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.
Nothing makes me feel younger/cooler than zipping (or bouncing) around town in my husband’s bright red Jeep Wrangler. And I am – bouncing around town in his Jeep - because he has my car. I put in a day, headed out to the parking lot, turned the ignition and heard……click. That’s it. Just click. The Jeep was deader than a Dodo bird and there is nothing cool about sitting in a Jeep in 100 degree TX July weather at 4 on a Friday afternoon. Click. Click, click. Xxx!!!!!## Oh, dear.
I called my friend, Gale. She called her 17 year old grandson, Blake. 15 minutes later he pulled in with jumper cables and his own new used pickup. I put the Jeep in neutral, my friend, April, climbed in it to steer while we pushed it out into the parking lot. Blake pulled his truck up, created jumper cable magic, and presto zappo the Jeep started. Thank you, Jesus! I am now bouncing around in a bright red Jeep with a brand new battery.
Here’s the deal: maybe we get all het up over finding God in the wrong places. Church is great – I love church! Retreats, conferences, seminars, and assemblies are fabulous. I go every chance I get. Places and times of intentional worship are vital. But God isn’t someplace else. God is right here, right now. Even if that means the auto department at Walmart late on Friday afternoon.
I got to call a friend, connect with a great teenager, and rest my feet in air conditioned space while my “still under warranty” battery was replaced. I had to slow down, take a detour in my day, notice people I wouldn’t have seen, talk to people I wouldn’t have been seated next to otherwise, and rest awhile out in the real world where people God is crazy about are working, sweating, paying money, struggling to get home, and carrying their own struggles, fears, and challenges as they go.
If we don’t take our God love, God spirit, God understanding with us out into the world when we leave church, we are missing in action as part of the Body of Christ. If we can’t see the Holy around us when a 17 year old comes to our rescue, if we can’t smile and be patient with a worn-out over-worked clerk who can’t get our battery core-charge straightened out on her computer, if we don’t feel compassion with all those folks around us doing the best they can, we need to do a service call on our prayer life.
I was hot and cranky. I took a dim view of being stuck with a dead red Jeep. I moaned aloud and kicked the tire – hard – at the line of people in front of me at the battery place. All I could think was how hot, tired, inconvenienced and miserable I was. Then another tired person smiled and invited me to sit down. People made room for me. People were courteous. People were willing to shoot the breeze to help pass the 90 minutes I was there. A waiting patron watching work through the big shop window thrust his fist in the air with a big grin and said, “You’re Jeep’s done, lady” while the person next to me gave me a high 5.
People I didn’t know and a teenager I knew. People who didn’t need to care. People who just smiled and made room for me. A mechanic who fit me in. Do they know how much they meant to me in that moment? Do they know how much God loves them in all moments?
Church is real when it helps us see God in sweaty mechanics bays and all the other places that belong to God whether the people there know it or not. Church gives life when it wakes us up to the reality of God among the people we are least likely to encounter in Church. Church matters when it helps us learn to navigate through stress with serenity greater than our native calm and see with more than our native compassion. Church transforms when we become those who invite, those who make room, those who work to make things better for others.
And church is fabulous when one of its grandmas sends a 17 year-old with jumper cables just when he is needed most!
Quote from writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders borrowed by John Lennon for his song, Lovely Boy, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
I made my plans and they were great plans. The General Assembly for my amazing church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), is meeting in Indianapolis this week. The venue is excellent - hotels surround the convention center and you walk across cool glassed-in bridges from hotel to event to mall and into great downtown eating places.
My husband couldn't go. Since I can get lost getting out of the parking lot Emily signed on to go with me. How fun is that?! Emily is younger than my kids and eager to see the greater church in action. Plain and simply we are going to have a blast! We read all the publicity leading up to the event. I will introduce her to my friends manning the Phillips Theological Seminary booth, we will linger over the fair trade booths and I'll try to buy only a few books. The worship, music, preaching and workshops will be sensational. Since I don't want to drag a laptop all over the place I order the printout of the business docket. I watch the webinars and sign-up for the dinners we will attend. This is going to be so good!
We are scheduled to leave my house Saturday at 11:30. Plenty of time to navigate Love Field. We will take Uber from the airport to the Marriott where we are staying. I feel young and cool just thinking about it!
Friday my body starts complaining. By Saturday morning I've got fever, I can't stand up straight and even my hair hurts! Emily zips into action and notifies the airline and hotel. I feel sorry for myself. Emily and I are missing out on everything! And then bad psychology/stupid theology kicks in.........What did I do to deserve this?.........Where did I go wrong? Is God mad at me? I'm just a useless, pitiful human being........sign.........moan. There is nothing like feeling weak, vulnerable, and disappointed to open the door to nonsense.
Well, nonsense be damned. Stuff happens! I didn't make myself sick. God isn't mad at me. This is not the end of hope and joy in my life. Emily got to go to the beach with her family. I will stay home and rest. In a little while I'm going outside to pot some coleus cuttings that are coming along beautifully.
All that enrichment and education I'm missing out on? I'm catching up on my Christian Century reading, reading ahead for the next few sermons, and playing the piano. I'm working on I'll Fly Away on the harmonica (you can almost tell what I'm playing now). And, Lord have mercy on my soul - I'm going to get my mileage and finance stuff up to date!
I pray abounding blessings on all those attending the General Assembly, and on the General Assembly, itself. I pray for my Phillips Seminary Friends and the Oklahoma and Texas pastors I will miss seeing. I pray for the music, the friendships, and all the possibilities for my wonderful Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I pray for safe travel for Emily. And I pray for Rev. Rosemary Redmond, who preached for me on Sunday, and for the lovely folks of my church.
Stuff happens. Plans change, we adapt. But we can still set our face to the future, we can still dream dreams and see visions. And we can live, ever more powerfully, into the Body of Christ right here ad now! Look out, Waxahachie, She Rev is on the mend!
I have a song stuck in my head……..don’t you hate when that happens? It’s the wrong song. It feels inappropriate. Irritatingly upbeat. Toe-tapping music. Dang…..
Every time I feel the spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.
Yes, every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart, I will pray.
The problem with this song is that right now my world is in dirge rhythm…..slow, heavy, sad, dismal. Isaac Benjamin Baker died……all of 3 years old. His birthday was April 2. Thursday he was here in the office with his mom to pick up his big brother. Home to nap as he was recovering from pneumonia. Then breathing difficulties, a trip to Baylor Waxahachie, on to Children’s Hospital, heart stopped, CPR, heart stopped again – crash cart – room full of medical people – every possible intervention and then the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the unbelievable………death. Smiley Isaac…..stringing words together……laughing at his brother, Dawson. Laying his head in his mom’s lap and saying, “I wanna go night night.” Isaac standing in my office doorway babbling about his day. Isaac is gone and we are in shock and disbelief.
I’m the pastor. I’m supposed to say something. Instead of profound words of comfort and inspiration I have that song in my head. If Isaac were here we could laugh while I sang it. But he’s not. And he won’t be ever again.
I don’t have answers to why. I don’t have clever sound bites to make you feel better. But I can dig down into the bedrock of my faith and tell you what I believe. And I believe absolutely that God was right there present with the family, the medical people, and Isaac when Isaac slipped away. God’s heart breaks with every hurt and every grief of every parent who loses a child. God neither chooses nor causes tragedy. But God is with us in tragedy. Emmanuel, God With Us, was completely present then and is still right in the midst of our lives when we are suffering and when we are celebrating. And God is wooing us to our next best thought, our next best choice, our next best action even now.
There is no way to know yet what Isaac’s short life has brought us. But we can be sure his life was precious to God and to us. It is a truth of this broken world in which we live that trouble abounds. But we stand in faith that God’s grace abounds even more. It is also true that if we dwell in our pain and pray into and through our pain, we can be transformed by our pain. Richard Rohr says if we are not transformed by our pain we will transmit it.
Let’s work for affordable, inclusive, and life-transforming health care. Let’s work for miraculous research into childhood illnesses. Let’s work for healthy and hope-filled groups and places for parents who have lost children to form community support together. Let’s work for a healthy world for all God’s children. And let’s work for both justice and compassion.
My song continues:
I have heartache, I have woe, I have trouble here below.
While God leads me I’ll not fear, I am sheltered by God’s care.
We North Americans seem to be set on doing our own thing. Religion becomes all about personal salvation and the focus is on me and Jesus. Heaven and Hell are the final destinations available based on our individual choices and we are entirely responsible for the one in which we land. Church becomes a choice based on getting my needs met.
For a pastor, this is a nightmare because we become responsible for making (and keeping) everybody happy. Church becomes a place where our church family is pleased with everything and folks come tofeel good. The goal seems to be a Hallmark moment rather than an encounter with the Holy.
Recently I heard William Willimon say that a person can make a difference but transformation takes a community. How exciting for church to move past individual experience to become a place of community transformation! A place where our personal tastes and inclinations aren’t the most important things. A place where generosity and hospitality are lived and justice becomes more important that personal political leanings. A place where the risky, disruptive things Jesus said can be heard, processed, and lived out!
First Christian Church of Transformed and Transforming Community – I’m in! Come on and let’s make it happen!
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).