I am NOT the (a) babysitter

Rachel has been out of the country for several days. She is leading a team from our Church on a mission trip in Belize. As other times she’s been away, I am humbled by the tasks required to parent alone.

And this is only for 1 week! And I have the incredible benefit of being married to a mom who has raised our kids in such a way that makes it a comparatively easy for me.

But let me make this as  clear as I can: I am not babysitting. I’m a dad.

Sometimes taking care of my own children is part of the title “dad.”

Not a few people have asked me, “How’s the babysitting?”

I don’t know: I’m not babysitting, I am being a parent. Actually providing care to my children goes with the territory. It’s in the job description.

Hearing without understanding

Businessman in helmet covering his ears over white backgroundI share a short message at preschool chapel twice a week. It’s one of those things that I don’t always look forward to, but always leave feeling better about myself and the future.

Kids have that affect on me.

Each chapel time starts with singing. And, as you can imagine, we sing quite a few repetitive songs. And we have standards; that is, some we sing every time we gather.

For one of these standards, we have many different flavors or styles. We have “baby style,” “mommy style,” “daddy style,” (which is my favorite, since it is everyone else trying to sing really low, and me singing normally).

And, for fun, the director often invites children to offer new styles. This elicits some serious creativity!  Last week, taking requests, the director thought she heard a child request “angel style.”

What the child had actually requested, though, was “ninja style.”

An honest mistake. And a reminder that we often hear what we want to hear.

Not to compete with the movie franchise…

I am writing this to be read on Friday, April 13th.  We’ll have another Friday the 13th in July of this year.

What do you think about Friday the 13th?  The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina estimated in 2012 that between 17 and 21 million Americans struggle to some degree or other with stress related to Friday the 13th. The same group estimates that people changing their behavior because of Friday the 13th costs between $800 and $900 million in business.

Symptoms range from mild anxiety to full-on panic attacks.
And, of course, a new movie in the Friday the 13th series debuts nearly every time one occurs.

Though many connect anxiety related to Friday the 13th to Jesus plus his 12 disciples making 13, there is no historical evidence of the day actually causing anxiety before the 19th century.

While I don’t suffer stress related to this particular day, I have to admit I have some of my own superstitions. For example, though I know Jesus tells us that God makes the rain fall on the just and unjust, I still sometimes imagine God as trying to send me messages through difficulty or trial.

All of which reminds me of a phrase I learned when I served in small-town churches. The phrase was “don’t borrow worry.”

Which reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:25-34.

In teaching the disciples (and everyone else in the crowd that day) not to worry, but, rather, to seek God first. Peter advises us all to, “Throw all your anxiety onto him [Jesus], because he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

So, if you are anxious today, or any day, take a deep breath. Hold it for a 5 count, and release it slowly. Do it again. As you breathe slowly, try a breath prayer.

Here is a traditional breath prayer: As you inhale, think, “Jesus Christ, Son of God.” Imagine yourself actually breathing God’s presence in. Then, as you exhale, think, “have mercy on me a sinner.” Again, as you exhale, imagine yourself actually breathing your sins out, away from you.

Just slowing your breathing will reduce anxiety. Coupling it with such a prayer helps us to “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.”

Which is a good thing to do whether it is Friday the 13th or not!

Pastor Steve Heyduck

Are we in Sync?

I saw and re-tweeted a request for prayer for Belize this morning. Our Church is sending a team on mission there in April, so it caught my attention.

That I was invited to pray for Belize wasn’t blog-worthy. The other point the tweet shared was. Apparently much of Belize has been evangelized, but there is much religious syncretism there. Syncretism is, simply put, the blending of practices and/or beliefs of at least 2 different religions.

So today Belize and the challenges of religious syncretism are in my prayers today. But I cannot prayer for such a thing in one area without it raising my awareness in others.

Which brings me to the tour of the U.S. Capitol last July. We had a great time on the tour provided by the office of Senator Jerry Moran (we were with my in-laws who live in Kansas).  Near the end of this tour, our group huddled in the rotunda so we could hear our tour guide. She invited us all to look up and see the impressive painting inside the dome itself. Painted by Italian Constantino Brumidi in 1865, she explained that the painting is called “The Apotheosis of Washington.” She translated this for us as “George Washington goes to heaven.”usa-us_capitol3.jpg

Which is, I explained later, so as not to embarrass her, technically true. But apotheosis carries much more meaning than simply “goes to heaven.”

Apotheosis was a term used by Roman Emperors in the early days of Christianity. Specifically, apotheosis was the word for the claim that after a Caesar died, he became a god.

I have never heard anyone claim that George Washington became a god. I have, however, heard the founding era in our history glorified in ways that, frankly, concern me that religious syncretism is not a danger only in other countries and for other people.

While we pray for the challenges of religious syncretism in other nations, let us also be wary of the danger of religious syncretism in our own.

A Rhythm to die for

rhythm1bannerGod spoke. In Genesis 1, God spoke the world into existence and into order. And it’s written in verse – it is a poem. Which means it has rhythm.

There’s a pattern, an order, to creation, whether you believe it was 7 literal 24 hour days or billions of years folded into a story that expresses A rhythm with which the world was created in literary language accessible by the cultures in which it was written.

God spoke, God created. God had, and has, rhythm.

If God spoke with a rhythm, maybe God rapped the world into existence.

Yes; God has better rhythm than you do. I know God has better rhythm than I do.

We see, we hear, we feel, we experience rhythm all around us and in us. Our hearts beat and we breathe in rhythm. When our hearts or our breath get out of rhythm, doctors get concerned.

There is a rhythm to the world, and there are rhythms to the world. Some of our rhythms are chosen, some happen to us, and some happen around us and invite us, or compel us, to enter, to join, to clap along.

For the next 5 weeks, I strongly encourage you to consider rhythm – the rhythms of your life, the rhythms of God’s creation, and the rhythms you’ve chosen and those you’ve fallen into.

One rhythm we’ve all chosen, as baptized Christians, and that has been chosen for us as beings created by God, is birth, death, and resurrection.

It is the circle of life! I suppose it is more a spiral than a circle, because it doesn’t actually go back to where it started, but a spiral represents a rhythm better than a circle does. Take a circle, and look at it from the side, you simply get a line. But a spiral, you get a waveform. Wave-forms have rhythm.

I learned recently that I run faster when I listen to music than when I listen to podcasts. Which was kinda frustrating, because I’ve got some awesome podcasts that I love listening to. But the rhythm of music – not necessarily fast rhythm, but rhythm, keeps my pace going better than listening to spoken words.

Rhythm takes us places.

God has a rhythm, and God is taking us somewhere. Where is God taking us, you might ask? Let’s go back to Genesis and see.

God spoke, creation happened. God formed, humans were shaped. God breathed, humans came to life. God invited humans to partner in caring for creation. One word for this is stewardship – God partners with us to take care of this vast beautiful world God created. God blesses us with abilities, with drives, with desires, with interests, all of which can be put to use in partnership with God.

And our abilities, drives, desires, and interests can be put to use otherwise, too; in opposition to God’s dreams for creation, and sometimes not so obviously in opposition to God, but out of line with God’s dreams. Out of beat with God’s rhythm.

By the time we get to Genesis 9, the rhythm that God intended to be beautiful music had become a cacophony. Humans living by their own beat, seeking only their own interests.

When we either give up on syncing with God’s rhythm, or go a step further and try to set our own rhythm against God’s, we get to where the world was in Noah’s day. Genesis says God was ready to start humanity over – with Noah and his faith. Humanity 2.0.

Noah, Gensis tells us, “God approved of Noah.” As the KJV put it and the statler brothers sang it, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”

Maybe, in today’s terms, God gave humanity a reboot. And God did it through water.

God’s rhythm, the rhythm of creation, with Noah becomes the rhythm of covenant. Covenant begins here, and never ends.Covenant translates a variety of ways, but covenants with God always include God’s promises and God’s faithfulness. God is faithful, and God keeps promises.

So, in Genesis 9, we find the first instance of the word covenant. This isn’t the first instance of God making promises, but this is where the writer first inserted the word covenant.

For today; for our series on “Rhythm,” this is a really good place to start, then. Humanity 2.0; God has rebooted humanity, saving Noah and his family from the flood. Now, God promises the erath will never again be flooded. And the rainbow is offered as a reminder for us of God’s promise.

But look again: the story didn’t tell us the rainbow is a reminder for us. Genesis says it is a reminder to God. Here are those words again; chapter 9, verses 13-17.

13 I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. 16 The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I have set up between me and all creatures on earth.”

You might not think God needs a reminder. But let me remind you of this: the Bible wasn’t written with all the “absolute” or “omni” ideas you and I might have about God.

And however powerful the God of the Bible – our God – is; the Bible’s real message; if there is one overarching theme that rules this masterful collection of texts, it is this:

God prefers relationship over the exercise of power.

This story, the flood story, may not be the best illustration of this point, but, it does end with God establishing a covenant with us – with humans, and, in fact, with all living creatures, it says. So, yes, there is the crushing, overwhelming power of flooding waters, and then there’s the promise, the covenant, and the reminder – a reminder for God – never to use that kind of power again.

God isn’t going to get God’s way anymore by the exercise of power.

We see this most cleary in Jesus, of course, where Jesus refuses to return hate for hate, or powere for power, and it costs him his life. Which turns out to be the move we all needed to find victory over sin and death.

To win by losing

To live by dying

There’s rhythm for you!

We get this backwards: many of us – more when we were younger and less as we age – go in terms of “dying to live;” we do extreme things, act in extreme ways, push ourselves to, or beyond, reasonable limits, for the rush, the hit, the high of risking life.

And our bodies, and our minds, like the rush, the hit, the high, so we do it again. But this time it takes more to get the same hit.

God’s rhythm may be opposite ours, but God invites us to learn to live according to God’s rhythm.

And, for today’s scripture readings, it starts with water.

The water Noah and his family were saved from, and the water Jesus was baptized in.

The water you were baptized in.

Did you ever stop to think that some of the water used in your baptism might have been some of the same water that Jesus was baptized in?

How about this: some of the water used in your baptism was involved in the flood!

About 7 weeks ago we gave everyone who worshiped here in either service a rubber ducky to help remember their baptism.

For many of you, that would have been like mine; when you were too young actually to remember it. I was baptized at Hillside Methodist Church in Medford, MA, when I was somewhere between 1 and 3. That morning, the congregation said this for me:

With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of christ that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.

Consider that a version of “And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

The words we say today when someone is baptized, you might recall, are

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
    and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
      with a community of love and forgiveness,
    that they may grow in their trust of God,
    and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
    that they may be true disciples
      who walk in the way that leads to life.

This is our way of conveying to those baptized that they are God’s beloved children.

Who said these words, or words like them for you? Have you ever thanked them? Have you ever thanked God for them; for the promises they made, for the help, and advice, and direction, and example, and prayers they offered?

We would all do well to make giving thanks a bigger part of the rhythm of our lives.

God’s rhythm includes giving thanks. But for today, I want to focus on the rhythm of life, death, and resurrection. We see it in the gospel reading, though that reading is only 7 verses.

Jesus, living, goes into the water of baptism, which symbolizes death. He comes up out of the water, dead to who he was before, and alive to God and God’s call on his life. Life, death, and resurrection.

And it doesn’t end there: At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

Maybe we imagine that resurrection life is sitting on clouds strumming harps or standing around a throne singing praises, but resurrection life has already begun! Resurrection life includes temptation.

But it includes, also, the ability to withstand temptation. Resisting temptation is breaking one rhythm and taking up another.

Jesus was being tempted, and where was he? In the wilderness, yes, but Mark points out that he was “among the wild animals.” Jesus was surrounded by creatures that were also included in God’s covenant with Noah. God remembered!

And there, surrounded by his fellow creatures with whom God made that first covenant, Jesus had the angels take care of him.

And then the reading (and all of the scriptures for our worship services during Lent are from the  lectionary) ends ends with this: After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

So, it seems there is a rhythm, life, death, resurrection (which is life again), death (resisting temptation), and resurrection again. In one sense, there is one resurrection. But in a very important sense for us, especially as we start lent, there is a rhythm of resurrection. Resurrection comes to us again and again!

So you have been baptized. You have, then, died to yourself, and been raised alive to God. That’s what fellow UM Pastor Adam Webber highlighted when he explained to a couple thousand of us at the UMC of Rez LI last year, when he said that he told people when they joined the church: “At the moment when you join the church, that’s when what the church does stops being about you!”

Which sounds really refreshing until we consider how easily we fall into talk about what we think the church ought to do for us.

That’s not what we’re resurrected for! “What’s in it for us” is the way of thinking we get to die to, and be resurrected from!

And it helps to remember all those people who made promises for us when we were baptized. So we can go on making promises to people who are baptized today.

It’s part of God’s rhythm. It is life, and death, and resurrection.

It is a rhythm we were created for, and a rhythm we are invited to live into – especially during this season of Lent.

So, I invite you every day this week, or even every day from now to Easter, specifically to remember your baptism. Who made promises? For whom have you made promises since?

What promises did God make to you in your baptism? Never to leave you. To love you always – not in spite of – but always. To take away the power of sin and temptation and death.

What do you need to die to?

What does your resurrection life look like? Now? After Easter? There’s no need to make it wait until after your physical death. The victory is already won!

We opened this service with “When we all get to heaven.” Sometimes, I have to tell you, I don’t much like that song. It’s not that I don’t look forward to spending eternity in God’s presence. No, quite the opposite: nowhere do I find in scripture that living in God’s presence is something we have to wait for.

In fact, several biblical scholars have pointed out that “heaven” isn’t someplace “up” there – we don’t believe in a flat, three-tiered universe. No: “heaven” is where God is present, where God resides.

It’s not that we’ll make heaven a place on earth; it is that in Jesus, God already has! So, when we all get to heaven is already here, in a sense!

May you live into the presence of God and God’s promises here and now!