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Love Wins

(photo by MM)

(photo by MM)

Love is patient and kind.  It does not insist on winners or losers.  It lifts up, never puts down.

Love wins.

Who needs your love today?

Spirit Photo of the Day Series

Ruffled Feathers

(photo by MM)

(photo by MM)

Do we know how funny we look when we allow our feathers to get ruffled?

Life is short, let it go, move on.

What do you want to let go of today?

Spirit Photo of the Day Series

Like a Waterfall

(photo by MM)

(photo by MM)

Like a powerful waterfall, once our words leave our mouths, we cannot get them back.

Be mindful and gracious in the way we speak of others.

(photo by MM)

Spirit Photo of the Day Series

You Are Enough

Purple Finch

(photo by MM)

Be yourself, you are enough, you are more than enough.

You are beautiful, and you are loved by God on this day, and every day.

It is a gift to help others to know they are enough, just as they are.

(photo by MM)

Spirit Photo of the Day Series

Treebark5

Photo by MM

Positive change requires some of our dreams, expectations, or exterior to die, so that new life can emerge.

What do you need to bid good-bye to today?

Blessings, you are not alone.

 

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Spirit Photo of the Day Series

 

The Gift of Selma

After returning to my birthplace of Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, March 8, 2015.

Hope from Selma, AL.
This young boy was with his family on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, AL for the 50th anniversary and his presence represented hope to me.
(photo by MM)

Let us pray.

Thank you God for the gift of Selma.

We are grateful for every one who showed up on Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965, and those who still remember 50 years later.

We are thankful for those who were brave enough to risk their lives on behalf of all, so that every person could have the opportunity for his or her vote to be counted.  We also pray for the persons, and their families, who were given the order to turn back their fellow citizens with force.  Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, so that we can all be free.

Teach us from this experience.

Help us to see that Selma is our community wherever we live, and that all human beings are our family, both those we like and dislike, those with whom we agree and disagree, and those whom we love and don’t.  Help us to practice loving one another as you love us.

Walking over Edmund Pettus Bridge, March 8, 2015 (photo by MM)

Walking over Edmund Pettus Bridge, March 8, 2015 (photo by MM)

We are grateful for the gift of this family reunion of humans in Selma.

Remind us who represent many faiths, and those with little or lost faith, and those who are black, brown, and white, that we are all precious in your sight.

And lead us not into the temptation of thinking that we have arrived and need not change anything else in our lives.  We have more steps to walk in this march because we still live in a time, where words and laws are used to exclude others from rights that most take for granted.  Empower us to show up and change these laws that favor the majority, and ignore the minority.

Help us also to resist the temptation to build fences and walls that separate us. and instead empower us to have faith to build new bridges, and then to walk across them in order to connect with one another.

Most of all, remind us that we cannot, and should not, place our ultimate hope or trust in any government.  For lasting change ultimately comes from changed hearts, O God of Love, and this only you can do, and to you we pledge our allegiance.

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Edmund Pettus Bridge
(photo by MM)

In your loving name we pray, Amen.

Hurry

Photo by Malcolm Marler

Photo by Malcolm Marler

Today is my 59th birthday.  I am grateful to have lived this long.

I am thankful for love in my life, good health, and a vocation that calls me to integrate my work and faith daily.  I celebrate my love with Mary Bea Sullivan, and Brendan and Kiki, and my sister Marcy.

But today, I am especially aware of  a spiritual voice whispering in my ear, “Hurry Malcolm,” it says, “Hurry.”

The hummingbird teaches me so.  

“Most hummingbirds die their first year, but when they’ve survived a full annual cycle, their life expectancy goes up dramatically. The record age of a banded ruby-throated hummingbird is 6 years11 months. The record age of a banded rufous hummingbird is 8 years 1 month.”  (HummerNotes)

To be honest, I hurry too much in my life, or at least I’m busy like many people I know.  There is never enough time to do what is on my list.  I leave work at the hospital every day knowing my list has gotten longer, not shorter.  I’m trying to make peace with that and accept it will always be so.

But hurry?  More?

Yes,” the voice insists.

This is different.  It is not an agenda set by others.  It is an intentional, “do not put off this important thing any longer” kind of hurry.  This is important.

“Life is short,” the voice says.

It continues, “Forgive someone today who doesn’t deserve it, or forgive someone who hasn’t asked for it.  Let it go, be free, set them free.”

“Love someone today who has done nothing to earn it, or love someone who does not know how to love.  Love them with an open, vulnerable heart.”

Forgive someone, hurry.  Love someone, hurry.

Life is short.

 

Be Not Afraid

Easter reminds us of the story that Christ has risen indeed. 

Sunrise - New LightBut we do not come simply to be reminded of an historical event, but rather how this story affects your history, your life, my life, and the life of the human family.  We come to be reminded, or maybe to discover for the first time, how darkness can become light in our world, right here, right now.  

First, the story.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (probably not Jesus’ mother) went to prepare Jesus’ body with the spices at dawn because there had not been time to do so before.  As they arrived, there was an earthquake and the stone was rolled away by an angel.

The earth quakes, and so do the guards!  They are scared to death.  Jesus, who is supposed to be dead, is alive.  The guards, who are supposed to be alive and guarding Jesus’ body, become like dead men.  Everything is chaotic and turned upside down.  This is not what everyone expected!(1)

But there is an angel, a messenger, who has a message to deliver in the  midst of the chaos. And that message is,

DO NOT BE AFRAID!

Well of course the women who were the first witnesses were afraid.  Wouldn’t you be?  They were afraid of this shining angel sitting in front of them on the rock.  They were afraid to believe that Jesus was alive.  They may have been afraid no one would believe them.

The women had to be wondering, “What does this mean?  Where is his body? What do we do now? But the message from God through the angel is still crystal clear, DO NOT BE AFRAID.  

We’ve heard that message before, you know. “Moses said it to the Israelites fleeing from the Egyptians, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.'”

An angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John.”

An angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

An angel said,  “Do not be afraid, Joseph, take Mary as your wife. Her baby is conceived by the Holy Spirit. Name him Jesus; he’s going to save all people from their sins.”

An angel said, “Do not be afraid, shepherds. I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people.”

Now the angel’s message of “Do not be afraid,” was not one of dismissal or a message meant to shame them either like, “Don’t be silly, no need for you to be afraid.”

No, it was a message of peace in the midst of the chaos, which is kind of like telling a storm to be still when waves are about to sink the boat.  Remember that one?

It was a word of reassurance that said “I know that you are afraid but all will be well, God is with you.”

It was a message similar to what you and I say to one another in worship when we gather with this community, “Peace be with you.” Of course, we all know what it is like to be afraid, don’t we?  We may use a different word — I’m worried, or I’m anxious, or I’m scared.  But we know the feeling regardless what words we use.

Fear can paralyze us, it can scare us to death, and we can be like the guards who were unable to do their assigned task at hand.

And so after the angel says “Come and see the place where he lay,” the angel adds to “go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.”

Nikki Hardeman reminds us that “Come and see” must always be linked with “Go and tell.”  (2)

Remember that Jesus goes ahead of us to prepare the way.

Now some of us in the Christian church have thought that “prepare the way” phrase only meant prepare a place for us in heaven after we die.  But we forget that Jesus said the kingdom of God is happening right now.  Jesus goes ahead of us to prepare the way, like this resurrection story, and we meet him when we come and see and we go and tell others about what he has done in our lives today.

We must always go and tell others when we see God’s love and grace in our world and how God’s peace has helped us through sadness and grief.  Go and tell that story, it needs to be heard to people you bump into every day, go and tell.

We must always go and tell even if we are afraid.  Even if we are afraid and we cannot see how all of this is going to work out.

And so we leave the tomb, or whatever dark place in our life that we have experienced, where we thought all was lost, and all of our hopes were gone and all our fears were realized.  We too have thought at times that we were done for, we had stopped living, we were like dead people, we felt like we were finished.

We too believed that the dark night of our souls was the way it would always be. But, just when we thought it was finished, just when we think WE are finished, we see this resurrection story in a new light. Jesus meets us as we go, as we go forward.  Just like in this story.

Galilee is wherever we are going today.  Galilee is the place we visit tomorrow.

And it is Jesus, not an angel this time who says the words, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

You and I are called, invited, and even encouraged to re-live this resurrection today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our living days.  This is what it means to live.

I wonder how the risen one will meet us this week in our neighbors and friends in the Galilee of our lives we call Alabaster or Helena.

I wonder how Jesus will answer our prayers we say for friends in the Galilee of our lives we call Birmingham or Calera.

And I wonder where we will encounter Jesus in a simple stranger at the next gas station or restaurant in Pelham.

Hear the words of Jesus.

Listen carefully, Tara, Ted, and Jim.  Do not be afraid.

Listen carefully Gary, Candace, and Kim.  Do not be afraid.

Jesus calls each one of us by first name. and says, “Do not be afraid,” no matter how much you feel discouraged, or lose hope.  Go quickly to Galilee and I’ll meet you on the way and show you something new.”

Come and see for yourself, experience the hope of new life, and then go tell others how darkness can turn into light.

Run my brother and sister, run with fear and joy. 

But go quickly for Jesus has already gone ahead of you, and will meet you on the way.

*****************

Footnotes:

1.   lectionary.org, see http://www.lectionary.org/EXEG-Concise/NT/ConNT01-Matt/Matt%2028.01-10.htm
2.  FaithElement, http://faithelement.com/sessions/2014/4/15/be-not-afraid

Preached at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, Alabaster, AL, April 19, 2014.

Born Into New Light

Sermon  preached by Malcolm Marler at St. Mary’s on the Highlands Episcopal Church in Birmingham, AL on Sunday, March 16, 2014.

New LightThe Gospel reading today from John 3:1-17 contains one of those verses that I, and maybe you, memorized as a young child if you grew up in a Christian church cut from the evangelical cloth, if you know what I mean.

Or even if you have never memorized a verse of the Bible at all, chances are if you have lived here in the deep South for anytime in the heart of the Bible belt, you have seen the reference John 3:16 written on hand held signs at college football games where we mix and marry our metaphors regularly with religion.

I first learned the King James version — John 3:16 – King James Version (KJV)

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And then the Revised Standard Version — John 3:16 – Revised Standard Version (RSV)

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

This verse has been called the “Gospel in a nutshell” by Wikipedia because it is considered a summary of the central theme of traditional Christianity.   It is personal, decisive, and it is clear.

I remember an experience like that in my own life.  When I was eight years old, I went to the pastor of my Baptist church, who also happened to be my daddy, and told him I wanted to become a Christian.  Thankfully, he took my request seriously, and invited me to his office during the Sunday School hour to discuss the matter.  It was a private confirmation class with my beloved father.  It was personal, it was decisive, and it was clear — as any 8 year old could understand.

Shedding a little light

Like any story or important event in our lives, understanding the context of a story is the key for shedding light on its meaning for our lives and today’s Gospel reading is no exception.

We know that Nicodemus was a Jewish leader and teacher (today we would say he was a seminary professor), and that he was mentioned three times in John’s Gospel.  All three encounters were respectful, seeking to honor, and to understand who this Jesus was.

The two major images in John’s Gospel are darkness and light.  Nicodemus comes in the night, in the darkness, and is seeking the light, seeking more light, a new understanding, a fresh way to understand God.

‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’

Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ statement,

 “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” 

He uses an example that is so hard for Nicodemus to grasp given his way of viewing the world, which was following the law, the guidelines, in order to draw close to God.  It stops Nicodemus in his literal tracks, “how could this be so?” he asks.

Have you ever had a conversation when both of you said what you thought, and you had no idea how what the other person just said was connected to your statement?  It was as though you were speaking two different languages.  That was Nicodemus’ experience.

To paraphrase Jesus …

Nicodemus, in order for you to know God, you will need a totally new language as well as perspective from how you have always thought about and experienced God.

Nicodemus, you cannot see this perspective on your own.  No matter how much you think and reason.  It has to come from God, because it is so radical you couldn’t think of it by yourself.

This understanding of the kingdom of God, is not about what happens in the future after you die, but rather it is about how you begin living now, it is a call to a fresh start today.

And by the way, this is a gift, it is grace, and it is from God. 

A New Understanding, A New Way to Live

And if you have not guessed it yet, you and I are like Nicodemus in this story coming from darkness searching for more light.

Like Nicodemus, most of us here are respectful, seeking to honor, and to understand the teachings of Jesus.

For us, maybe we’ve been thinking that our faith, our beliefs, our creed, our prayers alone are what make us a part of the family of God.

We have thought that what we have believed in our heads and said with our mouths have made us a part of God’s kingdom.

And like Nicodemus, most of us are respectful, we honor, and want to understand who this Jesus was.  And you and I can even say the personal, concise, clear words of our belief that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son and that we believe in him, therefore we will not perish.  We believe we are safe, we believe we are saved, and we believe that is all there is.

But we would be wrong, dead wrong.

 Jesus is calling us to something deeper than being safe or saved. 

He calls us to something we cannot see by ourselves, it is called living by grace, a gift, and it is from God.  It is a new way of seeing the world, and all the human family.

We have to confess we cannot see God’s kingdom with our own clever thinking, we cannot understand it on our own.  And so we open ourselves to God.  This is a first step, but it is not all the journey.

Jesus calls us to see the world like his beloved Father, the Creator of all life, who never gives up on the human family.

You see, we cannot be in right relationship with God if we are not in right relationship with others, and we cannot be in right relationship with others if we are not open to God.

Our Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori said this about understanding John 3:16:

When we insist that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus, that individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being.”

In other words, using this verse as a quick prayer and being done is like  being in a spiritual womb and saying to the world, “I’m good, I don’t need to do anything else” while all the time God is wanting us to be born into the world as new people.  All along we were thinking the spiritual womb is all there was, just being safe, or saved.

“No my child,” our beloved Creator says to us, “that is not all there is, there is a whole life to live in a new way and I am ready to do the hard, painful messy part of birthing you, of giving you new life.  This is my gift to you.”

Only through the hands of the Great Physician can we be delivered, so that we see the world in a way that we could not have imagined before.

Be born anew, right now.  That is the Great Physician’s call.

God calls us is to see all of the people in the world, red, and yellow, black and white, for we are all precious in God’s sight.  Every single one of us.  Regardless.

And like all births, it is a gift, it is grace, and it is from God.

A Witness

When we listen to another person’s perspective of an event you both attended, it is like turning a beautiful piece of cut glass to see the many different hues sparkle and often we appreciate them even more.  My friend Bil Hitchcock from Montgomery, AL, shared his perspective when he attended my ordination as an Episcopal priest recently.  Thank you Bil.
Mary Bea Sullivan and Malcolm Marler

Mary Bea Sullivan and Malcolm Marler (Photo by Frank Brower)

I just witnessed one of the most amazing things….but first, you need to know that I have a friend named Malcolm Marler.

He and I have known each other for years, working on different projects. The thing you also need to know is that Malcolm is a minister…an ‘in the trenches’ sort of guy.

He ministers to those suffering not only in spirit, but body as well. I suppose all ministers do that to a certain degree…but he does it at UAB Medical Center in Birmingham, AL. And that is what he has always quietly done. And done well.

Picture this. A couple of hundred empty chairs here…a couple of hours after they were set up, they were filled. Malcolm’s friends from all over the planet and deep recesses of UAB were there to celebrate his becoming an Episcopal priest….he had always been ordained, but not as an Episcopalian.

One of the things that I love about the Episcopal church is the liturgy…the very careful way that we conduct services. Bishop Kee Sloan was there to officiate…the North Pavilion at UAB for a few moments was a sanctuary. We used our fine Episcopal words…we sang our fine Episcopal songs, but there were some different sounds.

“Malcolm, you understand that as an Episcopal priest you will have certain….” And then Kee’s voice was drowned out by a siren of help on the street below us…once I heard four sirens of help at the same time….it was when a woman with one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard was literally singing her heart out. As she built the cadence of her singing higher and higher, I heard the sirens of help…and then that sound that really bothers me…it’s the one where a very quiet tone is repeated five times…sort of like the sound they had at Montgomery Fair growing up…telling someone they had a phone call…that sound has never been a good sound in a hospital. And as she continued singing, I saw someone on a gurney the next level up from the Pavilion being wheeled somewhere….the person on it lifted their head to see what we were doing. I wish they could have stayed.

So…while all of these sounds are going on…and we are quietly going about our orderly Episcopal service…it dawned on me…welcome to Malcolm’s world. There will always be sirens of help in his life…and the dreaded five-dull-tone calls… and people on gurneys.

It takes a special person whose ministry is literally ‘in the trenches’…as the woman so poignantly said in her sermon…”People like YOU”….she was looking him in the eye…”know that they are called to do this work”.

He is and I am glad…so glad…that I got to attend Malcolm Marler’s “church”…sit in his sanctuary…and watch him minister.

I don’t think I will forget this any time soon. Neither will his wife, Mary Bea Sullivan, or anyone else in the room.

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