn……..754 cans of it! We signed up to provide 400 cans of corn for Waxahachie Care Thanksgiving baskets. Corn started coming in boxes, cases, and individual cans. First Christian Day School children saw our stack of corn in the breezeway and began bringing corn to help it grow. Soon, it was a tower that grew and grew! We have provided the corn for both Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets given by Waxahachie Care to those in our community living with food insecurity.
There are lots of reasons people are hungry. Some make choices that lead them into a lack of necessary resources. But what about the working poor? What about people who were born in the wrong place, through no fault of their own, and struggle in the margins to survive? What about children? What about people who never dreamed they would be in need? Two years ago every client in Daniel’s Den, our transitional shelter for homeless women, single mothers, and married couples, had a college degree. For most, events outside their control tipped the scales that threw them into a morass of poverty and struggle.
In Jesus’ day a few people were fabulously wealthy. However, the great majority were very poor. According to Dr. Brandon Scott, one of my professors, forensic anthropologists studying the bones of first century Mediterranean people believe the average calorie intake of a non-elite person was around 900 calories/day…….on a day when they got to eat! Famine was always right around the corner. When Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread…” I believe he meant just exactly what he said. We don’t need to spiritualize that statement from the Lord’s Prayer. We need to translate it into action designed to combat hunger!
Our opportunities for helping combat hunger extend to rice and beans for Mike’s Kids – part of Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries sponsored by the North Texas Area Disciple Men. We are also participating in Night of Wonder to provide Christmas needs, including food, for needy families on all 13 of our public school campuses.
We are blessed to be able to share. May God help us see opportunities for sharing that makes a real difference in people’s lives. And may God guide us in growing a culture of generosity that includes strategic political action to combat the economic systems supporting food insecurity on a global scale. Let’s be part of the work that can lead to everyone receiving their daily bread!
Last Thursday some of us participated in that great event: Senior Day at the Texas State Fair. We met up at the Hampton Rd DART Park and Ride, bought our $2.50 senior all day DART passes and traveled on the Red line to the Akard Station, switched to the Green Line and rode to the Fair. As we got closer, the train became more crowded. From Akard we stood and used hand straps or bars to keep our balance. The ride was smooth and if we were jostled we just bumped into some nice person who joked with us about the crowd on the train.
As first-timers, this was all new to Gale and me. We got our senior passes, bought coupons to pay for rides and food, and started the trek to see Big Tex.
Even though it was midmorning there were already folks in line for Fletcher’s Corny Dogs. Gale and I were instructed by the more experienced in our party; “Thou shalt eat a Fletcher’s Corny Dog at the Fair”. Apparently this is written in the Gospel of Texas along with, “If lost, find Big Tex and wait for the rest of the group.”
We tried to see everything. We tried to taste new things. We spent time in the animal barns and watched an excellent horse demonstration. We saw an amazing butter sculpture and looked at stuff that won red, blue and purple ribbons. We heard multiple languages as folks from other countries explored the fair all around us.
We ate too much, got funnel cake powdered sugar all over ourselves, and had a great time getting worn out. We found a friendly stranger to take a photo of our group and clambered back on DART to ride back to our cars.
Recently our sermons have come from scriptures in Matthew’s Gospel following Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on the last week of his life. He was surrounded by his disciples. They were rural guys from the sticks finding their way in the big city. It was Passover. The city had the atmosphere of holiday, carnival, religion, and bazaar. There were crowds everywhere, many of whom spoke other languages and some of whom arrived on the DART camel caravan. Street vendors were hawking everything from food and fabric to doves while money lenders offered specials on coupons for Senior Day at the Temple.
The disciples, big-eyed in the big city saw the sights, elbowed each other and pointed out the amazing things around them. They just couldn’t get over the magnificence of the temple. They even pointed it out to Jesus (Matt. 24:1). Wow! We can imagine how they felt. Crowds. Noise. Sights to gawk at. The best animals for sacrifice. An atmosphere of holiday, carnival, religion, and bazaar. A little “Ooooh”, a little “Aaahhh.”
But Jesus had his mind on other things. He wasn’t interested in animals for sacrifice or trinkets or food. The Midway didn’t grab him. He bypassed the butter sculpture and didn’t stop for a picture with Big Tex. He saw what we miss: the corruption of leadership, the heartbreaking needs of destitute people, the struggle for true health care, the gap between those who have more than enough and those who can’t subsist or support their families. He knows what is in the hearts of people and he knows what is in the heads of people and his heart breaks over the resistance to God in both hearts and heads.
He didn’t come for the sights. He didn’t come to show us around. He came to show us the way, the truth, and the life. He didn’t come as a tourist. He came as the Son of God
You know the expression, “He’s my brother from another mother.” or “She’s my sister from another mister."? It’s a way of saying you may not be blood kin, but you are such deep friends that kinship is the best description you have.
Sunday morning someone came to fetch me because some men had come from Jim Street Christian Church for Sunday school. I had no idea what was going on but was very glad to greet them. They told me their pastor, Glen Sherwood, was on his way. Then Pastor Sherwood, his gorgeous wife, Jasmyn, and another lady with a little girl arrived. The women were welcomed into our ladies’ class, the 6 men in Pastor Kerry’s, and the little girl joined me in the room we use for young children’s Sunday school. I had a wonderful time sharing our Sunday school story with the 6 children who were here and trusted the hospitality of our Sunday school classes to help our visitors know they were welcomed.
After Sunday school, Pastor Sherwood and the Jim St. folks shared the beginning of worship with us. They gathered at the front of the church, introduced themselves, and presented us with a lovely plaque. It was a complete surprise. Then it got even better!
Our Jim Street friends went on to their church for the 11 am service. Deacon Chandler, however, stayed behind to share his own black gospel version of Blessed Assurance. He sang it
a cappella and it was fabulous!!! I have put a clip of the video down below.
The presence of our guests, their delight in being here, their interest in us and their desire to honor and acknowledge our support of their ministry was a complete, joyous surprise and it just lifted our whole worship service!
Our worship styles and life experiences may be different but we are, in fact, brothers and sisters from other mothers who ultimately share the same God on High. God loves us and invites us in all our diversity into the Body of Christ to become reconciled and reconciling people. In this time of intense racial trouble in so many places in the United States, it is a deep honor to be part of the movement of wholeness that characterizes the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in fellowship with Jim Street’s Disciples. May God bless our growing relationship with Jim Street so that we come to know each other for the kindred spirits we really are!
The solar eclipse eclipsed our ability to get ordinary work done yesterday. School parents were all over the map: some were insistent their child stay inside and not risk hurting their eyes while others were insistent their child get to experience the eclipse in some way. Mrs. Peace, our science teacher, made pin-hole viewers, and I brought NASA eclipse glasses. All of our grade schoolers and adults took turns going out to look through them at the sun as well as seeing how the pin-hole viewer worked. No one really knew what to expect. The response, over and over again, was a surprised and reverent, “That’s really cool!”
The eclipse had been determinedly hyped by media. We knew when it would happen, why it would happen, and how it would happen. We had tools to watch it, either online or with some sort of viewing apparatus. It was excitement slipped into a regular day.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for the ancients? An event dramatically out of the ordinary. There were skilled students of the night sky, but not many would have been able to predict a daytime solar eclipse. No build-up, no scientific explanation, and no models to demonstrate how it worked. No realistic explanation. However, there was a driving need for it to make sense, a compulsion to fit it into a frame of reference that gave it meaning commensurate with the drama of its experience, something like this:
Surely the gods are up to something! Be afraid! Be very afraid!!!
We are incredibly blessed to rest within the God of assurance.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labor until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works--
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
My primary goal in preaching is to help connect your story/our story with the story of God, woven throughout scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. This is a fancy way of saying I really just want to be a storyteller of God stories. Since Jesus has that covered, I often end up looking for God in my own stories.
Life at church this week is CHAOS! School starts Monday, the flooring is torn out of the parlor kitchen, we don’t have the church directory photos finished, we have 5 new teachers, newly painted classrooms, newly carpeted preschool classrooms, mammoth cleaning out and cleaning up, and action-packed late days trying to having everything ready. The internet is up today after being down since last Thursday so the calendar is already out of date on our sparkly new website. Also, because the state has refigured how much time children must have instruction, Chapel will begin at 7:45 instead of 8 am. CPR training was this morning but I had other stuff going on, and my desk looks like clutter central.
So I launched into sermon prep for the Gospel lection: Matthew 14:22-33. This is Matthew’s telling of Jesus coming to his disciples across water at night in a storm. It’s a great story. I was going to steal John Ortberg’s sensational sermon so you would all think I was really smart and clever but it never really works to preach someone else’s words. So I started digging in to do my own work and discovered this is a story about CHAOS, fear, risk, and salvation! Wow!!!!!
We Americans want life to make sense. We search for sensible explanations. We want verifiable results. We put a great deal of energy into transforming CHAOS into chaos that can be organized and controlled. We really like sound-bite scriptures we can keep handy to zap mess and trouble into something conquered and subdued. We focus on God bringing order out of CHAOS.
What if CHAOS is something we need? What if the disorientation of mess and uncertainty opens up pathways we were unaware of? What if CHAOS is necessary to birth anything new? What if CHAOS is a prerequisite for the church to become the engaging, transforming, worshipping community it is called to be? What if our mess is the raw material from which God creates, transforms, and makes God’s own self known through Jesus Christ?
This Sunday I’m preaching to rock our boat. I hope you will rock along with me!
Yesterday was Malfunction Day: the church security system announced we had a low battery – which we didn’t because the battery was tested yesterday and was fine. The low battery alarm was shrill, constant, and penetrating. Finally, Debbie unplugged the system until the service guy comes to fix the control panel. Confused control panels are a mess. They miscommunicate, shriek, and cause stress.
Silence brought blessed calm. Everyone began smiling. We could breathe again. Life calmed down.
It dawned on me that my personal control panel might need a check-up. How is your control panel doing these days? Let’s run a basic diagnostic check:
What gave you life today?
What took life away today?
Our culture wants to be your control panel. Marketers want to decide for you what will give you life. Government wants to determine how you understand right and wrong. The media intends to shape what you understand to be important.
Take a deep breath. Sigh loudly. Stretch your arms and legs. Walk to a window and find something lovely to look at. Stand at the window and drink some cold, refreshing water. Breathe again. Remind yourself that God loves you – not in some token way but truly, madly, deeply.
Remind yourself again. You are loved truly, madly, deeply.
Then ask yourself what gives you life. Mull it over. Imagine it. Settle into the question. Ask yourself what takes life away. Mull over it. Imagine it. Settle into the question.
Then – best part – reset your control panel to choose what really gives you life!
Deuteronomy 30:19 The Message (MSG)
I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live.
Rev. Marcia Hagee
She graduated from Duke University and the University of Missouri-Columbia studying Psychology and Religion. She earned her M. Div at Phillips Theological Seminary and was ordained by the Oklahoma Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).