Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother





Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Havens

One of my favorite poems that I have ever written.  I like to revisit it now and then.  Though it was reworked in 2008, I believe it began in a draft much earlier than that, maybe as early as 2002 or 2003. You might recognize some places...familiar homes to me, my childhood home in Hurt, VA, Montreat, Woodcreek Road, Camp Fincastle (which no longer exists as it did), and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Places where I would go to find sanctuary.  Places I still like to go.  Where do you seek sanctuary? 

Havens
Being an only child
I would run out
Into the center of a sun-ripened plain
Flop my tiny body
Into the weeds and look
Up into a satin sky
Watching cotton balls
Detach from one another
Forming their own identities
Being distraught by a boisterous crowd
I walked down the root-veined path
The clay soiling my toenails of opal
Beside Lake Susan I found myself
Perched on a protruding stone
I saw that it was lonely and wished
To be submersed in depth, just as I
Being one who loves to stargaze
I went out into the late-night world
And searching for warmth
Reached the road and sprawled
In the middle of its stretch
I wished on falling stars
Until the tangerine sun
Burnt away the violet sheath
Being lost in my faith
Feeling out of place stirred in
With the praise band
And the over-friendly psalm reciters
Who somehow misplaced my existence
I walked out onto a rickety dock
Standing in the middle of a freezing, filthy pond,
And saw Jesus' face wink
At me through the muck
Being depressed as to why he left
I drove up the curvy parkway
Then wound back down again
Until a reached a clapboard church
Where I could overlook his valley home
Cry amongst the dead whose names I did not know
And mourn thoughts of reason
That should have brought me hope


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Mother's Prayer

"Thanks to your hidden providence, O my God, your hands did not let go of my soul."--St. Augustine

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."--Jeremiah 1:5

In July of 2002 my parents were hit by a drunk driver which caused my mother to suffer severe injuries.  While my mother lay in a hospital bed (at Roanoke Memorial) recovering from her deflated lungs and broken pelvis, experiencing the baby steps of which can only truly be understood when in full walking rehabilitation, she remained remarkably upbeat and faithful to the Lord, while I drew further away from the God which I no longer understood.  I questioned God's motive in our lives.  Why in the world would this happen to my family?  While I was thankful that my parents were alive and my mother remained so positive, I could not help but wonder why this was allowed to happen in the first place? What purpose did this serve?  Furthermore, how in the world was she not as angry and frustrated as I was?

There is something you need to understand; my mother could do laps around me before all of this happened; she was quick and sharp and witty.  Now her vision was impaired, her breathing was weak, and she had no appetite to speak of.  Despite all of her physical challenges and her mind's fogginess due to strong medications she rejoiced in the tiny miracles she experienced.  This included her going to the bathroom on her own and walking to the end of the hall and back without feeling dizzy from lack of air filling her scarred lungs. 

During her time of rehabilitation (at Lynchburg General), which I refer to as her "superwoman" days, she took her first Communion since the accident.  It was a fall afternoon.  Our pastor, Rev. Gaston, brought with him a female ruling elder from our congregation who had been through much of what my mother had gone through. When the elder was a teenager; she had been left mostly blind due to an accident.  My mother was so frightened by the double vision that she was experiencing, but this kind woman brought her a sense of God's peace, that everything would work out according to God's plan.  I can now look back on this through my own lens as a pastor and see how carefully and compassionately planned this encounter was by our wonderful minister and friend. 

My mother told me later that she prayed to God that evening in fervor.  She said to the Lord that she was not strong enough to live like Abraham, to be willing to sacrifice her child to God.  However,she realized that she was merely a vessel and that I was God's child.  She told the Lord that she would give me over to God and prayed that God would use me as God's instrument in the world.

A year later I told my parents that I felt called to Seminary.  So much healing happened for our family in that time, both physical and spiritual.  My mother's unwavering faith in God's grace and mercy was a driving force in my understanding of God's work in our lives.  It was her utter humility and forgiveness regarding the events that had passed in our lives that humbled me and returned me to my faith in God's providence.  What once seemed a tragic and terrifying time in my life is now revealed to be the actions of God's unseen hand, calling a seemingly unlikely candidate, to a seemingly unlikely ministry. 

My mom still has "superwoman days." She made a great recovery. And while some of the injuries she sustained still impact her health in other ways, she can once again run laps, this time chasing her grandson. A few days ago my mother posted on Facebook about the 14th anniversary of the day God gave her and my father a second chance at life.  And how thankful she was to witness my graduation from college, my marriage, my ordination, and the birth of her grandson who is an every day joy  It is we who are the lucky ones.  Myself, my husband, my sweet son, our extended family and everyone who knows them.  Because to know them is to be known and be loved not only by them but by our God as well. 

God is good.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

10 Holy Reasons to Take You & Your Toddlers To Church

Last week a church member brought me a terrific newspaper article from The Washington Post entitled, "10 unholy reasons I take my toddlers to church," written by Melissa Richeson.  I love it, it is an honest and witty article to which parents can easily relate.  But I'd like to push a bit further on some of Richeson's "unholy" reasoning.  We might be surprised but some of it is actually pretty "holy."  To see the original article, click the link below.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/06/07/ten-unholy-reasons-i-take-my-toddlers-to-church/

1) Sometimes I need a break.  Amen Mama, we all love our kids but sometimes we need some peace and churches often provide a well staffed nursery to provide care and love to your children.  Here's the thing.... your kids need a break from you too!  By Sunday mornings I think Kemper is very excited for a few hours away from Mommy and Daddy.  This is evident by the way he says, "CHURCH!!" When we pull into the parking lot.  There is nothing unholy about giving your children some time to be less dependent on you.

2) For me, there is coffee. Yes, we always have coffee prepared during Christ Connections in the little kitchen off of the adult education wing.  When I had a child I became a two cup woman.  I am right there with you.  I appreciate the thought too, of drinking my coffee without having to rewarm it in the microwave.  In the wizarding world, (read here pastoring) we call this "self-care".  "Love your neighbor as yourself" is what the scripture tells us.  Sometimes you love yourself and your neighbor a little better after you've had some caffeine. 

3) For them, there are snacks.  Guess what, at Covenant there are snacks for you too!  Lemonade and Cookies after worship is extended to all ages (but don't be surprised if the kids reach the table first).  We all need nourishment and church life provides that in many ways beyond animal crackers and goldfish in the kids rooms.  Many Biblical stories revolve around food, so don't be fooled into thinking there isn't something to be said for fellowship around a meal.  Presbyterians are very good at this. 

4) It's 'free' socialization for the kids.  Yes, our children get to interact with each other on a regular basis.  It is awesome to watch my two year old sing songs and dance with four year olds and eight year olds.  It is great to see him learning other kids names and being excited to play in the nursery.  What we are actually doing is building Christian Community for the entire family.  Not only will your children form bonds and learn about Jesus with and from one another, but parents will too.  At least that is the idea.  Instead of grabbing your "free" coffee and internet surfing in the narthex, parents are invited to participate in Christ Connections classes too.  Church is 'free' socialization for all ages! It's pretty great to build relationships with other parents of children your age, or adults who are empty nesters, or grandparents who have been through all that you are experiencing before you. 

5)  I get to wear real clothes.  Really? I wish I could come in sweats, but that's just me.  What parents mean by this is that sometimes we can get really bogged down at home with small children and find ourselves at the end of a Saturday having not yet showered or brushed our hair.  Covenant is not a fancy place, you don't have to wear a skirt or a tie to gain entry into our sanctuary.  We just want you to be here.  We just want you to feel the love of God in a safe space.   What I love about this  comment is that it means that as a parent you make a conscious effort to get out of bed and get you and your family out of the house to come to church!  It does take effort.  Here's a secret, no one is going to judge you if you come in late. Presbyterian time is actually 5 minutes behind real time.  The only people who get points deducted for going into overtime are the pastors.  So just come!

6) Adult music is nice. Covenant has great music.  All types of music are experienced in our worship services.  We delight in the presence of children and adults in worship, there is something enjoyable for everyone.  In addition to this, Children's music is nice too and we have an incredible children's music director who sings and teaches bells with our children each Sunday.  Several times a year these children share what they are learning in worship. 

7) The ladies love 'em.  There is no greater joy than having men and women alike just adoring your children.  Our children are nurtured by our nursery staff, our Sunday School teachers, our VBS volunteers, and later on our youth advisors.  It takes a village to raise our children, the church family can be that village for you! Not only do congregations love the children, they love the parents too.  They want to help foster a relationship with God and the church for both children and parents.

8) The kids take a good nap.  There is nothing sweeter in our house than the long nap that follows Sunday church.  I mean this for Kemper and myself.  It is a commandment to Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.  Napping is a great way to do that.  It comes around again to that idea of "self-care."

9) There is no judgment.  (See Number 5)  Correct. You will not be judged for being late. No one should not be judged in church at all, ever.  A church family should understand the hardships of raising a family (or choosing not to raise one).  You should not be ignored or judged for your parenting choices (or general life choices).  The church is supposed to be an open and safe place for the entire family.  If it doesn't feel that way parents, please go talk to your pastors.  They care about facilitating a warm, welcoming place for every individual in the congregation. 

10) I've made friends.  Not only will adults make friends if they become involved in the life of a church, but as I said, so will your children. Your children will make friends with kids their age, and older and younger.  They will have teenagers to look up to as they age. You will find people who will pray for you, will listen to you, will advocate for you, and will help take care of you.  Congregational life should look like this.  It should be a place in which you feel that you can be wholly yourself, because we are all perfectly imperfect.  If you don't feel like there is an "adult group" where you fit, what is your interest?  What would you like to see?  Tell us how we can make that dream become a reality for you.  I bet there are other people interested in that same idea for ministry. 

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit is at work in every ordinary aspect of this list.  If being "unholy" looks like this, I'm in. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fish For People



Jesus Calls the First Disciples

5Once while Jesus* was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.


On July 10, we will reflect on Luke 5:1-11 in worship.  I have the pleasure of sharing worship leadership with several of our youth who went to Massanetta Middle School Conference a few weeks ago.  They came back eager to share some of what they had learned with the congregation.  I am excited to explore the text this week, one of the call stories about the disciples, particularly Simon Peter.  As I reflect on how to "launch" this particular sermon and how to "put out into the deep water," I've been pondering my own call story a little bit this morning. 

Well, it is not exciting.  Jesus did not hop into my boat or make himself appear in my college dorm room beckoning me to follow him.  Instead, I think there was a gentle nudging all throughout my adolescence.  It simply took some time for me to recognize "my call" for what it was. 

I remember the joy I experienced in planning and participating in Youth Sundays and Christmas Eve Services at Bedford Presbyterian as a teenager.  I loved writing the liturgy and the skits.  I loved adding my voice in dialogue and prayer.  I was in awe of the leadership at conferences and thrilled when my own youth group had opportunities to serve in that way at presbytery or regional gatherings. 

It took a little while but I have now learned that when Bill and Aimee Buchanan tell you something, they are usually right.  So, I recall distinctly being in the sanctuary at BPC one day and having Aimee tell me I should go to seminary. We had been practicing for a Youth Sunday. She was sitting on one of the short pews up front, under a window.  The mid afternoon sun was shining down, brightening the mint green carpet, sparkling on the brass railings (which you NEVER touch). She grinned at me with her big Texas smile and said, "Loren, you've got something, you should go to seminary."   I laughed at her!  Like Sarah in her tent with the angels outside, I laughed!  I knew enough to know that Seminary meant learning ancient languages and presiding over Session meetings.  Thanks, but no thanks. 

The years flew by, as they do.  My friends and I graduated and migrated our separate ways.  I found myself in college preparing to declare my major and minor.  I was feeling a little bit defeated, not certain that my dreams of being a famous writer would come to fruition.  I was not dark enough or dreary enough to fit in the crowd with which I was studying. I also found that having a set schedule by which to write and be critiqued left me feeling stressed rather than creative.  So...what did I love?  What did I want to be when I grew up?  And there it was.  It all came flooding back to me.  I loved the church. I loved the people and the community that was bound together by a love of God and a desire to follow Christ.  I loved writing and worship.  Why couldn't I do both? Surely, a few summers of language school wouldn't kill me.  Would they? (Almost.) Surely the joys of ministry would outweigh the drudgery of session meetings.  (Amen.) 

When I told Michael, who I had been dating for probably 6 months at the time, that I was considering this path, he said something along the lines of, "Yeah, I figured."  As a PK I always tell people how blessed I am that he knew what he was getting into and married me anyway.    When I told my parents, they cried. Happy tears, I think. :)  When I told Bill and Aimee, my constant mentors and friends, they said, "we know"... as if I had reminded them of my love for French fries.  And that was it.  Once I know something, I just do it.  I knew I would go to Hollins and so I did.  I knew I would go to seminary, and so I did. 

I didn't expect to serve as a solo pastor of a small congregation.  But, that it is the true beauty of Jesus' call.  Our God sees the path set before us in ways we can never comprehend.  It was a blessing beyond measure to have been chosen for that particular congregation in Appomattox (who I love so dearly) at that time.  I didn't expect to be called to Covenant when it happened but here I am.

Every day the gifts God has given me are used to serve in a meaningful way.  And my call came from ordinary experiences.  Not unlike the fishermen who encountered Jesus in the gospel of Luke.  They didn't really want to take Jesus out on the boat and cast their nets into the deep waters again.  They'd been working all night, they were dead on their feet.  Sometimes it is hard to believe we might be meant for Christ's service.  Sometimes life just wears us down until we don't remember how best to be disciples.  We see in the nets cast by those disciples in the gospel of Luke that God's love and grace is abundant! Think on that today as you consider your call.  You have one.  We all do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

In Good Hands

As I reflect on the past week in ministry, it has been a full.  Full tilt and full of God's good fruit.  I witnessed a very successful Vacation Bible School at Covenant last week.  We had 31 children ages 3-10 participate in the a week of learning about Jesus' ministry.  This epic effort had the extraordinary leadership of 19 adults and 17 youth all involved in the planning, preparation, and participation in the actual week's events.   Two of my favorite quotes from children for the week.  "It's all FUN!" and "Hey, do you wanna look at the Bible with me?"  It was so good to see the children making new friends with one another and also forming relationships with the adult and teen leadership.  It was good to see people from different walks of life engaging in the work of the church with such joy! I believe THIS is what God had in mind when he created the world and called it GOOD!

The week before VBS we sent middle high youth off to Massanetta. The theme was "Gone Fishin'" and interestingly enough there were some scriptural overlaps between the conference and VBS.  What a blessing to hear youth tell me, "It was awesome!" And to see them pour there bodies and souls into ministering to the children even though many of them were tired from their conference the week before. We all know that our teenagers have so many other places they could be in the summer time.  But they chose to be here at Covenant spending time honing leadership skills and forming bonds with other people.  All while hearing and teaching the good news of the gospel!  I believe THIS is what God had in mind when he created the world and called it GOOD!

One night last week I was blessed to have dinner with Mary, our youth director, and several of the youth advisors.  As there will be a changing of the guard with Mary's retirement at the end of July, it was important to hear from the advisors about their experiences with the youth program.  What are the beautiful, wonderful strengths of this ministry that we need to sustain and build upon, and what are the things that perhaps we need to let go of in order to make room for new opportunities.  Much affirmation was given and I believe a commitment to continue to teach our teens how to become disciples of Christ in the world.  We need to have retreats, we need to have fun fellowship, we need to have dedicated time for study, we need to keep doing community outreach.  I believe THIS is what God had in mind when he created the world and called it GOOD!

On Sunday afternoon, I participated in a deeply meaningful ordination service for The Rev. Carol Ferguson at Salem Presbyterian.  Carol and I connected when she became an inquirer in the process for ordination, instantly bonding over our shared experiences of attending an all female college.  I served as Carol's liaison with the Committee on Preparation for Ministry for her entire process (5 years). What a joy to watch her blossom and find confidence in her calling!  She will be an incredible minister.  She was showered with love from many congregations. She managed to be ordained, have her parents involved in her service, and then lead a wonderfully poignant prayer over the Communion Table.  This is something I was absolutely unable to do for fear of blubbering all over the elements at my own ordination.  My dear friend, it is I who admire You!  The best of Presbyterian witness and worship happened in that service.  I believe THIS is what God hand in mind when he created the world and called it GOOD!

We're in GOOD hands, after all, we are all in GOD'S hands. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pulling Weeds

The sky is a brilliant blue this day, and a warm breeze is rustling the leaves beyond my window.  I spent three hours in the sun this morning; raking, trimming, pruning, digging.  My lackluster interest in gardening has been evident in my front flowerbeds for far too long. Leaves from last Fall piled into the corners, dandelions had made their home deep, deep in the soil, and there is a very prickly Holly bush growing within an Azalea. Why do we think Holly is pretty? Why do we decorate with it at Christmas?  Not me, never again.   I thought the work would bring me instant satisfaction.  The truth of the matter is that it does look a bit better.  But, honestly I have no idea what I am doing and toward the end of the morning some weeds (read clover, who knew!?) were just too frustrating to tackle.  The truth of the matter is that I love to admire a pretty lawn and garden.  I want my home to have curb appeal. But I desire to do none of the hard labor that goes into such an endeavor. 

 A sure reminder for me this day that while the sun shines so brilliantly for most of us, it is a dark day for so many other children of God.  A dark day because hatred is so deeply, deeply rooted into the soil of our society.  And it spreads, it multiplies like kudzoo or that nasty, nasty clover.  It spreads in such a way that to the untrained eye it does not seem threatening.  Hatred is so often disguised as something else.  And we don't mind the weeds so much when they are blooming.  Extracting the ugly, the hatred from our neighborhoods, our churches, our workplaces, our world...it would take so much work.  And do we even have the right tools?  Better to pray it will disappear with a hard rain or a biting frost.  

It is a dark day because people in this world, God's world, are hurting.  People I love are hurting. People I don't know are hurting.  Hurting because of love.  Hurting because of hatred that threatens the joy and promise of that love.  I am saddened by how common place such situations have become in our world.  I am sad that it no longer shocks me to hear of mass shootings.  It no longer shocks me that people have been slaughtered in places of sanctuary because of who they choose to love. Or the color of their skin.  Or the name they use for God.  I don't understand it.  For the love of God, I cry out for wisdom and understanding. Because I do not think I will ever understand it.  

For some this is a time to place blame on our politicians and to beg for policy changes, for stricter gun laws.  I am on board with that.  I would not take away the right to own a gun for the sake of protection or sport.  But the problem today is when you're selling a gun, how in the world do you tell what kind of customer you serve? Guns in the hands of the wrong people kill people. I don't pretend to understand politics and laws. Better here to admit my ignorance and call it a day. But, can't we all agree that something must happen.  Something is better than nothing.  

For some this is a time to place blame on a particular religion, whether it be Islam (so often the scapegoat) or the institution of religion entirely.  So much more for the media to exploit when fingers are pointed, sweeping strokes over an entire group of people or a religion rather than looking at the individual who committed the crime.  In Genesis 4:10 we read the Lord's response to the murder of Cain by his brother Abel:"
And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!"   I grow weary of telling people that Islam is a religion that proclaims peace.  Amazing that we have no problem claiming self-righteously that Christians are peace-loving... although so many actions speak louder.  You will read what you like. You will hear what you like. You will believe what you like.  So sad that some people in this world have closed eyes and ears to the opportunities for dialogue and understanding.  

For some this is a time to place blame on the LGBTQ community.  A time to shame children of God for exercising their basic rights as humans to gather together, to live and love each day.  Hate the sin not the sinner? Is that it? Actions such as those in Orlando reflect hating the sinner, not the sin (as some call it). So easy to throw such language around when one is not living through experiences in which such blatant ignorance and discrimination is cast.   I have friends who are gay, people who I love and respect.  People who live each day dedicated to their significant other, who work and play and love just as I do.  It sickens me to think that this event could ever have been them. I don't love them in spite of being gay. I don't love them for being gay.  I just love them just as they are-- as children of God.  You might be hearing a similar theme from me now: judgment of one another does not help solve our problems.  But, I speak from both sides of my mouth as a feel judgments bubbling within me even as I write because there are individuals who do not see through the same lens as me.  
It is scary to consider that such an atrocity could happen to anyone, at any time because suddenly hatred is okay. Is it?  I hope not, but it seems that way because we are numbed to violence, we let politicians spew hate speech and despicable racial degradation.  We seem to delight in the unfolding drama of finger-pointing and scapegoating to the point that I don't see anyone of power or merit actually listening to one another or effecting any positive change.  And here I am, I add my voice to the cacophony.  The voice of a middle-class, straight, white, Christian of privilege.  

Friends, our garden is being over-run.  The beautiful fruits we are meant to bear are being choked to death by hatred.  By violence.  By ignorance.  What can we do?  The work is so hard.  It is so overwhelming.  In my little corner of the garden here is what I will do.  

 I will pray.  What good will come of those prayers I do not yet know but I will pray for the people in the world to open their eyes and ears to people who are from the other side... whatever side that is; political, social, religious, economic.  I will pray for a healing dialogue to take place.  I will pray for the people of this world who find themselves in such a desperate life that they believe violence against one another is the answer.  I will pray for people who are discriminated against, people who live in terror that this could happen in their own places of sanctuary.  

I will add my voice to the chorus calling for love.  Love that drives out darkness and hatred.  And when I sing that song alongside my brothers and sisters I will keep one ear open for the cries that come back to me, to learn and discern how we might strive to live together, even in our differences.  

I will teach our son how to respect all people as children of God.  I will encourage him to learn about other faiths. I will encourage him to have friends from all 'walks of life'.  I will ask him what he thinks about current events.  And as much as I might desire to shelter him from the harsh realities of this world, I will engage him in critical thinking about what all this means for him and how he might work to make the garden beautiful again.  



Perhaps you will join me in considering what you might do in your little corner of the garden. There is work to be done.  Always, always work to be done.  


Monday, June 6, 2016

You Do You

I had the most wonderful weekend celebrating my 10th Reunion at Hollins University.   Having my sisters here brought to light how deeply I have missed their presence and how blessed Michael and I both are to have such friendships. Returning to a quiet house with my spouse away for work has left me feeling quite hollow in some ways, even with family around. How quickly physical presences can overflow your soul and how sharply the absence is felt when they are no longer here. I was equally blessed in being asked to preach the worship service at Hollins on Sunday.  I was honored to be asked and my heart was full having my friends there knowing that they needed to get on the road and back to their homes and their families.   Below is a copy of the sermon preached for Hollins Reunion on June 5, 2016 based on Luke 10:38-42, the story of Mary and Martha.

 

 

You Do You
 

A few weeks ago we celebrated my son Kemper’s second birthday.  His birth story is a difficult one that did not occur at all like we imagined it. His first birthday was also a difficult day, not at all like we imagined it.  So, to celebrate his second birthday with a party of family and friends was important to us.  We had planned to have our celebration at the nearby park where he could play on the playground after eating.  However, the morning was a dreary one, the ground already saturated from a week of rain.  On to plan B, a party at our house.  This meant cleaning the house in preparation for company.  I’d say about 6 hours’ worth of cleaning.  My husband said, “There’s no point to all this.  We won’t use half the rooms and it will just be a mess again the next day.”  But my theory was that come Reunion weekend the layer of dirt I would have to clean (again) would be thinner! Perhaps the popcorn trail from kitchen to couch and the goldfish swimming beneath the cushions would be…somehow….less. 

The closer the day of Reunion came, the more frantic I found myself.  Pile the sheets by the washer, scrub the counters, file the papers, get the sticky finger prints off of the T.V. screen! And I came back to this passage of scripture. Once again I found myself relating to Martha. The sister who wanted to have it all together, or at least appear that way.  And so I stopped just short of putting mints on the guest bed pillows (sorry girls) and I took a deep breath.  After all, these are my Hollins sisters.  The women in my life who have seen me at my very best and my absolute worst.  And this weekend was not to come and see my organized pantry or my sparkling countertops.  It was to be together. To return to the grassy quad where we found ourselves at home with one another. 

There are two relevant points to be made about the narrative of Mary and Martha and their encounter with Jesus in the Scripture passage we heard today.  Let’s begin with Martha. We are told that this is her home that Jesus has entered and that he is to dine with them.  This is an incredibly important detail.  You see, in that day and time, hospitality was the cornerstone of society.  It is vitally important to Martha that her home and table reflect her respect of Jesus as an honored guest.  Yes, her duties take her away from visiting with Jesus but she is not in the wrong to do the work that she was driven to do. 

The other important fact to know about first century Palestine is that Mary’s behavior was in direct opposition to the manner in which she was expected to live.  That is why Martha was so angry with her! It wasn’t just because she didn’t have any help in the kitchen.  It was because she was likely embarrassed that Mary had “forgotten her place.”  Later on in the gospels, Mary rebels even more when she unbinds her hair in a room full of disciples, dumps expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair.  But Mary had a thirst for the teachings of Jesus.  She wanted to learn.  She wanted to follow. 

I can’t help but think that were Mary and Martha alive in our time they would most certainly be Hollins Women.  They both demonstrate strength of character and they do so unapologetically.  The way I was raised combined with my four years at Hollins taught me that I can be and do anything I set my heart and mind to.  I have a feeling many of the women in this room would say the same.  I graduated with a degree in English and I was the only person in the class of 2006 to graduate with a major or a minor in Religious Studies.  And while things are rapidly changing in my context, I am a female in a predominantly male driven field.   I am one of a handful of ordained clergy women out of the 124 Presbyterian congregations in the surrounding area.  But that doesn’t bother me.  Because here’s what I have learned and continue to learn.  You do you.

I think that is the message for us in this narrative from the gospel of Luke.  From all corners of society we find ourselves under pressure from someone else to be someone different. To do something better.  Many of us have heard the phrase, “mom-shaming”.  Ridiculous that such a phrase should ever exist, but it does.  It isn’t just about motherhood though, it’s about everything. Are you a stay at home parent? What a cakewalk.  Do you work full time? Shame on you for letting someone else parent your child.  Do you breast-feed…in public?! Gasp.  Oh your child is bottle-fed? Hmm… that is unfortunate. You don’t have children, how sad.  You don’t want children? Why?? You cook all organic meals, you must be judging the McDonald’s we just scarfed down in the van.  You can’t cook, might as well take away your female card all together.  You’re changing careers….at forty?  Can we say midlife crisis? You have a master’s degree? You must be really wealthy.  You muck stalls for fun? You must be wealthy.  You’re divorced? Fail. You’re unmarried? Fail. You have a spouse and 2.5 kids, life must be perfect.  You’re retiring, that must be so nice! What do you mean you don’t know what you’ll do with yourself?  Your children are still living at home, poor parenting.  Your grandchildren have moved in with you, I bet you are overwhelmed, what’s wrong with your kids? You don’t go to church? Oh, that’s what is missing in your life.  You’re a pastor? What do you do the other 6 days a week? You’re transgender, let me tell you what bathroom to use.  You’re gay? Let me hurl scriptures out of context at you like daggers. You work 50 or 60 hours a week? What a great employee, I bet you’ll be the boss one day!  You’re a republican? Scoff.  You’re a democrat? Scoff.  You don’t care about politics? Then you don’t care about anything! Judgment after judgment. Let’s not even talk about what the term “beach body” means. We all do it from time to time.  It takes mere seconds to think it or say it.  But it causes many layers of damage to another person.  The last thing we need is to tear each other down. We should be lifting one another up!


Out of God’s great love each of us were created in God’s image, an image that is so deep and wide there are not enough words in our vocabulary to appropriately describe God.  Thus, we are not expected to all be the same type of person or do the same things.  YOU DO YOU. There are many reasons why God shouldn't have called you, or me, or anyone else for that matter, but God doesn't wait until we are perfect to call us. You're in good company if you think you aren't ready for God to use or you aren’t worthy of God’s love.


 

 
  • Moses was a murder.
  • Noah got drunk.
  • Abraham lied.
  • Sarah laughed at God's promises.
  •  David's armor didn't fit.
  • Hosea's wife was a prostitute.
  • Jacob was a liar.
  • David had an affair. 
  • Jesus was too poor.
  • David was too young.
  • Peter was afraid of death.
  • Lazarus was dead.
  • Naomi was a widow.
  • Ruth was a foreigner.
  • The Apostle Paul was a murderer.
  • Jonah ran from God.
  • Miriam was a gossip.
  • Thomas doubted.
  • Jeremiah was depressed and suicidal.
  • Elijah was burned out.
  • John the Baptist was a loudmouth.
  • Martha was a worry-wort.
  • Mary may have just been lazy.

You see: We have it in our power to stop this monsoon of negative criticism of each other.  It’s simple really: you do you!  Jesus accepted Martha’s hospitality.  The moment he stepped over the threshold into her home he accepted Martha for who she was.  Now, he may have encouraged her to sit down and accept what he was offering her after dinner, but he had no problem dining on the meal she so carefully provided.  Jesus delighted in Mary.  I think he valued her rebellious nature because she was the type of woman he wanted other females in her day to feel free to become.  Christ came to earth and dwelt among us not just for Martha’s, not just for Mary’s, but for ALL people.  Real people, authentic people.  Broken, sinful, marginalized people.  Jesus embraced people for who they were at each encounter.  He does the same for you. 

 So, as you leave the Hollins bubble; drink deeply from the refreshing well you’ve been given in renewed friendships.  Remember that the women with whom you are surrounded love you for you.  Embrace your gifts and chase your dreams, no one else’s.  Find ways to pick up the pieces of the brokenness you might be feeling and figure out how to carry them as you move forward.  The scriptures tell us to Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  And to love your neighbor as yourself.  Love your neighbor. Love yourself.  You do you. Amen.

 


 

Benediction

Keep Alert (until you are too tired to stand, then rest well).
Stand firm in your faith
(unless you cannot, then know God holds you tightly in weakness).
Be courageous (until you cannot, it’s okay to be afraid).
Be strong (unless the situation brings you to your knees, then lean on one another). 
Let all that you do be done in love (Always. Always love).
 
Levavi Oculos,
 
Loren