Is it just me or does it feel like time is both going incredibly slow and yet at the same time I went to start this reflection 3+ hours ago. It is now midday and not morning prayer time at all. I also find myself feeling constantly behind. I’m still struggling to finish my morning cup of coffee. I know I have been guilty of saying, I just need the world to slow down or stop for a couple of days so I can get everything together. Now that we’re being asked to slow down or stop why does it feel like we have more to do?
The OT reading this morning is continuing the story of God, Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh and the Israelites (Exodus 10:21 – 11:8) . The Lord said to Moses, “Raise your hand towards the sky so that darkness spreads over the land of Egypt, a darkness that you can feel….an intense darkness fell on the whole land of Egypt for three days. People couldn’t see each other, and they couldn’t go anywhere for three days.” This reading really hit me in the gut. People can’t see each other couldn’t go anywhere. Except, in our logical places in our brains, we know there are ways we can safely see each other – in person by washing our hands and maintaining 6 feet of space between people. We can use technology and “Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Hangout, YouTube videos, etc”…but we all know that it is not the same. But that is not the end of the story.
Verse 23 – “But the Israelites all had light where they lived.” It is easy, when things feel out of control, to believe that the sky is falling, that there is only bad news. We may feel like we are stuck at home, I’ll get sick, I’m going to run out of supplies, everything is shutting down, it’s all too much. But none of that is true if we are centered in who we are and whose we are. We are God’s children. We are not alone. And Jesus is the light of the world. What happens when we shift our perspective? Instead of “I’m stuck at home – I get to be safe at home and spend time with my family. Instead of “I’ll get sick” I am going to practice excellent hand hygiene (washing hands) and staying home to decrease my chances of getting sick. Moving from, “I’ll run out of supplies” to I have prepared and I have enough, if I use my resources wisely. “Everything is shutting down” to remembering that the important places medical centers, pharmacies, grocery stores will remain open.”
Many people have been commenting about how even churches are closed. Churches are not closed. The physical buildings may be closed but the church is the people. We are the church. And we are out in the world. I saw somewhere that someone suggested putting the Christmas lights back so that we may rekindle the joy that comes at Christmas. I’ve been pondering that in my heart – what if we start letting Christ’s light shine through us in the world in all different ways. Yes, I think I will have my kids put Christmas lights on outside. Yes, I can refocus my own thoughts to it will be ok. I can help reflect love and hope instead of fear and panic in conversations (whether by email, social media, text of phone calls).
The Gospel reading for this morning is Mark 9:2-13 – it’s the story of Jesus’ transfiguration – when he was transformed in front of the disciples amazingly bright and we heard the words – “This is my Son, the whom I love dearly. Listen to him!” It is Jesus shining bright. Let us listen and love. In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I saw on social media this evening a mom saying “this has been the longest week ever.” And it really feels like it has been a very long week. I am tired but not in the way I was after working a week of relief after Harvey or Imelda. This is weary – not physically tired. I’ve talked with several teachers and pastors who have expressed the same sort of feeling – that it’s been such a long week. I tell you what I told them – I am sure that a large part of it is the steep learning curve we’ve all been on. We’ve had learning curves before but this time it is different – every part of our lives has been disrupted.
The Old Testament reading continues with the 2nd & 3rd plagues in Exodus 7:25 – 8:19. In this story first the frogs show up EVERYWHERE. And Pharaoh has had enough – as in he says, I’ll do whatever you ask if you can get rid of them. Moses makes sure he understands that Pharaoh is willing to let the people go if he gets rid of the frogs. And I think we may be feeling like Pharaoh – we will do just about anything for this to end.
I was out walking last evening after the rain had cleared and talking as we moved. Someone said that they were just ready for this all to end. And I agreed except there may be some good things that come out of it. While I have learned a great deal – how to try and make digital worship possible for instance – watch your email for links tomorrow –I don’t think we will cling to doing this every Sunday. In fact, one thing that we have learned is just how important community is to each of us. But I think we may also be learning that we do not need to work as hard as we have. There is some natural re-setting that is occurring. For instance, I am looking forward to using a schedule that calls for creative time. I’m going to take time and make bread among other things. I am getting excited about some possibilities. But first I will rest.
Today (Saturday), I will not be working. I am going to put my computer away and goof off. And it is my hope that while I rest and reset I can resist the urge to work more. It is my hope that I can see the gift even in the hardship. I don’t want to be like Pharaoh. I don’t want my heart to harden. I want to trust that even in these extraordinary times I will continue to trust that God can use this time to help us rediscover God’s presence in our lives.
I was so excited about the schedule was given but I only got to follow it for the first little bit before things happened and I needed to hand off the family schedule and focus entirely on preparing for Sunday. Yesterday was such a weird day for me. Trying out new technology with a Zoom call with other pastors – except we couldn’t get mine to unmute. Then getting to the church to meet with our fabulous Music Director and begin to record and prepare Sunday’s service. After recording heading into my office to print and do some other things and in the middle of it, I received a phone call from the elementary school and the principal sharing what would be happening beginning Monday and how she so much wanted to make sure that our kids knew she missed them and wanted everyone to be safe. When the call ended and I was finishing up stuffing the bulletins the tears fell. Suddenly it hit me, we’re in the wilderness.
In reading Exodus 7:8-24 we get Moses & Aaron showing Pharaoh signs and the first plague. I’ll confess – reading about the plagues stirred something in me and not in a good way. It was too close – but as I kept reading I saw that God told Moses to say: “‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.’” That’s where we are worshipping God in the wilderness. I’ve used the metaphor during other times in my life & ministry but this time we really all are in the wilderness. We do not know when we will get through – we are not sure how to do everything to survive. And yet, God wanted the people in the wilderness to worship. Worship is something I know how to do. Worship is something that we know how to do. Worship is something we know how to do together. And yet it will be different.
So this Sunday, we the people of Faith Fannett (and churches throughout the world) are worshipping in some very different ways. For us, some will be worshipping by tuning into our sister church, Trinity Beaumont Sunday morning at 10:30. Others will listen to a radio broadcast with Liberty First UMC. I made bulletins that had all the lyrics, scriptures – everything we needed (including a written sermon) for some of our members to use to read it through knowing others were joining with them. Still others will have their bulletins emailed and will try something new tuning into our brand new YouTube Channel to worship together. It’s not ideal – but there was something about recording different parts of the service, knowing you will see my face that made me feel a little better. Even more when I got to the Children’s time because I was sitting in the Prayer Ground and seeing the faces of each of our children. I’m hoping that next week I can get others to provide some videos of them reading scripture, or leading prayers, etc. so we can connect a little more.
Today it will be easy to get sucked into all the bad news that is coming. But do you know what today’s Gospel reading is – it is the Feeding of the 4000 from the Gospel of Mark (Chapter 8:1-10). “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” Jesus has compassion for us. And when Jesus takes the bits and pieces that we have he can multiply it so not only are we all fed there is leftovers. I do not know what tomorrow brings for us, but tomorrow I will rest. I will spend time with my kids playing games and maybe watching movies and I will celebrate that we are together. I invite you to stop tomorrow and rest. Find something enjoyable to remember that even in the wilderness God is with us. Sunday we worship, but today, let us rest.
I had a long to do list in my head yesterday. One of the do lists was to make schedules for the kids to be able to follow. I knew that if I didn’t get something in writing none of us would be able to function much longer. I knew it was not good for them to just do whatever they wanted nor always asking me what to do. I do not think I could handle one more kid asking me what to do! Some of you may have even seen a “schedule” going around on Facebook that had feral time, screens, fights over video games, etc. While we had not yet descended into that kind of chaos, I knew it would not be long. And yesterday just did not seem to go how I had hoped. I seemed busy but not necessarily making progress. Sound familiar?
My morning scripture continues the story of Moses & the Israelites (Exodus 5:1-6:1) still under the authority of Pharaoh. Moses & Aaron had gone to Pharaoh and uttered the famous words – let my people go. And Pharaoh’s response was basically – I don’t think so. In fact, Pharaoh made their lives harder. The Israelites had to make the same number of bricks but instead of being provided the straw in which to make them, they had to spend time gathering the straw. They now had more work to do. Also, sound familiar? I certainly resonated with this.
In Liberty (and in towns all over the world), the schools are working hard to provide some educational resources for our children to keep learning. Because of making sure people have equal access they are doing their level best but it is not easy. The teachers have been hard at work trying to figure out options that are both internet based and hard copy based all the while working from home without all of their classroom resources, many of which are doing it with their own students at home. The resources will be available Sunday evening digitally and hard copies beginning Monday during the meal pick up times. I’ve been trying to find someway to keep learning going until that kicks in. Monday & Tuesdays we had some educational work done. Yesterday however, nothing. It was lots of screens and lots of kids fighting. I had vowed to make a schedule that kept them busy and making progress.
In the Gospel Mark 7:24-37, this morning we have Jesus healing 2 people, one was the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman and the other was deaf man (most likely Jewish) being from the region of Tyre near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus healed them both. He tried to put the mom off but she persisted. The deaf man he healed and then told him not to tell anyone. But the healed man could not keep quiet.
Last night as I was trying to go to sleep I found a message from our school district superintendent, who had provided a schedule and not one that I expected at all. There was much more grace and flexibility than I would have put in. There is 2 hours at different places in the day to play or walk outside. There is an hour for creative time, chore time, meal times, quiet time, TV time and of course academic time. The academic time is an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon, one allotted for electronic and one without. I had been trying to create a schedule that had twice as much “academic” time along with a heavy dose of learning outside of the Reading, Writing & Arithmetic. When I got the schedule, I no longer felt like the Israelites who had to do the same things with fewer resources. Instead, I felt like the healed people from the Gospel and in fact I immediately started sharing the schedule. There was so much grace in the schedule as well as a reminder in the note that accompanied it, that we were to be flexible. If something was working don’t interrupt it just because it was time to move on.
It is my hope that today you will find grace that whatever you do it will be enough for today. And more importantly that who you are, just as you are is enough and God loves you, just the way you are.
Do you remember watching Gilligan’s Island? As a child I remember thinking – wow – that’s kinda cool – an extra-long vacation. They get to live on an island and figure stuff out and don’t have to go to school or work. They just get to be together. Now, as we are facing our own island living it does not sound quite as fun.
I remember during Hurricane Harvey as the water was falling from the sky and seemingly never ending how strange it was that I could be watching TV and cooking on the electric stove even as the wind was blowing. Surely at some point we would be without power. Nope – we kept power the whole time. Monday morning I had to make a grocery store run because no one wanted to eat the shelf stable stuff because there was no reason to – plus we needed to keep it just in case. I remember how strange it was to be loading up on meat & milk during a storm.
Being in Southeast Texas we are used to hunkering down for a period of time and usually the weather outside helps guide us in what is safe to do. Except weather is not driving our need to shelter in place. It’s a virus that we cannot see and could be infected with for days before we have any symptoms. The reality is that if we interact with anyone in close quarters we could be sick and not know it for days. For us it is also pollen season so every time someone sneezes or coughs I wonder – is it COVID-19 at least for a brief moment.
In the Gospel reading for my morning devotional I read from Mark 7:1-23. This is the interaction with Jesus, the disciples and the Pharisees regarding handwashing. When I first read it, I was rolling my eyes. Great a scripture story with Jesus not washing his hands and the Pharisees saying, you have to wash your hands. But I kept reading. Jesus in this passage is not really saying, you don’t need to wash your hands for physical well-being (trust me, Jesus wants you to wash your hands with soap & water while praying the Lord’s Prayer to combat COVID-19) but for spiritual well-being. The Pharisees were great about washing their hands but their actions were not living out the heart of what being “clean” was meant to bring about. It’s like when someone you love suddenly is volunteering to be helpful and you are thinking – ok – that’s great what do they really want? I know I was generally a helpful child but when I was a dollar short to go to the movies, suddenly I was volunteering to do all sorts of stuff around the house with the hopes of showing my worth of a dollar.
I admit that I am struggling more than a little with how to live my faith right now. I preach so much about being the hands and feet of Jesus – of going out and doing something. And yet, I’m being told to stay home and I am supposed to lead and encourage all of my church to stay home as well to help flatten the curve and protect the most vulnerable. How do we worship together when we cannot be together or we don’t have video or strong internet to stream services? But more than worship – how do we care for each other while still protecting each other. This is where we need to get creative to live as Jesus calls us to – so that our hearts & actions show God’s love.
So here is our challenge for today. How might we share God’s love without getting sick? We have people in our church who live alone. Could you make a card for them so that we could mail it to them? Can you brainstorm ideas for reaching out while still keeping distance? Can we each call 1 or 2 people a day to make sure that while we are keeping physical distance we are not keeping emotional distance? What about praying through our church directory? We are really all on our own desert islands – the biggest limitations we have is our imagination for how might share love.
Today is St. Patrick's Day. For many of us what we know about this day stems from wearing green to protect from getting pinched or eating Corned Beef & Cabbage. In more recent years I have seen a Leprechaun Hunt become a part of the celebration for younger children. But there is so much more to this day.
St. Patrick was kidnapped at age 16, taken from his home and sold as a slave to a chieftain in Ireland. After 6 years he managed to return home. He believed that God used the difficult time and Patrick began studying to become a priest. In his formation he heard a voice calling him to return to Ireland not for revenge but for reconciliation.
Some of us have a lot of time on our hands - or rather our time is differently ordered. Usually my house would be quiet & empty with the kids off at school and me preparing for Sunday worship and doing sermon prep. I'll confess that my rhythm of doing that work so early in the week doesn't seem to fit because it seems every day changes for us and how can something I write today be applicable.
I read 2 passages of scripture this morning for my devotional time. The first from Exodus 3:16 - 4:12. This is when God is preparing to send Moses to Pharaoh and Moses is scared. He tells God that Pharaoh won't believe him so God gives him 2 signs, the staff that turns into a snake and a scaly hand. And Moses while impressed with the signs is not confident in having to speak to Pharaoh. In fact even after God tells Moses that he will help him speak Moses says: "Please, my Lord, just send someone else." The second reading from Mark 6:47-56 happens just after the feeding of the 5000 and the disciples are sent onto the boat to rest while Jesus went up the Mountain to pray. A storm rose up and the disciples were having difficulty rowing with the wind. So Jesus went to them walking on the lake. Instead of being a calming presence, Jesus scared the disciples and they screamed. So Jesus spoke, "take heart, it is I, do not be afraid."
I love how the Holy Spirit works sometimes. These 2 passages are not usually paired together but in my daily devotional reading from Common Prayer we read continuously and they matched up this day. I find myself feeling on one hand like Moses - "God send anyone but me" and the disciples who are scared and in the boat and on the other hand like God - "just do it and I will be with you" and like Jesus getting int he boat with the scared disciples. We are in uncharted waters - parents across the nation are attempting home school with their children along with balancing the demands of working at home. Others are being asked to come into work and try to do their work at home while maintaining distances of 6 feet from their coworkers. Others still have lost their jobs as our daily lives have changed for who knows how long.
We have a great deal of uncertainty. I wish I could make things easier but I cannot. What I can do is remind us all that we are not alone. God is with us. What happens when we move from what we cannot do to what this change gives us the opportunity to do? For instance, I have several things that I need to mend - seams that have come a part. I asked my children what was something that they wanted to learn about - everything from black holes, to making 3D cakes to giving a bike a tune-up. The Weather Channel, the Cincinnati Zoo among other places are providing short lessons on something that know about.
Yesterday the Zoo taught about hippos and the Weather Channel today will be talking about rain. If we look around instead of seeing all the things we cannot do, we may be surprised at what we new or different things we can. St. Patrick could have spent his life seeking revenge instead of seeking reconciliation and spreading God's love.
Here is my prayer for today: Great God of heaven, be my vision and help me see how to use today's challenges as an opportunity to share your love. In the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you have a prayer concern or need to talk, please comment here and I will get back to you.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Christie