Planting a Seed

Planting a Seed
July 23, 2017

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Several years ago, I completed my chaplain residency and was unemployed. I was frustrated, scared, anxious and uncertain about what the future was going to be. I had a difficult and painful past and still healing from that experience. All of this had taken control of my mind and spirit.

So, one day I went to my seminary, where across campus, was a labyrinth, a circular walking path that allows you intentional focus on the spiritual practices of prayer, discernment, and contemplation.

It was a beautiful day and I went to the labyrinth, thinking I could settle my mind a bit.  So much was going through it, I needed intentional focus to get out of the focus I was in, and find some clarity. The grass was just beginning to turn green again, though there were still specks of brown. People were walking along the track but there was nobody at the labyrinth.  And I was happy about that.  It meant I could take all the time I needed and have no interruptions.  It was just me, walking along the path, having an internal conversation with God and nobody was going to be around to interrupt.

Much to my surprise, I was wrong.  What I hadn’t noticed was a family over in the distance, walking their dog.  And they had a little girl too, about five years old.  I didn’t see them at first, but off in the distance, I could hear them.  As one who loves children, their voices tend to catch my attention pretty quickly and her voice was no exception.  Here I am trying hard to concentrate as I had just entered the labyrinth a few minutes ago and in the distance I heard in this child’s voice exclaim, “I’m going over there!” It was just the right pitch of voice, that I knew when she meant “over there” she meant, right here.

My head had been down, focused on this gravel path, the intricate turns and details. I didn’t want to miss a step.  Well, I looked up after I heard her voice and here comes this precious girl, running and skipping across the field.  Her blond locks were flowing and she was smiling as bright as the sun.  She was every bit of an adventurous child who went wherever the spirit led her and she ran full speed into the labyrinth.   As her parents got closer, I heard the father ask, “Do you need help,” and without a doubt in her mind the little girl said, “I know what to do.”

Picture this moment. Here is this precious child of God, full of spirit and joy, runningand skipping all around thIMG_1947e labyrinth.  She never got in my way.  She was good about that, but something told me to step out and just watch what she does and so I did.  It was beautiful.  She used every bit of that pathway to run, skip, and jump. She popped out of the circle when she noticed the buttercups on the side.  She came to me, a stranger, and told me the story I grew up with, the one where if you hold the buttercup under your chin and there is a yellow reflection that shows you like butter.  And we had a connection. We both liked butter.  She told me her name and I told her mine. Then she gave the flowers to me and went back on the labyrinth.

Her mother apologized for the interruption and the more I watched, the more I realized that it wasn’t an interruption at all. It was an answer to the very prayer I couldn’t verbalize with all the commotion going on inside my head.  I happened to have my camera with me.  I asked the parents if they would mind if I took some photographs of her.  Just as I got my camera out, that little girl stopped running and took a seat right in the center of the labyrinth.  Her world stopped for just a moment, to give her time to reflect on all she had seen and heard on her present journey.

She sat Indian style, played with gravel a bit. Then she stretched out her legs, laid down to look up at the sky, rose back up, right back into her Indian style position, and looked off into the distance.  It was a reflective moment for both of us.

I just told you a parable of sorts, a loose definition of “parable” – a story relating to life and how interruptions, how twists in the plans you make, actually make things better. Parables break into our assumptions and help us to realize how life isn’t always what it seems. Parables are meant to teach us lessons.

Today, we learn about the Parable of the Weeds. it’s the Gospel lesson found in Matthew. What lesson is Jesus teaching us today?

Barbara Reid, New Testament professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, gives five characteristics about parables:

  1. they use every day images, inviting the reader/listener to see something with a different view
  2. parables most often have a twist or unexpected ending
  3. there are multiple layers of meaning within the parable. just as i learned with this parable, there are many, many different lessons in these few verses.
  4. parables are open ended…giving us an opportunity to identify with different characters at different times.
  5. parables challenge our world view, they challenge our understanding of God

And without a doubt, i have learned this week that the Parable of the Weed meets every expectation of those characteristics.

Knowing there are many lessons to learn in these few verses, layers to peel away, let me simply plant some seeds and see where we go.

The Parable of the Weed represents Matthew very well. Matthew is known to focus on the Kingdom of Heaven, focusing on Jesus’s teachings, focusing on what the followers were to learn, and what Jesus’s mission was on earth, before he died.

When he references the Kingdom of Heaven, Matthew is referring to God’s kingdom, right here on this earth. For Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is important, so important, that his version of the Lord’s prayer teaches us to pray, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” With Jesus’s use of parables, he introduces them with the phrase “ The kingdom of heaven is like…..” The listener is immediately pulled in with an introduction that Jesus is about to share what the kingdom of heaven should be like on this earth with God as the king,….not the disciples, not the pastor, not you, not me, not Herod, not anybody else. It is life on earth, with God’s justice, God’s will and God’s grace.

In this parable, the kingdom has good and evil. The kingdom is planted with weeds and wheat. One question raised in this parable, “what do you do with the weed? what do you do with evil?”

Evil hurts. Evil is hateful, mean, judgmental, and all around wrong. As a trauma and emergency room chaplain, I see it every single day. Gang fights, drug wars, assaults, drunk driving, text driving, drive by shootings, overdoses; all of which are stemming from some sort of anger, jealousy, bitterness, and retaliation. Evil can also be a painful mistake as it manifests from a reaction to pain, shock and hurt.

As a chaplain, I want to put a stop to it. I want to put a stop to all the violence. I want to go out there and scream at the top of my lungs, stop the shootings, the killing, the fights, the drugs….stop it all. I want to be like the slaves in the parable. As soon as I see the weeds, I have to pull them up as fast as I can. I want to yell and scream and tell them how wrong they are, how they are evil, how they are sinful, how they are going to hell. I want to be the judge and jury for the evil that I see every single day.

But, as a Christian, as a follower of Christ, I know I can’t. In my role and position as a chaplain, I know I can’t do that. This parable reminds me that Jesus doesn’t want it done either.

There is your twist in the parable. When the slaves were about to jump in and pull all the weeds, the Master said “NO”. The Master tells the slaves NOT to pull the weeds because if they pull the weeds, they will pull the wheat. The risks of pulling the weeds outweighs the benefits. The Master instructed them, “Let both of them grow together until the harvest….”

I didn’t know until preparing for this sermon that the weed in question, is what’s called a “Lolium temulentum” or a “darnel”. Darnel is a grass that looks exactly like wheat, until it fully matures. So if they pull at the weeds too soon, in their frenzy to clear them out, the slaves would have indeed been pulling out the wheat. The Master….and Jesus, remind us, it’s not our duty to pull the weeds out.

This was a valuable lesson for me as a chaplain. You see, the patients that I care for, the patients that i help to heal…..some of them are gang members, some are the ones doing the shooting, the assaulting, the selling of drugs. The patients that i see, were the ones driving after drinking or texting while driving and caused a horrific, sometimes, fatal collisions. What sort of chaplain would I be, if I didn’t take care of them in the same way I take care of all my other patients? What sort of Christian would I be, if I judged any patient with the same frenzy and reaction as the slaves were doing in this parable? I wouldn’t be living out my call as chaplain, in the way that God asked me to. I would not be living out my promise as a follower of Christ if I ignored the patient in that bed because i judged them as evil.

How they got there, it’s not my place to judge. How I treat them, is my duty to follow and the promise that I made.

Remember the Boston bombings that happened during the Boston Marathon? There were two bombers. One died and one went to the hospital. There was an incredibly humbling article about the nurses in that hospital, the very nurses that took care of the bomber. That bomber was their patient. In the article, it was mentioned that the nurses were given the chance to say no, when assigned that patient. Not one nurse said no. Every single nurse accepted the call, their duty to take care of all their patients, including the Boston bomber. Was it incredibly difficult? I can say with certainty, it absolutely was. It was one of the hardest things they had to do but it was their job, their calling..it was the promise they made.

How that bomber got there, was not a nurses’ place to judge. How they treated the patient was their duty to follow and the promise they made when they became nurses.

I recognize not everybody works in a hospital but everybody lives in this country. Everybody lives in this world. I recognize that everybody in the Christian Church is learning the same lessons that this parable is teaching us today.

We are living in a world that this practice of weed pulling is taking place every single day. Individuals, groups, leaders, political parties and yes, churches are trying to extract the very people and the very groups they consider evil; wishing to rid their world and their communities of the evildoers, the sinners, the extremists, the hate groups, the bad people and the people who don’t believe as we do. We want to rid the people who don’t see the world like we do.

But we can’t. It’s not our place to do so. It’s not our right. It’s not our judgment call. What if we did all of this weed pulling before we knew what/who we were extracting? What if we extracted all the groups we didn’t like, before realizing that we pulled out the people who did nothing wrong?

With my patients, I realized that I had a promise to keep in how I treat and care for the patients. I remembered that there are people behind the them; their families and friends – all of whom have been impacted by these actions, whether they knew it or not. I met the patients behind the circumstances, when they realized the mistakes they made and the actions they took. I met the patients when they realized the consequences they would be facing when they leave the hospital. For some, their actions were genuine mistakes, one moment they wished they could take back. I met those patients. Whether it was the families or the patients, they didn’t need a punishment from me. They didn’t need any more pain and judgement. They needed grace.

Today, instead of allowing God to take care of the evil (as defined by God), we are taking it upon ourselves to do so. We are pulling before the seeds have had a chance grow, to mature, to work through the plowing, trimming and watering. We are pulling the seeds before we let God do God’s work. We are pulling at the weeds and taking the control and final judgment out of God’s hands. We are pulling out the groups and communities, not wanting to see that we are pulling out the good as we frantically pull at the bad.

We are pulling at the weeds not remembering that we also have to face our final harvest when we come face to face God.

The past couple of years have done some major damage to my heart, mind and spirit. With the election, the politics, the arguments about healthcare, gun control, right and wrong, left and right, republican and democrat, voter fraud and building walls; my heart, mind and spirit are struggling. I am hurting and I let some of that hurt get the best of me and who I am.

When I first got here, I met some great people and we became close friends. It was in the comfort of that friendship that when asked about my faith, my beliefs and my political views, I thought it was safe to share what I believed. Turned out, I was wrong. My guess is that they assumed I would believe the same way they did. Those friends, when they realized i believed differently than they did politically, when I viewed scripture differently than they did, when I looked at people and circumstances differently than they did; they said I was wrong for believing what I believed. They questioned my Christian faith. They questioned my education. They questioned my calling as a chaplain. When I wouldn’t change my beliefs, they would no longer be my friends. I allowed their rush to judgement towards me impact my heart, mind and spirit and i found myself doing the same to others. I found myself treating others the way these “friends” treated me.

This parable is a reminder that good and bad exist. They always have and they always will. This parable is a reminder that justice and injustice exists, too. This parable is a reminder that people are going to see different view points and they are going to feel differently about them. This parable is a reminder that in the midst of the bad, there is good; in the midst of the good, there is bad. This parable is a reminder that good and bad can and do change within each other. Evil can turn good and good can turn evil….and sometimes, we don’t even know which is which and how dangerous would it be if we pulled at the weeds and instead, pulled out the wheat.

I want to go back to the parable I started with, the little girl in the labyrinth. In the midst of the healing, the pain, the worry and frustration, I learned valuable lessons that day about God, God’s grace, work and prayer. I am well aware of the fact that the buttercups she picked out and gave to me were weeds. But to her and to me, those buttercups were beautiful flowers that reminded us both of a life of joy, dancing, laughter, grace, acceptance and love.

Hear this words from Matthew 18:1-3

Matthew 18:1-3
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, can only be entered by people who change and become like children. That little girl saw something special in the buttercups, something so special that she gave them to me, as a gift. And with her joy, acceptance, grace and love, she gave me so much more than a buttercup that day.

She planted a seed…..and it’s still growing.

 

 

© 2017, Linda C Moore

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Joseph Stayed and So Should I

Matthew 1:18-25: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

———

IMG_7143It’s Christmas Eve and I am tired. It’s been a tough couple of weeks and i have to work on Christmas Day. I spent this day resting, doing laundry, and cleaning my kitchen floor. Not what I would call rest but it’s the only day i have off right now. Being a chaplain is a journey, sometimes a rough one but it’s a journey.

Every Advent and Christmas, I think about the story of Jesus’s birth. Of course I do but Jesus isn’t the only person in the story i focus on. It’s not Mary, either. I focus on Joseph. He is a remarkable man – a servant, who didn’t have to be there.

Can you imagine being Joseph? You’re engaged to be married and your fiancé becomes pregnant….and not by you. And not only is she not pregnant by you but she’s pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Can you even imagine being Joseph in a world of gossip and judgement? I can only imagine what his buddies were saying to him, making fun of him, telling him he wasn’t “man” enough, “holy enough” and his fiancé got pregnant by someone else.

Joseph had every right to leave this scenario. In fact, he had planned on it. Joseph was going to dismiss her quietly and move on with his life. He was ridiculed, embarrassed, and no longer the important person in Mary’s life. Between the ridicule and spotlight, it had to be a lonely time, too. He had every right to leave.

Well, he didn’t. An angel appeared to him and said, “…do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Do not be afraid? What does that even mean? How in the world can Joseph stand and face the crowd and face Mary?

He loves her and God loves him. God loved Joseph enough to give him Jesus as a son. God loved Joseph enough to give Mary as his wife. God trusted Joseph enough to have him raise Jesus as his own. God loved Joseph enough to call him to be the earthy father of Emmanuel.

Chaplaincy is hard. Being a Trauma and ED Chaplain is harder. There are days I want to leave and I feel I have every right to leave. You’d be surprised at the judgement, criticism and pressure placed on a chaplain, an individual called by God to care for people at their darkest times. You’d be surprised at how lonely it can be, too.

There are days I want to leave. I see too much. I feel too much. There are times I care too much. What I encounter on a regular basis is incredibly challenging. I don’t wish it on my enemy. I don’t wish it on myself.

IMG_5332Then I remember God called me to this role. As demanding, difficult and as lonely as it is, I can’t leave. I don’t remember an angel appearing to me and saying, “don’t be afraid,” but I am reminded every single day that God gives me what I need to get through. There are many days I leave the hospital and wonder how in the world did i get through this day, then I remember – God got me through it.

Even though he had every right to leave, Joseph stayed. When I am having a tough day, I remember the commitment Joseph made to take a journey into the call that God gave him. There are days I want to leave. I can’t take it anymore. Then I remember that Joseph stayed and God asked me to do the same.

Merry Christmas.

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What We Can Learn in a Hurricane

Psalm 86
img_9367It amazes me that Hurricane Matthew happened 3 weeks ago. Feels like forever, yet it wasn’t that long ago. It feels like forever, yet people are still working to get back to some sort of normalcy.

We knew Matthew was coming. Haiti knew it. Florida knew it. South Carolina knew it. North Carolina knew it. We knew it was coming but we didn’t know the impact it was going to have.

We know when something is coming yet we don’t know the impact. That makes it difficult to fully prepare for the storm. For North Carolina, Matthew was supposed to take a sharp turn before making landfall, but he decided to hang around for a little longer. All day and night on Saturday, October 8th, we saw the winds, rain and debris increase as the day went on. By 7:00 that night, there were already videos on Facebook of floods, streets being washed out, cars getting stuck in water, and communities were losing power.
Matthew stayed for a while.

I woke up Sunday to bright blue skies, sunshine and comfortable temperatures. Before I left my apartment complex, the only evidence of Matthew I saw, was some branches, leaves and puddles on the grounds. It looked as if a small storm came through. When I looked towards the sky, it was clear blue, no clouds in sight and the brightest sunshine over Greenville. Was there really a hurricane?

When I looked up, it was as if nothing ever happened.

On Sunday, I went to Town Commons, a local park in Greenville where the Tar River flows alongside the park. The waters were flowing quite rapidly, for a gentle river. Trees and debris were going downstream. A tree had fallen on the beautiful green park and there was a lot of debris and puddles along the walkways and grounds. The water had already made its way over ¼ of the parking lot. The water had already risen to just below the top of the wall by the sidewalk and fence. I walked down the sidewalk knowing that the rising water was just the beginning. I knew walking along the path that the water wasn’t going to crest until later that week. What I didn’t know was the impact this storm would have on the community in the days to come.

Yet when I looked up, it was as if nothing ever happened, even though I knew otherwise.

For the rest of the week, the weather was perfect. Blue skies, sunshine, fall like temperatures. It was picture perfect. Yet every morning, we woke to rising waters, evacuated neighborhoods, flooded homes and washed away streets. Schools were closed. Roads were closed. Streets caved in. Cars were trapped. And the worst of it all, people died.
Yet in the midst of devastation, you could see hope, you could feel a spirit, a sense of community coming together for one another. People came together to fill sand bags, to move retirement communities, to collect food, clothing and supplies. People came together to take care of one another, to offer temporary housing, to raise people up in the midst of the storm.

Wednesday morning, we got the news that the water won’t crest until Friday. Yet, before he knew that would happen, Mayor Thomas had called for a time for community prayer for that same Wednesday. At 12:00, several hundred folks in Greenville gathered together at the Greene Street Bridge for a time of prayer and community. The mantra for that day was “The waters may rise, but we rise stronger.” It was an incredible experience. We were one. We were together. We were lifting each other up in spirit, in prayer and in song. We were img_9382lifting up the sign of hope, hope that will get this community through the storm and floods. While we were there, the National Guard came across the bridge in their big tank trucks. The National Guard and Greenville Police had been touring the streets to see where the worst of the floods were and they arrived just in time to the prayer gathering, for us to pray for them and to say thank you.

These last three weeks, the emotions have run the gamet. Predictions had people worried, scared, concerned. And that is understandable. We all get scared. That’s ok. Predictions had people preparing for the worst and some not preparing at all. I experienced uncertainty. I’ve only been in Greenville for 3 ½ years. I’ve been around floods before but not as close as this hurricane was predicting to have. I didn’t know what to do. Honestly, the most I did was prepared several gallons of water. I lived through snow storms in Boston. Maybe I was naïve. Many folks who’ve been here for a while, were having flashbacks to Hurricane Floyd that wreaked havoc on Greenville and Eastern NC in 1999. It was understandable to consider what could happen with Matthew after Floyd. At the same time, the experience of Floyd prepared the leadership and community for this time.

Why am I bringing up Matthew in the hospital worship service?

There are storms here, every single day. They might not be in the form of clouds, winds, and floods of rain from the sky but there are storms within these walls. Those storms come in the form of diagnoses, death, pain, suffering and trauma.
I think as believers, we can learn something from Matthew as storms gather daily around this community, within this community.

Sometimes, the disease, the illness and death can be predicted. We can prepare for what is coming and start the process of treatment and/or grief. As a chaplain, I can assure you, just like the impact Matthew had, we will never be prepared for the impact disease and death will have on the patient and families. I hear families all the time said, “I’m not ready.” It is rare that I find someone ready.

As a trauma chaplain, I know patients and families are NOT prepared for a trauma. In a 010_10split second, a trauma changes your life. You are never prepared for it. You can’t be. There is no way to predict being hit by a car or shot at. There is no way to predict a motorcycle collision or a head-on car crash. There is no way to predict someone falling and hitting his head. There is no way to know that when you wake up in the morning and have breakfast with your loved one, that one of you will be paralyzed by the afternoon. There is no way to predict when a split second changes your entire life, forever.

I bring up Hurricane Matthew because it wasn’t the storm that had an impact on me, it was the way the community came together. As I said, the community gathered together that following Wednesday for prayer and support. The community gathered together every single day, to help one another. All faiths, all colors, all people came together to support and help one another to get through the storm.

As chaplains, we hear all the time, “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle.” But I have to remind families, I have to remind patients that even though we want to believe this statement to be true on so many levels, we have to remember that God does NOT prepare us to handle the storms alone. God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle, knowing that we are NOT meant to handle it alone.

God made Eve for Adam. God made the disciples to help Jesus. God made the church to help the people. We are NOT meant to handle the storms alone.

After the hurricane, we had perfect weather for several days. After the storm, all you had to do was look up to see the blue skies, the sunshine and the bright moon and stars.
Every single day, I see the storms that my patients and families and staff face. I see families that come together. I see families in the waiting areas come together to support one another, in prayer, in emotion, in tears, in grief, in celebration of small milestones. I see the epitome of strength that comes out of the depths of the souls of the patients and their families. In the midst of the most challenging of times, the hardest of circumstances; in the midst of shock, grief, trauma and death, I see hope. I see communities that come together to help one another, whether it’s in the patient’s room, the conference rooms, the waiting areas, the churches or the neighborhoods, I see community. I see God. I see hope.

In the midst of the storm, we can see hope. Yes, something happened. We may be in the midst of a storm, but when we are, look up and don’t ever let it go.

Amen.

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Debates and Hurricanes and a Change of Heart

I watched the debate last night and i have my thoughts about it. I keep wanting to post or “share” something on Facebook about it but in-between the thoughts, memes, and factchecks, I see posts and photos about my state of North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew. I see Tar River inching up by the minute. I see more roads closing or worse, collapsing. Every time I want to post something about the debate, I think about my friends at work who need to be sure they got home to their babies. When I see posts about the debate, I’m reminded about the families having to be rescued from their rooftops. I think about all the families and students having to evacuate their homes. I think about the families of one who fend for themselves, leave home by themselves and have nobody to come home to. I think about the families who survived Hurricane Floyd and are brought to tears and PTSD thinking about that nightmare returning with Matthew.

Every time I think about posting or making a remark about the debate, I think about all the folks that work at the hospital who had to risk their lives to be here to take care of others. I think about my friend, a principal of a local high school, who opened the school today as a shelter.  I think about the Greenville Police Dept, the Fire and Rescue teams, the linemen, the first responders, and all who are risking their lives to free people, to get them to safety, to help them to higher ground, to help evacuate the retirement community that’s right on the river….this is all I can think about. It’s too much to think about but it’s right there in front of me. Add the anger, hostility, judgment, and vitriol from the election and I can’t take it. 

Go ahead and post what you want. Go ahead and think of me in whatever way you want because of who I am voting for but understand this……my heart aches and seeing people sacrificing in ways two people running for president will never be able to comprehend, reminds me of the humanity, courage, strength and the loss and pain in the midst of all the chaos and judgment. I can’t change your mind about who you will vote for or what you think of me but I can change my heart, cast my vote and remember what’s more important at this point in time.

img_9367When you post memes, make comments about candidates and judge their constituents, please add a prayer at the same time. Pray for North Carolina. If I read the numbers correctly, Hurricane Matthew caused 20 deaths and 11 of them were in North Carolina. Pray for my town of Greenville, for Eastern North Carolina and every place hurt by Hurricane Matthew. The storm is gone but the aftermath will remain for quite some time…and I pray the courage and strength will, too.

God bless Haiti. Please give them mercy, grace and hope.

P.S. The political storm will be gone on November 9th. What will remain in the aftermath of your heart?

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Empty

Fill me with Your spirit
Fill me with Your love
Fill me with Your hope
Fill me with Your space
Fill me with Your grace
Fill me with Your life

I feel so empty

Fill me with Your compassion
Fill me with Your peace
Fill me with Your touch
Fill me with Your care
Fill me with Your kindness
Fill me with Your life

I feel so empty

Lord, pour your cup over me and fill my soul.

Linda C. Moore (c) 2016

Written after an afternoon of prayer and confession; seeking guidance, wisdom and help.

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I Hate When God Gives Me a Command to Follow

I hate when God gives me a command to follow and one loud enough that i cannot ignore.

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For well over a year now, I have begged for God to take this cup from me because the sacrifice is too great.

When I start following the command, the push back was very real. I lost “friends”, made enemies and created a list of individuals who talked about me on every level you can imagine; behind my back, to my friends and even in front of me.

They questioned my calling as a chaplain…..and as a Christian. Yeah, no reason for me to take that personally.

I’ve been called many names. I’ve seen the RBF mastered by the best. The stares sting. The intentional ignoring of my “hellos, good mornings, hey theres” has gotten to a point of laughter, just to keep my heart protected. They wanted to get to me and I have to admit, they did. All of these behaviors were coming from people who over a year ago, called me their friend. I guess they really weren’t friends.

Don’t think I’m whining. I’m  not. Don’t think their judgement was worse than my personal punishment. I have been angry. I still am. I have cried. i have pushed people away. I have punished myself. I have learned not to trust anyone. I know I’ve pushed back at people. I know I’ve yelled and have been bitter. The very people I trusted, left me alone; but not without punishing me and squeezing all the salt and juice they were able, into my pain.

What would that do to you?

I hate when God gives me a command to follow.

What has God commanded me to do?

To be a Voice for the Voiceless……..

I am an ordained woman minister, full-time vocation called chaplain, with a moderate to progressive theology that i have studied, developed, written, researched and prayed over for almost 20 years.  I have been beside the very people who I have to speak out for; the marginalized, shunned, discounted individuals, who time and time again, are made to feel unworthy and unloved…..and worse, are told it comes from God.

You’d be surprised to know that the most caring, compassionate, spiritual, non-critical support I’ve received over this year, behavior that christians are called to provide for others….was from an athiest.

When I speak for those who can’t, who am I speaking for? Does it matter who it is? The fact that people are being made to feel this way is evil enough without my labeling them, too. Society already has.

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(c) Linda C Moore

 

I know I have work to do on my voice and on my heart. I get that. The anger is real. The brokenness is real. The pain is real. I have not healed.  This hurts to the depths of my soul, deeper than I thought possible and it came at an incredible cost – the loss of someone very dear to me.

I was close to someone for almost a year. Closest I’ve been to someone in a very long time, close enough that he had my trust.  He knew me and I knew him. It was the oddest connection I’ve seen but it felt right. I knew people were talking about it, yet didn’t have the courage to ask.  They didn’t think I could hear them. I knew what they were saying. “How in the world can she support this guy? How can she hang out with him? Why is he hanging out with her? Can’t he see who she is? Are you kidding?” They hated that he cared about me. They hated that I cared about him. I knew they did because I felt the remnants of it every single day.

We came to an abrupt end just over a year ago. The pain of what the other was gong through became too real. Became too close. We were too close. He hurt me. I hurt him. Society won, again. I lost and he lost the only person who understood exactly what the other was going through; the only person willing to be there for the other at any given moment. He needed someone who understood him. I needed someone who understood me. We had that in one another. Now, we don’t have either.

I hate when God gives me a command to follow.

I am a voice for the voiceless because I understand what they are feeling. No matter how 10923783_10153062461492376_192871842928143298_omuch I don’t want to be, i have to be a voice. I understand the anger, the fear, the resentment, the pain and the distrust. I have been given a voice in which to stand next to them and speak up for them; to speak up with them; no matter the outcome.

I hate when God gives me a command to follow because it can come at a painful cost.

Then again, isn’t that the Sacrifice? Isn’t that what Christ did for me? For you?

I didn’t want to write this post. I really didn’t want to. It’s been building up for months now and hit me last night that it needed to happen. I didn’t want to write about what happened. It was just fine staying locked inside of me. I didn’t want to write. Somebody had another plan and commanded that I do.

Maybe it was time I became a voice for me.

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Another Bread Story?

Another Bread Story?

John 6: 35, 41-51

I have a couple of confessions to make to you as I stand before to share God’s word. The first, I will tell you now. I am Baptist. I am use to once a month communion services. When I started attending several months ago, a weekly communion service was a new thing for me. And if you know anything about Baptists, Baptists don’t like change. I use to have a joke. How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? We don’t know. We stood in the dark arguing that change wasn’t necessary and never changed the bulb.

In my Baptist experience, with the Lord’s Supper….you DON’T make any changes to it. I IMG_5787was reprimanded once as a fresh new minister, when I led communion and distributed the trays to the servers in the wrong direction. I was the topic at the next Deacons meeting. In the last church I served, we lost half out congregation during the summer, so I made the worship personal by changing the presentation of the Lord’s Supper to intinction. Needless to say, I was the topic of the next Deacon’s meeting. So yes, change in Communion is difficult and I’m coming to you today with that background in mind.

Here we are with another bread story. Last week, Jarrett talked about Jesus multiplying bread, worship that is for God and not ourselves, and relationships, most importantly, how God first loved us. He reminded us that what we do is not meant to be about us. It’s meant to be about God, about Jesus. The work we do, the service we have been called to provide, is not about us. It’s not about the church. It’s about God.

That message leads us to this week. You may notice there is a connection from last week’s scripture. Last week’s scripture ended with the first verse of this week’s: verse 35, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The bread of LIFE.

This isn’t just another bread story.

This crowd witnessed Jesus feed the 5000 and wanted to know more. The next day, they found Jesus on the other side of the lake, in Capernaum. They asked Jesus to keep serving the bread of eternal life that He mentioned the day before. Standing in front of them, Jesus explained in detail, I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty….I am the bread that came down from heaven. Jesus is speaking about the “I AM” of life, the “I AM” of God that came down from heaven to raise you up, to fill your hunger, your thirst and to fulfill your life. Jesus is the “I AM” of the New Testament. Why? Because he was sent down from Heaven by the “I AM of the Old Testament. Remember?

The phrase, “I AM,” was used as a statement of identification. Before we heard about the manna that came from heaven to feed the complaining Israelites when Moses was leading them out of Egypt, Moses was getting direction from God. He asked God in Exodus 3:13: Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” Do you remember how God responded? God responded in what I believe to be one of the most significant moments in scripture. Verse 14, “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.’“ I AM WHO I AM.

As an ordained minister, I get asked questions about God a lot, from what does God look like, is God male or female, to does God really love those people. Most of the time, these questions start an engaging discussion about theology. Once in a while though, the questions come after I say something that goes against the theology of the person I’m talking with; the theology they grew up with, the God they believe in, the traditional God with the black and white answers. I might say or write something that does not match what they believe about Jesus. We could be discussing what Jesus meant when He shared this parable, to why didn’t Jesus talk about that topic and somehow it will turn into something more.

I understand when someone hears a theology different from their own, it challenges them, startles them. They will hear I am a follower of Christ, a Christian who believes in Jesus like them, but when I make a statement that goes against their beliefs, they are surprised and wonder how I can say such things as a Christian. Outside of the questioning my faith, I get it. I understand that. I may say something that goes against their tradition. It goes against their traditional Christian faith. We’ve all felt that way. We’ve been through it. I know I have.

I find that people want to put God in a box. All of us have. It might be the God we grew up with, wrapped up in who we believe God is and who we believe God ought to be. People want God and scripture to be black and white, with definitive answers. People get frustrated with me when I say scripture is not that simple and I am not going to put God in a box. My reasoning has to do with God’s answer to Moses in Exodus 3:14. God told Moses to name God as “I AM WHO I AM”. 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.

IMG_9945Now we are in the Gospel of John. This is the only gospel where you will see Jesus using the “I AM” statements. Jesus proclaims who He is. “I AM the Bread of Life.” John tells us in the beginning; Jesus is the word that became flesh. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God, the word is God. God is Jesus. The word became flesh and lived among the people. Jesus said, “I AM,” and He upset some people. Jesus upset the Jews and even though Jesus himself was a Jew, they complained. Why? Because they know Jesus as Joseph and Mary’s son, not as the one sent from Heaven. There was still conflict between the Jews and Jesus. And now, Jesus was challenging the traditional knowledge of the Jews, about what they knew of Jesus and what they need to understand now – what matters is Jesus in the present.

How many times have we not believed something, or questioned it because of what we already know? We depend of our previous knowledge, of what we learned before. Sometimes, we need to go beyond what we know and accept the invitation into the unknown. Paul reminds us in Romans 12 when he instructed us not to conform but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In order to go into the unknown, Jesus is telling the Jews and the reader, not to rely on your knowledge, but transform through your commitment and your faith. The writer of John is doing that here.

For the Gospel writer, there is a purpose to the “I AM” statements. Jesus is getting personal. It’s about relationship. Jesus using the “I AM” statements reminds the crowd and us, the readers, that Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is the way. Jesus was sent by God. Jesus is the word made flesh.

Why would God do that?

For God, it’s about the relationship, too. The “I AM” of the Old Testament was the God of anger, locusts and frogs, death of livestock and first borns, the God of floods and judgment. But not in the New Testament. God sent Jesus to initiate relationship with us, an intimate relationship with each and every one of us. The word became flesh. God became flesh, in the name of Jesus. You can’t get much more intimate than flesh. God became human. God became flesh to understand us better and for us to understand God as best we can; to trust the God we know now.

Theologian Marcus Borg, in his book, The God we Never Knew, writes of a God who wants an intimate relationship with us. People who grew up in church, likely grew up with the God that we look up to, the God who is out there somewhere, beyond out physical reach, a God more powerful than we can understand. This is the God we never knew as children, doesn’t want to be out there anymore, out of reach, out of sight, out of mind, authoritative and judging. God wants to be in here, in us, with us, through us and all around. God wants to be with the beloved children, the ones called out by name. God wants such an intimate relationship with us, that God sent Jesus to make that possible.

Jesus is taking us there. Here in John 6, this eternal life, the bread that will make us hunger and thirst no more, this taking in Jesus is to get closer to Him, therefore get closer to God. Jesus is being intimate, personal, revealing, both in his relationship to God and in his relationship to us. So much so that Jesus talks of the eternal father who DRAWS us in. Did you catch that? Verse 44: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.”

As I started in my Christian faith, it was my understanding that it was OUR decision and OUR decision ALONE that we accepted Christ and believe in God. When we were ready, we come forward, accept Jesus and are baptized. Here, Jesus is shaking our traditional beliefs, going past our knowledge and asking us to look beyond that and see how God is pulling us in. The Father who sent Jesus is drawing us into relationship and we follow. That’s our faith, our faith in the One that was sent and the One who sent him.

God draws us in through the prophets, through the teachings and lessons that intrigue us, that renew our minds, strengthen our hearts. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

Think about that for yourself. Did you become a Christian by sitting alone, reading the bible and wondering what all of it meant? Or did it start with someone reaching out to you, inviting you to church, to a picnic, to a softball game. Was it someone who brought you a meal when you were sick or when someone died? Was it the pastor whose messages stepped on your toes or the music that tugged at your heart? Did you learn more about God and the love of Jesus Christ when you worked at the soup kitchen, built handicap ramps, or when you met Harry Albritton?

I bet your life with Christ started when someone reached out to you with a kind heart, helping hand. I bet you felt Jesus’s love in the way someone treated you.

Just as Marcus Borg talked about the relationship that God wants with us, Borg recognized that through the Eucharist, Jesus wants the same thing – to be present within:

To use the Eucharist (Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Mass) as an example, the visible, physical, and human products of bread and wine are the means whereby Christ becomes present in us. Christians have differed about the explanation of the process – whether the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s body and blood, or whether the body and blood of Christ are present “in, with and under” the bread and wine, or whether the meal is a “remembering.” But even the “softest” of these understandings, a remembering, involves bringing Christ into the present. The human products of bread and wine become a means of grace, earthen vessels whereby the sacred becomes present in us.[1]

The sacred becomes present in us……

My guess is this is why you have the Lord’s Supper in the middle of the service, where it can be the focal point, the center of what worship is and not stuck on the end where the pastor will feel rushed to get it done, so everyone is out by 12:00.

And that is what we have here.  Jesus was talking to the crowd, explaining what the bread IMG_0039of life means, a relationship with the Father, through the Son, the one sent down from Heaven. He is the bread and Christ wants to be present in us. God wants to be in relationship with us, around us, within us, through us. “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;” When we took part in the Lord’s Supper today, we were reminded that Christ extended the invitation to us all, to take part, to remember and to do.

I told you in the beginning, I had two confessions. You know I’ve been attending here for a while but not many of you know that I am a staff chaplain at the hospital. I asked Jarrett not to share that information because I wanted to be able to come to worship and simply be.  But now you know.

I work with the patients that are admitted to the trauma and surgical critical care service. With traumas, I have seen and heard things that I never in my life imagined I would see. I’ve witnessed unimaginable pain and suffering, both from patients and from families. As the lead trauma chaplain, I get the tough questions about God’s plan and God’s will. People will ask me the “why” questions. Families wonder if I believe in miracles and in God’s healing. It is not easy to face a family reaching as far out as humanly possible, grasping for some hope and searching for an answer from me. Or to sit at bedside, listening to a patient in tears, wondering why this happened to her or why God protected him and not his loved one.

There are days I get lost and retreat. I pull away from my center as I am expected to be God’s presence for patients, families and all the questions that come. My faith gets challenged and my heart gets weak. But I recognize that I’m no different than other Christians. We’ve all had our retreats, our weakness, our doubts. We’ve all run away like the prodigal son and daughter. I know I’m not different than others.

But when I started attending here and taking part in the Lord’s Supper every week, I began to realize something. This Baptist who is used to a once a month invitation to the table, needed to be reminded more often of who God is, why I am a Christian and why God sent Jesus to have a more intimate relationship with me. Ironically, it’s because of my calling, my work as a chaplain, that I’ve needed a weekly invitation to sit at the table, beside Christ, beside you and take in the bread. Take in the word. Take in the reminder of what I am here for.

Ironically, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized what was going on for me. I was struggling, having my own inner conflict, a discourse if you will. I want to answer the questions to the unanswerable, to bring comfort and hope to those craving for it. My beliefs and my heart are challenged when I see people suffer in ways that never should have happened, whether in the hospital or in the community. I read this scripture this morning. There was discourse and conflict here. The Jews were in conflict with Jesus. Jesus was likely frustrated because of having to repeat over and over what He meant by the living bread. And don’t forget, the crowd searched for Jesus and found him alone on the other side of the lake. Maybe he was dealing with an inner conflict too.

IMG_6449Through this text, as we hear almost daily, of conflict in our country, in our communities, in our churches and within ourselves, through this scripture, we are reminded of the invitation to sit at the table, together. This invitation is open to all, including the people we are in conflict with. We have been giving the invitation to eat the bread and drink of the cup. And we have been handed the invitation to accept an intimate, close and personal relationship with God, who wants to be in relationship with us so much, that He sent the Living Bread to make that possible.

No, it’s not just another bread story.

(c) 2015, Rev. Linda C. Moore

[1] Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. HarperCollins, New York. 1989

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