We Are not Alone – Amy Butler


We are not alone

There’s significant power in having the courage to name the pain we carry.

By Amy Butler

You know, I’ve always thought that one of the principle practices of a good pastor is connecting people. But I’ve now come to believe that one of the principle practices of being a good human being is connecting people. Because the worst thing about walking through a hard time is feeling that you are all alone.

The truth is that we need to share our stories. In fact, without that sharing, it’s doubtful we can ever become the beloved community Jesus envisioned.

These days I’m enjoying some weeks of sabbatical before I get back in the pulpit. This means various things, including increased use of sunscreen and long-neglected closet organizing projects finally marked off the list.

This also means I get to go to church. I mean, I get to choose anywhere I want to worship, slip in the back of the sanctuary and sit in the pew.

The other day I was sitting in worship in a small New England congregation where public prayer is a custom. The pastor got up during the prayer time and invited folks in the congregation to name their prayer requests out loud. The call for requests was broken up into three categories: prayers for the world, prayers for others, prayers for ourselves.

This week there was plenty to say when the pastor asked for prayers for the world: another Malaysian airliner down, continued bombing in the Gaza Strip, escalating gun violence in major American cities. Prayers for others was similarly populated: brother Joe; home recovering from back surgery; Aunt Marjorie, mourning the death of her cat; the local library fundraiser coming up in a few days.

Curiously, when the pastor got to prayers for ourselves, the entire congregation sat in silence.

Not one person stood up to say they were grieving a loss, living through a painful time in their marriage, worried about money, wondering if God exists.

Thoughts tumbled one over one another in my own mind: I’m worried about coordinating an upcoming move; I’m grieving the death of my brother; I’m anxious about beginning a new job; I miss my kids; I feel so much sadness and hopelessness when I watch the news and I want to be able to talk to my friends and colleagues of other faiths about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine, but I don’t know how.

As I sat in the silence I wondered if I was the only one grieving or scared or sad.

But I know I wasn’t. I looked around at all the shiny faces in those pews and I knew I couldn’t be the only one. Still, presenting a perfect façade to the world around us, as so many of us do, seemed to be the accepted standard of the community that morning. I did not speak up.

I thought of this experience in church just the other day when I finally had the opportunity to introduce two friends of mine whom I am sure should have been friends with each other long before they’d ever met me. The reason? They shared a story — pain-filled life experiences that shaped them both into the incredible people I know them to be.

I’d tried for awhile to connect them, but I’d heard a lot of hesitation. “It’s too hard to tell my story,” one of them said. “I’m ashamed,” the other one told me.

But when my friends finally met each other and shared their stories, here’s what they told me: “She understood me.” “I finally realized I am not alone.” “Wow, it’s not just me who lived through this.” “I felt God was here.” “I made a new friend.”

I knew it!

There’s significant power in sharing our stories with each other. When we have the courage to name the pain we carry, we find out soon enough that we are not alone. And knowing we’re not alone often uncovers enough courage to take the next step in a painful situation.

If the church can be anything these days, don’t you think it should certainly be a place where those kinds of connections happen?

I do.

After all, we claim to follow the One who showed up, told his story and shared life with others who learned to tell theirs. And look how that kind of community changed the world.

Hear Jesus Speak; You are Salt and Light – Chautauqua Daily – 7-19-14

Mary Lee Talbot

A woman was checking out at the grocery store and the clerk told her, “Have a nice day.” The woman replied: “i have other plans.” “That [have a nice day] is not something Jesus would have said,” the rev. Daisy Machado said to begin her sermon, “You Are,” at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service Friday. “He said ‘go and sin no more’ or ‘rise up and walk’ or ‘go and make Disciples.’ go be salt, be light. But lots of people say, ‘i have other plans.’ ” Her Scripture, Matthew 5:13-20, is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, she said, used salt, light and the law to teach the Dis- ciples who they were. Jesus, sitting out in the open but in a very intimate way, told his Disciples, “You are salt; you are light. not ‘i think you might be’ or ‘i want you to try really hard to be,’ or ‘You should have a committee to develop a mission plan,’ ” Machado said. “We think of these as commands but Jesus meant them as descriptions of who the disciples were.” She quoted the Talmud, which states that the world can exist without pepper but not without salt. Salt was valuable in biblical times; the word salary comes from the latin word for the portion of the wages that roman soldiers were paid in salt. Salt enhances flavor and it preserves meat. “Jesus was telling his followers that they should add zest to the lives of the people around them,” Machado said. “They should be an example for others, but this is the messy part — they have to interact with people, to get involved [in the world]. What good is salt if it never gets out of the shaker?” Salt is not useful to itself, so Jesus’ followers exist for others. They were not to be overbearing, she said, not browbeating people about their sins, but they should use the right amount to flavor a dish. “The Disciples should live with the blatant hope that god is in the world,” Machado said. Salt in biblical times was a compound of sodium chloride and other elements like gypsum. if the sodium fell out of the compound, the residual product was thrown into the road. “The salt compound lost its flavor; pure salt will not change,” she said. “We lose our distinctive character when

we can no longer be distinguished from the tasteless values around us. We lose our usefulness. We must remain faithful to who we are.” The Disciples were the light of the world because they received their light from Jesus, she said. “He called them not to see but to witness acts of justice. The cause of these actions is god in heaven.” According to Machado, some people don’t talk a lot about what difference the church can make in the world. “People are skeptical of the influence the church can have but Jesus did not share that point of view,” she said. “How- ever imperfect and human the Disciples were, and however imperfect and skeptical we are today, we can make a specific impact.” She continued: “The church was not important in the world when the gospels were written. Jesus was talking to the poor. Was it hyperbole to tell them they were the light of the world? How could nobodies be light? How could they make a differ- ence in the roman Empire? Yet the church grew and expand- ed. We have to realize that Jesus got it right — those who feel the world’s pain, who build bridges, who have mercy, are light to the world.” no one puts a light under a bushel after it is lit. “This bushel is a vessel big enough to cover a lamp. The lamp is not snuffed out but covered,” she said. “What are our bushels? Self-absorption, a life where religious endeavor is un- important. A light does not end up magically under a bushel; the only way to cover it is to put the bushel over it.” Jesus asked his followers to show up in the dark places and light them up.

“He was describing the here and now, not the future,” Machado said. “Jesus was talking about the Disciples in the here and now and he is talking about us here and now. The abundant life is the gift we give to others to make a difference for others. We have to dare to be singular, to be distinctive in how we use our money, our time, what we value.” The way we remain distinctive, she told the congregation, is to acknowledge that we are yoked with god, and Christ invites us to play a role in the mission to engage the world. Machado then added that Fred Craddock, the noted preacher, said that Christians have two tasks — witnessing and “benevolent intrusion into the world.” “We have to reject self-interest and self-protection,” she said. “We have to feel the pain of our neighbor.” Jesus told the Disciples that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. He called them to live in the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law. “Spiritual righteousness originates in the heart,” Machado said. “Jesus calls us to be transformed. We have made the world to be a certain way — full of violence, greed, corruption and inequality. There is little light and less flavor.” “Hear Jesus speak,” she continued. “We need to make a dif- ference because we can. ‘You are,’ he says to each of us. i want to remind you, sisters and brothers, that you are all of great value. You are all important for god’s design. You all have to get out of the shaker. You are called to be salt, be light. You are the ones called to expand the church beyond stained glass and stone walls.” The Rev. John Morgan presided. Bud Brown, the host at the Bap- tist House, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Come Down Angels,” a traditional spiri- tual arranged by Patti Drennan. Virginia Oram was the soloist. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The choir sang “God is Here” by Glenn Wonacott as the introit all week. The Allison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Depart- ment of Religion supported this week’s services. For those who would like more information about the 47,000 children at the borders, links provided by Machado can be found in the online version of this story at www.chqdaily.com.

Reduced to Tears – Bishop Stacy Sauls

Reduced to Tears Used by permission of Bishop Sauls

Posted: 07/14/2014 2:39 pm EDT Updated: 07/14/2014 2:59 pm EDT


“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” (Rom. 8:15)

At the moment hundreds of children from Central America are risking a long, dangerous trip without adults to come to the United States to escape oppressive poverty, violence, and exploitation. They are receiving a mixed welcome, sometimes with compassion and sometimes with hostility. St. Paul’s words seem relevant to me.

The spirit of adoption is something I know a little bit about. Here’s how I learned.

Thirty-one years ago my wife Ginger and I were in the process of completing the home study process for the adoption of our first child. We had had all the interviews. The social worker had come to visit our house. (It was, by the way, one of only three times in my adult life that I’ve cleaned the oven. I don’t know why I thought our case worker would be checking to see if our oven was clean, but that is what the words “home study” conjured up in my mind anyway.)

The final interviews had come. These were to be with Ginger and me separately. I assume the reason for that is that if one of us had not really wanted to go through with the adoption we could bring a halt to the process without having to reveal the complete truth to our spouse. In our case, we were both as committed, and anxious in every sense, as ever.

I was to have my interview first, and I promised to stop at a pay phone (before the days of cell phones) to call Ginger and tell her what the social worker had asked on my way back to the office. I did. Ginger, in turn, was to call me when her interview, scheduled late in the afternoon, was complete.

The time of Ginger’s interview came and went. There was no call. I waited and waited. No word. I began to get concerned. My anxieties ran rampant. I feared that the social worker had completed Ginger’s interview and said something like Ginger would make a wonderful parent but that I was a complete Bozo who had tried to trick her into thinking we had a clean oven. I imagined Ginger crying because of the disappointment and too upset to call me.

Finally at about 5:30 Ginger arrived at my office door. She had red, puffy eyes. She had clearly been crying. I thought my worst fears were confirmed. Instead, however, she stepped in and said, “You have a son.” And she pulled out a picture of a Korean baby boy. We know him as Andrew. At that point I started to cry. It was all I could do. People from the office came in to see if I was alright. It was very embarrassing.

It turns out that the social worker’s last question to Ginger, as it had been to me, was, “So, are you ready for a baby?” When Ginger responded, “Yes,” the social worker had said, “Good, because I have a referral for you,” at which point she pulled out a file and a picture. Ginger had, of course, met this news with tears of joy, and in all the excitement she couldn’t remember exactly how to get to my office. She had been driving around a long time hoping to recognize something and be able to find the way.

Now, here’s the rest of the story. Ginger is the emotional one in our family. She could cry at the drop of hat. Happy or sad made no difference. Tears were appropriate for any occasion. Not so for me. Up until that point in our lives together, I had never cried. Not once. I didn’t think I had it in me. But when the news of Andrew came, the floodgates broke open. I started to cry, and try as I might, I couldn’t stop. I would think I had myself under control, and we would try to call someone to tell them the news. I would be prepared to speak, but when someone answered the phone, I would start again. I would have to hand the phone back to Ginger. I was reduced to nothing but tears.

People come to the United States from faraway places for many reasons. Some come to escape persecution. Others come in search of freedom. Many come in search of a better life. Some are oppressed. Some are displaced by war. Our son Andrew, and later his brother Matthew, came to complete a family.

Community, Intimacy, and Sovereignty – Chautauqua Institution – June 30, 2014

By Mary Lee Talbot

Deep theology and humorous asides characterized the sermon by the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock Sunday at the 10:45 a.m. morning worship service and sermon. “If I were at Ebenezer [Baptist Church] this morning, I would say, ‘Let the Church say, Amen,’ ” Warnock said. The Amphitheater congregation responded “Amen,” and he said, “Y’all did pretty good.” The title of his sermon was “Our Father in Heaven,” and the selected Scripture was Luke 11:1-2 and Matthew 6:9a.  The “Lord’s Prayer” will be the subject for his sermon series this week. Warming up the congregation, Warnock said that he was grateful to be back at Chautauqua and talked about trying to describe Chautauqua to his friends. “I tell them about the programming that goes on, the friends I have met and the lively conversations, but none of this captures the place. The best I could come up with is that Chautauqua is a vacation for nerds.” He continued, “What am I going to talk about? I am not at Ebenezer — I am at Chautauqua, so I am going to talk about 10 to 15 minutes. I am going to talk about the Lord’s Prayer, specifically the first line, ‘Our Father in Heaven.’ ” Warnock characterized the prayer as the great prayer of the Christian faith, taught by Jesus at the request of his Disciples. It is prayed across all denominations in all nations. “This is the ‘Abba Father’ prayer that reveals an intimate relationship with God. God is not far from any of us; we pray to Dad, Daddy, ‘Yo, Pops.’ God is not far from us,” he said. “Father” is not a reference to maleness but to the parent- hood of God, he said. God is spirit, and any anthropomorphism can’t contain God. “ ‘Our Father’ points to and about God; God as protector and provider,” he said. “This is not maleness or patriarchy but closeness.”

Warnock said that many Christians recite the Lord’s Prayer but do not really hear it — memorize it, but don’t know what it means. Sing it, but “do we really mean it?” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is praying, and the Disciples ask him to teach them to pray. “This was simple but significant. Whatever they saw arrested them and they would not let go of it. Of all the things they saw Jesus doing, they asked to learn how to pray,” he said. Jesus’ Disciples witnessed a lot, he said. They saw Jesus take two fish, a loaf of bread and open a fish shop and bakery and feed the multitude without charging them a penny, but they did not ask Jesus to teach them that. “Jesus took spit and dirt and made contact lenses in less than hour, but they did not ask him to teach them that,” War- nock continued. “Jesus healed lepers and the lame, walked on water and, at a wedding, made plain water blush into wine. “They witnessed all that, that we would bottle and sell for a dollar, but they would rather Jesus teach them to pray,” he added. “They asked Jesus for that ‘thing that makes you do what you do when you do that thing.’ ” Warnock noted that Jesus’ Disciples often looked two steps behind and bumbling in the Gospels, but here they were onto something. They wanted to learn where Jesus got his power.

“Prayer in the human breast is the breath of God coming into us,” he said to the congregation. “It is deep calling to deep. It is a text message with the eternal. It is antivirus soft- ware, prayers enables us to be who God is calling us to be. “Jesus deliberately began his prayer with ‘Our Father in Heaven,’ ” Warnock said. “He could have begun with ‘my father,’ but ‘our father’ guards us against a narrow, individual parochialism and chauvinism. We are all God’s children no matter where we are born. “We are overwhelmed by hyper-connectivity yet we are isolated from one another,” he continued. “What used to be ‘ours’ is now ‘mine.’ Four people sit in a car, each talking to someone else. Everyone in the house has their own TV, computer, iPod, iPhone, email. We used to take group photos at weddings and graduations. Now, we take selfies of ourselves — by ourselves. “We used to watch Tom Brokaw. Now, on YouTube, we have our own channel broadcasting stuff no one should have to see. We are foolish to think we can do the faith thing by ourselves,” he told the congregation. “This is not the perspective of the Gospels. Faith is personal, but not a private journey. If you really want to be a Christian, then you have to hang out with other Christians  because grace can only flourish when you meet the ungracious; healing only comes from hurt; strength comes from struggle.” Warnock continued, “God is our authentic connector to each other. We have to reach up to reach out beyond our comfort zone. God does not hang out inside your box. You may possess God, but you don’t own God. You may possess a husband or wife, but you don’t own him or her. You may possess a house, but if you pay a mortgage you don’t own it. Just try missing a payment or two and find out the bank owns it. Your name may be on the life insurance policy, but cash it in and your name is not on the list of beneficiaries. “God is bigger than individual churches, denominations or traditions,” he continued. “Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah; Muslims don’t recognize Jews as the only chosen people. Protestants don’t recognize the Pope as their spiritual leader, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the neighborhood liquor store. God calls us to transcend our own tribalism — the particularities of our own traditions.” Warnock recalled a conversation he and Robert Franklin had with their waiter at the Heirloom Restaurant at the Athenaeum. He asked the young man what he wanted to do with his life. The waiter said his mother was in law enforcement and he thought he might go into law enforcement.

“Dr. Franklin asked him, ‘How about going to law school?’ It had never occurred to him yet here were two men responding to the talent he so obviously possessed.” Warnock continued, “God is bigger than our whole imagination and looks beyond our needs. God dreams dreams for us until we dream them too. I am so glad that I have a God I can call and not talk to the secretary’s secretary. God still answers when we are disappointed. This is the God of the universe, and you are in the company of the God who refuses to be without you. “If the ‘our’ in the prayer means community, and the ‘father’ means intimacy, then heaven means sovereignty,” Warnock said. “Heaven is not a geophysical place. It is not an eschatological category. The one who is in charge, the one who we can call father or mother, is in charge.” Warnock said that young boys in his neighborhood, wrestling with each other, would pin each other, and then “ask each other this profound theological question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ and the response had to be: ‘You’re my daddy.’ ” “Life may have you in a headlock,” he continued. “You may have a problem you are trying to figure out, and God is asking you this theological question, ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ ” The God who created exnihilo, who moves the ocean currents, who makes the planets march to the drumbeat of eternity, who makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust, is the one who is asking, Warnock said. “Are you here all by yourself, all alone, struggling for your own self, or do you have cosmic companionship? You have a friend — Our Father in Heaven.”

Why Have a Say Something Nice Sunday?

Published by First Baptist Church of Charleston for Say Something Nice Sunday.
The simple answer is that words are powerful. Words have the power
to build or destroy. Words have the power to heal or wound. With
our words we have the power to build up a Christian community or
to destroy it.
Nowhere are words more powerful than within the church. “The
Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Words take on a life unto
themselves. Once they are given life they are on their way for good
or evil.
This special day is an opportunity to build the community of
faith, strengthen relationships and heal old wounds. Our national
discourse has become so strident and even in religious circles the
rhetoric is often far from Christ-like. In Philippians 1:27 we read, “Let
your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.”
This is a day to say thank you to those who make our lives better
just by being a part of them. This is a day to recognize those who
contribute to our lives in specific ways. This is a day to apologize for
words spoken in frustration, anger or disappointment.
One day is one day, but perhaps we can stretch it to two days and
then just maybe if we encourage one another and ask for God’s help,
we might change the world!

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