Held in Love

Scripture: Jeremiah 18:1-4″The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.”


Jeremiah is one of my favorite prophets. He was in exile, along with others, and his was a voice of encouragement for people to take root where they find themselves. This week, this text led me to ponder the beautiful Genesis 2:7 where God lifts up some earth, breathes life into it, and thus begins the story of humanity. Our journey began by being held, and we are always held. This was not a one time event.

However, Jeremiah reminds us that God may very well rework and remold us as needed. Such forming and reforming may get uncomfortable at times, but nonetheless, we cannot fall out of God’s embrace. Yes, it is easy to feel discarded in times of change, and there are enough shifts going on in my life that I am tempted to believe I am being cast aside. However, in my heart I know that is simply not possible. God continues to breathe life into us all. This is how we are made new again in, and for love.     

 Prayer:  Holy One, we thank you for vaccines, for people who do research, and for those who work  in seemingly ordinary ways, but with extraordinary results. Please watch over our communities and our families. Help us to be steadfast. We look to you, to Christ, and to the Psalms and the writings of the prophets, knowing you are the one source of all. We thank you for literally holding us together and helping us to move forward.  May our world be healed.

May people say of our love:  
“They are are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do they prosper.” Psalm 1:3    

  In gratitude we pray, Amen.  


Sunday is Pentecost! Come join us!

Rev. Sue Ann

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The Narrow Gate

We live in a society that places a high value on “keeping our options open.” The risk of missing something just seems too great. Yet, eventually, we do have to narrow our choices. This is one lesson of the pandemic when all of us experienced limited choices. In Matthew 7:13 we are told that Jesus said, “Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.”  I love this passage, but I also struggle with it. I believe in God’s world there is room for all and that we will all find the way.  Yet, I also realize we must be willing to be guided, and our notion that we can do what we want with no consequence is not a reliable compass. 

This morning I came across this passage that helps me understand the narrow gate a little more:  

“In meditation practice, we neither hold the mind very tightly nor let it go completely. If we try to control the mind, then its energy will rebound back on us. If we let the mind go completely, then it will become very wild and chaotic. So we let the mind go, but at the same time there is some discipline involved. The techniques used in the Buddhist tradition are extremely simple. Awareness of bodily movement, breath and one’s physical situation are techniques common to all traditions. The basic practice is to be present, right here. The goal is also the technique. Precisely being in this moment, neither suppressing nor wildly letting go, but being precisely aware of what you are.  Breath, like bodily existence, is a neutral process which has no “spiritual” connotations. We simply become mindful of its natural functioning. This is called shamatha practice. With this practice we begin to tread the hinayana or narrow path. This is not to say that the hinayana approach is simplistic or narrow minded. Rather, because the mind is so complicated, so exotic, craving all sorts of entertainment constantly, the only way to deal with it is to channel it into a disciplined path without sidetracks.” *


In Christian meditation, our intent is to sit with the Christ within.  Therefore, we can trust the destination and the narrow gate that we must continually move through.  Truly they are one and they are beautiful.  This morning I meditated with a mockingbird who is still reciting his whole repertoire.  I cannot control him, but I can practice letting him be.  If I can let him be, then I can let myself simply be as well. If I can simply be, I can be peace in this world. We must not fear discipline, but allow ourselves to be embraced by it. Discipline is not punishment, it is our gateway to God.    

 *Chogyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation, pages 2-3.  

If you would like to join us for worship, Sundays at 1:30, or Christian Meditation on Wedneday evenings at 7:30, please call the office or send an email to sayarbrough@gmail. com.

Blessings on your journey,

Pastor Sue Ann

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Pondering John 20:27

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Jesus

“To feed the hungry means to do away with militarism. To bless the children means to leave the trees standing for them.”

Dorothee Soelle as quoted in “Meister Eckhart”, Matthew Fox

We are called to touch the wounds of Christ.

We worship every at 1:30 via Zoom . Please contact the office if you would like the link.

Blessings,

Rev. Sue Ann

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Yes, It Matters

When I first read the following poem, I could feel the pear in my hand.  I touched  the burro’s ears with happiness.   I could see the kindly monk who would occasionally drop by.  I find this to be a humbling reminder that it matters how we treat the world.  It matters what we plant and what we eat.  It matters what we buy and what we throw away.  Who and what we care for.   What work we ask our fellow creatures (including humans)  to do day in and day out.  It matters how we tend to our souls because that is how we tend to all. 

 Our bee population is having to carry their burdens further and further  because we forget to create way stations for them.  Plant something, and herbs will do nicely,  to lessen the distance the little bee must  travel. Put some stones in your bird baths so they can pause and take a drink.  Even these simple steps will help us all taste the sacredness of  a really good pear.   


    Love Does That   

All day long a little burro labors, sometimes

 with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries

 about things that bother only burros.    

 And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting than physical labor.  

 Once in awhile a kind monk comes to her stable and brings a pear,

but more than that, he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears 

  and for a few seconds the burro is free and even seems to laugh,   

because love does that.    

 Love frees.         

 Meister Eckart

translated by Daniel Ladinsky in Love Poems from God      

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How To Let Go

“Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”

James 4:7-8   

 My “devil” is procrastination. I am often slow to take on what I perceive to be a difficult task. The irony is that procrastination takes an inordinate amount of energy and resources to maintain. Like any addiction, it has to be fed continually. Often, far more energy is needed to procrastinate than to simply do what needs to be done. It is a heavy burden because we have to continue to carry that which is incomplete or undone. We can end up carrying so much that things can end up either not being finished well, or dropped and forgotten about. 

 Yet, we always have a resource to help us. We can remember Jesus in the desert. When faced with temptations, he relied completely on God. He held on to the teachings and refused to succumb to the illusion that he could be powerful and mighty. He knew that was not his path, so he did not walk it. He refused to pick that burden up.   May we all have the wisdom to know when and what we should resist. There are often some unresolved issues and projects that God asks us to hold for a while. Our lives are works in progress. However, one of the gifts of prayer is that prayer can help us discern and prioritize what God wants us to take on, and when. I think what God always wants us to do first is to draw near to God. There we will find the wisdom and courage to take on what needs to be taken on. The rest we can confidently leave to God.  

 Prayer:  Holy God, too often we make things difficult for ourselves and those around us because we try to carry too much. Help us to decide what truly needs to be done and to trust that you will help us complete those tasks. We thank you because so often you bring us help through one another. You remind us that we seldom need to do everything ourselves. Help us to not turn our illusions of independence into idols that only increase our burdens. May we remember that to be in Christ is to be in relationship. Knowing that we journey together, may we stay open to one another and to be thankful for one another. We know that in that gratitude, we are giving thanks to you.  

 In loving gratitude we pray, Amen 

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Living into It

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 

   2 Corinthians 3:17  

 The Apostle Paul mentions freedom several times in his letters, and I always find his encouragement to live into our freedom inspiring. Part of the reason for my admiration is that Paul spent a lot of time writing from prison. Yet, his heart was free. At the beginning of the pandemic, I read a biography of Gandhi, who also spent much time in prison. Yet, in his heart and mind, like Paul, he knew only freedom. Gandhi was not Christian, but a devout Hindu who knew freedom because of his deep love of the Lord as revealed to him through the Bhagavad Gita. That is where he found the conviction to lead his nation to freedom without violence. It is a compelling, inspiring story, and one that Jesus would admire.

You who worship with me have heard me say that wherever we are, God is there. Nowhere can we go that God will not go with us. Therefore, the freedom to love is always with us. We cannot be separated from God’s love, no matter what mistakes we make. Love frees us. Hate, worry, and distraction do not. We are always free to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love is meant to be shared freely.  This is what Jesus asks of us. Let us say yes to that commandment and know that our love can never be contained. Love is of Spirit and cannot be boxed or shelved for a later time. Love lives and is eternally on the move. Blessed be. 

   
Blessings,

Rev. Sue Ann

This Sunday we spring into Daylight Savings Time – or perhaps go grudgingly – but go we must if we are going to take part in society. If you plan on attending church or some other function, remember to set your clocks forward.

Please call the office if you need our Zoom information. Blessings on your Sunday and every day!

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Finding Wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”  James 1:5-6.

I often find myself lacking wisdom, so I am grateful for the author of James and his reminder to pray. In times of confusion, we can always turn to God who will help us discern the next step. God does not get wrapped up in our confusion as we tend to.  God does not hold our weaknesses against us, but rather is always willing to provide loving guidance. However, we do have to remember to ask. We must be willing to open our hearts and minds to God, and – this is important – surrender the outcome to God.  Our egos, however, really want to come up with the solutions on our own. The ego wants to be heroic, maybe even famous. This is not the path to wisdom and peace. Fortunately, we each have a sacred soul that has no interest in conquering the world, but rather living in relationship with it. I am reminded of some lines from a beautiful poem written by Alfred K. LaMotte entitled, “Love Doesn’t Need a Story”:


“Whether you feed the multitudes today

or only wash the dishes

makes no difference at all.”   

  I once took a daylong cooking class in a commercial kitchen. I was struck by how difficult the work must be to do day in and day out. People are on their feet for hours. More than once I thought the heat from all the burners would surely do us all in. I also learned that as heavy pots and pans seemed to perpetually fill the large sinks, people who wash dishes are incredibly heroic. The same is true of the people who make beds, vacuum floors, empty the trash, and check out our groceries. Being heroic means going about our daily lives, however we are called, with humility and grace. Through prayer, we can learn how to live our lives in such dignity whatever our circumstances we find ourselves in. God is always willing to go where we need to be.   

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The Lenten Journey Begins

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’ And Jesus answered him,“It is written, ‘[we] shall not live by bread alone. Luke 4:1-4′” 

 Some years ago I often visited a woman who had lost her eyesight in midlife.  She frequently expressed gratitude for a Sunday school teacher she had when she was young. That teacher insisted that the children memorize some scripture, and it was a habit that she kept up even as an adult. Being able to recite some of her favorite passages brought her much comfort when she could no longer physically read the Bible. I am not good at extensive memorization, but I do like knowing some very short pieces of scripture that I can use as prayer. “Be still and know that I am God,” helps me when I am restless or worried. “Be not afraid,” is another that I often use.  

This scripture from Luke is the beginning of the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. When the tempter showed up, Jesus did what my friend did. He quoted scripture that he had memorized, and that gave him strength to not fall for temptation’s trickery. Here, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “He humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you the manna that neither you nor your ancestors had ever experienced, so he could teach you that people do not live on bread alone.”    People often think of Lent as a time of giving something up. Yet, I think it goes deeper than that. It is a time to reconnect and deepen our relationship with Christ. Please remember that your faith journey is unique. May your time with scripture and prayer bring you closer to God this Lent and always. It is true: we do not live by bread alone.  That would be opting for a very poor diet when we are continually offered so much more. 

    
Love and Blessings,
Rev. Sue Ann

So good to see some of you on Ash Wednesday. The small bowl in the picture are the ashes from a few palms from 2019 that I had kept. Tyler burned them on Wednesday. I will keep them at least through Lent.

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Staying in Touch

On Saturday, my husband needed to make a delivery to a restaurant here in San Leandro. I had not yet had lunch and I knew they had a patio, so I decided to go with him. It was so pleasant to sit, eat a sandwich that someone else had made, and watch people. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, and there was much laughter and conversation. Before the pandemic, this experience might have seemed rather ordinary, even mundane. However, today, even with everyone still masked, felt like a holiday

Earlier this week I also had a wonderful conversation with a good friend over Zoom. We have been getting together this way about once a week for awhile now. She lives a couple of hours away, so even before the pandemic we did not get together very often, but rather relied on email and phone calls to stay in touch. Like our Sunday services, Zoom has allowed us to see one another’s faces, and what a blessing that has been. At times it seems as if there is no distance at all between us. Perhaps one of the lessons of this time is that even in a pandemic God continues to call us together. Whether we come together virtually or in person, we are connected. The Body of Christ knows no boundaries. We are woven together into a great expanse of love that is vast and yet so close. May we never take any of this for granted.

Love and Blessings,

Rev. Sue Ann

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Preparing for Lent

In Christian Meditation or what is also called Centering Prayer, we rest in what I think of as alert relaxation. The mind, of course, is always buzzing with plans for the future or worries about the past. The mind loves to be in control and it can be tiring trying to keep up with it. However, in meditation, it is possible to become aware of the mind’s wanderings and gently bring it back to the present with a simple mantra. Yes, the mind will soon be off and running again, but again, we say the mantra and gently bring it back, much like the movement of a gentle wave. The mantra I generally use is peace. I envision returning to peace. It is only in the present moment when we can experience the peace of Christ. Despite what the mind tries to tell us, we have only this present moment, and this moment is all that is needed to experience God.

Many cultures and traditions practice meditation, including our secular society. What sets Christian meditation apart is our intention to make room for Christ in our lives and in our hearts. In our time of meditation, we simply sit with God and one another. Over time, we find we can carry that Presence into all aspects of our lives, relationships, and in our work. This Lenten season I invite you to join me for meditation via Zoom. In our time together we will start with a short reading to help focus our intention. We will then sit for no more than twenty minutes, and conclude with a few minutes of discussion and spoken prayer. I am envisioning that we will be together for about an hour. If you are considering joining me, please let me know what days and times may be best for you. Do you prefer afternoon or evenings? I am not adverse to holding two sessions a week, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, if there is interest. Also, please consider inviting those not part of our community to join us. Since we begin anew in every session, those unexperienced in meditation as well as the experienced are welcome.


Questions? Just let me know. I look forward to sitting with you.


Love and Blessings

,Rev. Sue Ann


God is a mystery and our own life is a mystery. In the presence of mystery what we must do is let the mystery be. Allow the mystery the fullness of its own being. Allow it to reveal itself. When we meditate that is exactly what we do. We allow God to be God. We allow ourselves to be in [God’s] presence. That is the extraordinary power of it.
Moment of Christ (copyright 1984, page 62), Father John Main, OSB

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