Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Going on a Prayer Walk

When I was a girl scout, we liked to sing the song, Going on a Bear Hunt. It was silly and fun, incredibly interactive and energizing!

Prayer is like that.  It can be serious, but also silly and fun, interactive and energizing.

Ridge has begun our debt reduction campaign, Thrive@Ridge.  All of what we do and who we are needs to be rooted, grounded, and filled with prayer.  We do that because tackling a huge goal like $719,000 of debt on our mortgage is a serious business and we need serious help.  Yet, we also pray together because prayer, just like any other conversation, is interactive and energizing.

I have been praying at 7:19am and 7:19pm each day since Sunday April 23rd.  How neat to notice all the different places and situations I am when my "pray for Ridge" alarm rings.

This coming Sunday, April 30, we have an unusual prayer opportunity in which we will take our prayer to the streets of Munster.  Just as I have been appointed to a faith community and the community which surrounds it so too, are all disciples of Jesus sent out into the world to share Jesus' love.

Put the kiddos in a stroller or wagon.  Grab your dog's leash.  And let's walk and pray!  Put our feet where are prayers are.  Or put our prayers where are feet are.

We will be using an interactive prayer guide to pray for our school system, town leaders, police department, local businesses, fire department, hospital, local faith communities, and neighborhoods of Munster!

Unless you have something better to do on a Sunday evening than prayer- I will see you at 5pm in the Ridge parking lot.

See you at the praying place,

Pastor Michelle

Monday, April 10, 2017

All Roads of Forgiveness Lead to the Cross of Christ

Everything about this week leads to the cross of Christ.

  • The Palm Sunday parade as people are filled with great hope!  
  • The washing of one another's feet/hands as a commitment to serve as Christ serves us.  
  • The sharing of the bread and cup as a foretaste of forgiveness.  
  • The betrayal and arrest in a garden of prayer.  
  • The trial and conviction of Jesus.

All of these events of Christ's Passion lead us to the cross of Christ.  Outstretched to embrace all of humanity, Christ died for our forgiveness with God, one another, and ourselves.  He died that we may live fully in this life (unencumbered by regret) and the life to come.

And then the waiting happens.. just as it does in our human relationships.  We wait for the dawn of Easter when we recognize that God can be trusted to forgive and receive us again.  A cross and an empty tomb reconcile us to God.

But, in our human relationships reconcilation may or may not happen.  You and I know from our own experience that forgiveness does not, however, always lead to reconcilation.  We are complex creatures, full of illusions and/or inward resistance to what could bring new life.

I heard someone say that just as forgiveness is a journey so too is reconcilation.  Reconcilation may be the larger goal, but it may not be possible for us to achieve with others in this life.  God makes it possible for us to be reconciled to Godself, but human beings are another matter.

When reconcilation seems impossible with another person, we are left with a choice about whether or not to move forward with forgiveness on our side.  Forgiving can be, and often is, a one-way street with fellow human beings.

Thank God that God is God!  God is love.  Love aims to restore us to a new kind of life!  God creates a two way street so that we are welcomed home into Love's Eternal Arms.  The magnitude of God's undeserved gift of forgiveness for each of us opens us up to respond with heartfelt repentance and gratitude.  This is why the woman who annointed Jesus' feet cried.

Writes Gregory Jones, "it is not because the woman has shown repentance with tears that Jesus forgives her; rather, she shows repentance with tears beause she has already known forgiveness and thus has great love for Jesus.  It is her faith in his gift of pardon that saves her."

Again, it is the Unstoppable Love of Jesus that saves the woman, and you, and me.  May our response be one of great love in return.

See you in the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Forgiving: Embracing Freedom

This past Sunday morning I stood in the pulpit at our traditional service to deliver a message on the power of forgiveness.  I lacked sleep because we had been aware of my father's acute medical crisis in Indianapolis.  More than being aware of my fatigue, I was acutely aware of how forgiveness has been a major theme in my relationship with my Dad.

Our Christian faith informs us that we are bidden to forgive one another, as God in Christ, has forgiven us.  Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus calls us into forgiving one another and ourselves.  There I was preaching a message to myself more than giving a message to and for my people.  Trust me- when a preacher preaches to herself- it stings!

Forgiving others is imperative, not optional.  Jesus does not merely suggest forgiveness- but rather models, equips and challenges us to embrace the path of forgiveness throughout our lives. Forgiveness is the way of Christ.  Thus, it is the path of a believer and follower of Jesus.  And I am mightily glad that Jesus helps us because forgiving can be and is a very difficult thing to do.  I know this to be especially true with my dad.

Often our resistance to forgiveness can be summed up into two emotional responses: 1) "I should, but I don't want to" because our ego gets in our way; and 2) "I can't yet" which can be an healthy response to severe abuse or an invitation for more healing so that we can get over our own egos.

Preaching and teaching about forgiveness is very different from practicing forgiveness.  I can easily describe to you how 1) to ask for forgiveness or 2) to let go whatever you hold against a person. But doing it- being humble and letting go - those are moments when faith is lived.

Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning my uncle and I were faced with critical decisions regarding my father's health care.  Fortunately, we were guided by an understanding of his wishes and our faith.  Knowing our time was short I whispered in my Daddy's ear, "I love you.  I forgive you. I know you love me.  And I ask that you forgive me for all the ways and times in which I failed to be the best daughter I could have been."

I had done much of my forgiving over the years, but the clarity of that moment of asking for forgiveness from him- was more freeing than I expected!  And it was a moment in which I prayed that my Dad would be launched with great freedom and joy into the world to come.  Indeed choosing to forgive is one of the most freeing and healing choices we can make in life.

I can attest that my burden is lighter!  I pray you will choose to forgive and embrace freedom.

See you in the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Monday, March 20, 2017

Anger, Honesty and Forgiveness

As we continue our Lent journey, we also continue our journey of forgiveness.  We pause so that we can be self-reflective enough to consider all of our emotions.

We get honest.

To forgive or offer genuine apologies we need to become honest about our powerful, uncomfortable feelings such anger, jealousy, greed, sorrow, guilt, shame, and pain.

During our message this weekend, I encouraged folks to remember to read the Psalms as there is a Psalm for every emotion.  Therefore, there is a prayer for every feeling of the human heart before God.  Nothing is hidden.

One of the best ways to discover aspects of ourselves we are blind to is to look closely at our enemies.  It is often said that the things we can't stand in others reveal sides of ourselves we can't bear.

One journal exericse, if you are game, is to make a list.  Identify several eternal enemies in your life such as specific people, government groups, people groups, or situations.  Name them and give as much specific information as you can.  What about these persons or situations make you feel so critical or have such hostility?

Now, make a second list on another sheet of paper.  This time identify internal enemies in your life; attitudes, behaviors, reactions, perceived weaknesses or limitations.

Finally, compare your lists.  What do you notice?  Are there any common themese?  Any surprises or fresh connections for you about yourself such as patterns or opposites?

As we seek to know ourselves and be known by our God in Christ Jesus we ask, "What can you learn from our eternal and internal enemies?"  What can they teach us about how we handle conflict?  Or what we struggle with that needs strengthening?

Your reflections become fodder for more prayer.  Seek God's presence in the midst of your honesty about your feelings about all of your enemies.  Our genuine response which moves us further in our capacity for forgiveness is to invite Jesus' healing grace into our lives.

See you in the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Monday, March 13, 2017

Looking Closely in the Mirror

"I am startin' with the man in the mirror
I am asking him to change his ways" 
(from Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror)

As a prelude or movement into forgiveness, we must take the courageous step of self-examination.  Just as women need to perform self-exams to prevent cancer or illness, so too does spiritual self-examination prevent us from falling further away from God and a life of abundance.

I blame it on my uncle.  Originally, he planned on becoming a Jesuit, but instead he joined the Paulist Fathers.  Long ago while I was in seminary at Duke, my Uncle (Father) Mike sent a large box of books to my second floor apartment.

Seminarians already have too much to read, but my wise uncle who made it through Yale Divinity School with flying colors knew I needed a different sort of reading.  Packed tightly in a box were a stack of spiritual classics on Christians mystics and saints!  He fed my soul while my brain was learning to love God.

Tucked into that welcome box of respite from theological treatises and biblical commentaries was a little thin book which introduced me to St. Ignatius' examen.  (As I said Uncle Mike almost became a Jesuit!)  There some where between Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke Garden, Duke chapel, and the Divinity school library (which always smelled moldly in the spring) I began asking myself questions.

I would look in the mirror of my day and ask, "For what I am most grateful?  for what am I least grateful?"  Or "how have I experienced consolation or desolation in my day?"  Sounds simple enough.  And it is.  But it is not simple, at all, really.

Asking these sorts of questions daily begins to have an accumulated impact on how I hold myself accountable to Christ's teachings, what connections do I notice between my actions and attitudes, and how I practice the faith I believe in.  That may not be simple, but it has become a practice of self-check.  It is the mirror that I ponder as I seek more of Christ and less of me.

I invite you to ask yourself for this next week these questions.  Journal or take note of your responses.  Talk with a trusted wise spiritual friend.  Invite the Holy Spirit to bring you healing and forgiveness.

See you in the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Forgiving- Healing the Human Family

Every week in Sunday morning worship we say the same thing.  I wonder if we are aware of the significance of the words coming out of our mouths?

"...forgive us as we forgive those who trespass (or sin) against us..."

Important things are often repeated.  Helpful things are shared more than once, because they are very helpful.  Maybe that is part of why we say these words so often. Forgiveness is important.  And forgiveness helps our relationships.

Forgiveness, writes Marjorie Thompson, is the foundation from which new life flows in a wounded, strife-weary world.  And if ever there was a time in our contemporary era in which people who think differently from one another, vote differently, and politic differently need to find other ways to connect for the first time or re-connect through forgiveness; now is the best time to consider the gift that forgiveness is. A community, no matter the size or shape, is difficult, if not impossible, to establish if an offering of apology or recognition of wound is not addressed and healed.

Last Sunday we talked about how the best starting point for forgiveness is not ourselves, nor the people we want to forgive (or who need our apology), but the best starting point on forgiveness is our God in Christ.

Rev. Thompson concludes that "Forgiveness is an out-pouring of love from the inner life of the Trinity and can only be fully understood when experienced as a transforming power in the life of a human community that mirrors God's being."  God's mysterious and unique nature, as a three-in-one-Holy Being, is a manifestation of love which over spills into our hearts...empowering us to ask, seek, and offer forgiveness.

This week as you move through your Lent journey... start with God as you pray.  Start with asking God's Spirit to show you for whom you need to forgive.  Start with seeking God's Spirit to reveal who you need to apologize or seek their forgiveness.  And trust that our God in Christ is big enough, large enough, and loving enough to aid you in your giving and receiving of forgiveness.

See you at the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lenten Forgiveness


My Facebook newsfeed looks like a last minute Christmas stocking shopping spree; with Christians all over social media looking for something to "give up" or "something to take on" as their Lenten discipline.  Faithful people gathering whatever they can find and tossing in their baskets before the deadline today.  Perhaps you are still searching for what "to do" or "not to do" this lent.

After my wellness doctor's visit in January, there are plenty of things I have already given up for the sake of health, wholeness and vitality.  Chocolate, breads, and carbs of all kinds are gone from my life for a while.  Processed and boxed foods are gone.  Noodles are no more.  I write "missing you" letters to chocolate.  At night I dream of soft, warm yeast rolls.  sigh.

Lent 2017 will be different.  Time to shake-up my devotional reading.  Re-do my prayer life.  Re-fresh my soul as my body adjusts to healthier foods.  Back to the basics.  As Coach K would say, now is the time to work on fundamentals.

Our Ridge sermon series during Lent will focus on one of the basics; forgiveness. Reverend Marjorie Thompson writes, "There is no Christianity without forgiveness."  That sounds as basic and fundamental as it can be.

To aid me in our Lenten journey with forgiveness, my prayer life will take on a different discipline.  I have felt led by the Spirit to pray through my Ridge church directory during Lent.  Praying for each Ridge parent, grandparent, partner/spouse, teen or child by name each day during a week of Lent.  On Wednesday mornings our church staff will join me.

My prayer will be, "Blessed Jesus, have mercy on us sinners. Thank you for forgiving, healing and restoring this family to you first.  And then, give courage to each person as they offer authentic, "I am sorry" or "I forgive you" to themselves, one another, and others in our world.  Heal us, Lord Jesus! Heal our church, Lord Jesus!  Heal our world, Lord Jesus!  Amen."

See you at the forgiving place,

Pastor Michelle