wester-wall-wailing-610x343Oh man, I used to mock people that would say, “Oh I’ll pray about it.”  Until one day when I had an experience with a parishioner that I’ll never forget.

We had just been through something…not a small something…. a big something.  We had to let his sister go by making the tough decision of taking her off a respirator.  She had MS most of her life, her husband was angry, her brother a non believer, and her parents devout members of my congregation.  But there we were, a small community gathered around life and death.  As we let her go, our tears joined in chorus and our hearts ached in a silent reverence for who she was and how she would never be physical in our lives again.  Praise and honor to the Christ who makes all things bright and beautiful and new again in his Kingdom.  That was my language in my thoughts, but to those angry and shattered and nonbelievers, they meant nothing out loud.  So my arms outstretched to him and their family and love connected us in a powerful way that transcended religious language.

Months later, this same nonChristian and I found ourselves in another troubling position.  He was in the hospital battling for his life and at the begging of his parents and because of our history, I went to visit him and to offer God’s presence in a time when it was needed regardless of his belief or nonbelief.  He was again on the verge of life and death.  And his struggle was palpable.  I walked into the room and he was relieved to see me…..we talked, we cried and as I was leaving, I prayed for him.

Over the next few days, our congregation (his parents’ church) started to fervently pray for him on his prayer list.  This congregation really meant it when they said they’d pray, so we did.  A few from the church went to visit him again.  And about a week later, I went to see him.  As I walked into the room it was somehow lighter, somehow brighter.  He had color in his face where it wasn’t before and a smile where once there was a darkness.  He said, “I’m glad you’re here because I’ve realized something.”  I said, “OH?  What’s that?”  He said, “Prayer actually does something.”  He went on to tell me that after my visit and others who visited and that they told him our church was praying, he had been contemplating suicide to end his own suffering.  He told me, “I literally felt like I was standing on the ledge and about to jump.  And knowing that people were praying for me, I could feel that comfort and I stepped back and laid myself into those arms of so many who were praying hope for me.  Prayer saved my life….even if there was no God to pray to, it saved my life.”   He had never come to church except on occasion to make his mama happy and when he did he never took communion.  When he finally healed, he made it to church.  He took communion and he whispered as he took it, “I believe.”

I no longer mock those who say, “Oh well, I’ll pray for you.”  Why?  Because prayer actually works.  It’s not a, “I’m gonna pray for a million dollars” and then actually get a million dollars kind of works.  It works because it is a blanket comforting our fears, and our brokenness, and our hopes.  It works because when someone says, “I’m going to pray for you” it brings that thing of which he or she struggles into the community and arms of another human being and where two or three are gathered there Christ is in the midst of it.  Prayer works because gives a hope and a compass for faith to grow and it works because in the eyes and ears of another human being there now is a responsibility to one another that requires unconditional love and grace.  It works because when another human being is engaged enough in your life to take the time to receive our pain it breathes life into your life where life wasn’t before.  Prayer actually does something.  It changes things.  It isn’t a pop quiz where God chooses how to answer it, it’s a relationship that opens the possibility that there is actually more and there is something meaningful in giving ourselves to one another and in doing so, ultimately to God.

In the front of our sanctuary is a door leaning against the wall……the panels have been replaced with chicken wire….so that in it you can place your prayers.  You are invited to pray for those prayers that have been placed within it……you are invited to take the requests made by others and hold them in your heart and speak love into them and allow God’s grace to flow through you in the act of praying.  And if you need prayer for anything – give it to the door….and to this community of faith.  And we will lift it up and know that our prayers have the power to talk you back from the ledge.  Whatever ledge upon which you stand.   If you’d like your prayers to be anonymous and not looked at, write them on the white paper provided for you.  If you’d like your prayer request to be seen and prayed over specifically write your prayer request on the colored paper.  I will be looking at those papers and praying over them daily…….and those that are on white paper I will simply speak love into them in God’s name.

Prayer actually does something……we invite you into the door to pray…..let us wail at the wall with you and for you…..and watch how God works in your life.  There is always Good News in All Things. Praise and honor to the Christ who makes all things bright and beautiful and new again in his Kingdom

Love – Rev Jill Sullins

Praying As If Life Depends On It

hope-sun

The problem is my memory.  I remember how she was.  And that’s a problem, because she will never be that way again.

I was in fifth grade when it all began.  I was hunkered down at my neighbor’s house watching from the window, while my parents drug her almost lifeless body into our house.  I was ten.  I had taken the phone call from her best friend and I remember the words, “I think your sister is dead.”  There was a lot of crying and the words I could barely make out, but that sentence I remember.  That was the first of many incidences that began to change the course of life in our family.  She had been drinking and took pills.  She was thirteen.

My sister was like many big sisters.  She tortured me as I’m sure I tortured her.  But the problem is my memory.  I remember sitting together in our playroom cutting Barbie’s hair, as most girls do.  We had built a house out of the cardboard bricks so that Barbie and Ken could live a better life.  A bigger life.  I remember playing outside, my big sis always eager to find a way to trick me to do things for her…..”Open your mouth and close your eyes and you will get a big surprise”….as she and the neighbors poured birdseed into my mouth.  It was part of being the youngest in our hood.  I was always just happy that she paid attention to me.  I remember laughing in Colorado when our tent flooded from the rain and I remember crying with her as we got older when our grandpas died.  She was there, always there.  I remember tricks we played on our parents and I remember secrets that we shared.  I remember the laughter and I remember the feeling of pride in being the sister of a girl who lit up every room she walked in.  We lived a “normal” life.  Our parents married, great neighbors next door, food on the table and always ALWAYS together.  The problem is my memory and how this memory can never let go of the once was.

We are now in our forties.  Well, I’m forty and she is forty three.  And again, I got the call (text nowadays).  This time from my dad, “Jill we cannot find your sister.  She’s missing.”  My heart always sinks when this happens.  She’s been missing before.  Because…..well….that’s what mental illness does – steers the afflicted to make choices that just don’t make sense to the well.  “She was arrested for drunk driving, admitted to the hospital and they released her and we don’t know where she is.”  I did what I always do…because….memory.  I started to search – the jails, the hospitals, facebook, friends….and nothing.  Have you ever had someone you love go missing?  It’ll darn near drive you crazy.  Late in the day, my dad got the call….she had been admitted to a hospital and on suicide watch.  Again – Vodka and some prescription medicine.  It’s always Vodka and prescription medicine.  “She’s in ICU,” he said, “we think she is stable but we aren’t sure yet.  She came to and called me.  I’m so glad she called me.”  And here’s where it gets harder…..I could hear the hope in his voice.  Hope that is driven by…..memory.

People often ask me why I put up with it….or how I can still care?  And they often ask, what triggers this with her?  It’s been 30 years and it happens on a one to two year cycle.  How can you still go looking?  She’s being so selfish!  Don’t you think you’re enabling her by going to look for her?  And I’m sure these questions come from their love for me and the wanting to protect me from getting hurt, yet again.  I can’t blame them.  But again, the problem is my memory and that with each year, I seem to be getting closer to understanding what this disease does to someone.  My sister is bipolar, she is manic depressive, and she has borderline personality disorder and to hide all that she drinks.  I can’t blame her either.  I don’t know how that feels to be trapped in one’s own head all the time.  I can’t and will never understand that.  But that is mental illness.  It is manifested in so many ways and in so many people and no one person is alike.

She wasn’t always this way and that’s the hardest part for me.  I don’t know how it started….but I know it started when puberty rolled around.  It could be that she was raped by a peer when she was young.  It could be that rape led to an abortion.  It could be that when she was 13 she was chased down the street by boys with knives.  It could be that her self esteem was beaten down so hard by these chain of events that her brain snapped.  It could be that we went to a fundamentalist Christian school as youngsters and they beat it into her head so much that she was unworthy of forgiveness that it ALL spiraled into self shaming and that spiraled into drug use and that led her into a giant mess in her brain…a brain already dispositioned for mental illness as it ran in our family.   All I know is that I lost my big sister – the one I laughed with in our childhood and with every day I pray I can get her back.  But she can’t go back…WE can’t go back.

There are days my sister will show up at family function and seem so “normal” – that girl who lit up a room when we were young, she still has the ability to do that.  There are days that we laugh and smile and joke.  And there are other days when I see that’s not going to be today.  Mental illness is the worst roller coaster I’ve ever been on.  And the thing I have to keep reminding myself….and if you struggle with someone with mental illness, you should remember this too….it’s far worse for her than it is for me and it’s not my fault and it’s not her fault either.  I’ve often asked myself, especially in the latest episode, why didn’t I see it coming?  I should have known!  I should have known when she showed up late to her only son’s graduation that something was amiss.  I should have known when I stayed for an hour and a half at his graduation party and she never showed up.  I should have known when I saw her and I should have reached out.  I should have seen it coming.  I know what this looks like.  I know when she’s depressed because she never comes around.  When someone asks me what triggers it…I know what to say.  Nothing does.  She just starts to sink.  I should have seen her sinking.  Because for someone who is mentally ill, they just can’t see the hope that I see nor do they have the memory to see what was.  It is as if he or she is drowning in sadness and the only way out of it is to do something drastic.  It’s a sinking ship.  And the fact is no matter what we do to stop it….it won’t stop because that’s mental illness.  I can’t control it and she can’t either.  So I’ve been asking myself for thirty years – what do I do?  Because…memory.  I want her back.  What do I do?  Because….I’m a fixer.  What do I do?  Because….I’m a pastor.  What do I do?  Because….I SHOULD KNOW by now.

You see…..my memory is a problem because it always ALWAYS gives me hope and hope causes me to love deeper than I’ve ever known.  Hope drives me to go look and to keep searching for ways to make it ok.  Hope given to me by God…by those flickers of laughter….drives me to see that my sister has value and worth and is a person.  Not the person I grew up with….but a person who is still worthy and capable of being loved and giving loved.  She does not want to be selfish.  She does not want to die.  She does not want to hurt everyone around her.  And deep in her I know that’s there……I know that her greatest desire would be to be well.  I CAN’T make her well.  But I can love her.  And I can be there for her.  And I can with everything that I am get angry and sit on my throne of judgement as if I know better…..and I’ve done my share of that….but it just doesn’t change anything.  But I know what does.  Memory.  Hope.  Love.  It won’t make her better, but it will show that in the moments that are the most dark, God’s presence will not be absent.  And I can do that.

I’ve been praying…..because I keep remembering all of those moments with Jesus in the Gospels with the folks who had the demons.  I remember the one demon in Mark…..the only one that could identify Jesus as the Christ.  I remember how Jesus just cast out those demons as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do.  I’ve been praying and searching for the magic formula he used so I can use it on my sister.  Not one of those stories is alike.  They all have different language and Jesus takes a different strategy with each one.  So I look past it at what is really there – and I’m finding these two things….his presence and his unwillingness to walk away.

I could get on a soapbox about the lack of care for the mentally ill all day long.  I could talk about health insurance and job security and on and on and on.  But this isn’t about that.  This is about…how can we help?  What can we do?  My natural mechanism when something is hard is to withdraw myself and walk away.  I get so quiet that my husband will ask me a thousand times…what’s wrong?  But here’s the deal…that mechanism will not work.  It will not work for us who are healers to keep turning away our heads and not telling the story of pain.  It will not work for us to withdraw and pretend like everything else is great, just don’t ask me about my family member who is laying in ICU right now.  It will not work for me to simply just not show up to family functions that I know my sister will be at.  And it will not work for me to not go find her, to not seek her and to not hope for her.  Because, as hard as this is…as hard as it is to see someone you love so much make these choices….it does not and will not heal her to walk away.  It will not help to pretend it’s not there.  And if we claim our Christianity to be the guiding principal of our lives…if we claim to follow Jesus and then fail to be present for the mentally ill, then we fail at being Christians.  If we are not willing to entertain the demons and to allow them to name us, if we are unwilling to get close enough to get hurt by these demons then we can never know how to heal them.  We must be willing to stand up and to pray.  To stand up and to test how far reaching our love goes.  We must be willing to say – I LOVE YOU even when I think you are the craziest person in the world.  We must be willing to be like Jesus and face what is there with our presence and with our strength.

Am I hurt by my sister?  Heck yes, not by her, by her disease.  Are you hurt by those around you who are mentally ill?  without a doubt, not by them, but by their disease.  It is a crippling, gut wrenching, heart ringing journey to walk with someone who is mentally ill because well…there is absolutely nothing that can make it all better or how it was.  But that memory of who they were?  That’s the driving force for your hope.  And hope drives you to love deeper than you have ever gone before.  I will never stop hoping for my sister and for anyone who is mentally ill.  I will never stop searching for her when that child that is in her is missing.  I will always stand before her and let Christ guide my actions to that of presence and determination.

This silence of pain needs to end.  There is nothing to be ashamed of here.  Your loved ones are of value and they are children of God.  If you are struggling with mental illness or a loved one with mental illness, you are not alone…..and you are not without hope.

Memory, Hope, and the Mentally Ill

Some Back to School Thoughts

Now that I’m in this back to school stuff, I have some thoughts I’d like to share today as my kiddo heads to first grade.

We were asked by my daughter’s teacher to write one thing we hoped she would learn this year as she heads to first grade.  Just one?  I mean, I hope she learns a lot of things, but one thing did keep nagging at me.  I ended up with the answer of “her awareness of relationship with the people and the world around her.”  That’s the thing, right?  I want her to learn, in school, how to live better in community.  So what does that mean?  Well, here’s what I think I mean:

A)  thinking about how her behavior affects the children in the room with her

B)  is she making her community a happier place?

C)  is she encouraging others, helping them to succeed?

D)  does she think of others before she thinks of herself

E)  do the words she says speak truth with that oh so delicate flare of humility that comes with knowing the answer

F)  is she respecting the teacher and listening to her authority?

G)  is she respecting herself and others?

H)  does she see that she’s less successful when others aren’t being successful

I)  is she listening with her ears and with her heart

J)  is she reaching out to those who are not included?

As I contemplate this desire for her to learn to live better in community, it got me thinking, Church.  Isn’t this what we all hope for ourselves, for the world, and especially for the community we build in our churches? 

God calls us together in a holy space, whether a classroom or a sanctuary, for the purpose to learn how to live better with one another.  It’s a great place to be, in communion with one another.  It has potlucks.  It has Bible study.  It has heart to heart dialogue.  Where three or more are gathered, there Jesus is in the midst of them.

When I hear God is not in school, I simply look to the playground and as my daughter grows in learning community, what do you know, there God is sliding down the slide.  God breaks through when she finally understands the spellings of their, there and they’re, and peeking through that finally solved math problem.  There God is shining through the hands of the little one carrying a tray in the lunchroom for her friend, found in the teacher who witnesses her student learn how to read.  And always on the margins when he sees that boy standing alone for the third week in a row and finally goes over to say hi at recess.

There in the midst of them all, God uses community to speak love.  I wonder, if someone peered through the window of the stained glass, would he see the same thing? 

Kids These Days

Ever seen Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events?  It’s a great movie that my daughter seems incredibly into.  Not sure if it’s the darkness of it or the truth telling of it that gets her, but something lures her into it.  It’s probably the only movie she actually sits and does nothing else but watch it for two hours.  A rarity in the world of Madison.  Anywhooooo…..there’s a scene in the movie of one of the side actors looking at the Boudelaire children as they accuse Mr. What’s his face of being Count Olaf, yet again, and no one believing them, and one of these actors makes the statement, “Kids these days.”  Such a small side comment, but so impactful on my tiny brain.  “Kids these days.”

This morning we learned of the shooter in Charleston, South Carolina.  He walked into an AME church, pulled a gun and murdered 9 people in their house of worship including the church’s pastor.  I think, for any pastor, this hits close to home.  What baffles me is that while we concentrate on race (And clearly this was racially motivated, so rightly so), and we think about what drives a person into the House of God to murder, is that this KID was 22 years old.  “Kids these days.”  When I was 22 I was finishing up undergrad, all caught up in “All My Children” and figuring out how to finish out my last semester of tennis to fill that one dumb credit hour I desperately needed to graduate.  I was preparing to go on vacation, working part time at Dillard’s, and while I was on the road to ministry, my brain had not yet comprehended all this adulting I was about to start doing.  Free and clear.  Happy.  Excited about what lay ahead for my life.

“Kids these days.”  A 22 year old kid murders nine people.  A 12 year old black girl is assaulted by police in McKinney, TX.  My 6 year old daughter gets called fat by her “friend.”  A 2 yr old and 6 yr old lose their mother to cancer.  An almost senior in high school deals with his mother’s alcoholism and abusive relationship.  A baby gets left at a dumpster for anyone to find.  DFS gets called out in even the most lucrative areas of the city.  And a child died today in the hospital from cancer.  “Kids these days.”

To be clear, I am not excusing this kid of murder because of his age.  And I’m not at all comparing murder to cancer.  But what I am bringing to light is “kids these days” who are exposed to way more of real life then what any generation before has ever been exposed to and that’s gotta be creating an impact on the future psyche of American children, doesn’t it?  They are exposed to the dramas of Ferguson, the hurt of illness, the starvation of children globally…..they are dealing with the rising statistic of divorce, the pressures of being well educated to create for themselves a wealthy future, not to mention just the every day of every thing.  Soccer, baseball, ballet, creative arts, music, gaming, robotting, and the list goes on and on.  Mud puddles are becoming less and less of an attraction for a 4 year old who is now gravitating to the latest Disney Infinity figurine.  Surely this is impacting the future landscape of our world and it seems as if it isn’t being addressed.

Heck, we adults are so busy trying to clean up the messes we keep making around us that we hardly even noticed that the age limits for porn sites or even social media sites are rarely investigated, checked or followed through on.  “Kids these days” get that phrase thrown at them like somehow they’ve caused all of this and to that I say……blech.  I’ve heard people say in response to the event in Charleston, “when are we gonna say, “Enough is enough.”?  And in the back of my head I can’t help but wonder, perhaps enough starts when we take a good look at the changing world around us and start thinking about how this is impacting children globally.  What is their worldview?  Are we doing enough chatting with them?  Have we unplugged them at least once or twice to check in?  Or how about when we know they’ve experienced something impactful, have we at least thought about maybe that baseball game not being so important?  Or maybe enough starts with that long hard look at what perhaps we ARE teaching our children in the words we say and the example we set.  After all, we are who they look to navigate this life.  Are we explaining to our children why we do what we do or how come we feel what we feel?

To me change starts with conversation not an excuse.  Real change starts with the admission of fault and wrongdoing, then moves towards forgiveness, and then onward to rebuilding or restarting or starting something completely new.

So my suggestion is this and I am NO expert….but if we want to create good in the world and create change.  If we want to say enough is enough and enough is starting with me…… then maybe now’s a good time to find a puddle and jump in it with your child.  Maybe now is a good time to get out the colors and have a conversation through artwork.  Maybe now is a good time to be mindful of the ways you converse with your children.  Or perhaps when it’s 10pm (cuz it’s Summer and I gave up on the 8pm bedtime for Summer) and your child stalls for bed by starting a conversation, it’s time to let her stall and listen to what she has to say.

I know this……more love can never hurt this world.  More love can not break a child.  And more love will not murder 9 people in a church.  Stop and listen to “kids these days.”  Give them a voice and maybe then we can start on this journey of enough being enough.

 

 

5 Tips to Creating the Sermon, not the Perfect Sermon.

I have thousands of books on shelves in my office…..okay…they are not all on the shelves as I am being neglectful in my organization skills as of late.  And yet there at times when those books stay right there.  They may whisper to me here and there, “I can help!”  “OH pick me.”  “I hear you need a good illustration.”  I often ignore their pleading.

Every week, I sit at this computer and stare at the screen hoping the Holy Spirit will somehow miraculously fill my finger tips with the words.  I stare.  It stares back at me.  I escape its stare, indulging in numerous facebook articles, postings or I look up a Pinterest recipe.  Hoping inspiration will seep into my weary heart and urge from my mind in the form of the perfectly crafted sermon.  Something?  An idea?  A thought?  Come on, just something funny to start off with.  More often, I return to my blank screen still staring.

There are weeks I leave its gaze to make coffee or take a walk.  After all, it is only Monday.  I have 6 more days.  Except that on those other 6 days I have tball practice, tball games, the wonderful task of catering meals to my family every day, cleaning my house, spending time with my family, and any other church thing that might just pop up.  So…….back to my blank screen I go.

The task of creating the sermon isn’t a burden, in fact, I love it.  But when preaching on a weekly basis, it can feel repetitive, as if you’ve been saying the same thing every week.  Which brings me to step one in creating the sermon:

1.  Find that thing that drives you to preach…..what is it about your faith that you wish you could scream out each and every week to everyone?!  I mean, don’t do that…..but starting with your passion is a good idea.  There is a reason God has given you a voice and is asking you to use that voice.  There is something unique to that voice that God wants to use it to penetrate the ears of the listener.  You don’t need anything new or mind blowing, heck, if I could yell to everyone Jesus loves you and is there to help every week….that would be it, right?  Start with that.  That thing.  That groaning in your gut that wants to be voiced.

2.  Remember all those books I told you about?  Those are great!  But you know the one book that isn’t on a shelf and that sits right up next to me?  Yes, the Bible.  It sounds a little trite to say, “oh yeah, you should start with the Bible.”  But I’m saying it.  When I distract myself with facebook, I have this great opportunity to read all of these articles and editorials on the latest and greatest Church trends.  I see “the church in America is in a decline” or “Millennials share their reasons for not going to church.”  And sure I should know that stuff.  But what I really should know?  The Bible.  I should know the stories that have been told, in fact, those stories should ignite my soul.  I should read the text over and over again and let God fix it on my heart.  Some of the greatest stories ever told are right there and sometimes those stories are all you need.  Read the Word of God.  Let it bring forth your voice….LOVE the Bible….even if it is that Abraham and Isaac story…..even in that God is giving you a truth.

3.  Trust your one message that feeds you…..love the Bible and open it and don’t let it rest….but NEXT…..feed your soul.  Take a break from the screen.  Let the words on the page rest in your heart.  Give it space to breathe.  Meditate on it.  Take a good long look at your own life and pray for God to make space for the lives of others.  Ask God…..what do you want me to say, what do you want/NEED your people to hear this week?  Help me, God to let go of whatever angles of the church that got my goat this week and may it not intercede your message.  “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Next, you PRAY.  The worst thing you could ever do in preaching a sermon or constructing a sermon is to allow the brokenness of church living guide the message.  Pray to get rid of it.  All ministers face heartache in their ministry.  That’s part of it.  All ministers face blessing in their ministry.  That’s part of it.  Get rid of both and empty your heart that you might hear God’s voice above the fray.

4.  I always let Number 3 take a day or two as I tend to the other tasks of ministry.  But in that time, I seek the guidance of the world.  This is when I read other books, this is when I integrate the articles and research into the sermon preparation.  I open my eyes to the talking donkeys of life.  I open my ears to hear the still small voice in the cave.  And more than anything….the most mundane activities become a sacred watering hole for how the story of the Gospel is being told in the world today.  Have you ever noticed that handing the box of crayons to your five year old for the 20th time in a week can sometimes shed light on God’s forgiveness?  Or how about that washing machine that refuses to spin…has it ever reminded you of the Disciples general attitude towards actually receiving Jesus’ words as truth?  Perhaps that driver that cut you off when CLEARLY you were RIGHT there can serve as a reminder that God might actually still be a mystery to be explored.  Wonderful, funny, and earth shattering illustrations are great, but what brings the message home is when that weed keeps popping out of the same place in the garden and you go to pull it and remember the Good News on Sunday…..”Just like clay in the potter’s hands, so you are in mine, O Israel.”

5.  Pull it together.  So what if nothing is written down.  So what if it all seems a little ragged at this point.  Preach GOOD NEWS!  The thing about preaching is this….. while sometimes the message is challenging and hard to do in the real world…at the essence of it all is Good News.  And sometimes that’s enough.  It’s enough to say, it’s not perfect and it won’t be perfect.  It is still good news.  So what if your illustrations seem a little dry, it is still Good News.  Remember that YOU are not so important that You could actually impede the progress of the Good News.  The Gospel story still is the Gospel story.  Put the fingers to the Keyboard and tell it.  Or the pen to paper if that’s your preference and tell it!  The story of the Christian Faith, while it has some pretty bleak moments and there are times this faith is challenging at best, it is still Good News.  At the heart and soul of the sermon is the reality that God is love.  Christ is Risen.  And Hope abounds.  I don’t think any sermon is ever perfect……but luckily it doesn’t have to be.  Remember the Good News first, Read the Bible second, Pray in all of it, open your eyes to the beauty of living, and then tell the story.

In remembering that, the blank screen doesn’t seem so intimidating.  In fact, it is your creative friend who gives you a vehicle to tell the world the Gospel and that this Gospel is theirs too.  YOU GET to preach!  It is your privilege and honor.  It is MY privilege and honor.  And even though it’s an honor I get every week, I always find it funny how the Good News never becomes Old News.

The Ocean Depth (sermon from snowy Sunday)

As Promised, below is my sermon (a few days late!) from Sunday!  Enjoy!

The Ocean Depth

Genesis 1:1-8

One of the pagan stories of the creation of the world…was that their gods had to go through a lot of effort to create the cosmos……. For example, Marduk (which originates from Mesopatamia), the god of Babylon, in order to bring the earth into being, he had to fight a mighty battle with the goddess Tiamat, who was the primal sea.  Marduk had to split her carcass in two, like a giant shellfish, to form the earth and sky out of her body.

There are countless creation stories……  One that circulated a lot was that God battled a sea monster named Leviathan and a dragon named Rahab to create the world.

In some mythologies, a goddess gave birth to it all.  Without help.

In Native American mythology, two gods sat together and dreamt it all up with a coyote, a crow and some others to come up with the world.

The Egyptian myth of creation also starts out with a body of water, in which the sun god, Ra, brings forth from the water (also a god named, Nu), two other gods.  Shu and Tefnut.  Shu separated lovers that mingled in the waters of Nu, by lifting up the waters to the sky, where the moon and sun floated in them.  And so the whole tale formed the earth and the sky.

All the creation stories start out, “In the beginning…”

Our Christian story starts out, “In the beginning……when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless voice and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind, the breath, the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters…..and God said, “Let there be light.”  And God called it good.

God had no other gods to battle, none in existence…..there are no quarrels about what got where or a story behind it…it was just “Let there…..” and there was.  And the spirit, hovered, the wind swept over…..the face of the waters…..  Just one God….who’s very breath was the wind that formed the world.  One God……did it all.  And that spirit…. breathed life into it…..God’s breath over the depths of water and the world was formed.

“You can’t conceive, nor can I the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God” – says Graham Green.

There is a story here, our story that says something about our God……..there is something so deep to God that you….nor I ……could understand.  No amount of explanation or rationalization could come close to who God has been, is or ever will be.

Imagine the image of God’s breath sweeping over the darkness of the deep…… that part of the water we never would even venture to swim in.  Scientists say we know less about the depths of the ocean than we do about space.

The power of the ocean has always compelled me to have some fear of it.  My husband and I took our honeymoon in Hawaii where we spent a lot of time in the ocean.  One of those times, as I swam out a little farther than my normally would, I was swept away by the undertow, bathing suit and all.  The ocean spit my body out onto the shore, with my husband scrambling to find how to cover me.  I realized as I took a breath of air the power that had taken me from thinking myself invincible to feeling as if I was just another fish in the sea.

I first became infatuated with ocean in high school, on a mission trip, standing on the pier…as I stood there looking at the vast body of water for the first time in my life….I noticed how diverse the ocean was.  On one side of the pier was the ocean crashing against rocks, violent and powerful.  And on the other side, it peacefully settled onto the sand and drifted back out to the horizon.  And I was changed…….all the while I thought I had God figured out, I realized in that moment, God was as diverse as that ocean.  All powerful, perhaps able to sweep me away like another fish in the sea and yet peaceful enough to rock me gently in the midst of the fears of life.  God, much like this ocean, is one thing I shall never figure out completely.

The ocean depths, the power of God and the peace of God was there from the beginning in this Spirit that we have yet to figure out.

God is deeper than we could know, with more intracicies than we could ever figure out.  There is depth there, much like the ocean – some with sharp edges, stinging jellyfish, and others as peaceful and serene as an ocean drifting off and on the sandy shoreline.

Part of the beauty of God is exactly this………that that breath and spirit hovers over the darkness of my being and somehow creates something beautiful.  And continues to do so.  Over the emptiness of our own self, God breathes life into us with the same mystery God created that ocean.  God says it and it is done and it is good.

That in the world, this mysterious God, with a depth far greater than an ocean, looks out upon us and continuously creates and dreams and makes something new where something chaotic used to be.

The mystery of God is a blessing………it is that somehow, in some way…..as you and I stand there vast and void, this God breathes life into us, even in the midst of death and struggle.  And we are again made into something new…….well…that…..I don’t even want to know how……

God just let it be done……and call it good.

One of the best stories of creation for us comes from a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1927, it comes from “God’s Trombones” and reads.

“The Creation” (from God’s Trombones, 1927)

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely –
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see 5
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke, 10
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands 15
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness, 20
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good! 25

Then God himself stepped down –
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet. 30
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren. 35
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas –
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed –
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled –
And the waters above the earth came down, 40
The cooling waters came down.

Top Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms, 45
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder. 50

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls 55
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good! 60

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon, 65
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down – 70
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man! 75

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty 80
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby, 85
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul. 90
Amen. Amen.

Somehow, God…..in all God’s mystery……breathed life.  And saw that it was good…and the mystery will never be solved.life preserver

The Ocean Depth

life preserver

As Promised (although a few days late), here is the sermon from Sunday, March 1 at South Summit Christian Church:

The Ocean Depth

Genesis 1:1-8

 

One of the pagan stories of the creation of the world…was that their gods had to go through a lot of effort to create the cosmos……. For example, Marduk (which originates from Mesopatamia), the god of Babylon, in order to bring the earth into being, he had to fight a mighty battle with the goddess Tiamat, who was the primal sea.  Marduk had to split her carcass in two, like a giant shellfish, to form the earth and sky out of her body.

There are countless creation stories……  One that circulated a lot was that God battled a sea monster named Leviathan and a dragon named Rahab to create the world.

In some mythologies, a goddess gave birth to it all.  Without help.

In Native American mythology, two gods sat together and dreamt it all up with a coyote, a crow and some others to come up with the world.

The Egyptian myth of creation also starts out with a body of water, in which the sun god, Ra, brings forth from the water (also a god named, Nu), two other gods.  Shu and Tefnut.  Shu separated lovers that mingled in the waters of Nu, by lifting up the waters to the sky, where the moon and sun floated in them.  And so the whole tale formed the earth and the sky.

All the creation stories start out, “In the beginning…”

Our Christian story starts out, “In the beginning……when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless voice and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind, the breath, the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters…..and God said, “Let there be light.”  And God called it good.

God had no other gods to battle, none in existence…..there are no quarrels about what got where or a story behind it…it was just “Let there…..” and there was.  And the spirit, hovered, the wind swept over…..the face of the waters…..  Just one God….who’s very breath was the wind that formed the world.  One God……did it all.  And that spirit…. breathed life into it…..God’s breath over the depths of water and the world was formed.

“You can’t conceive, nor can I the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God” – says Graham Green.

There is a story here, our story that says something about our God……..there is something so deep to God that you….nor I ……could understand.  No amount of explanation or rationalization could come close to who God has been, is or ever will be.

Imagine the image of God’s breath sweeping over the darkness of the deep…… that part of the water we never would even venture to swim in.  Scientists say we know less about the depths of the ocean than we do about space.

The power of the ocean has always compelled me to have some fear of it.  My husband and I took our honeymoon in Hawaii where we spent a lot of time in the ocean.  One of those times, as I swam out a little farther than my normally would, I was swept away by the undertow, bathing suit and all.  The ocean spit my body out onto the shore, with my husband scrambling to find how to cover me.  I realized as I took a breath of air the power that had taken me from thinking myself invincible to feeling as if I was just another fish in the sea.

I first became infatuated with ocean in high school, on a mission trip, standing on the pier…as I stood there looking at the vast body of water for the first time in my life….I noticed how diverse the ocean was.  On one side of the pier was the ocean crashing against rocks, violent and powerful.  And on the other side, it peacefully settled onto the sand and drifted back out to the horizon.  And I was changed…….all the while I thought I had God figured out, I realized in that moment, God was as diverse as that ocean.  All powerful, perhaps able to sweep me away like another fish in the sea and yet peaceful enough to rock me gently in the midst of the fears of life.  God, much like this ocean, is one thing I shall never figure out completely.

The ocean depths, the power of God and the peace of God was there from the beginning in this Spirit that we have yet to figure out.

God is deeper than we could know, with more intracicies than we could ever figure out.  There is depth there, much like the ocean – some with sharp edges, stinging jellyfish, and others as peaceful and serene as an ocean drifting off and on the sandy shoreline.

Part of the beauty of God is exactly this………that that breath and spirit hovers over the darkness of my being and somehow creates something beautiful.  And continues to do so.  Over the emptiness of our own self, God breathes life into us with the same mystery God created that ocean.  God says it and it is done and it is good.

That in the world, this mysterious God, with a depth far greater than an ocean, looks out upon us and continuously creates and dreams and makes something new where something chaotic used to be.

The mystery of God is a blessing………it is that somehow, in some way…..as you and I stand there vast and void, this God breathes life into us, even in the midst of death and struggle.  And we are again made into something new…….well…that…..I don’t even want to know how……

God just let it be done……and call it good.

One of the best stories of creation for us comes from a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1927, it comes from “God’s Trombones” and reads.

“The Creation” (from God’s Trombones, 1927)

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely –
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see 5
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,
And the light broke, 10
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands 15
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness, 20
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good! 25

Then God himself stepped down –
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet. 30
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren. 35
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas –
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed –
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled –
And the waters above the earth came down, 40
The cooling waters came down.

Top Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms, 45
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder. 50

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls 55
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good! 60

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon, 65
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down – 70
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man! 75

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty 80
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby, 85
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul. 90
Amen. Amen.

 

Somehow, God…..in all God’s mystery……breathed life.  And saw that it was good…and the mystery will never be solved.