A promise. Romans 8:28 (be a blessing…share the encouragement)

This morning (yes when it was snowing….sigh….April 29th…) we gathered around the table.  We opened in prayer — it may or may not have included some commentary on the weather, and a request for some warmer temperatures.  And then we began checking in; sharing times when we have received great hospitality.  Stories of people housing us when we had nowhere to go, people letting us stay rent free, restaurants serving youth who didn’t have the finances typical customers would have, restaurants who gave the meal when a wallet had been forgotten, people who fed us when we didn’t have the resources to really feed ourselves, people who opened doors to different experiences, those who made us feel like we were family.  And it seemed in all the stories was the theme of a reality that — this hospitality could have never been “paid” back — and this hospitality (received) shapes who we are.  The question was asked too about that 2nd part of the homework, the asking for forgiveness for the times when we have not offered hospitality (or not cheerfully, or not without complaining…).  One was honest enough to share when they were not able to open their home, and they felt bad — the follow-up question was however, how did it feel to ask for (& receive) the forgiveness of God?

(In that moment this went unanswered.  However, as we weekly in worship come to God in a time and a prayer of confession — we confess our mistakes, our failures, our sins — to a God who already put on flesh to walk among us, who already went to the cross & died for each of us & all of our sins, who has already been risen from the dead!  In our baptism we each have been grafted into the family of God — we have been baptized into the death & the resurrection of Christ — which is to say — by the blood of Christ, the gift of love, the amazingness of grace — WE HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.  We are invited to cast our burdens unto Christ.  We are invited to live into the freedom from the sins of our past — including the time(s) when we have not offered hospitality.  And so — we ask forgiveness & we ask that God would continue to work in our own hearts so that we might be able to offer hospitality to others, hospitality that comforts those who mourn, helps heal those who are wounded, and allows the world to see the face of God — AMEN?!)

And we shifted.  We shifted toward scripture time, with a bit of a life introduction from the person who had named the scripture we would focus on.  And then we heard Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (New International Version)

And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans. (Living Bible Translation)

We talked about “all things,” about “all that happens” about perspective and time.  About how God can use things.  We talked about things working out for those “called” — for those fitting into God’s plans.  We recognized we don’t know God’s plans for other people.  We talked about the lives of others who we see as hopeless, challenging, things that we would not want in our own lives.  It was mentioned that trauma (change) invites us to either turn toward God or away from God.  We named how we can wrestle with this text because it’s hard — and it doesn’t always seem to be true.  And in response to someone’s frustration in not being able to see how this verse could possibly be true given what they see, one proclaimed “I know it because I have lived it.”

Scripture speaks & is alive.  But sometimes (perhaps all times) it takes a bit of life to bring scripture alive for us.  This week for the homework we are to write out this scripture — in a journal, on a card, somewhere.  And after writing — we are to be open to see if (who) God will bring into our lives this week who might benefit from this encouragement.  Maybe it will come in a passing conversation in person or on the phone, maybe the Holy Spirit will lay someone on your heart to send an email, a letter (yes the real kind with a stamp), a text, or a facebook message — I don’t know but God does.  So let us write (because writing can help us remember) and let us be open to share this promise to someone who needs to hear it.  I can’t wait to hear what happens when we come together round the table again.

Until then be blessed & live out that blessing in such a way that blesses the world!
~ Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Hospitality…without grumbling?! (1 Peter 4:8-9)

Last Sunday, as is our custom we gathered round the table.  We prayed — naming gratefulness for a lack of snow (AMEN) — and we began to check-in.  The homework had been to both daily meditate on, “The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What can anyone do to me?” (Heb. 13:6) — and to think of scripture (promises) that are formative/important for you.

Nearly all came ready with the scripture references (GREAT JOB) and were ready, dare I say anxious to speak more on the specific scriptures, however, all were invited to wait as these will be some of the scriptures we will use in the (near) future, of course with those who named them taking time to share with us what they have meant to them & perhaps helping facilitate the conversation/shape the homework too!  (SO EXCITING — right?!)

And we were able to spend a bit of time also considering the piece of scripture we had meditated on.  Striking, was the mention and observation that while we can meditate, lean on and trust in this promise, that God is our helper ALWAYS, it is so stinking hard in the middle of circumstances to be totally encouraged with this.  I love this honesty, that the walk is not always easy, and while we might be alone — we can’t always see God at work.  And I love that many named how it was later, when there was a revelation and an understanding that even in the chaos, even through the darkness, and in those longest nights — God was faithful and active and brought us through — and it was this understanding, the observed faithfulness of God through the hard places of our real lives that can encourage us to lean on and trust in the promise that God is our helper and we have no need to be afraid — no matter what is going on around us.

So we turned, as we do to scripture.  To 1 Peter 4:8-9:

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (New International Version) 

Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully.  (The Message)

Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins. Open your homes to each other without complaining.  (Good News Translation) 

8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.  (New Living Translation)

Two little verses, but with so much to say.  Love each other.  Love each other above all.  #LOVE.  And offer hospitality, but not only offer it — offer it without grumbling, without complaining — in fact offer it cheerfully!  (CHEERFULLY!)  We talked a bit about hospitality.  Two people were blessed to see GREAT, COSTLY, HUMBLE hospitality offered cheerfully from their parents: a bed, clothes, shelter in a garage for someone most people tried to ignore & avoid; the willing sharing of food even when someone rudely knocked on the door with expectation to receive.  We also recognized (or maybe it’s just me….) that cheerful hospitality is hard, hospitality when you’re already asleep, when you’ve already given, when you would really rather not….when you really don’t have anything to offer….

Hospitality is hard.  Hospitality is expected.  So we come to the homework.  A two-parter:

1st:  Think of the best hospitality you ever have received (or seen) — what made it so great?

2nd:  Think of the times you have not offered hospitality….or have offered hospitality with complaint, with grumbling, or not cheerfully…Ask forgiveness for these times & ask for God to change your heart.

Beloved looking forward to gather again.  Honored to be in this journey with the likes of each of you.  Peace & shalom as we remember ways we have sinned and ask forgiveness.

In Christ – the risen One who we follow ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Don’t forget….the promises (Luke 11:5-8 & Heb. 13:1-6)

Last Sunday (how is it already Thursday?) we gathered around the table.  A robust group bringing the warmth and sunshine with the personalities in the group & we prayed.  And then the check-in, the conversation about harmony/unity & how we can grow into this harmony/unity.  And we talked for a long time because — as it turns out — we don’t find harmony/unity necessarily the easiest to live into.  We talked about base-line beliefs, a core that is necessary — perhaps the “Apostles Creed” — though one might arguably want to add in there the Presbyterian Brief “Statement of Faith.”  However, as mentioned around the table, the Church is open — Christ came for all — and while it seems rather appropriate & reasonable if someone is joining into the membership of (any) church to be able to profess the faith & the doctrine/tenets of faith deemed necessary in said church, to come to the Church that Christ establishes does not require this — for grace teaches us that God comes first, moves first, always invites.   And we spoke of those elusive ideals of unity in diversity, as well as how there is strength in unity — I mean when we talk about the strength of a cord of 3 strands together do we not speak to the power of unity?  And so we continued, making mention of humility, speaking to needing to have the capacity to look past or to have love be that which binds us — that which is most needed — that which is more important than being right (even when they are wrong!).

We discussed for longer than typical.  But this unity/harmony is hard.  It asks much of us.  We must consider, when to speak, when to be silent, when to gently offer different perspectives — etc.  We held imagery of a bag full of rocks bumping and rubbing against each other as a picture of community (not easy & not always feeling so nice).  We heard Bonhoeffer speak of community being only rooted in Christ but that reality also meaning we need to be in community with each other.  And so the reality is we continue to hold this topic going forth — because it is something that has challenged Christianity since the time of Christ (if not before!)  This question of unity/harmony….

Quickly (and with a brief mistake in which chapter selected!) we turned to Luke 11:5-8 & Hebrews 13:1-6.  There was not time to slowly engage them — they are offered as conversation partners….with a topic of hospitality to be considered…..(and the invitation to think about how we as individuals and as a church in life offer/consider/even receive hospitality).

But the homework…..the homework for this week is to (first) daily say/pray/mediate on Hebrews 13:6:

So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can anyone do to me?

Think on this and see what happens.  Repeat it.  Live into it.  And secondly — think of 1 or 2 promises from Scripture that encourage and shape you.  Please prepare to share what this Scripture is (and where it is!)

Excited to hear how God has been moving since last week!
~ Rev. Sabrina Slater 

 

Living Together…in unity? (Psalm 133)

Last Sunday we gathered.  (Well, y’all gathered — and praise God Gene & Gina were willing to facilitate & hold the space while I was away — and thank y’all for supporting me being away & for of course having a delightful time with God & scripture even if I missed it!)  There was prayer.

And then the check in.  Getting oriented, you went back to the text — to John 13:1-20 — where we see our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ, naked and serving us by washing the very dirt off of us…the homework had been to consider what does it mean, foot washing, and are we called to literal foot washing today — or is it more symbolic, and if symbolic then what is our modern-day equivalent?  There were questions posed and observations offered — famous foot washers like Mother Teresa and maybe even Pope Francis in a way — but if some do wash feet how can we individually/as a church?  Locally?  And does Christ still wash us?  It seems that the engaging conversation might have left all thinking, it’s the heart (the humility) of the service, the washing of the feet, and the intimacy of such humility/serving that might unnerve us and be uncomfortable….who wants to be “naked” with their dirty feet (sins/past) in such close proximity…who wants to wash feet that have been places we don’t know of and we are more ready to judge rather than lovingly hold?  This is not easy, and we find it in scripture for a reason, I’d offer perhaps our discomfort with foot washing — how odd & awkward it is — perhaps should be how we consider love, grace, life…think about what love (God) in action does — think about the cross — think about how we live as a forgiven & a resurrection people…ALL of this is odd & awkward, maybe the foot washing reminds us in a way that all the other words & stories have become (too) commonplace to allow for the mystery & the absurdity of this active love to be considered, maybe the humility of the foot washing puts us in a posture to understand who (& whose) we are — and that makes us a little uncomfortable…

In appropriate fashion though, y’all turned to scripture — this time to Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.    (New International Version) 

And in the reading there was the translation of living in “unity” as well as living in “harmony.”  And there was a helpful musical insight differentiating unity and harmony, think of having one part (a soprano, alto, tenor, or bass) or a type of instrument all singing/playing the same notes/music/rhythm — this can be unity.  Compare that with singing in parts, or an full orchestra playing — the music and the notes and the rhythms dance around each other — they push against each other — sometimes it’s tense, sometimes it’s smooth, it changes, moves has dissonance (challenges) and resolutions (and sometimes it doesn’t resolve quite like you want or expect!) but it offers something bigger and vaster than arguably unity can, this is harmony.  However I would like to note (haha — did you catch that?) one thing — the idea of unity and harmony seems/sounds/are different — however, the reality is even in “unity” if you take all the voices in a given choir and have all sing an “A” the voices do not all sound the very same, if you take an orchestra and have them play the same note — it does not all sound the same, if you have the voices and instruments sing and play the same “A” it is different, so even in unity — even in a commitment to a singular note the idea of unity is not really “sameness” in all facets, even in unity there is difference/diversity/differentiation…tone/voice/pitch/sound…..

So homework.  With such a short Psalm and a vibrant conversation — the homework must be easy right?  And it is! 🙂  How do we live together in unity (harmony)?  And a follow-up question as important as the first — how do we grow into this unity (harmony)?

*It might be worth noting the obvious right, we are all different people.  Even while we profess faith in the risen Christ, even while we trust that we are forgiven, that God is in control, that we are blessed who trust in the Lord, that our names are engraved on God’s palms, that the Creator of the world, the Triune God — loves us, sees us, cares for us — we have not gotten along well whether inside or outside the church…there is brokenness all around us.  SO, the homework while direct & straightforward is challenging, “How to we live in unity/harmony?  How do we grow into this unity/harmony?”

Excited to see y’all Sunday in the AM!
~ Rev. Sabrina Slater  

Foot Washing? (John 13:1-20)

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Blessed Easter & Resurrection Sunday y’all!  (And yes yes, happy April fool’s too!).  But no joke — today, even with cool air outside and a hint of snow trying to fall — we gathered round the table, opened in prayer and began to check-in.  The homework had been to find our deep (& LOUD) Hosanna & offer it to God.  It wasn’t necessarily easy, though we pondered if sometimes our deep Hosanna comes from doing what we feel designed to do — being open to/led by/a willing vessel of God — and the answer seemed to be YES!  Also — there was the insight of the Hosanna that seeks to adore God for who God is (on God’s terms) as well as the Hosanna that is asking God to save us!  There also was an image offered of someone on the inside trying to praise loudly (while maybe personality, tradition, or other) wants that praise to behave & to be quiet.  Regardless of where our deep hosanna rests, be it in dancing in the street — singing at the top of our lungs — playing an instrument — sitting in stillness — offering deep and repetitive “thanks” out of the overflowing gratitude we have for all who God is and for all that God has done — I do believe God invites us to live in that deep hosanna and to find a certain freedom that exists in living there, in unapologetically praising the God who gives us everything — who gives us life!

And then we turned to scripture.  We focused on John 13:1-20.  The story of the foot washing.  The story of Jesus modeling something.  The story of inviting us to accept those who are sent (by God).  Our first focus was recognizing, we do not understand what Christ is doing.  Our second observation was mentioning Christ as a model of what we are to do.  And the conversation began about the “foot washing.”  What is it?  Why is it there?  And are we called to it today?  OR — is this just a symbol?  The varied insights included naming the idea of the individualism of the foot washing — the engaging with the dirt each (disciple/us) walked through to get to Jesus — and the need for Jesus to wash that off — and the reality check that washing dust off of feet was a job for the lowest of the servants, and recognition that Christ has no ego, no reason why we should be afraid of him — his humility speaks loudly.  There was also the offer of an observation as to the discomfort of the foot washing — today, or perhaps especially today — even for the disciples and that the discomfort might be less about Jesus (& a status thing) and more about us — the idea being that in the nakedness of Christ we must see our own, in Christ washing us we must recognize our need of him — our inability to achieve salvation on our own….which is not easy…

And so we came to the homework time while the conversation still begged to continue.  And yet the conversation will continue through the homework as well as into next week.  Spend time with this text (John 13:1-20).  Listen, what is God saying?  What is Jesus teaching?  And think about what it is to wash feet?  Is there a modern-day equivalent and if so what exactly is that?

Blessings as God reveals during this week & remember…

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  AMEN!

~ Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Shouting HOSANNA! (Matthew 21:1-9)

Last Sunday began the week we know as, Holy Week.  It is marked by some specific holy days, Palm Sunday (last Sunday) when we remember the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on a colt (baby donkey) with people shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  and “Hosanna!”  Then on Thursday there is, “Maundy Thursday” when we remember the last meal that Jesus ate with friends, what we call the last supper — the beginning of communion/eucharist — and when Jesus served the disciples, the very folks who would betray, deny, and desert him, in such a humble way we still are uncomfortable with it — he washed their feet.  And today we have come to Good Friday.  We call it good now, but some 2000 years ago it didn’t feel good at all.  Today is the day we remember that our Lord & Savior — Jesus Christ — the Prince of Peace — an innocent man — was arrested under false pretenses, condemned, and beaten — all because people (& a system — a government) were afraid of him — and he bore the beating, the shame, the dishonor, and climbed up Calvary to be nailed to a cross & pierced in his side.  Because today is the day that his being was created for, to love in such a way that would change the world — and today we know the end — today we know what will come (death & sin DO NOT WIN)…but then, on that original “Good” Friday, no one knew — no one had an inkling…No, on the original “Good” Friday the light of the world went out, the hope of God’s favor, the promise of God’s covenant, life itself died…Today the church (liturgical) color is black, symbolizing the darkness that pervades when the light goes out.

It is Holy Week.

And last Sunday when we made it through some light snow, gathering and praying around the table as we do, we began Holy Week.  We began first with reflections on using the Lord’s prayer as a model for prayer and we shared the Lord’s prayer in our own words.  And while some struggled with using the model to pray, finding it hard to pray for our (my) daily bread — knowing so many go hungry — others struggled to find their own words to pray.  However, the struggle for words seems to be more of a struggle to in confidence share what God has given — because we often don’t think what we have to offer is good enough.  And as we were bold enough to share, the voice — our individual voices — were a blessing and encouragement to others.  We heard the model of the Lord’s prayer personalized to what we could say, what we needed to pray, and I think, the Lord’s prayer became more than something that was memorized years ago — it became something more personal, something that we think about a bit more when we pray it.  And then we shifted and because it’s Holy Week, we considered, Matthew 21:1-9.

We noticed the donkey (momma-donkey) and her colt were taken to Jesus.  We noticed that the reading of the different translations made us wonder if Jesus rode both the donkey & the colt at once (or perhaps more likely that Jesus rode on top of the cloaks that were spread on the colt.)  We thought about Jesus coming into town this way.  And I think too there was even a mention of how this crowd could have been those who just a few days later would go from crying “Hosanna!” (save us) to “Crucify Him!”

There was talk of how we (good reformed Presbyterians) are typically a bit uncomfortable with the loud declarations of praise — we are a bit uncomfortable with crying “Hosanna!” out loud.  And it was named that this week, this Palm Sunday & Easter/Resurrection Sunday are 2 of the biggest Sundays where even WE (Presbyterians) can get LOUD — are encouraged to shout first “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and second, “He is risen indeed!”  And so our homework is rather fitting….to discern what your deep & loud Hosanna! is right now — to consider what your heart praise is right now — and to offer that praise — that LOUD HOSANNA back to GOD.

This is Holy Week.  And the invitation for the homework is to find the deep praise even in the darkness of “Good” Friday.

In Christ & during Holy Week ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Praying…”Our Father” (Luke 11:1-4)

Good morning y’all!  Tomorrow we will gather around the table, like how we gathered around the table last week!  And I don’t about you, but after the first day of spring and a string of snow-less days — maybe the snow-less season has finally arrived…time of course (as it always does) will tell!

But let’s think back to last Sunday when we gathered, prayed, and began checking in about a week during which our homework was to sit at the feet of Jesus each day.  Some voiced a palpable angst over not doing it right and then the sigh of relief when they realized they do sit at the feet of Jesus.  Others named how this was hard for them.  One mentioned how in their Martha-like behaviors they were Mary too!  Someone was brave enough to ask, how exactly does one sit at the feet of Jesus anyway?  This important query — one that really is for each and everyone of us to discern with the help of the Holy Spirit –was answered by many seated at the table, and something I mentioned to some degree there was — this sitting at Jesus’ feet will look different for each of us, it might include gardening, music, sitting, maybe even a nap! — and while it will look the same, I imagine that once we’ve found our way there — we will experience some similar things, like a relaxing into Jesus that we can feel; like an ability to breathe deeply that we didn’t realize we had been missing; like a pause that restores us and enables us to go on knowing somehow it’s going to be ok; sometimes even like we’ve gotten clear on something that had been very foggy!

From the sounds of it, the invitation to sit at Jesus’ feet daily — to engage more of our “Mary” selves, turned out to be a blessing and to bring a certain blessing of peace into each of our lives — to GOD be the glory for this gift!  So having checked-in of course we turned to scripture, specifically to Luke again and continued into the next verses.  While the 2nd reader read Luke 11:1-13, our first and last readers read where we focused, Luke 11:1-4:

Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation.   (Luke 11:1-4, English Standard Version)

The conversation included not having noticed before that in Luke the instruction on how to pray comes immediately following the story of Martha & Mary.  Yet what really seemed to stand out was how there is a reward for persistence in asking, how really when we approach God it is in the posture of one who begs — for all that God gifts us with is grace (something we do not deserve & did not earn), and how the gift of the Holy Spirit seems to be the best gift that we can get.  There was a question as to if it made folks nervous that this “Our Father” is different than the one in Matthew 6:9b-13?  There was also the aloud wondering if we really even think about this prayer or give it its proper respect, considering it is one of the (few) times that Jesus rather directly answered a question which leads us to the homework of the week.  A homework assignment which has 2 parts because it’s just so easy!

Part 1:  Use the “Our Father” as a model to pray — all week.  See what happens.  Part 2:  Put the “Our Father” into your own words.

Happy Praying y’all & see you tomorrow — on Palm Sunday!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Past the Pulpit & Around Town (thinking about The Sound of Music)

This week (March 16, 17 & yes today too the 18th) the Spencer-Van Etten High School proudly presented “The Sound of Music.”  Thanks to the reminder especially during weekly church announcements as well as around town I was able to make it out on opening night.  While there was the added treat of getting to watch this production with folks who make me smile and feel welcome — it was by far the superb production in its totality that stole the show.

The props were perfect, the painted mountains were a spot on depiction, the singing was delightful, the pit orchestra was sublime, the casting — including of course all those volunteers behind the scenes making make-up, costumes, lighting, stage switches, and practicing at home too — could not have been better.  Every single person who made “The Sound of Music” possible this weekend, brought the show to life.

I am grateful for the opportunity to absolutely enjoy the gifts of so many people.  And I hope to meet and learn more about each and every person involved — because I get excited when I recognize the names — when I get to see people sharing their gifts with the world.  And while I might be biased (I mean I am a Pastor!) the themes of identity, the uncertainties of love, seeking God’s desire and will for your life, and standing up for what you believe (sometimes at great personal cost), are timeless — they are some of the questions often engaged in a church service.

And as I sat back and enjoyed the story, beaming as though all those performing were my family — knowing we are part of the same community — I was moved by the sincerity of faith each character had.  I was moved by the difference each individual voice in the musical had.  I was moved by the wisdom offered by Mother Abbess in her encouragement of (instead of fear of!) Maria’s voice, in her encouragement for Maria to not hide from love or from God (even when scary), and to invite us all to “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow – ’til you find your dream.”

I was moved because in a place outside of the institutional church “The Sound of Music” took us all to church in speaking to the liberative and saving power of love and inviting us to watch as one young woman seeking to love and serve God with all of who she is found that indeed the gifts God had given her (her spirit — her voice — her love of children) while not the ideal fit in the abbey where she thought she could best serve God — were perfect for where God was leading her to live, love, and thrive!

May each of us in the gift that we know as our own lives — follow the spiritual guidance of those nuns, and “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow – ’til you find your dream,” realizing that the way is not easy but the rainbows we follow are some of the signs of the promises of God — and even in the storm(s) of life, God has always planned for the rainbow to come!

As the show comes to a close…it’s technically too late say “break a leg” — so instead blessings to all who made this possible & thank you for sharing your gifts with us all.  I can’t wait for the next one!

Blessings ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Sitting at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42)

1 or 2 — or is it 3 — storms ago we gathered around the table Sunday morning.  Although it was Daylight Savings Sunday and we’d jumped ahead an hour no one was an hour late, it was impressive I must say.  So we began as we do, gathering, praying and of course — checking in.

Our homework during the prior week had been to reflect on when we have been able to really bless God in loss and/or bless God after loss.  This reflection included if we realized we had been able to do this, how did we get there, and if we had not to ponder what stands in the way?

Every single person checked in.  Some shared they felt they had a rather blessed life, and individually had not found it hard to bless God — however, when then consider the devastation and oppression and violence and war in the world this becomes much much harder.  There was the perspective of losing not life but an identity — a job.  Another named that when first going through a devastating loss they were not able to bless God, it was more going though additional losses and knowing God had brought them through (including through on their own journey with God) that they were able to bless God because God had been faithful in the past.  Other voices named that it was and it is hard.  Some still have questions of loss that is heavy/deep and relatively recent.  There was insight given in a poem that had proven comforting over the years with language of God leading us through circumstances, understanding there is not avoidance but there is One with us through it all.

The conversation was rich.  Honest.  We spent a bit more time listening to the stories of who we are.  And in what can only properly be understood of how the Holy Spirit moves in delightful ways, the final voice checking-in shared how God had been faithful through a trying time in their life & had given comfort through the passage of Mary & Martha….the very passage we were considering for the day — Look at God!  So we turned to the passage and read,

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”                    (New Revised Standard Version) 

We hear the scripture twice.  And it is worth nothing the tender way that the second reader rendered the “Martha, Martha,” that Jesus spoke.  The conversation I anticipate will continue this Sunday, but we did engage how some love and some distinctly do not like this passage.  There are so many (gender) expectations engaged here.  Martha doing what she needed — the expected preparations, the preparations that allowed Jesus to come.  Mary doing the unexpected — and likely the unwelcome — putting herself in a man’s place — as a disciple at Jesus feet (the audacity!  THANKS BE TO GOD!).  And yet, let us think about who we are typically as Christians….(Martha).  But even when this was observed using the very stories that had been told in the check-in, calling out our collective Martha-like tendencies, the observation was met with an immediate — “NOT ME!  I’m a Mary!”

So we were lively — which is delightful — and we were honest too that there are elements of Martha and Mary within each of us (like it or not!).  And all too soon of course, we arrived at homework time.  The homework is to engage more of our Mary.  To each day this week sit at the feet of Jesus.  If it helps you can try to figure out what the one necessary thing — the only thing — the better part — that Jesus invites us to know, to enjoy, to follow — and to do that.  To sit at Jesus feet, to find the necessary thing and do it and to see what happens in the sitting and in the doing.

Excited for the coming check-in & praying shalom in the process ~

Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Blessed be the name of the LORD? (Job 1:20-21)

Nearly a whole week ago we gathered around the table (before gathering around the table in communion during worship!).  We prayed.  We checked-in.  The homework had been to put energy into being quick to listen and slow to speak.  While some found they really hadn’t had time to invest in doing that during the week, someone else found they were able to listen immediately — while still at church!  And someone else named how in three very different circumstances they found that the opportunity to listen was presented to them.

As the conversation developed with the insights being offered, I will highlight two themes to hold.  First, when we were willing to wait it out, to really be quick to listen and slow to speak, people were willing to open up and to share.  Their openness in these moments were unexpected gifts, and gifts that led at least one to consider, “What am I missing by talking (too soon)?,” it is a question we might want to ask ourselves…And second, in the listening, really listening, some recognized that they will not know what to say, or an answer for what is being shared.  This is true, and often people are not looking for answers in that sense, they are not looking for advise.  Yet what we have to offer is so much more than advice, we are invited to witness to how God sees, hears, and loves (them) in the midst of the darkness, chaos, messiness, sorrow, and pain of life.  It has been called, a ministry of presence, and it is just that, being present or being with people — where they are.  I know, often it sounds like nothing, but isn’t that exactly what we profess is the core of our faith?  That God walked with us?  Isn’t the entire life of Christ one of a ministry of presence?  And, well…turns out that ministry, that #love with flesh on, that Christ changed everything — changed each of us (praise God!)…so maybe there is something powerful, something that we cannot quite grasp that happens when we are open to being present, when we are truly quick to listen and slow to speak.

Thinking of how our listening can communicate the love of God is both powerful and humbling.  Isn’t God good to give us simple tasks that we can do?  And yet, aren’t we also so grateful for the grace for all those times when we forget to be quick to listen, and slow to speak?

In the shift that happens weekly, the turn to trying to hear God speak to us in listening to scripture,  we heard,

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  (Job 1:20-21, English Standard Version)

And we considered Job, we considered blessing God, we considered loss.  In a wilderness time (Lent), in the day following the funeral of a beloved member of the church family, we let the words of Job breathe and speak to us.  Many I think enjoy the book of Job, find comfort in the book.  We noticed how (later in the book) the friends of Job were truly friends, while they kept silent and just sat with him.  We wondered if it was worth it — all the trials — to bless God?  There was a mention of the humility inherent in these two verses; everything we have is a gift from God — EVERYTHING — and we will take none of the “things” we have when we meet death, and yet, would we be able to understand and to offer that we are naked before God and all that we have is from God?

So what is the homework?  It is a reflective exercise.  Meditate on these verses, and think if you have been able to really bless God in loss, to bless God after loss.  If not — what has been in the way.  If yes — how did you get to the space where you could bless God, through tears, through heartache, through it all?

Peace to all in the challenging work of reflection.  May the Holy Spirit stir what needs to be stirred in this Lenten moment.

Praying God speaks through the stillness,

~Rev. Sabrina Slater