Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Choosing Wisely (Lent 2017)

It's that time of year again! (Whoo-hoo!)

It is time to choose a Lenten discipline. (Oh.)

May I suggest that you don't wait until Ash Wednesday (March 1) and decide in a hurry? Or decide now and binge on an activity to go cold turkey in a week.

Lent, the forty days of fasting, prayer, and penitence before Easter (not counting Sundays), is a season of slowing down, thinking deeply, praying, and spiritual pruning and growth. We are in the imitation of Christ's time in the wilderness, praying, fasting, and resisting temptation between his baptism and the noted beginning of his public ministry in some of the gospel accounts.

When pondering Lenten disciplines, here are some good questions to ask yourself.

1) What does God think about me? How do I know that?

2) What gets in the way of me understanding or perceiving God's love in my life?

3) What gets in the way of me understanding or perceiving God's love in the world?

4) What is a habit that disturbs me spiritually- in that it causes me to feel separated from God's presence?

5) What do I do regularly that breaks the positive fulfillment of one or more of the 10 commandments?

6) What have I done in the past year that still bothers me, even though I have tried to let go of it?

7) What is a spiritual discipline that I want to do, but I cannot seem to make time for or do in a way that gives some consolation or peace?

8) Where is a dead spot in my life that needs prayer and work in anticipation of resurrection?

This season is more than giving up chocolate or caffeine or even trying to pray every day. It is about literally taking time to examine your life and to weigh how  you treat yourself, those around you, and the world in comparison to how God desires you and them to be treated. Where do you see the need for tikkun olam- the repair of the world?

Take some time in the next week. I realize that time is a commodity and no one has as much as they want or need. Nevertheless, put your phone down when you're in the bathroom. Get a grease pencil or a dry erase marker for the shower or bathroom mirror. Put a post-it note on your steering wheel. Change your screen saver or homepage. Make new place mats with your kids- construction paper covered with contact paper. Put a sheet of butcher paper on the fridge. Set a daily alarm or timer.

There is time to think about this and to prayerfully open yourself to new thoughts and habits that God may be trying to introduce in your life in the season ahead. I am praying for you in your time of discovery- prayers for peace, renewal, strength, openness, courage, and trust.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Eat My Words (Respect #2)

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! ...  With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?  - James 3:5, 9-11

It burned... the thing I wanted to say. I could feel the words in my mouth and in my throat. They were explosive. I wanted to say them sharply so they would hurt, wound. I felt hurt and wounded and I wanted to do it back. 
I screwed up my lips, grimacing. 
How could I not say these words? It was actually fairly important in this small, intimate meeting to control what I was saying, to be attentive to my emotions, and to let kindness and honesty reign over my impulsive reptilian brain. 
In a move that I have never done before, I scribbled the words I wanted to say on the corner of the piece of paper. Then I tore off that corner, crumpled it, and put it in my mouth. The other two people in the meeting stared. 
One asked, "How did that taste?"
"Like eating my feelings," I mumbled around the dry paper that I was trying to coat with spit. 
"Why did you do that?" asked the other. 
"Because I needed to get it out," I said. "I wanted it out, but I didn't want it to hurt anyone else. So I got it out and then I put it back in and now it can come out another way." 
I was still rolling the small ball in my mouth, moistening it. Finally, I swallowed it. 
About four minutes later, I realized that I couldn't remember what I had written down unless I forced myself to think of it. 
The thing that I had burned to say, that I was itching to say, that I desperately wanted to use to carve a groove, a scar in the other person... was forgotten when I literally swallowed it. If I force myself to remember the words, I remember why I was hurt and why I wanted to say them. But they weren't as important as trying to keep working with the people in that room. The brief thrill of oneupmanship  that would have been achieved would have created so much more pain in the long run. 
It was a dramatic move, but it actually taught me something that I didn't expect to learn. 
Sometimes we live to eat our words, regretting our haste. 
If we can learn to eat them first (before we say them), we can live.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Jesus Ethics (Sermon)

Matthew 5:21-37

The Sermon on the Mount continued-

- We are now into the ethical dimension of what it means to be salt of the earth and a light to the world
- What does the meekness that inherits the earth look like? What shape does hungering and thirsting for righteousness take in one’s own life?
- When Matthew is writing, after the fall of the temple, after Paul’s letters, after there is now a full generation of believers after Christ… what are the ethics of discipleship?
- In particular, Matthew wants to be sure that his readers (then and now) understand that following Christ has a rootedness in the law of Moses.
- The context of that root is not supersession (as in Jesus fulfills and, thereby, transforms the law), but cuts it open so that the heart of the law and God’s desire for its use is exposed.

What would Jesus do? Matthew will go on to illustrate that, but he’s foreshadowing the kind of behavior that Jesus embody, which will seem transgressive and problematic to those who want the law to be followed strictly without regard to the need for wholeness in community.

Matthew’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, therefore, is to give an ethical framework that neither allows for unrestricted freedom in action (antinomianism) or idolizing of the law (legalism).

We want the law to be strict because it is easier to follow rules than to be loving.

It is easier to live for one’s self than for the community.

It is easier to perceive one’s own righteousness when contrasted with others than to pause to tenderly consider the pain we have compelled them to hide.

There is no “I” in common good- all actions are aimed toward the community, not the self (even self-care).
- Violent thoughts beget violent actions.
- Unforgiveness toward others leads toward doubting God’s forgiveness towards one’s self
- The use of others as means to sexual satisfaction (visually, physically, or commercially) leads to a breakdown of the value of sex as a gift from God and the body as a vessel of grace and sacramental action
            - Adultery – mostly married women/unmarried men… violation of property
            - Porneia- illicit sex?
- The common good requires honesty- about the difficulties of marriage, about mental health, about sexual ethics, about abuse of all kinds. Those who are embodying the Jesus ethics must lead the way in these conversations.

The small is as important as the big and the big is as important as the small.
- The truest ethic is a consistent ethic. A consistent ethic does not always mean consistent action. Some children need more structure than others. Sometimes a train of thought must be followed through multiple stops before a conclusion rooted in community good and God’s love can be determined.
- There will always be extreme examples- decisions made in poverty, war, grief, and in the midst of violence or threats of violence that will need to be treated tenderly and with grace and assurance of forgiveness.
- What is done at home must match what is done in public. What is done in the parking lot must match what is done at the communion rail. The Jesus ethic is a consistent ethic…

“God is love” (1 John 4:8) is orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
-The compass of the Jesus ethic is located within the incarnation… the actual body of Jesus… the physical human nature of Christ… It is the extreme nature of God’s love made flesh and dwelling among us in commonplace elemental reality that makes the Jesus ethic applicable all day, every day.
- orthodoxy- right belief
- orthopraxy- right faith
- These two cannot function apart from one another and are the original chicken and egg…
- This is the grounding of discipleship- our following in the Way of Christ- and therefore the true north of a Jesus ethic.
As I read this week about ethics and the Sermon on the Mount and marriage and divorce and oath taking in the first century, I thought of all the ethical dilemmas that are proposed in these sorts of situations. I thought of how likely we are to take this text, remove it from its context, and shame others or ourselves with it.

We must wrestle with making our every thought align with the truth of Jesus—the executed, resurrected Christ who sustains all life and who reconciles all things. ~Drew Hart (The Trouble I’ve Seen)

The truth is that most of us want short, pithy clarity that doesn’t require moral pondering, deep prayer, or hard conversations. All that does, though, is make a new law. It takes time and practice to shape a life according to following Christ. Time is the thing that we are consistently presented as not having enough of, running out of, killing.

For most of us, a life lived in the imitation of Christ, in embracing a Jesus ethic- for most of us, that life is not going to take a quietist, plain sort of shape. The choice is not – be cloistered or be a flagrant sinner. The choice is actually much tougher, it is either to put ourselves, our knowledge, our desires and will above God’s or to embrace what God has done for us and to respond with a Jesus ethic.

There is no “I” in common good- all actions are aimed toward the community, not the self (even self-care)
The small is as important as the big and the big is as important as the small
“God is love” (1 John 4:8) is orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

At work, at the drive thru, in competition, at the doctor’s, when voting, on social media, when playing sports, on-line shopping, in speaking to your family, in speaking to strangers, in writing letters to the editor, in protest, in support, in worship, and at rest…

The grace we have received compels us to be open to the way a Jesus ethic shapes our lives. One decision leads to another to another to another as we are saltier and lighter and more woke and more open and then we find ourselves blessed and among the ones who are receiving mercy, inheriting the earth, and being filled.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Praying with Beads: Political Edition


Some people need tangible items to help them focusing while they pray. This is NOT a flaw in one's prayer skill. Coloring, writing, yarn or needlework, wood work, gardening, fishing, or other tasks may also help to clear the mind of distractions and allow one to focus on communication (sending AND receiving) with the Divine.

If you are able, I would suggest a set of beads. Most Roman Catholic rosaries are set up in decades (sets of 10 beads). Most Anglican rosaries are set up in weeks (sets of seven beads). You can have a set of beads in one of the combinations or in another combination. Whatever you have is sufficient.

I am not calling this series "Praying the Rosary" because for many, many people that term refers to a very specific type of religious prayer. I do not want to invite confusion or create division. The hope of this series of posts to create some wording for people who are looking for specific prayers to say and to give a jumping off platform within prayer for those who are seeking that. I am providing wording, but not instruction. One cannot pray incorrectly, because the Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting.

There are 10 petitions here: You may skip some or add your own if your set of beads is not in multiples of 10.

First Bead: Holy God, you are the Ruler of the Universe. You grieved the call of your people for a king in history and you see where today people still seek structure that you would not own. Help me and all people to be humbled by perceiving your will and your way, in our daily lives for the good of creation and our neighbors.

Second Bead: Holy God, I give you thanks for the people who set a good example in faith and life. Even as I acknowledge their sacrifices and courage, I know that they are not perfect and that there are others who see them differently than I do. I thank you for [insert names here of leaders- secular and religious for whom you are thankful].

Third Bead: Holy God, there is nothing hid from you. I am frustrated by [insert names of leaders- secular and religious with whom you disagree or are aggrieved]. I struggle to see her/him/them as your child/children. I do not understand why they do what they do. I cannot attribute the best motivations to them. I commend your children to you.

Fourth Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession on behalf of my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country, and the world. The immensity of pain, struggle, injustice, inequity, poor stewardship, waste, and prejudice is too much for a world that actually depends on the balance that is within you. With the Holy Spirit, I pray against all things that oppose your will for healing, wholeness, and resurrection.

Fifth Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession for those who have made and are in the midst of choices that oppose your will. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. The extent of our actions are beyond our human minds to consider and they do not turn to you or wait with patience so that understanding and wisdom may settle in their hearts and minds.

Sixth Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession for your church and your faithful people. Strengthen us for humility and courage in our walk of the Way of Christ. Give us the words to speak truth to power. Give us the patience to tear down walls. Give us the joy to offer welcome to all people.

Seventh Bead: Holy God, I pray that you will accept my intercession for my pastor/priest, my bishop/judicatory leader, other leaders of the church, my mayor, my City Assembly/Council/Town leaders, my governor, my state representatives and senators, my national representatives and senators, and the president of my country. (Use names where you can) I ask for your mercy, grace, and guidance to be with them in their work and in their homes.

Eighth Bead: I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe) I believe, Lord, forgive my unbelief. (breathe)

Ninth Bead: [Insert names of saints- recognized by the church or history], in your rest in God's lights, pray for us who continue to work in the world. Whisper, shout, and call to us from the great cloud of witnesses that we might perceive in our bones that we are accompanied in this fight. [This event] in your life/lives is something that I hold as an example of faithful action, following in the steps of Jesus, the pioneer of our faith. Pray for me. Pray for us. Do not stop.

Tenth Bead: Holy God, you know all for which I pray. What is said aloud. What is silent. What I think is hidden, but is still known to you. What I have forgotten, but will always be known to you. I trust in your faithfulness. I trust in your faithfulness. Great is your faithfulness. Hear my prayers. Amen.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Great Thanksgiving for Black History Month (Liturgy)

God of hope and grief,
God of power and strength,
God of the widow and the orphan,
God of the imprisoned and impoverished,
God of the poor in spirit, the merciful, the mourning…

God who sees the proud and arrogant,
God who does not forget those who turn away from the one in need,
God who waits to be greeted in prison, in hunger, in hospital, on the corner,
God who grieves the word spoken in hate and the action that excludes…

You are the one true God and it is our gift and right and duty to call upon you here.
We praise you for your faithfulness in history.
We praise you for your prophets who have shouted the truth.
We praise you for your saving action in leaders, in the church, in the community
And for what You have done sometimes in spite of them.

With all faithful people of Christ, with all your children across the world, with all the saints we name now [insert names appropriate to your congregation regarding Black History Month and local observances], with the whole creation, we praise your name and join the unending hymn.

[Insert whatever form of Holy, Holy, Holy you may choose]

God, with our sighs to deep for words, we come to this table
And we remember when it has been closed.
We remember when the invitation was not open.
We remember when the feast was in part, but not the whole.
With gratitude and thanksgiving, we celebrate in our spirits and our bodies that the barriers people erect cannot withstand the Holy Spirit.
With gratitude and thanksgiving, we celebrate in our spirits and our bodies that the prejudices that people hold will not withstand the Holy Spirit.
With gratitude and thanksgiving, we celebrate in our spirits and our bodies that the ignorance people profess will not withstand the Holy Spirit.

We gather here today and we remember Jesus gathered with those whom he loved.
They celebrated the first Passover, that event that marked the move of the people from slavery into freedom.
As they ate and drank their celebration, their actions anticipated the second Passover- from death into life, from fear into joy, from resignation into resurrection.

Jesus took the bread, a food that they as Jews had in common with all people,
gave thanks to you, O God, broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said:
"Take, eat; this is my body - given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."

After supper, he took the cup- filled with wine-
A drink they had in common with all people.
He gave thanks to you, O God, gave it to his disciples, and said:
"Drink from this, all of you; this is a new covenant in my blood,
 shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in remembrance of me."

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
You have brought us thus far and we trust that you will not leave us.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts
That they may strengthen us in the faith, in the fight, and in our freedom in Christ.

Draw us together and bring us ever more fully into being the people you have created us to be.

Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,

all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and for ever.

This is free and open for use in any congregation with attribution to Pastor Julia Seymour, Lutheran Church of Hope, Anchorage, AK. 

Copy and paste to other electronic formats is only permitted WITH inclusion of the blog link. 

Please comment if you use this in your congregation so I can pray for you and your church. 

Because God Loves You (I Can't Lie to You)


I have been praying deeply about us for the past few days. We are in a tight spot in our relationship. I
Pastor Julia in her 2016 Xmas Sermon costume (a star)
see you shift a little when it seems like the sermon is "political" or when you are uncomfortable with how a Bible story is interpreted in a way that pinches you. I hate it when you are uncomfortable. While I am familiar with the phrase, "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", frankly, I try not to be in the business of afflicting.

Nevertheless, I have come to an impasse. Here's the thing. I love you, my parishioner, my friend, my sibling in Christ. I love you, my neighbor, my fellow citizen, my co-creator in the Spirit. I love you, fellow created being, depender on grace, seeker of mercy. More importantly, God loves you. It is my deep, convicting, passionate, overwhelming, brooding awareness of
God's love for you that will not let me lie to you about Jesus.

Jesus expects unparalleled generosity in giving of time, money, talents, and material possessions. (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4)

Jesus expects reverence for God's will and commands in the temple/church and in the community. (Matthew 21:11f, John 2:15)

Jesus does not accept half-hearted attempts to secure the blessings of the kingdom for others.
(Luke 6:17-26)

Jesus has high standards and the desire and ability to help us reach them.
(Matthew 19:16f)

Jesus favors the little, the lost, the least, and the dead.
(Matthew 25, Luke 7, Mark 5, John 11)

Jesus does not buy your excuses or your false logic.
(Mark 14:5, Matthew 26:9, John 12:5)

Jesus acknowledges that you are making bad choices and pleads for God to forgive you.
(Luke 23:24)

You can fiddle and fidget around in Paul or Leviticus. I see you pulling verses from Hebrews and Micah, like you've got the story down and only need to straighten your edges. The truth is- Jesus is the in flesh revelation of God's eternal desires, eternal Love, eternal Word, eternal Irresistible Grace. That revelation is God's love for you, for the whole creation. That revelation is explicitly political because allowing one's self to yield to the Embrace that Will Not Let You Go is life-changing. Having one's life changed impacts priorities, actions, moods, understanding, vision, mission, and community.

I cannot pretend these things are small or unimportant. God's love for you is too big to let me do that. I lie awake, staring at the ceiling, replaying moments that I could have or should have spoken up, but didn't because I want you to like me, to approve of me, to keep paying me. The truth is- those cannot be my real priorities.

The height and depth and breadth of my baptismal vocation (and yours) is to speak the truth of God's love- its expanse, its demands, its irresistibility. Yes, sometimes it will seem political, but that's because anything that's life-changing is. A fundamental misunderstanding of the word "political" and the reality of our call to respond to God's love is what causes the tension, not that the two things are diametrically opposed.

I love you. I love you. I love you.



And I cannot lie about that.