Monday, August 30, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
On Sunday, for the second week in a row, I preached two sermons. On Sunday, out of nowhere, I fell asleep so hard it wasn’t funny (except to my husband). I now call this the sacrament of the post-preaching nap. It is indeed sacred time!
Monday...began the sermonating process all over again. I read the lectionary texts, chose a Psalm, and began to meditate on it. (This process takes some time.)
Tuesday… I couldn’t shake Sunday’s hymn of praise, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I woke up singing it (again). I kept singing and singing, silently and out loud until I surrendered to it. Instead of preaching from the Psalms, like I had planned, I focused my sermonic musings on Lamentations 3:19-24. I have learned that when the Holy Spirit is nudging you in a certain direction, it is best to be obedient and go that way. I sat with the text, reading it over and over again.
Wednesday…I read the text in the morning and let it have its way in me as I went shopping, to lunch, and to the movies with my cousin Michelle and her daughter. They were spending some time with me in NJ, and what a blessing it was.
Thursday...I exegeted by the pool. Michelle, Najah, and I made our way to the pool at noon. We spent a total of 3 hours there. I spent my time reading the text—this time I read through the entire book of Lamentations, twice, to get context for Sunday’s text. The I began doing a word study, taking notes, and asking questions of the text.
Friday...went to the pool with books in tow. Poured over them. Closed them. Closed my eyes. Soaked in the Sun. Walked back to the house and prayed to God for the Word to bubble up in me and overflow before the end of the evening. Put the key in the door. Began singing Fantasia’s new song, “Bittersweet” in my head. Changed clothes. While changing clothes it hit me.
Saturday...sermon hitting me while driving. Wrote it down as soon as I get out of the car. Don’t want to take the Holy Spirit for granted. Officiated my first funeral, alongside Pastor Weaver who offered the eulogy. Read the text. Slept on my mom’s couch (I had a splitting headache) and then got up to write the message. I thought I was going to preach from an outline, but as I began crafting it, full sentences came out. So, I went with it. Just before 10 p.m. my headache was so painful I had to stop and go to bed. The words were in me, but they just weren’t on the page. I prayed for a healing touch and for God to have His way.
Sunday...God had His way. I woke up at 5:20, headache long gone, and fingertips ready to preach the word to my keyboard. The words poured out of me and I finished in time to get dressed and make my way to worship. The air in the sanctuary was still, for both services. I preached, and while there was little call and response in the moment of proclamation (I am coming to realize that I am not that preacher), there was an outpouring of response after the service. Our people are carrying burdens, feigning smiles, and not expressing their anguish/grief/sorrow/anger/frustration to God mostly because they have been taught not to complain. It was as if todays sermon finally gave them permission to take everything to God in prayer.
Here is the text:
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
Here is an excerpt:
Have we forgotten how to Lament? Have we lost our ability to lament? Have we forgotten how to remember our pain and suffering?
In Orangeburg, South Carolina there was news of a 29 year-old mother of two young boys who smothered her sons and placd their bodies in a river. According to CNN News, “Authorities said Duley, a 29-year-old unemployed, single mother, may have been fed up with criticism from her mother and that her increasing frustration could have led to the killings.”
She was fed up, but I wonder what would have happened if she allowed herself to lament?
I am the first to admit my fascination with celebrity life, and my fascination with our cultural fascination with celebrity life. I watch Extra and Access Hollywood in addition to CNN. As such, I have been intrigued by the events surrounding singing sensation, American Idol, Fantasia Barrino. Alleged extra-marital affair. Alleged sex-tapes. Pending lawsuit. News of such threatening to permeate the radio airwaves, TV news media, and the blogs. In other words, folks would be talking about it. That is a heavy burden to bear. And so, Fantasia, according to news reports, swallowed a bottle of aspirin and took sleeping pills. It sounds like she was trying to take her life…to fade away without anyone noticing.
She was overwhelmed and afraid, but I wonder what would have happen if she allowed herself to lament?
Even as I was finishing this message, there were the sounds of kids screaming and yelling. There were the sounds of foul words being slung in every direction. There were sounds of their shoes clicking the pavement. I heard glass breaking and horns honking. These sounds were followed by the roars and beeps of police sirens. I heard an officer over her loudspeaker tell the young people to “go home.” My heart became heavy. I was saddened at the state of affairs in our neighborhoods. I was saddened that our children live life on these streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go without trouble all around them. I was saddened because, for some of them, home may not be any safer than the streets.
O church, I wonder what would happen if we lamented for our children?
These stories, which are but examples of countless happenings in our world today, cause me to think that we have forgotten how to lament. These stories cause me to wonder about the ways in which grief, sorrow, and anger becomes toxic when it is not expressed. I am convinced that when we don’t lament, grief overtake us. When we don’t lament, the grief kills us. When we don’t lament, the grief moves us to harm others.
The book of Lamentations is much like the Psalms, in that is a collection. Lamentations contains five chapters, each of which is a poem, focused on the “suffering, confusion, bewilderment by those who were in Jerusalem after the Babylonian conquest in 587 BC.” These were a people in captivity with hearts so heavy they could not contain it. The writer of Lamentations, whom many believe is the prophet Jeremiah, understood sin to be the cause of the suffering of the people. In the first poem (v.8) he says, “Jerusalem has grievously sinned; therefore she is removed.” Later, in verse 18 he writes, “The Lord is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandments hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow...” The writer knows that the sin of the people had consequences that they were living with at the time of the writing. Their captors, the Babylonians, were less than kind. They were starved and murdered, and their women were raped. This was a difficult time in the life of Ancient Israel and Lamentations is the heartfelt expression of that experience.
To lament is to passionately express one’s grief or sorrow, it is a mourning, an articulation with disappointment or regret. Lamenting in the biblical tradition is one method, one type, of prayer.
Lamenting is not complaining. They may sound similar, but there is a difference. Complaining holds within it expression of annoyance with a situation. Complaining is whining, griping, and grumbling about a situation. While lament is expressing sorrow or grief over a situation. Hear the difference. When we complain, we are saying, “God here is what I’m going through, I don’t like it, and it seems you have no idea what you are doing.” When we lament, we are saying, “God here is what I’m going through, I don’t understand it, it hurts more than words, but I’m giving it to you because I know that you have a plan for my life, for good and not for evil, to give me a hope and a future.” When we complain, we are saying, “God get it together!” When we lament, we are saying, “God help me to get it together.” We are not to complain to God, but we are to lament before God.
There are different kinds of laments. Different moments when lament is the most appropriate form of prayer...
Saturday, August 21, 2010
For two mornings in a row, I have been at Homegoing celebrations. Both services were for women that I did not know. I was serving in my official ministerial capacity at both services. I have an overwhelming sense of grief, and overwhelming sense of hope, and a desire to live these days as best I can. Our lives, on this side of time, are but numbered days. And though we are living to live again, it is equally important to live as one who believes that Jesus came that we might have life abundant (John 10:10).
So live, my friends...Live!
Friday, August 20, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal.
“The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream;
And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.
What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD.
“Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD,
“ And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
And Jeremiah wasn’t the only one living in troubled times and a world with false prophets. If I did not know any better, I would think that our text from today are not the words of an ancient prophet, but rather the words of a present day prophet stirring people to know the real word of God over the false dreams of prophets. Jeremiah preached under pressure, and is that not the case for the preacher/prophet today? Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord in the midst of war, famine, despair, hopelessness, and nihilism. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord in a world rife with racism, classism, and sexim. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord while physical violence, emotional violence, and sexual violence are inflicted in the lives of people. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord while our children suffer in inadequate schools, our people live in inadequate homes, and healthcare is still a privilege for some and not a right for all. Sunday after Sunday, we mount the pulpit and declare what thus saith the Lord, speaking a word of hope in the midst of brokenness.
And it is this brokenness, this turmoil, this presence of pressure, that is fertile ground for the false prophet. You see, today, we have a proliferation of false prophets in our midst. False prophets see the brokenness in our world and capitalize on it. They use it as a way to pervert the Word of God and prey on the hearts and minds of the people. The text tells us a few things of note about false prophets. For one, they prophesy lies in God’s name. They build their ministries around untruths. They are frauds, masquerading as spokespersons for God when they really only utter falsehood. Don’t get it twisted...they will throw some Word in the mix. Make it sound real good. But remember, that is exactly what happened with the serpent in the garden and look where it got us.
Secondly, the false prophet will sell you a dream. A false prophet will tell you that God is going to give you something beyond your wildest dreams. Usually this prophesy is steeped in the American dream--health, wealth, prosperity, big houses, big cars, big bank accounts. And you find out that this prophesy is really just a pipe dream. In this society, in our current culture and ethos, we have been taught to fill our voids with stuff. Instead of promising you the peace that passes all human understanding, the false prophet promises you a piece of American pie. Instead of promising abundant love--agape--from God, the false prophet promises you abundant things to fill the empty spaces in your soul.
Lastly, the false prophet is not an authorized mouthpiece of God, but rather one who prophesies from the deceit in their heart. At their core, false prophets are wicked. At their center, false prophets are frauds. In the depths of their heart is not the love of God, but rather a love of lies and trickery.
I used to understand prophets as folks who stood in the pulpit, sometimes speaking in tongues, while intently surveying the room for someone to whom God wanted to speak directly. I encountered prophets who sometimes spoke harsh words, most times promised people an end to their suffering (or a new car), and never spoke to me. I now have a new understanding of prophets, rooted in the Old Testament tradition, where prophets are messengers of God, called to speak truth to power and motivate communities to live into their God-given identity. Think about it, when have you ever read where Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or Ezekial, or Haggai promised someone a new car, a new house, or a new job. Better yet, do you know of Jonah telling the single ladies of Ninevah that they would be married in six months. The prophets did, however, on many occasions, call people into a new way of being where they walk in the word of God and the beauty of holiness.
False Prophets…will tell you their dreams.
Real Prophets...speak the words of the Lord.
False Prophets…prophesy lies, and twist the word of God.
Real Prophets...speak what thus saith the Lord.
False Prophets…cause people to forget God.
Real Prophets...keep God front and center in the hearts and minds of the people.
False Prophets…will have you chasing after money, cars, houses and clothes.
Real Prophets...will have you chasing after God.
False Prophets…work out of their own agenda.
Real Prophets...say nevertheless Lord, not my will, but thy will be done.
False Prophets…are detrimental to your walk with God.
Real Prophets...say, “order my steps in your word.”
False Prophets…tickle the itching ears of the people.
Real Prophets…speak life to the broken hearts of the people.
False Prophets…will tell you what you can and should be according to American values rooted in consumerism and materialism.
Real Prophets…will tell us what we ought to be, according to values and standards of Almighty God.
False Prophets…are interested in profits, replete with dollar signs and lots of zeros.
Real Prophets…are interested in the integrity of the prophetic office, replete with repentance and salvation.
False Prophets…will prey on you.
Real Prophets…will pray for you and pray with you.
Fake Prophets...will tell you that Jesus is a way.
Real Prophets...will tell you that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
Fake Prophets...will tell you that sin is of no consequence.
Real Prophets...will tell you that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life!
False Prophets…will give you a word for the low, low, price of 19.95 payable by check, credit card, or money order.
Real Prophets…will give you a word and sacrifice their lives in the process.
The real prophet is inspired by the breath of God and the word of God. The very words they utter come directly from the Word. His or her words are God breathed. Biblical scholar, John Patterson writes, “two people may wear the clerical collar and the ministerial garb but one may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the other may be a dedicated spirit like Jeremiah. One may be the victim of illusion and the other may be the voice of God. How can we discern things that differ?” (64). Further, he states, “the inspired speaker is discerned by the inspired hearer...” (65-66)
Beloved, you must be inspired hearers.
And the way that we become inspired hearers is to be inspired readers. Beloved, we must know the word of God for ourselves. We must be in relationship with the word of God. We must meditate on the Word of God. We must hide it in our hearts that we might not sin against Him. We must eat the Word, savor it, digest it, and then live it.
Beloved, let us be inspired readers. Let us be inspired hearers. Let us be inspired by Almighty God so that we may discern the real from the fake and so we never forget God’s name.
Monday, August 9, 2010
Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”
The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.
Have you ever had back pain? I am talking about back pain so severe that it hurts to walk, it hurts to sit, it hurts to lay down. I couldn’t even talk or sneeze or laugh without being in pain. Have you ever had back pain so severe that you cannot even stand straight? Well, for eighteen years, I was literally bent over.
Can I be honest? When you live with pain, bent over like I was, for so long, it’s like the pain becomes your friend. You learn to live with it. It is a normal way to be. I knew I was in pain, I knew I was bound, but I just thought that was my life and that it was always going to be that way. In some ways, I had forgotten the joy of being free. I could no longer remember what it felt like to be straight. But on that day, I learned that I did not have to live my life bound.
I have heard it said that “Back pain is not only painful, it's debilitating and inconvenient…” and I must say amen to that. But as inconvenient as it was, I never stopped going to the house of worship. At the synagogue, I was able to commune with God. At the synagogue, I was able to worship, albeit silently. At the synagogue, I was able to hear the word of God and be encouraged. Even though I was bent over, I never lost my love for God, my love for the teaching of the Word, and my hope that one day things would be different. In that time of worship, in the presence of Almighty God, it was like my pain momentarily ceased. So, I did what I always did on the Sabbath morning...I woke up, got dressed, and made my way to worship.
While most of the details are clear, I cannot seem to remember what I had on that morning. It couldn’t have been anything too fancy. I had not worked in years, being bent over and all. Most of what I owned was meager. No purple. No gold. No linen. A simple garment, I am sure. But it didn’t matter much anyway. No one ever noticed what I was wearing. To most people in this congregation, I did not exist. And if I did exist, I certainly did not have a name. Every Sabbath day I would go in and out without anyone every really noticing me. Well, they did notice that I was bent over, but beyond that I may as well have been invisible.
I sat in the same place week after week, next to the same people and no one ever said a word to me. No one asked about my family. They didn’t know if I had a husband. They didn’t know if I had any children. They didn’t know if I lived alone or if there was someone to take care of me and help me out with my needs. They didn’t know if I even had a job. No one ever invited me over for afternoon fellowship. No one even offered to pray with me. They made assumptions about who I was and how I came to be that way.
Some thought I’d been bent all of my life. What they didn’t know is that I was not born that way. There was a time when I stood straight and tall. Some thought that I sinned to cause my condition. What they didn’t know is that I didn’t bring this on myself. Eighteen years ago, the enemy bound me up. I tried everything that I could to raise myself up, but nothing worked. That thing was spiritual. I was under attack of the enemy. My soul was extremely burdened and my back told the story. Yet they didn’t care. The good people of God could care less. They had formed their opinion, and to them, I was nobody...just a woman bent over in two. But it was easy for me to be just that to them...because I was so crippled, I could not look up at them...which means they never had to look me in the eyes.
But I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first time in a long time that anyone had ever looked at me, I mean gazed at me and saw who I was.
This day was like every other Sabbath day, so I thought. Unbeknownst to me, it was going to be a day that I would never forget, a day that my life would change forever.
When I arrived at the synagogue there was a man teaching. I could not see him, being hunched over and all, but I knew that I did not recognize his voice. He was not one of our resident teachers. I had not experienced his teaching before, but I had certainly heard about him. He was a traveling teacher from Nazareth and word on the street was that he preached and taught with an amazing authority. More than that the streets buzzed about the miraculous works that He had performed on his way here from Galilee. He healed a woman with fever, cast out evil spirits, made a paralyzed man to walk, raised dead little boy back to life, and audaciously healed a man with a deformed hand on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath! And here he was, in our midst, teaching. And I must say, the word on the street was right. This man was captivating. His teaching was powerful and fresh, and I soaked up every word of it.
But then something strange happened. He looked at me. I could not see him look at me, but I felt his gaze. His eyes did not linger long. It all happened so fast. But I do remember that I could feel his compassion overshadowing me. For eighteen years, people have gawked at me with disdain, confusion, and the worst of all, sympathy. They looked at me like I had two heads. They looked at me like I was an animal, like I was less than human. But this man, this man looked at bent over, broke down me and I felt loved. But like I said, it all happened so fast, and the next thing I know, he stopped teaching. I cannot remember if He was mid-sentence or if He finished his thought, but clearly the lesson was not over. He stopped teaching and it was silent. You could hear a pin drop in the congregation. All eyes were on him, but his eyes were on me.