Life Before the Cross

For years I have worn a cross around my neck. It’s unique and is key to my personality. crossThe meaning behind the cross is more important than that. The cross reminds me, reminds us all, what was sacrificed for me – what was sacrificed for all of us.

Over the past few years though, something has really bothered me. The first church I went to focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection and understandably so. His death is a big deal in the Christian church and it should be. God sacrificed Jesus on the cross for our sins. As we travel through this Lenten Season, we will be reminded of the journey that Jesus took as He walked to the cross. It started this past Ash Wednesday, the Christian day of repentance, 46 days before Easter.

toomanypeopleIn the church we focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection but I don’t remember there being much focus on Jesus’ life and ministry. As I imagine many other western Christian churches did, we were so incredibly focused on Jesus’ death, it seemed like we rushed through His life. If I am measuring it correctly, about 40% of each Gospel focuses on the last week of Jesus’ life. 40%. What about the other 60%?

There is a phrase I have to remind myself on occasion, “Jesus lived before he died.” 60% of each gospel reminds me of that very truth. It should remind us all. I’ve met many people who are so focused on eternal life, they forget about what happens before. So many Christians are focused on getting into heaven, they forget what is happening here on earth. They forget that Jesus taught us how to live before He died. They forget that Jesus taught us to pray and pray with the following words in mind, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

For some time, I’ve been pulled in the direction of trees. They are beautiful. They are outstanding. Trees range from dainty fresh newborns to extraordinarily large statues that have been growing for hundreds of years. When you stand next to them and look up, you can’t see where it ends. Trees are incredible living sculptures and they remind me of life. They remind me of my role as a follower of Christ.

Just like a house built on rock is stronger than on the sand, a tree gains strength as its IMG_4764roots dig deep into the ground. The roots are the foundation on which a tree grows. The trunk is her base and the branches reach out to the world and light, with incredible force and beautiful truth. Those branches bear fruit and leaves. Through scripture, community, worship, ministry, service and focus on what we are commanded to do, our roots dig deeper, our trunks become stronger and our branches and leaves develop into a fuller and exceptional life.

For many trees, there is a change with each season. I believe that should be true for Christians as well. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and hearts. As we focus on Advent and on Lent. As we hear the Sermon on the Mount, read the Greatest Commandment and live out our lives with every person we meet, we will change. We will grow, develop and reach higher and wider than the season before.

If a tree doesn’t take in water and sunshine; if it doesn’t bear the leaves and fruit needed to reach out; if it doesn’t change with the changing seasons while still maintaining the roots, it won’t be a tree for very long. It will wither and die.   As Christians, as Followers of Christ, if we only focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection instead of focusing first on his life and teaching, we will wither and die too.

I wear a tree around my neck now. It reminds me of who I am and who I will become. Before Jesus died, He lived and commanded us to do the same. As you focus on the cross during this Lenten season, don’t forget that the cross was made of wood. Where did that wood come from? A tree.

I wonder how strong that tree had to be before it could hold up the life and death of Jesus Christ.

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We Don’t Know Everything

We Don’t Know Everything

Rev. Linda C. Moore, Guest Preacher
Sunday, November 30, 2014
First Sunday in Advent
Murfreesboro Baptist Church
Murfreesboro, NC

Mark 13:24-37 (link)

I am so excited to be here with you today. It was an honor to be asked by Lee to do this, for two very specific reasons. The first is feeling like I’ve come full circle by being here today. Murfreesboro Baptist is where I learned about church and church community, while I was a student at Chowan. Now, here I am, preaching. The second reason is Advent is one of my favorite times of the church year, the hope, anticipation and joy that come from waiting for the Christ child. We are at the beginning of the church year, new hope, new start and of course, the anticipation of new life in Jesus. Advent is hope, peace, joy and love. So I said, “Sure, I would love to preach the first Sunday of Advent. “

But then I saw the gospel text for this week’s lectionary.

Apocalyptic scripture? On the First Sunday of Advent? Why during Advent? Why are we presented with this lectionary scripture that introduces the Passion Narrative leading to the death of Jesus Christ? It’s supposed to be about His birth.

The subject of Advent is comfortable for me. I imagine it’s comfortable for you. This is when we decorate the sanctuary, making things green and bright with light and spirit. We shop to get gifts for the people we care about. We help at the soup kitchen, buy gifts for a family in need. We know Christmas is coming and more importantly, we know WHO is coming. The baby child, born in a manger, who brings hope and light to all in the darkness. That’s the joy and anticipation of Advent. That’s the comfort for me.

Well, this scripture gets me out of my comfort zone: the Apocalypse, End Times, the Second Coming, It scares most preachers and that’s why we don’t preach about it much. That’s what the lectionary does. It gives us the chance to preach from scripture that we aren’t comfortable with, that we wouldn’t have chosen to preach from, especially as we kick off the Advent Season. This scripture may very well pull the rug out from under the Advent wreath and me – and we land in the suffering and fear of the unknown.

Suffering, that’s the first thing that we hear about. What suffering is Jesus talking about? I 010_10read the passages that led up to today’s; the first half of chapter 13. Jesus listed the sufferings:

  • Wars and rumors
  • People will be led astray by false prophets and messiahs
  • Nations and kingdoms will rise against one another
  • Earthquakes and famines
  • People will be turned to council
  • Beaten in the synagogues
  • Family members will betray one another

Jesus was referring to the various sufferings that will be encountered before the Second Coming. When I read that list, in the midst of all that is happening around us, I couldn’t help but think about the sufferings that are taking place today, right in front us, and just before we celebrate Jesus’ First Coming.

  • Arguments over immigration
  • Hunger and poverty
  • Human trafficking
  • Unpunished sexual assault
  • Unwarranted beatings and bullying
  • Teen and adult suicides
  • Mass shootings in schools and public arenas
  • Racial, Religious and political discrimination
  • I imagine there is suffering going on in all of our personal lives, too.

And that’s just in the United States alone.

Do you remember what happened the first weeks after September 11, the day we lost 3000 of our very own people? When the country was shaken to the core, to ground zero? Everybody gathered together for prayer vigils, for community, for hope. Everybody gathered together because we loved one another, we all had something in common that day. The Sunday following, the churches were packed like it was Easter Sunday. Everybody gathered together and provided the comfort of light in the midst of fear and darkness.   We came together as one country, united in spirit and humanity. When was the last time we came together as a country, united in spirit and humanity, in the midst of fear, darkness and uncertainty?

When was the last time we came together as one community? Came together as a people of Faith? As the Body of Christ? When was the last time we came together, awake and alert, together, as one nation?

When was the last time we let go of wanting to know everything, letting go of our need to control, of our need to always be right, and learn to do things together again? Without fear?

I imagine the people Jesus is talking to, his disciples; Peter, James, John and Andrew weren’t too keen on hearing that they wouldn’t know the time when Jesus would return, much less, that they would have to stay awake for it. I imagine they were asking Jesus because they knew Jesus would know the answer. Guess what? Jesus didn’t know either. This man, whom all the disciples dropped everything to follow and trust, now has put some question and fear into his followers when He said, “but about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” They now had to have faith in someone who doesn’t know, on top of the fear of the unknown.

When was the last time we let go of wanting to know everything even though we were afraid? Let go and had faith in God? Jesus had to remind the disciples of that very question and he did so with a fig tree. One of the events he called to happen, involved changing seasons and a fig tree:

 “From the fig tree, lean this lesson, as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.”

It’s the same fig tree that Jesus put a curse on two chapters ago. Remember?

Mark 11:12-14  On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it.

Mark 11:20-24  In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea”, and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

And verse 25, one other directive:

‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’

This fig tree was cursed and then it withered. Jesus said, “Have faith in God,” and tells them, “Don’t doubt your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass.” In today’s scripture, the same tree that Jesus put a curse on, will come back to life. It will be resurrected. It will become tender and put forth its leaves and summer will come. And not only that, but we are to have faith and we are to forgive. When we stand and pray, when we forgive those trespasses against us – we will learn the lessons of a fig tree that blooms.

We don’t know everything and I’m ok with that because it’s not our place to know everything. If we knew everything, we wouldn’t need community. We wouldn’t need church. We wouldn’t need God. Even Jesus didn’t know when all of this would take place. We don’t need to know everything but there is something we do know.

I am a trauma chaplain. I work with those patients and families who are in the hospital due to a life-altering trauma. I see suffering every single day. Patients are at their most vulnerable, their weakest, and their highest level of fear, in the hospital. The families are too. They are afraid and they are angry. Both are looking for control in the uncontrollable. They don’t know what will happen next. They don’t know everything, except that they are angry and afraid.

The question I get more often than not is, “Why?” My response is and will always be, “I don’t know.” I don’t know why this happened. I don’t have an answer to that question. But the one thing I do know is what I tell them, “no matter what happens, you will get through this and you will not be alone. You will get through this with strength and courage from the depths of your soul. And you will get through it because God will be right there with you. In ways you don’t even know.” It will take strength to trust in God’s guidance and support. It will take courage that will get you through the unknown.

Molly Marshall, President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary pinned a devotion for today scripture reading. Using the words of St. Augustine, she reminds us of Hope:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters

anger to see things the way they are

courage to change them to the way they should be.

Attentiveness is the only faculty that gives us access to God…. During this Advent, let’s be on the watch to balance anger and courage as we wait in hope, for God will show up.”[i]

If you will allow me, I have a confession to make.  I’ve been lacking faith lately. I see and feel what’s been happening around us, especially in the past few weeks and I haven’t had a lot of faith in our world, in our country, in our people. In fact, I’ve been angry, so angry. Maybe many of you have too. Whatever side of the anger you’re on, it hurts to see so many horrible things are happening to people, families are suffering and humanity is dying.  We have something in common, our own people are dying. There are hateful and judgmental statements and accusations made. All that is happening angers me.

IMG_2690Then I read this scripture, presented to me in the midst of this anger, presented to all of us on the first Sunday of Advent and I am reminded that I don’t know everything and someone else knows a lot more than me.  Jesus called me (called us all) to stay attentive, to be alert and awake. That gives me hope and the courage to do what it takes to share hope, to bring hope, through help, comfort and guidance, in the midst of the darkness. It helps to have the faith that God will be right there to help us and get us through.

We don’t know everything, but we do know something. We know we can’t change what happened yesterday. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. BUT we do know that we can have the courage and the attentiveness to change what happens within us. We know what’s going on in our own hearts, in our lives and in our minds. There is no reason to deny it. We can pay attention to what we can do before the stars fall from heaven and the fig trees bloom. We DO know what we can do to change what’s going on within us. We’ve known what to do since September 11, 2001.

We know that Jesus gave us two commandments to follow. We also know that Jesus gave the directive to stay awake and alert, to be prepared, with a focus on what we can do to bring hope into a world of suffering, before He returns.

As we anticipate, the first coming, the birth of this precious child, we are reminded that every single soul on this earth was born a precious child of God’s. They were born to be our neighbor. Let us remember to stay awake, be alert and know that through the darkness and the pain, we will see and BE the light of hope, and in due time, we just might hear those words, “Glory to God in the highest and there will be peace on earth.”

Let that be our hope for today.

Amen.

(c) 2014, Rev. Linda C Moore

[i] http://bwim.info/adventlent/waiting-in-hope-isaiah-641-9-mark-1324-37-by-molly-t-marshall/

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Suicide Prevention Week: A Parable

A Simple Gesture

Mark was walking home from school one day when he noticed the boy ahead of him had tripped and dropped all of the books he was carrying, along with two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove and a small tape recorder. Mark knelt down and helped the boy pick up the scattered articles. Since they were going the same way, he helped to carry part of the burden. As they walked Mark discovered the boy’s name was Bill, that he loved video games, baseball and history, and that he was having lots of trouble with his other subjects and that he had just broken up with his girlfriend. They arrived at Bill’s home first and Mark was invited in for a Coke and to watch some television. The afternoon passed pleasantly with a few laughs and some shared small talk, then Mark went home. They continued to see each other around school, had lunch together once or twice, then both graduated from junior high school. They ended up in the same high school where they had brief contacts over the years. Finally the long awaited senior year came and three weeks before graduation, Bill asked Mark if they could talk.

Bill reminded him of the day years ago when they had first met. “Did you ever wonder why I was carrying so many things home that day?” asked Bill. “You see, I cleaned out my locker because I didn’t want to leave a mess for anyone else. I had stored away some of my mothers sleeping pills and I was going home to commit suicide. But after we spent some time together talking and laughing, I realized that if I had killed myself, I would have missed that time and so many others that might follow. So you see, Mark, when you picked up those books that day, you did a lot more, you saved my life.”

-John W. Schlatter

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Examine Yourselves: The Communion Table is NOT About You

IMG_9945Last Sunday I took part in communion at the church I’m attending.   They did something “different” for this particular service. In the Baptist tradition, the cup and bread trays are passed out among the people. The congregation members stay in their seats and the trays are passed down the pews. This time, the pastor directed the parishioners to come forward to accept the cup and bread near the communion table. Two leaders stood next to each side of table. One held the communion wafers and one held the tray of juice cups. Each individual approached them to take the bread and the cup and remember Jesus.

When I was a minister in the church, it was a sad tradition that whenever something was changed in the traditional worship, it stirred up members. They would make faces, shake their head or make mention of it in the next council meeting.   In one church, I passed out the juice trays in the wrong direction and was reprimanded. In another church during the summer, when attendance was less than half, we served communion by intinction.   With absolute certainty, one or two deacons would reprimand me in the deacons’ meeting.  During communion this past Sunday, I watched the parishioners when it was announced how communion would be handled. Sure enough, I saw people roll their eyes, shake their heads and one person behind me said, “I don’t like this.”

I sat in my pew and watched the people come forward. Thankfully, most took it in IMG_5787the honor and respect it was meant to be.  People were going forward to partake in the Lord’s Supper. We were going forward to the table.   The table is not our table. This table is the table of Jesus Christ. We were invited to come to THAT table. Jesus sacrificed his life and before he did, He set up this tradition of the Lord’s Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:23:33 We were invited to HIS table. He was NOT invited to our table.   Can you imagine when this past Sunday, or those Sundays I mentioned earlier, when we honored Communion at a table with the following words etched in the side, “In Remembrance of Me,” – can you imagine how Jesus felt when He saw those smirks? When he heard the people reprimand me? When He heard people complained that they had to get out of their comfy pews to walk forward? Jesus died on the cross, after being judged, ridiculed, beaten and shamed.  Yet, people complained about getting out of their seats.

I want to remind people that when you come together to take part in the Lord’s Supper, the tradition is not meant to please you. This ordinance, this sacrament was meant to remember Jesus and what He did for us. We are not to restrict who is welcomed to the table. We are not meant to complain about how it is served. And we are certainly not meant to fuss when we are inconvenienced. The table does not belong to Joe or Jane Parishioner. The table does not belong to ABC Baptist Church. The table belongs to Jesus. The least we can do is honor Him and remember what He did for us. If we “sacrifice” something along the way, so be it. Jesus certainly sacrificed enough.

IMG_20991 Corinthians 11:28: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

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What is a Board Certified Chaplain?

Where have I been lately? I have been working extremely hard at the hospital as the trauma season is in full swing.  However, I have also been working extremely hard on my board certification application. What? Yes, I am working on the Board Certification process so I can get my BCC BCC imagecertification/license with the Association of Professional Chaplains. Just as other members of the medical team go through boards and licensing processes, so do chaplains.

I am surprised when I explain this to people and they looked shocked. I get asked, “Really? Chaplains do that?” Yes, we do. At least those who are serious about their work and want to continue their growth, progress, and earned respect in chaplaincy.   Most institutions are now requiring that we have our certification, or are at least working towards it.

What is the process? Why did I have to cut back in my patient care in order to work on this application? With a self-imposed deadline of June 27 and a national deadline of July 25, I have been working for the past few months on my application. Here is what I had to do. Here is what every BCC certified chaplain has to do, in order to be considered a candidate for board certification.

APCSmallThe Association of Professional Chaplains has a list of 29 competencies with which I had to prove that I’ve either mastered them or am actively engaging them in my work at the hospital.   Those competencies focus on pastoral care, professionalism, medical ethics, patient care, interdisciplinary commitment, spiritual assessment, written and oral communication, theory of pastoral care, interfaith education, psychological and sociological theory, group and institutional dynamics, and personal and professional identity.   On top of these national standards, chaplains have to honor the APC National Code of Ethics.

For my application process, I had to explain what I am doing to master and engage those 29 competencies in my work. To do that, I had to do the following:

  • Fill out an extensive application and questionnaire
  • Already obtained a Masters Degree in theological study or pastoral care
  • Be endorsed by a denominational body, with whom I have proven to and they have agreed to back my work as a chaplain. (This does not include the two ordinations I already had.)
  • Write two verbatims (patient/chaplain dialogue of a visit) that included spiritual assessments, chaplain assessments and chaplain interventions
  • Write four essays that covered the four categories of competencies and how I met the 29 competencies
  • Obtain three letters of recommendations from my supervisor, chaplain colleague and members of the interdisciplinary team
  • Write an autobiography on what I encountered in life that developed my role as a chaplain
  • Mentor coaching with a BCC chaplain who works hours with me on editing, corrections and coaching. He also helps to stop the voices in my head when they tell me how bad I am.
  • Study and sign a Code of Ethics that if I don’t meet, I will lose my certification
  • Submit at least 2000 hours of clinical work (NOT counting my residency)
  • Complete at least 4 Clinical Pastoral Education units during residency
  • $325 application fee (which incidentally, is self-paid and doesn’t come easy with a chaplain’s salary). It’s $475 if you aren’t a member of APC.

Then once all of that is accepted (and it may not be), I will go through an interview panel process four months later in October. If I pass that, I will FINALLY be recognized on a national level as a Board Certified Chaplain and can put the letters, BCC after my name. Just like a doctor when he/she writes MD after their names or a nurse, the letters RN, and others, it will be just as exciting for me when I can write those three letters after my name.  I will have my credentials to go along with my spiritual calling as Chaplain. Don’t even get me started on what I went through to finally hear my spiritual calling.  :)

Here’s the other piece that completely floors people. In order to MAINTAIN the certification and credentials, chaplains have to earn 50 CEU Credits every single year. That’s the SAME amount of credits that a MD, RN, NP, and PA have to earn yearly (varies by state). Did you hear that? Chaplains have to earn the SAME AMOUNT of CEU credits as their interdisciplinary colleagues on the medical teams. I will do that through classes, research, writing, enhancing assessment and counseling techniques, ethics training, and collegial teaching. I will also continue my specific training in staff care, grief support, pastoral care related to organ donation, and pastoral care related to trauma.

I was actually asked once, “What do you do besides pray with a patient?” (I should have written a competency on how I maintained professionalism after I got asked that question.)

This is what I do. I am honored, humbled and proud.

I'm Done

I’m Done

PS: As of today, I have completed my application, which is two inches thick. I just need to get the fee, send two copies in for the committee and then…….I wait.

 

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A Nurse’s Blessing

For the incredible nurses who give more than they are given, may this be a blessing for you.

IMG_3041-Blessing-

Knowing the Lord has blessed the journey you traveled to get here today, may this journey become the foundation for what will be tomorrow.

May the laughter and the tears, the long days and sleepless nights, the pleasure and the pain, the presentations and exams, the clinicals and the labs, may they all bear bountiful fruit for the nurse you will become.

May the mountains you climbed and the valleys you crawled out of; build the strength of your courage to face whatever comes your way.

May the experiences you went through set the tone of your voice because you will be the one speaking for the patients in your care. May that voice also stand for the person inside of you.

May the friendships and memories you made be forever in your heart when the 12 hours shifts feel like 40 hour stand stills. You will need those memories to get you through.

And may the family and loved ones that were sacrificed for this night, be worth all that you are feeling at this moment in time. Look out in front of you, to see and feel just how proud they are of you right now.

You now stand before me with your pin, uniform, lamp and light.

May the pin you wear be the Badge of Honor for all that you accomplished to reach beyond your dreams and set your place in the world. May it remind you of what you were called to do and the preparation it took to get here today.

May the uniform that you wear protect you as your shield. Wear it proudly, stand tall and never let it bring you down. May it carry you through the physical demands of your work and may it protect you from the thankless moments that will indeed be in your way.

May the lamp that you carry be forever placed deep within your mind. May it remain full of all that you studied and all that you will learn as science is an ever changing demand of your work and time. May you remember these medicines, techniques and figures because they will indeed help you save lives.

May the flame you light be forever placed in your heart and flicker full of your passion and strength. May the light that you feel remind you of the warmth and compassion that will be needed to balance out the science of your patient care. And may the patients see the light within you, to bring hope to their darkest days.

May the light you hold never be forever extinguished, even on YOUR darkest of days. And when your light does go out, when your passion is low, and you know as well as I do that it just might happen, let the fuel of all that you have done refill the reservoir of who you are to everyone you will meet. You are called to be here, to be who you are and it will take every drop of your blood, sweat and tears to keep your light shining brightly and I have no doubt it will.

And as I bless your hands and bless this call that you have answered, remember above all else the blessing that you will be to the patients, to the families, to your brothers and sisters in nursing. May you feel all those blessings in return, may those blessings fill your lamp, pour into your soul and bless you on this day and the years to come. Amen.

Written by Rev. Linda C. Moore © 2014

Note: This blessing was written to present at the Pinning Ceremony for Nursing Graduates at Pitt Community College, Greenville, North Carolina.  Please do not take without permission.

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It’s a Dark Place

It’s a Dark Place
Can’t to go through it alone
Some days, not even possible
To make it to the other side.
Push through with all that is mighty and strong
Even when it hurts with it’s own will and strength
To go through this wilderness is gut-wrenching
It’s dreadful beyond compare

Comes when least expected, yet comes right on time
Looking up or ahead is difficult to do
The darkness surrounds and suffocates
Every little crevasse and crack there is
Not a care in the world
Will make the trip any better
Except time. Space. Tears. Darkness. Fear. Isolation.
Patience. Hurt. Reality. Denial. And Fear again.

There are times when death becomes a wish
When the world seems worlds away
Hoping against hope to get through the night
Even when it is as bright as the sun and ice
To this day, there is little human understanding
On how one gets through the storm

The one Person, the one Soul
That was right there through it all
Never left me even when I dropped
Every known contact I had
God, I lost it all, I threw it all away
Those lines that kept me connected to you

Then I looked and I knew, you reminded me over and over
That’s when you carried me through and through
I don’t remember days and nights
They become a blur to me, to this day
I was alone, without anyone else
They continued on and left me behind
Yet you were there, through every step and every fall;
Through every painful stone along the way

You carried me through the pain
The struggle and the grief
You kept going, through it all
Holding me close to your heart
Wiping away my tears and bringing in the light
Even when I couldn’t see beyond the shadows
I certainly didn’t deserve it, but you loved then
and you love me now, even more
Your love makes this dark place
survivable, yet once again.

(c) Linda C. Moore, 2014

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