My Holy Weekend

Note: I must warn anyone who is preparing to read this. I will most likely ramble and go on tangents during this blog. These are my raw feelings following a great weekend of worship. I hope you find something of worth in these writings and that your Easter was as equally meaningful.

The churches in which I am honored to be called the Pastor had some amazing worship experiences this weekend. I am moved and humbled by God’s spirit that was present during these times of community. It was a great thing, both personally and professionally to be a part of these 4 worship services (Good Friday and 3 Easter).

Good Friday was a tenebrae service where we reflected through readings and song. It was something new for both me and the church to experience. This was also the first holiday season worship that I was given complete control over as a pastor. The former associate had always taken care of Good Friday, so we didn’t change that, but I did include the senior pastor in the service this year. As dark and sad as this service can become, it really opened me up spiritually as a person and leader to prepare for the Easter celebration. I was moved by the response of those in worship, as they felt somber following the service. This night reminded of why I responded to my calling, and why I continue with all the stress that is involved at this point.

Easter Sunday was amazing. I must admit, I wasn’t too crazy about the 7:00am service, but felt renewed once it was over. The choir (which we only have twice a year) sang wonderfully, with new voices joining them this Easter. A choir can always get you in the Easter spirit. It seemed like everyone who came to worship today was prepared to be joyous, and it helped me lead worship. I lead everything but the children’s sermon and the sermon. I was blessed with being able to preside over Holy Communion on this Sunday. I used the liturgy for the most part, but from memory, and gave the story of how that night came to be when Jesus shared with the twelve. I hate to say this, but my best sermon may have not been a sermon at all. I hadn’t pre-planned very much of what I was going to say, but truly felt moved this morning to the point where I knew everything would be just fine and people would experience God’s grace through the Bread and the Cup. Being able to serve the congregation in this way is one of the most meaninful things that I experience. Using the rememberance of Christ in this way to welcome all to commune together is the theological high that cannot end for me. Easter was real for me this year, very real. I don’t know that I’ve experienced such a thing before, but hope to experience it much more.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Let’s Give It A Try…

I wasn’t sure how I was going to find time to blog today, but thankfully my class this morning is like freshman biology again. We are hearing a presentation on the basics of plants. It wasn’t really that exciting the first two times I learned it, and nothing has changed this time.

Recently after a discussion with a friend, I was made aware again of the need to share our goals and dreams with one another. We may find new ways to make them happen with the help of others. We can work together to change a lot of things. Thanks for the reminder, Katie! 🙂

Today, I want to encourage some interaction and discussion. In my last few blogs I have shared my hopes and dreams for ministry for the church. What are you hopes and dreams for the church? for your ministry? for you life?

Share, discuss, travel the journey together.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Love Will Find A Way…

This morning I was struggling to get into a reflective mood. I stayed up late doing homework, got up early to do more homework and just wasn’t feeling it at all. So, when I feel that way I go straight to the iTunes for some inspiration. Like always, something came up on my shuffle that centered me and calmed me some.

Here are some of the lyrics:

“Love Will Find A Way” by Celia Whitler

Searching, longing for someone to know.
Listening, waiting on your own.
Deep inside you know life is a winding road.
Faith will lead when you’re alone.

Love will find you, when you think you’ve lost your way.
Love will speak to you, when there are no words to say.
Love will reach your heart when you’re lost in this world of doubt.
Love will find you somehow.

Looking back it’s clear to see the path you’ve chosen doesn’t always lead you to your goal.
Someway, someone will show you love.

I’m still in my dreaming for the church mode, and this spoke to me after reflecting on my pastoral care reading for the week. People are lost, heck, I’m lost most of the time. Faith is the part of us that guides us and brings us somewhere we can be accepted and love. I hope that my ministry can create a place for that to happen. That as people feel lost on the road of life, there is always a welcoming place, free from judgment and ridicule. A place that is comforting and not hurting, that can show people the unending love of God. That’s my hope anyway.

Small Things…

Today, with the time change and the dreary weather, attendance and participation in worship were less than one would like. Even with those factors, there were some great moments had. It may not have been during the actual worship service, but God moments did happen. In between services, I had many heartfelt discussions about the nature of relationships and how society is functioning today.

One conversation was about how we don’t have community like there once was in our churches and towns. People don’t rely on one another for anything now, and there was a mutual dependence that made everyone stronger. This got me thinking about how we are too often working with the mentality of being completely self-sufficient. This is just not realistic, and maybe the church needs to be the agent that brings strong communities back into our society.

I don’t have any specific ways to do this, or really have a plan to find those answers. I’m just thinking that we need to strengthen community, and the church might be the place to start.

Any ideas? Please share!

Grace and Peace,
Z

My Hopes and Dreams…

Today, as I focused my personal reflection time, I thought about why I’ve come to where I am and what I can do from here on out. I thought about my hopes and my dreams for myself and the church. Trying to remember those things where I felt most hopeful and connected to God in the church. One of the most recent moments was at General Conference in April/May of 2008. Yes, in the midst of the most political activity known to the United Methodist Church, I found God more clearly than ever. A moment I was a part of during that conference will always stay with me.

During one of the morning worship services, a young adult choir was brought together under the direction of Mark Miller. The song we sang was, “Draw the Circle Wide.” It was later in the conference and many of use had grown very weary with the state of the church and whether it would become fully inclusive of all people. Everyone I knew personally in that choir were there to push the church we love to fully embrace each and every person, no matter what! We were told before the performance that since we were part of the conference worship, we would have to remove our rainbow stoles for the morning. At first this troubled me, as it was a sign of our commitment to working for a cause, but after the song was finished I knew that our message was clear without the visual addition.

I felt part of a great witness that day. Calling for each and everyone of us to draw the circle wider and expand the reach of the church in love to ALL. This is more than a mission or idea, but a way of life. This is how we should operate. This is my hope and dream, that one day this will be but a stone on the path to great change. It will take a lot of work, and growth personally, but I am committed to a fully inclusive United Methodist Church and will do all that I can to see that happen.

Below, I have included a recorded performance of the song by a group recently. It is the same version and with the same director. I am working on getting the video from General Conference in a format I can share, but this is just as moving to see. I hope that you can watch and listen and think about how you already “draw the circle wide” and how you can “draw it wider still.”

Grace and Peace,
Z

Validation

This Lent, my churches are studying together, through our sermon series and weekly group study, the complexity of relationships. Specifically, how to prevent their demise and heal those that are wounded. The first Sunday’s sermon topic was on “Invalidation.” It focused on the invalidation of Jesus through the treatment he received from the Roman soldiers. They mocked him and beat him because of who he was and what he stood for.

From there, we talked about how we treat others and recognize their feelings and beliefs. Each person holds these beliefs and experiences close to them, and how we react to their sharing can really change how the person feels now and in the future. If someone tells you about a problem and you brush that off or don’t really listen, you’ve invalidated their feelings. It’s important to think about how we react towards others in this way.

Also, I thought about how we respond in disagreement. There will always be things that people can’t agree on, and those things usually revolve around politics and theology. How do you react to others when in disagreement? Do you simply blow them off as uneducated or not compassionate? Is your reaction in disagreement one that would invalidate someone’s feelings?

I have thought long and hard about how I invalidate people, and about times I may not have even realized I was doing it. Those are the times I feel horrible about. The times when I thought I was listening and caring, but probably wasn’t enough and gave off a message that I did not value the other person. I pray that I can receive forgiveness for the times I invalidated people and their beliefs or feelings.

One moment of validation I felt just today was when a church member asked for a copy or notes of my sermon from last week on the Transfiguration. I was very worried about that sermon and took a lot of time to get it done, and to find out that this person wanted a copy to put with other sermons he enjoyed, really validated my work and my presence in that community. Too often, I think, leaders feel they are not validated and then do not return validation to others.

I pray that each of you realize you are validated by God, through Jesus, and can find peace and happiness this season.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday

Mark 9:2-9 (The Message)

2-4Six days later, three of them did see it. Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Elijah, along with Moses, came into view, in deep conversation with Jesus.

5-6Peter interrupted, “Rabbi, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials— one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking, stunned as they all were by what they were seeing.

7Just then a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and from deep in the cloud, a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him.”

8The next minute the disciples were looking around, rubbing their eyes, seeing nothing but Jesus, only Jesus.

9-10Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t tell a soul what you saw. After the Son of Man rises from the dead, you’re free to talk.” They puzzled over that, wondering what on earth “rising from the dead” meant.

After last Sunday’s worship services that I preached at, and then chapel at Saint Paul in Kansas City this week, I’ve been thinking about transfiguration in both the scripture and how it appears to us today. I’ve been thinking about changes in my life and ministry, and how I can look for my “mountain top experience” that will give me some guidance. I’m working to understand how to recognize transfiguration around me.

I’m not entirely sure why, but the sermon in chapel by Dr. Susan Smith this week really brought to the forefront of my thoughts many ideas and questions. I realized the importance of this moment in scripture in relation to the greater narrative of Jesus. I recognized the importance of the guidance and words of those who came before us, and how faith can help wrestle through so many ambiguous situations.

When talking about the ministry of Jesus to this point, Dr. Smith pointed out the human nature of Jesus that we can all easily relate with. I am paraphrasing since I was trying to take notes and listen, but the main point will be the same. She said, “He was familiar with his surroundings. He thought that this ministry would be how it was going to be, but the nudge came along and forced him to look the other way.” I am perplexed by this idea of Jesus being content where he was, and feeling like this was okay to stay put. However, he knew what was right when he was called and continued on to his eventual death and resurrection. As I’ve blogged about recently, I’m struggling with defining and seeking out my ministry calling. This idea that when the nudge forces you to look another direction, you should recognize where it’s leading you and go both excites and frightens me. The thought of sacrificing everything because you were guided to it, is an awe inspiring thought. Jesus did this, and forever changed humanity.

I’m sure the human side of Jesus had his doubts. In fact, that was the point in the sermon that made it very real. The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mountain top shows this guidance for Jesus. They were guiding Jesus to Jerusalem and his death. Dr. Smith related it to them saying, “It will be okay, Jesus. Go to Jerusalem.” I guess I’m looking for my Moses and Elijah right now. I’m searching for those people in my life whose opinions I value the most, to just tell me that “It will be okay, maybe not easy, but okay. God is calling you in this direction.” There is so much uncertainty in ministry, especially when you feel called to areas that are less than traditional settings. I am starting to feel like I might have found a good direction, but just don’t know what it’s like to “know.”

I know I’m called to be a pastor in some form. I want the church to reach out to people, make them feel loved and accepted, and be intentional in working to limit the hurt the church does in society. I want there to be a day where more people are comfortable around a pastor and church than there are people who are uncomfortable. I want to meet people were they are, because that is were God already is. I don’t believe in a philosophical God who looks over us, I believe in an active, working God amongst the people. God will always be shown to us no matter how uncomfortable we may be with the situation or people, God is Love and Love is for ALL!

I hope and pray for each of you to find your mountain top experience. As we begin this time of Lent, we remember Jesus’ journey, ministry, and faith. In Dr. Smith’s words, “God’s intention for us is beyond mortality.” We are love, called, and guided into action by God. This work goes well past our physical lives, but it needs to be done for those who follow. Maybe one day one of us will the Moses or Elijah to someone.

Keep searching for the mountain top experience, because that will enable you to go back in the valley and serve!

Grace and Peace,
Z