Rewritten — Worship Series for Fall 2017
Together we will explore the transformational power of God through the stories of people in the Bible whose lives—and names—were changed forever by God. As we meet Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Naomi, Daniel, Peter and an unnamed woman, we will discover how God rewrote their stories giving them new names and identities that were in line with God’s call on their lives. Inspired by the books Namesake and The Rewritten Life: When God Changes Your Story by the Rev. Jessica LaGrone.
Creative Commons licensed photo by Thomas van de Vosse https://www.flickr.com/photos/78831492@N03/8645069389
How quick are we to blame God for the bad or hard things in life? How quick are we to believe that blessings are the result of our own intelligence and drive? Or how often do we ascribe serendipity to coincidence or mere “luck” rather than open our eyes to God at work in our lives? Not because we deserve it, but because God is love, and God is always working to squeeze good out of calamity, often through the kindness of others. Bitterness is not meant to stick on anyone.
What seems stuck, what seems set in its way, does not have to stay that way. Hold onto God and don’t let go. Let God change your name. Let God rewrite the story of your life. It may not be an easy wrestling match. But it will be worth the effort.
We can learn from this ancient story that transformation and new life can take time to work on us. We are always works in progress. The only way to obtain patience is to exercise it. The only way to gain strength is to be challenged and stretched. The only way to access courage is to face fear. These qualities of character are seldom achieved overnight, but are, rather, the procurement of a lifetime. We make mistakes and missteps along the way. We are human. We are not perfect. Yet God is with us.
How do you find peace of mind — and how do you preach peace of mind — knowing that storms will inevitably come? The Lord is near always. To remind us to do the right thing, to comfort us in times of stress and trial, to give us the strength and courage and peace we need to be God’s hands and feet in the world.
Jesus’ practice of taking time for listening to God in the chaos — and in the stillness — kept him from succumbing to disorientation, kept him from just reacting to all the demands, robotically going from one need to another, getting sucked up and getting life sucked out of him. His practice kept him moving steadily forward into the mission God had given him, so that his actions would be impactful to an entire world and not that of just a few. My prayer for you, and for me, is that we may not only survive life’s stress and storms, but thrive — and not only for our own good, but for the good of the world, and for the sake of God’s kingdom.
I do not believe that we are meant to navigate the challenging path of life alone. I believe that we are hardwired for life in community, that it is a basic human need. We are social animals. It can be a messy prospect, and it requires vulnerability, the willingness to risk hurt, the willingness to forgive and to be healed of emotional wounds, and openness to growth.
As I thought of the many ways that we use the concept of “guarding” in our everyday lives, it occurred to me that we may often guard things that ultimately don’t need such vigilant protection, and, at the same time, leave exposed those things that really ought to be monitored more closely. We keep possessions under lock and key, and obsess over them endlessly, when an abundant life can really be found in learning to hold them more loosely and to share them generously; and we are free with things like opinions, or certain affections, or self-indulgences, when prudence or moderation or self-control would really lead us to greater positive connection with others and a sense of centeredness and integrity.
In the midst of crisis, in particular, I find that the focusing of thought on the simplest truths — God’s grace, love, kindness, compassion, peace — with one- or two-word phrases repeated with the breath, or a single phrase spoken over and over, has a calming and centering effect, that not only allows me to simply survive and get through the storm, but which makes faithful, courageous action possible.
I am standing for love. In the midst of uncertainty, fear, greed, inequality, distrust, even failure, I am standing for love. Like that first Easter 2000 years ago, not everyone can see this; not everyone can see love. It takes people standing for it, testifying to it, for others to see. And I invite you to join me in this endeavor. Will you testify to love in the face of all the hatred, violence, selfishness and shortsightedness that has the world in its grip? Will you testify to love in the face of the negative stereotypes that have been painted of religion and Christianity in particular? Will you show a different face, be the witness to grace, and peace, and compassion, and loving your neighbor?
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” How many versions of that mistaken belief, do we say in our heart of hearts to God? “Lord, if you had been here — if you were real — if you loved me — bad things would not happen.”
I found this verse staring me in the face and thought about how I have lived so much of my life trying to keep my finger in the dike to hold back the force of death, particularly the death of the Church, telling myself, if I am there, it won’t die.
What Jesus showed me anew, in this story, is that death does not have the final word, that I don’t have to keep plugging the hole, that he’s led the way, and there’s nothing to be afraid of.