Breathing and Walking by Christ’s Power…

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Weekend blessings to you, friends. I  missed my prayer yesterday – it’s been a full week of relational richness, having friends and family visit and sharing in the joy of my husband, Jeff’s, installation at First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette.

I don’t normally do this, but I am going to share the sermon I preached at Jeff’s installation last Sunday. In so many ways, I was preaching to my own heart – I have been craving the reassuring reminder that in following Christ’s call, he will always provide the support needed to continue the journey. Even if we sink. Or rather, when we sink…

The connection between breathing and following God’s call especially resonated with me in recent months as well, and I explore that here.

So keep breathing. Keep walking. We’re in this together.

***

“Breathing and Walking by Christ’s Power”

Sermon preached by Rev. Arianne Braithwaite Lehn

Matthew 14:22-33

Sunday, March 19, 2017

First Presbyterian Church, Wilmette

 

Please join your heart with mine in prayer –

Loving and powerful Christ, please help us hear your voice, see your face, and feel your hand as we follow your call– in these coming moments and in the days before us. Keep our feet walking, our souls breathing, in faithful, courageous movement. In and by your strength, Amen.

When we think of “call” stories from Scripture, many of us might reflect on people altering their entire life trajectory – Sarah and Abraham following God’s call to a new land they’d never seen; Moses reluctantly agreeing to lead the Israelites; Esther bravely entering the king’s courts to save the Jewish people; Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others devoting themselves to being prophets; the disciples who dropped nets and the need for certainty in order to walk after Jesus.

This story of Peter walking on waves, though, is a tremendously powerful call story, reminding us how “call” is much more expansive, comprised of every day choices where risk and trust rule.

“Call” involves daily decisions about what we’ll leave behind and how we’ll use what we have. It challenges us to lean into things we’ve been promised, opportunities to express faith, and the struggle to put trust in God above fear over our own limitations.

Of course, some forms of call feel more dramatic than others. There’s the call to this job, this move, this college or residency program, this person to whom you’ll commit and say, I do

But sometimes, they’re seemingly small, yet deeply impactful, choices in your normal routine – the many little sacrifices to help your aging parent in need of rides for appointments and help cleaning the bathroom and your careful eye scanning over the pill counter. The random text you’re compelled to send your friend who unbeknownst to you feels buried alive in stress. The five minutes you spend each morning to meditate and settle your soul as the sun rises, the day’s light spreading across your lap.

Dramatic or inconspicuous, they’re all God’s call…all God’s leading toward growth and less petty, stingy living.

God’s call always points to the “bigger life,” but not necessarily what culture deems “big.” It’s been all too easy in my own life to confuse safety and stability with abundant life. At times, it’s taken storms where I’m rowing in rote exhaustion to realize the call of hope beckoning from outside the boat.

And this is exactly the place Jesus meets Peter and his friends early one morning – they are completely worn out having fought the storm’s waves and wind all night. They’re too far into the mess to turn around, but cannot yet see the land ahead of them. And to this completely vulnerable group comes what appears to be a ghost calling out the words to, “Be encouraged. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

Nice words to hear, but the promise doesn’t override their terror. Peter especially had to know it was Jesus calling from the water. How could he possibly confirm this for sure?

When First Presbyterian of Wilmette called Jeff last fall, sharing they wanted him as their next head of staff, our family, too, felt afraid. The waters outside the boat looked so unknown. Our hands were bone-tired holding those oars, but there was that powerful yet familiar resistance – the clinging to what we’ve worked for already, the meaningful relationships established, and what was known. How could we know for sure this was Jesus calling from the water?

Peter understood the voice of Jesus well enough to know it often sounded like risk – like a call out of shallow water splashing into depths requiring some reliance beyond himself. The only way he’d know for sure it was Jesus was to take a shaky step of faith. To trust and act from a place of courageous, hopeful vulnerability.

So Peter stepped out. Bracing his face against the wind, believing he would receive confirmation on the waves, leaving his known security – even if it was a quivering form of stability at best. The boat and disciples aren’t there to catch him.

I bet you know from your own life experience exactly what Peter is feeling at this moment – this place where all facades get peeled away, layer by layer, and you’re left exposed and vulnerable with ghosty Jesus as your only way out.

This is the transition time when it’s Peter and the waves.

And this is the time he sinks.

Initially, it looks like a failure. Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus, focusing more on the lack of stability beneath him than the One before him.

But what could have been the end of the story turns into its most important moment. We witness Jesus’ compassion and responsiveness as his hand interlocks with Peter’s. We watch how an honest expression of fear leads to greater faith. We see the journey of walking to Jesus cannot be completed on our own – how we need the support of his love and power to keep walking.

It is Peter’s courage – one person’s risk – that leads to worship and confession among the rest of the group. They are changed because Peter said yes to a call, was open about his fear, and received the life-saving grace of Jesus as his way forward.

Jesus’ calling Peter a “man of weak faith” may seem a little harsh, but don’t we know how a frank naming of where we are is what we often need to wake up and grow? And in the end, what matters is that Peter was walking toward Jesus – that he took those steps at all. I, for one, am so grateful for Peter’s sinking because it’s where I nestle myself in the story.

Those sinking moments are integral to our call stories too.

From a pastoral position perspective it might happen right around now. A month into the job when the winds of fear, anxiety, and an enormous learning curve can knock a pastor down. All the new people to meet, the different “system” to understand, the rapport to build, the community to navigate, the surprises to swallow.

Or maybe the sinking comes when you’re a few years into a marriage and you’re living parallel instead of intersecting lives, wondering if making that commitment was all you thought it would be.

Or you went for it – you started college at your dream school and now you feel like a total fraud for being there, worried someone will find out you’re not cut out for this and that you really hate it.

Or you felt convicted to start your own business, and now it’s pulled you away from time with your kids while the deficit budget’s jaws are about to swallow your whole family’s income.

Sinking moments in our call toward Christ happen in those smaller events too –the daily experiences where we grasp for what’s familiar, resist what’s ahead, and let our fear paralyze us.

Our call and walk toward Jesus mirrors our breathing – step after step, inhale then exhale. We can’t stay on the same step, nor can we hold onto that same breath, before it starts to turn on us.

All of us at some point have tried to hold our breath for as long as we could, maybe when we’ve gone swimming, or had a contest with a childhood friend. It’s not too long before we start twisting and turning, our bodies convulsing with a desire to let out that original breath.

Because what we needed then is not what we need now.

The same proves true with our walk and call. The waves cover us if we stay stuck on that single spot. Our feet, like the ebbing, flowing waves, are meant to keep moving.

Just like Peter, we need our sinking moments, and we can’t continue the journey on our own. We need Christ’s hand grabbing ours, our voices mingling with Peter’s as we cry out, “Lord, save me!”

I think this is what it looks like to rely on Christ’s power and love – we keep inhaling – stepping toward what’s before us – and exhaling – letting go of what we used to know. Maybe our very breathing can be our best teacher in how to follow Jesus.

The call of Christ is fresh and changing, asking us to be responsive and open on an everyday basis – to hear what the Spirit is saying now, even if it’s different than what we’d originally thought or planned. Each breath, each step, is the nourishment we need in the moment, and if we can trust that’s enough, we’ll have a whole-hearted journey of deepened faith ahead.

Trusting our inner experience of who we know Christ to be, we live, we walk, in courage, taking those words of Jesus to heart –

Be encouraged. He’s with us. Do not be afraid.

***

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Friday Prayer, March 17, 2017

branches-spring-buds

The buds trust that spring is coming, even if there’s snow on the ground…

Does something, some area, in your life feel stuck?

Is there something plaguing at you…a place where  you simply do not see a way out? A way through?

It’s in these moments when I really struggle to believe in abundance. To trust God sees and works beyond what I configure myself. And yet this is the very promise upon which I have to rely.

Richard Rohr reminded me in a recent post that when people ask him how long they should pray, his answer is, “as long as it takes you to get to yes.”

God is full of “yes” when all I see and feel is “no.” It’s why I love and cling to the promise from 2 Corinthians 1:20 – “For all the promises of God in Christ are yes.”

This is a prayer I wrote and shared a couple years ago, and yet I find it’s words freshly relevant. Let’s pray toward yes….

***

O God,

You hold me. You keep me steady in seasons of waiting. You keep me trusting in seasons of struggle. You keep me hoping in seasons of confusion. I thank you, God, for holding me in all these times, and for holding all my questions…

So many questions…

Please teach me, God, to breathe in your peace when all seems uncertain, and to exhale anxiety when all feels unknown. With your renewing fingers, stretch and mold my spirit to a fresh flexibility and grace.

I hear once again your call to hold my life with open hands. To realize I’m not as in control as I want to be. I can plan, prepare, hope, and pray, but sometimes, surprises blindside me.

I try to make things go my way, but sometimes, they don’t.

I work to change people I love, but sometimes, they won’t.

I do my very best and work my very hardest, but sometimes, it’s still not enough for what I want.

And so, dear God, I open my hands in release, letting all that I am and all that I hold float up into the loving hands you stretch out toward me.

I breathe in your peace, and as I exhale, I unclench my fists…releasing control, trusting your promises.

In your trustworthy name, Jesus. Amen.

 

 

 

Friday Prayer, March 3, 2017

 

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Good morning, friends, and Lenten blessings….

Did anyone else read or hear Pope Francis’ words to the world this week as we begin Lent? The word that really convicted and challenged me was the call for us to give up indifference toward others. I’ve been reminded from so many places in recent weeks how we belong to and are responsible for one another. In a time when I’ve felt such anxiety over the direction of our nation especially, it can feel all too easy to hide or think I’m not culpable as well for this mess. But I am part of the greater body. And you are too. We are waking up to that, and Lent is a beautiful time to live into our wholeness.

Another thought, friends – Lent is not something we “fail.” As a perfectionist (trying to recover?), I can so easily turn Lent into another new year’s resolution time, coming down hard on myself when I already renege on the promise I made. Instead, the Spirit has opened my eyes to the journey of Lent – just like life. It’s a call to deeper focus.

Many of you practice meditation, and as you know, there is no way to “fail” meditation – it’s a practice grounded in grace, where any moments we are still and silent, receiving the Great Love around and within, we are blessed. There are multiple times of drifting focus, but we return once again. We continue the journey.

So with Lent, any new moments turned toward a greater awareness toward God, any times of recognition of God’s power within us, any point where we make a choice for good…that is gift. That is “success.” That is yes.

Let’s walk together.

***

Loving Christ,

We are so mindful in this Lenten Season of our need for you, the journey you walked, the death you suffered, and the resurrection you enlivened.

We still hold, Lord God, the ashes of this week in beginning this Lenten journey. We struggle against our limitations – we ask that you would heal us, not to be perfect, but to be more fully whole, together, and free.

We rest our brokenness in your wounds, Jesus, and commit ourselves – even our broken selves – to living fully for you.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being broken that we might find healing in our own brokenness. We love you and recommit to living in your way.

And to walking together.

Amen.

Friday Prayer, February 24, 2017

 

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Henri Nouwen reminds me we have the choice between living in the house of fear or the house of love (and 1 John says, “perfect love casts out all fear” – they don’t co-exist). I’ve been thinking lately about how confining and threatening it feels to live in fear when it comes to how we see others’ lives – particularly the good, the success, the growth they experience. I know personally that jealousy and envy have robbed me of so much joy. Comparison is a quiet, subtle thief, and it can be such a relentless companion. It slips in with opinions, especially when we feel weak and broken. We leave no space or room for this voice when we find deep security in who we are as God’s children. We are unique, and needed, and our lives are pieces of beautiful work. The world is not a zero-sum game.

***

Loving God,

You’ve created a universe of infinite blessing.

You never stop creating good.

The reserves are endless.

So why have I made such a small house for my heart?

With windows tinted by jealousy and envy?

 

I look out and see the gifts in other’s lives,

and I am angry.

It’s shameful.

And embarrassing.

But this is the view from my small house whose walls

are envy and whose foundation is fear – if they have this,

I won’t, or can’t, or will have less.

 

With your hands around mine, I hold the lie at a further distance and observe it for what it is, letting it teach me the road my heart has yet to travel,

the heart-house needing construction.

 

With patience, complete non-judgment, and relentlessly gentle love,

you never stop telling me, God,

of the freedom there is in celebration, rather than competition.

Of the ever-expanding joy!

With you, blessing has no limit.

My cup runneth over…

 

Outside the window, I see the jealousy, envy, insecurity, feeling threatened –

it turns to a dissipating mist,

and is swallowed by the rumbling storm of your voice.

You invite me outside into a strong, cleansing rain

that brings my soul to rebirth.

 

Today I will give thanks for the goodness I witness in others’ lives,

believing it all illumines a gracious God

and universe that still has goodness at its core.

 

I will mark with joy the flourishing I see.

 

With a huge exhale of relief and anticipation

I will step through the threshold of my

new house.

 

Amen.

 

* Italicized reference to Psalm 23

Friday Prayer, February 17, 2017

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Photo by Lori Archer Raible

I feel out of rhythm in this season of much change – moving to a new city, travel to see family, the continued journey of pregnancy and how that slows – yet steadies – my gait. It can become so easy to keep “pushing” for everything, and not realize how tired we are becoming in the process. Perhaps you can relate…

Though my focus has been anything but centered and my soul/spirit check-in’s sporadic, I feel humbled and grateful for God’s steady presence. God’s faithfulness can be that anchoring root system even as our branches stretch in all new directions…even as some leaves die and new leaves bud. Slowly, slowly we find open space to process all that’s been, to dream over what’s to come.

***

Holy God,

With hope and courage

we dig and intertwine our souls with your anchoring roots –

praising you as our protector, seeking you for daily strength and stability.

When we look back on our lives, God, we stand amazed at the ways you’ve worked before.

Such surprises.

Such faithfulness.

God, we are so grateful.

We cling to that promise of your steady presence and feel newly empowered by the memories of your presence in the past.

We need those memories, God, as we face the fresh storms before us –

major changes, illness, death of those we love, struggles in relationships, frustration over unchanging circumstances, anger at ourselves…

the things that rip limbs off, that leave us stark and bare.

But with each new year’s mercies,

a ring grows within our trunk –

some thick from lush seasons,

some faint and thin from times of drought.

We continue to grow and become,

all through your grace

keeping our roots where they need to be.

Amen.

 

Something A Little Different – “Casting Lots”

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Blessings, friends. I’ve  been in the swirl of moving preparations as our family anticipates a season of much transition. Sometimes, my only prayer is to try and have a blank, peaceful mind when I can get out in the cold, fresh air for a (slow, pregnant), jog. I have been reminded this week that calm and security is always within us – what a hopeful promise that is. Even when our external circumstances ‘heave and ho,’ we can find deep within ourselves that still sanctuary.

Just this week, my book review with Christian Century was published – a book I read this past summer called, Casting Lots. It is such a powerful book, my friends. Written by Susan Silverman, it’s a memoir centering on adoption, but so much more.

Anyone with a complicated, messy life and family—namely, all of us—will find a home in Silverman’s story. Grief and joy, trust and despondency, brutality and compassion all speak their piece. Silver­man doesn’t try to tidy up the paradox. She shows us how to live within it, pointing us to the life that is truly life.

You can read the review here.

Joy and grace over each of you and your weekend. Remember, the calm and security lie within….

 

 

 

Friday Prayer, January 6, 2017

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Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

“I, the Lord, have called you for a good reason…” Isaiah 42:6

 Happy Epiphany, friends! Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the stretch and purpose of our breath – how our breathing, right here in this moment, is not just for our bodies and our own lives. Being pregnant right now, I consciously remind myself at times how each breath I draw in sustains now only my body and life, but the baby nestled within. When my lungs fill with life, so does Little Love’s. God’s interwoven our bodies so intimately that the life I inherit (new with every breath!) immediately channels to a purpose and beauty beyond myself.

But this has made me think about the ways this is true all the time, for each of us. The breath we receive from the Spirit (whose literally meaning in the ancient texts is “breath” or “air”) is never meant to sustain only our bodies. It’s to enliven us that we might bring life to the world around us – a gorgeous flow that cycles within then spreads beyond.

I remember hearing someone say, “If you’re breathing, that means there’s more right with you than wrong.” So we take heart, we give thanks, and we spread wide our arms so the breath can flow….

I wonder where the Spirit’s breath within you will go to bless today?

***

Spirit of Life,

Teach me to breathe…

to gulp with desperate surrender your life-giving energy,

not out of fear,

but because I am listening to my primal hungers

and rejoicing in them.

 

The breath you give me in this moment is a messenger,

telling me that right now,

I am reborn,

I am cared for,

I am called.

 

Charged with the call to channel my breath,

your life-force,

toward a gasping world.

 

Your breath never stops, and never returns empty.

It continuously flows to spread life and promise

if I will be a river rather than a dam.

 

If I listen, I will learn.

 

I will ride the wind of your breath now filling me,

letting it carry me away from my middle anchor

to the edges where I’ll

grow and glimpse

the purpose you have

for ever-evolving me.

 

Amen.