Earthly Fathers and Heavenly Parents

When I was born the nurse told my father, “It’s a boy” and he said, “Shove it back in there.” I should have known then I was going to be a Daddy’s girl. You see, I was the fourth child (an unfortunate glitch in their plans) and the first three were boys. My dad wanted a girl and the nurse wanted to have a little fun with him.

Daddy and MeI was Daddy’s girl and still am. I went with him on side jobs as a construction worker. He helped me when I delivered newspapers on rainy days. Every Father’s Day, Dad and I would go fishing, just the two of us. He carried me back and forth to college when I couldn’t have a car. But he did so much more. My dad saved my life, in ways nobody will ever know.

My Dad worked six days a week and my other parent stayed at home. I had to live a very sheltered childhood. My guess is because I was the girl. I had to come straight home from school. Most of my time was spent alone in my bedroom or in the fenced in back yard. Those two places were where I felt safe. I studied a lot, played with my dolls and stuffed animals and pretended they were family. I couldn’t play sports, be in girl scouts or get involved in after-school activities. Oddly enough, my brothers were able to do all of those things and then some.

My brothers thought I was spoiled because of what my Dad did for me. To this day, they will never understand why I am not. They will never understand what went on at home when they weren’t there. My Dad saved me. He understood what happened. He was the only one who could. Dad saw it on myIMG_0112 face and heard it in my voice. Every day after dinner, he’d go to the store and take me with him. For a brief moment, he got me out of the prison. He would take me with him on construction work side jobs. He put a bamboo fishing pole in my hands around the age of three and a few years later, we started our Father’s Day trips to Buckroe Beach or Nags Head Pier. Where we went depended on the mood at home. If the mood was good, we’d go to Buckroe. If it was bad, we’d go to Nags Head.

My brothers thought I was spoiled because Dad got me a hand me down car after I got my driver’s license. It wasn’t because I was spoiled. He did it to free me. That car got me to an afterschool job. That car got me involved in school activities. That car got me out of the torment, at least for a little while. Even though he hated to see me go, Dad encouraged me to go away to college. He knew I needed to find a way to get away.

My Dad loved me. He tried to protect me as much as he could with the limited resources he had. He did all he could until he left this earth. He loved me so IMG_9161much that he had to die on my birthday, another day that we will share for eternity. I’m still not sure if I’m happy or sad for that but every birthday now is a flashback to hearing my phone ring in the early hours of my 27th birthday and hearing “your dad had a heart attack.” I now have a constant memory of sitting outside the funeral home that same night because I didn’t want to see my dead father on my birthday. He was my superhero and on this day, he left me alone, unprotected. That was the only time I ever got mad at him.

I am not a mother. I can’t be one. I’ve heard that you become the mother that raised you. Maybe that’s why I can’t be a mother and even though it saves me from some pain, it still hurts. I love and adore children. They are beautiful little people with incredible spirit and love, more than most adults I know. I sometimes wonder if this is a reason why I became an elementary school teacher, a children/youth minster and a chaplain. As much as I love and care for children, those times of teaching and ministering helped me to see I could have broken the cycle and been the mother I never had. I will never know.

A few people were quite critical and angry of my Mother’s Day blog post, asking churches not to celebrate it. A small portion of my reasoning is due to what is written here. My childhood showed me what motherhood was and still is based on behavior from this past Christmas. I can’t celebrate pain. However, this is not just about me.  I am also speaking for the millions of women who can’t have children and are treated as less of a woman because of it. Those that were critical said, “You can’t understand the importance of Mother’s Day because you aren’t a mother.” Yes, you are right. Remember though, you will never be able to understand what I am feeling (and many others in the congregation) because you are.

I was also speaking for the many fathers sitting in the congregation who know mothers will get more recognition than Dads will. Yesterday on my Facebook page, I wrote, “I pray that churches will recognize and celebrate fathers with the same excitement and fanfare they celebrated mothers. Fathers sacrifice too.” Some thought I was being contradictory between mothers and fathers. I wasn’t. I want to be sure if mothers are going to be recognized, fathers need to be too. You see my father saved my life. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today. Some may regret that today but most days, I don’t. Because of him, I knew what a father’s love felt like. I knew what a parent’s love really meant. I knew what sacrifice was. I saw what it meant to be called “Dad” and if we are going to honor one parent, we certainly need to honor both because Dads deserve it too.

Because of my Dad, I went away to college, found Christ and learned about my 34119_410586482375_508132375_4308202_7667062_nHeavenly Father’s love too. Both taught me about sacrifice, security and unconditional love. God is the father I miss and the mother I never had.

No, I don’t understand loving mothers and you will never be able to understand me. What I do understand is God sacrificed more than any of us will ever be able to know and He still loves us all just the same.

Despite who we want to honor as our parents, we all have a Heavenly Parent who watches over us. You and I are brothers and sisters because of what was sacrificed for you and me. Our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Mother, whichever one we look to God to be, let that be the very One we celebrate today and every day. I think that’s the One who deserves it. Don’t you?

 

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Learning Lessons: I Am Who I Am

Exodus 3:14 (NRSV): God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’

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I’m at the end of a much-needed vacation. During my time away, I took an opportunity to go on a short spiritual retreat. This was to be a time of reconnection and reflection on who I am, who God called me to be and who God made me to be. For a while now, those three were not the same answers.

One day on a prayer walk, I ran into Kevin. We talked about what brought us to this retreat walk with a friendcenter. Kevin shared how he’d recently been to Ireland, Scotland and be still my spiritual heart…..he visited the Iona Abbey. I about died. That’s where I have set a far away dream to be able to attend this historic and sacred retreat center for Christian faith and worship. Kevin did visit and had a deeply meaningful experience.

A part of his experience, Kevin explained, was how he felt so free to be who God needed him to be and just as important, who Kevin needed to be too.   You see, those two answers should match. A Christian called into ministry, needs to follow God’s plan and be passionate about it. I felt the same way about chaplaincy. When I realized God was calling me to be a chaplain, I felt this passion like no other call. Even people at the church I served knew it was the right thing for me and probably before I did.

Kevin asked if I understood what he meant about that feeling of freedom. I said undoubtedly yes. Well, at least I used to. I explained how a part of my calling as a chaplain was to be free to be a voice for the voiceless. As a chaplain, I am not restricted to steeples and pews. My faith, theology and passion are not restricted to the people who occupy the pews and believe the same things. They are entirely open to help and honor any of God’s people in however they need.   As a chaplain, there is this freedom to be whoever God needs me to be.

Kevin and I went our separate ways and I reflected on what we talked about.   I reflected on the experiences I’ve had these past few months. I’ve used my voice more. God is working to develop the confidence in me to be the voice for the voiceless, yet people got angry. I was not fitting in the comfortable box of beliefs they’ve grown up with. I understand what they were thinking because I no longer fit in the box of beliefs I’d known for 15 years under the bubble of my first church. I became a Christian in 1990. It’s 2015 and I’ve broken through many barriers (several of which were my own) to become the person and chaplain I am now.

IMG_4607After 15 years of studying scripture, reading commentaries, writing papers, creating bible studies, preaching sermons, and earning a Master of Divinity, I’ve come to my own theology through God’s guidance and wisdom. I prayed, searched, knocked, and found answers. Then I had more questions. It’s been incredibly transforming. As Paul reminds us in Romans 12:2, we are not to conform but be transformed by renewing our minds, so we can discern God’s will.  I was doing that and will continue to. It was during this time in prayer that I realized I wasn’t fitting into this box people wanted me to fit into. They were angry and disappointed.  I was angry and upset.

In the book of Exodus, just before Moses goes to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he wanted to know what to tell them in regards to who sent Moses to lead them. God said, without a question of doubt, “I Am Who I Am.” Exodus 3:14 is arguably one of the strongest statements from the Lord. Five simple words turned into an exclamation point of identification. It is clear God does not want to be put into a box and I am not about to put God in a box either.

With honor and humility, God has sent me here to do what I have been called to do; to care for the grieving, comfort the hurting, be a voice for the voiceless, a bridge for the leper, a heart for the ostracized, and a hand for the fallen. Through empathy, compassion, mercy and grace, (ok, I can work on the grace part) God has equipped my mind, heart and spirit to do just that. If I stay in the comfortable box of restrained expectations, unrealistic standards and beliefs that are not my own, I won’t be able to do what God has asked me to do.

I’ve shared in some recent blog posts (albeit, they were written almost two years ago) what’s been on my heart and mind. God gave me the knowledge, the voice and the written word to do this. I was asked to be a voice for the voiceless, the hurt and the ostracized; specifically, the LGBT community and the motherless. They have both been condemned in the church for being who they are, even though neither group is who they are by choice. Haven’t we all been condemned before? I have – for being a woman, for being overweight, for being single, for being without family, for not having children and most recently, for caring too much.

Could I have handled myself better? Sure I could have. I could have responded instead of reacted and for that I am sorry. I could have explained myself better and I will the next time. But I cannot and will not be sorry for being a voice for what needs to be said. When God called me to be a chaplain, God took the restrictions and restraints away that the church placed on me. God gave me the mind in which I work to cultivate daily. God gave me the spirit of which I’m still learning how to handle appropriately. God gave me the heart in which to care, sometimes too much.

Note: In the practice of full disclosure, I asked God that my heart be hardened because of what’s happened recently. It was broken and I am still healing. God sent three dear people this past week in answer to that prayer. A surgeon friend, a minister friend and a long lost high school friend all said exactly the same thing, “Don’t do that.” These three precious souls said I would not be me if I had a cold and hardened heart.

Hearing that, I now understand that if my heart were hardened, I would not be able to sit at a patient’s bedside. I could not comfort the hurting. I would not have been able to stand next to the one who needed a friend. I could not have sat with the nurses who needed someone to talk to. I would not have heard from those in pain. I could not have been a voice for the voiceless. God asked me to serve, using my heart, mind and spirit. My heart will break again and it will heal with another scar. My spirit will weaken at times and my mind will try to conform. But God will take care of me, provide the necessary healing and then send me back out to do what I’ve been called to do. God will send me out to be who God made me to be, with each experience making me a stronger than before.

You see I am who I am and God wouldn’t want me any other way.

3 yrs old

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Churches, Please Do Not Acknowledge Mother’s Day

After I came back from Richmond deflated from my only Christmas “celebration”, I volunteered to work Mother’s Day weekend. I likely would have worked anyway because I don’t like to go to church on that day.

To explain, I have written a letter to the churches.

Dear Churches,

Please do not acknowledge Mother’s Day.

By all means, celebrate Mother’s Day in the secular world and lift up mothers in all their glory, as they should be. Enjoy.  Honor her in whatever way you believe she deserves but in all that is holy, please do not celebrate Mother’s Day in the church. It is painful.

I remember one church asked all the mothers to stand and be recognized.   Another church provided flowers for all the mothers.  My first church gave plants to the youngest mother and the oldest mother in the congregation.   They were applauded, celebrated, lifted up in prayr and honored for being blessed by the gifts of God.  It is a glorious moment given to those who are lucky enough to have children and families.  What a moment to share and celebrate those women in the church who have truly gone above and beyond in life as they are honored for being mothers.  God bless them all.

However, if you do feel the need to celebrate it, I want you to look around the congregation.  Look into the eyes of the young lady sitting in the back of the sanctuary. IMG_9336Can you see her pain?  She lost her daughter to cancer and missed hearing her little girl’s Mother’s Day wake up call.  What about the young man sitting to your left?  He is sitting alone and hiding his tears in order to be strong in front of you.  His wife wanted to be at home alone.  She couldn’t handle the shame of sitting in your church on this particular day. They were expecting their first child three months ago, when she delivered a stillborn boy. All that is left is the receiving blanket they held him in, the ultrasound photos hanging in the nursery, and the footprints that were delicately placed in the memory box by the chaplain.  To this day, that baby boy’s mother feels guilty, yet she did nothing wrong, except try to be the best mother and wife she always wanted to be.

Then again, things will look up next month. It should be better for the husband. You see, the churches that celebrate Mother’s Day will forget to honor fathers in the same way they honor mothers.  For some reason, you believe that only mothers should be celebrated with such fanfare. For this hurting new father, it will be just another Sunday that he is not a dad. So I guess it’s good you won’t be recognizing him.

Can you hear that?  Can you hear his heart hardening as the memories of abuse go through his mind?  The pain of the belt snapping against his leg, followed by the sting that will forever be ingrained in his soul.   The sound of broken glass crashes through his mind, just like when his mother threw the vodka bottle across the room. All he did was ask her to read him a bedtime story.  He’s in counseling now because he almost relived  that nightmare again, in front of his little girl.  Only she will be able to soften his heart if he is willing to forgive.

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The woman you see every Sunday won’t be there today. Before this day of celebration, the church was the one place where she felt she could have been accepted and honored for being who God made her to be.  On this particular day however, you reminded her since she is not a mother, she is not worthy enough to stand and receive praise, a flower or a blessing.  She already feels worthless because she doesn’t have a husband, children, or people to call her family.  The last thing she wants to feel is dehumanized by the very place where it should not happen.  You, the church, continue to honor families and marriages that were commanded in Genesis, and she sits in shame because she is unable to be fruitful and multiply.

She does not want the recognition but she doesn’t need the church to remind her that she is not worthy enough in your eyes, as society has already made that clear. “You are not a mother? You are not married? Why not? What’s wrong with her?”

I write this letter for the infants I’ve baptized, dedicated and blessed who never took a breath, for the children whose lives were cut too short, and their mothers who I had no answers for.  I write it for all who try to live up to unrealistic societal expectations of what it means to be a “successful” mother, yet feel ashamed when she can’t hold her crying child anymore.  I write this letter for those who are abused physically, emotionally and verbally, by the very people who will be asked to stand in celebration of their motherly title, yet have no idea what that title means.  I write it for those who so desperately wanted to be mothers, yet are unable to. I write this letter for those who want to be accepted for being made in God’s image and not everyone else’s expectations.

I write this for those who won’t be in church on Sunday because they don’t want to hear in the one place where it should be safe, that being who she just isn’t enough.

Sincerely,

A Voice for the Voiceless

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Lessons Learned: 5k Races, Mud, and Letting Go of March

Today has been a good day and I needed it. I learned a lot of lessons as well. I needed that too.

No 635_2I participated in the Love a Sea Turtle 5K Race in Greenville, NC. I’ve been participating in 5k races since the Turkey Trot in November. It started when I got involved with a Couch to 5k program last fall and it hasn’t stopped. What was great about today was the fact it was my first trail run and it was held the day after a Friday full of rain. My trail run turned into a chilly mud run.

It was a long work week and as I was exhausted Friday night. It could have been the weather yesterday. It could have been the long week. It could have been the challenging month of ups and downs I faced. Who knows what it was but I needed something good to end the month of March and send it on its way.

Before the Race

Before the Race

There were two goals for today: finish and don’t fall down. With the trail being muddy, I was afraid of falling down and injuring something. There was a third goal of doing better than my last 5k but I was told that might not happen because trail runs tend to be slower. So I dropped that goal in order not to disappoint myself.

The other problem I was concerned about and didn’t tell anyone is the fact I pushed too hard at my last 5k and did some damage to my Achilles. I finished the race but I could barely walk the rest of the day due to sharp pains in my ankle/heel area. It was a lesson I learned about pushing too hard when I was not prepared to go that hard. I didn’t want to push too hard today and risk doing more damage.

It was a cloudy, chilly, windy sort of day. There was some drizzle just before the race however it stopped when started. At this point, I would not have minded it because I felt good. I felt ready to clear some things out of my system and let the rain wash some stuff off. After talking to some folks, I went off and did my stretching exercises. Then walked around for a while in prayer. After a minute or so in prayer, I couldn’t hear anything around me, including me. I stopped thinking and started letting go. It proved to be my smartest move all morning.

After the Race

After the Race

235 people started the race. Meghan Trainor, Katy Perry and Pink were following me along. Once I slipped into my own little world of motion, everything that happened in March started floating around in my mind but not in a bad way. They flowed through as they were literally leaving my body with each strike I made on the ground. I could barely hear the lyrics to the songs in my ears, yet I could hear the lessons I learned with each of those pounding March moments.

  • I can’t push more than I am able. Today, I stayed relaxed and because of that, (and softer ground) my Achilles doesn’t hurt as much tonight.  I can’t run or jog a whole 5k……..not yet anyway. I have to walk and jog (or “wog” as I call it). There’s no question about that right now and I’m ok with it because I don’t have to meet anyone else’s expectations but my own.
  • I didn’t finish with the people I started with. I started the race with one group at my side. By the time we finished, some finished before me and a couple finished after me. We all have our own pace in life. There were people that started by my side as friends at the beginning of March – wonderful people. Due to misunderstandings and false claims, a couple of friends decided to move to other trails. I don’t have the energy or pace to keep up with them, to meet their expectations or to accept their incorrect criticisms; so I didn’t follow. Yes, I was disappointed at first but then I looked beside me and saw other people there who know me better and accept all of me.
  • I slipped several times but I never fell.  I realized I would have been ok if I did. It was fun to run in the mud and knowing the energetic folks out there, I have no doubt somebody would have stopped to help me up. That is one thing I am learning about these races. We are all there to enjoy ourselves, meet personal goals, meet new people and cheer each other on. I imagine we are also there to pick each other up when we need.
  • I am grateful for text messages from those who encouraged me before the race and congratulated me afterwards. Tim, Katie, Brian, Jamie, and everyone on Facebook, thank you for the “proud of you,” “I believe in you,” “great job,” “go girl,” and thumbs up statements you sent or said. They felt good. I can look beside me and see that you are there.
  • I got muddy and wet. My old shoes are now my muddy shoes. I cleaned myself up and I will use those shoes for more fun adventures. Life is going to get muddy. I will do things and say things that will be different from others. My words, my beliefs and my actions have surprised some people because they had different expectations of me, thinking I hold the same interpretations they do.  I can’t believe what you want me to believe.  That will happen. I’ve worked too hard in study and transformation to be swayed by anger and judgement. I can’t conform.  Yes, I will say or do something wrong.  That happens too. When someone does something wrong, you apologize and when I am wrong, I will. Some will accept it. Others won’t. Others will even question my faith and Christianity. I have to remember I can’t control what you think about me. I can only clean off the mud and use that experience as I continue to mature and move on.
  • I could have done better in the race. Yes, I recognize that I could have done better in my run today but due to (whatever) I didn’t. More than likely that “whatever” has something to do with fear and getting hurt. There is something in my life that I really want to do but due to fear of getting hurt, I haven’t done it. Due to the fear of losing something very important to me, I hesitate. You know what I am talking about. Something means the world to you and you don’t want to risk what you have for something that may not be. I could have risked more today in order to improve my time but I chose to play it safe.
  • Now here is a twist to that lesson – the end results of a race just may surprise you. Today’s race results did just that. Due to some flooding on the trails, they had to cut the distance short. Instead of 3.2 miles, we completed 2.9 miles. Based on my calculations and the help of a friend, if I had kept the pace for a 3.2 length that I had for the official 2.9, I would have finished the 3.2 better than the last one I did. Remember I dropped that goal? Even though it was a trail race, I actually shaved off 3 minutes from my previous time. I didn’t push too hard at the risk of getting injured but I still did better than my last event.

Hmmm, what do I do with that risk I haven’t taken?

So what do I do with all of this? Well, I write it out and share these lessons with the world. I’m not surprised that my 5K adventures parallel my life. I bet the lessons I learned today might hit a cord with you. If it does, then another lesson is learned.

And with that, may we all press on towards the goal as we learn our lessons in life. We were not meant to conform to this world but to be transformed. (Romans 12:1-2) We were challenged to renew our mind, our spirit and our hearts with each step we take. So, get your shoes on.

Hey, if we get a little muddy, that’s ok. A little dirt won’t hurt us and we just might have fun and learn something along the way.

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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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