“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
I’ll be completely honest with you today. I had the hardest time coming up with something to say to you this afternoon. It wasn’t that there was a lack of ideas, in many ways it was the opposite. I see so much in this text, there is so much richness, in this one verse, that it’s been hard for me to find a way to narrow down and focus on one piece of it.
But as I sat and I stared at my computer for hours on end this past week I began to realize that maybe that was the whole point. God’s goodness can’t be summed up in one single idea, can it? God’s goodness goes deeper, it goes further, than anything we could ever imagine, and for that reason when we come together to talk about God’s goodness it takes on many different forms.
I mean think about that for just a moment, even in our own lives we know this to be the case, don’t we? We as individuals have experienced God’s goodness in numerous ways just ourselves.
I started thinking about that this week, and to be honest it was quite humbling to take some time and reflect on just how many different ways God’s goodness has touched and shaped my life. So just imagine how many different ways that goodness must be at work when you factor us all in together.
God’s goodness knows no bounds. God’s goodness knows no end. To the one who is hurting, God’s goodness looks like healing. To the one that is laboring in guilt, God’s goodness looks like forgiveness. To the one that feels unloved, God’s goodness looks like love. To the one that feels oppressed, God’s goodness looks like justice and mercy. To the one that thirsts, God’s goodness is like a spring bursting forth. To the one that hungers, God’s goodness is like manna from heaven.
I think that might be what the Psalmist is pointing to in this verse, this idea that God’s goodness can’t really be described for you because it can’t be narrowed down. God’s goodness can’t be formed or shaped into one single idea or argument because God’s goodness looks and feels differently to each of us. And this goodness, this goodness that comes as a gift from God, it always knows just what we need, when we need it.
So this brings me to a question this afternoon. I love questions. I think questions push us deeper into dialogue with ourselves, with one another, and most importantly with God. And so my question for us today is this: What am I, what are you, what are we craving?…What are you, craving? Or to put it another way, what does God’s goodness look like for you in this moment? What are you in need of? What is it that you need to taste?
Are you in need of forgiveness? Are you in need of mercy? Are you in need of feeling loved? Or, as is often times the case with me, do you even know what you are in need of?
I can’t answer this question for you today but there is one thing for sure that I can tell you, and that’s that no matter what it is that you are craving, no matter what it is that you might be in need of, God’s goodness can provide it.
So how then do we come to know this goodness? Well, let’s take a look at what the Psalmist writes. The Psalmist writes, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Notice what they don’t say. What they don’t say is, “See that the Lord is good.” But rather, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
So why is this important? Well, it’s important, I think, because it means that in order to truly see we first have to taste. In order to know fully and completely, we first have to experience.
I’ve got this colleague of mine that likes to do this exercise every time she gets with a group. She takes a plate and she places this potato on it, and she puts it in the middle of the table. She then invites everyone to spend a few minutes jotting down what it is that they see. She asks them to describe it. She tells them to imagine what it feels like, and then she picks it up and she hands it to the first person in the group…Their mouths immediately drop open.
You see this potato that’s been in front of them for the last few minutes really isn’t a potato at all. It’s a rock that happens to look exactly like a potato. All those words that they’ve written down to describe what they thought was before them, they’re all wrong. Their assumptions are all wrong.
We can’t really get a complete picture of something until we are able to get our hands on it for ourselves, can we? We can’t know that this potato isn’t a potato until we pick it up and experience it for ourselves. Even those others in the group, they don’t believe it until they themselves get to take ahold of it.
Maybe this is a better example, one of the things that my wife and I like to do is to cook. Well, she likes to cook and I like to eat what she cooks so it ends up working on out for the both of us. But when she’s cooking there’s only so much of that meal that I can get a handle on. I mean I can watch what she’s doing. I can smell the aromas as she cooks, but until I sit down to eat I don’t really get the full experience. I can stand in the kitchen and see what’s happening, but until I take a bite I don’t know that dish completely.
Appearances often don’t give us the whole story, do they? Often our vision of something is incomplete. We might see it with our eyes, but until we really experience it, until we take it up for ourselves, we don’t know it in full.
And the same is true with God’s goodness, until we taste God’s goodness for ourselves, until we experience it in our lives, we can’t really know it in it’s complete form, can we?
We can’t know complete love until we know God’s love. We can’t know complete forgiveness until we’ve been forgiven by God. We can’t know complete freedom until the entirety of our sin has been removed.
It’s similar to the words that Paul writes in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” It’s only when we experience God’s goodness for ourselves that we get the complete picture, it’s only when we taste, that we can then come to truly, and completely, see.
There’s something sort of invitational in this isn’t there? Again we look to the Psalmist’s words, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” That’s an invitation for us to experience God for ourselves. That’s an invitation for us to experience God in our own unique ways. And in many ways that’s what the season of Lent is really all about. It’s about coming to experience God in new and unique ways.
So this leads me to one final question for us this afternoon: What might God be calling you to experience this season? We’ve already asked what we think we might be in need of, what it is that we might be craving, but what do you think it is that God is wanting you to crave? What do you think it is that God might be calling you to taste and see, to experience in new and unique ways?
Maybe God is calling you this season to taste love like you’ve never experienced it before, a love that is beyond anything you could imagine? Maybe God is calling you this season to taste forgiveness in a way that frees you from the sins and guilts of the past? Maybe God is calling you to simply experience God’s own presence this Lent, to seek and find refuge in Him, in a way that calms your fears and expands your hopes?
Once again, this is a question that you’ll have to answer for yourself. I can’t answer it for you, but what I can tell you is that God’s goodness is abundant and it is overflowing. Just taste and see for yourself.
Our nation suffered yet another senseless mass murder yesterday, and to top it off it took place on Ash Wednesday when we are tasked with facing our own mortality and need for God. This morning I have been reading scripture and staring at my computer. I’ve been praying, and I’ve been wondering just what to say following yesterday’s events. I’ve been trying to craft together thoughts and words in a way that would help us to frame what took place. But I can’t. I can’t.
My wife is a much deeper theologian than I am. She always seems to have a handle on those things that I miss. I mentioned to her this morning that I was having trouble coming up with something to say and once again she set my perspective back straight. “That’s because violence makes no sense,” she said.
It doesn’t, does it? Violence doesn’t make any sense.
So a few rambling thoughts:
1) It is true that we live in a broken world, but that is not an excuse. It’s so easy for us to brush these things off by saying, “We are a fallen creation.” Or “evil exists.” Those things are all true, but that doesn’t mean we can use them as excuses to simply accept these circumstances as normal.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowds: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matthew 5:13)
I wonder sometimes about the church’s saltiness. I wonder sometimes about my own saltiness. When do “thoughts and prayers” turn into change and action?
2) There is no doubt in my mind that God weeps alongside of us today.
3) Despite all that has taken place, and despite the fact that we as a nation refuse to see the part that we play in these acts. I still believe in God’s love and redemption. I still believe that this world is God’s creation, and that this God is at work reconciling this creation back unto Himself. I still believe that we were created in God’s own image, and I still believe that God is at work attempting to restore us in this image.
Life is busy, and it only seems to be getting busier. I used to think my days were full and nothing else could be packed into them. That is until more was packed into them.
In the midst of all this busyness it can often feel as if God is no longer present. Our lives become filled with “here” and “there.” It’s as if there is no more room for God.
But if there is one thing that I have begun to notice in my life, it’s that no matter how busy I get, God is still there. God has a way, you see, of working into our lives when we least expect it. God has a way of finding us, even when we are doing our best not to be found.
God is there. We are often just so focused upon ourselves that we miss seeing His movements.
If your life seems busy, just remember that doesn’t mean God isn’t present. It might just mean you aren’t looking.
Here is last nights Ash Wednesday reflection in case you missed it. Please read Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 before hand:
Tonight, and what we come together to acknowledge while we are here, is, to be honest, one of the least uplifting forms of worship that we practice. The reason is simple, we don’t like to think about our sin. We don’t like to think about how far we fall short of God’s glory and grace. And yet the season of Lent, and tonight in particular, is about just such things. It is about opening ourselves, and our hearts, to the reality of the sin that resides within us.
The passages that we heard read tonight, particularly those from Matthew and Joel, speak about repentance but they speak about it in a way that kicks us right in our hypocrisy. Their point is that so often as religious people we simply go through the motions. The work that we do is more about the show than it is the meaning behind it. We are far more concerned with the appearance of our sinfulness over the actual sin that plagues us.
An example of this is what we have done with the season of Lent over the years. The practice of giving something up for Lent is meant to be a way to rid us of sin and draw us closer to God. And yet in many ways we have simply turned it into a way to show others how holy we are by laying aside our bad habits for 40 days. The appearance has become greater than what actually lies beneath.
So I want to ask you a question tonight. I want to ask myself a question. Are we concerned with the appearance of our sin or are we actually concerned with the sin that truly plagues us?
The Book of Joel speaks to this in one of the most honest ways I can think of. “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.”
God is saying a few things here. The first is that there is a divide that exists between God and ourselves. We of course know this divide as sin.
God then instructs us on how repair this sin, and it begins by becoming aware of this sin that exists within us.
But its this last little bit that I find the most challenging. “Rend your hearts and not your clothing.” You know what God is talking about here?
It was a part of the Jewish custom that when one was in mourning they were to rend their clothing. They were to tear it. And this was a sign of their mourning. It was a sign to the world that they were not well, that something very upsetting was taking place. But God says that when it comes to the sin of our lives our mourning shouldn’t just be something that we wail and cry over for the sake of appearances. Rather, God says, we are to truly mourn. We are to truly see the depths of which we are sinful people. We should find our hearts torn by the acknowledgement of what lies within us.
That’s pretty challenging isn’t it? I mean we talked the other week about holy friendships and how they help to point us towards the sins we have come to love. I think that’s what God is talking about here.
None of us mind talking about the sins that we hate do we? We don’t mind talking about those superficial things that we find wrong in our lives, but those sins under the surface, those sins that creep up in our heads when no one is home, those sins that whisper in our ears when no one else is listening, those sins that pulls us into hiding when no one is looking…those sins? Let’s not talk about those sins. Let’s not talk about our lust, let’s not talk about our greed, let’s not talk about our selfishness and judgement of others.
And yet that is what we have come here tonight to do. We have come here to air these sins. We have come here to be honest with ourselves and to be honest with God about the dark parts that lie deep within us.
And though we are called to rend our hearts, though we are called to despair, we cannot despair for too long, for there is also a message of hope that we find this evening. This message will reveal itself more and more to us throughout this Lenten season and culminate in the blessings of Easter, but tonight we will simply point to it, in the hopes that as these coming weeks of searching ourselves go by, we might come to see this message more clearly.
Here now Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In just a moment you will come forward and receive the ashes. They are given as a sign of our mortality, our sinfulness before God, and as a reminder that we ourselves are not God.
The first words we will hear are a beginning, they are ones of conviction. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
But the second are even more powerful, for they have the strength to overcome the first. “Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
Tonight we begin the journey of Lent. It’s a tough journey, but it is one that leads us to a place, to an understanding, unlike any other.
It’s been a while since my last post. For those of you that are members of the congregation you know that these last few months have been quite the whirlwind for me. In September my grandmother, Alma Lee, passed away. She and I were very close. She was one of my favorite people in the world, and looking back on those months I see that the loss of her took more out of me than I was willing to admit.
She had suffered with Alzheimers for sometime. There were good days and bad days. Some days she knew you and some days she did not. Shortly before my grandmother passed away Mae and were blessed to be able to tell her that we were expecting and that our daughter’s name would also be Alma. As she smiled at us, the look in her eyes told me, that even if only for a brief moment, she understood. “I would be honored,” she said.
A little over three weeks ago Alma Grace made herself known to the world, and since that moment my heart has once again been full. Her name is a combination of the two things that I have most looked up to in my life, my beautiful grandmother and the grace of God that goes before us. I can honestly say that without both, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Thanks be to God, for grandmothers, for baby daughters, and for the gift of grace that pulls us, that straightens us, and that molds us.
What do you speak when there are no words to speak? What do you pray when you are unsure of what you should even be praying for?
Those are the two questions I’ve been wrestling with since last night. The words aren’t there, and so I close my eyes to pray. Yet once again, the words aren’t there.
I’ve been thinking a lot this morning about what God is asking of me. What is God asking me to do? What is God asking me to say? Again, I have no words.
Yet that is the beauty of our faith and our tradition. When we have no words, someone else does. When we can’t figure out what to say, chances are it has already been said. And so I’ve been praying the Psalms. I’ve been searching the scriptures.
I still don’t have my own words, but I’ve found some, that for today, speak for me.
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”—Psalm 137:1-6, NIV
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”—Micah 6:6-8, NIV
I’m not sure when it happened. I’m pretty sure I know why it happened, but here we are. We find ourselves in a political climate where it is more appropriate to name call than it is to debate and where attack ads are more influential on our votes than actual facts.
This is a tough time to be a pastor. It’s tough to address some of what is going on in our nation’s politics, and yet I can’t help but to feel like I should.
Yesterday, in Charlotte, a group of United Methodist ministers from around the area gathered for lunch and for conversation. We didn’t talk about politics. And by that I mean no one stood up and argued for one candidate over another. Rather we discussed what it means to shepherd our congregations during a time when dividing and name calling has become our newest pastime.
Several pastors recalled memories of parents or grandparents that would have pictures of the president hanging on their walls. They would pray for “their” president everyday. Regardless of the party affiliation. When the next election cycle rolled through they would change that picture on their wall. This president might represent a different party, but that wouldn’t matter. It would still be “their” president, and they would still pray for them everyday. Where have those days gone?
Rev. James Howell, of Myers Park United Methodist Church, says that we as citizens are the ones that should take the blame for what is wrong with our current political state. We respond to negative ads, so candidates run more negative ads. We respond to attacks and name calling, so candidates do more attacking and name calling. We get upset because congress won’t compromise, yet when our officials do compromise we call them weak and vote in a “stronger” representative who won’t budge an inch. We’ve made the mess, Rev. Howell says, now how do we fix it?
A few weeks ago I talked about how everything in life boils down to a decision between fear and love. For some reason when it comes to politics we have let fear takeover as our dominate trait. I’m not just talking about fear of the other, or fear of those that we don’t know or understand. I’m talking about our fear of being open to change, and maybe our biggest fear, our fear of being wrong. We have become so afraid of an opinion different than our own that we feel the need to attack the person who disagrees with us.
I’m not sure I have all the answers to these questions, but I do believe that there are a few places we can start in order to make a difference.
-The first is of course with God. God should be the first place we go, the first place we look when it comes to these issues of argument. That doesn’t mean co-opting God for your own opinions. It doesn’t mean using God to argue your particular point of view. (To be honest I don’t think God is a democrat or a republican.) What it does mean is acting out of the love that was shown to us through Jesus Christ. And most importantly it means realizing that no matter what happens on November 8th, when we wake up on November 9th, God will still be God, and God’s Kingdom will still be breaking forth into our world. Not one single political candidate running for office is going to usher in the Kingdom of God. God will do that, regardless of who gets elected.
-The second is through being in relationships with one another. There is nothing more toxic than shutting oneself off to the thoughts and ideas of others. We, for some reason, think that everything in life is black and white, left or right, liberal or conservative. The truth of the matter is that when we are in relationship with others, especially those who have differing opinions, we come to see that the world is full of a lot more gray. Each of us is God’s beautiful and wonderful creation. What would it look like if we treated one another as such?
-And the last thing we can do is to stop fearing compromise. The idea of compromise has for some reason become a sign of weakness instead of strength, and yet in my life compromise always seems to make things stronger. I do it in my marriage and friendships, without it I would be alone. The business world does it all the time, it’s how companies thrive. Compromise always seems to strengthen not weaken. We must learn to stop fearing compromise.
Are these the answers? I don’t know, but I think they are a good place to start.
One of our favorite ongoing mission projects at Park Street is the Backpack Weekend Food Program. Read more about the program in the link below.
This Sunday we will celebrate two incredibly important things in worship service. The first is the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and our worship will be centered around the gift of the Spirit.
The second is the reception of 6 new members by profession of faith. For the last few months our confirmands have put in the hard work of learning about their faith. On this Sunday they will be asked some of the most important questions of their life as they proclaim their faith publicly.
I ask that you continue to keep these young people in your prayers over the next several days, and I invite you to come out in support of them this Sunday during worship as well.