Friday, October 21, 2016

Espire: a place of sanctuary

When I was in seminary, a friend invited me to go with her to serve a hot meal to the homeless.  We got up early one morning, shared a meal with folks downtown who had spent the night on the street and then we went to a different room to hand out hats, dry socks, and toiletry items.  

If someone asked for a beanie, I randomly gave them one.  One man said he didn't want the random one I had pulled, instead he wanted one of a different color.  In my head, I sort of balked at his request thinking "beggars can't be choosers" but I gave him the hat anyway.

As we finished distributing items, my thoughts gnawed at me.  It was just a hat and we had plenty, what did it matter to me if he chose blue over grey?  Why had I been so harsh in my mind?  After all the guests had left, the workers sat down for reflection and devotion and I confessed my hard-hearted thoughts.  It hurt me that I had been so harsh (even if I didn't say it out-loud) to someone who had spent the night on the cold wet streets of Atlanta and simply wanted a different colored hat.  

After our breakfast volunteering, my friend Jessie and I returned weekly for an evening meal and then "foot clinic" where we washed people's feet, cutting out corns, scrapping away calluses, massaging their feet, lotioning them and then giving them clean dry socks.  It was beautiful and challenging all at the same time.  And I learned a lot as I heard stories from those (mostly) men.  I learned to see them as people and not problems.  I tried to learned the nuances of their struggles and the challenges of living on the street.  

Throughout my years of ministry, I have worked with and encountered hundreds of people who have spent the night or lived on the street.  I have shared meals, opened the showers, given clothes, distributed Bibles, offered a bottle of water or a granola bar, taken people to the bus depot, or arranged for a night in a hotel.  And I've heard many many stories of trials, job losses, family disputes, and battles with addiction.  

The issues that lead to homelessness are often complex and the solutions take time.  The churches I have served have faced various challenges in offering a place of sanctuary and grace.  Which is why I am so grateful to partner with an agency like Family Promise. I worked with them for 2 years in Valencia and now again in Moscow.  I am so appreciative of the ways they recognize the need in our community and equip lay volunteers to serve our neighbors in need.  It is a gift to work with people who care and who have a functioning structure and true accountability in their program.  

This Sunday we will begin our Fall week of hosting the families that are currently in the Family Promise Program.  It is an opportunity for us to share a meal, to help with kids (for parents who don't really get a break or have a simple "play room" where they can leave their kids while they cook dinner, or read a book, or make a phone call....when you're a parent on the streets, or even in the FP program, you are always "on"), to be a safe person to talk with, or simply be a presence in a warm place for them to stay.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Prayer for preparation

Lord God,
Things are busy and my mind is racing.
 Life is full and there is always something more to do.  
There are lots of things to get done 
and it's hard to stop the noise and sense your power and presence for the work at hand. 
I invite your Spirit to move in my heart and my mind. 
Give me focus to see and hear the Christmas story anew.  
Guide my thoughts. Inspire my ideas.  
Renew my energies, 
so that the time of Advent would be a blessing and a gift in the life of the church.  

In your holy name I pray,

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Forgiveness liturgy and meditations

We are in the middle of a forgiveness series and I had to be out for the second time in a month. Instead of lining up another guest speaker, I wrote out meditations to be read by laity as a way of walking people through different types of forgiveness.  

Entrance of the light

Call to worship:
L: From darkness and despair, from being lost and lonely, God calls us home.
P: Even though we have been selfish and let God down, we are still called beloved.
L: Remember the eternal love of God which has been poured out for you.
P: Our hearts rejoice at the wondrous ways in which God loves and forgives us.
L: Remember that in all your ways you can trust in God’s compassion.

Sharing Joys & Concerns
Prayers of the People


Hymn: What Wondrous Love Is This?

Last week, we began a series on Forgiveness.  Some of us might wonder, a series?  Why do we need more than one Sunday?  Can’t we just forgive and move on?  Generally not.  Most of us wonder if we can’t just move on when forgiving is difficult.  It’d be easier to stuff it down and move on, but it’s really not worth carrying that burden any further.  

One of the reasons we are often wary about forgiveness is we’ve heard mis-teachings.  The most popular false teaching  (at least as far as the scriptures are concerned) is “forgive and forget”.  How many of us believe or have been told that’s in the Bible?  (Hands raised).  Truth be told, the Bible is emphatic about our need for forgiveness, both as recipients and as those who grant it.  But nowhere does forgiveness hinge upon forgetting.  For many of us, especially those who have suffered betrayal, abuse, and manipulation, forgetting would push us back into bad or abusive relationships that are not good for us, and that is not what God wants for us.  

During this service, we want God to speak to each of us. To facilitate that, we invite you to do what is comfortable or necessary for you.  If you want to stay where you are, you may. If you want to come to the kneeling rail, you may. If you want to be the chapel area, you may.  If you want to pray during a hymn, you may.  If you need more time, please don’t feel rushed to move into the next section.  We trust the Spirit will move as it needs to.  If for some reason, a part of the service doesn’t speak to your heart, we invite you to pray for those around you or for someone you know.  

This morning, we are asking the Spirit to lead, inspire, and free us to forgive and be forgiven.  Let us pray:

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, fill us with your Holy Spirit.  Open our hearts, Lord, so we can hear you and respond to your movement in our lives.  Help us to do the work of forgiveness. Give us courage. Give us peace. Give us hope.  Soften the hardened places of our hearts.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.  

hymn: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus #349

Most of us have someone we need to forgive.  It may be a spouse, a child, a parent, or an extended family member.  It could be a co-worker or a boss.  It could be a neighbor or a friend.  It could be someone who has done something recent, or someone from a wrong committed long ago.  In this time of the service, we will focus on the other people we need to forgive. Maybe it is one name. Maybe it is many.  

In a moment, we will take a minute of silence to let God speak to us.  
O God, who is it we need to forgive?  Show us their face. Tell us their name.  Who is it who needs our forgiveness?  (Hold the silence for a minute.  It may feel like forever, but it is important to give God time to speak).  

God invites us to forgive.  It doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean condoning what was done. It doesn’t mean we have to reconcile and be in relationship again.  It means we let go of the weight and burden of the anger, resentment, bitterness, and hurt that we carry around because of what happened.  You’re invited to forgive—to let go of your anger, hurt, and resentment toward the person on your mind.  

2 corinthians 5:17 tells us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  That means, if we have Christ in our hearts, we are made new.  The old stuff…the waste that we often carry around, will be cleaned up if we let it go.  Will you let go today?  Let us pray: 

Prayer: O God, forgiveness isn’t easy.  We’re afraid that if we forgive we might be vulnerable to be hurt again.  Help us to see your will for us. Help us to know how good it will feel to be free from these burdens. Help us to give these people and situations over to you, so that we might be truly free.  Help us to let go. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Hymn (or Anthem): Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive #390

Forgiving Yourself

Though we’ve done the work of forgiving others, there is still more forgiveness to be found.  During this part of the service, we will focus on forgiving ourselves.  Many of us have messed up. We’ve hurt others.  We’ve hurt ourselves.  We’ve been selfish.  We’ve been hard-hearted.  We’ve been greedy.  We’ve been tempted.  And for those things we bear the weight of shame, disappointment and unforgiveness.  

But the Word tells us that forgiveness is offered to us.  1 John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

A large part of forgiveness for ourselves is confession. We have to acknowledge we’ve done something sinful and wrong before we can or will ask for forgiveness.  So, in these moments, we are invited to confess our sins to God.  Be honest. I promise you won’t surprise God with what you say. But it is still necessary to identify that which is breaking our hearts.  Let us now confess to the Lord. 

(Allow for one minute of silence. Again, it may feel like a long time, but it important to create this space).  

Let us pray: 

Collective Prayer: Lord God, we’ve failed.  We’ve sinned. We’ve been hurtful.  And many of us feel like what we’ve done is far too awful to ever merit forgiveness. But you tell us it’s not about what we do, but about what you do.  So, we place our trust in you and your work on the cross.  Forgive us now as we’ve confessed our sins.  Free us from ourselves and from the weight of the past.  Give us strength and courage to walk forward in grace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen. 

Hymn: Grace Greater Than Our Sin #365 (1, 2, 4)

Forgiving God

Having forgiven others, and forgiven ourselves, there is one more in need of forgiveness: God.  Supposedly our relationship with God should just be “good”. But we know better than that.  A lot of us believe God has inflicted illness, allowed bad things to happen, or failed to answer our prayers.  We struggle with the goodness of God.  It’s hard to trust with all our heart when things don’t always make sense.  

I wish I could offer you all the right answers to clear things up as far as God is concerned, but that’s not a thing any of us could properly do.  What I am here to do is encourage us to forgive God—for the things God has done (or seemingly done), and the things God has failed to do (or seemingly failed to do).  Many of us are holding onto a lot of anger, hurt, and resentment toward God and today we are invited to let go.  And maybe in letting God, we will feel some healing and restoration.  
In the following moments of silence, we ask that the Spirit would show us the things we’ve been holding against God.  Spirit of God, speak to us now: (hold silence for a minute).  
Let us pray:
Prayer: God, our hearts are heavy with the failures we see in our relationship with you.  We know we need you and we want to trust you.  So, today, we turn over our anger, hurt and resentment with the hope that we will be freed for greater faith.  Help us to see you at work in our midst. Help us to hear you speaking truth into our hearts. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Hymn: Leave It There #522 (1, 2, 3)

Final Thought: Forgiveness is important, and sometimes difficult, work.  As people of faith, we are called to do it 7 times 70 times…for each person.  Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean returning to an unhealthy relationship.  Pure and simply, forgiveness is letting go of the anger, hurt and resentment we harbor.  Hopefully, today has allowed us to take some steps, if only initial steps in some cases, toward forgiveness.  And may those steps shine a light in our hearts and free us for greater love and hope in our lives.  

Please join me now in the benediction:

Benediction: May our hearts be lighter as we leave this place and may we feel the blessing of God’s gifts of grace and forgiveness.  May God continue to move and speak throughout the week in a way that transforms and gives life to each of us. Amen. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sue Camphouse Eulogy

They say everyone has a crazy aunt. I don’t know if every family actually has one, but I do know that my family has one.  Only, I don’t have a crazy aunt, because the crazy aunt in our family happened to be my mother.  Now, if you don’t know me or don’t know us very well, please know I say that with the utmost love and respect, really I do.  She was crazy in that she was wild and gregarious and did things that made all the sense in the world to her but were often silly or zany or a little bit crazy.

As a child and a teen I often rolled my eyes at her crazy ways. But I will tell you those crazy things are some of the most memorable things about her.  She was spirited and full of life.  I don’t know that there was a Spirit Friday at Home Street Middle School where she didn’t wear red and white.  She always donned the school colors from her scrunchy, to her earrings, to her shirt, to her pants, to her shoes, and her socks.  Everything was red and white.   *and her zany ways made a big imprint on my memories and fill my heart with love as I mourn her absence.  

Truth be told, if you haven’t already guessed it,  she was a free-spirit stuck in straight-laced world.  My mom was creative to the n-th degree.  She could find a purpose for pretty much anything…from peach pits in advent wreaths, to pill bottles for jewelry or camp affirmations, or most anything…those little orange bottles come in awfully handy, there’s about 1000 and 1 uses for them, to shreds of fabric for a baby blanket.  

She was thoughtful and bright and she could brainstorm most any issue and offer at least a dozen options for solutions.  And she was both wildly creative and incredibly educated when it came to parenting and to teaching.  She could approach a student, or one of the three of us to diffuse most any tantrum, or argument or trial.  From choosing to walk, skip, run, jump, or crawl from the house to the car if that was an issue, to various ways to draw a picture, or complete a project.  I remember in 6th grade, I was in Mr McGuire’s class and we were working our polyhedraville math project.  We needed trees. So I called my mom and asked for trees. Now, I don’t know what you might have thought of, maybe a magazine clipping or maybe you would have had us draw them.  Sue Camphouse brought brocolli.  My mom thought outside the box…it’s part of what made her crazy. She could surprise you with her ideas, or questions, or outlandish requests.  

Honestly, I could share a lot about my mom. She was truly remarkable, but I think the thing that is most inspiring is how she valued people.  Everyone was important and valuable and worthy. There was no one worth giving up on. I remember when I worked with the youth here at the church in the summer of 2000, Kaitlyn Orr was sharing a testimony and she referred to “bad people”.  That was when we had two services, so between services my mom talked to me and then to Kaitlyn to clarify that “there are no bad people, only bad actions.”  She truly saw and believed the best about people. She taught me to “look over the other person’s shoulder” to see where they were coming from.  She taught me to love like Christ in a way no other ever has.  She was a woman of tremendous faith. Please don't think she was just “a good person”. She was who she was because of her faith and I learned faith from her. I learned how to pray. I learned how to pray over the phone. I learned to study the Bible. And I learned how to love people. 

She wanted me to look beyond the present moment or problematic action and see where they were coming from, to understand them and have greater compassion toward them. She loved being with people, caring for them, cooking for them, gifting them things….she was truly a people person.  And she had a remarkable gift of empathy.  She could feel for another person in ways I could only dream of.  The morning after Dwight and Josh Heslep were killed, she went down to Back Street Parlor to answer questions and answer phones so Shelley and DeAnn wouldn’t have to.  She anticipated what would be needed and helpful before most others even considered it.  

Today I am filled with gratitude for who she was as a mother, a friend, and as a person. I am grateful for who she was to each of you and for how your relationship with her has nurtured and enriched my own life and experience.  

*Italics indicate I initial wrote this portion but left it out during the service, either  because of memory, timing, or flow.

**this is the written manuscript, which I followed loosely. I tried to add back in the pieces I added, but it is not a verbatim account of what I said.