Ash Wednesday 2018

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

Matthew 6:28-34 The Message

I Worried
(by Mary Oliver)

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, with the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

 

Yep. I. Needed. That.

Scott Sears, Ash Wednesday 2018

Twenty Five Years too Late

Greenville, NC was booming in the early 1990’s. A growing college campus, a regional hospital and pharmaceutical companies were making the area of Pitt County NC a destination for many new people.

The United Methodist Church saw the growth and new that a new congregation would be the best way to tap into the new people coming into the area. After several months of ground work by a planting team, Easter 1992, they launched their new service of Covenant UMC in a local Boy’s and Girls Club.

By the summer of 1992, the attendance at Covenant had hit 800 and was climbing. The pastor reached out to Duke Divinity School for a summer intern and somehow I ended up going there for the summer before I started my first year of seminary. It was a dream placement. I got to see the church at its most exciting. New people were coming to faith every week. Folks who had fallen away from “Church” finding their way back. The pastor was dynamic. Their music was phenomenal. And the felling around the gathering of this new congregation was one that was filled with hope – there was nothing God couldn’t do.

I was given the opportunity to preach a couple of times at Covenant that summer. On the first occasion, I had slipped into my white alb prior to arriving at the Boys and Girls Club and was just out mingling with the folks showing up for worship. I felt a tap on my shoulder and then a voice in my ear said quite clearly, “Hey, where’s your hood?” And then they laughed and walked off.

I didn’t get it at first. I wondered why anyone would need a hood in the humidity of Greenville. After a couple of steps and watching the end of my white alb sway as I walked, I froze at the realization of what this man meant. I couldn’t believe this came from one of our wonderful new congregation members. How could they possibly think that this sacred outfit was “that kind of robe.”

But they did. That is exactly what they saw.

I never wore it again in Greenville but I was quite comfortable wearing it once I returned to West Virginia. Had I been given the chance, I would have worn it to my ordination. But alas, in those days, we had to wear black robes.

This week, I saw the alb hanging in my office closest and thought I might bring it out for this week’s worship service in Princeton. It had been a while since I had worn it.

And then Friday night happened in Charlottesville. And then Saturday’s horrors.

I took the alb to the sanctuary Sunday morning but I was not wearing it. I simply hung it up where it could be seen.

The text I preached on that morning was Matthew 11:22-33. You may know it as the one where Jesus walks on water. And the one where Peter sinks. The disciples all get called people of “weak faith.” What had struck me that week was the fact that Jesus used people of weak or little faith to build the Kingdom. As I thought about the weekend’s event and my holding onto that symbol that could be so easily misunderstood, I realized that I too was a man of weak faith.

I told the story of that morning in Greenville and my inability to say anything in return. I told my congregation that I was a man of little faith. Then I picked up the alb and ripped it in half and placed it on the chancel rail of the church. Here is a picture of the destruction for now. Here is a link to the video…It is silent, but I think it speaks louder that way – you already know the story!  https://vimeo.com/229491973

Torn Alb

I know that not every white person in our churches see albs and think immediately of the Klan. But some of them do. Some of them do. I did not want anything of my already white privileged life to become a confusing symbol to anyone. Anyone. We have allowed symbols to lead to hate. Hate lead to speech. Speech lead to the disaster that hit a beautiful college town in Virginia. I will no longer wear a symbol even closely resembled to white hate in any way. I hope to find somewhere, some way that I can send the pieces of this alb to be refashioned into something of peace. Don’t know if that’s possible but I’m open to ideas.

I also offer a challenge to my fellow white clergy anywhere.

Ditch the albs.

Sure, I know they have other meanings. I know that they symbolize so much. But I also know that our actions here could speak much louder than anything else. Ditch the alb…Take up the preaching robe with love, justice, and peace. Let’s make a change that no one can miss. It took me twenty five years to gain the little bit of faith I needed to make a statement with this piece of white clothing. I pray it takes you less.

Thanks for reading. Thanks even more for joining me if you wish.

To see the entire sermon…go here.

 

Yeah…an “enemy!”

Matthew 13 – Thoughts and Reflections for the Lectionary Reading for Sunday, July 20, 2014

“An enemy, my eye!” the Rev. (now Bishop) Will Willimon said in his sermon on this passage during a worship service at the NC Annual Conference.

I remembered being struck with the audacity of his statement. Surely, he has read the passage and knows that Jesus says “an enemy has done this!” But then he went on to explain that the joke could be missed by us.

Enemies hurl insults at one another in an effort to start a fight.

Enemies attack with swords and guns and fists.

Enemies burn down perfectly good fields.

Enemies don’t mix weeds in with good seed. No one needs an enemy to do that. Simply look in the mirror. I don’t consider myself my own worst enemy and yet, and yet, I must admit that there is some evil in me. But did an enemy put that there? Honestly, no. I put it there myself…thought I had it hidden…but it seems to grow at the same rate as everything else in my life.

I don’t need no stinking enemies to choke out the good in me. I’m good enough at it myself.

But the preacher went one to say something about the offer to pull up the weeds. He said “Let them grow…I like to watch things grow. And when it’s over I will take care of the weeds.

Sometimes I would see this “taking care of the weeds as some final revenge on the evil that is in me and the evil that is in our world.

But then I really heard what the preacher said. The one who liked to watch things grow…the one who would tolerate wheat and weed together…this is the one who was going to care for the weeds at the end.

The jokes on me. I want the grace to grow but I want my enemies to suffer and die – especially those that are within me. But this farmer, this Kingdom builder, seems to have a different agenda.

Just let it grow. I will take care of it.

I think I’ve met this farmer. Every once in a while he tells me to take up a loaf of bread and say, “This is my body broken for you.” He has called me to a table and asked me to lift up a cup and say, “This is my blood, shed for you.”

This farmer gives everything for everything that grows in his field. A body on a cross. Blood dripping on the loved ones gathered below as well as the soldiers keeping guard.

God, this farmer loves mysteries.

And I am thankful. For in some way, we are all a mystery and this world…well, it’s either a mystery or a damned mystery. Take your pick.

Yet somehow, I think this farmer loves it.

Mystery of Prayer

(Inspired by March 11, 2014 www.pray-as-you-go.com and Matthew 6:5-14.)

thinking_rfid-e1337372097366

I am alone, yet not by myself.
Words rattle in my mind and fall into the very heart
of the One who Created, Is Creating, and Will Recreate.

Joy!
God is near always:
Jesus sits with me in prayer…
Labors in my work…
Grins when I am laughing…
Joins me in my struggles…
Nods in agreement as I forgive…
Cavorts with me in play…
Sighs with me in hunger…
Touches me as I tenderly reach out to my lover…
Cries at my frustration…
Joy!

The mystery of prayer?
The Kingdom will be found in one –
praying in an empty room,
yet never, never, alone.

On Lent

Stone into Bread

Yep… that would be my choice.

Me.

I want it to be all about me.
Caring for my hunger
Miracles that I desire
A place for me in the Kingdom

Forty days
Forty nights

He will rely upon God alone.
He will unveil God’s glory.
He will enter a Kingdom of servant humility.

Me?
He invites to follow… or not to follow.
Forty days – Forty nights.
Step by aching step.