The Beauty of the Sacred

My preaching text this week is John 12:1-8.  It is one of the few passages in the Gospel of John that is mentioned in the other Gospels.  It is the story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus with oil and then drying them with her hair.  There is a certain intimacy and holiness that comes out of this tender moment of reverence.  The power of the story is in the nuance.  No one else but Mary, a female disciple, dares to treat the savior of the world with such compassion and devotion.  The event is holy and set apart.

I am led to Mary’s observance of divine adoration and of her brazen and faithful devotion to her Lord.  Her attention could have carried her away to any other chore in the room, but she chose to fix her eyes on Jesus.  She could have tried to carry on a conversation with her brother, Lazarus.  He seemed to be doing nothing other than lounging around the house.  Or, she could have helped Mary prepare the finishing touches of the meal.  Perhaps she could have calmed Judas down and attended to the needs of the other disciples gathered in her house.  She did none of those things.  Instead, she worshipped at the feet of her master. 

The moments that Mary shared with Jesus are the times I long to experience.  I mean those moments that seem to transcend time.  We wish sacred encounters, much like the one in the Gospel reading, would never end.  There is a connection with God, an enlightenment beyond our understanding, and a transformation that allows us to glimpse all that we are created to be.  We sit at the feet of our Savior, and are content with just being in His holy presence.

We are called to embrace these unexpected moments of faith, drowning out the naysayers who want to do nothing but diminish our time.  But if we are faithful, God will indeed reveal himself to us.  He will speak.  Maybe not in the way we ever would expect divine words to come to us, but He will let His presence be known.

What do we do with such a gift?  With which character do you best identify?  Could it be Lazarus, who does nothing but observes the scene?  How about Judas, who can’t seem to get past his earthly desires?  How about Martha, who once again is at the heart of preparing a meal for a bevy of guests?

For me, I would hope to be like Mary.  The one who fell at the feet of her Lord, and did nothing but worship.  Despite cost.  Despite what others may say.  Her heart and soul were with her Savior.

At the feet of Jesus.  What better place to be?  This is where a disciple is called to serve.  This is where hope and faith converge.

A Change of Perspective

As a pastor, I am faced with deadlines all of the time.  I have to submit my bulletin information on Monday, prepare the rough draft of my sermon by Wednesday (if I want to practice for Sunday), prepare newsletter articles, and the list continues.  I even find a little stress when writing my blog post each week.  All of the sudden, I find that I robbed myself of the joy of some of the most fulfilling parts of my work.  I am left with a sense of being a casualty to the demands of day to day living.  Where can I find satisfaction in looking at everything as a chore?

When I find myself overwhelmed, I take a moment, and simply stop what I am doing.  I remind myself that there is joy to be found in even the most ordinary and routine of duties.  Preparing the bulletin for the next Sunday, allows me to begin the process of focusing on our next day of celebrating the resurrected Christ.  I set my sights on the next project, the next time that I will stand before my congregation and lead my fellow believers in the liturgy of a Sunday morning.  And this preparation includes writing, insights into the Biblical text, and how our narratives merge together with the sacred writings of an ancient people.  Contentment is found in the process, the journey to another feast day.

What seems overwhelming is the reminder that there is a lot of work to be done before we celebrate another Sunday morning.  Preparation becomes my companion, my guide, and not my enemy.  It becomes my sacred time throughout the week.  It just takes a change of perspective; a new way of looking at the journey.  Praise be to God, who gives us the task of creating a weekly work of art for the human soul each and every week.

My hope for all of us this week is that we transcend our thought patterns, and serve with a spirit of hope.  Let us leave the drudgery of completing tasks to another day.  For this moment in time, let us remember that our preparation gives way to the presence of our amazing creator.  I hope that we grasp on to the reality that God gives us ways to remain connected to the joy that sustains us, cares for us, and constantly recreates us each and every day.

It’s Easy to Get Stuck

I am grateful for my time in Austin.  While attending Austin Presbyterian Seminary, I was able to walk the campus of the University of Texas.  Ah yes, that beautiful campus with the tower.  As I walked down the stairs of the main building, I was taken back to my eighteen-year-old self who was enrolled as a freshman.  I thought of the many mistakes that I made that would drastically alter the course of my life.  Some of my choices left long lasting marks of shame and regret.  I kept asking myself the age old question, “What happened to that kid?  Why those choices?”

What a frustrating place in which I found myself.  No matter what resolution I could find, it would not replace the opportunities that no longer existed.  And then that horrid feeling of being stuck in my inability to fully resolve the issue kicked in.  What a mess.  I knew that in order to move forward I would have to let go of my insane thinking.  You know, the kind of thinking that allows you, in all of your folly to think that you are capable of changing the past.

All of these thoughts seemed to illuminate from my soul as I looked at the past with eyes in the present.  I began to talk to that 18-year-old boy.  I gave him permission to be himself, that he was more than the scars of his childhood.  I assured him that he would move past the effects of the battle wounds that he inherited, and that he would thrive past his wildest dreams.  He was, and his more than the sum of his failures.

So, after dipping my foot into the healing waters of forgiveness, I turned and headed back to the seminary.  It was time to leave the past behind, and continue forward.  I gave thanks for being able to shine a light on the realization that, while I falter, there is always the promise of a new day.  If my heart learned anything, it was a sense of forgiveness of myself, along with the need to keep moving in a direction that guides me to the eternal light of God.

Praise be to our wonderful Creator, who never allows us to remain in the past.  And blessed are we, as we remember that we are all created in the image of God.  That includes who we were, what we are, and what we will be.  May we carry that promise into a future filled with the riches of our amazing Savior.

When Souls Collide

This week I had the amazing privilege and honor to be one of ten people in a discussion group with theologian Glaucia Vasconcelos Wilkey.  I walked away from this wonderful experience feeling honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to hear her teach and share her journey.  She is an incredibly powerful woman filled with God’s presence and light.

As our incredible scholar left the seminary, she turned to me and offered me an amazing blessing acknowledging and reaffirming the full authority that God has given me to preach and teach.  She spoke straight into my soul, and I left feeling blessed and renewed.  Here was this scholar sharing a special blessing with me.  Grateful could not begin to describe how I felt when leaving her presence.

There are people that we encounter that leave us feeling better about who and whose we are, simply by being present.  There are no magic words, just a keen awareness of the Holy Spirit.  We are left knowing that the Truth is within us, eager to be free.  Our joy is renewed and invited to be released into a world that needs to know the source of our happiness.

As I reflect on my encounter with the blessed theologian, I hope that I may be like her with everyone that I encounter.  People may be renewed in the presence of divine hope as the Spirit of Truth dances between us all, encouraging us to be the light of Christ for the world.  Praise be to God, who constantly reminds us that we are chosen to share the message of the Gospel. 

A New Start: A New Beginning

Here we are in a new year.  Many of us set new goals, with new expectations in both our personal and professional lives.  Yes, we are given a chance to start over.  We are encouraged to change our way of thinking, our way of managing our lives, our way of approaching problems that have appeared to have no answer.  These are all the hopes and wishes in which we invest as we move forward into 2016.

The problem, however, is that we still bring our baggage along with us.  Many of us, I am pointing the finger back at myself, truly don’t live as if we have a new beginning.  A new start will include some failures, but will never give up until we achieve our goals.  What holds us back are the ways that we cling to the past.  We give up on our resolutions, only to fall back into the very familiar patterns of behavior that we promised to leave behind.  We fail to hold on to the assumption that our fresh start is indeed that, a fresh start.

I could really move from preaching to meddling with the following question: “How does this mirror your faith journey?”  I mean, we start off with incredible energy.  We proclaim to the world that we were not the people that we were before.  We keep this enthusiasm of new life, only to see it fade as we surrender to the pressures and demands of our places in the world.  We continue to drift away, until we wonder where and who we are.

Hear the Good News!  We are a people who have a chance to begin anew every waking day of our lives.  We do not need to wait for something like a new year to initiate change.  Each day for us is a gift, given by the one who encourages you to embrace your life with the passion with which you started the journey.  This is the promise that we are given with each passing moment.  Praise be to God, who gives us the strength to overcome our weaknesses.  May your “New Year” begin today, and may you know the blessings of God, beyond your wildest imaginations.

How Many More Days?

We have a little Christmas calendar, but is in the shape of a clock.  My youngest son is the keeper of the calendar.  Each day he adjusts the hand that signals one day closer to Christmas.  As we get closer and closer to the big day, he gathers more excitement in his voice as he announces that we are one step nearer to Santa’s visit.  We all laugh and encourage him to keep us on track.

MacDonald the Younger’s excitement reminds me of the eagerness that comes with the anticipation of what is to come.  Whether it be the joy of the Christmas season, the possibilities of traveling to new and exotic places, or a planned night out with my wife, I am guilty of being caught up in what lies ahead.  I recapture the energy of my youth.  There is a magic to this time of year.

I continue to think of the idea of joy and happiness and wonder if my life emulates this kind of excitement.  Have I become stale in my faith?  Heaven forbid that I have lost that moment when my life changed, and I surrendered my heart fully to the presence of God.  Have I truly forgotten the feeling of divine peace?  May it never be so.

My hope is that this Advent time will remind me of the joy of being a newcomer to the faith.  As I reclaim the special moment of my conversion, I hope to continue forward sharing the hope that is found in my faith.  Perhaps that is why we celebrate a season of anticipation every year; so that we can embrace and remember the freshness of belief.  This may be the time that hope is reborn, and excitement comes in our recalling of how we were made whole.

A Week of Thanksgiving

It is hard to believe that this Thursday is Thanksgiving.  I am looking forward to some time with family, including great food.  This time of year is extremely sacred to me, because it will mark four years since my mother died.  This season is not sad for me, but it is one that is set apart as holy and special.  I give thanks for not only my mom’s life, but also for the many people who have made my life better because of their incredible legacy.

I remember holidays gone by and am caught up in a sea of emotions.  I think of Thanksgiving in the house in which I was raised, and am immediately swept away with visions of my big family laughing and sharing crazy stories.  I remember that I was a part of the wonderful custom of maintaining the importance of family and friends.  The lessons I learned from past holidays are traditions that I continue to share with my family today.  I hug those closest to me and remind them that they are loved more than they could ever imagine.

Today, I am grateful for a life filled with people who love me and continue to care for me.  I wish only the most incredible blessings to everyone as we all take time out of our chaotic schedules to remember to give thanks to friends, family, and our Creator.  May the joy of this season wash over you and leave you with a hope that you never dreamed possible.  May you lay aside your disagreements and share in the fact that we are all God’s children.

And I can’t let a Thanksgiving season go without saying, “I miss you mom, and I know that your spirit is with me every day.  I continue to raise my children in the light of the love that you gave me.  I know that when I share the feast with the family on Thursday, you will be in the room with all of us, smiling that we all are together sharing a moment of joy.  I love you and thank you for the gift of life.”

Imagination is a Good Thing

We are blessed with the gift of imagination.  It allows us to fill in dots in innovative and creative ways.  We explore, we learn, we grow.  All this from the brain that is hard wired to express our own unique view of the world and the Creator that fashioned us in the image of the Divine.  

We are blessed to be given the ability to live with a passion that moves us and motivates us to have a sense of meaning and purpose in the world.  When we connect spirit to spirit with the Prime Mover, there is nothing quite like it.  We are energized and equipped to have an awareness beyond our own comprehension.  This reality cannot be explained, it can only be experienced.

Beware of those who try to steal your joy.  Run from those who seek to overpower you and attempt to cast judgement on your own unique approach to understanding the world.  These people are wolves in sheeps clothing.  They cast doubt and despair on your joy.  To say that they are dangerous is an understatement.  Be on guard against them, for they will disguise themselves as well intentioned people filled with the spirit of God, only to leave you dazed, confused, and hurt.  You must avoid them at all cost.

Direct your energies to the God of your understanding.  Allow the joy of your unique vision of the Creator to be your primary focus.  This is what will sustain you and bring you joy.  This is the well spring of hope; this author and creator of all that we are.

Today, I am grateful for the people who strengthen me, and encourage me to look beyond the limitations of those who try to steal my joy.  I am grateful for a God who continues to work through me and empowers me beyond my own imagination.  Praise be to God who gives us a renewal of spirit each and every day.  I pray that you may live in the power of God, in your own language, in your own way.  Thanks be to God.

A Different Kind of Monday

Monday is the strangest day of the week for me.  I kind of suffer a little let down after building up to wonderful services on Sunday.  I usually begin the ritual of closing the chapter of one celebration to look forward to another, but this week is a little different.  My family is going on a small vacation.  We are going to New York.

In addition to seeing a few shows, all focus will be on my oldest son.  On behalf of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he will sing immediately after the musical Chicago on the stage.  That’s right, my son is making his Broadway debut!  We are absolutely thrilled to share this moment together.

Someone asked me if I would get up on the stage with him and I responded, “No.  This is my son’s night.  All focus needs to be on him and his love of music.”  While it will be difficult not to get up on the stage and join in, this is not my moment.  It is his and we will respect that and honor that.  I have heard him practicing, and I must say that he sounds wonderful.

I have known my son’s whole life that he is a musician.  His love of singing is an incredible art unto itself.  My wife recently posted a blog answering the question, “If you could only speak about the most important 30 seconds of your life, what would you say?”  Her response was the moment my oldest son was born and they placed him on her chest.  She knew in that moment that he had transformed her life and that love itself had a completely new definition in her eyes.

My answer to the question would be in the same room.  After I cut my son’s umbilical cord I held him and walked him over to the warming table in the room.  As I was walking he was screaming in my arms.  I began to sing to him a song that sang just about every night that he was in the womb.  He stopped crying, looked around, and in that moment I knew that music was to be an important part of his life.  We would share the most incredible love that I have ever known.  The gift of music.  I have enjoyed the melodic journey ever since.

So, this week my entries will be filled with moments in the “City” and great times with family.  I have already said that no matter how cold it gets, we will not let it spoil our fun.  We are prepared to be hard core travelers.  Thanks be to God for the times when we can take a moment to share together the joys and passions that direct our lives.

We Know What We Know

First of all, I have to say that I am a very grateful pastor as I have learned how loving and caring my congregation truly is.  We have been inundated by prayers, food, and words of hope and inspiration to carry us through what continues to be our longest hospital stay to date.  Caeleb will be in the hospital for a full month on Monday.  Within the month, we have been discharged twice only to return to the hospital the next day with complications from a knee bleed that will not stop.  Specialists can’t even stop the bleeding.  They try and try, but without much success.

I must admit that this journey has been very difficult for many different reasons.  It is hard seeing my son in pain and not be able to stop it.  We as parents are “supposed” to fix problems.  When we get to the point that we can’t relieve his pain there is a feeling of absolute powerlessness.  Faith becomes the only option by which to express hope.

I look at faith as part of my life intertwined into the very fabric of day to day living.  I have faith that medicines will work, or I have faith that a certain treatment is the one that will restore my son’s health, or I have faith that God will show up in the middle of all of the chaos and create beauty.  I must say, I cannot separate science from my expression of the Divine.  The merging of both worlds is a rich tapestry of both faith and reason that provides a holistic approach to who I am in my finite humanity and that part of me that is connected to Spirit. Together, that which is seen and unseen fills me with the love and knowledge of something that is light years bigger than who I am in this world.

I see God’s work being done by the love and care the nurses on our unit offer to my family.  Their efforts reinforce the holistic identity of who we are by engaging the spiritual aspect of care as they utilize scientific methodology to provide answers to medical issues.  It is an incredible and necessary dependence on various ways that we can validate the existence of both science and the Divine.  The truth is, sometimes we can’t measure what we know to be true.  It is simply profound and present.

So, today I give thanks for the marriage of science and faith and how they come together to make life complete.  I am grateful for the men and women who continue to make life better for my son and seek ways that not only provide him with medical wholeness, but also feed his spirit.  I give thanks for the many people who touch our lives with material and spiritual gifts.  Your service and your compassion are amazing!

And I say, “Thanks be to God.”

christopherjoiner

Some Thoughts Along the Way

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