Here they come!

Oh sh…. That’s what came into my mind as the four young children entered the office last night around 5 p.m. asking if Pastor Heather could come out to play. I really wanted to hang out with the musicians in the office, preparing for the Praise Rally on Saturday. Or make phone calls to some of the people I need to touch base with in the evenings. But there they were, scurrying all around the office..

I walked the kids to the gym. They watched Coach’s players move around for about 5 minutes. And, then they were ready to move around. “Can we paint” one asked. “I don’t want to paint,” said another. I pursued the first idea which led me to the school pantry.

The school pantry is a project of my daughter’s sponsored through a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) grant, to make sure kids in our neighborhood have the physical supplies they need to succeed. The children grabbed item after item, asking “can I have this?”   It made “are we there yet” sound like a fond memory. Rulers, simple calculators, paper, pens and pencils all found their way into bags—the little girl organizing it with great care.

We talked about Jesus for about a minute. “My mom says I should cry about Jesus…you know how he died for us.” Two of them looked sad for a moment, then they were off, racing around, looking for more loot. “Can I have this?”

When they were satiated, the painting forgotten, they wanted to know if they could come tomorrow. “No. I’m not here tomorrow. Ministers have a lot of things they have to do; a lot of people they need to talk with; people who are in need of one to show them the ways of God” I said.

I arranged for them to come a week from today, from 4 – 5 p.m., because if I can keep them in God’s Spirit for an hour, it will be a victory. They asked for milk and cookies. That I can do. I have their apartment numbers and their phone numbers. And, I’m coming up with a plan to keep them in the courtyard with a container of games & toys they can play so they aren’t tempted by things like paper clips, staplers, and the amazing paper cutter.

That’s how it is here. God never seems to leave me, leave us, alone. Opportunities to serve abound.

Tomorrow we open the doors to two new exercise groups—one for moms and young children and the other for elders. I’m counting on all those fitness classes I’ve taken over the years to come up with ways to get people moving. And then there’s Debra, coming up with all kinds of ideas on the fly, who has also made lunch for the seniors. Community and an opening to better health are our goals.

Saturday is our Praise Rally which features a new thing—a gospel jam where people who play instruments are invited to come forward and jam for 15 minutes on some well-known gospel songs. We also have singers, a dancer, and some who praise through stylized sign language movements to Christian songs.

On Sunday…a message on how it matters to the community how we choose to commit our selves and our bodies.

Come on, admit it, despite memories of scratchy suits and sitting out long sermons in uncomfortable pews, these days, church is on the move and it is never boring! When “oh sh…” becomes “oh boy, an opportunity to make a difference,” you know the Holy Spirit is at work.

In Christ,

Reverend Heather Miner

Holy Heart Burn

Heartburn…today is not about the kind of burn you get after visiting a Popeyes. It is about how it feels to be near the Creator, to know that truth is being told, and it is a truth that brings you great joy. Jesus is not dead but is alive.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? The men in the tomb asked the women who first looked in.

He is not here but has risen.

Jesus is alive. Even now we can experience his word, his work, his love. It is that experience that propels us outside of our smaller selves into the people God seeks us to be…kingdom builders.

When we are on the right path…we feel the fire, the burn, in our heart.

In college, I found my way back to church. My life seemed all so incomplete. When I tried to make it complete by dating a boy that I wasn’t really attracted to, I drew a deep breath and asked the universe…”Is this all there is?” And I got word…find yourself a church.

Having experienced the UCC as a child, I knew I’d find a welcome there even if I wasn’t ready to proclaim Jesus as my Lord and Savior…which I wasn’t…I was trying to figure out God…figure out love. That’s why, as your pastor, I encourage us to be who we are, sing out of faith, proclaim it with joy, but never, ever, ever try to argue someone into faith. Live it. Be it. Reveal it. Walk with people until their hearts burn.

That’s exactly what the church did for me when I was in college. I tried more evangelical churches because they had a good recruiting machine. When I got into their worship, it felt like a cult. Abandon reason, put hands in the air, cry out for Jesus…if you don’t…well, you know where you are headed. That’s what Mariners was when I went to college.

At the UCC church, the pastor welcomed me in. I religiously went to worship and all the small classes offered. And every time I went, I was excited, something inside of me moved. I went for many years, not joining the church because I wasn’t ready to give my heart to God…even though God already had it. I knew where I belonged even before I knew to whom I belonged.

My heart continued to burn when I went to a small church in Moreno Valley during my teaching years. The pastor gave me the opportunity to write and speak invocations and other prayers. It was so exciting to sit in my car and to contemplate how I would bring the Holy Spirit into the sanctuary with my words, to be a conduit through which God could touch lives. I got involved, very involved. And, eventually so did David, who was on the Board of the church even as I was across the country in seminary. It is there we were married.

When I went to seminary…oh, how my heart burned and tears would pour from my eyes as professors would speak of how God chased after us as a lover chases after his beloved. My evangelical friend Tessa would speak about having a glorious weekend with the Lord; I was also inspired by reading the gospel of John for the first time… I was hooked on Jesus

Now I’ve spent 17 years serving churches as an ordained pastor with Jesus by my side–a living Jesus by my side. It is a living Jesus who gives me the ability to walk with people through the toughest times in their lives. It is a living Jesus who appears in my prayers and calls me to take his hand when I am discouraged. It is a living Jesus who gives me the vision to know that this church body is destined to be a testimony to the living God. It is the living Jesus that gives me the strength to knock down the obstacles that have been erected to keep you from your purpose.

Holy heart burn…no it’s not Robin speaking to Batman…

It is like the moment of excitement that courses through your body when you are aware that you are witnessing a miracle.

I heard about a Guns and Roses concert. The radio announcers spoke of it, people lined up, it was big. I know nothing about G N R but my intuition suggested there was something more going than just a concert. So I took an extra step, googled Guns and Roses at the Troubedour and read…

“For GNR fans, this was their first exhale after 23 years of being suffocated by their seemingly doomed destiny as rock’s most forgotten fan base. Since the band’s meltdown between 1991 and 1997, we’ve had no closure. We couldn’t even get a proper Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2012, when Axl bailed, then penned an open letter that confused fans even more.”

Axl, the lead singer of the band, apparently has a bit of a reputation of not being cooperative.

Ah, so the concert was a reunion, bringing a band back together who had, in the heat of their fame, lost one another. Their playing together again was, for many, a sign that miracles do happen; a visible sign of reconciliation.

The fan writes: “There wasn’t a single person at the Troubadour who wasn’t pinching themselves into bruises, or wishing they were allowed to document this on their cellphone.”

Holy heart burn…the fans were witnessing a miracle.

Two men, two ordinary men, Cleopas and his friend, are on the way to the city of Emmaus.   They are not disciples. They weren’t even necessarily Jesus followers.

As they walk, a man joins them, and asks what is happening. The men explain that there had been this Jesus character who all had hoped would bring the redemption of Israel but he had been crucified. In response, the stranger opens the scripture and tells of the words of the prophets.

Notice this…Jesus doesn’t try to convince them of who he is. He simply walks with them, tells them what they need to know. It takes time for a band to come back together; it takes time for people to recognize the light.

When the three people arrive at the city, the stranger is ready to go on.

But Cleopas and his friend hey did something more than just walk with a stranger. They did something more than just allow him to come by their side for the time of the journey. They invited him in. They invited him to stay with them. They invited him to eat with them.   Having been touched by Jesus, even before they knew it, they would not let go…they took the extra step. Yes…that extra step gave them the ticket to see the miracle. Jesus sitting with them at the table, breaking bread…their eyes were opened…He LIVES! Holy Heartburn!!

Listen, God’s kingdom comes alive when Jesus people take the extra step.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to present our parent and me exercise class at a DCFS meeting. This is a new thing. DCFS is sponsoring churches to provide ways for community to connect. The woman who leads the faith based initiative invited all the participating churches to come. Only 2 of the 7 did. How rare it is for churches to take the extra step even when someone is reaching out to them.

Before my portion, a gentleman gave a presentation for DCFS workers who are working to create teams that will help a family be a family. The presenter suggested that case workers use a scale question when asking questions of the families they work with. Working with a family to help them move forward together, he suggested a case worker ask on a scale from 1 – 10 how are you doing being a parent to your child this week? If they say a “5”…then respond with, “okay, what can be done to make it a 6.”

Notice they don’t try to make it a “10” immediately. All that’s expected from a family…all that’s expected from a family of God…is one more step.

Take one more step. We don’t need to become the perfect disciples, just people willing to reach out a little further, as simple as inviting someone we are already speaking with to come and sit with us awhile or saying yes and sitting awhile with one you do not know.

Holy heartburn…Jesus is alive…you will see the living Jesus as you witness the changes in one another; you will see Jesus as you see changes in strangers who stop in awhile. Together, with the living Jesus, we will be a sign of reconciliation, a witness to miracles, a changer of our world, and a builder of God’s kingdom.

Come on…let’s take the extra step!

Today, you will be with me in Paradise

Luke 23:43

You may have heard the term criminal used of the two who hang next to Jesus, but the Greek word, kakourgos is much more condemning. We aren’t talking about someone who makes a mistake or was caught stealing to pay for their drug habit. They are not first offenders nor does Luke suggest they are enemies of the state rightly protesting for the rights of others. Luke calls them malefactors, evil doers, kakourgos.

Two evil doers were on Calvary with Jesus, each on their own cross. The first evil doer played his part. In language reminiscent of the devil’s temptations, he taunts…”If you are the Messiah, then get us down from here. Save yourself. Save us.”

To him, Jesus makes no reply.

But the other kakourgos rebukes the first…Do you not fear God…?

The Greek word translated as rebuked is epitamao. Epitamao is a powerful word. The day the disciples feared they’d all drown on the stormy sea, Jesus rebuked the wind and the rain, and the sea was stilled. When Jesus was confronted by a man with an unclean spirit, he rebuked the spirit and it left the man. Rebuke, epitamao, speaks of a powerful command that, when used by Jesus, sends away demons, heals, and stills the storms.

How amazing it is that Luke uses this word, epitamao, to describe the speech the second kakourgos gives to silence the first.

Luke writes: The other rebuked him (the taunter), saying…

“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

After his rebuke, there is silence. Satan’s taunts end. And a still comes upon Calvary.

Come with me a moment…remember Jesus on the sea, the day the disciples thought they would drown. Remember, to wake him, the cried out in panic, “Master, master we are perishing!”

Jesus awoke, rebuked the wind, calmed the raging sea. Then he turned to his disciples and asked… “Where is your faith?”

In the stillness of Calvary, I hear the echo of Jesus’ words spoken to the disbelieving disciples upon the calmed sea challenging you, challenging me: “Where is your faith?”

Where is your faith when all around you is the raging sea? Where is your faith when in front of you, your friend, your leader, your beloved teacher, is dying? Where is your faith when all has gone wrong and it feels like you will, or it is the time for you to, die?

In what will we believe?!

The kakourgos shows us the way.

He speaks, calmly, into the silence:

“Jesus, Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus sighs to himself…finally….someone gets it.

Then he takes a deep breath and exclaims loud enough for the man, and for us, to hear…

”Today you will be with me in Paradise!”