Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fire and passion; water and joy... a full day at the retreat

I doubt I will be able to articulate all that is rumbling in my heart, soul, and mind from the day.  However, there are some things I desire to attempt to share.  So, we'll see where this goes.

Buffalo Lake, Buffalo, MN

I went on a quick morning walk today.  The lake waters were calmer today than yesterday and I played a few different instruments along the musical instrument trail than I did yesterday.  What struck me most this morning was this flower.  It wasn't until morning prayer, however, that I put words to why it captured my attention.

 
When I got to the chapel and we started Morning Prayer, I learned the word/theme for the day was "passion" and the question for reflection throughout the day was: "What would it mean to "work the soil" of my passion for ever greater fruitfulness in my life and ministry?"

Hmmm.... great food for thought.

Then, the Act of Praise begins: "Come, O Holy Spirit.  Come as holy fire and burn in us.  Come as holy wind and cleanse us within.  Come holy light and lead us in the darkness. [...]" 

Uh huh.  Yeah. 

Then a Contemporary Reading-- "Fire" by Judy Brown.  This is where the flower I had seen during my morning walk connected with the words I was hearing.  The red doesn't quite show up in the picture above, but "fire" is what resonated within.  Beyond that connection, this reading about fire spoke into the depth of my spirit.  A phrase that I landed on was "practice building open spaces".   But, there was (and is) so much more within here that speaks as I sit with it and allow it to sit with me.  Such as "leaps and plays", "unexpected", "breathe", "energy", "beauty", "find its way".

I invite you to read the poem "Fire" by Judy Brown.  What word or phrase settles in your heart, mind, and soul as you read it?

The teachings from Terry Hershey have continued to impact me and I thoroughly enjoyed my walk/talk with my walking partner after the hour of reflection of "listening to the music" which was a paradigm shift of thinking differently that focusing on the "notes". 

There were many things bubbling up throughout this time.... so much so that after we finished prayers prior to noon lunch and I walked out the chapel doors to see the sprinklers watering the lawn, well..... a thought struck me.  I hesitated for a brief second.  Then, I took out my camera/phone, set down my notebook and glasses.  And I began.  I ran and jumped through the first one, then over the second, third, fourth, fifth, and maybe sixth.  I lost count of the sprinklers flowing into the lawn.  All I knew is that I was running around the lawn as if there were bases, jumping over the water streams, and having a BLAST!  The joy inside me was overflowing and it had to come out!  And it did! 

What explains this action?  I guess you could say I'm living into my year of jubilee coming up here in a couple of months... my year of freedom, so that's my excuse. Or, you could say that I'm living into who I have been created to be all along.  In many ways, it has been who I have been all along.  Yet, there is something more freeing as I learn to live into my true self identity and let go of expectations (from self and others) and accept me for the unique me that I am.  Living life to the fullest, with childlike wonder and abandonment, able to go with the flow, taking time to be still and know, learning to listen, yet knowing when to speak and move and do..... this is the me that is emerging from within the prepared soil.  This is my passion-- to live life such as this and to allow my life to be a light for others as they navigate the journey.

We unpacked the word "integrity" some this afternoon, we had sharing times with partners in the session and with our listening circles.  Then, we closed out the evening with Evening Prayer, going into the Grand Silence.

This retreat has brought me back into a rhythm I came to know and love in the Academy.  It's a little different, but similar in many ways.  Plus, the location has a lake.  But, alas, no alligators. 

Tomorrow is an entire day of silence.  And, I look forward to it with excitement and anticipation.  Why?  Because I sense that the Gardener started preparing my soil for me at SOULfeast and that preparation prepared me for this week.  So, the things that I have sensed this week are things that are sending me forward into new territories, new life.  There has been some resistance and a tad of fear of going deeper, but those have diminished quickly.  I attribute my prepared soil/soul to last week and I'm super grateful and blessed for that...

My soul continues to "sing" of magnifying the Lord.

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to allowing my soul the space and grace to hear and respond to whatever it is that it needs most. 

Part of what I plan to do tomorrow?   Play!  The musical instruments on the river walk.... and play on the playground.  Walk with God. 



Another part?  Respond to an inner calling that has beckoned to me and embedded itself within my soul.  I hope to connect with this calling tomorrow as I seek to pray the music within. (More about this later.)

May you find the right amount of space so that the fire within you may burn.
May passion ignite your soul.
May water refresh your thirsty spirit.
And may joy strengthen you for whatever path you travel.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How is it with your soil?

Often I will ask folks the question, "how is it with your soul?"  That's a normal question when you are asking about the state of being of one's spiritual life and well being. 

As of today, I have a new question:  "how is it with your soil?" 

Yeah, I know.  The play on words is slightly corny.  Okay, more than slightly.  But here's the explanation.

Our theme for the retreat this week is: "Tending the Tension Between Being and Doing".  Terry Hershey from Seattle, Washington is the speaker.

 
What a refreshing, authentic, funny, personable, real, down-to-earth guy.  He is also Episcopalian and a gardener.  You might ask what the last two have to do with anything... and my response is that I grew up Episcopalian and it's part of my heritage.  The gardening part, well, that's where the soil comes in.

Part of our opening worship time tonight was a "Laying of the Altar" where we brought in our various soils from our states.  There are folks here from Texas, Tennessee, Washington, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Arizona, Colorado, and Delaware, and I'm not sure where all else (I'm still learning). 


In Terry's opening session, he talked a little more about dirt (his preferred word for "soil") and mentioned that "compost" is too nice a word for what it is.... now I have a new word to use in place of the other one that comes out..... If you hear me say "compost", well.... never mind.

We reflected on our dirt during worship time and Terry asked us to reflect more on our dirt during his opening time.  I reflected upon what was in my dirt.... what did I bring to the table?  As I reflected on this, what came to mind is the "unknown".  For me, that's neither a negative or a positive at this moment.  It simply is.  For the most part, I have peace with that, though at times, I do get a tad anxious. 

Terry reminded us that we pause because pausing lets us begin, it allows us to connect, and because of the pause, the light within us (that is already shining) is allowed to be seen.  The light cannot be seen if we are too busy to stop, look, and listen. 

So, today's word is "pause".  And this week is a "pause" for me.  As I reflect upon my "soil" that I brought with me and the unknown within, the peace is good.  But then, I realize that growing sense that those native flutes really might not simply be something to listen to, but rather a way to grow in my prayer life personally.  Conversations prior to dinner taught me more about these beautiful instruments and I continue to feel this pull toward the flute.  As I reflect on that, I realize that there is a fear that stops me.  A fear that I might get too close to God in an unfamiliar way and a fear that it might be more powerful and beautiful than I can handle.  Hmm.... interesting. 

At closing prayers tonight, part of the liturgy was "The Woodcarver" translated into English by Thomas Merton.  I had been asked to read a portion.  I read this paragraph:

"Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin."

That section spoke volumes to me.... being in the forest, seeing the trees in their natural state, looking for the right one to appear... but it was the word "begin" that stood out to me from the entire reading.

That is the word I spoke when asked to reflect.  What does this word fully mean?  I don't know.  Let's go back to my unknown in the soil. ☺  Does it mean I'm supposed to begin seeking out God and listening to God through prayer via flute playing?  Though I'm not fully certain, I did get the word I've been searching for to describe how the flute playing touches me.  John Blinn put it into a word for me, "haunting".  That's the word I've been searching for.  The music is hauntingly beautiful.  It strikes a deep chord and allows the spirit to fly freely.  Again, that's from listening.  I don't know yet if I'm to be a flute "prayer".  I am willing to test that though.

There is another "begin" I have in my soul soil.  But I cannot fathom beginning any further type of studies or programs at this time, so I don't know how in the world or when this can actually come to fruition.  But, I know that beginning a spiritual direction course of study or program is part of my future.  Finding the one that fits my life at the right time is the key.  There is one that is a soul care program, but I've not met anyone who has been through it.  It is something to check into. 

In the introduction to "The Woodcarver", Ann mentioned that it was the 'work before the work' that prepared the soul.  Ah.... well that makes total sense to me!  God gave me SOULfeast to prepare me for the work that is being done this week.  GULP!!  There was quite a bit of soil/soul preparation last week, so I continue to wonder what God is up to in me and through me. 

I am grateful for the gift of pause.

I am grateful for the gift of silence.

I am blessed to be able to tend to this crucial aspect of leadership.  Not just one week, but two weeks of tending to the soul of leadership.  My soul.  What a gift.

How is it with my soil?  It is rich and nourished.  It is also being tilled, planted into with seeds of life, and watered.  I am expecting new life to grow from within. ☺

How is it with your soil?

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

P.S.  Another gift is/was tonight's glimpse of the sunset:


 

Follow the trails of the wise ones...

I took some time this morning to write in my journal.  I am writing in Advice from a Mountain these days.  I started this journal in September 2013 after I finished the Advice from a River journal.  As I opened up my journal, this is the page that was the next empty space on which to write:


I found this extremely appropriate as I am here at Christ the King Retreat Center, surrounded by spiritual directors and retreat leaders.  I am blessed to be in the presence of those who have gone before me on so many paths of life.

I sometimes wonder how in the world I ended up here... and I smile as I look back.  (There were conversations with a friend on the West Coast that led to my being on the board and to my being part of the newsletter team.) How I came to FUMSDRL in the first place?  I see myself as a retreat leader because I have been blessed to be a part of retreat teams in the past and have led a half day retreat.  But I'm not very much experienced beyond that.  I have written a retreat for one of my classes that is close to being ready to go... it just needs a team and a little fleshing out.  It's on the topic of prayer and spirituality.  I hope to be a part of more retreat teams in the future and possibly lead more day (or half days) in my area.  As for spiritual direction, I'm what I call a "wanna-be".  I'm not one trained or officially, but I do see myself heading in that direction and have in some ways been doing direction.  But, I have much to learn.  As I have much to learn in many areas of my life.

And, that is where I can learn as I follow the trails of the wise ones... who have also followed the trails of other wise ones.  At dinner last night I heard a great question that caused me to reflect, chew, and journal.

In this morning's board meeting, we started (as we always do) with a time of centering.  We were asked to offer a word that described our spirit this morning.  There were several words that went through my mind, but I landed on "open" and knew it was the right place.  My spirit is open.  As I reflected on that, I could feel a smile broaden on my face.

John Blinn, one of our board members, led us in this time.  After we shared our words, he read in lectio divina style a short passage.  It spoke to me.  The second time he read it, he asked us to reflect upon the challenge in it.  The third time he read it, he asked us to reflect upon the invitation in it.

There were several things that spoke deeply to me in it.  So much so that I took a picture of it. 

 
This may not speak to you as it did me.  However, humor me for a moment, if you will.  Take a few moments and read over the words above in the image, slowly and reflectively.  What speaks to you?  What challenges you?  What invites you?
 
What spoke to me?  What challenged me?  What invited me?  Pretty much all of it.  I am growing into my identity, my true self.
 
I am free to be me... to be real... to be true... to work out my identity in God.  My full identity is hidden in God and God will make me who I am... who I will be.... when at last I fully begin to be.

John played one of his Native American flutes after this, taking us into a time of silence.  He played it at the end of our time of silence as well.


Wow! I thoroughly enjoy the sounds of these flutes!  Karen C. Moore, our FUMSDRL board director, plays them (prays them) as well.  Either John or Karen will play them on our phone board meetings.  I have been hearing these sounds for a couple of years now....  Let me just say for now that this sound speaks to me.  I don't really know what this means.  In fact, I'm not sure I want to explore it.  I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to afford it if it means more than simply enjoying it as a listener.


For now, I sit with the sound of others praying their flutes.  And I listen.  Not only do I listen to the sound of the flute, I listen to and take note of the trails and paths they have traveled to arrive where they are now.

As others arrive today for the start of the retreat, I will be able to listen and observe many more trails this week. 

Oh, what a blessing to be here for this opportunity.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

Monday, July 21, 2014

Christ the King Retreat Center.... my home for the week


I arrived this afternoon to Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo, MN after an odd day of travel for me.  I say "odd" because there were all kinds of mix ups, yet I remained calm through it all and simply went with the flow.  That wouldn't have been me back 5-10 years.  I would have worried more about missing my flight, etc.  I don't know if I would have reacted differently if I had been in charge of a group or had I not traveling by myself.  But, there was peace in and through it all.  I was a little concerned here and there, but nothing like days gone by. 

Here is my travel day: 

When I arrived at Groome Transportation, they didn't have me on the list.  When I gave them my reservation number, they said my reservation had been canceled because I didn't show up on JUNE 21.  I told them that I had gotten a verbal confirmation for JULY 21 and JULY 25 (return) from the person helping me with my reservation.  Unfortunately, the number 6 had been put down instead of 7.  What that meant for me this morning was that I was not on the 8:00 am shuttle to Atlanta, but the 9:00 am shuttle.  I worked on my homework assignment in their lobby and then most of the way to Atlanta. 

Though a little concerned about making my 11:55 am flight, I got into the airport, got my boarding pass (with a little snag because my number on my print out was too long for the kiosk), and headed to security.  I haven't traveled with my laptop in a while, so I learned the get-a-dirty-look-and-almost-get-in-trouble-way that you are supposed to put it in a separate bin.  I took it out of my backpack.  It was an honest mistake. 

I took the wonderful train to Concourse D.  After making a pit stop and thanking an Air Force service woman in uniform quickly and briefly for her service, I was off to my gate.  What do you know?!?! It was all the way down the long hallway.  I got there and they were loading.  A full plane.  But here is where it got better.

I had LOTS of leg room (important for a short 5'4" person) because I was in the emergency aisle.  I wasn't cramped.  We landed 20 minutes early.  That meant I might be able to make the earlier shuttle.  When I got to the shuttle area, I made a call to the shuttle folks and they had room for me.  I then called the travel angel on our retreat end to let him know I would be arriving on the earlier shuttle.  I got to the meeting spot an hour earlier and I got to ride the shuttle with a very special passenger!

 
From the drop-off shuttle location in Monticello to Buffalo, MN is only about 15 minutes or so.  We drove through Buffalo looking at the Buffalo.  Though I didn't get pictures of them today, maybe I'll get out and get some again this year.  Last year I kissed one of them.  (These aren't real buffalo.)
 
We arrived at Christ the King Retreat Center, home sweet home for this week of the FUMSDRL retreat.  It is good to be back here.  As soon as I got here, I could feel some of the stress I had picked up over the past couple of days melting away.
 
With a full week at SOULfeast last week and only being home 2 1/2 days, you might wonder what in the world I could have picked up in that time?!?!  Well, that's another day.  Even just the minor incidences of today's travel day were allowed to slip off me.
 
What struck me most, however, was tonight's worship time after dinner.  Dinner was a good time to start getting to know some of the board members that I've only heard over the phone and a couple of the retreatants that arrived early.  It was also a good time to catch up with folks I met face to face last year.  There are missing faces, however.... those from last year and those who couldn't make it that would have been here for the first time this year.  Varying circumstances.  Those whom I met, I miss.  Those whom I have yet to meet, I miss the opportunity to have met them.  For each person and situation, they are being held up in thoughts and prayers.
 
Worship.... a wonderful and meaningful way to begin our time together.  Flute music, silence, prayer, holy communion, the Upper Room Worship Book, passing of the peace, etc.  It was a special time.  Psalm 42.  Psalm Prayer #270 (based on Psalm 42).
 
 
As you can see, this Psalm Prayer was adapted from Psalm 42 by Judy Holloway, 2006.  It reads:
 
Quench the thirst of my heart, O God.
Sing the song of your love deep within me.
Lead me to the waters of mercy,
for my hope is in you.  Amen.
 
This speaks to a depth I cannot not explain, yet can sense.  Again, one would think that after last week of SOULfeast I would be full to overflowing.  In many ways I am and have been.  Yet, with the theme of soil and tending to the tension of being and doing, I imagine God has plans for me this week. 
 
It's not all going to be about the business of FUMSDRL (Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders).  Yes, I'm here for the board meeting.  I'm here for the fellowship.  Yet, I'm sensing God has me here for something far beyond what I can even comprehend at this very moment. 
 
What I do know is that deep calls to deep and that Psalm Prayer touches a very deep place within me. 
 
As I walked around this evening, marveling at the beauty of the flowers, the sky, the water, and the sunset, what rang in my mind was this:  My soul, my soul magnifies the Lord...
 

 
Though I am thirsty and seek God to quench my thirsty soul, at the same time my soul leaps out to magnify the Lord with all its being.
 
This is how I enter my week here at Christ the King Retreat Center...open, expecting, and ready to be led deep into the waters.
 
Blessings on your journey,
 
Debra


Sunday, July 20, 2014

SOULfeast 2014....

There are so many things I can say about SOULfeast 2014.

First, I will state the condition of my soul going into this week.  Frankly, it/I was depleted.  I had been working overtime to complete one of my classes two weeks early so that I could attend SOULfeast and another week for Hearts on Fire.  Beyond school responsibilities, there were other life things.

This photo was where my heart, mind, and soul were going into SOULfeast:


Though it is two days away and I have a final exam to finish prior, my soul longs for the nourishment it will receive at SOULfeast. Like the leaf that was ready and open to pool the water droplet here, I plan to be a vessel to capture what the Lord offers.
I was ready... in every sense of the word... to go there. 

Through the worship, the speaker (Roberta Bondi), the music, the prayer, the communion, the fellowship, seeing "old" friends (some I had met in years past and some I knew from home, friends from the Academy, etc), spending time walking around the lake, spending time in silence and solitude, meeting new friends, etc., God restored and strengthened my soul.

I felt refreshed, refilled, and refueled by the end of the week. 

It may seem a little crazy that I am doing back to back weeks of retreats/conferences.  When I saw Johnny Sears (Academy for Spiritual Formation) at SOULfeast, he said he didn't expect to see me there because of the Hearts on Fire in Minnesota.  I told him that God must have lots of work to do in me, because God is the one who worked it all out. ☺

I am grateful for the refreshment and filling that SOULfeast offered last week!

If you're interested in learning more about SOULfeast, an offering of the Upper Room, you can check them out on their website.

Next year's dates are:  July 12-16, 2015.  The main speaker is Elaine Heath and Jacob Armstrong will bring the Word/preaching.  The theme is "Renew Your People".  You can pre-register here.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

P.S.  Later (hopefully) I will post more pictures and thoughts from the workshops, etc.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Becoming a contemplative photographer.....

I didn't really see it coming.  It came.  One day I looked up and looked back and realized, that yes, I had been moving into this process for a very long time.  Though not necessarily intentionally as in a goal for arrival, I think it has been a natural outlet for my soul.

Much like the beginnings of my spiritual journey take me back to the days of roaming and wandering the woods for hours and sitting at the mossy creek side up behind my Dad's campground (Trail's Inn), my photography journey started without me realizing it.  It is in looking back that I am able to recognize the beginnings of both these journeys and the path they have taken me.

I have had a camera in my hands since I was a child.  My very first camera was a Kodak Instamatic.

 

My favorite part of that was the light bulbs.  In my high school days, in band we used those types of light bulbs for a special effects on one of our marching shows.  Everyone "popped" the wire at the same time at the end of the show. 

My first 35 mm was a Minolta XG1.

I could go on with the cameras I have had and used throughout the years, but that would make this post much longer.  I have primarily taken pictures of nature, architecture, and things that strike my attention.  But, I do take people pictures at times. 

In the past year or so I have noticed contemplative photography sites on Facebook of other people and started following them (such as Diane Walker's Contemplative Photography website or her Facebook page.  Their photographs and their words have spoken to me.  Additionally, other inspirational sites such as Shalem, Terry Hershey Fan Page, Alive Now, Weavings, etc. often use photography along with sayings to share a message.  I believe all of these have spoken to the deep place in my soul.  My soul not only listened, but started doing what it heard and saw. 

I really never set out to take contemplative photographs, to reflect my soul, or to allow others to reflect in the depths of their souls.  Yet, I know now that I am doing it.  And I'm glad.  Because I enjoy it and it is something that speaks to my soul.  It is one of those things that has grown out of my being.  Doing has come from being.  Being is always the root of doing because the well must have something to supply.  (This is one of those lessons that has been in the making, an ongoing learning journey and it flows from Psalm 46:10--Be still and know that I am God.)

I will note that part of my "a-ha" moment, realizing and recognizing that I have been on this journey came when a dear brother on the journey pointed it out to me.  My reaction was "oh".  Then, "hmmm".  That germinated and took root and helped me see, indeed, it was true.

At SOULfeast last week I attended a workshop "Visual Psalms" taught by Beth Richardson (a wonderful photographer, writer, singer, and all around creative person) and our assignment was to attempt to photograph the Psalms as we walked around the grounds.  I left our classroom, praying as I walked, and started taking some pictures here and there.  Sometimes I had an idea what Psalm or what portion of the Psalm might fit.  At other times, it was simply taking a picture of something that captured my attention.  Later that night I looked over the Psalms to match a Psalm or a portion of the Psalm with a picture that I had taken.  The first picture below fits the first category.  I knew when I looked at the mountains, that I thought "where does my help come from?".  And, I liked the idea of framing the picture with the archway at the chapel breezeway.  For the second picture, I enjoyed the roses.  There are SO MANY beautiful roses there.  These caught my attention because of the difference in stages and as I reflected on the passages and the pictures, it made me think of the different stages of waiting in life, etc.

Psalm 66:1-2-- I lift my eyes to the hills-- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (NRSV)  (faith and trust theme)
Psalm 130:5-6--"I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning." (NRSV) (petition theme)

When I walk and hike, things catch my attention.  There might not always be Scripture that goes along with it.  Sometimes I have found quotes that go along with the picture later, as in this leaf in the water back in the Fall. 


This one is of the creek at the North Chickamauga Gorge and I had read a verse that was on my mind:


 
(I created both of the above with the Textgram App on my phone.)

Sometimes, it is simply a moment with God.  Maybe just meant for me.  Maybe meant to share.  Sometimes I share.   Sometimes I don't. 

One doesn't always know what is for self and what is for others.  However, I do believe that most of what the Creator allows me to learn and experience is "for the sake of others", as Bob Mulholland reminded me of Christ's teachings.  And, I do want to live my life poured out for others.  However, that can only be accomplished if I regularly fill up at the well. 

Daily walks in creation, events such as SOULfeast, silence and solitude, music, ordinary things, etc.  There are many ways to fill up at the well. 

Thanks be to the Creator!

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

P.S.  Here are a few other resources not listed in the post above.

Visual Psalmists posted on Alive Now!

Other sites on Contemplative Photography:

Seeing Fresh:  The Practice of Contemplative Photography
Contemplative Camera

A book:

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice by Christine Valters Paintner

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Preaching at St. Elmo UMC for the first time.... reflections and my sermon

Well, this morning was a wonderful time of worship and fellowship at St. Elmo UMC in St. Elmo.  But, getting there turned out to be a little more difficult than expected. 

 
Somehow I missed any news about there being a bicycle road race on highway 27 with lane closures today.  But, not to worry, I had plenty of time, so I just listened to some praise music, drove slower than the speed limit, and prayed no cyclist would hit an object and swerve my way.  That was working beautifully until we were forced to detour at Signal Mountain Road and get off the road.  No problem.  I saw cars getting on the up ramp, so I turned right off the exit, did a U-turn at an appropriate place and got back on 27.  Back to singing and praying.  Until the Olgiati bridge when we came to a snail's pace crawl.  It was then I noticed the detour signs. 


We were forced off once again at 4th.  No problem.  I went down to Broad St., took a right, and made my way into St. Elmo that way.  I will admit that the added detours did add a tad bit of stress to my morning, but they also added something new and exciting that I wasn't expecting.  And, it all worked out.


When I arrived at St. Elmo, I parked in the parking lot and made my way to the sanctuary where I found my contact Becky.  I also met the pianist.  I learned we had a connection from my days in Dayton, TN.  We shared a wonderful conversation.  Then I spoke with a couple in the back of the church.  It turned out that he was a retired Methodist pastor, living now in Flintstone, GA.    [Gulp!]  Making my way back to the front (after taking a picture from the back of the sanctuary "to check in", I greeted several folks.  Then, on the front row, I recognized the gentleman.  He was as surprised to see me as I was him.  It has been several years since he was in my Spanish classes at UTC.  We talked shop for a few minutes, catching up on where we both are now in our lives.  That was a wonderful surprise.  Then, a friend and fellow Costa Rican missioner who attends there came up to greet me.  Even with one person being gone to Nicaragua for a mission trip, I found that I did know several folks and I met several new friends too. (I met so many new folks today that I am hesitant to name them all due to the likelihood of leaving someone out.  That is why I haven't name anyone other than my contact person.)

Everyone was super welcoming and kind.  I am blessed to say that has been my experience at every church I've been to thus far.  Thank you St. Elmo today for your welcome and hospitality!

I enjoyed the opportunity to worship with you today.   I was blessed by the bulletin cover, the children's message, the pianist's playing during the offertory, the choir, the prayers, and the fellowship.

Here is the sermon I prepared to deliver this morning.  It isn't the exact sermon I delivered (it never really is), but it will give you a fairly close idea of what was shared. 

At least two things are not the same as what I shared in person and what is on "paper".

1. Since I wasn't sure whether or not I was to give the Benediction, I had one prepared.  It turned out I didn't need to offer that.  But I'll leave it with the sermon anyway.

2. What isn't written, but something I shared is a poem that I found in this issue of Alive Now.  The May/June 2014 Alive Now issue was on my bedside table and it caught my attention late in my sermon preparation.  The theme for the issue?  Hospitality.  I found a poem that (to me) fit, so I shared it.  It was "More Than Welcome" by Ann Freeman Price.  It is on page 8 of the issue.

Blessings on your day and on your journey,

Debra


"Finding What Is Lost"

St. Elmo UMC

June 29, 2014


Matthew 10: 37-42

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

LEADER: This is the Word of God for the people of God.

ALL: Thanks be to God.

At first read, this passage might seem slightly confusing.  You may be wondering why would anyone preach on this?  I began to wonder that myself as I struggled through sermon preparation.  This passage is a Lectionary selection for this 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (meaning this is one of the given Scriptures for this week in the collection of Scriptures for those who follow the church calendar readings).

As I spent time with the passage, the verse "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" struck me as a summary statement in that this passage is all about following Jesus.  It teaches us about themes of "hospitality" and "discipleship".

Before we get into these themes, let's first look at the setting and context in which these verses appear so we can more fully grasp what is going on in the bigger picture.

We look to the beginning of chapter 10 to get the context. Jesus is giving authority to and preparing to send his disciples out into the mission field to heal the people and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Our verses today are the end portion of his instructions and exhortations that he began in verse 5.  In verses 11-14 he gave instructions on looking for a place to stay with someone who was willing to welcome them. If they weren't welcomed, he told them to move on.  Whoever welcomed them was welcoming him, and whoever welcomed him welcomed God.  Jesus also teaches them in these preceding verses that they will be hated and persecuted because of his name and that there will be strife among family members.  These aren't exactly the most encouraging words to hear as one is gearing up for a mission trip into the unknown.  But Jesus is laying it out there.  He does tell them to not fear (verses 26-31).

That gives us a little of the background in which our verses are found.  Now let's take another look at our verses for today.

What is Jesus saying here?  Could it be that Jesus is pointing out that we are prone to losing our way in living out the ways he has taught us, in following him? 

Though Jesus expresses himself almost rhetorically, he has made it clear that his teachings are for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.  So, here he is, telling people that they aren't worthy of him if they love father, mother, son, or daughter more than him.  Nor are they worthy if they don't pick up their cross and follow him.  They can only find their life if they lose it for his sake.  Welcoming is important for Jesus and in welcoming others, Jesus is welcomed.  There is a reciprocity of welcome.  Also, there is a reward for welcoming a prophet and a righteous person.  Lastly, giving a cup of cold water to a little one is lifted up as important. 

I thought of your mission team as I read these verses.  They just left the comforts of the United States yesterday and headed to Nicaragua to be with, to serve, to serve with, and to love the Nicaraguan people once again.  As you likely know, the team has gone with a variety of tasks in mind: VBS, visiting the disabled men's home, building homes, setting up medical and dental clinics.  

Being in Nicaragua will be challenging in some areas: the weather, the living conditions, the language.  But they go to share the love and light of Jesus and to welcome the other, sharing the hospitality of a relationship with Christ and themselves.  By putting aside their agendas, their wants, their needs, etc. for this focused time period and purpose, each person on this mission team is finding their life by losing it, by surrendering it.  They have heard the Savior calling and they have responded.

We don't all get to go on a mission trip to show that we can put into practice our discipleship and hospitality. 

Another way I see this particular congregation living out welcome and hospitality is in the acceptance of others.  I have been encouraged by the van and young people's ministries that I've watched over the years.  Thank you for these acts of welcome, hospitality, and following Jesus.

Maybe we aren't represented by any of the particular ministries I've mentioned so far.  We can explore how to follow Jesus through areas of hospitality and discipleship and seek to live them out more intentionally.

If we are honest with ourselves, we each have room to grow in our personal and community lives in the areas of hospitality and discipleship.  There is likely some aspect that we've lost or neglected. 

Because these themes can be looked at individually and/or as a community and because both are needed, let's consider at a few questions:


FOR THE INDIVIDUAL:

 
·         What would it mean to be a more hospitable person?

·         What would it mean to be a more welcoming person?

·         What would it mean to follow Jesus / to be on the path of discipleship as a person?


FOR THE CHURCH COMMUNIITY:

·         What would it mean to be a more hospitable body?

·         What would it mean to be a more welcoming body?

·         What would it mean to follow Jesus / to be on the path of discipleship as a body?

As you reflect on these questions, is it possible that hospitality and discipleship are lost areas for you?  If not "lost", then maybe neglected or ignored?  Let's consider some of the ways Jesus led by example and through teaching.

Jesus spent time at table fellowship with all sorts of people, not just the popular and desirable crowd. Jesus took time to walk and talk with people.  Jesus listened to others.  Jesus offered his time, his energy, his very being. Through his teaching ministry, he taught the disciples how to pray, how to heal, how to teach, and how to serve others, among other things.

In the passage today, Jesus mentions "welcome" and "offering a cup of cold water".  Throughout the gospels, Jesus shows us other examples of hospitality, from table fellowship to opening homes to welcoming the stranger and other in one's midst. 

Though Jesus doesn't offer specific examples of following him in the area of discipleship in today's passage, he exhorts us to lose our life for his sake and love him above all others.  By reading through the Gospels, we can learn what these mean.  Jesus exhorted his followers to follow him and learn by doing.  They learned to feed the hungry, share the good news, heal those who were sick, diseased, and spiritually ruled by demons.  They learned to pray, they learned the importance of getting away from the crowd, they shared their lives with Jesus.

We were reminded in the Opening Hymn, #407, Close To Thee, that our walk with Jesus is a life-long journey and that we choose how we walk it.  The first line of the refrain: "Close to thee, close to thee, all along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee."

Our closing hymn today, #338, Where He Leads Me, will remind us that we are to follow Christ wherever the Savior leads us. 

How is Christ leading you to walk with him?  Are you being led to be more welcoming and hospitable in one form or another?  Or are you being led to grow in some area of discipleship as you follow Jesus?

If you're not sure, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how Jesus wants to work this message in your life and through you, into your community.  As you listen, you will hear the Savior calling.


BENEDICTION:

Go forth now as God's servant, ready to welcome all and follow the path of Christ.  Draw strength as you remember that the One who calls will also sustain.  May the Holy Spirit be with you all the way.