Lent 2015—Day 1

18 February, 2015 Posted by liascholl

Watering the Plastic Plant

Watering the Plastic Plant

It’s Ash Wednesday. It’s the day that we remember that we all come from dust and to dust we will return.

How do you want to spend the time you have left? Do you want to spend it fighting the dust bunnies in your home? Do you want to spend it reading Facebook posts? Or what about pushing paper across your desk? Or do you want to spend it acknowledging God, being present with your friends and family, and finding meaning in the work you do?

I’m working to weed out the plastic plants—those things I attend to in my daily life that do not have any meaning but take a lot of energy. One item is my phone. I spend hours on it each day, and I am certainly not talking on it! I have removed some apps that I use to just waste time. Instead, I’ll be carrying around a book…

And I’ll try to create a little art every day. Join me?

If you’re in Winston-Salem, we’ll have an Imposition of Ashes and Communion service this evening at 5:30 at Davis Chapel on the Wake Forest University campus.

Baptism as an act of rebellion and resistance

11 January, 2015 Posted by liascholl

A sermon based on Matthew 3:1-17

I was baptized by Hiram Lemay in 1980. Brother Lemay was a nice middle aged man who pastored a church called Una Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Brother Lemay looked as much like a preacher as a person can look, with white bucks and a preacher swoop to his hair. And Hiram Lemay preached the gospel. You know the kind… the kind that makes you hold on to the seat in front of you during the invitation because you’re sure he’s talking to you. The kind that requests one more verse of Just As I Am, with “every head bowed and every eye closed,” and allows you to raise your hand, if you’re too scared to walk the aisle. He was THAT kind of preacher.

He had come over to the house to lead me through the Roman road of Scriptures. I was convinced (or convicted, as they say) that I was a sinner and that Jesus had died so that I might not face death, but instead have eternal life. I believe I had a true meeting with God on that day, but I’m not so sure that it had to do with that particular set of Scriptures. I still remember thinking, “Well, that’s kinda harsh.”

But it stuck, somehow. And thus began my Christianity, and the path that got me here, today. A few weeks after my profession of faith, and walking the aisle of the church, I got baptized. That I remember clearly. I remember the tiny little back room where I changed into my slip and the white robe. I remember the smell of chlorine as I walked across the baptismal waters. I remember thinking, “Hmm. This is deeper than I thought.” Brother Lemay had told me that he would hold my nose, and I would hold his arm. And he didn’t so much push me down as lead me up with that arm. I remember he asked, “Lia, do you believe that Jesus died on a cross to save you? Do you want to follow him?” I remember those words, “Lia, In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I baptize you my sister in Christ.” I remember feeling different coming up out of the water.

And then I remember going back out into the church after the baptism, feeling somehow special in my new dress and wet hair. It was, for me, a turning point. A choice to live a different kind of life. A decision to put Jesus at the center of my life and to reorient my thinking to what God wanted for me.

Do you remember your baptism?


Writing Days

5 January, 2015 Posted by liascholl

Tuesdays are staff days.
Wednesdays are office days, bulletins, newsletters and people stopping by.
Thursdays are meetings.
Fridays and Saturdays are my “days off.”
Sunday is hectic and often unpredictable. Not to mention exhausting.

But Monday. Ah, Monday.

Monday is my writing day. And so on Mondays, I write. I write newsletter articles, sermons, and thank you notes. And I try to read. The Bible. The commentaries. Twitter. Anything that interests me.

So my office on Monday moves from the bed to the sofa to a coffee shop. And my view ranges from a computer screen to an ereader to a group of strangers.

How does your week go?

Gratitude, a sermon

23 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Everybody is born grateful.

When babies wake up and see their mothers’ faces, they gasp with surprise and happiness. When babies see something new, they revel in the look of it. Flowers, animals, heck, just bright colors excite them and they wear that excitement on her face.

But somehow, that excitement starts going away. We begin to learn that the world isn’t so safe. That pretty burner that burned such a wonderful color of red burns our hand. That pretty black and yellow bee sting us. The people who make us laugh when we see their faces became unpredictable. Sometimes they were happy and sometimes they were angry.

And the natural gratitude that we’re born with, that excitement about the world, that joy and hope and enthusiasm begins to wane. Our openness is replaced by caution, and even fear.

Our text this morning is from Jeremiah. It’s the story of his calling:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

It’s like God is saying, “I made you like you were as a child. I made you happy. I made you grateful. I made you look at the world with wonder.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.

And Jeremiah responds, “Not me. I’m afraid. I’ve already learned that the world is hard. And the people are mean.”

God responds, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah is reborn.

That’s what gratitude can do.

Marianne Williamson tweeted recently, “The gap between how beautiful life can be and how ugly the world can be is profoundly heartbreaking. The purpose of life is to close the gap.”

Gratitude is the way to bridge the gap.

We are called to be grateful.

I’m sure you’re aware of all the bestselling books and trends about happiness, right? There’s tons of books and websites and articles and television shows about happiness. And it all seems to start with gratitude.

The website unstuck.com gives some great ideas on how to practice gratitude. They suggest keeping a gratitude journal. Just write down something you’re grateful for every day. Or, if you have a smart phone, use it—there are over 50 apps for keeping a gratitude journal. Unstuck says “if you identify something or someone with a negative trait, switch it in your mind to a positive trait.” This space, for instance. It’s cold. But it’s also beautiful, and that cold makes the organ sound beautiful! Unstuck goes on to say, “Give at least one compliment daily.”

And then there’s a suggestion that really gets to me… “Vow not to complain, criticize, or gossip for 10 days.” If you slip, just start again. And notice how much energy you were spending on negative thoughts and actions.

This is an easy week to practice gratitude. Our families will be with us. Our work weeks are short. And we will have great food and great parties. Won’t you try to practice gratitude with me?

What do you think are the consequences of gratitude? Well, one of them is that people want to be around people who are grateful. Second, you begin to enjoy your life more when you’re grateful. Finally, when you’re grateful, you begin to recognize those things that make you grateful, and you create more of them in your life.

Grateful for good food? You work on being a better cook.

Grateful for good friendships? You begin to pay more attention to them and create more of them.

Grateful for good health? You begin to pay more attention to healthy things…

You see what I mean.

And you begin sharing all of that…

Because the outward expression of gratitude is generosity. Out of your gratitude, you begin giving more.

And the outgrowth of that generosity is to work for justice.

Generosity is for individuals, and justice is for all people.

Rumi said,

Seek the wisdom
that will untie your knot
seek the path
that demands your whole being
Leave that which is not, but
appears to be
seek that which is, but is
not apparent.

Our calling in this world is centered on gratitude. Think of all the places in the Bible where thanksgiving is mentioned. From the giving of the Torah and the regulations on thanksgiving sacrifices, to David singing a thanksgiving song to God, to Nehemiah singing songs of thanksgiving at the dedication of the city wall and the return of the Isrealites to the land, And Psalm 100: Make a joyful noise to the Lord all ye lands, enter his gates with thanksgiving. All the way to the New Testament, when the Paul writes to the people of Corinth, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” And in the letter to Thessalonika, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

And Jesus said thank you, too. When the stone at Lazarus’ tomb was rolled away, Jesus said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

May I remind you what Marianne Williamson said? “The gap between how beautiful life can be and how ugly the world can be is profoundly heartbreaking. The purpose of life is to close the gap.”

Advent Lament: What the Psalmist Knows

20 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

A sermon based on Psalm 89

My name is Lia, and I’m a church nerd. I love all things big and small about church, and I especially love the smells and bells that come with Advent. During Advent, we deck out the church, we hang Chrismons, wear our pretty purples, have the amazing smell of evergreens, and the sounds of uplifting music. I am such a nerd that I hum Advent tunes all season long, and resist the urge to sing Christmas carols. In fact, most of Advent you can find me singing, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

And usually I buy into the hype of Advent. The thought of waiting sits well with me. I believe that there is hope and expectation. That God is going to break into the world in this little bitty body of Jesus and he is going to grow into a man who is going to change everything.

But this year, I am having a hard time with that. This year, I’m having a hard time with the idea of God breaking into the world and bringing justice. This year, I’m having a hard time believing that things are going to get better. This year, I’m having a hard time with our Psalmist this morning, who said, “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your countenance; they exult in your name all day long, and extol your righteousness.” This year, I’m having a hard time with Mary’s words from the Magnificat, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

I’m having a hard time imagining God’s mighty hand when all I can see is Michael Brown’s hands up. I’m having a hard time hearing a festal shout over Eric Garner’s voice saying “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” I’m having a hard time picturing God’s strength over the vision of small children slain in Pakistan. I’m having a hard time seeing that God has brought down the powerful from their thrones when I hear the stories of my own country’s inhumanity and torture.

I’m having a hard time finding my “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

Maybe I’m not alone…I looked up the verses to O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Let’s remember the images there, of Israel being held captive and mourning in exile, of asking the Dayspring to cheer our spirits and disperse the gloomy clouds of night, of asking Wisdom to order all things, far and nigh, because clearly there’s disorder, and of begging the Desire of nations to bind all peoples in heart and mind and to bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease. And even though the song says, “Rejoice! Rejoice!” it’s not about what is. It is about what’s coming.

And even the Psalmist knows. Our reading today stops with verse 26. “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’” It’s a very positive reading we have here… extolling the amazing virtues of God and how God wins all the time.

But if we read on in our Psalm starting with verse 46 it says:

How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?
    How long will your wrath burn like fire?

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
    which by your faithfulness you swore to David?

Remember, O Lord, how your servant is taunted;
    how I bear in my bosom the insults of the peoples,
with which your enemies taunt, O Lord,
    with which they taunted the footsteps of your anointed.

See? The Psalmist knows. Even though God is awesome, life sometimes isn’t. And even though God is awesome, sometimes we don’t feel God’s presence. And even though God is awesome, we often are taunted here on earth.

Remember, that the Psalmist is is speaking as one who is taunted. But the Psalmist is also speaking of the other Servant. That man born, called Emmanuel, and named Jesus. He was taunted too. And he sometimes felt like God wasn’t there—when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He looked out into the crowd, put his hands up, said, “I can’t breathe,” experienced torture, and felt the pain of a death by violence.

And yet, through this Christ, the world was changed. God broke into the world in the body of a little bitty baby and the world was changed.

And in this season of expectation, this time of Advent, when we are waiting for justice to come, we look to that child. We look to that child to break in again, to bring about God’s justice. And to walk alongside us, while we get to work. Because we can no longer wait for justice to come. We must begin expecting it to be the norm, and standing up to require it be done. We must have hope that things will change, if we get to work changing them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

May we pray:

We come, celebrating Advent, God. Not rejoicing in what is, but rejoicing in what is to come. We pray that you accompany us as we work to bring justice to this world, to set things right, and we pray that we follow Christ’s example of loving that which seems unloveable. We know we are your hands and feet in the world, and that it is our work to make the world the way you want it to be. Where all are fed. Where all are freed. Where all are safe. And especially, where all are loved. In the matchless name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Instigate Good

17 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is “Instigate good.”

This morning is another difficult morning. The Today show aired from Pakistan–and (unnecessarily) showed the school where 142 people, most of them children, were killed yesterday. They showed vivid images, and it was no way to start the morning.

So what can we do to counteract such violence? In the absence of being able to do anything to help in Pakistan, what can we do to change things today?

We can instigate good. Do something, anything, good.

Seems like a small thing, but I like to buy the person-behind-me-in-the-coffee-line coffee in the morning. It helps. I smile at everyone. I say good morning. I donate some money to an org that someone else loves. It makes me feel better to just do something nice.

I know it doesn’t change anything. But it changes how I feel.

What Is The Thread?

16 December, 2014 Posted by liascholl

Today’s #rethinkAdvent prompt is a poem:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1998

And the question is, “What is the thread?”

I’m preaching at a noontime service at First Baptist Highland Avenue on Friday. My text is the 89th Psalm. In it, the Psalmist praises God’s unending love. Then asks the question, “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” And I totally understand the Psalmist.

I am vacillating between the muck of life and the glory of life. Of course, God loves us and is with us forever. And sometimes God is hidden from us. And we go from one end of the spectrum (Yay!) to the other (Aww!) so quickly, it seems like there’s no in between.

But somehow, the thread is that I still believe. Even when I cannot find the good in the day, I still believe. Even when I cannot feel God’s presence, I still believe. Even when I am sad and hopeless, I still believe.

Help me, God, to not let go of the thread.


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    Lia practices radical acceptance for those who the church has vilified and shamed. It's not just something she preaches, but something that she really tries to reflect in her life.

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