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Posts Tagged ‘United Methodist Church’


Message given at Sixty-First Avenue UMC, Nashville, Tennessee

When my daughter started 1st grade, the school allowed parents to walk the child to their classroom on the first day. When I got there, Marissa wouldn’t turn loose of my hand! Each time I tried to leave, she started to cry out, so I just stayed there. While the teacher took roll, while she began lessons, up until recess. We walked outside and I was trying to tell her that she would be ok without me. A little girl who had just moved to Mississippi from Mexico came up and without saying a word, pried Marissa’s fingers off my hand and taking Marissa’s hand, led her to the playground.

Have you ever suffered a problem that nobody seemed to understand? You may feel lonely and alone and frightened, even isolated. And then one person comes along who has experienced something similar themselves and suddenly you don’t feel alone anymore. Cinthia, the little girl from Mexico, knew what it was like to be scared in a new place and she understood what Marissa was feeling. She was in a position to help her like none of the other kids or even me, her mother, could.

A shared experience among people who are suffering is powerful. That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other similar groups often see powerful results…people who understand can help each other get to the next place in life.

Tonight we recognize World AIDS Day as we celebrate the first week of Advent. Tonight, we recognize that there are human beings among us, who understand our sufferings – and that Christ Jesus, who came and lived as God with us – Emmanuel – not only understands, but has broken through to the other side – so that one day all these present sufferings can be transformed to beauty. When we walk alongside Christ and those who seek to live in His light, everything changes.

According to the aids.gov website, “1 million are living with HIV in the U.S., 1 in 5 are living with HIV without knowing it, and 1 in 4 new HIV infections is among youth ages 13-24. Globally, 33.4 million are living with HIV/AIDS. While cases have been reported in all regions of the world, almost all those living with HIV (97%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.”

AIDS is a preventable, treatable disease, but a lack of awareness, knowledge and good practice has been at the root of its spread. I’d like to share a video now about the impact of AIDS on children in Africa, and how their newfound community has impacted their lives.

Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjgF0u7Y3fU

Purity – the young girl in the video – found someone to help her – to walk alongside her – who understood her plight, and it impacted not only her life – but that of her whole community. Having someone who understands walk alongside you can make all the difference in the world. It can impact the path you take, the things you do along that path, and it can even build your character – the essence of who you are meant to be.

Tonight’s Scripture gives us a vision of what can happen when we walk alongside God:

Isaiah 2 1-5 The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:

 There’s a day coming

when the mountain of God’s House

Will be The Mountain—

solid, towering over all mountains.

All nations will river toward it,

people from all over set out for it.

They’ll say, “Come,

let’s climb God’s Mountain,

go to the House of the God of Jacob.

He’ll show us the way he works

so we can live the way we’re made.”

Zion’s the source of the revelation.

God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.

He’ll settle things fairly between nations.

He’ll make things right between many peoples.

They’ll turn their swords into shovels,

their spears into hoes.

No more will nation fight nation;

they won’t play war anymore.

Come, family of Jacob,

let’s live in the light of God.

This vision of how life will be impacts the individual and the community. For the individual, the vision is God: “show[ing] us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.”

We’re made in the image of God. We’re made to be loving, grace-filled, gift-bearing, obstacle-overcoming, community-driven, creation-building creatures! Each and every one of us! When we walk alongside God, we can live that way – the way we’re made.

Have you ever had a problem with a piece of equipment that had to be reset back to manufacturer’s settings? Maybe it got bogged down with too many programs and didn’t have enough memory to operate! Sometimes we’re like that! We have to be reset to manufacturer’s settings so we can operate the way we were made to…in the image of God.

This Scripture also speaks to how we will live in community when we walk together alongside God: They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.

Can you imagine no more war? Can you imagine the millions and trillions of dollars spent the world over making machines of war, instead making machines that create life? Food, shelter, education, health, meaningful work?

The Christian faith is based on God who created the universe, loved humanity so much, that when sin separated God from human, God sent Christ to become human – showing us the way that we should live – and overcoming death so that nothing could separate us from God again. Christians are people of hope, because if death can be conquered, isn’t all else possible?

Advent is that time of year that we think about God becoming human. God leaving the perfection of heaven to enter the realm that we live in – to experience the things we experience.

The lady I stayed with in the Philippines is from Seattle, Washington and she told me about a time when ladies from Africa came to stay with her. She said that their reaction to her home was interesting. The lady said, “Kristin – your home is so beautiful. You have a beautiful house, food, a lovely family. If I lived  here, I would never leave. Why would you come to Africa?”

We can ask God the same question – why would you have left Heaven to come here? Why would you want to experience the pain and suffering of others? Why would you put yourself in that position?

The answer is the same. Love. Love can take you to difficult places. And God loves you so much that God bears that pain. God’s love is beyond any love we can conceive. We see glimpses of it through stories from ZOE Ministry – where families are based on blood relatives, but on the blood of Christ that creates new family that walks alongside through pain and joy. We see glimpses of this love through people like Kristin who leaves the comfort of her home to go to uncomfortable places and be in ministry with strangers. We see glimpses of this love here at 61st Avenue – where people are planning and preparing to bring Christmas joy to children we may not meet till we all get to Heaven. But all the love we experience here, is just a fraction of the love that God has for us – it’s not dependent on us looking a certain way, speaking a certain language, living in a certain neighborhood or country, or being free of infectious diseases. God’s love blankets the world and includes you – no matter how unlovable you may feel at times. It’s a free gift…all we have to do is open our hearts and our hands.

Tonight we begin the walk towards the manger. It’s a walk that we don’t need to take alone. Remember – who we walk with can impact the direction we go, the things we do, and the character we become. During this period before December 25, commit to walking with the church. Praying and reading Scripture daily. Practicing the actions of the person you want to become. God will be with you in your practice, God will walk alongside.

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I’m back home after another trip out of the country. Once again, I am more grateful for the things I have and recognize the things that I do not need.  The feeling that I have overall?  I’m simply inspired.

It’s inspiring to be with people who think beyond themselves and their own profit or well-being. This past week, I was with a lot of people who live that way…people who work day to day in jobs that pay their bills, and who use their vacation time to do something for others. God is doing amazing things through these volunteers in mission in Haiti.

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Warren McGuffin speaking to another UMVIM team at LeVeque (pictured with Rev. Larry Hollon)

There’s Warren McGuffin from the San Francisco area who heads up a team that includes brilliant, successful people wanting to use their lives for the good of the world. Warren went to Haiti on a mission trip years ago and saw kids staving off hunger by eating cakes made of mud. The trip changed the course of his life. Instead of funding meals for the kids though, he and his team came up with a program that feeds the body, spirit and mind. Working with Methodist Schools in Haiti, they are raising funds to provide solar powered computer labs used to educate students and their parents;  rain-catch systems with water purifiers to provide clean (and free) drinking water for the whole community; local farming assistance aided by the profits that will come from services at the computer labs; and hot meals for the children who will be physically better able to learn as they get the nutrition they need.  I got to spend the whole week with him and his in-country manager James Lazarre. You know how we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? They are giving their lives so that God can work through them to make that as much of a reality as possible.

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Valerie Mossman-Celestin talks with Bruce Baikie of Inveneo about adding information and communications technology at the new Merlet Center.

Then there’s Valerie Mossman-Celestin who is from Michigan, and serves as U.S. Executive Director, Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI). God has given Valerie a passion for empowering women and fostering entrepreneurship in the rural community of Mizak. Healthcare, economic empowerment of women and families, education, micro-credit all play vital roles in this work on a mountain that is difficult to reach, yet filled with beauty in the landscape and the people. United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has provided funding for a new, solar-powered, multi-purpose building. The plan is to install communications technology there so the community can learn new skills and market their entrepreneurial efforts.  Valerie gives her life to encourage and promote the gifts from God in those around her.  Many talk about sustainability in mission, but God has created through love itself sustainability – so that as it is given away, it is passed on and grows.  As Valerie lives a life of love for God and neighbor, she fosters sustainability of the very thing that helps humanity tackle yet another day.

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Rev. Cayce Stapp of Church of the Resurrection speaking in Haitian Creole to the newly formed federation for community development in Leogane.

This trip began because of an invitation from Rev. Cayce Stapp, Pastor, Missions beyond Kansas City at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. Cayce has a vision for empowering people and moving church missions away from charitable giving that so often cripple economies and stifle the human spirit. His leadership fosters this desire in others, and through him, I was able to sit in on a federation meeting that seeks to promote community development of indigenous people.  Leaders representing Protestant, Catholic, Haitian Vodou, agricultural and government sectors came together discussing the needs that are apparent within their constituencies. The commonalities were apparent: all leaders spoke of the need for healthcare, education and food stability. Their work together will unfold over the coming years during which time this organized 501c3-type body will decide local priorities and how to partner with others to reach goals. In the meantime, Church of the Resurrection expands upon the work they began years ago – with communications technology at the Petit Goave guest house, which was a communications hub of the church in the earthquake’s aftermath, and at Harry Brakeman School where a site assessment is determining how to best place ICT for education and community empowerment. Cayce wears his heart for serving God on his sleeve – observing and readily acknowledging God in others. He helps all who know him want to live better lives.

Now, if I were to mention all of those who inspired me this week, this blog would go on for days. I will write separate articles on other topics and include other people…just wait.

So here I am, back in a home with hot water, air & heat, plumbing (and plenty of toilet paper!), food, employment, personal transportation, health, a family who has no history of devastation from dictatorships or natural disasters.  I have a faith in God through Christ that helps me see the world beyond an individualistic lens – that reminds me the things I possess are not simply here for my good pleasure but for the good of the world. Perhaps as the others in the blog go about living their passions, I do as well, knowing that my passions have been ignited from theirs and others along my path.

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One whose face I never want to forget.

 

When all is said and done, I want to know what matters and what does not. I want to live a life that really does make God smile. I want to keep laughing about personal faux pas that others may be embarrassed by. I want to stand strong for those who are weakened under unjust rule and political systems. And I never want to forget the world and those I have seen beyond my own home, so I can rejoice when we all meet again one day.

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Tonight I want you to think of roadblocks. Things that get in the way – that stop you from going where you want to go, doing what you want to do , being who you want to be. Sometimes these roadblocks are physical things – perhaps disabilities, financial limits, you name it. Other times roadblocks are inside of us. Negative thinking, addictions, generational expectations – you know – limiting your own thinking because that’s the way your family’s always done it.

Roadblocks. Obstacles. Things that get in the way of us being who God calls us to be as people living an abundant, thriving life. That’s the focus tonight. But as we think about what limits us, we will also see how there is nothing that is insurmountable with the help and guidance of God. Let us pray.

Tonight’s scripture reading is from Mark 2:1-5, 12. You’ve heard the story before – about a paraplegic whose friends lowered him through a roof so he could be healed by Jesus. Remember the story? Before I read, I’d like you to think of this person – someone who didn’t have a motorized scooter to get around, wheelchair ramps, elevators, etc. This person, living in ancient times, would have lived a life on the ground most likely crawling to get anywhere on unpaved, rocky roads. This person would have relied on friends to carry him when necessary. Dignity would have been something long lost, but community would have been key to his daily survival.

Now think of his friends. These would be people whose efforts would have been tapped on a daily basis. People whose muscles were built up by carrying their friend, and whose food supply would have been diminished – not increased by their friend’s ongoing needs. Friends who had seen their friend suffer, and who wanted to help him in any way they could.

Now listen to the Scriptures:

1-5 After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.”

(he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

Roadblocks. In this scripture, we can think of a few. The large crowd of people surrounding Jesus who made it difficult to get their friend through. Have you ever been to a concert or large public gathering? If you’re like me, you’re quick to just stand towards the back, rather than push my way forward. But these four men, carrying their friend on a stretcher didn’t give up. When they couldn’t see Jesus easily, they persevered, climbing to a higher spot, and getting to him any way they could. They persevered for their friend – maybe even he was uncomfortable and wanting to give up. Can you imagine hearing them concoct their plan to get on top of the house? What would you say if you were on that stretcher and someone wanted to climb on a roof with you? But something within them pushed them to give it their all – to be daring – and bold – to believe that healing would come, if they only made it through the roadblocks to the other side.

When you are down and out, what gives you strength? When you feel in your gut that you can’t go on, what pushes you to persevere? When roadblocks get in your way – internal and external – where do you turn? How do you get to a higher place to see Jesus?

Romans 8:26-28 tells us:

 26-28Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Isn’t that something? That the God of the universe would care so much about you and me, that he would yearn for us? When we can’t pray for ourselves, God is yearning for us – rooting for us –wanting the best for us. This is called prevenient grace – the grace that goes before us before we even know it.

Now God is not just yearning for us to acquire personal satisfaction – God is yearning for the world of which we are a part. God wants the whole world to experience abundant life. You and I are a part of that full creation. When you and I are made whole, the world around us is made better. In our thriving, the world around us becomes more alive. It’s not just individuals – it’s the whole world that is waiting salvation – wholeness – completeness – freedom from sin – freedom from roadblocks.

Romans 8:22 says:  “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

We are made for connection – that when you have what you need, I am better off as well. I’ve been reading a document this week that taps into this very subject – through an African concept called Ubuntu.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, who helped South Africans move peaceably away from segregation said,

“Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God’s dream.”

We have personal responsibility in overcoming these roadblocks – in living into God’s dream – not just our own. We rejoice that the Holy Spirit prays for us – yearns for us – but that does not relieve us from our own responsibility. God’s grace empowers us to make different choices – to knock down roadblocks – for ourselves and for others – just like the friends in tonight’s scripture did.

Too often, we fight roadblocks with the wrong tools – tools that only create more roadblocks. We can look around us and see all kinds of examples.  We see political leaders around the world using language of hate and violence, when God’s world deserves unity and peace. We see celebrities gaining in celebrity status by drinking and engaging prostitutes, rather than using their God given gifts to inspire. And right around us, we see those we love go back to the very things that destroy them, rather than striving to live the life that God intended – a life not of chaos but of order – a life not of brokenness but of wholeness.

A friend of mine had knee replacement surgery this last week, and is spending time in a nursing home – going through physical rehabilitation. That is painful! The exercises that she has to do each day don’t feel good, yet if she doesn’t do them she will not be able to walk.

Isn’t it like that in our lives? We want to take the easy way out when we really need to put in the time, the effort, the exercise to get where we need to be – past those roadblocks. A disciple of Christ is always in rehab – sin is always ready to hold us back but our exercises keep us standing. We have to strive to thrive.

We have to exercise our spirits through prayer, scripture reading, worship, Holy Communion, doing things for others. We have to do the things that will make us stand up, take up our stretchers and walk.  God’s grace goes before us, the Holy Spirit walks alongside us, and the church – the great connection –  pushes us towards something far greater than ourselves – the kingdom of God.

Thurgood Marshall said,

“None of us has gotten where we are…by pulling ourselves up from our own bootstraps. We got here because somebody bent down and helped us.”

We do not walk alone. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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Many local churches feel squeamish about leading mission efforts – thinking they will be drawing upon the same overtaxed leaders one too many times and may fall short of their goals. But then there’s Sixty-First Avenue United Methodist Church. This congregation of about 100 members (most of whom live in poverty) know obstacles – but they have one strength that many small-sized, non-denominational churches don’t have: connection. It’s the connectionalism of The United Methodist Church that makes them strong – and that connectionalism has now made a big difference in the lives of soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.

Connecting with Rev. Jodi McCullah of Austin Peay State University’s Wesley Foundation and SAFE (Soldiers and Families Embraced) Network, we learned of a need to encourage troops deployed to Afghanistan by sending care packages. Lay Leader and UMW co-chair Brenda Hix began notifying the United Methodist churches who have ongoing relationships with Sixty-First Avenue so they could contribute to the collection of socks, crossword puzzles, candy and more. Jackie Shields of Brentwood UMC said, “My interest in facilitating donations of items for the deployment kits was a response that embraces John 13:35, plus a long time personal association and respect for the military members, their service and their needs. I also wanted to connect members of my Sunday School class to America’s Sunday Supper, our conference and national ministries. This is a way to demonstrate first hand we are The UNITED Methodist Church and what that looks like real time.”

Lucille Jackson adds handwritten notes to care kits.

Lucille Jackson adds handwritten notes to care kits.

Roger Parker, retired elder from Franklin First UMC, regularly organizes a “Lunch and Learn” for senior citizens in the Sixty-First Avenue community. So at the “Lunch and Learn” on Monday, January 21, we concluded the session with packaging items for the deployment care kits. Lucille Jackson was one of the senior citizens who participated in the activities. “We’re feeling the happiness now that the soldiers will feel when they open this package!”

Delivering the kits to the SAFE Network.

Delivering the kits to the SAFE Network.

A total of 49 care kits were assembled that day and driven to Clarksville (along with an additional 31 previously packaged at United Methodist Communications) where they were accepted by two Army wives of husbands who will receive the kits and a staff sergeant from the same platoon. “With this war having gone on for over 10 years, many people have moved on and forgotten about those still fighting.” said Sergeant Longest.

In addition to the support from the connection, we also had strangers who learned about what we were doing online and participated in a variety of ways. A young woman from Texas passing through town, delivered over 100 handwritten notes to encourage the troops; an elderly man from a close by retirement home brought a bag filled with treats; and a student from Vanderbilt Medical School came to help assemble the kits. Sixty-First Avenue’s youth group donated treats to the effort – giving from their own stock.

Faith as small as the grain of a mustard seed can still yield results – especially when it’s watered by the connection and has the light of Christ shining on it. Local churches are never too small to make a big difference.

This effort was part of America’s Sunday Supper – a nationwide effort to honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through dialog and service, which Hicks promoted as part of her work at United Methodist Communications. Learn more at www.sundaysupperumc.org or http://www.pointsoflight.org/mlk

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Years ago, I visited an art museum in Memphis, Tennessee – meandering about until I found an exhibit on the civil rights movement. I still remember how I felt reading about Dr. Martin Luther King’s “kitchen table” experience and how it set me on a path of striving to live with greater purpose. This is a story from his life that many haven’t heard.

In January of 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King struggled for courage to keep up the fight that would later become known as the civil rights movement. After having his life threatened, King went to his kitchen table and had a conversation with God – expressing his doubts as a leader and asking for guidance.

“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward…The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid…I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” (Stride Toward Freedom)

The art exhibit featured a kitchen table with a coffee cup humbly displayed along with those words.  The table was simply made, but it echoed the holiness of communion – Christ at the table – feeding one who was hungry with something more than physical sustenance – the power to go on.

King’s table experience empowered him to feed others – to share a vision of something much larger than any one life – and to inspire others to fight for that something more. Elsewhere in the exhibit were pictures of lives lost and maimed, exposing the ugliness of humanity’s bent toward oppression. Yet that ugliness was diminished and overshadowed by the power to overcome, and it was that power that dominated my experience.

As I walked through the museum, I read another quote of Dr. King’s – one that is reflected today on the monument in Washington, DC:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

I left there thinking about life differently – I felt challenged to live a life that’s not as much concerned over personal welfare as much as leaving the world a better place. If you’ve ever had to clean out someone else’s stuff after they’ve died, you know that it’s not their material leftovers that matter – it’s the other leftovers of their life that count. These may be their ideas, their love, their way of being in community – all things you can’t measure with money. Kind of like crumbs of the soul left behind to feed generations to come. A committed life echoes and informs future generations to make life better – for the whole of creation.

King’s life showed the power of not just letting things lie, but that by taking risk together we can create the beloved community intended by God. There’s still so much to do in the world today – things that need to be discussed and acted upon by people committed to leaving leftovers from their lives that are worthy of consumption.

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Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Elizabeth Michelle Smith…a member of 61st Avenue UMC. “Liz” as we all called her died unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. The last time I saw her was three days before she passed. She excitedly told me that she had finally gotten a disability hearing scheduled – hopeful that she’d start getting disability pay.

She was one year younger than me, but she had illnesses that took away her vitality. I remember the time when she had her first amputation and I was with her at the hospital. She leaned over and touched my foot to show me what they were going to remove from her foot. That hit me hard –it made me feel her pain a little deeper.

When Liz got off the streets, she was so happy – not simply because she would have a place to stay, but excited because she was going to take in all of her friends who didn’t have a home. It was her way of living! If she got something good, she had to share it with other people – whether it was information or her “own” things. In the end, a few of her street friends spoke at the service – one of them calling Liz his godmother, and saying that it’s because of her that he enrolled in barber school and is living into her belief that he is “too smart” to not better his life.

In attendance at the service was another lady who is so dear to me – Linda. Linda is intellectually disabled and her appearance is one that I’ve written about before. Linda came to me after the service and said that even when she passes she will pray for me every day. Because of her looks and disabilities, she’s gotten ridiculed and put down all her life. She told me that she loved me, Pastor Paul, and Brenda because we’ve been kind to her. I thought when I left there that I feel more privileged being loved by someone like her than if I were loved by a superstar.

Leaving the church, there was a man lying by the side of the road – in the opposite direction from where I was going. The weather here in Nashville was 109 yesterday! I drove to him and got out of the car. He had collapsed and couldn’t walk, so I called 911. People from the church all walked down the street once they knew so they could be there for him as well. He was treated with care and taken to the hospital accompanied by his girlfriend.

Just a little while before this incident, I’d heard the medical caseworker at Liz’s service say, “No one is a nobody in Christ Jesus.” Truer words could not have been spoken in a church where the down and out are received and welcomed as loved guests. This is my church home. This is where I’m planted and growing in faith because I come face to face with some pretty hard stuff every day. So when I write about my support of “Obamacare,” equal rights for gay and lesbians, the right to vote for those who do not drive and have no home, immigrants, etc. you’ll know why. I sit amongst people who are rejected by society because they may not contribute to the financial growth of this country. But for a country of so many citizens who claim we are a Christian nation and that we should be pro-life, I say, these lives are worthy of fighting for as well…they are worth listening to and letting their opinions count.

Christ said that when we serve the naked, hungry, thirsty, poor, those in prison, we serve him. Yesterday I got a good taste of Christ’s presence, in the broken hearted and outcasts. The taste was sweet…God was touchable and real among those who embody the scriptures:

Matthew 5 (The Message)
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

So, rest in peace, Liz. We’ll do our best to care for those you loved. And say a prayer for the rest of us, ok? We need it.

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King's Montgomery Kitchen

Photo by Leslie Clagett.

Years ago, I visited an art museum in Memphis, Tennessee – meandering about until I found an exhibit on the civil rights movement. I still remember how I felt reading about Dr. Martin Luther King’s “kitchen table” experience and how it set me on a path of striving to live with greater purpose. This is a story from his life that many haven’t heard.

In January of 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King struggled for courage to keep up the fight that would later become known as the civil rights movement. After having his life threatened, King went to his kitchen table and had a conversation with God – expressing his doubts as a leader and asking for guidance.

“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward…The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid…I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.” (Stride Toward Freedom)

The art exhibit featured a kitchen table with a coffee cup humbly displayed along with those words.  The table was simply made, but it echoed the holiness of communion – Christ at the table – feeding one who was hungry with something more than physical sustenance – the power to go on.

King’s table experience empowered him to feed others – to share a vision of something much larger than any one life – and to inspire others to fight for that something more. Elsewhere in the exhibit were pictures of lives lost and maimed, exposing the ugliness of humanity’s bent toward oppression. Yet that ugliness was diminished and overshadowed by the power to overcome, and it was that power that dominated my experience.

As I walked through the museum, I read another quote of Dr. King’s – one that is reflected today on the monument in Washington, DC:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

I left there thinking about life differently – I felt challenged to live a life that’s not as much concerned over personal welfare as much as leaving the world a better place. If you’ve ever had to clean out someone else’s stuff after they’ve died, you know that it’s not their material leftovers that matter – it’s the other leftovers of their life that count. These may be their ideas, their love, their way of being in community –  all things you can’t measure with money. Kind of like crumbs of the soul left behind to feed generations to come. A committed life echoes and informs future generations to make life better – for the whole of creation.

King’s life showed the power of not just letting things lie, but that by taking risk together we can create the beloved community intended by God. There’s still so much to do in the world today – things that need to be discussed and acted upon by people committed to leaving leftovers from their lives that are worthy of consumption.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been working on “America’s Sunday Supper” supported by Rethink Church and HandsOn Network. It’s a way for people to come together on January 15, 2012 (the day before the King National Day of Observance) and talk about issues over dinner – then follow with a service project. This project work is what’s made me think back to King’s kitchen table experience. What if we were to go to the table with angst over today’s issues of injustice? What might God say to us? How might we become the leaders who still inspire future generations?

Hosting a Sunday supper isn’t like taking to the streets and putting my life on the line. But if it creates an opportunity for me to meet God at the table and eat in the communion of saints (and sinners), I’ll be there.

For more info about America’s Sunday Supper, go to www.sundaysupperumc.org or email sundaysupper@umcom.org.

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