What are you giving up for Lent this year?

How many times have you been asked that question already . . .

I really don't like it when folks ask me that. I'm sure it's because they assume I have something really holy to offer.

Yet I don't. I've never really fasted more than a couple of days. I am never one for long silent retreats (I just think I like talking too much). Or anything else you could name in the super holy category.

Since being serious about Lent in seminary, let me tell you my greatest hits of "giving up something for Lent":

  1. Diet Coke (because I was addicted and still am)
  2. Sugar (especially cookies because I love them a lot too)
  3. And last year a Whole 30. (It was intense. I couldn't stop talking about what food I couldn't eat!)

In the past these practices have helped me remember that I am not my cravings. What gives me comfort and life and health is more about what I eat.

But this year, I've decided that not giving up anything for Lent.

Nope. Not a thing.

Reading the gospel reading set for Ash Wednesday helped me arrive at this place: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them." (Matthew 6:1).

These were Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount. They were a conversation changer when it came to how Jesus spoke to his disciples about actions and faith.

I would sum up his message like this: if you are going to do something for the sake of doing something-- to have something "good" to talk about, don't do it.

There's no reason to have piety for the sake of piety. If an action means nothing to you, just don't do it. Full stop.

Maybe this is why Jesus would later give instructions about fasting saying, "Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting."

Or a modern paraphrase would be "Don't go out to dinner with friends and make a big show of it when you're just ordering water."

Or, "Don't announce loudly at a dinner party that you've given up chocolate for Lent."

Or "Don't bully your partner into fasting if you are."

But hear me say, I don't think that Jesus is anti-fasting. There are certainly stories after stories of the spiritual practice of prayer and fasting throughout scripture. Fasting helps us rid ourselves of distractions. Fasting helps us align our daily life with spiritual rhythms of prayer. If you feel called to fast, fast I'd think Jesus would say do it.

But don't make a big fuss of it.

For outward faith without the inward work gets you no benefit, really.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matthew 6:19)

Because here's the point of Lent, really: 40 days of spiritual preparation for the season of Easter.

Lent helps get our shoes ready for Easter. The time when we get to shout and dance and sing Alleluia all we want. The time we get to celebrate the worst endings to stories never being the end. The time when hope is born again.

That's a lot to prepare for, wouldn't you say?

So here's what I'm doing for Easter in leu of giving something up.

I'm going to stick to the spiritual journey I began at the beginning of the year during the season of Epiphany.

I'm going to remember the star word that has guided me so far in this new year: mystery.

I'm going to trust that even when my life seems OUT OF CONTROL, it's not.

Faith comes in when I believe the master Creator is orchestrating a beautiful plan I couldn't see coming, even if I tried to dream it up now. And practically what that means as far as daily discipline, I'm going to keep to myself (i.e. not making a big show of it). And do it.

What about you?

How can you find your way to what it means to live out Lent this year?

Here's three suggestions I have as you decide what to do/ not to do this season.

1.Take 30 minutes and be silent.

This could be in your car. It could mean getting up a little earlier or staying up a little bit past when your family goes to bed. Be still. And ask God to guide your desire for spiritual growth in this season. Often we're so busy that there is no stillness in our day to simply listen to the voice of the Spirit, what our calling is for now. Listen. And you'll have some clarity. You really will.

2. Have a conversation with a trust friend or partner.

Talk through what frustrates you most about your daily routines. Ask for their wisdom about how they see you thriving or living in frustration. Often times, the clarity we need for spiritual practice is right in front of us, and all we have to do is ask and wisdom will appear.

3. Connect with a faith community.

Lent is a season of the year when churches of all flavors open up opportunities for spiritual growth that don't happen any other time of the year.

Is there a prayer group you can join? A class you can participate in?

A practice you could learn more about because it's what your pastor is leading you in worship? There's nothing better than engaging in a spiritual practice in community.

Maybe what you're looking for is already right around the corner from your house. You just have to go! 

Wishing you a blessed Lenten journey in whatever way you decide to practice!

Know that as you discern what comes next for you in this holy season, God is with you.

And regardless of your piety or not, God looks at you and say, "You are my beloved child in whom I'm well-pleased."

Our National Infertility Week series continues today. (Did you miss the post from Chris Thomas earlier? If so, stop now and read it here). I'm so glad to introduce you to Maren McLean Persaud, my new favorite Canadian who tells a story of hope, longing and loss. Here are her beautiful words-

_______________

This past fall, we took all our hope, all our prayer, all our being, and all our money and invested it into the expensive and rigorous fertility treatment known as IVF (in vitro fertilization).

We had been trying to have a baby on our own for almost three years only to find out we had around a 1 to 4 percent chance of that ever happening. IVF was our only option if we wanted to have our own child. 

If you have had personal experience with IVF, I don’t need to tell you anything and I salute you.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, IVF is a medical procedure that drains you emotionally, physically, and financially to “retrieve” your eggs and fertilize them with sperm from your partner, or a donor, to create viable embryos that can be put back into you to hopefully achieve a successful pregnancy and live birth.

The process involves a whole lot of needles, drugs, procedures, anxiously waiting for phone calls and embryo updates (spoiler: not all of them make it) and in the end, you might just end up with nothing to show for it.

So we did all that with the confident attitude that it would work, because, why wouldn’t it? We’re young!

And it did work! We got pregnant and even had one little embryo to tuck away in the freezer for a later date. What a great return on our investment.

Three days before Christmas, on our wedding anniversary, we floated into our fertility clinic for the 8-week ultrasound ready to hear the heart beat and successfully “graduate’ from the clinic.

Not even thirty seconds into the ultrasound our doctor said “I don’t have good news”.

After that it’s all a blur, but essentially our embryo was there and had grown, but there was no heartbeat. I would miscarry soon. That night I slept as though I was playing dead. No dreams, no restlessness, just darkness. The next morning, I woke up to myself sobbing, wishing I hadn’t woken up.

‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’

My husband turned into our PR guy, messaging family and friends, letting them know what happened and canceling Advent/Christmas events we had planned to host in our home.

My family rushed in to spend Christmas at our house and they let us be the couch potato, tear-filled slobs we had turned into.

They cooked for us, cleaned for us, looked after us and although we had trouble recognizing it in the moment, brought a lot of light to our darkness.

My husband is a minister and in the days after our ultrasound he had to soldier through services that celebrated a special baby being brought into the world.

Being the bad minister’s wife that I am, I didn’t go to those celebrations with him.

The baby has always been my favorite part of the Christmas story. The fact that God chose to enter our world in that new and hopeful form so full of potential has always filled me with wonder and joy, but not this year.

‘Screw you and screw your baby, God!’

I wasn’t having any of it. How could I hear the ‘good news’ when only days before my Doctor told me there was no good news?

I was literally losing my baby as I rang in the new year.

In the days and weeks that followed I threw myself back into work, almost manically making plans and getting things done.

All the while I was haunted by the exact moment when we heard “I don’t have good news”. I would cry almost every night.

By February every night turned into once a week and by March there was even more space between these “episodes”.

With the Christmas story long behind me I felt like Lent was a good place for me at this point in my life. Focus on the depravity of the human condition while contemplating death on a cross? Yes! Let’s get sad, people!

Lent is coming to an end though and I can feel the tension building in my body as we inch closer to Easter. The Lenten focus on depravity of our sinful nature will turn into celebrating the Love God has for us and death on a cross will turn into resurrection. Ugh.

I’m not pregnant and am still grieving our loss, you expect me to sing Hallelujah soon? I feel like the Grinch, “I must stop Easter from coming, but how?”

Currently, there is hope in the little embryo we have tucked away at the clinic, waiting for us.

There is hope in how even though this experience tried to shred our marriage into tatters, my husband and I have become closer and more tightly knit than before.

There is hope in the stories of infertility and loss that others have personally shared with us; there is hope in that every time I see my psychologist I can honestly tell her I’m doing a “bit better” than last time we spoke.

But ultimately, there is hope because 2000 and some years ago God proved that there is no darkness where God isn’t with us. God will bring all things to a good end, and that is where our hope is.

I will reclaim the doctor's words: “I don’t have good news” and hope that the absence of Good News is not real.

I want to live a beautiful story of hope.

Maren McLean Persaud grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and pursued her studies in music and theology at Mount Allison University and then Knox College, Toronto School of Theology. Most recently, she worked as Director of Camping Ministry for the Anglican Church in New Brunswick, where she currently lives with her husband, Christian. Prior to that, Maren worked as a ministry student intern in Alberta where she studied the ways that summer camp can teach the wider church to be more creative in community building and spiritual formation. Maren is most passionate about ministry with children and youth and incorporates her experiences in camping and her musical training into that work. She loves spending time outdoors, drinking her coffee black and laughing until she cries.

**If you are looking for another story of loss, hope and healing check out Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility wherever books are sold.***

What are you afraid to say?

I've been thinking a lot about the silence spaces that fill so many of our day-to-day conversations and relationships.

We converse with a loved one about something overflowing with authenticity. But then for a multitude of reasons, we don't speak of it again for years. An in between space.

A friend's flippant comment offends us. But there never seems to be time to really talk about it again. An in between space.

A family member shames us with words. But we don't feel the relationship is safe enough to enter the waters of reconciliation.  An in between space.

Bottom line: for right or wrong, in so much of our lives, I believe we're afraid to speak. Our relationships get stuck. We accept the in between space as all we can do. 

But at what cost? Joy? Peace? The contentment of living well?

I just finished Kate Bowler's new book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved-- a memoir about grief, cancer and dying that has recently hit the New York Times Best Seller list. It's full of beautiful prose. Prose I highly recommend to you.

One of the things that impressed me right away about Kate's experience of a terminal illness (a stage 4 cancer sentence nonetheless) was her crushing defiance of any space in between.

As soon as she heard that she had months to live (which has now turned into years thanks to a clinical trial), the bullshit games of her relationships ended.

Coming out of her first post-cancer diagnosis surgery, Kate describes sitting next to a beloved friend saying this:

"Oh my dear one, it's time. It's time to go. You can leave your career! . . If you stay a bitterness is going eat up everything I love about you." 

I can imagine that Kate's directness would not have happened if it weren't for her reality. And, I can imagine sensitivity to her friend's feelings might have held her back. Fear would have gotten the last word.

But it didn't. The space in between the two friends vanished.

So today, I'm wondering this: what does it take for us to live brave like this? 

How can you and I shatter the space in between the keeps us from dear ones in our lives? How can we have more conversations that matter?

I'm writing today not because I have an answer to my question. Only this insight:

It takes two people to tango. 

Reconciliation. New beginnings. Truth-telling. All of these beautiful acts do not happen if two people aren't open and willing people don't show up. AND

Push through the fear.

Bring up the hard stuff.

Listen.

Be willing to say: "I'm wrong."

Make amends if needed.

Lean into love, the kind of love that is patient and kind.

And most of all, value RELATIONSHIPS over being right or doing what we want all of the time.

It's a commitment do our part before we give up. 

In the end, I believe this is gospel work. Showing up like this is good news. Telling the truth is the good news. Abiding with people is the good news.

And it's work I know I'm called to do in this world filled so much fear, so many relationships that need mending. What about you?

____________________

P.S. If you are in the Washington, DC area and would like to get together with a group to discuss Everything Happens for a Reason, join us at The Palisades Community Church on March 14th at 7pm. Let me know you are coming and I'll reserve you a spot.

P.S.S. Are you on Instagram? Let's connect over there. @Elizabethhagan I can't wait to see your pictures.

 

 

 

At a congregation I once served, someone asked me, "Pastor, could you describe what you feel are the essentials of faith?"
It was a good question! And I knew no other better place to answer than to give some wisdom from Micah 6:8. A verse of scripture that says this:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. 
Justice.
 
Kindness.
 
Humility

 Justice is such a hot button word in faith communities these days, isn't it?

Religious folks of all kinds call out "justice" as the reason why their faith seems all the more political.
 
Justice, many say, is the reason why people who've never protested before to line up in front of Congress, down Pennsylvania Ave or in city centers all over our country. Justice is why many some folks make the choice not to dine at restaurants or buy specific products or travel to specific cities. Justice is the reason sited why my friend Alyssa was arrested this week in protest of how potential new laws might separate families one from another as immigrants to this country.
 
I am a fan of justice. God calls us to use our voice, to use our time, to use our funds to stand up for those who are being mistreated or do not have a voice to speak in our cities.
 
But, next comes kindness. Micah says the Lord asks us to "love kindness."
Some translations of this text insert the word "mercy" instead of kindness. I like mercy too. For living a life of mercy means in acting in compassion or forgiveness toward others.

And I believe there's a reason I believe that we're called to kindness after our call to justice.

For if we want our messages to have any chance of shining through to hearts who need to hear them, we always must remember to be kind. We always need to remember it's not our job to make any other person less than if they don't believe or think like we do.
I recently saw a protest sign that simply stated, "Make America Kind again" I think it's a message we can all agree on.
 
Kindness can look like stopping to have a conversation with someone who thinks differently than you. It can look like smiling. Opening doors for strangers. Going out of your way to lift someone up who is discouraged. Most of all it can look like listening.
 

I picture justice and kindness are social activism twins. We can't have one without the other and be effective.

 
And lastly, we are asked to "walk humbly with our God."
 
In a journey of faith, humility is an essential virtue, we're reminded.
 
Because after all, God is God and we are not.
 
And if this is true, sometimes we're going to be wrong. Sometimes we're going to miss the mark. We're going to speak too soon or not soon enough. We're going to make a mountain out of a molehill and cause more damage than the goodness we bring.

 

So, if our justice wrapped in kindness work is truly going to be what God wants from us- we've got to walk humbly.

 

We've got to stay connected to our life-source. We've got to take times out to pray, to think and to re-focus. We've got to move in the spirit of Thomas Merton's famous prayer: "The fact that I think I am following your will doesn't mean that I am actually doing so."
My friends for today: where and how is God calling you to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God?

Portion of a Sermon preached at The Federated Church on Genesis 4:1-7

What happens to you when life doesn’t go as you expect? What do you do next?

Do you pout and cry?

Do you stuff your feelings and comfort yourself through a nightly glass of wine, a cigarette or two and your favorite fast food indulgence?

Do you explode in fit of anger?

Where we left off last week with the first family: Adam and Eve, nothing was going like they expected.

Because of the poor choices they made to trying to figure out life on their own, God ushered them out of the Garden of Eden, their only home. The Garden was a place they thought they’d walk with God for eternity. But in an instant, it was no longer theirs. What a grief! What a loss!

And in its stead, they found themselves in a place where they were in charge of providing for themselves completely. No more fertile fruit trees all year round. No more lushness everywhere. No more animals running around in a safe and protected area.

We aren’t told exactly where this was or what it looked like all we know is this: the curses they received in the garden were upon them. Adam would face hardship caring for and finding food on the land. Eve would face difficulty in childbirth.

But by time we reach chapter 4, we learn two more members have come to the first family- Cain and Abel.

Cain comes first, his name meaning “acquired” or “got.” Eve declares the glory of what has happened to her saying (in a more literal Hebrew translation), “I’ve got a man-child with the help of the Lord.”

And next comes Abel, the second born who has no identifier to go with his name. We don’t hear Eve saying anything special about his birth. How many second born children do I have in the room this morning? The second born sure do get jibbed don’t they?

As Cain and Abel grow up into full manhood, we know nothing about their childhood. Only by the time they’re grown each one seeks a different role in the family.

cain-and-abelWe are told in verse 2 that the older boy, Cain is taken by farming and the younger boy, Abel is in charge of herding the animals.

Because it is all we know about these brothers, it seems important to pay attention to, doesn’t it? And why did each do their own thing?

Was this the case because one was simply better with animals, and the other with the land?

Was this the case because with only 4 inhabitants on the earth, this family needed the “divide and conquer” approach to survive?

Was it because both brothers were constantly dueling for their Daddy’s affection and they needed to excel at something different for either to have a sense of self?

Was this the case because they couldn’t stand one another and Momma Eve took matters into her own hands saying, “I’m tired of this fighting . . . You, Abel go over there and you, Cain go that way?”

We aren’t told any of this. But it’s clear that that Cain and Abel lived their lives in a different realm from one another.

And then—the big drama happens.

Verse 3 and 4 tell us the crux of the story: “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,  and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard”

So from these separate lives, Cain from the fields and Abel from the animals, they bring an offering to God.

Though God ushered the first family out of their Eden sanctuary, worship of their Creator was not something far from their hearts.

The time came in their adult expressions of faith to thank God for their many blessings. And when the offering plate was passed, Cain brought some fruit and Abel brought some of the first born of his flock including the best fat.

From the outside looking in, this whole scene appears sweet doesn’t it. Wouldn’t Daddy Adam and Momma Eve be so proud of the grown young men they raised? They BOTH brought an offering to God, out of their own unique talents! What more could a parent ask for

But the thing was God was not pleased.

We are told that then that LORD had regard only for the offering of Abel who brought the first born of his flock, and not the fruit of the land brought by Cain.

Abel gives out of his best, out of what came first. Cain just gives something.

And God is not happy with Cain. God thought Cain could bring better. It sounds so harsh. But it wasn’t meant to hurt his feelings—it just was God speaking the truth.

And if you are a parent of two or you grew up in a home of two or more children, I bet you can just see this scene being played out. For when one sibling feels they are getting more praise or more attention than the other one does, oh, just watch out, huh? The space in which the two siblings occupy together is about to get ugly.

And the same was true for Cain and Abel. Cain is so mad; we are told. He can’t believe that God like the offering of his YOUNGER brother better than his!

Cain was oh so angry!

Do you remember the TV show The Incredible Hulk? I never did because I didn’t grow up in a house of brothers, but I had friends at school that absolutely loved it.

I read something this week by Pastor Keith Krell which said this: “In the Incredible Hulk, the main character was a scientist named Dr. David Banner. Banner was basically a very friendly man. But whenever he got angry, his eyes would turn green and he would be transformed into this big, green, hulking monster (played by former professional bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno).

If you were a person in need, he would save you. But God help you if you were the one he was mad at because he would pick you up and throw you to the other side of the room like you were a rag doll. Dr. Banner didn’t like what anger did to him. In fact, the whole show is built around Dr. Banner’s desire to find a cure so this won’t happen to him anymore.

The lesson that Pastor Krell learned from The Incredible Hulk is: If you don’t learn to deal with your temper, it will turn you into a monster of a person. It can change you into someone you don’t want to be. This is what happened to Cain in Genesis 4. He had a bad temper to start with, but he didn’t deal with it..”

Anger as we’ve experience in our life too is a similar feeling, isn’t it?

Though we might not blow up like the incredible hulk does, our anger is one of the hottest emotions that we can literally feel throughout our body. It can pulse through our veins, raise our blood pressure and give us one of those out of body experiences of feeling like we’re going to pop out of our skin. It can be so all consuming so fast before we can even slow down and count to 10.

And though we might know that anger is usually not about anger as psychologists teach us—anger is about disappointment, grief and sadness below the surface, anger is often our go to emotion as it was for Cain that day.

So now that we’re here, let’s settle into the truth that is our bit of wisdom for the day about who we are as human beings: we’re angry. And it’s a great subject to dive into during Lent for it’s one of the recorded seven deadly sins in the book of Proverbs.

You and I, we’re angry people. So say it with me, “We’re angry.”

I’ve never preached a sermon about anger or heard many sermons on the topic either because I think it’s one of those identifiers about ourselves that we like to avoid.

“Who, me angry?”

And us women folk are the worst! If I sat down in a room this afternoon with a group of women across the spectrum of age, life experiences and geography and asked them what are some of their major character flaws, I doubt few if any would put anger at top of the list.

Anger is just not lady like you know. We can all boast of low self esteem or talk of problems with our weight or be known as a gossiper before we would call ourselves angry.

But, female genes or not, we are angry.

And the same is true of men. Though it might be more culturally acceptable for men to sound off, stomp out of a room, shout about what is going wrong in their lives—I rarely meet a man who tells me directly, “I have an anger problem.”

A man might say I have a temper sometimes, but no, not anger. But it doesn’t take away the problem. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of men sit in my office and tell me story after story of how they were just so disappointed about how their family, jobs or friendships turned out that they couldn’t control their outbursts any longer. And they knew it was hurting people they loved.

Oh, my friends, if we can learn any lesson from the first family, we should learn this one: we are all angry about something, if not a lot of some things.

Like Cain, when we’ve faced the deep disappointments of our lives and thought we’ve had nowhere else to go but to feel angry.

And I want to stand before you this morning and be one of the first to admit that I have struggled with anger too. A situation in my life was not going as planned and then some more.

One afternoon as we were having tea, a friend spoke a hard gospel truth to me saying, “Elizabeth, you are so angry. You are making this suffering personal. It's not. Some things in life are just hard and this is hard. Don’t let you anger cloud your ability to love. You have so much love to give.”

And I don’t know what opened my ears to hear my friend so clearly that day but I heard and I walked away from that meeting realizing that she was so very right. I was angry. And it was not God’s way. And a heart of anger cannot love. It just can’t. And in the season of waiting, there was love I had to give!

My friends, we are all angry. So just admit it. Bring it before God. Acknowledge how it is keeping you from joy!

And know that as you do, there’s grace waiting. For what was so remarkable about Cain’s story is that God did not banish him simply for expressing his feelings. No! God came to him and talked to him about it in verse 6-7. God wanted to know why he was angry and to work through it together.

The same invitation of relationship is available to us! So I ask you again, what can separate you from God’s love—the same question I’ve brought before you ever Sunday of Lent? Can sorrows or trials or disappointments keep you from God’s love? Can the anger? Absolutely not! Love is stronger in all things.

So, who are we church? We’re people who are angry.

But the good news available to us today is that our feelings, our frustration, our fears are welcome at the cross to a God who says, “You who are weary and burdened, come and find your rest with me. Give me your disappointments. And let me make them into something beautiful.”

All will be well—so let’s go of the anger.

AMEN

A sermon preached at The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK: Genesis 3:11-21

Do you remember the last time someone put clothes on you that you didn’t buy yourself?

clothing_transWhen we are little, it’s our parents who do all the shopping for us, don’t they? Our closets are full or not because someone provided the clothes to us. And usually for as long as our children will allow it, most parents want to dress their kids in the morning or at least supervise with tight control as to what goes on a child before they walk out the door on the way to school. Then the teen years come when the fights on about what our kids wear begin.

Then, we become adults. Part of what it means to be a grown up is to be able to provide the own shirt on our backs and wear whatever we want (within reason) whenever we want to, isn’t it? And our parents no longer give us clothes. We work hard in order to have the choice to wear the kind of clothes we like.

It a rarity as adults that anyone picks out clothes for us to wear.

But, several Christmases ago when Kevin and I had only been married a little while, we made plans to celebrate Christmas together on Christmas Eve morning before it was time to trek off to services at the church and then catching a late night flight home.

When I opened the big box with a big red bow with my name on it while sitting on the floor of our living room around the Christmas tree, I was shocked as to what I found inside. It was a complete outfit (jewelry included) to wear to church that night. My Kevin said, “It’s your Christmas dress. Don’t you like it?”

I did like it. The dress was beautiful. It was the kind of dress I’d never pick out on my own, but was something that fit me just right. And as I got ready for church that night and put the dress on was just in shock because 1) I didn’t know that Kevin actually knew what my size was or how to find his way around the women’s section of the department store 2) I couldn’t remember the last time that someone bought me a complete outfit to wear. It was a special moment in our marriage.

And maybe it’s just me, but to be given clothes or to be given someone else’s clothes is a really endearing moment.

Anyone have items in your closet from a deceased family member that you loved? I know I do. And even though the clothes I have in my closet that once belonged to my beloved grandmother don’t fit me like they used to, I love the idea that my skin could be touching same pieces of fabric that touched the skin of her and that she made sure upon her death that I got them.

And though while some may call clothes to be frivolous (and maybe only a female pastor would preach a sermon about clothes) the earliest chapters of the book of Genesis, have a lot to say about the first family’s relationship to the clothes they put on their bodies. So it’s important for all of us to pay attention too. For, God even is portrayed as the first great tailor!

Our take away from last Sunday was that when Adam and Eve knew that they had eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil--- something they were asked by God not to do—they hid. They find a brush in the wilderness. They find a tree and they try to escape the presence of God coming to meet them in the cool of the day.

But, God found them. And would not let them be out of relationship. They needed to face the consequences of their poor choices. These consequences included the snake being an animal forced to crawl in its belly for the rest of its days, grief in childbearing for the woman and soil for that man that would be harder to plow.

And then after the verdict on all these things was spoken God does something very particular in verse 21—Look with me in your Bibles at this verse.

“And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.”

We aren’t told how. We aren’t told with what. This gives us many questions—was an animal killed? If so how? What did the skins look like? But regardless we are told that God makes coverings for Adam and Eve. God became their tailor.

The clothing was important to them because we remember from earlier in chapter 3 that after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree, both their eyes opened and they realized that they were naked.

I love the point that J. Ellsworth Kalas makes about the realization of nakedness at this juncture in the story from his book, Grace in a Tree Stump, “Adam and Eve’s new sense of nakedness was not so much an embarrassment at being seen by the other [as so many of think] as it was the uneasiness at seeing themselves. Adam wants to hide from Adam. [And Eve wants to hide from Eve.]” (9).

By not trusting God to be the Creator and the Sustainer of all of life, Adam and Eve now faced the harsh reality of what it meant to be in charge of their own lives. And they were ashamed. They couldn’t stand the sight of who they were. I can imagine that their self-esteem was deeply low. And Genesis 3:7 tells us that in response, Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths from themselves.”

They made their own clothes.

They were resourceful in find a material readily available to them leaves.

They were clever to figure out a way to sew fig leaves together.

For, fig leaves were good enough to hide the parts of themselves that they wanted to cover up. The fig leaves were good enough to make them feel safe. The fig leaves were another way of hiding from the reality of themselves that they didn’t really want to confront.

All of this was well and good. But the problem was that these clothes would not last.

It would only take a good rainfall, or long day out working the field or the change in temperature for these fig leaf outfits to crumble to worthlessness.

They could get by in the short term, sure. But long term, Adam and Eve’s configuration of clothing would not stand the test.

And isn’t this the human condition?

We know when we’ve made a mistake. And we know we need to fix it somehow. When faced with a crossroad of what to do, we go for the short-term solutions. We try to fix our lives by what we can create on our own and execute on our own.

Then, nobody needs to really know we’ve screwed up, right?

But we have screwed up and God wants to show us another way—the way of grace.

Let’s read verse 21 again, “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife, and clothed them.”

The LORD GOD made garments of skin and clothed them. Do you get, church, how huge this act was?

Adam and Eve tried to fix their shame, fix their embarrassment all on their own, but God intervenes and says, “No. This is a problem too big for you to fix yourselves. Let me make you some clothes. And then here they are. Put them on.”

Do you see how lovingly tender this act of compassion was? Better than any new Christmas dress bought by a husband for his wife—God goes and picks out the best…. Better than Adam and Eve could have ever imagined or created on their own …. And clothes them with these skins.

These new clothes say to Adam and to Eve that God loves them with a deep and abiding love.

Rev. Kalas writes, “Once we get around our own defensiveness we are surprised to learn that God’s estimate of us is eternally better than our self-estimate.” (11).

It’s so true! And in community with God, we learn there is no problem or mistake we make too big for us to solve together with the Lord.

And just as we have been loved by God—we are to love one another. We become the church of God as we lavishly love and cloth one another.

Woods Chapel United Methodist Church in Lee’s Summitt, Kansas recently held it’s Prom boutique for the 10th straight year.

The church, you see, felt called to live out this good news by clothing under privileged teens in its community, so that no high school girl would go to the prom without a dress who wanted one.

Though many called this ministry frivolous or unnecessary—church leaders supported the idea because they knew how a new outfit could help a girl feel accepted.

"It's not like we're feeding the homeless or anything like that," said coordinator Fern Stuart. "We're not collecting food, but if you were ever a teenage girl, you know how important prom is. And it's just heartbreaking if you can't afford that dress."

One participant named Hannah said after receiving her new dress said, “It was amazing and made me so happy.” Church leaders talked about the light in her eyes as she left the church that day with her dress.

Another church, First Baptist Church of Oakland, Florida held last year the Saturday before Easter what it called, “Operation Dress-up.” Knowing that the Easter season is the time according to cultural tradition that many parents wish to buy their children new clothes but simply can’t afford it (and often stay away from church because of it), they wanted to do something to help.

The church took a collection and the ladies of the congregation went shopping. They filled the church’s social hall with rows and rows of NEW children’s outfits (not just the stuff you can get from Good Will) all new ranging in sizes from 4T to high school aged. They want to restore the dignity back to a population in their community who had lost it.

Rev. Parker, the organizing pastor said this about this clothing ministry, “To have something new just brings a self confidence, a self awareness to children and to people as a whole, and it's just a way we can reach out, help the children," he said.

And what beautiful colors of Sunday best filled the overflowing pews that next Easter Sunday morning at this Florida congregation.

Yet, it’s easy to say that what we wear doesn’t matter. It’s easy to say that faith in God is about what is in our heads, not on our backs. But, if anything the witnesses of these churches teach us that it does.

We all need the tactile experience of God’s grace.

Adam and Eve needed it.

We need it.

And there are hundreds in our community right now who are longing for it too.

They need to feel with their very hands and on their very shoulder and feet that the mistakes they’d made in their lives are not too great to keep them from God’s love.

This is the truth: we all have been given new spiritual clothes. We don’t have to wallow in our own. God has been a great tailor for us all. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

So, church, I ask you this morning, are you wearing the clothes God has given you? Or are you still hiding out in the mess of homemade fig leaf coverings? Are you still trying to piece together a life that you can create on your own with no help from your Creator? Or have you given God control to provide for you?

All of the most horrible things that you believe about yourself, all of those negative tapes in your head—that you aren’t worthy of any more than fig leaves coverings--- put that all to the side. Don’t wear these clothes a day longer!

You, my friends, are the sons and daughters of the most high. Only the finest of finest of gifts has God clothed you with! So put on forgiveness, in joy, in hope, in faithfulness and love! God’s great coverings for YOU!

And don’t hoard the blessing for yourself.

Be a bearer of good news, knowing that sometimes sharing this good news with others might come in the form of giving a girl a new prom dress or a boy a new pair of shoes for Easter or a million other ways that the Spirit might lead you toward. Clothe others just as God has clothed you.

Most of all know this church: you are clothed by the Most Holy One!

Thanks be to God for this great gift of grace! And the ability to wear new clothes.

AMEN

A sermon preached at The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK: Genesis 3:1-9

Besides the common saying that “there are two things that you can be certain of in life death and taxes” I would add two more things. You can be certain that human beings like you and me will do stupid things from time to time and also not want to admit it.

And along these lines, today we’re continuing our Lenten sermon series —lessons that can be learned about who we really are as human beings from the first family.

Last week if you followed in the online snow church plan you saw that Genesis 1:28 calls us caretakers of all of creation. God wanted his image bearers—like you and me--- to rule over all of creation and ensure its success. We are invited into a relationship with the flowers of the earth and the birds of the air. We are invited to be good stewards of the creation we’re given by God.

But, by time we get to Genesis 3, times are changing though.

The trust that had upheld the role of God as Creator and woman and man as creations is questioned.

Genesis 3 is really such a familiar story not just for kids in Sunday School, but one we study in classical literature and find alluded to in modern movies.

And, culturally, interpretations of Genesis 3 have a lot to do with why relations between the male and female expressions of creation are pitted against one another. For scripture tells us that it is the woman who made the poor choice first.

Genesis 3 is a passage in New Testament gospel language is often referred to as “the fall” (though never in the Old Testament is this phrase actually used) for it’s the moment, we are told by scholars like the Apostle Paul that would spin in motion the need for Christ’ redemptive act. For as Adam and Eve sinned so would we. And a price would need to be paid.

The passage begins by telling us that the serpent was more crafty than the other animals and talks (No, this is not a Disney movie and so let’s just stop here and note that we just heard a reference to a talking snake—something that is so easily overlooked in our familiarity of the passage). The serpent says to Adam and Eve: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’”

If we go back to the 2nd account of creation in Genesis 2, we learn that indeed God did put Adam and Eve in a lovely place but he gave them one boundary. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.”

And the serpent’s question brings this rule of by God’s into question. He asks Adam and Eve to reconsider WHY this rule was in place. Why did God NOT let them in on the whole story? Was that really fair?

Look with me at verse 4: “But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

We are so quick, I think to blame the serpent or to call him the devil incarnate but one commentary says in this, “the serpent acts not as a deceiver but as truth-teller.”

Because it WAS true that God gave them a boundary and didn’t tell them why. And if they did trespass the boundary, their eyes would be opened to more of the world than previously known. But the question was, in context of God’s relationship with Adam and Eve was this ok? Could they not know everything and could God still be trusted?

The seed of doubt is planned in Eve’s and Adam’s minds. Through the serpent’s words, their doubt leads to temptation and then action.

Eve saw the delight that was the fruit.

She ate it.

She offered some to her husband. He ate it.

And just as the serpent eluded to, their eyes were open. The world suddenly looked completely different.

One commentator describes the aftermath in this way, Adam and Eve “realize that, now having to decide for themselves what is in their own best interest, everything looks somewhat different. Having decided to be on their own, they see the world entirely through their own eyes. They now operate totally out of their own resources.”

And there’s one word that sums it all up: shame.

Adam and Eve, after breaking the parental bond of trust with God, are ashamed of what they’ve done, what they look like, what their resources have left them with and most of all afraid of what might come next.

With depleted resources, they can’t face each other—scripture tells us that for first time they realize their own nakedness. And they can’t face God. When they hear Creator God walking among the earth to be with them at the end of the evening breeze, Adam and Eve panic.

Their next move is to hide.

And no, this wasn’t a fun game of hide-and-go seek. No, these grown-up adults ran and took cover among the greenery of a nearby bush or tree. They don’t want God to find them.

What a story this is! And I believe so easy to remove ourselves from it as if it’s just a metaphoric tale of something so out of touch with our identity and our own patterns of relationships with God and neighbor.

But the truth I have to offer you this morning about yourself is that you are an hider too. We all are hiders.

We are hiders—and sometimes it looks like lying.

Consider this: a lawyer friend of mine recently told me about a case he was working on at his firm.

Two guys were going out for drinks one Friday night to celebrate the promotion of another friend of theirs and went a little overboard. They both had one margarita too many. Instead of calling a cab or another friend to take them home when the night was over, the two friends got in the car and decided to find their way by themselves. They drove too fast on the freeway and begin to swerve all over the place putting other lives at danger.

Of course, you know how the story goes, flashing blue lights soon pull up behind them. At that moment, the two men made their choice. Would they tell the truth? Or would they hide?

Oh, they hid alright! They played fruit basket turn over in the car with the passenger coming to the backseat and the driver coming to the passenger side. They curled themselves into a ball like children and pretended to be asleep, just stuck on the side of the road with car trouble.

When the officers came to ask who was driving the car, both gentlemen had blank looks on their faces as if aliens had driven them to the side of the road.

Neither of them would admit they drove or knew who drove the car, even when they were handcuffed and taken to the station for questioning. It seemed that lying was just easier than telling the truth. Sad but true.

But even if we haven’t committed a DUI lately, I bet if you took a moment and thought over all the words that came out of your mouth over the last week, there were times when you didn’t tell the truth.

We lie to avoid consequences of being reprimanded at work or hurting the feelings of our wife when she asks us how she looks in her new outfit or we lie to get out of jury duty so we can go on vacation. We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter, but it does.

We hide by lying more times, I believe than any of us could really count in a given week.

But, then sometimes hiding comes in the form of blaming someone else.

When is the last time you’ve been in a room full of children? I was visiting a friend of mine with several just this past week and remembered again that children are more sophisticated participants at the blame game than we might first give them credit for!

Invite a group of preschoolers to play together in your living room and let them have a it for a while and then ask, “Who make a mess of the toys?”

Or, “Who spit on the floor?”

Or, “Why is your sister crying?”

And, you probably won’t get a straight answer right away.

Even before children and utter complete sentences many of them learn the game of pointing fingers at others. “She did it.” “No, she did it.” “No, he did it.”

And such an exercise is not just for children. As adults, we blame others a lot.

We blame our parents or siblings for the emotional messes we uncover in our adult lives.

We blame our children for the anger we feel about why our lives didn’t turn out the way we wanted.

We blame our friends for not being present in times when we really thought they should show up and help us.

From the mouths of babes through our adult life, blaming other people is just easier than taking responsibility for our own actions.

It’s a lot easier to blame a third party as to why we lost our job or why we are in debt or why our daughter doesn’t speak to us anymore than to actually tell things like they are!

But then additionally, sometimes hiding takes the form of our avoiding the consequences of our actions altogether.

Several years ago this was headline news: “Fake death pilot, hiding alive in remote Florida.”

Marcus Schrenker, an Indiana businessman, married and father of three knew that his secret life was catching up with him.

He realized that state and national authorities had proof he embezzled millions from those who had trusted him as a financial advisor.

And, Marcus knew that his wife was on to his affair with another woman in the neighborhood.

And in all these things: here was no way that Marcus could face the facts. He did not have a “I’m sorry” in him nor did he want to go to jail.

So, Marcus made the choice to hide in the best way he knew how: stage his own death.

Though seemingly a little extreme, it worked for a while.

This trained pilot fell out of an airplane with get-a-way motorcycle nearby. And, he got himself situated at a campground, miles from anyone who might know him. He created a whole other identity and went about his day making new friends as if nothing strange had just happened.

(Though the police would be onto his plot in several days).

But hear me say this: it doesn’t take jumping out of an airplane and faking your death to avoid the consequences of your actions--- and all of us have been there in one way or another.

In one of my congregations, there was a lovely woman who was very involved in the parish, the kind of lady who did anything asked of her to help out from the kitchen, to the women’s group to any sorts of mission activities. We all loved her for her great gifts! Yet, this was until somebody re-arranged the dishes in the kitchen and did not ask her permission to do so.

The day she found out about what happened and that some of her favorite dishes had already been taken to Good Will—she exploded on the church council and stormed out in rage.

Even though I and several other members of the church tried to go and talk to her, she never came back. The lady knew she was in the wrong. It was easier to go start over at another church than it was to come back and apologize to her dear friends for her controlling behavior and angry outburst.

And this is the world, you and I live in, my friends—our inheritance from father Adam and Mother Eve is one of hiding by lying, by blaming others, by avoiding our punishment thinking that if we just cover up ourselves in some bushes it will all be ok.

But, the good news of this passage comes in the last verse. For the Lord found Adam and Eve and said, “Where are you?”

Remember that truth we landed on a couple of weeks ago that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Well, here we see it clearly portrayed again. For there was no amount of hiding that was going to keep Adam and Eve from relationship with God as far as God was concerned.

Sure, there’d be consequences (which we’ll get to next week), but NOTHING was going to keep God from the invitation of relationship. They could not hide forever. And when they came out, God would be there.

And the same is true of you and I my friends: no amount of hiding can keep our compassionate Creator from relationship with us.

So I ask you this morning? How are you hiding from God? What are trying to cover up about your life? What do you NOT want people to know about you?

Hear the good news today: you will be found.

AMEN

Who doesn't like to fast forward?

I think one of the greatest inventions in television is the DVR box that comes with most standard cable subscriptions for an extra $10 or so a month.

With it, no longer do you have to watch commercials you don't like, or any commercials for that matter.

You don't even have to be at home to watch your favorite shows, as long as they are set to record.

And best of all, the days of spousal fights over who controls the remote are over. With the gift of the record feature, both you and your partner can watch what you want-- just maybe not at the same time.

But before I sound too much like an ad for a cable company, hang with me-- a point is coming.

Not only do so many of us have DVR or other recording devices boxes in our homes, but I think there is something about the fast forward feature that has taken over more than just our television remote controls. We live in a world-- in our place of privilege in a country like America-- where we get the luxury to fast forward through parts of our lives that we don't like.

Some parts of life are easy to fast forward through if we just apply ourselves.

Calling ahead for seating at restaurants to avoid the wait at the door.

Filing our taxes online to avoid the wait on April 15th at the post office.

Earning miles or signing up for reward programs with airlines to avoid the wait in the security lines.

Other parts are more difficult.

Sir, we've found a spot of cancer in your lungs.

Miss, we think your child is going to have to repeat the 3rd grade.

No, dear, I just don't think we're ever going to get married.

But regardless of the circumstances rarely do we ever want to sit with annoyance, traffic jams, or life altering news longer than we have to. We have to get on to the next thing. We are ready to get on to the next thing. We want the fast forward button to help us. Sometimes we eat too much, drink too much or sleep too much in an attempt to get there faster.

I think this is the same way that most Christians feel about Holy Week. We want the fast forward feature. Where is it?

We've just experienced the highs of "Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" from Palm Sunday. And if we go to worship on Easter we'll be asked to exclaim, "Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! hallelujah!" Happy stuff, right?

But what about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in between?

Though I'd very much like to fast forward through the hard stuff of holy week: taunting, betrayal, hopelessness, pain, suffering and abandonment, I don't think as Christians that we can. Our story is as much about the hard stuff as it is the joy. And so, this week:

We are asked to sit with Jesus in the upper room when Judas betrays Jesus for some silver coins.

We are asked to stand with Jesus as Peter deigns that he knows Jesus three times.

We are asked with Jesus as he takes the cross to Calvary-- to die upon a trash heap for criminals.

We are asked to observe the pain in Jesus as he cries out to God, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

We are asked to wait with the sobbing women on Saturday as their Lord has died and they have no clue what to do next.

Intense, right? Yet, we can't just fast forward through this emotional journey. We must set aside holy time to live it. There's so much to take in as we go one step at a time.

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Luke 5:16

What does this practice look like in our modern context?

Last summer I spent a week of training for my spiritual director certificate at the Interfaith Institute in Berkeley, CA. Throughout the week, my cohort explored the practice of deeply listening to one another through a variety of different activities. We shared stories. We worked with images. And we even went on solitary walks. Now, eight months later, the memories of this experience are some I still treasure dearly.

And, there's one gem I gained from our Hindu instructor I've thought a lot about this Lent. She said, "If you want to listen to God, then you need to limit media you are taking in." Or in other words she offered: "If you want to be close to the Divine, ask yourself, why are you watching so much tv or listening to so much of the radio or watching movies on Netflix online?" Her words were practical and to the point.

I love media like most of you. Sometimes I think my computer is attached to my body. Sometimes I find myself sad when I don't have a day to catch up on the recorded shows on my DVR box and just veg out. Sometimes the silence of driving in the car with the radio is deafening. My generation loves noise.

But then there are moments when I truly turn it all off and I'm so glad I did.

On Sunday night, Kevin and I were cooking in our Oklahoma apartment's kitchen. The counter space is limited and we were side by side. He was chopping fruit. I was baking bread. We were preparing to host breakfast the next morning for the country directors from Feed The Children in town for the week.

We had both previously commented how excited we were about watching the Oscars. Being movie buffs, we couldn't wait to see who won what and how funny (or not) the jokes were. But then a strange thing happened. We came home from the grocery store and we didn't turn the tv on.

I don't know how, but we forgot about the Oscars.

We unloaded the car, cooked in silence for a while and then began to talk to each other-- sharing details about our weeks that we would have missed if we didn't take this time of pause. I learned more about some of Kevin's deep burdens and he learned more about mine.

I think that listening to God is like this. I think this is what Jesus was modeling for us when he went to the lonely places and prayed.

Sure, we all might have intentions about what we are "doing" this Lent to grow in our faith-- no sweets, no soda, exercising more or even drinking more water, but what good are these things if we don't allow the slower pace of life to help us listen?

Listening to what we are to do next in our daily rhythms . . .

Listening to what our primary relationships need most from us . . .

Listening to what we can only hear if we turn our tvs and computers off . . .

In reading through the gospels, it seems to me that as much as Jesus was "on" and busy, he was always looking for a retreat, quiet and silence. Thank goodness that it is this season, that reminds us every year that the most important thing we can all do is unplug and listen!

Here we are, already deep into Lent preparing for the second Sunday of the season this week. Yes, even Baptists (at least some of us) celebrate it too.

Is Lent all about just giving something up and not cheating? Is Lent just about restraining words of exclamation, “Allueias” in worship? Is Lent just a time of confession and repentance where we come to church to feel bad about ourselves? Or is it something deeper?

Growing up in a tradition that did not celebrate Lent (lent to me was that fuzzy stuff you find in the dryer) still feel the observance of this season is seeping into me. I know I"m still figuring it out. Afterall, Lent is something that you practice.

The first year I observed Lent, right after graduating from college, I acted as though the Lent disciplines were a race. Forty days of self-sacrifice: "Game on!" I said. I gave up soda that year and as much as I really wanted to cheat, I abstained day after day with hopes of finishing strong and satisfied with “accomplishment” of Lent on Easter morn. But, the more I’ve practiced and preached about Lent, these past several years, I’ve realized that words like “accomplishment” or “sacrifice” are not as much about “Lent” as we might have thought.

This year as a corporate community at Washington Plaza, we are observing Lent with the theme “Promises in the Night: Sitting with Jesus in the Dark Night of the Soul.” In worship we’ll be combining gospel readings about the last days of Jesus on earth with some of the most hopeful promise texts of the Old Testament as a way of sitting with Lent in a new way this year. We’ll consider the darkness because we’ve all been to the darkness, if we aren’t sitting with it right now.  This week's promise is: "I wil remember you."

So, besides encouraging you to come to corporate worship as often as your schedule allows (in Reston or wherever you are)—to explore ideas of promises, darkness and waiting with one another’s soul: I also want to challenge you to not try to conquer Lent this year. No matter what your Lent practices may be let this be a year that we simply sat with Lent. Let us not hurry. May we claim that the darkness as ok, for a time. Let us not be afraid. Let us simply allow the promises of God arrive through cracks, bit by bit. I believe if we do so, by time we get to Easter, there’re be quite a party going on at the church on the Plaza (and elsewhere) because the joy of our light will overflow!

"From ashes you came and ashes you shall return." Let Lent tary on.