while it was still dark

by Jeff Rainwater, 3 April 2017, Cheyenne, WY

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed…”
-John 20:1

When there is still scent
of death upon the wind
and darkness hides all
but fear and despair
and hope is but
a memory…

That is the Beginning.

When root of green grass
yields to cold ground’s will
no more, when life trapped
in chrysalis first dreams
of flight, before first bloom
is ever seen…

That is the Beginning.

Before sparrow sings
or trumpet sounds or
the Lord calls out, “Arise!”
there is quiet, inward, breath
and determination
to silence break…

That is the Beginning.

When Night has become
a snare and all you believed
good and right and true
has failed, light the candle,
set the watch, stay awake.
God’s not done yet.

This is just the Beginning.

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shoreline behind you

by Jeff Rainwater, 12 March 2017, Cheyenne, WY

Only when we leave behind
the shorelines we know by heart
can we ever sail over deep waters.
Life’s wisdom the soul craves
rarely is found in the shallows.
Will you dare to let the night sky
be your guide and leviathan
your companion courageous
traveller?

whitewashed tombs

by Jeff Rainwater, 2 March 2017, Greenwood Village, CO

Empty.
I find your holiness so empty
of life, of joy, of beauty —
a weak, grating, voice
always speaking
in the negative…
cannot should not do not.
What is to fill this
empty vessel left behind
by such commands?

Who am I to be?

True holiness is found
not in absence.
Holiness is
faith trusting,
hope risking,
love embracing!
Holiness is light,
the overflowing cup,
the undeserved gift!

Instead of the border
you have drawn
deciding who is in
or who is out
thus dividing
God’s whole,
show me the center —
a vision of the best
and most and
dearest I can
become.

For that, I would yearn
and reach and strive
and run and pray
and, yes, even
die
to wait
for the day
that the dead will rise –
whitewashed tombs
no more.

*inspired by a beautiful communion service, created and led by Rev. Paul Kottke, Metropolitan District Superintendent, for the Joint Mountain Sky Area Cabinet and staff present.  The service included sharing the lyrics of Betty’s Diner, written by Carrie Newcomer. (video presentation here).

A Cruciform Life – I

by Jeff Rainwater, 5 February 2017, Cheyenne, WY

I have no enemies
I once believed
then you told me
to love them.
Now I have enemies
And something more,
for a life encompassing
love and foe alike
must also embrace
the Cross.
Prophets’ burden,
Lovers’ gift.
To speak truth
no matter the toll,
to pray and not strike,
to forgive.
If I am to lift a cross,
Lord, I beg, lead me first
to your Table
where I may be fed
at a place where
one day enemies
might become
something more —
friends.

God’s Signature

by Jeff Rainwater, 1 February 2017, Cheyenne, WY

I walk in a
wonderland of white.
No mountains do I need
for inspiration today.
Sheer cliffs deep valleys
sharp peaks by the thousands
reside on each branch,
on each needle of pine or spruce.
A paradise of intricate design
in each crystal falling gently
from the sky.
Are these masterpieces
and the multiplicity
of cosmic wonders
only directed by
impersonal Laws that care not
I stand with tears
in my eyes amazed?
Is beauty just
an accident?
Yet I cannot set aside
what is so plain to see
as if these rules were laid out
to be discovered
when we were ready.
Chemistry,
biology,
evolution —
these too are master works.
Rembrandt left his name
on his paintings
but his signature
is found in each stroke.
Mary Oliver’s mark
resides within each line.
For those with eyes to see,
might the Master’s hand
still be glimpsed in the
artistry of a child’s face,
a field of wildflowers
(all the same each unique)
or a crystal cathedral
of ice soon to vanish
before the nuclear armageddon
of the sun rising each day
so the blooms may grow.
All mastered by the
same physics
and Author Unseen
that gives me sight
and thought and feeling
so I may stand
with tears in my eyes,
a smile on my face,
and a prayer in my heart.
Thank you, Lord,
for the beauty of this day.
Amen.

Giving It Up… Control

First sermon in our Lenten series: “Giving It Up.”  Many thanks to ministrymatters.com for the inspiration and framework of this series.  Thanks as well to David Lose and his working preacher article that was also an inspiration for this sermon.

2013-lent-control

What are you giving up for Lent?

2013-02-lentSo, it is Lent.  What are you giving up for Lent these next 40 days not counting Sundays?  It is a common question this time of year and kind of fun because of all the interesting things people try.  Long ago, it used to just be meat that one gave up, but now the choices are as diverse as our society.  Every year the website OpenBible.info searches the twitter feed to determine what people are giving up for Lent.1

In the past, the list has been headlined by giving Twitter and Facebook — an irony.  This year, #1 on the hit parade: being pope.  Apparently most Twitterers have a sense of humor.  Next on the list, though, is swearing, soda, social networking and alcohol.

What might God want you to give up?

2245523931_52b16df3f1_oAs I was thinking what I might give up for Lent, I came across an interesting quote: “Lent is for Life not just for chocolate.”  It made me wonder:  If I was to let God choose what I was to give up this Lent, what would God choose?  In the right spirit, there is some value in giving up things like chocolate or soda pop.  Our Ash Wednesday liturgy said that fasting interrupts our daily lives and calls us to prayer.  I gave up all drinks except water and let me tell you, every time I want my Coke Zero or cup of tea… Well, let’s just say my life has been interrupted and I have been called to prayer often.

Still, if I was to list all of the things that God would like see removed from my life, I have a feeling chocolate would not be very high on the list.  So during the weeks of Lent this year we are going to consider a few of the things God wants us to give up.  And I will warn you now:  The list is a lot tougher than giving up chocolate, facebook or swearing.  Today, we are starting with a big one… control.

Control : The Grand Illusion

There is nothing that marks our society more than our desire for control over… well, everything!  And this desire seems to only grow.  One example: the remote control.  Think back 30 years (if you have lived that long).  How many of these did you have in your house?  I remember growing up… we had one remote control for the tv… me!  Jeff, turn to channel 8.  Jeff, turn to channel 4. Now, not only are there lots more channels; there are lots more remotes too.  We have no less than 5.  Why?  So I can control what I watch.  But, be honest, don’t you sometime feel burdened by all this “control” you have over your life.  We have so many choices today to control our lives that it becomes dizzying.  Another trivial example: Sometimes when I go to the store to get some toothpaste, I just want toothpaste.  But, no, I have to choose between whitening, breath-freshening, gel, paste, both, tartar control… I’m not sure I am in control anymore.  A less trivial example:  We have electricity — a wonderful tool to help control our lives.  And yet how in control do we feel when that is taken away even for a short period of time?  Ask the people on the East Coast who went through Hurricane Sandy.

That, you see, is the great lie, the grand illusion.  Today, we have no more control over our lives than we did.  We may even have less.  This is not a modern problem.  It is the first lie that was sold to us way back in the garden.  You can have life on your terms, the devil said, and it will be a dream come true.  You, apart from God, by yourself, should know what is good and what is evil.  Take control.  You make the choices.  You don’t have to rely on anyone.  How did that turn out anyway?  Was it a dream come true… or has it been our nightmare?  Broken relationship.  Broken lives.  A life forever after that lived in fear.

Jesus’ Alternative : Trust

Many years later, not in the garden but out in the dessert, the devil comes calling to try to sell his lies only this time Jesus offers an alternative.  Instead of trying to control, Jesus chooses to trust.  Jesus trusts in God.

“We sometimes refer to the devil as ‘the great deceiver’ and with good reason. [But what is really deadly about the devils words] is that he sows mistrust. He plays upon the insecurity of Adam and Eve.  He calls into question God’s intentions. God hasn’t told you everything about the forbidden fruit. So what else has God not told? What else is God withholding? It is a story of seduction based on mistrust that leads to the dissolution of the relationship between the two humans and God, then between Adam and Eve themselves, and then between them and all creation.

[In the Gospel] The devil again attempts to sow mistrust: you may go hungry; you do not have enough; how do you know God is trustworthy. In each case Jesus replies with Scripture. Over the years people have made a great deal about that, inviting us to respond to life’s challenges by remembering or quoting Bible verses. And while there may be something to that, I wonder if it’s not so much that Jesus quotes Scripture to deflect temptation as it is that Jesus finds in Scripture the words to give voice to his trust.”2

Jesus could have taken control.  Had his needs met, had his confidence in God confirmed, Had respect of those around him.  But he relinquished control and chose to trust God wholly with his life, trusting God’s will for his life instead of what might be his own.  And if you think that wasn’t a challenge, fast forward to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus faced again with this choice prayed bitterly and sweated blood.  Fast forward to the Cross.  Was it worth it?  Fast forward to the Empty Tomb.

Letting Go & Trusting God

That is what I am talking about when I say that God wants you to give up control.  You are not to give up control to anyone or everyone.  But give up control to One who is trustworthy.  Trust God.  Now I know that is easier said than done especially in a culture that has made control into an idol.  It will take a lot of prayer.  Matthew does not mention it but I can well imagine Jesus’ 40 days were full of prayer.  We know he often went into secluded places to pray.  I am not sure it is possible to truly trust God without truly praying to God, talking with God, listening to God often.

It’s going to take some patience.  Today, we have a big problem with delayed gratification.  We want everything and we want it now.  But God’s timetable doesn’t often fit into our schedules.  God is patient, maddeningly so.  We must learn to be patient.  And we are going to have to be persistent in our prayer and in our patience.  It is easy to fast from something a day, a week.  Lent’s 40 days tests us.  I thought I would put in some cool statistic here about how long it takes to form a good habit so I googled it, found a great article on Psychology Today, “How Long?”  Here’s the answer: “It depends.”  Thanks.  But that’s the truth, isn’t it?  We are talking about life changes here.  It will take time not just to receive answers from God but to actually learn to trust, learn to relinquish control, so we can see the ways that God is already trustworthy.

First Steps

Which brings me to a possible first step suggested by David Lose, preaching professor at Luther Seminary.3  Pull out your GPS guide.  See that section ‘something to remember.’  I want you to write down something there.  First, write down something in your life that you do feel confident of God’s support.  It shouldn’t be a “given” — stuff you never worry about, but something that matters, maybe you worry, yet you trust God.  Then on the next 3 lines, write down one thing that is difficult to trust God with right now.  Got it?  Now, take this GPS guide home with you.  Put it in your pocket or your purse.  Carry it around and a few times this week, maybe when you are thinking of that “other” thing you gave up, pull it out, give thanks for the way you do trust God and pray about the thing you are having a hard time with.

Give up control.  Let go and let God.  How is that for a Lenten discipline?  Sounds pretty tough, right?  You might just need to trust God to help you.  In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

___________

1. http://www.openbible.info/blog/2013/02/what-twitterers-are-giving-up-for-lent-2013-edition/ back to post
2. This is an extended quote from David Lose’s article. I liked the language too much to mess with it. http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=668 back to post
2. Ibid. back to post