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Last weekend, our pastor was on the road. He delivered his sermon to us in Missouri from a visitor’s center in Mississippi. Technology is an amazing thing. Still, it took a couple of tries for our two techs and the pastor to work out the feedback issue.

And yet everyone sat and waited. After all, we realize that these things don’t always come together on the first try a lot like this blog post.

What?

This isn’t actually what I was going to write about. I was going to make a connection between a parable, specifically the Shrewd Manager, and grace. But I’m just not feeling it today.

And that’s okay. Not everything comes together on the first try. Sometimes we have troubles pulling our ideas together because we simply need more time to process them. This might be the case when we have butted heads with a friend. Or before we try to talk to a family member about something they have done. Or that we failed to do. Whatever the details, we need to take the time to get into a place where we can approach things carefully.

Sometimes we need someone else to lend a helping hand to solve a problem. It took three people in three different locations to bring us that sermon on Sunday. The lesson here? Accept help when it is offered. You don’t have to do everything on your own. There’s a reason that Christ advises us to take part in a community.

But even with the help of our community, some things don’t work. And they won’t work. And what we need to do is throw up our hands in defeat and admit it to ourselves. Fighting on doesn’t do any good and just isn’t worth the effort. Note to self: The instructions say you can hard cook eggs in the air fryer but do NOT try that nastiness again. Really. No one will thank you.

Perfection belongs to God alone. We human beings are fallible and that isn’t likely to change especially when one of us is still experimenting with the air fryer. What to try today, eggplant or cauliflower?

–SueBE

Seek balance.

Last Sunday, our pastor preached on Mary and Martha. When I saw the scripture in the bulletin, I heaved a great sigh. I get so sick of people praising Mary and putting Martha down. In part, this is because I identify with Martha. I’m a do-er. But it is also because I suspect that most of the people condemning Martha benefit from someone like Martha.

And our minister acknowledged this. In his mind, every successful church exists because of the women who serve meals, clean the building, help with mailings, or whatever.

That said, I had never considered the full implications of Mary listening at Christ’s feet. I had forgotten that women were not allowed to study the Torah. In fact, one rabbi who lived shortly after Christ stated that rather than let women study the Torah, it should be burned.

Now, think about that for a moment.

Female labor is good. Female knowledge is not. This is an idea that many of us are familiar with but we tend to forget that we’ve heard it all before when we listen to this passage. I only realized as I was writing this that although I identify with Martha, I am a lot like Mary. My curiosity knows no bounds. How strange that it was only today that I realized how like Mary I am.

Whether you naturally identify more with Mary or with Martha, what we all really need is to strive for balance. We need the Martha. There’s no doubt about that because it is Martha who gets things done, but we also need Mary to listen for the voice of Christ.

Without Mary, we have no discernment. Without Martha, we will be limited in what we accomplish. To be effective, we need to find within ourselves a bit of both.

–SueBE

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Last Sunday, one of our scriptures was from 1 Kings, the story of Elijah. For those of you who don’t remember the specifics about Elijah, he was a prophet of the Lord. He fled into the wilderness where, twice, angels brought him food and water. As a child, I always thought of how much Elijah must mean to God who sent heavenly messengers to care for his servant.

Sunday our pastor challenged us to think a little bit differently about the nature of those angels. Why? Because there is more than one definition for the word angel. The way the word is most often used, angels are winged messengers from God.

But there is another definition and that is a person of virtue and good conduct. What if the angels who found Elijah and gave him food and water weren’t winged messengers but ordinary human beings?

So often the problems that we see around us seem insurmountable – poverty, climate change, the health care crisis, the need for affordable housing. It is tempting to look at these massive problems and wait for equally massive solutions. But what if we were to think of Elijah and the possibility of human angels?

I can’t solve global hunger but I can distribute sack suppers twice a month at my church. These aren’t huge meals – just a grilled hot dog, fruit, chips, and a bottle of water. And we give out from 80 to 100 on a really good night. But that’s 80 to 100 people who have a bit of warm food and a friendly word.

It may not seem significant to those of us who have so much. But to those who have food insecurity or perhaps just need to be seen and blessed, it can make an impact.

What problems exist in your community? Where might you go with angels wings.

–SueBE

My family and I spent a week in West Texas. We were there to bury my father in his hometown. I wasn’t sure what to expect since we no longer have family there. My sister and I hadn’t been back for decades.

In so many ways, this was not the town that I remembered. I grew up visiting a ranch town of adobe and brick buildings. When we ate out, it was Dairy Queen. Local attractions included the college museum and the municipal pool.

Now? Now it is something else entirely. The town has remade itself as an arts community. There is an amazing bookstore, coffee shops, galleries, and restaurants large and small. Reacquainting myself with the town was an amazing adventure. We visited the Museum of the Big Bend which is still at Sul Ross University but in a newer building. Dad would love the new location. We drove half an hour to Ft. Davis to visit the original fort. Dad loved history.

The house as I knew it.

But we also visited my grandparents’ home. It is no longer in the family and feelings about it were mixed. I loved the way the knew owners had reworked the adobe, smoothing hard lines and adding an arch. Yes, I missed the lawn and the massive trees but this is the desert. Zero-scaping makes sense.

The house now.

Not everyone loved the new look. One family member, with gritted teeth, went on about how they had destroyed our grandparents’ home. It was just gone.

To an extent this was a matter of opinion and whether someone preferred one look over another. But it was also a case of acknowledging that none of us own this house. It belongs to someone else. So really it isn’t our business how it looks. It isn’t our circus. These are not our monkeys.

The whole situation left me wondering how often we get worked up when something is really none of our business. Don’t like the dress a female news anchor is wearing? Some people feel the need to share their opinion. Others focus on the weather report. Don’t want your child reading a book? You can find them another book or you can kick up a fuss. Banning is one extreme possibility.

How people worship. What their children learn in school. The pronoun that someone uses.

Whether or not I like the decisions someone else has made, they are all children of God. We share a common kinship, and I have been charged by Christ to lend them a helping hand when they need it. That doesn’t mean they need to do things my way. Fortunately my own concerns involve a very small number of monkeys in an absolutely tiny circus.

–SueBE

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Whether you are dealing with recent loss as Lori is or you are simply so tired that you poured the half-and-half in the sugar bowl instead of your coffee cup . . . sometimes adulting is a bit much. We need to remember to give ourselves a break.

Monday I woke up way early. Way, way early. I am not a morning person. Temperatures had dropped and we had the windows open. This should have been perfect sleeping weather. But once I woke up, I had to get up. Once I got up the cat knew I was up. There was no getting back to sleep.

But instead of getting to work, I grabbed a stack of library books. Since I write for young readers, I always have graphic novels and picture books on hand. I settled in the living room to read and listen to the birds.

This led me to three things we all need to remember when adulting.

Kid Stuff

First things first, remember the things that you loved to do when you were a kid or things that you loved to do with your own kids. For me, choice number 1 has always been reading. Always. Even before I could read text, I would read pictures. My father knew he had to beat me to the new National Geographic.

Maybe your recollection of choice is water fights or blowing bubbles, playdough or baking cookies, coloring or paper airplanes. These things are all still fun! And fun is a must when you are hip deep in adulting.

Laughter

Adulting is serious stuff and so it isn’t surprising that we tend to get . . . well, serious. We’re doing important things that keep the electricity on and our families healthy. But this seriousness is also why we need to remember to laugh and smile.

Fortunately, I’ve got a great set of online friends and cousins. They send me jokes and funny pictures. And I also like to read books for young readers. Kids love to laugh so there’s frequently a lot of humor in their books. Speaking of my friends and my cousins, that leads me to #3.

Sharing

Whether it is something funny or something sweet, take the time to share the joy you’ve found with someone else. It can be as simple as sharing a comic on Facebook or sending a friend a card. Think of it as sharing God’s light. You share the light with two people, they share the light with two people and so on.

It isn’t hard to imagine the result of sharing God’s love and God’s light. Adulting may be tough, but it doesn’t have to be dark. The last two years have been isolating and frustrating. Share a little light with someone today.

–SueBE

There’s no doubt about it. I’m a champion at keeping busy but I’ve encountered two things this week that have me asking a question. Am I the right kind of busy?

Each week, a friend and I make photo badges to share online. It is something that we do to add a bit of positivity to a world that seems to need it. As I was looking for quotes to use, I came across this quote by Brittin Oakman.

That’s one thing.

Periodically our pastor gives a “character sermon.” He’s preached as the inn keeper who turned away Joseph and Mary. He’s preached as a tax collector and even an angel. This last one gave me pause. He preached as Satan.

To put it mildly, it was unsettling. He talked about how easy it is to turn prideful people to his bidding. Some of the names he mentioned were Biblical – King David and Saul. But he also talked about people who are in the news and how even every day people can stir things up and do his work.

It isn’t what they meant to do. They are standing up for themselves or someone else. Or they are just so very tired. They spoke without thinking. They didn’t mean to divide people. They didn’t mean to hurt anyone.

How much easier it would be to avoid undermining the light of God if we would spend some time being busy taking care of ourselves? Rest and recharging make it so much easier for us to see what is before us. How much better would it be if we would spend some time being busy reorienting ourselves to light and love and God? We would come away from these experiences carrying the light of God.

How much better would that be?

–SueBE

I recently opened a bag of Jelly Bellies. The giver assured me that these were much better than regular Jelly Bellies. I don’t remember what they were officially called. I call them Jelly Belly Irregulars. They are jelly beans that are stuck together. “These are the best,” I was told.

Whatever. I have a sweet tooth. People aren’t perfect so why should jelly beans be perfect? I was sure that I could deal with it.

But imperfection isn’t all these Jelly Bellies share with humanity. They are just as inscrutable. The flavor key that is normally present on a Jelly Belly package is missing. A white Jelly Belly can be coconut, vanilla, or creme soda. Green might be kiwi, green apple, pear or lemon lime.

No, they don’t look identical but it is tricky. More than once I’ve found my husband with his hand poised over the tin. Is it worth the risk or isn’t it?

People are just as hard to figure out. Last week, my husband and I had a meeting. Once before we had been poised to take our business elsewhere but this advisor seemed conscientious and on top of things. This was a follow up meeting for a set purpose but it ended up feeling like bait-and-switch. Had she miscommunicated with her assistant? Or had her assistant miscommunicated with us? It was only clear that something was amiss. When I asked about it, I was challenged to produce the original message. When I did and it backed me up, I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about.

The reality is that people are flawed. And I mean all of us. I do make mistakes, but something about this whole situation left a bad taste in my mouth. It was like assuming I had picked up a Strawberry Banana Smoothie Jelly Belly only to discover it was Dead Fish.

And yes, Dead Fish is a flavor in the Jelly Belly Beanboozled line. Fortunately, those questionable flavors seem to be “missing” from my package.

What are we to do when we are faced with someone like this? Maybe she was just having a bad day. Maybe this is a sign of things to come. If it is the latter, the reality is that I can’t change who she is. That’s between her and her maker.

All I can control is my response. I have to decide. Is it worth the risk or isn’t it?

–SueBE

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“God is God. You are not.”

Following this opening line from today’s sermon, my friend and I glanced at each other. “All righty then,” she whispered.

No, the pastor didn’t stop, but this could have been the shortest sermon ever. Instead he spoke about how we humans try to draw connections where none exist. We want to connect the dots. We want answers and explanations. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do good things happen to bad people?

This reminded me of something that I read last week. We are primed and programmed, as human beings, to make connections and recognize patterns. It is how understand the world around us and how we have survived for so many thousands of years.

Think about it. Many years ago, Bob ate the bright red berries. That night, Bob had a horrible stomach ache. He got sick. While he is recovering, his friend stops by. The friend says that he is only now feeling better. He ate some bright red berries. He had a stomach ache and got sick. Bob and his wife connect the dots. Don’t eat the bright red berries. They tell their neighbors. These people learn from the pattern.

People are really quite good at recognizing patterns, but we get a little full of ourselves. If we can figure out what to eat and what not to eat, surely we can figure out why X event happened to those people over there and not to us. Because, if we can figure it out, we can be safe.

Sigh. If only it were that easy. This idea that we can figure things out and be safe isn’t new. In Luke 13, a group of visitors asked Christ about a party of Galilieans who had been killed by the Romans. Why did this happen to them? How could it have been prevented? Christ’s answer probably wasn’t reassuring because he simply responded that it had nothing to do with them being bad or wrong or somehow deserving.

It isn’t the answer that the people wanted. I imagine that they felt let down and out of sorts. They were stressed and worried and had troubles sleeping. Sound familiar?

Christ assured the people that God, the gardener, was at work. God had not given up and neither should we. After all, we are God’s and he is working all around us even if we cannot always make out the patterns.

–SueBE

All week long, I’ve felt like I should post about the situation in Ukraine. But what do you say when you are waiting for something horrible to happen? What do you say when it begins? When the photos start flashing across social media?

Two weeks ago, I was in a webinar with scholars from all over the world. I’m not a participant. I sit and listen while academics in Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine speak. This time, everyone wanted to know how things were in Kyiv. “We are waiting,” he replied.

Now I am wondering. Is he even still alive? Is he?

I don’t know.

Worrying about a single person is such a small thing in the face of so much chaos and grief. But my chest aches with it. I tear up when I think on it. I feel broken.

That’s the term the Stated Clerk of Presbytery used in his prayer this week. “We lift our broken hearts in fervent prayer for peace in Ukraine.” He also reminded us that we can’t ignore the people of Russia. Not everyone there supports the invasion. To protest in Russia is a true act of bravery.

Even as I started writing this, I wasn’t sure what to say. What instruction could I give?

Only this.

It is okay to feel uncertain, lost or confused. It makes sense if you feel numb or overwhelmed. We are, after all, a broken people – human and full of flaws.

Try to spend a bit of time today in the presence of God. How you do this will be up to you. Me? I try to spend time outside in the sun and the wind. If the thermometer is to be believed, it is 26 degrees before I chose that path. I may have to wait until this afternoon. But I can pick up my prayer beads. I can light a candle. I can breathe deeply. And I can turn to Him and hope to carry some of his light back into this battered and broken world, and with my strength renewed put his light to work.

–SueBE

Rainbow on a plain. God’s promises didn’t just come to us from mountains.

Before Pastor Sean delivers the sermon, he reads a scripture. I hadn’t looked ahead to the sermon title but listened while he read Luke 6:17-26. If it doesn’t leap to mind, it will still sound familiar to many of you. It tells of Christ coming down to stand on a level place among the people. He looked up at the disciples and preached a sermon that I know you’ve heard. It begins: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Many of us recognize the Beatitudes even if we don’t remember where to find them in the Bible.

After reading the passage, Pastor Sean explained to us that this well-known passage is the Sermon on the Plain. Hmm. Wait. The plain? I know I wasn’t the only one thinking this because one of my fellow choir members spoke up. “You mean the Mount.”

Then he explained the differences between the Sermon on the Plain and the Sermon on the Mount. I wondered how I had missed the fact that there are two very similar sermons. After all, I had just finished a challenge during which you read the Gospels in 40 days. I had recently read both sermons. I simply assumed that Luke was repeating what Matthew had written. Nope. I may have a good ear for detail, but I had missed it.

Fortunately, God knows that try as we might sometimes we don’t hear what is being said. That was often the case when Christ told the people parables. That’s okay. He is clearly ready to repeat himself if that’s what it takes. Fortunately, we have his instructions in print and we can read them as often as it takes.

After all, if we don’t hear what he has to say, how can we carry it out? How can we all approach him from the same level playing field – a plain of His making? Because our money and our educations may give us an edge in the world in which we live. But in the world that God would have us create, not so very much.

And fortunately, he’s willing to tell us again if that’s what it takes to get the message across. That’s the wonder of being children of God’s grace and love.

–SueBE

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