Signing Off…

My friends, the time has come for me to take my leave from the Highland family. I am full of gratitude for all the ways that Highland Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge has made God so visible to me, my family, and the world around it. As I go, I leave you with my favorite story, which you have heard countless times, but always bears repeating.

When the writer of the gospel of John was an old man, with a school of disciples around him – since he did not fall to martyrdom like most of the young church’s apostles – he would always tell his students to “love one another.” “Love one another.” “Love one another.” One day, one of his students became so fed up with this message, that much like one of my old youth group members, he responded with great sarcasm, “love, love, love, love, love, love, love. Why are you always telling us that?” The old teacher looked at his student and smiled before answering, “because it is what my Lord commanded me. And if you do nothing else, that will be enough.”

So now, I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power…. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God. Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 1:17-19; 3:16-21)

All my love and blessings,     Janie

 

And the rain goes on…

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.  (Psalm 30:11-12)

Easter Sunday has come and gone. Eastertide continues for the next few weeks until Pentecost. And yet, in the midst of all this celebration, we come to a rather odd set of Sundays for our Highland family.

This past Sunday, we celebrated with our High School Seniors who will soon be graduating. We heard their words of gratitude. We gave them a few bits of advice (that they hopefully will remember). And we wrapped them in blankets to represent our ever-abiding presence with them, even as we prayed for their future. It was a joyful and bittersweet day for all of us.

This coming Sunday will be my final Sunday with the Highland family.

It is an odd sensation to be sure. When we arrived almost three and a half years ago, we could not have foreseen all that would occur during these years. We did not know the wonders of joy and fellowship and love that were waiting in your open arms. Nor could we understand the ways that everything in our lives would change – as individuals and as a church family. We have seen this Sunday looming on the horizon for months now. But it is hard to believe that the time has truly come.

I want to save many of my “final words” for my sermon this weekend.

However, I also want to reflect for a moment upon the bigger picture.

Whatever we may all be feeling, remember that God is already ahead of us, leading us into the future. As the psalmist says, God has turned our mourning into dancing – for though everything may change, God stays the same. God’s faithfulness will never fail and God’s love surrounds us through every transformation (as joyous or as painful as it may be).

What is more, the world will still spin madly on. And, as we know all too well in this part of the world, the rain goes on, too. Life will continue. Though this may be an ending to one chapter, the book has yet to be finished. God’s hand is still gently leading us into all the pages that lay ahead.

So, I hope that all of you will come this weekend as we have one more chance to say farewell to one another before my family leaves for the north country. But I also hope you know that I take my leave trusting completely in the steadfast love of our God and all the wonders of life that are still in store for Highland. You are in good hands – and so I will give thanks to my God forever.

Blessings,     Janie

And so it goes…

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (John 18:38a)

It is the Wednesday of Holy Week. The final day before our story really picks up pace – for more happens in the span of the eighteen hours between Thursday night and Friday afternoon than in most weeks of Jesus’ life. We are following him into the terror of the shade and Golgotha looms large on the horizon.

And so it goes for many of God’s prophets. They speak God’s truth to the world and find themselves hated, disowned, killed for it. The fact that Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy and sedition does not matter to his tormentors any more than the truth he preached. For when we lose sight of the truth, facts also lose their potency.

Tomorrow night, we will gather to remember the Last Supper and the incredible realties with which one man grappled two thousand years ago. There are many roles we can play in the narrative and we are invited to do just that. To explore our place.

Here is one role that many of us would not consider taking: the soldier with the hammer in his hands. We do not want that role. We want no responsibility. But ultimately, that is our true place in the story.

Humans have always found ever more creative ways to kill and maim one another. We have done it to countless of our brothers and sisters, fellow children of God, throughout history. We did it to the prophets. We still do. And yes, we have prepared a cross for our Savior.

God comes to us, time and time again throughout history. In the scriptures, it is clearly visible how we spurn God’s offers of grace and new life. In the historical witness, it is even more clear how easily we can dehumanize and destroy one another.

So when God came, as a human, it should be no surprise that this was the fate we chose.

Why? Because we often still do.

We uphold the systems that Jesus spent his life fighting against. We have remained silent as innocent people are taken into custody and put into cages. We let ourselves be blind to deadly ignorance and practices of making money off of others pain. We turn away from the suffering that we may not directly cause, but from which we often benefit. Oh yes, we have prepared a cross for our Savior. For every time we do these things to anyone, even the least of these who are God’s children, we drive the nails in deeper.

Now, there is a bright morning coming in a few days time. A new beginning. A chance again at new life.

My prayer is that as we enter into the joy of Easter morning, we will not forget the pain and torment of the previous week. That our eyes and ears will finally open to see the truth that God still speaks into our world. And that our hearts will find the strength necessary to work for the change, the transformation of the world, that God has always desired.

Blessings,    Janie

 

When Shadows Fall…

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem… (Luke 19:28)

The time has come. Holy Week is upon us. We have journeyed through the wilderness these recent weeks and considered what it means to follow Jesus. But now comes the real question: will we still follow Jesus when the shadows begin to fall?

On Sunday, we will enter into this important week in the church calendar by joining the crowds shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

We are invited to enter into the story. To place ourselves in the narrative. Walking through the triumphal gates of Jerusalem. Following Christ in his final earthly days. Gathering around the table. Going out to pray in the garden. And then…

The same crowds that raised their voices in praise will be screaming “Crucify him!” at the top of their lungs.

One of his closest friends will betray him.

Almost every disciple will abandon him.

And he will go to Golgotha.

Will we walk with him? Carry his cross like Simon of Cyrene? Stay with him when the sky turns to darkness, the earth quakes, and all seems lost? Will we gently carry his body and offer up our own tomb?

We know the story. Know it very well. But, every year we tell it again – because we need to remember it. To have it written on our very hearts: how great is the love of God for us that Christ would willingly stretch out his arms…

For you.

For me.

For the whole world.

I invite you to come to church this next week and embrace the opportunity to remember the story. To write yourself into the narrative. To follow in Christ’s footsteps. To stay and watch, even if only at a distance. And then to see the wonder of what comes next.

Blessings,      Janie

Cometh before the fall…

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more… yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. (Philippians 3:4, 7)

This weekend, on the fifth Sunday in Lent, we will explore the famous story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet with oil. In our liturgical year, we read the version from John, in which the woman is Jesus’ best friend’s little sister. There will be plenty to consider in just that passage alone and that will be our focus.

However, paired with it (though we will not read it on Sunday) is a passage from Philippians 3. We have been using the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2 as our Affirmation of Faith for this season. And in the chapter following, Paul addresses one of the great sins of the church: self-righteous bragging.

Paul was the epitome of the “faithful” son of God – having fulfilled all the covenantal laws and even being a zealous supporter of the religious establishment. Then he was converted on the road to Damascus and everything changed.

He realized that all of the seemingly pious actions he had been completing and avidly defeating his entire life could not compare to the love of God, displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus. Nor could his life before compare with the new life he received through the life of faith in Christ’s resurrection. So all before was “loss.”

In the modern church, many of us have been raised in the Christian faith and have seemingly lived a “holy” life. At least that’s what we like to portray to the outside world. And boy, do we love to brag about it and shove our piety down other people’s throats.

Make no mistake, it is hubris. And it is sin, because it breaks our relationships with everyone, including God.

Rather than focusing on how much we do “right,” God in Christ invites us to focus our energies on the lives to which we have been called. They are no longer concerned with the opinions of others or our own self-righteous judgments of the fallen – because we realize how fallen we all truly are.

Instead, as Paul himself says, Beloved, I do not consider that I have made [this new life] my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13).

The Kingdom is now and there is much work to be done. And rather than resting on our laurels as Christ’s followers, we are to be the ones on the front lines of seeking a better world, with better lives, for all of God’s children. Just like Jesus did. Strive for that and we will find the better way to live. The better way to be church.

Blessings,     Janie

 

From Now On…

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view… in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:16, 19)

This coming Sunday, as we find ourselves in the thick of the Lenten season, we come to one of the best known passages in all of the New Testament: the Prodigal Son. It is a parable that teaches us new lessons with each additional reading. And we will see what grace God has for us there on Sunday.

Paired with it, we find this passage from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, which speaks about reconciliation.

When I was in the final stages of my ordination process, I had one of my examining committees wonder at the lack of the word “justice” in my faith statement. (Bear in mind that after a decade in ministry, I now understand how important using that word truly is.) At the time, however, I upheld a viewpoint that God’s justice is reconciliation – something I still know to be true.

There is a misunderstanding of reconciliation in our world today. Most people assume that it means “forgive and forget,” which is never actually possible. Instead, reconciliation implies a much deeper process in which we do not forget what has transpired, but we do learn from it and reconcile to one another so that our world may continue onward. Sometimes that means a relationship beginning anew. Sometimes it means it ends. In all cases, however, God is at work so that no one is left unchanged and all find new life – if they are brave enough to seek it.

Our passages this Sunday do something essentially important for us who follow Christ: they move us beyond simply our need to come home again to the new life we are meant to live.

We do need to come home again. To embrace God. To seek Christ’s presence daily. And, we need to seek out all the ways that God’s work in our life pushes us into a new life of ministry.

Specifically, to the ministry of reconciliation.

We are called to see the world set right side up again – which means topsy turvy from what it is now. We are called to build relationships where we can so that the family of faith will grow stronger. Most importantly, we are called to love, no matter what. Because God loves us no matter what.

Now, love in all things does not always look identical. Sometimes it will look like justice. Sometimes equity. Sometimes repentance. Sometimes forgiveness. Sometimes embracing. Sometimes releasing. But always, love will seek the full life of another. And in giving ourselves to this cause, we will find the same is already within us, because God has placed it there.

So enter worship this coming Sunday as a chance to come home to the overwhelming grace of God. Then leave again ready to serve the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called. Not because you have to, but because you can.

Blessings,    Janie

The Wilderness Road

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… your steadfast love is better than life. (Psalm 63:1, 3)

This weekend, we will explore two passages from the Hebrew Bible as we approach the third Sunday in Lent. They are both relatively well-known. More than that, however, they are both extremely comforting.

We have come to the place in our journey where we are tired, restless, and weary from the work. After last weekend’s awe-inspiring moment of Jesus standing in the face of certain death and worldly power, we’re probably all wondering that age-old road trip question – are we THERE yet?

With the popularity of the Advent season and its blessed four weeks, we arrive in Lent expecting a similar trek. Except that Lent is seven weeks – and we are only on week three.

But here, on the wilderness road, we find a moment’s respite as we hear both the Psalmist and Isaiah offer beautiful and sumptuous words of consolation. Come. Come and find the rest you need. Come and find the resources the remainder of this voyage will require. Come home.

Though we are worn out from all that is upon us and around us, we know this truth is clear: God’s steadfast love is better than anything. Everything. Even life itself.

Since our God is Life itself, that should tell us that even God knows there is something better than simply being alive. Love is better. Love is stronger. Love gives us the sustenance we need to supply our weary hearts, minds, and limbs.

In whatever condition you find yourself this week, come to worship. Seek the Lord in the land of the living and you will see God’s wonders. Even if you do not know that for which you are searching – come home. God is ever present. And God will give us a way forward, even in the wilderness.

Blessings,     Janie