Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the mountains-- where does my help come from?”
“It is DONE!” The three favorite words of any student looking at a looming assignment. For me it was my Environmental Ethics paper… all 5000 words of it. It is such a good feeling of accomplishment when we can say, “It is DONE!” For many of us we have taken on tasks while being sequestered at home during this pandemic. Things like cleaning out closets, washing windows and cleaning up our yards. After each task is completed, we stand back and say, “It is DONE!”
That is how I felt this afternoon when my “word counter” hit 5085. DONE. SEND. RELAX…and then…repeat. The next two papers are not as long or detailed, but I know that after each one I will say, “It is DONE.”
We are all looking forward to the day when we can look COVID19 in the face and say, “YOU ARE DONE.” But what we also must realize is that we are going to continue with those next steps…relax…repeat. What?? Repeat?! Yes, we now realize the ease and extent of how a pandemic works. The scientists and theologians both agree…we will be repeating this someday. This is just the beginning of a new way of the world. No longer is it just the flu that we must be aware of.
How do we relax then? I know that once my doctorate is finished it will be another item on my long list of lifelong goals checked off, not unlike cleaning out my closets, so I can relax. But knowing that somewhere out there on the horizon is another pandemic looming? I look to the Word for my instruction on how to relax. And I lift up my eyes to the mountains, knowing that God will move them for us…again. This morning as I shared my thoughts on Good Morning, Red Lodge I realized that I said that the mountain had moved out of the mist. And I did not correct myself. God can and will move the mountains for us.
We just have to relax…and stand still long enough to see them move.
May God’s peace surround you as you relax…and stand still long enough in trust that God will move that next mountain just like God has all of the others before this one.
I love discovering new roads in and around Red Lodge. I headed out Willow Creek Road the other day to pick up a “new to me” dining room table. What a view! Sometimes it takes a trip down a different road to help us see what is right in front of us. As John the Baptist cried out to the people gathered at the river, “Prepare the way!” I wonder if he wasn’t saying, “Go a different way!” Or “Open your eyes along the way!”
That is what it takes, sometimes, to get us through this very difficult holiday season. Trying to figure out how to navigate the tricky relationship difficulties in our lives while celebrating the birth of the One who has come to heal all our tricky relationship difficulties is not easy. It takes a different way. Of course, I do not have the road map that guarantees anyone the correct way to navigate those relationships, but I do have a compass to help us stay on the road, to “keep it between the ditches” as we say back home. That compass is the one that points us to our “true north.”
That compass is prayer. Prayer in the form of stopping, breathing and saying, “Ok. You’ve got this, God.” Prayer in the form of crying out, “I just don’t know what to say next.” Prayer in the form of, “I know I can’t do this right now, so I’m stepping out.” And prayer in the form of listening for the still small voice to give us the next coordinate.
While driving down Willow Creek Road, I realized that even though I was driving my big ole’ truck, it was very slippery and I needed to navigate the twists and turns slowly and deliberately. The same can be said of navigating these painful and difficult relationships during this holiday season. Carefully…slowly…deliberately…using our compass of prayer to tell us when to turn, stop, and re-calibrate our way.
John the Baptist was the compass for Jesus, preparing the way for Him to come and be among us. If Jesus had someone to be His compass, well then I’d say that we certainly qualify to need one as well…and allowing Christ and the Spirit to be that compass through prayer is one of the best tools to take along on this precarious journey this season.
It figures that my plans for a snow Advent are not quite coordinating with the weather. Blue skies and sunshine don’t match the snowflake leggings and stole. Sunshine and bright days don’t give us the opportunity to reflect on darkness and light. The ease of traversing Broadway doesn’t give us pause for the marginalized who are caged.
This week’s studies have taken me a little deeper into my own reflections as I read about microaggression, anger and ethics. A little light reading, anyone? So, while the sun may be sunning and the bright blue skies brightening, my Advent journey has been as dark and searching as our church’s history suggests it should be.
To say that I was overjoyed at the hearing the songbirds at sunrise this morning would be an understatement. The sound of hope! The light of the morning blazing through the murky depth of self-reflection was definitely welcomed.
From the first chapter of First Corinthians: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I do truly thank God every day for each and every one of you at Red Lodge Community Church. You have made and continue to make my personal transition here a blessing. You have made and continue to make my vocational transition back to settled parish ministry a gift beyond any possible imagination. May you all have a blessed Thanksgiving week.
Philippians 3:13-14 “ Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
I love having an active Christmas cactus. I say active because I’ve had Christmas cactuses in the past that never blossomed. They would just sit there, all forlorn, all year long. I’m sure it had something to do with the window they were in, or the cat that ate the buds, or the fact that I never watered the poor things. Last year I received a beautiful Christmas cactus for Christmas, and it has blossomed three times in the last year. Each time the heavily laden buds successfully bloomed into beautiful bright flowers.
There are a few things that I’ve learned over the course of the year about Christmas cactuses. First, don’t move them. Wherever you set them once you bring them home is their forever home. They don’t like to be moved. Second, feed them a cup of coffee every now and then. They like their Joe! And finally, don’t let your pet eat their buds. Now, with the exception of preventing them from being consumed, the other Christmas cactus care ideas could very well be old wives’ tales. The location and caffeination just happen to work for my blossoming Brazilian beauty.
Do you ever wonder about your ability to turn your buds into blooms? Just because you have a budding idea doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to bloom into a blossom of a ministry. That doesn’t mean that you don’t keep trying, though. We learn by failing. Indeed, it can become wearisome to keep trying things over and over. And yes, sometimes things just aren’t meant to be, or they are meant to take a season or two off. I don’t know if I finally succeeded at raising a living Christmas cactus because of my new ideas, my fortitude at keeping the thing alive or the luck of the draw in receiving a hearty plant. What I do know is that when I mentioned to my mom that I was going to try a Christmas cactus one more time she was happy to impart her wisdom as to why her 30 year old Christmas cactus that was now the size of a small child always produced voluptuous volumes of beautiful blossoms throughout the year. (Of course, the fact that mom hasn’t had a housecat in 40 years probably helped as well.)
One of the things that I love about our church and my ministry here is the fact that we try new things. And we are allowed to fail. Unlike my Christmas cactus, we don’t get stuck in the same place. We move on, we try different views. (And just like my Christmas cactus, we are fueled by vast amounts of caffeine!) Next week I will be in Pittsburgh teaching other pastors how to transition their churches from a place of dormancy to a place of renewal. One of those lessons is about trying even though they might fail. And I will also be sitting in on classes about new ideas for ministries. New ways to fail, and how to fail well.
By the time I return the beautiful pink buds of my Christmas cactus will be falling off. And I know that in a couple of months the tiny buds will again appear, stretch and grown into another round of bright pink beacons of hope. A reminder that not giving up on trying something new sometimes takes a few years and it is always worth the effort…as long as you try with a good strong cup of Joe.
Red Lodge Community Church - A place where Spirit and so much more happens!
308 S. Broadway
Red Lodge, Montana