Spiritual Spring Cleaning

blogpic spiritualspringcleaningIn her book, The Holy Spirit, Sr. Mary Ann Fatula of Ohio Dominican University writes, “We know that the Father’s perfect image or ‘icon’ is the Son (Colossians 1:15), and that the Son’s living ‘icon’ is the Spirit; but there is no other divine person who is the Spirit’s image. It is human persons filled with the Spirit who are the most brilliant icon revealing the Holy Spirit to the world.”

Have you ever thought of yourself as the living icon of the Holy Spirit? Jesus was limited in time and space to the first century, but the risen Christ transcends all time and space and eternity so that his living presence can fill the whole creation. As believers and followers of the risen Christ, our lives become the dwelling place, the guest house for the Holy Spirit to live and shine through us.

I have been wondering lately, what kind of host I have been to the Holy Spirit. Have I relegated her to a back room that is full of dust and dirt? Have I limited the Spirit to only one part of who I am rather than allowing the Spirit to take full possession of my life? Have I put forth my best effort to make sure that my life is a hospitable dwelling place for God? Maybe this is why Jesus was born in the hay among the stable animals—a stark reminder that none of us are too smelly and awful for God to live in and love us and transform us.

Perhaps prayer, meditation, journaling, Bible-reading, exercise and other forms of spiritual practice are for the Holy Spirit, the equivalent of house cleaning, preparing a lovely meal, and setting out the nicest towels for a houseguest. Where does my life need some sprucing up so that the Spirit may enter more fully? Am I willing to die to my ego and my preferred outcomes so that the Holy Spirit can shine brilliantly through me?

Perhaps this is what is really meant by the Aaronic blessing God spoke to Moses: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and + give you peace” (Numbers 6:22-26). Perhaps way back then, Moses and Aaron understood that God’ presence not only shines on us, but through us. It’s like sunlight—we don’t look at the sun directly but we see it instead, in the light it shines all around us. We do not see the Holy Spirit’s light directly, but we see it reflected in the faces and lives of those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells fully.

I think it’s time for some thorough spiritual spring cleaning.

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Book Party & Signing This Thursday!

BookcoverFood! Friends! Fun!

Please join me this Thursday, April 20, 6-8 pm at The Novel Neighbor in Webster Groves, MO to celebrate my first book! 

Address: 7905 Big Bend Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63119 (here's a map)

We'll have snacks and drinks, I'll read a few essays, and sign books (bring one, or purchase one there!). 

If you can't come, you can click here to purchase a book for $14.95 on Amazon. If you'd like me to sign a book and mail it to you for $16, please leave a message for me here. If you have 3 minutes and can write a positive review here to help me out on Amazon, I would be eternally grateful!

Motherhood Calling makes a great gift for Mother's Day, May 14th! Please bring a friend or share the news!

Thank you so much for your interest in and support of my writing!

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A Good Friday Meditation

blogpic crucifixion sunsetA Meditation preached on Good Friday, April 14, 2017 based on the Passion of Jesus according to John 18-19 at Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Florissant, MO

Over the course of Jesus’ life and ministry, the disciple’s relationship with him deepens and changes—and so does ours. We always stand as sinner to our Savior, but as we follow Jesus in his mission, we also become a servant to our Master. As we hear the parables, we become a student of our Teacher, and as we learn to love others as he has loved us, we become a disciple to our Lord.

But as Jesus approaches his suffering and death, he deepens our relationship with him again. At the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus says, I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Now we become friends to Jesus. Jesus needs more than sinners, servants, students and disciples to enter the suffering that he faces. Jesus needs friends who will accompany him, who will love him, who will suffer with him, who will not betray, abandon or deny him. None of his first disciples could do this, except John. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, all but John ran away.

Have you ever imagined that the disciples who fled in fear left an opening in the story for you to do what they could not? Have you ever imagined that Jesus calls you, “friend,” and asks you to enter his passion and fill the space vacated by the disciples? Have you ever imagined that the suffering you have endured in this life, opens up inside you, a bigger space of compassion so that you can be a friend to Jesus, so that you can be the one who stays by his side while he suffers and dies?

I invite you to imagine yourself inside the story as a friend who stays there with Jesus; a gift of sacred accompaniment. You may close your eyes and quiet your thoughts as you let your imagination take you to the hill outside of Jerusalem where Jesus and 2 criminals are crucified.

Crowds surround you as you make your way to the cross. The jeers and cheers have quieted down as death draws near. As you weave your way closer, you spot Jesus’ mother Mary, with Mary Magdalene, and Mary’s sister, standing at the foot of the cross with John. You make your way toward them so you can be there with Jesus, too. As you take your place beside them, the Mary’s and John nod their gratitude to you and squeeze your hand. They are so comforted that you had the courage and compassion to stay by Jesus until the end.

You look up at Jesus; his head is bowed. So many thoughts and questions are running through his mind: “Is this what happens when you love without limits? What should I have done differently? Just a few days ago I thought I heard Hosannas! Where are all of my friends? And, my Abba, my Father, where, oh where is he in all this agony?”

No answers come.

Jesus lifts up his head and sees you there with the women and John. You lock eyes and you see the relief flood over him as he realizes he’s not completely alone. He holds your gaze as if he’s soaking up your compassion and love. You remember that Jesus knows everything—all of your pain and sorrow, all of your goodness and joy, all of your temptation and sin. You feel flooded with his love. How can Jesus exude such love when he’s in so much pain? You also feel deep sorrow for his suffering.

It’s as if time stands still. As you hold his gaze, it looks like he’s about to say something. You step closer and lean in to hear what he says: what does Jesus say to you? What is Jesus saying to you as a friend who stays by his side?

You hold this message from Jesus in your heart. You will always remember what Jesus has done for you.

He saved all of us by not saving himself.

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Becoming Our Image of God

blogpic crucifixion IndiaSermon preached on Matthew 21:1-11 for Palm/Passion Sunday, April 9, 2017 at Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Florissant, MO

What is your image of God? It’s not a question we ask ourselves or each other very often. It doesn’t come up at the water cooler at work, or even around the dinner table at home. But it’s a vital question because as I read in my devotions recently, we become our image of God.

This is the same question being asked by the people of Jerusalem as Jesus makes his triumphal entry on a donkey. “Who is this? Who is Jesus?” Matthew reports that the whole city of Jerusalem was in turmoil over this question and with good reason. Jesus is not just “a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee,” but Jesus reveals the character and nature of God. So, what image of God does Jesus’ life reveal? We join the crowds in Jerusalem asking, “Who is this?”

Does Jesus reveal an image of God who is the judge and punisher of our sins, a God who makes sure we get our just desserts, and lets us blame people for their own misfortune? If not, those of us who think we are righteous are disappointed.

Is Jesus the morality police who condemns those who don’t behave according to strict moral codes so that, “we are in, those ‘others’ (whoever those ‘others’ are for us) are out?” If not, the arrogant religious are humbled as we stand on level ground with all sinners.

Does Jesus embody an image of God as the apex of power who will defeat the Roman Empire and make Israel (or America today) #1? If not, then those among us who want a political messiah are thwarted, and violence is not justified.

Does Jesus reveal a God who is absent—an old man with a beard in the sky who does not care about us personally? Does this far-off God “watch us from a distance,” (as the unfortunate lyrics of that Bette Midler song go) as if our lives don’t matter? If not, the powerful who oppress others stand accused, for our behavior matters, and the lowly are raised up.

Does Jesus show us an image of God who is a perfectionist who demands the same from us? A God who says that salvation is all up to us and you’d better hop to it because you’re on your own? If not, then the agitators and activists are brought down from their high horse.

Who is this Jesus? Everyone in Jerusalem is disappointed, for they are not getting the God they wanted. Perhaps neither are we. Is this why the crowd who cried “Hosanna to the Son of David” shouted “crucify him!” just a few days later? Because in Jesus, they did not get the God they wanted?

When I was in chemotherapy for breast cancer 9 years ago, I was angry at God. I have never known such a depth of physical suffering combined with a dark night of the soul. I was plastered to the bed for 5 months of chemotherapy, I was on disability for 9 months and couldn’t take care of my family. I didn’t want Jesus to suffer with me, I wanted him to take my suffering away! I did not get the God I wanted.

We are so disappointed that Jesus is not the God we want, that we put God to death in the end, even death on a cross. I confess that I am guilty.

But isn’t it in this death, that Jesus reveals who God really is? God’s image and character become clear—God is One who suffers on behalf of the world God made. Jesus reveals the length, the width, the height, the depth, (as Ephesians 3 says). Jesus reveals the expanse of God’s love in that suffering, so that in our suffering we might meet God there, and embrace a relationship with the One who called us into being and loves us no matter what.

It took time, but eventually the Spirit enabled me to see God in the midst of my suffering:

• in the dinners people prepared for us;

• in the Moms who picked up and dropped off my 3 kids for their basketball, soccer, and baseball practices;

• in my parents, 2 sisters and 2 girlfriends, all who lived out of state, who took their vacation time to stay with us and help my family;

• in the cards so numerous I could have wall-papered the bathroom;

• in the prayers that so many offered on my behalf;

I could go on and on and on about the ways God showed up in my suffering.

One thing becomes clear: there is no glorification of ourselves in this God who suffers with us, and for us, and alongside us. We do not get to be more righteous, more powerful, more moral, more favored, or more perfect, more holy than anyone else, than any other country, than any other community or group. The truth of who we are is exposed in Jesus’ suffering; all we can do is receive the unfathomable love of our God, and respond with our whole life, trusting that God never allows the cross and its suffering to be the end of the story.

For the character of this God who suffers, is also and always to bring new life, new birth, new joy, indeed, resurrection out of suffering. Through our relationship with Jesus, God asks us to participate with him in bringing love, healing, renewal, hope and resurrection to all people.

Last week, a pastor serving in northern Illinois asked me to go to a local hospital and visit the niece of her parishioner, who has breast cancer. She’s 30 years old with children ages 2 and 5. She had the same stage cancer that I did, the same surgery. She looked at me and said, “It’s so good to see you got through this; it gives me hope.” In fact, all my pastoral visits have been qualitatively different since cancer, because people know that I know their suffering. People know that I know what it’s like to be in the hospital bed rather than standing at the bedside. Only a God who suffers can give this hope, when all I did was show up. That is the character of God – to bring comfort, love and hope to others through our redeemed suffering. It’s not about us, but what God can do through us.

We become our image of God. So lean in to the passion story this Holy Week, and this God who suffers on our behalf. As you receive the body and blood of Christ at Communion, hear the story that through Jesus, you know that God knows you and your suffering.

When we receive the unfathomable love of God and we say “yes” to this God who invites us into an intimate relationship, then we can ask new questions. Instead of “Who is this Jesus?” We can ask, “Who is Jesus shaping me to be through my own redeemed suffering?” And “To whom is God using me to bring comfort, love and hope because they need to know that you know their suffering? There are people who need to know that you know. That is your passion story, because it makes it possible for them to know that God knows their suffering, too.

So Jesus’ passion story continues through our passion stories as we join him in making real the love and presence of this amazing resurrection God.

Image: Jesus Dies on the Tree by Jyoti Sahi; Jyoti Art Ashram, North Bangalore, India 

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linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.