Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Eve Poem

Christmas Eve

How Many times?

How many times have you heard
You MUST be happy
You Must celebrate
You must buy gifts
You must be grateful?

How many times have you heard
About Santa Claus
Rudolf, Frosty,

Listened to Bing Crosby or Clay Aiken or the Chipmunks Christmas albums?

And how many things do you have on your list to get done this time of the year?
Presents to buy
Events to attend
Travel plans to arrange
Gifts to ship
Cards to write
Cookies to bake
Pictures to take?

Whew! So much to get done
So much to prepare
So much on our minds
To show how we care!

Right now,
In this moment quiet
We do not have to rush
To buy it!
For in this silence
We can accept one gift true
Which makes our hearts glow
Even when we are blue

We can allow a bit of room in our soul
Our hearts can fill up like a bowl
With the glory, beauty and Peace
Given to us by God
Without hesitation in Grace
The Gift of a Lord
Who in one accord
Brings us all together
Right now, as we gather.
Hallelujah is the all the response
God requires
For us to experience
A renewal of faith fires

What a great gift
We have been given
Straight from God’s heart
Right from the residents of heaven

So no matter how many times we strike out on gifts,
Or when our family gatherings almost comes to fists
No matter how much we fail
In the holiday sales,
God loves us still,
Our minds, our hearts, our souls
Will find their fill
As we celebrate with one another
Singing songs of jubilation
Praying with one voice together
All of this helps us to prepare
To serve the needs of people everywhere
To bring the good news in our every action
Jesus’ gift brings true satisfaction

How many times can we care for a stranger?
To help a friend stay out of danger?
How many times can we pray for good health?
Share a bit of our wealth?
How many times can we take time to worship
To break bread, drink from a cup of joy with a sip?
How many times can we mend broken hearts
To restore fractured souls with caring arts?

How can we make a difference in the world so chaotic
To bring peace with justice even to the addict?
With the gift of Jesus, all this is mission possible
Because God’s love is unstoppable!
Halleluiah and Amen!

SPM 12-2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sermon for 12-13-09

Phillipians 4: 4-7
Luke 3: 15-18
The World Needs Joy
After a long life of unselfish service, Father John O'Malley died and went to heaven. St. Peter met him at the gate and said: "John, you did such a wonderful job for us on earth, we'd like to do something special for you. You name it; it's yours."

John thought for a moment and said: "I'd like a private audience with the Holy Mother." St. Peter told him it would be arranged. On the appointed day, St. Peter escorted John to the Holy Mother's sanctuary. John went before Her, knelt, and said: "Holy Mother, I've always looked to you for guidance, and you have granted me peace and serenity through some difficult times. But I have one question that has nagged me during my whole time on earth. In all the paintings that were done of you, and in all the sculptures that were carved of you, you always looked so sad. Why is that?"

Mary thought for a moment, pursing her lips. She said: "I always wanted a girl."

Isn’t it funny that so often what we want, we have already, but we miss it because we focus on what we do not have?

Sometimes what we want is hidden from the clutter in our lives. Christmas time is certainly a prime example of how we often feel overwhelmed, we sense that this is supposed to be an important moment in our life, but often the responsibilities can hide the joy we are supposed to experience.

For many the sense of sorrow and feeling alone is at its height at this time of the year, because they are reminded of what they do not have, family, friends, who understand and love them.

For others, the financial issues and struggles have hit hard, it was reported that the number of homeless seeking cold winter shelter numbered 325 on the first night of the program for the East San Gabriel Valley, in comparison the number on the first night last year was around 100 and grew to 165 by the close of the program this past Feb.

In addition, I heard the report of the East Valley Clinic that serves those who have no health insurance, and they are seeing more and more families who have had very abundant lives but due to layoffs, are for the first time without health insurance or a job.

These realities cloud the joy of Christmas for so many.

What are we to do to rediscover joy in this time of preparation?

Paul points to the practice of rejoicing: 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

Notice that Paul says rejoice in the Lord, rejoice in God. He writes from a jail cell, and yet he still finds a way to rejoice. He rejoices in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, the prince of peace, the savior of the world. I confess I am sometimes so overwhelmed with the details of life, I forget to praise the creator of life.

Phillip Newell who wrote this book of Celtic prayers wrote this prayer:

Early in the morning, I seek your presence, O God

Not because you are ever, absent from me

But because often I am absent from you

At the heart of each moment

Where you forever dwell.

In the rising of the sun

In the unfolding color and shape of the morning

Open my eyes to the mystery of this moment

That in every moment of the day

I may know your life giving presence

Open my eyes to this moment

That in every moment

I may know you as the One who is always now.

When Paul talks about rejoicing in the Lord always, and in all ways he is talking about taking a moment to be still, to feel, to see the presence of God.

For many the business of life, the hurried, got to get it done right nowness, can push the joy right out of life.

Repent, John the Baptist says: let go of all that which clutters up your soul, release all the doubts, all the concerns, all the anxieties and fears. Let go and Let God move in to those places which so desperately need joy.

Once we rejoice in the presence of God in us, in the world Paul tells us how to respond: Let your gentleness be known to everyone. You may recall that two weeks ago, I ended my sermon with a challenge, to bring peace into the world in our daily living. When we are at the grocery store, to practice peace by helping someone who is trying to find an item, not getting mad when someone cuts us off on the road, being patient in line when the clerk is trying to go as fast as he/she can. As I have been trying to follow my own challenge, I have noticed it is not as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless, because I have been intentional to bring peace into this hurried season, I have been able to change my reactions to those who are in such a hurry. Instead of cursing, I strive to pray for those who cut me off, because the way they are driving they certainly need to be prayed for! In a world that is often so harsh, we do well to practice gentleness.

Next, “The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

This week has been finals week for both my daughters. Usually it is a high stress time of year for us all. I noticed however, it is not the usual sort of chaos that I am usually glad to get away from. Rather, they both have been calmer than usual. The secret according to Amber was getting some of her work done before finals hit.

I was looking at facebook and noticed that the School of Theology at Claremont was taking suggestions about how to manage finals. They were awarding a free lunch to those who came up with the best suggestions. I put my two cents worth in, study with friends! It works to help you test out what you know with peers before you have to write it down. It works to help you realize what you missed, and you help one another figure out what is essential to know. The other key for my daughter was that the teachers gave them a study outline for the test. With all the material they had to read, it was good to know what topics were going to be the focus of the test.

These simple lessons can help us in life, so we can have more joy, to loosen the bonds of worry, so we can be free to rejoice.

We too can have times of stress, and it is the work we have done to repent of those things that are unimportant in order to have room for what is important that will help us through. The gift we give to ourselves is to take the time to build a healthy strong relationship to God, because in the tough times it is good to know we can rely on God to bring us joy even when all seems lost

Friends are important because they help us gain perspective and help us see how we may have lost sight of what is really important.

In the first part of the chapter Paul says: therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved

This image of calling his brother and sisters as “my joy and crown” reminds me of a story I read about a pastor who told this story:

“I complimented a woman in Rustin, Louisiana, on her jewelry. She smiled and said, "Thank you. I collect gems." I agreed and said, "It shows."

"No," she insisted. "I don't collect those gems. I collect real 'gems'--I have a gem of a husband, a gem of a daughter, a gem of a friend, a gem of a pastor. Those are the real 'gems' I invest in."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Poem in honor of World AIDS day

For 26 years the United Methodist Church in the California-Pacific Annual Conference as been offering Strength for the Journey Camp, a one week retreat for people living with HIV/AIDS. Through the years I have been humbled by the experience of being on staff for most of those years, and now serve as our conference HIV/AIDS task force chair. Last year I wrote this poem about my experience of camp.

Tired, sore muscles
But peaceful conversations
About terribly important subjects
Intertwined with soft warm breezes
And Bright Sun!

This camp is unique, never again
Will our lives be together,
At this precise time
At this precise place
This sacred place
With these holy people
Who will live in the empty spaces
Of our hearts forever!
Tired sore muscles
Campers still relaxing
Not quite ready to allow
Their beauty to
Touch all our Souls.

I read this at the talent show and was asked about the line: "Not quite ready". I was trying to convey the sense that there was some reluctance by some to let go of all their defenses and allow the unconditional love and support into their hearts. By the end of the week, many had, mine had.