Archive for May, 2016

Finding Our Balance in God

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, May 22, 2016

John 16:12-15

Holy Trinity Sunday

So today is Holy Trinity Sunday, as I already mentioned, and this is one of the hardest days to preach because the concept of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a difficult one to explain or grasp.  We believe God is three and yet one.  One plus one plus one does not necessarily equal three.  You can see how pretty quickly we can all start to get confused!  But as I was reading the scriptures we heard this morning and reflecting on what it means to me that God is both three and one, a word came to me, quite clearly:  Balance.  Our faith in God the Holy Trinity is about balance.

I hope I’m not the only one here today struggling to keep my life in balance these days!  I think a lot of us have ideas about what our life SHOULD look like and then the reality of what our life actually is…for example, I would need about 2 or 3 hours of house cleaning before I invited any of you over for lunch today – there are just some things that don’t get done these days for our household!  We strive to eat healthily: three “balanced” meals a day.  We improve our balance physically through regular exercise – yoga, Tai Chi, weight lifting, walking or running.  We try to keep a healthy work-life balance: fighting burnout from working too many long hours too many days in a row, spending time with our families.  And by the time we get to tending to our relationship with God, we discover we’ve completely lost our balance – there is no time or energy left for God.  Many days our lives can feel like a balancing act, and that we end up shortchanging all of the spheres of our lives: personal, professional, physical, and spiritual because we’re trying to do it all. And we can’t.

It was a gift for me to hear this week that the very identity of God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit, seeks to restore the balance.  God is the only One who CAN do it all!  God’s very self is a balancing act: a holy dance of the trinity.  Jesus tries to get at this when he explains to his disciples in the Gospel of John: ”The Spirit will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.”  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are at work in our lives, in the delicate balance of trying to keep it all together.  In God’s perfect balance of the Trinity we see healthy relationship as God intends and desires for us: physical, spiritual, emotional, psychological wholeness, well-being, balance.  Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father are in holy conversation with each other, Jesus tells us today in John.  The Word imagined in our Creator, the Word taking on flesh in Jesus the Christ, and the Word spoken, heard, and shared in the Holy Spirit—all of these persons of God are at work in us.  But what does this mean for us, for our daily life and relationship with God?

Well, we can start with how we pay attention to who God is in our lives in a diversity of ways.  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that God is always more than we can imagine – our heavenly Father, but more than a Father.  The One who will come again to judge the living and the dead, but also the one who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  A Spirit of presence that is unseen but also visible in God incarnate, Jesus Christ.  Often I notice, even in myself, that we can get “stuck” in relating to God in one mode.  We might pay more attention to all the scriptural verses that talk about God’s great love for us, but overlook how God also calls us hate evil and repent (or vice versa).  Think about how you talk to God when you pray, for example.  Do you focus primarily on asking for healing for others?  Do you ever pray for yourself?  Do you find yourself forgetting to say thank you to God, or to praise God for joys you experience in your life?  There are a few acronyms that I’ve found helpful in my own prayer life that come from ancient Christian tradition.  Adoration (praise), Confession (confessing our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness), Thanksgiving, and Supplication (asking God for what we need or what others need).  Those are big words, so I’ve also found PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield) helpful as well.  If you notice in our prayers of intercession in worship, we pray for the church, the world, creation, and individuals in an effort to balance who and what we pray for (not just our church, or people we think to care about).  As we move into the summer months and our schedules become less routine because of travel, vacations, and family visiting, trying out one of these prayer practices might be a way for you to stay connected to God intentionally, because you can pray anywhere, at any time.  In this prayer practice God might reveal to you who God is in a bigger, more expansive way than you’ve experienced before.  And you may also find God bringing balance to your life in a way you’ve not experienced, either, because when our spiritual life is in balance God brings equilibrium to other aspects of our life as well.

There’s one final aspect of of our relationship with God and balance that I want to highlight this morning. Just as I try to work for balance in my life by paying attention to my spiritual life daily, I see God at work balancing my spiritual life through relationships.  What I mean to say is that God is at work throughout my life in all of those spheres, not just in the time I set aside to worship, study the Bible, or pray intentionally.  Now, I’m not telling you that means you don’t need to tend to your relationship with God in intentional ways – in fact, when you do, God will reveal to you how God’s been at work in all aspects of your life even more!  God’s at work even when I’m not paying attention or specifically categorizing the time as “God time.”  One of my colleagues, Pastor Neil Harrison, is the director for congregational renewal in the ELCA.  He starts out any renewal presentation he leads by saying, “Relationship, relationship, relationship.” This is what our Christian life is all about – tending to our relationship with God, relationship with each other, and our relationship to the world.  Jesus put it another way in the great commandment:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  For me, these words of Jesus are what I strive to live my life by: the balance of loving God, loving my neighbor, and loving myself.  I try to pay attention to all of those relationships.  And what I am discovering more and more is that again it’s not like each of those realms are categories set apart, but when I love my neighbor, I often discover something new about my relationship with God.  When I carve out time for prayer, not only am I better in tune with how God is at work in my life, but I am loving myself by nurturing my spiritual life, paying attention to my spiritual health.

God works through relationships to bring health, wholeness and balance.  The balance of our lives starts and ends with God.  We don’t have to have this Trinity thing all figured out.  But as Jesus reminds us again today, the Holy Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.  God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will speak to us, will declare great things for us, and help us live life in the balance.  Amen.

We Are Not Alone

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, May 1, 2016

John 14:23-29


If someone were to ask you what you are afraid of, what might be your response?  Do any of you have any irrational fears, like a fear of heights, claustrophobia, fear of spiders?  I have one:  I am terrified of pigeons.  I think they are disgusting.  I am physically repulsed by just looking at them.  I think my parents let me watch Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds when I was too little. Whenever I’ve been to a city like New York or Paris, I try to carry an umbrella or wear a jacket with a hood even if it’s not the least bit raining to protect my head from the pigeons.  Nothing’s really ever happened to me with pigeons, but the thought that something terrible COULD happen is what bothers me.

The back story to the gospel from John that we heard this morning is that this conversation between Jesus and the disciples is taking place during the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the night before Jesus will go to the cross and die.  He has just told the disciples again about what is going to happen to him.  And this is the terrifying clincher for the disciples: Jesus tells them that after his resurrection, he will not remain on Earth forever but will ascend into heaven to go back to the Father.  The disciples become pretty anxious about this. You have to admit, this is a lot for the disciples to swallow, a lot for us, too, to trust and believe.  You can imagine what this conversation might’ve been like: “OK, let me get this straight, Jesus.  The Roman government is going to come and arrest you, in just a few hours.  And you’re just going to let them take you, and do God knows what to you.  In fact, you’re going to let them kill you.  And somehow, you think that even when they kill you, it’ll all be OK, because God’s going to raise you from the dead after awhile.  We’ll all be together again just like we are tonight. But not for long, then you’ll leave us again? And you think we can do all the work that you’ve been doing, healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor, casting out demons, without YOU?”

The disciples are afraid.  Even though Jesus has reassured them that God will always be with them, they’re afraid of being alone, and they’re afraid of carrying out the work Jesus has given them to do.  Where do they even start?  In the Church year, we’re getting ready to celebrate Pentecost, the sending of the Holy Spirit as God’s continued presence with us.  In between Easter and Pentecost, though, is Jesus’ ascension into heaven, where those first followers of Jesus had to trust again that Jesus’ words were true, to move past their fears of being alone, fears of inadequacy to believe that God was still with them in the form of the Holy Spirit. And what’s more, they had to trust that the Holy Spirit as God’s power and presence with them would allow them to continue the work Jesus was doing – bringing good news to people in desperate situations, bringing healing and wholeness to all kinds of people with physical and spiritual needs.

The more and more I read scripture, the more I’m convinced that we’re really not that different at all from the people in the Bible.  If we’re going to be truly honest with each other and with ourselves, all of us are afraid of something.  All of us have trouble trusting and believing in Jesus’ words at times.  And most of us, at one time or another, have had the dreadful thought that perhaps we really are just alone down here on Earth…that there is no God, or that God doesn’t care about us and has abandoned us to fend for ourselves in this often cruel and messy world.  Finally, even those moments when God graces us with an overwhelming sense of God’s presence with us, I think at least some if not most of us wonder how we can possibly live up to the calling Jesus has placed on our lives:  to continue the ministry that Jesus began two thousand plus years ago.

I know this is where some of you are at because you have told me!  You have told me that you struggle to know what words to say when you pray, that you struggle to keep a regular prayer life at all.  You have told me that you get uncomfortable when we venture out to do service in our community…to talk with someone who’s in prison, or share a scripture reading with someone in a nursing home.  Speaking of things we’re afraid of, there are some of you out there I bet who are AFRAID of even going into a nursing home or hospital!  Afraid of public speaking!  Afraid of going into certain neighborhoods in our city!  So, how are we supposed to carry out the ministry that Jesus calls us to: to feed the hungry, heal the sick, bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and so on if we are afraid of all of those things?!

Sometimes I think that people look at pastors like we’re somehow closer to God and expect that unlike you, we are not afraid to do all of these things Jesus calls us to do.  I hope it is good news for me to tell you honestly today that it’s not true.  We are afraid, too!  I enjoy preaching, but I wouldn’t say I love public speaking or like to be up in front of everybody all of the time.  It took a three month chaplaincy training at the Nebraska Medical Center, going to the hospital five days a week for me to get used to entering a sick or dying person’s room (and it’s still difficult, by the way!).  And sometimes the future of this church and fears about what might happen keeps me up at night.

We might be tempted when we hear Jesus’ words, “do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid,” to stuff our feelings of fear and anxiety down and put on a brave face.  Christians ought not doubt. Christians ought not fear.  Christians ought not worry, right?  It strikes me, though, that when we speak our fears out loud, suddenly those things don’t seem as scary anymore.  For example, Rich knows I hate pigeons, and when he’s with me in a pigeon-laden area, I feel less afraid – he’s with me to fend off the pigeons, and he’s NOT afraid of pigeons.  Telling you about that particular fear helps me see how silly I am!  When we tell others what we’re afraid of, we might find that we’re not alone in our fear – or that someone else can get us through those fears.  When we tell God straight out what we’re afraid of, even though God already knows our fears, that reminds us that we are not alone!  God the Holy Spirit is right there alongside us, and God’s Spirit is not afraid of anything!  Jesus himself in the garden named his fears aloud to God the Father and went to the cross for us confident in God’s power to defeat death.  God gives us the confidence, comfort, and courage we need to face our fears head on so that we can continue Christ’s work here on Earth. Part of the reason God created the church is to bring believers together in community so that they could go out together without fear.

Today in our prayers of intercession I’m going to leave some space and time for you to speak your fears aloud.  If you’re not ready to do that yet, take a pen or pencil and jot them down during that time and put them in the offering plate.  Name your fears aloud to God.  Don’t be ashamed about it.  Don’t pretend God doesn’t know about them, because that’s just silly.  Then take another piece of paper and write these words:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  God is with you.  Amen.


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