Thursday, July 14, 2016

God of Rain and Sun

God of rain and sun, of cold and warmth, of grey days and brightness,
We are here amidst the puddles. Open our hearts to see beyond the dull and damp and keep us refreshed and willing to serve. Help us practice gratitude for your showers of blessings upon us.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Everyone needs this....#BecauseScience :-) HAHAHAHAHA!
I think that John Venn would love this!
Actually, "a Venn diagram is a diagram representing mathematical or logical sets pictorially as circles or closed curves within an enclosing rectangle (the universal set), common elements of the sets being represented by the areas of overlap among the circles."

It's still hilarious! ;-)

No Turning Back: Discipleship Despite the Costs (My third sermon!)

Here is the text of my third sermon and a link to the audio! :-) Thanks for reading! I can't wait to be at seminary (Sewanee School of Theology) and to actually learn the proper way to write and preach a sermon!!!!
Dr. Caroline Carson 3
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Jesus “set his face” to Jerusalem. We’ve all “set our faces” to do something… to get something accomplished, to finish a project that. This determination and focus that we have when we “set our faces” is what we should harness when it comes to following Christ, his teachings, and when making life decisions after prayerful consideration. What if we make mistakes? Do we think of turning back?

In today’s Gospel, a village of Samaritans did not receive Jesus. I know where this area is! Our pilgrimage group drove through portions of Samaria. Jesus spent his much of his life in Galilee. Except for being born in Bethlehem and about two years in Egypt after this, He grew up, lived, and worked in close proximity to the Sea of Galilee. I can’t tell you how exciting and fulfilling to have been there and to have a real image of this place in my mind, eyes, and heart!

When Jesus began his ministry, he was in Capernaum and, from there, went out to preach and teach and heal - proclaiming the Kingdom of God to all who would listen. But, he kept coming back to Capernaum by the sea. So, why does that matter?

Because Jesus isn’t going home anymore.

No turning back.

This passage we heard today represents a precise moment – “the beginning of the end”. He is headed to Jerusalem, that center of Jewish faith and livelihood. Jerusalem, the golden. Jerusalem, where soon, people would turn against him.

In spite of the fact that a week later, he will be crucified, Jesus is not looking back and encourages the disciples not to either. This message parallels the taking up of Elijah “in the whirlwind” and Luke here wants us to know that this is the beginning of the end by telling us directly that it’s before Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension where he will be “taken up”. (Commentary)

Not being received in the Samaritan village… it wasn’t unusual for Samaritans to refuse Jewish people on their way to Jerusalem. It could have been cultural or a result of Jesus’ outward determination and moving through quickly along his way, “setting his face”.

No turning back.

He was on a mission to Jerusalem. James and John ask him if he’d like them to call upon the smiting element of fire to destroy the villagers. Wouldn’t it be convenient for us – if we were able to press that vaporize button in the car when someone cuts us off or almost causes a wreck? It might also come in handy when the line is a thousand people and the counter closes before we get there. That’s imaginary….and who among us REALLY wants to cause actual harm? Jesus’ reaction to James and John’s question provides an example of their temptation to use violence, anger, or frustration to solve the “problem”. It also sounds rather convenient, the way they phrased it. How many times in today’s world do we see examples of each “side” believing that they’re “right” and using deadly force to justify their goals? I’m not talking about ancient history either. Differing opinions on LGBT rights, territorial disputes, parental control, economic disaster issues, war. How many times has Christ’s name been used in these scenarios or “being Christian” used as a reason behind agendas?

When they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." It seems Jesus is giving fair warning that there aren’t many creature comforts and there’s not much security in following him presently. There would be no turning back. Stop and consider the costs. He knew what was to come. Failure -“strike one” - we don’t hear of the person continuing with them. How many times have we doubted – only to see that God provides. Trust is needed.

Another asks if he may bury his father before he follows Jesus and is told “let the dead bury their own dead”. Here, the opportunity, the call to follow Jesus must come above all other things, it means going forward despite the cost. (Commentary p. 216). Saying you shouldn’t bury your father sounds rather harsh, but isn’t Jesus really getting at the idea of divided loyalties? Let those who remain unaffected by spiritual things, take care of the physical dead. If you are spiritually alive enough to recognize Christ’s call, then follow, without hindrance. Strike two? Again, the individual means well, but isn’t following him. Trust, and risk, are needed.

Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Strike three – turning back. This passage reminds me of Lot and his wife - her looking back and turning into a pillar of salt. Musically, it also reminds me of the myth of Orpheus with his lute, turning back to Eurydice in what Virgil called the “madness of love”. In both cases, turning back broke the “deal” and both men were bereft of their wives. So, does this disobedience to God result in finality? In 6th century BC mythology it did. In the time of Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah it did. The cities may have been destroyed as the result of a natural disaster. Geo-Archaeology says that the Dead Sea was devastated by an earthquake between 2100 and 1900 BC, which could have unleashed showers of steaming tar. Clearly -

No turning back.

And just what does happen if we look back while plowing? Our rows will be crooked. This makes perfect sense to me now because of the Palestinian hills I saw a little over a week ago. The land is rocky beyond belief. Looking back would cause great issue. Discipleship requires focus. If we look away and alter our course one degree while crossing an ocean, it spells trouble. Using the 60 to 1 rule in aviation, for every degree you fly off course, you’ll miss your target by 92 feet every mile. That’s about one mile off for every sixty flown.

If you started at the equator and flew around the earth, one degree off would land you about 500 miles off target. So, the longer you travel off course, the further you will be away from the intended target. Is that acceptable? Nooooo. On a flight from LGA to LAX, that might put me 40 miles into the Pacific Ocean. One degree off could be the difference between making it to a conference on time, or actually using the seat as a flotation device.

My discernment was and is - a period of exploring the ins and outs of the call to serve Christ (We’re all called to serve Christ). What is the right course? Initially, it IS a period of having that option to discuss turning back. My call to follow where God leads was revealed and determined – officially and out loud. It was uncovered and I feel like it’s a garment I’ve been wearing that now shines brighter.

Joyfully, No turning back!

So, how do we – not “make”, but allow Jesus to be a priority in our lives? It is really up to us. Have you noticed that he invites rather than coerces? Those who use Christianity itself as a weapon do not hold following Christ as a priority. It seems they check off “doing” various things that are “required” in order to “prove” their right or to get into Heaven. From the Gospel of Matthew: (6:33) “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God”.

Proclaiming the gospel is not limited to the disciples we read about in the past. Each of us must stay the course and commit to following God’s lead. We all have varied gifts. What are yours? How will you use them, moving forward, not looking back. There must be diversity within the ministry of Christ’s body. How much will we each trust God, perhaps blindly and without anywhere to lay out head? How will we not turn back?

My discernment is now a question of how, when, and where to follow. I’m moving, leaving job, career, family, and friends – for a great unknown. There needs to be a focused commitment, a study without distractions, without extra tasks to finish up, to follow where God leads.

No turning back! ….rather a turning into.

My discernment WILL BE ongoing. Time passes, we learn, we live, and experience God’s working in our lives. Rather than looking back to make sure my plow is doing its job, I’ve got to look forward and trust that God will lead me. That is often very difficult because I’m a planner aaaaand a bit of a control freak. I’ll be shaped: molded in spirit and sculpted in the foundation of Christ’s teachings. I’m nervous. I’m more excited though. I have those errands to run and things to do before I go, but they seem of little consequence now that I am becoming more focused. A life of faith asks that we move forward, step by step, not letting the distractions of the world lure us away.

(Sung) - I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back….no turning back!

Visions and Being Visionary (My second sermon)

Here is my second sermon and a link to the audio. Thank you for reading it! I'm excited to be going to seminary at Sewanee this coming Fall and very grateful to have these opportunities to deliver sermons! :-) HERE is the audio!

Dr. Caroline Carson 2
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Year C
Acts 16:9-15
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Let’s talk about visions. All of our lessons this morning have examples of visions and actions related to what has been seen or presented. John’s visions in the Book of Revelation are grand and elaborately detailed. Did this John of Patmos ever have a vision of his own exile? A fascinating article in the online publication Patheos states: “Presumably, like many ancient Israelite prophets, John receives his visions while in a trance or some state of altered consciousness. What John saw and wrote has become the most influential — and controversial — vision in the history of Christianity. As Elaine Pagels observes in her book on Revelation, John’s apocalypse has served as source material for John Milton, Julia Ward Howe, Michelangelo, and Tim LaHaye.” (Patheos: John Turner “The Visions of John of Patmos”)

John’s vision of Christ led future generations to understand their Savior as — among many other New Testament images — the coming king, the lamb who was slain who becomes Satan’s vanquisher and who establishes a reign on earth. (Patheos) Without John’s vision, how would our vision have developed? Would we even have certain branches of the Protestant church? The river of the water of life, bright as crystal”, “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit”. – these are other images in today’s reading that are rich with interpretation and history.

In our next reading, Paul had a vision and ended up in action, traveling to Macedonia. He had it in the night. One of the main differences I’ve found in studying for this morning is that dreams usually happen at night and visions happen during the daytime, while the person is awake. In Paul’s case, he shares the vision with his companions and together they decide to go to Macedonia immediately. He also seems to be able to “go with the flow”, freely, encountering and handling events he may not have expected based on his vision, in such a way as to learn, preach, and trust.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus presents a vision of the peace that will be shown to us through the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. He comforts us with this vision before it happens.

What about us? Don’t we have visions or ideas that we feel are from God? We human beings are visually oriented. Unlike many species we are the rare exception among living creatures in that we can see and dream in colors. We tend to think of things in visual ways, and often with “our mind’s eye.” Even when we think about large concepts we tend to do so in visual ways. For example, how do you visualize God?

One of the realities of being so visually oriented, is that many times what we imagine doesn’t always look like what we expected it to. This can be either good or bad, I must admit, I’ve seen folks, including myself, get annoyed, when things don’t go the way we expect. Many people have a “vision” of what they think the Christian life will be like and sometimes what we expected from God doesn’t always match the vision we had. So, the trick is to be flexible and discover the wonder of God doing things in our lives that perhaps we least expect. “Expect the unexpected”!

Reflections and even group discernment on our visions focus not just on messages about our personal relationships with God but on the nagging, yet inspiring call of God to be active in the community of faith. The move isn't inward toward self-absorption but outward, toward the wider world of God's grace and actions in the life that we share. Where is the Spirit calling us? What visions call us beyond the boundaries into ministry where we had not considered it before? Who are our modern day prophets?

When you answered the call of God, you were excited and energized about the possibility of service. You couldn't wait to get where you were going or do what you needed to do. But it was so unlike what you expected. I’ve had that happen to me, and I always ask God, "Are you sure this is what I am supposed to be doing?" phrased more like “REALLY, GOD?!, SERIOUSLY?”

So, Paul’s situation didn’t match up exactly like the vision he had. What’s a prophet to do? Don’t give up so easily. He slightly adjusted his sight and still found a great fulfillment. He accepted the reality he was presented with. The group stayed and worked and several women opened their hearts to the Gospel! He discovered the great hospitality of Lydia. If he had rejected the circumstances, there might never have been a Church planted in Philippi, which became one of the strongest and healthiest churches in the New Testament!

Too many times we miss God’s best because things do not always match our concept of “vision” in ministry! Challenge yourself to not simply see what is around you with your eyes, to possess a deeper sight to know what is right and true and needful for the good of all.

Back to today’s Gospel…In the vision Jesus gives us of the Holy Spirit, we know it is a spirit of peace, one which is not of this world. We are charged to “not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” It seems as if he already knows we will be afraid and troubled, that we will doubt. Does our vision of the Holy Spirit match up to what Jesus intended for us? Are we still afraid and uneasy? Does peace look like what his vision of peace is? Do we even know peace? Luckily, we are told that the Holy Spirit will teach and remind us of everyone Jesus said to us.

Annnnnd just how are we reminded of God will come and make his home with us, in our hearts and in our minds? The reading, thought, and study of scripture. The act of prayer. Prayer, in my opinion, is a privilege….one in which we become closer to God. Guess what?! God actually exists and this is one way we can have a relationship with him. Presence…doing things or being in places that allow us to feel the Holy Spirit’s presence. Sometimes, it is simply to “be still and know” that God is God. Other times, we see Christ in others and / or their actions. For me sacred spaces hold a special way to feel God’s presence.

In sacred spaces, we are able to let down our hair, to release our guard, to truly feel, and to be very vulnerable and open. It is in THESE times that we truly allow the Holy Spirit in. Often, in these places, we allow ourselves to visualize, to daydream, perhaps even to have a vision.

These church doors are not simply opened for only those of deep faith. Our pews aren’t simply for people convinced they’re on the “right path”, however defined that is. Our church is a haven for the human experience, one filled with visions…..of glory AND of doubt. Sometimes, we think of faith and doubt as opposite ends to a line, along which we are constantly moving, to and from the different poles. MY vision paints more of a sphere, unique to each person and where there is room for a sacred atmosphere of doubt within the context of faith.

So, in a matter of speaking, I’m proposing that doubt can be a type of sacred space. A place where we experience, evaluate, and sometimes share our visions – of ministry, of God’s calling to us in our individual and collective experiences.

Can we minister to each other in such a way that we are able to rejoice in the heights of each others’ faith, while sitting with one another times of doubting? Is our mind’s understanding of a faith journey as a straight line? A line towards or away from some finite conclusion? Can we envision faith experience as a sacred sphere which is capable of having answers and ideas, but where we continuously learn and wonder? Are we prepared to be a space that honors the balance of faith and doubt that we all possess? Is that “visionary”?

Vision is the bridge between the present and the future. The experience of understanding God seems to rest with our acceptance that there are indeed things we cannot know. This balance of certainty and uncertainty is and always has been the faith experience, and it is all sacred.

This uncertainty creates a sense of community with others who share uncertainty. John’s Gospel seems to present both a sense of community and a goal of mission, centered around Jesus’ charge to love one another. It is this love that will bind the community together as followers of Jesus. But Jesus understands they cannot do this on their own. The group will need the Holy Spirit to gain an understanding of what Jesus meant when he spoke of loving one another and of peace.

What is the church is becoming? Visualizing the future, what the church will become in the face of modern pressures and doubts? Jesus’ encouragement was that even though he will be absent, we are still bound together in relation to God through the presence of the Holy Spirit in the community. Are we able to see similar bonds as we move forward along our own faith journeys? Do we offer, as people and as a church, sacred spaces - able to expect the unexpected and adjust when our realities turn out differently than what we had expected?

In the mystic words of St. Augustine:

So what are we to say about God?
If you have fully grasped what you want to say, it isn’t God.
If you have been able to comprehend it,
you have comprehended something else instead of God.
If you think you have been able to comprehend,
your thoughts have deceived you.
So God isn’t this, if this is what you have understood;
and if God is this then you haven’t understood it.
So what is it you want to say,
seeing you haven’t been able to understand it?

* God is with us, even in times of doubt – especially in times of doubt.

I leave you today with T.S. Elliot’s words “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” As you travel the winding pathways of your faith experiences, personally and in community, I hope you all will expect the unexpected. I hope you experience the beauty of holy surprise, the vulnerability of sacred doubt, the presence in sacred spaces, and the power of vision, as you discover and rediscover yourselves in God’s great story. Amen.