Judson’s JOURNEYS Bible Study Curriculum–Available to order!

I am excited to announce the publication of my first Bible Study series with Judson Press in their fall JOURNEYS collection! I wrote for September (and it’s now October, but I just received my copies) and they reflect certain passages from the Revised Common Lectionary. This is a new format for JOURNEYS, available in print or PDF format. There is no separate student guide, it is an all-in-one with the scripture, key verse, lesson objectives, and then a deep dive into the scripture and practical applications, including activities to do for teens through adults. I include references to Mean Girls, The Hate U Give, The Incredibles, U2 and more. This was an amazing project to work on. If you use my resources, you will love JOURNEYS!

Click here to order the print version.

Click here to order Ebook.

Click here to order PDF.

Worship Resources for October 24th, 2021—Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22); Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-38; Mark 10:46-52

Narrative Lectionary: God Calls David, 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 51:10-14 (John 7:24)

Job responded to God at the beginning of chapter 42, recognizing that he was speaking without thinking, accusing God without understanding who God is and what God was up to. Job repented, and he was restored. In this restoration, all of Job’s brothers and sisters and neighbors gathered and showed him kindness and empathy. He also had more children, and in this story, God’s restoration of Job also caused Job to right a societal wrong. Instead of Job’s sons being named, all three of his daughters are named. Job gave them an inheritance just as he gave his sons. Job’s encounter with God has shown Job that what matters in the world is living out God’s intention for us. God’s restoration of Job spurred Job into the work of restoration in his own life, among his family, and the greater community.

Psalm 34:1-8 was also the second Psalm selection for the Revised Common Lectionary on August 8th. The psalmist begins by praising God and calling the congregation into glorifying God together. The psalmist speaks of how God has answered their prayers when they were suffering, and God has delivered those in need. The psalmist then calls upon the listener to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” to know God’s goodness in all our senses, but especially in the food and drink that nourishes us. Vs. 19-22 contain assurance that God will restore the righteous and rescue them from evil.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks good news from God to the people of Israel who were taken into exile long ago, as the people of Judah prepared for their own fate. In the midst of Jerusalem’s siege, Jeremiah proclaims that God is a parent to them, one who will comfort and console them and will lead them back gently. God makes sure that it isn’t only the strong who survive, but children, women who are pregnant, those who are blind and disabled—all people are included in this remnant that God will make sure returns home.

Psalm 126 is a song of praise for God’s restoration. The people have returned to their homes and worship has returned to Jerusalem, to the holy city. Those who left in mourning will return rejoicing, their arms full from the harvest. It will be told among the nations what God has done for the people of Israel.

The author of Hebrews continues the proclamation that Jesus is both high priest and final sacrifice. In 7:23-28, the author writes that because Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever, he is the only high priest needed, for he will never die. Because he offered himself as a sacrifice, there is no need to offer sacrifices on a daily basis. The author declares that as both high priest and sacrifice, Jesus intercedes on behalf of us, and there is no more need for the sacrificial system for atonement of sins for those who believe in Jesus as Christ.

Jesus heals Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. Bartimaeus was a known beggar who was blind and sat on the side of the road. When he called out to Jesus, calling him Son of David, others ordered him to be quiet. However, Jesus heard him, and asked Bartimaeus what it was he wanted Jesus to do. He asked Jesus to be able to see again. He once could see, but had lost his sight, which was probably the reason why he begged. Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well, and at once Bartimaeus regains his sight. We must be cautious as we read the healing miracles of Jesus to not conflate healing with curing. Healing is about wholeness. Bartimaeus is now able to participate fully in society and has restored what was once taken from him. Healing is not curing and taking away someone’s disability. Healing is about restoring people to society because of society’s norms that keep people marginalized and outcast.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God’s Calling of David in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. The prophet Samuel first anointed Saul as king, but Saul has failed to live into God’s ways. In the previous verse, God regretted making Saul king, but now, God wants Samuel to move on and anoint a new king. He sends him to Jesse in Bethlehem, who has eight sons, under the guise of offering a sacrifice so as not to tip King Saul off that he’s about to lose his job. Jesse has seven of them come before Samuel. The prophet is sure God is choosing the oldest, or the strongest, but God does not see the way humans do. Once the seven sons pass before Samuel, he asks Jesse if he has any other sons, and Jesse calls for the youngest, who was out keeping the sheep. This youngest is described as having beautiful eyes and being handsome—perhaps he was teased for looking “cute” by his older brothers. Nonetheless, despite being the youngest and seen as unimportant by his father and brothers, Samuel anoints David as king, and the Lord’s spirit comes over David.

Psalm 51 has traditionally been attributed to David. The whole psalm is a prayer for help and confession of sin, but verses 10-14 ask God to create a clean, new heart inside the psalmist, to be delivered from violence, to be pure before God and to have God’s Holy Spirit dwell within them.

Jesus teaches the crowds in John 7:24 to not judge by appearances, but to judge with right judgment. David was seen as small and unimportant, but his knowledge of caring for the sheep turned him into being a shepherd for the people. In John’s Gospel account, Jesus is arguing with the crowds who are upset he healed on the Sabbath and accused him of having a demon—when he did something good and right.

Far too often Christians have viewed faith and belief in Jesus Christ as a ticket into heaven. As a way of surviving this world and being with God forever. Instead, the scriptures, from Job to Jeremiah to the Gospels, invite us to build up God’s reign on earth. To right the wrongs of society. To include those the dominant voices have pushed to the margins or forgot about. To lift up those whom we might not look to for leadership—searching for wisdom and insight instead of strength and might. When Job’s fortunes were restored, he took it as an opportunity to right some wrongs of the traditions of his day. The storytellers of Job include his daughters in the inheritance, to make sure their names were remembered. The Gospel writer of Mark made sure that Bartimaeus was remembered when others wanted him to keep quiet, and that he was restored to society. Samuel was certain God would call up another strong leader for Israel, but instead, it was the little shepherd boy, probably teased by his brothers for being cute, the one his father seemed to forget, whom God chose to be king. While we are offered eternal life, God also offers us the opportunity to participate in Christ’s reign on earth. We can choose to continue to live in a hell on earth while waiting for heaven, or we can work to build heaven on earth.

Call to Worship (Psalm 34:1-3, 8)
I will bless the LORD at all times;
God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
Let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,
And let us exalt God’s name together.
O taste and see that the LORD is good;
Happy are those who take refuge in God.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of All People, we confess that we still turn to those with the most worldly power to lead us. We turn to the rich and watch them make strides into space. We turn to the famous to see what they share on social media. We turn to the loudest voices and listen to them, either to praise them or to complain about them. Forgive us for not turning to You. Forgive us for not remembering how Your Son Jesus came to become last of all and servant of all. Forgive us for not learning the lesson to look to the children, the weak, the disabled, the widows, the poor, the sex workers and tax collectors, all those despised and rejected by society. Forgive us for our failure to remember how You died as a common criminal, executed by the justice system of the dominant worldly power. Call us back to Your ways. Help us to hear the cries from the side of the road for healing and to answer them. Guide us to listen to the voices of those we often leave out and forget. Remind us that we are leaving this earth for the next generations and we must value their lives by caring for this earth You made. Forgive us and guide us into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer of Blessing/Assurance
Psalm 34:4 reads, “ I sought the LORD, and God answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” God hears our prayers and answers us by providing us with one another, the body of Christ. May we turn and lift up one another. May we open our hearts and minds to listen when another is in need, when another is suffering. May we be the answer to prayer by sharing Christ’s love with one another in word and deed. May we know the forgiveness of Jesus Christ when we forgive others, when we work to repair and restore what has been broken, to right the wrongs in our society, and build up God’s reign on Earth. Amen.

Prayer
Weaver of the Stars, we know Your work in creation and Your work in our lives. Threads are woven together, binding us to creation and to one another in community. We impact the ecosystem, and the environment impacts our lives, and it can be harmful to the most vulnerable among us. Remind us of our interconnectedness and to care for creation, for by doing so we care for community and for one another. And while we only know Your weaving here on earth, we can see Your weaving in the stars beyond us, in the galaxies far off. Who knows what You are weaving inside us, in the tiny atoms that give us life and make us who we are? May we pause and take into our hearts all the work of Your loom in the world, and do what we can to be part of Your glorious, beautiful pattern in this world and the universe. Amen.

Embracing Failure: Online School

Oh goodness. This should be an easy one. We all failed, right?
Right?

I don’t know any parents or students (or educators) for whom online school was a breeze. There were some positive outcomes, and some students I’m sure thrived in that form of school and may still be participating in online education today.

Our son is autistic and mostly nonverbal.

For the rest of the 2020 school year, from mid-March to June, we handled online school fairly well. We established a routine. He was in class twice a day and had a one-on-one time with his teacher or paraeducator. I created gym class with jogging. We participated in art at home. I ordered flash cards for math and reading, art supplies, books, and other items and we made a good effort. AJ (our son) seemed to understand that everything was different, we were all home—and he seemed to enjoy “Zoom School” as we first called it. It was new and fun to see everyone on a computer screen. We started Zoom calls with family members and friends and it was something he enjoyed participating in.

Summer came, and we registered for summer school. And received nothing. Our school district failed to provide enough resources for students with disabilities, though the district officials claimed at the Special Needs PTSA meeting that every student with disabilities who desired to be in summer school would have placement. A long story short, our son received a placement in general education summer school services and, except for Math, in which there was an assistant who happened to be a special education math paraeducator, there wasn’t much instruction for AJ. The district failed to provide for students with disabilities, like many other districts, because we don’t prioritize the most vulnerable. We almost always prioritize the majority.

And then fall of 2020 came. Now we had a full day schedule of online school using a video platform that was not as functional as Zoom, but contracted by the district so there was no choice. We also had a new teacher, who quickly realized that a full day online was not possible for students in her class (and I honestly don’t know how typical children in middle school handled all this, either. Probably why so many didn’t put their cameras on and so many were disengaged).

I stopped doing PE with my son, although his school PE teacher went above and beyond by making videos for AJ and teaching him new workouts, including him thoroughly in the online class. However, I also stopped using the flash cards after a while. It went from trying to help my son learn, to trying to help him retain, to trying to help us all survive the year. I have a full-time pastoral position plus a part-time regional position, plus I took on some additional writing projects for more income last year. My husband also works, but I took on Monday and Friday and he took on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We jugged home and school and everything, like so many others, and were exhausted like everyone else.

When school finally resumed last spring, it was a welcome relief. Only eight weeks, but our son’s behavior (which had gone downhill at home—again, like any other preteen in the pandemic) suddenly shifted. He was happy! He was with his friends and his teachers! And yes, he kept a mask on all day (they do get mask breaks outside).

When we hit summer, I didn’t bother signing up for summer school. We barely signed up for camp. We were so done. So. Done.

Now that the school year is back and we’re about seven weeks in, there’s a part of me that feels like a failure. I notice areas where I could have helped my son learn more. I could have done more. I should have done more.

And then the voice snaps inside me: “YOU SURVIVED A PANDEMIC.”*

Our son survived a pandemic. He’s fully vaccinated, and he’s happy. He’s with his friends again.

Long ago, I had to learn to give up the expectations that I and others have for my child. Expectations based on a neurotypical understanding of the world and who he should be. But it’s still hard to give up those expectations on myself as a parent. I want him to have it all, to have all the resources, to do better, to be better. However, he does his best when I am not pressuring him or putting my own expectations on him or me.

Going back to my first post on Embracing Failure and Merriam-Webster’s list of definitions, I’d say this might fall into definition number 3a: a falling short (deficiency). I may not have done all I could. I may not have lived up to the expectations I had on myself, or perceived others had for me. However, it’s about that definition number 4, and refusing to accept that. I can accept the other definitions, but it’s number 4 we must reject:

You are not a failure.
I am not a failure.
We are survivors.
We embrace our failures as our shortcomings, but we do not wrap our identity in it.

Educators and parents and students:

You are not a failure.

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*The pandemic is not over. So perhaps this should read “you are surviving a pandemic” but I’d like to believe/hope/pray the worst is now behind us, even if we still have a way to go. As a friend said, “The water’s going down but the dove came back, so we still have a while to ride this out on the ark.”

Worship Resources for October 17th—Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Narrative Lectionary: God Calls Samuel, 1 Samuel 3:1-21 (John 20:21-23)

God answered Job from the whirlwind in chapter 38. After thirty-six chapters of Job arguing with his friends (and a stranger who happens along for the last few chapters) and Job questioning God, God finally responded. Job demanded answers from God about why he suffered. To Job, God appeared absent, but to God, God had been active all around him. While Job questioned God for the chaos in his life, God responded from the heart of chaos, the whirlwind. God was not angry that Job had questions, but rather Job asked the wrong kind of questions. The questions God asked Job are the very questions Job ought to have been asking all along. Instead, Job was busy wanting to know why he had suffered, as if it was personal, while God was busy with the universe.

Psalm 104 is an epic poem or song praising God for creation. This psalm invokes God as the one whose home is in the heavens, whose sovereignty is over the entire universe. God overcomes the elements of chaos, using wind and fire to communicate as messengers, and sets the boundaries of the waters on earth. God creates out of wisdom, creating the diversity of life on earth.

Isaiah 53:4-12 is one of the Suffering Servant passages, in which the people of Israel are personified as the servant of God who has suffered. Israel suffered and carried the sufferings of all people. In the worldview at the time, suffering was seen as punishment. Here, Isaiah portrayed Israel’s suffering as a way for all people to understand how God can work through suffering, how God does not abandon those who suffer but will see them through.

Psalm 91:9-16 is a blessing of God’s protection. God will protect those who are faithful and deliver them from danger. God will answer those who call out to God in faithfulness. This psalm is quoted by Satan to Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness, but Jesus rebukes Satan, for this is not to be used to test God, but rather this is a prayer for the faithful to have assurance of God’s protection and deliverance.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Hebrews with 5:1-10. The author of Hebrews declares Jesus as the high priest, referencing Melchizedek, a priest mentioned in Psalm 110:4, who blessed Abraham back in Genesis 14:8. There was a tradition that because Melchizedek’s death was not mentioned in scripture, he had lived forever. And because he was a priest who had blessed Abraham, his priestly line was also valid forever, according to the author of Hebrews. God had appointed Jesus as both high priest and sacrifice, the one who offered forgiveness and prayed on behalf of the people before his death, solidifying his role as a priest, according to the author.

James and John come to Jesus and ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in glory in Mark 10:35-45. Though they are the sons of Zebedee, in Mark 3:17 Jesus nicknamed the two the “sons of Thunder.” They seem to be impulsive. In Luke 9:54, after a Samaritan village refuses to receive Jesus, James and John ask Jesus if he wants them to call down fire from heaven to consume them. Jesus ends up rebuking them at that time. In this passage, Jesus tells them that they don’t know what it is they are asking of him. They don’t understand what it means to drink from the cup Jesus drinks from or the baptism he is baptized with. They don’t understand what Jesus’ destiny and judgment means. And the other disciples become angry with them for even asking about it. However, Jesus tells the disciples that it isn’t about arguing who is greatest because that’s what those concerned about rank and privilege do. Instead, they are friends with one another, and friends serve one another, laying down their life for each other. Whoever wants to be great will serve one another and meet the needs of their friends, for Christ came to serve all by laying down his life.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on God’s calling of the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:1-21. Samuel had been dedicated to God by his mother Hannah, after she had prayed for a long time hoping to have a child. Eli the priest was raising Samuel in the temple at Shiloh. One night, the boy Samuel heard God calling him, but he thought it was Eli, so he went to Eli and woke him up. But Eli didn’t call for him and told him to go lie back down. This happens three times before Eli recognizes that Samuel did hear someone, and it must be God. He instructs Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” and Samuel obeys. God speaks through Samuel and foretells what is to happen, for Eli’s own sons serving in the temple are corrupt. God is bringing judgment to Eli’s household because of it. Though it is harsh, Eli accepts what Samuel has said, trusting that God is speaking through Samuel, for God said their words would cause the ears of all who heard it to tingle. God continued to speak through Samuel as he grew up, and all of Israel knew they could trust Samuel as the prophet of God.

Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection in John 20:21-23. Jesus breathes on the disciples and instructs them to receive the Holy Spirit. As God has sent him, so he is sending the disciples out, letting them know they have the power to forgive sins.

We think we know the way. We know the way to a successful, content, happy life, and yet we find ourselves longing for something else. The world tricks us into chasing happiness. The world tricks us into believing that if someone has suffered, they must have done something to deserve it. Scripture shows us, from Isaiah to Job, that suffering is not from God, but that God is with us when we suffer. We do not go it alone. We can find hope despite our suffering. However, looking for a world of ease, to escape suffering, is not the way either. James and John think they know the way of Christ, but they are still caught up on a world of princes and rulers; their desire to sit at the right and left hand of Christ in his reign shows they don’t understand Christ’s reign at all. Jesus wasn’t speaking about a future kingdom, but the community that they shared right there, to serve one another, to meet one another’s needs as he was serving them. This is how we find the way—not chasing after some lofty ideal of what we think it means to be successful, but in serving one another as Christ served us.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 104:1-2a, 24, 35c)
Bless the LORD, O my soul.
O LORD our God, You are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
Wrapped in light as with a garment.
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures.
Praise the Lord!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty One, Maker of the Universe, we confess that our heads are turned down and we are focused only on what is in front of us. We have a hard time breaking out of the cycle of this world that pushes us to achieve monetary success and gaining of possessions as a way of happiness. Guide us back to Your ways, in which we are called to love You and love one another, as You have loved us. Remind us that Your reign is not of this world, and that the beloved community You are building on earth is one in which we serve one another and meet the needs of each other. For we find that when we seek to care for one another, our own needs are met. When we love one another, we are loved, and we know Your love more deeply. Bring us back to Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God’s steadfast love endures forever. There is no end to God’s faithfulness, and when we seek God, we find God is already among us. Know God’s love in your love for one another. Know God’s forgiveness as you forgive one another, seek to repair what has been broken and reconcile whenever possible. Know God’s peace as you center your lives on God’s love and share God’s love with the world. Amen.

Prayer
Amazing One, we cannot count the stars, we cannot see atoms, we cannot perceive the galaxies and how it all began except by our imagination and wonder. Yet we know You have set things in motion. We continue to learn and discover new and exciting things. Help us to foster curiosity and imagination and dreams. Remind us that Your ways of wisdom is to seek understanding by being in awe of Your work in the universe. Help us to let go of our need to have answers, but stir in us the courage to ask questions. Help us to shift our mindsets so that we might spend more time in wonder and delight instead of worry and fear. Amen.

Embracing Failure: My Body

Oooo boy, body image. A content warning for body image, weight loss, and all that jazz.

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Back in 2011-2012, I finally lost all the baby weight. I was running 5K’s and almost at the time I was at pre-pregnancy, which was a decent, average time. I was still not at my “ideal” weight (I’ll get to that concept later) but I was feeling fairly good about myself. I just wanted to lose a bit more.

In that time period, we received our son’s diagnosis of autism, we decided as a family that we needed to move, as southern Oklahoma did not have supports in place, and we had no family or longtime friends there. In the spring, as my husband accepted a call to Washington and we began to pack and sell our dream home that we had only purchased a year before, I put on some weight. No big deal. I was still running and exercising and feeling great.

The move was stressful. The call I accepted ended up being more stressful than I imagined. My son grew (my husband and I are both tall, large people) and he could no longer fit in the jogging stroller we had, plus our neighborhood didn’t have sidewalks, making it hard to jog as cars zipped around. At some point over the next year or two, I stopped jogging, even though I was still walking as much as I could. I gained more weight. I had to go up a size in jeans.

It got to a point that last year I was within a few pounds of my fullest pregnancy weight. My clothes didn’t fit. I was scared for my health, because I had bought into the idea that being overweight = unhealthy. Even though I was a proponent of “health at every size,” internally I did not accept that for me.

In December, I had my first ever anxiety attack. I had tingling in my fingers and toes and felt numb on one side. I was certain I was having a stroke. My husband was certain it was stress. I called my doctor. My symptoms subsided and I had no other indicators of a stroke or heart attack, so I did not go to the ER. Instead, I made an appointment and went in. My doctor did all the tests she could: she ordered an EKG, she had bloodwork done (and I usually pass out when I have blood taken, but I did not this time), ran all my tests.

Surprisingly, nothing came back. In fact, my blood pressure was well within normal (it had been just on the high side the last two times I was in—I chalked that up to having coffee right beforehand, and this time I did not). Blood sugars and A1C were all good (diabetes runs in my family). In fact, every test showed that I was healthy. At my highest weight, and I was healthy!

That was enough to snap me out of things. If I was healthy, then I had nothing to fear. I didn’t need to scare myself into changing my lifestyle habits. I only had to change them if I wanted to change them. I looked at my wardrobe and decided I did (because I didn’t want to buy up a jean size again).

I took it slow and started back on a couch to 5K program that has worked for me, and I began on December 27th. I am now about 41 weeks into the program. Here’s the thing:

–I haven’t run a full 5K (I ran a virtual race in March but walked most of the second half).
–I haven’t lost much weight (At one point I had lost twelve pounds but have put about half of that back on)

However, I have:
–Gone down a size in jeans and now have comfortable clothes.
–Walked, hiked, and jogged weekly and feel better about myself.
–My resting heart rate has continued to drop (it was fine before, but it’s even better now).
–Made more conscious choices about the food I’m eating.

That last one doesn’t mean I eat always what is considered “healthy.” But I’m conscious about what I’m eating—do I really enjoy it? Does this satisfy any cravings that I’m having? Have I made sure I’ve had enough protein and fruits and vegetables (along with fats and carbs because you do actually need those, too). The biggest change I’ve made is that I want to enjoy my food, and sometimes what I think is enjoyable is not, it’s just quick. So I work to make conscious choices that will make me feel good.

I’ve hit some low points, though. There was a time where, within a few months, I had gained back all the weight I had lost, and I mentioned to others that “I hate my body.” I want to say to myself that’s okay that I hated my body in that moment. There are times when this meat sack doesn’t work the way I want it to. There are times I am bloated and a dress I love doesn’t look right.

But I also love this body. It’s becoming stronger. It’s softer. Even with “maskne” my face rarely breaks out and I’ve always had good skin, though sometimes it’s sensitive to certain chemicals and I have to watch for that. My blood clots well and I heal fast. I have a wicked scar on my lower abdomen from my C-section that still pulls when I laugh too hard, a reminder of how much this body has sacrificed.

Embracing failure for me is embracing that the “ideal weight,” the ideal body that the health industry and society has placed on me is not acceptable. I’d rather fail those measures and accept who I am. I’ve noticed lately, since embracing myself and my aging body, that I’ve started to hold my head higher and stand taller.

My grandma Lois used to always comment on my slouching, and I hated it. But she was just shy of five feet and one time told me that she always wished she could be tall. I hope that at some point she was able to embrace who she was, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God (in fact, when I think of God in the feminine, I always think of her).

So now, I work to hold my head high, to stand up straight with my shoulders back, and embrace who I am—a tall, large woman of God who loves herself and loves what she is capable of doing as this beloved body.

Worship Resources for October 10th, 2021—Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22:1-15; Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

Revised Common Lectionary: God Provides Manna, Exodus 16:1-18 (John 6:51)

The first passage of the Hebrew scriptures continues in the second half of the season after Pentecost in Wisdom Literature, and for much of October, in the book of Job. In this selection, Job is responding to one of his friends, who has called upon Job to get in right relationship with God. Job’s complaint is that God has been absent—it’s not Job’s fault their relationship seems to be nonexistent—and he calls for a fair trial, where he could lay out his case before God. The opening scenes with God in the book of Job take place in the heavenly courtroom, and the prosecutor, Satan, has laid charges against Job. Now, Job desires to plead his case, to share his defense, to appear before God the Judge, but Job cannot find God. He believes God can do anything, and is afraid of what God might do, but disappointed in what God seems to be choosing not to do—not answering Job in the way Job wants to be answered.

Psalm 22 is a song seeking God’s help. In the first eight verses, the psalmist pleads with God, feeling abandoned and forsaken. They know that God is the one their ancestors trusted long ago, the one who delivered the people from harm, but the psalmist has lost all hope. They see themselves as a worm, not even human, unworthy of love. They are scorned and mocked by others. But in verses 9-15, the psalmist asserts that God has been with them since they were born. God delivered them safely then, and they pray God will deliver them safely now, for there is no one else. The psalmist is dried up, they’ve poured everything out and there’s nothing left to give. They are in God’s hands now.

The prophet Amos cries against injustice in chapter 5. The prophet urges the people to turn to God for their lives, because they have not practiced justice. The leaders haven’t listened to God’s ways and have trampled on the poor for their own wealth and gain. God knows their sins—they cannot hide what they have done to the poor, it is public knowledge. However, God is warning them. If they seek God’s ways, turn back to God, and instead of trying to justify their actions transform their lives for justice, God will remember them and perhaps they can be spared from the consequences of their actions.

Psalm 90 is a song of prayer to God, a reminder that human being’s lives are short, and to God, they pass by quickly. The first part of the psalm reminds the people that their days will slip away, especially when they do not follow God’s ways. In verses 12-17, the psalmist asks God to help the people remember to count their days in wisdom. The psalmist pleads with God to answer, to turn back to the people with God’s faithful love, even if the people have not always been faithful. The psalm calls for God to bless the work of the hands of the people, that their good acts will be seen, and God’s kindness observed by others. The psalmist hopes that their lives will count for something beyond what they know.

The Epistle reading continues its series in Hebrews with 4:12-16. The word of God here is the Word that became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). Jesus is the one who knows our hearts and our intentions. Everything is exposed before God, nothing can be hidden. Jesus is our high priest, one who has lived as one of us, died as one of us, and through his experience, we know we can be reconciled to God.

Jesus encounters a rich man in Mark 10:17-31 who wishes to inherit eternal life. He asks Jesus what he must do, calling Jesus “Good Teacher,” but Jesus questions him, because no one is good but God alone—meaning that this man either recognizes and acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore honors Jesus’ authority—or is saying it out of flattery. Jesus responds with a list of commandments, but the man says he has kept all of them since his youth. Then Jesus, in looking at him, loves him. He sees something authentic and real, and also heartbreaking. He tells the rich man that he lacks one thing: he needs to go and sell everything that he has, give the money to the poor, and then he will have treasure in heaven. Then he can follow Jesus. But the man leaves, grieving. Jesus explains to the disciples how difficult it will be for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus repeats himself, and the disciples are perplexed, wondering how anyone can be saved, but Jesus says its only possible because of God. Peter then boldly insists that they’ve left everything to follow Jesus—as if he is uncertain Jesus has considered them and their sacrifices. Jesus assures them that they will receive all these things as part of the reign of God—possessions, family, and friends, but also persecutions—and eternal life to come. However, Jesus still warns that many are first will be last, and the last will be first. Many of the disciples would die for the faith, even after experiencing Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and the beginning of the early church. Many of them would lose what is important in this world, in order to gain what is important to God.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on “God Provides Manna” in Exodus 16:1-18. The people of Israel escaped their oppression in Egypt, crossed the red sea, and made it to the wilderness. And almost immediately, they began complaining about how there was no food in the wilderness. They remembered the food back in Egypt, especially how they could eat their fill of bread. So God made it rain down bread, manna from heaven. God also provided quail in the evening. The Israelites didn’t know what to make of the manna, a white flaky thin bread, but God commanded them to collect only what they needed for the day for their household. No matter how much they collected, at the end, everyone had just the right amount for their daily needs.

In John 6:51, Jesus identifies himself as the bread that has come down from heaven—whoever consumes his life, abides in his love, will have eternal life. The bread he gave for the world was his flesh.

What is important to us is not always the same thing as what is important to God, and this is a hard lesson. What we think we need to live a satisfying life is not necessarily what God desires for us. God knows our basic needs—food, clothing, shelter, love, care—but we often convolute our needs with our desires for more possessions, more comfort, more safety and security. Those latter desires can often shield us from perceiving injustice in this world. The wealthier we are, living in more affluent, secure areas—we never have to see a person experiencing homelessness, never have to travel through food deserts, never have to wonder if our electricity will be shut off. Instead, what is important to God is our relationship with one another and with creation. When Peter insists that he and the other disciples have left everything to follow Jesus, Jesus reminds them of what they now have—they now have family through Christ in one another. They have houses and farms and fields—through the generosity of others who have shared their lives with them. The early church in Acts 2-4 shows how the early believers lived out the reign of God by meeting each other’s needs instead of looking to satisfy their own desires. However, this is a difficult lesson for us. Jesus looks at many of us in love, and watches many of us walk away in grief from the life Christ has offered, because we have many things that possess us.

Call to Worship (Psalm 146:1-2, 6)
Praise the Lord!
Let my whole being praise the Lord!
I will praise the Lord with all my life,
I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.
God is the maker of heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them.
God is faithful forever,
And reigns with justice and righteousness.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Gracious and Wondrous God, we confess that we never seem to have enough. We desire to have more. We pursue what we do not have because others have it and we want it. We push ourselves to extremes, ignoring the poor, the oppressed among us, those whose voices we have marginalized, in order to assure ourselves of worldly success, security, wealth, and notoriety. Forgive us for our foolish ways. Lead us in Your wisdom to pursue justice and righteousness. Guide us in Your way of generosity to a spirit of abundant love and care for those in need among us. Hold us to Your truth and help us repent where we have gone astray to the ways of the world, instead of following Your way, Your truth, and Your life, through Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for us. It is in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Our cup runs over in the house of God. There is always more than enough for everyone, and just enough for our daily needs. When we love, care, and serve one another, we serve Christ. Know God’s ways, trust in God’s truth, and be assured that you are forgiven, loved, and restored. God and share the good news. Amen.

Prayer
God of all seasons, we take notice of You in the colors upon the earth. From spring in the southern hemisphere to autumn in the northern hemisphere, You are doing something new. Seedtime and harvest, You are painting a great canvas in our world of beauty and life. Renew our hearts, O God, in the turning of the seasons. Remind us how short and precious life is, Creator of All, so that we might count our days with wise hearts. Help us to enjoy Your earth and to care for it. Whether we are preparing bulbs for slumber or tilling the earth for planting, bless our co-creating with You, Holy One, and grow something new in us. Help us to perceive that You are doing a new thing, sprouting forth and changing, dying and rising again, for all things return to You, O God, Giver of Life. Amen.

Embracing Failure: New Ministries

Someone once told me they admired me because I keep trying new things when other ideas fail. This is an aspect of embracing failure that I’m quite proud of: I don’t give up trying new things. Ministry is, as I have said on more than one occasion, the work of the Holy Spirit, or, in other words, it’s throwing ideas against the wall and seeing what sticks.

It reminds me of that scene in Friends where Rachel and Joey are throwing wet paper towels at the wall and seeing what sticks the longest. It’s when Rachel decides she likes living at Joey’s. That’s the Holy Spirit at work—seeing what sticks the longest and deciding that you like living in that place of working with what sticks and shrugging off what falls.

I’ve been at my current church for four years. We’ve tried so many things: Pub Theology, two versions of Dinner Church, Hybrid Bible Study (even before Covid, online and in-person, one at lunchtime, one in the evening), Family Movie Nights, and then since Covid—online Bible Study, Book Discussion Groups, Zoom parties, Outdoor Harvest Art (having outdoor art supplies available such as sidewalk chalk, rock painting, etc.), and the latest, Wild Church, as part of the Wild Church Network, meeting outdoors once a month.

All of these have failed or have dropped to the point one or two are participating at the most. And there’s a number of reasons: Zoom fatigue, burnout, Covid, health and safety concerns, and the list goes on. But I believe that the biggest reason these things are failing is that church as we know it has to change. We have to move outside of the building, we have to turn away from what we have always done, and we have to rethink what our priority and purpose is. What is the point of it all, really? If it’s to get more people on the roles and more money in the plate, it’s time to stop. Those measures of success are worldly measures of success. Something to think about: despite the fact that Jesus fed five thousand people (really, just the men, as the women and children weren’t counted), despite the fact that Jesus ministered in all those villages and cities and even in Jerusalem, after his death and resurrection and ascension, Acts 1:15 tells us that “the family of believers was a company of about one hundred twenty persons” (Common English Bible).

Talk about failure! All of that—all that Jesus lived and died for and rose for—at one point was one hundred twenty people.

But it’s so easy to take failure upon ourselves. As I posted the first week in this series, we often jump to definition number four of failure and make it our identity. We believe we have failed. Not the activity or event—we take failure upon ourselves.

For example, our Wild Church ministry. It’s easy for me to be discouraged that of our eight gatherings, only three have had people beyond my immediate family. One of them, however, had several people, and they all said they enjoyed our time learning about the ecosystem, our connection and impact to the land, and that they would return. Maybe they will.

However, what has happened is that once a month my family gets outdoors for a long walk along the Ship Canal in Seattle. We learn about our environmental impact, we listen and look for signs of creation doing something new, we discuss how we might live better with creation. We are out there, rain or shine, and we end with a picnic lunch of PB&J’s. Once a month, our family has church in nature together, even if we’re the only ones. Some failures are beautiful and turn into something you didn’t know you needed.

This last Saturday, we gathered at the picnic tables where we usually do. I invited the congregation, I had posted about it on social media, I encouraged new students that we had met at the local Christian college to attend. At ten after our starting time, no one else had showed up. So I opened my Green Bible and read the quotes about creation care and relationship with God that I had selected, and the part from Genesis 1 about how we were created to care for the earth the way God cares for us. We prayed, and then we walked along the canal, taking note of places where our Parks and Recreation department was caring for the land (It was National Public Lands Day as well, so I incorporated that). We noticed the benches and fences protecting the vegetation from erosion. We crossed the Fremont Bridge and watched the kayakers float underneath. We stopped at the Theo Chocolate Factory for some fair-trade organic chocolate, and on the return across the bridge, received an “Ahoy!” from the pirate ship (yes, there’s a pirate ship in Salmon Bay). We picked up some trash, ate our picnic lunch, and enjoyed our time outdoors as a family, caring for God’s creation and our relationships with one another. If I’d given up and not participated, I’d have never noticed all the ways our Parks and Recreation department in Seattle are working hard to upkeep our trails, our benches, our waterways—all our public spaces. And I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the delicious salted caramels I purchased.

Embracing failure is recognizing that the true failures are our preconceived notions of what success ought to look and feel like. Instead, we allow those to fail, and for the new fruit to flourish. The measures of success we often look to are worldly measures. We aren’t looking to what God is doing in our hearts, perceiving what God is doing in our world around us, and drawing closer to God and creation if we are only concerned about gathering bodies and dollars. Because of Wild Church, our family is growing closer in our relationship with God, creation, and one another. Because it has so far been a failure—in terms of my preconceived notion of what it would take to be successful—it’s turned into a wonderful blessing for me and my family.

Worship Resources for October 3rd, 2021—Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, World Communion Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 26; Genesis 2:18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

Narrative Lectionary: God’s Name is Revealed, Exodus 2:23-25, 3:1-15, 4:10-17 (John 8:58)

The first selection of the Hebrew scriptures continues in Wisdom Literature, moving into a four-part series on Job. The story of Job is an old one, and some scholars believe parts of Job may be the earliest writings we have in the entire Bible. We know from verse one that there once was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job—a great beginning to any folktale. In this story, Satan is known as The Accuser—a heavenly being whose job was to question others in the heavenly courtroom. At the time Job was written, Satan was not seen as a being personifying all evil—instead, Satan was a necessary figure of the heavenly court. In this case, Satan suggested that Job was only faithful because God hadn’t struck Job himself, just everything and everyone around him. In chapter one, Job lost everything, including his children, but in chapter two he was struck with a skin disease that left sores all over his body. Nonetheless, even when Job’s wife suggested he curse God, he refused.

Psalm 26 is a prayer of help to God, for the psalmist has been falsely accused. They know they are innocent and ask God to test them and prove it. The psalmist declares that they do not associate with the faithless but love being in God’s presence, singing their thanksgiving and praise. They pray for God’s deliverance, for they do not deserve to be grouped together with those who do evil. The psalmist lives with integrity and knows they will continue to praise and bless God in the congregation, for they trust that God will be faithful.

The second selection for the Hebrew scriptures, Genesis 2:18-24, contains a second creation story, one in which God made humanity out of a human being. In this story, God made the first human being and then made the rest of creation, countering Genesis 1. God gave authority to the first human being to name all the creatures, but the human being was alone—there was no partner found among the rest of creation. So, God made a companion for the first human being, and at last, the first human being recognized its own, one that was of the same bone and flesh, taken from them.

Psalm 8 is a song of wonder and awe at God, the one who made all the heavens. God’s strong foundation and fortress is in children and babies, who sing God’s praise. The psalmist wonders, however, that out of all the universe, the moon and stars—why make human beings? What are we that God is mindful of us? And yet, God made human beings similar to divine beings, only slightly less so, and has given them glory and honor, and all of creation is under the care of human beings. How wonderful is God who has done this for us!

The Epistle reading begins a new series in the letter of Hebrews. This letter was written to remind the early believers of Jesus to stay faithful as their ancestors had remained faithful, even though they didn’t see the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lifetime. They knew the stories of their ancestors, and they also knew the words and stories of Jesus, the Son of God. The writer links Psalm 8 to Jesus, that Jesus, though God, came to be one of us, a little lower than the angels. Jesus suffered and died, but now risen, was crowned with glory and honor. Because Jesus was fully human, Jesus calls us siblings, brothers and sisters, and we are all now part of God’s family through Jesus Christ.

Jesus teaches about divorce and welcoming children in Mark 10:2-16. This is perhaps one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus, that Jesus equates divorce with adultery. And while much can be said of how marriage has changed over two thousand years, what Jesus teaches, in reference to Genesis 2, is that God’s intention for us is not divorce. God’s intention for us is faithfulness. God grieves with us. Jesus taught that it was because of their hardness of heart that Moses allowed for divorce, and it is our (humanity’s) hardness of heart that makes it often for reconciliation not to be possible. However, there are a variety of reasons when divorce is necessary, and this passage has caused much grief and harm. Instead, we must know that God does not intend for us to go through that pain. Instead, Jesus calls us to welcome one another, especially children. Jesus spoke of his mother, sister, and brothers—his family—as those who do the will of God. Jesus calls us to welcome children and not stop them, for the reign of God belongs to children and we must become like children. When we become childlike, we understand that distorted, abusive, and broken relationships are harmful. We need one another to be the family of God. And yet, we know that at times, the brokenness is beyond repair. God’s intention is for us not to break, but to be whole.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Exodus and the revelation of God’s name to Moses. In Exodus 2:23-25, God took notice of the people’s suffering cries in their oppression in Egypt. God remembered the covenant with their ancestors. In chapter three, Moses, who was exiled from Egypt after killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, experienced God speaking to him through a bush that was burning but not consumed by the flames. God called Moses to go speak to Pharaoh and deliver God’s people from Egypt. Moses asked God what he was supposed to tell his own people about the God of their ancestors—what was God’s name? God responded with a verb: “I Am,” or “Being.” Moses was to tell the people, “I Am sent me to you.” However, in chapter four, Moses was still nervous about all he had been called to do, especially speaking before people and Pharaoh. God told Moses that his brother Aaron was already on his way to meet him, and that Aaron could speak before the people on his behalf. Then God gave Moses a shepherd’s staff to perform signs before Pharaoh and the people, signifying that Moses had all he needed to go forward.

In John 8:58, Jesus, in an argument with religious authorities about eternal life, claims the same name of God that was revealed to Moses: “I Am.”

How do we know God? What image of God do we hold, and what image do we perceive reflected in ourselves? Is God testing us to see if we are faithful or is it that is God with us in our suffering, and we need to remember that God is always faithful to us. God made us a little lower than God out of love, but sometimes we have exploited that image, and not cared for creation; instead, misusing its resources. Christ came as one of us, called us brothers and sisters, siblings of God, but we have distorted relationships and hurt one another. God’s intention for us is wholeness, but we have sought division. We have excluded the most vulnerable, the ones on whom God’s foundation rests, refusing to see the image of God in all people. However, God calls us, through the songs of the psalms, the stories of Jesus, the teachings of the prophets, to remember that we are made in God’s image, all of us, and to love one another as God has loved us.

On this World Communion Sunday, we know that while we have a variety of ways we have responded to what has been passed on to us (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), we are still one in Christ. We are all made in the image of God, and together, we are one as we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection until he comes again.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 8)
O LORD, our Sovereign,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Infants and children sing Your praise.
You have made us a little lower than You,
Crowned us with glory and honor.
You set us in charge of caring for Your creation,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Creator God, we confess that we do not always perceive Your image in others. We dehumanize those who are different than us, especially those we perceive as enemies, instead of following Your commandment to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. Throughout history we have distorted Your image, such as making You light skinned, when You are representative of all of us. We have made You male when You embody all genders. We have made You to hold worldly wealth and power when You taught us to become last of all, servant of all, and You laid down Your life for us. Forgive us for distorting Your image, for dehumanizing others, for not understanding who we are in relationship with You. Call us back to Your ways, to view one another as You view us, as Your children. In the name of Christ, who lived like us, died like us, and lives again, we pray. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
God calls us all to be children of God. You are known by name and you are loved, exactly as you are. God is nudging you lovingly in the right direction. Embrace God’s love and correction of course in your life, and know that you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the good news. Amen.

Prayer
Shepherd God, You are the one with us in the valley of shadow. There are many shadows in our lives, of the deaths and endings we experience, but we know You are with us and will guide us through. May Your presence be known to us in those deepest shadows, when we find ourselves alone and vulnerable. Remind us that while friendships and relationships come to endings, You never fail us, and we are never truly alone. We belong to You, the sheep of Your hand, and You will lead us to still waters and green pastures. We know You are the one who restores our soul, and we will dwell with You forever. Amen.

Prayer for World Communion Sunday
God of Harvest, we thank You for these gifts of bread and drink, symbolizing Your body and blood. On this day, we remember that around the world we are bonded together as Your children, and in all traditions and cultures, we have our ways of bonding over food and drink. We gather at Your table with these gifts from the earth, from Your bounty, and remember You, how You gave Your life for us. We thank You, Gracious Christ, for giving of Yourself, and creating a way for us to remember You, Your life, death, and resurrection, in the simplest of ways: sharing a meal with one another. Bless this bread to nourish our bodies, bless these cups to nourish our souls, bless this meal to nourish our relationships with one another as Your children. Amen.

Embracing Failure: My Novel

A recap from last week’s post that begins this series:

Merriam-Webster’s definition(s) of failure:

1a: omission of occurrence or performance
b: (1): a state of inability to perform a normal function
(2): an abrupt cessation of normal functioning
c: a fracturing or giving way under stress
2a: lack of success
b: a failing in business (bankruptcy)
3a: a falling short (deficiency)
b: deterioration, decay
4: one that has failed

The TL;DR version of last week’s Embracing Failure is that we often jump to definition number four instead of all the others.

First up in this series on failure: my novel.

If you know me, or have followed me on social media for a while, on July 22nd, 2020, I signed a contract with a publishing company to publish my science fiction novel. It’s been a labor of love, a book that I just can’t quit. My previous two books I gave up on—one permanently shelved (I’m not even writing in that genre anymore and don’t have a desire to pick it up again) and one that needs a lot of rewriting, and even then, it might be a book just for me.

But this third novel—oh, this third book. Third time’s the charm, right?
I wrote this novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2016. Remember November 2016? Eight days into the month and everything changed. I didn’t write November 9th, but I did on November 10th. This book took shape and flew. I finished with close to sixty thousand words by the end of the month.

After my initial revisions and beta readers, in the spring of 2017, I sent my very first query letter for this novel, and to my surprise, landed a full request with a big-time literary agent. And I was sure it was THE ONE. The book that would get me signed on, the book that would be my big break. Eight weeks later, I received a rejection from that agent. By this time, however, there were more requests from queries, and I didn’t sweat it. Both of my previous books had maybe one or two requests from literary agents. This one received a full request from four literary agents after only twenty queries.

They all, eventually, came back as rejections. I sent over fifty queries and heard nothing more. I submitted the novel to PitchWars (an online competition in which those selected are paired up with an author who mentors them, helps them revise, and concludes with an agent round as the grand finale, where literary agents can request the full manuscripts). I was not chosen but received personalized feedback from two authors who loved the premise. I sent more queries, and received a few “revise and resubmits,” which either were ghosted on (yes, this happens—some agents request full manuscripts and rewrites and NEVER respond to further correspondence) or later turned into rejections.

I decided to move on and wrote and queried a YA science fiction novel (my fourth manuscript), that didn’t receive nearly as many requests. I began writing another book set in the same universe that third novel, thinking maybe it could get me signed on, and then that beloved book would be picked up as well. I set that aside for yet another YA science fiction novel that I’m just now completing.

That third novel, though—it’s the book that I want out there so badly. And finally, last summer, I found a brand new publisher willing to take it on.

I passed my contract by another friend in the industry and negotiated for terms I wanted. I worked with an editor and had a wonderful process (there were things I pushed back on, and that’s normal—I would recommend my editor again). We started talking formatting with the publisher, what I wanted pages to look like, what my acknowledgments page would say, back cover matter, a map (YES!) and initial cover designs. For the first six months, everything seemed to go well. The publishing company officially launched, started a newsletter and shared about my book.

And then … nothing. There was no progress on my book for another six months. There was a book in the queue before mine and things fell behind, and eventually, the publisher announced on July 22nd, 2021—one year to the date that I signed my contract—that the company was closing, and all rights would be returned to authors. I received my rights back, and that was that. There’s always a risk with new presses—I’ve definitely searched on Writer Beware and the SFWA site and knew going in that there was a good chance this press might close—but still, given the amount of effort in the first six months, I believed publication would happen for me.

Failure, definition 1a: omission of occurrence or performance.

I’d told everyone my book was coming out in 2021. I’d changed my Twitter bio. I’d participated in debut 2021 Tweet chats. I’d talked about it on my Facebook author page and posted about it personally. I created a new Instagram just as an author and *gasp* even created an author TikTok that I’ve used only once because I don’t know how it works yet (another failure).

Failure sucks. No matter how much of this might be out of my hands, it still sucks. It would be easy to embrace definition number four and believe that I have failed. And for a while, I did. I cried big tears.

Then I dusted myself off, reread my manuscript (and changed a few word choices back to my original choice, because it’s my novel again) and sent it back out.

Still receiving mostly rejections.

Maybe it’s not the right book for the market. Maybe it’s not as good as I want to believe it is. That latter statement can be true, even if it’s hard to hear. It’s the first book I’ve written that I believed had a genuine shot, but for some reason, has fallen short.

I’ll say it again: failure sucks. But I am NOT a failure.

I’m (painstakingly) completing revisions on my latest YA novel. It’s taken me much longer (over two and a half years) with this book than I did with any of my previous manuscripts because I’ve learned a lot in this process. I probably made the mistake of querying that third novel too soon, and it’s an even more difficult market than it was four years ago to get a foot in the door. Whatever I put forth now needs to be as close to perfect as it can be. My standards are higher. The critical feedback is easier to take now than it was four years ago. Before, I would need to let it sit for a week or more, then I could read it more objectively. Now, about twenty-four hours is good. Critique is intended to make it a better manuscript, not to try to crush my soul as a writer.

It still hurts, though. I thought this book would be published this year. I thought I’d be sharing copies with friends and family. Even if it didn’t get rave reviews, it would be out there and the writing friends who have read it would see it come to fruition.

For me, self-publication requires too much—financially, mentally, emotionally—that it’s not the path for this book at this time. That isn’t to say I won’t make a different decision next year. It’s also not to say that perhaps another small press will come along and love it as much as I do. For now, this book is, as we say, trunked. Shelved. On the back burner. It’s not dead yet, but it’s not going to be my primary focus going forward.

Failure sucks. But I am not a failure. And neither are you. Whatever it is that has been a failure—whatever your dreams may be—you are not a failure. Keep learning, keep dreaming, keep pursuing and learning and growing. Embrace failure as part of your experience, part of what has happened to you—but know that you yourself are not a failure. You will do amazing and wonderful things—they just have not happened yet.

Worship Resources for September 26th, 2021—Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Revised Common Lectionary: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 124; Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 10:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Narrative Lectionary: Jacob’s Dream, Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23, 28:10-17

In Jewish tradition, the book of Esther is part of the Wisdom literature, and the selections for today tell the story of the celebration of Purim. Taking place in Persia, the story is about how the Jewish people survived in a country that was not theirs. Though many Jewish people had returned to the land of Judah after the exile, others remained where they had landed during the exile and even in the land of Judah they were ruled over by the Persians, then later the Greeks (which is perhaps when this story was written). Esther is a story of a young Jewish woman who was chosen to become a wife of the king of Persia. The king and others did not know her background, and Haman, the right hand of the king, plotted to commit genocide against the Jewish people. Esther, having won the favor of her husband, and through the urging of her cousin Mordecai, requested to hold a banquet. During this banquet, she revealed that Haman has conspired against her people and her very self. Mordecai convinced her to go to the king for this request even though she risked her own life, and the king responded faithfully to her because he loved her. However, the decree to kill all the Jewish people was already issued and could not be revoked. Nonetheless, the king allowed Esther and Mordecai to alert the Jewish people and allowed them to defend themselves. After the Jewish people successfully defended themselves against their attackers, the king declared those days were to be kept as a celebration every year for the Jewish people.

Psalm 124 is a song praising God for victory from battle. The song invites the people to join in and remember that if it wasn’t for God, they wouldn’t be there. God has delivered the people from their enemies once again, as God delivered them when they passed through the Red Sea. The creator of all is the people’s God—the one who has rescued them.

Once again, the people of Israel forgot their past hardships while in Egypt and only remembered their present difficulties in Numbers 11. Before they reached Sinai, they complained, and preparing to set out from Sinai, they complained again. The complainers became a “rabble” with a “strong craving.” God was not pleased, but Moses was fed up. He didn’t know what to do and he whined to God about it, that it would be better for him to die than have to deal with the people who are acting like spoiled children crying for their moms. God’s response to Moses was to call forth help, as God did for Moses back in Exodus 18. Before they reached Sinai, Moses’ father-in-law suggested that he appoint judges to help him. After Sinai, God told Moses to appoint seventy elders of Israel, and God’s Spirit was granted to them. However, it was soon discovered there were two others, not among the seventy, who also appeared to have God’s Spirit. A complaint was given to Joshua who told Moses about the two and that he should stop them, but Moses was thrilled. He wished that more people had God’s Spirit and were prophets!

In this portion of Psalm 19:7-14, the psalmist praises God for the teachings of God through the commandments and ordinances. The law of God is rewarding when one keeps to them. The psalmist knows, however, that there are times when they fall astray, and asks God to be cleansed of hidden shortcomings, and also to be kept back from those who are insolent and rebel against God. The psalmist concludes the prayer with the hope that their words and meditations are acceptable to God, their strength and salvation.

The Epistle reading concludes its series in James with 5:13-20. In these final verses of this letter, the author of James writes about the power of prayer. Prayer is helpful for those who are downtrodden and sick. Prayer is also a way to confess sins and seek forgiveness from God. The author of James reminds the reader/listener of how powerful Elijah’s prayers were, and so they, too, should trust in prayer. The writer concludes that it is important to help those who have sinned—who have missed the mark and gone astray—to come back to God’s ways. This is the power that saves us from the dead-ends of this world and life now, and from the power of death’s finality.

One of Jesus’ disciples, John, told Jesus that they found someone else casting out demons in his name and tried to stop him in Mark 9:38-50. However, Jesus’ response was similar to Moses’ response in Numbers—“do not stop him … Whoever is not against us is for us.” Both Moses and Jesus recognized the power of the Holy Spirit at work in people who did good things. It was not about identity—who you are, or what group you are with, or the line of authority that approves you—if you are doing the work of building the reign of God on earth, doing good things—then who has the authority to stop you? Instead, Jesus warned about becoming a stumbling block for others. Don’t do something that would cause another to go astray, to place heavy burdens on others in order to be validated. Instead, bless others, grant them their needs. Salt preserves and fire cleanses. “Have salt in yourselves”—in other words, do what you need to do to be right with God, and be at peace with one another.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Jacob in Genesis 27 and 28. Jacob was the second-born son of Rebekah and Isaac, though he was a fraternal twin. However, Rebekah conspired with Jacob for him to steal his father’s blessing from his slightly older brother Esau. This caused some great distress in the family once it was discovered, and Jacob was sent to live with Rebekah’s brother Laban until Esau cooled off. On his way, Jacob rested for the night, and used a stone as a pillow. He dreamed that night of a ladder or staircase that extended from earth to the sky, with angels ascending and descending on it. God spoke to Jacob in this dream, that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth, and that God was with him, protecting him, and would bring him home one day. Jacob woke, terrified and in awe, for God had been there and he hadn’t known it.

Jesus also recalled the stairway to heaven in John 1:50-51. He saw ahead of time that Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree and came to him. Philip had told Nathanael about Jesus, but Nathanael didn’t believe until Jesus told him how he saw him under the fig tree. Jesus declared they would see greater things than this—and shared the same vision that Jacob had of the angels ascending and descending to heaven.

There are several times in the Gospels where Jesus was accused of having a demon (example: Mark 3:22). Jesus then speaks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. A demon cannot do good things. No one can do good works apart from the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ministry of healing was the proof that the Holy Spirit was at work in him. In the same way, Jesus wasn’t concerned about the man that John saw casting out demons. The Holy Spirit was among him. Moses wasn’t concerned about the two others prophesying in the camp, because they were delivering God’s word to the people. The Holy Spirit was among them. Far too often, religious people of all religions like to claim theirs is the true way and others are not. Others must be influenced by the evil in the world. But how can we question the real-life experience of these good works? Jesus was questioned even by John the Baptist through his disciples in Matthew 11:1-6, if he was really the Messiah. Jesus’ response was to go report to John what they saw: the blind could see, the lame could walk, those with skin diseases were healed, the dead raised, the poor had good news. What other proof is needed? We are not called to be gatekeepers. Instead, we are called to recognize and honor the power of the Holy Spirit at work in all of God’s children, whether they’re part of our group or not.

Call to Worship
You call us into this space, O God,
Inviting us into a time of worship.
You call our hearts, O God,
Inviting us to know Your love.
You call us by name, O God,
Inviting us to know You more deeply.
Continue to call to us, O God,
And may we know Your grace and peace.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, forgive us when we have kept others out, intentionally or unintentionally. Forgive us when we have slammed doors shut that You opened. Forgive us when we have assumed our measures were accurate to determine who was worthy, when we know in our hearts we have all fallen short. Forgive us for the glass ceilings, the longer staircases, all the ways oppression in the forms of sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia, and economic status have been used to keep Your people from fulfilling the call You have on their lives. Forgive us for the gatekeeping that You never wanted us to do. Instead, fling open the gates, make a highway in the wilderness, and springs in the desert. For You are always finding a way where there was none, O God, and tearing down the walls we built, and constructing bridges where we assumed it wasn’t possible. Call us into the work of restoration, forgiveness, and healing. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance
Be the salt of the earth! Give flavor to the world! Preserve what you know of God’s love, mercy, and peace, and share it with others. Open your hearts to receive God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace, and go and share it with the world, for you are forgiven, loved, and restored. Amen.

Prayer
God of Awe and Wonder, we tremble when we think of the universe and what You have created. We wonder how we could be so important to You, and yet, You call each of us by name. You have given us meaning and purpose in this world. Like Esther, may we know that at times, even when it seems we have no choice, we still have the choice to follow You. Like Mordecai, we may not have the power and privilege to do what needs to be done, but we know people who do. Help us to speak up, O God, for Your ways of love and justice. Help us to cry out, O God, against the oppressive empires of our world. Help us to demand, O God, reparations and justice for those who have been oppressed. Guide us in Your ways, O God, because You are far beyond our understanding and comprehension, and yet, You continue to instruct us in the ways of wisdom and insight. Help us to draw near to You, O Holy One, and to live into Your truth. Amen.