Tag Archive: Stress


God Keeps Showing Up

This morning’s sermon on John 20:19-31 from Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

Thomas was framed! Every year we hear this story the Second Sunday of Easter and I think – oh man, Thomas was framed! All of the other disciples disregarded Mary Magdalene when she ran back Easter morning and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Yet, we don’t collectively refer to them as “doubting disciples,” although maybe we should. Poor Thomas. He gets stuck with this permanent label of “Doubting Thomas” when, in fact, the word doubt doesn’t even show up in the Greek – he’s disbelieving or not believing.

So I was thinking about all of this and a song from the musical “Oklahoma!” kept popping into my head, but with different words.

Here is tune I used as the inspiration for my song about Thomas – “Poor Jud is Dead:”

Poor Thomas was framed,
Poor St. Thomas was framed,
He wasn’t there when Jesus appeared,
And when he said to believe,
He needed to touch and see,
All through history people jeered.

Poor Thomas was framed,
Poor St. Thomas was framed,
He always looks so doubtful and so sad,
He wanted to meet Jesus,
He’s got a lot to teach us,
And really I think he’s pretty rad.

This is what I do in my free time… Anyway, I do think Thomas has a lot to teach us. And I do think he’s pretty rad, although that’s a word I wouldn’t normally say – it just rhymed in the song!

So what exactly do we know about Thomas? As we hear in the reading for today, Thomas was called “Didymus” or “twin.” He shows up throughout the Gospels, but only speaks in the Gospel of John. We’ve already encountered him once in the past couple of weeks, when Jesus says he wants to go to Bethany to resurrect Lazarus. At that time, even though there was the fear that Jesus would be stoned, the Gospel records that, “Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Pretty bold fellow, I think.

Then, a few chapters later, after the Last Supper, Jesus speaks about going to prepare a place for the disciples in his Father’s house. He says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas, apparently the most inquisitive of the bunch says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Reflecting on these little snippets of Thomas that we get in John’s Gospel, it doesn’t seem to me as if Thomas is a doubter. It seems instead to show that Thomas is someone who wants to be engaged in his faith. He wants to follow Jesus, to ask questions, to understand more deeply, and he wants to really encounter the crucified and risen Christ.

Think about it, on Easter, the disciples, except for Thomas, were locked up in the house, shaking in their boots for fear that they might be persecuted and killed like Jesus. Mary Magdalene had come running, telling them about her garden encounter with the risen Christ, but they were still scared and confused and didn’t act on the good news she brought. With the doors still dead bolted, Jesus came into the house, stood in front of their weary eyes and said, “Peace be with you.” Then, in order to show them that he wasn’t a ghost or an apparition, he showed them his scars. And when they saw it was really him, in the resurrected flesh, they were finally able to rejoice!

Jesus then tells them as God the Father has sent him out, he is sending them out. In order to empower them to serve in the world, he breathes on them, filling them with the Holy Spirit.   It’s like the lion Aslan breathing new life into the statues in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Jesus breathes new life into disciples turned to stone by fear, worry and doubt. But Thomas missed out. It was the worst kind of “Oh, I guess you had to be there!” experience.

Later, Thomas returns and hears about what his fellow disciples have experienced. And surprise, just like the other disciples listening to Mary Magdalene before their encounter, Thomas doesn’t jump on the bandwagon when he hears that the others have seen the Lord. And so, Thomas says his now famous line: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

But then, a week after the empty tomb, something happens. The doors are shut again, but this time Thomas is there. And Jesus shows up again, saying “Peace be with you.” Then, Jesus turns to Thomas and offers him exactly what he needs. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And Thomas, so overcome by the event, exclaims this beautiful confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” He’s so moved by his experience of the risen Christ that he doesn’t even need to put his fingers in the wounds. He’s so moved, overjoyed and maybe even relieved, that he claims Christ as his Lord and his God. None of the other disciples did that. He sees the resurrected Christ and he knows that it’s really God in the flesh.

Thomas needed to have his own encounter with Jesus. He needed to see him risen and encounter him, in order to continue his relationship with him post-resurrection. The other disciples had that kind of experience and relationship because Jesus appeared to them. They saw him, they heard him giving them his peace, and they even received the life-giving Spirit when he breathed on them. Thomas missed out on all of this. And then he had to wait for a week until he had his own experience. What was that like for him? He must have wanted to see Jesus so badly – just like the others did and, yet, there’s nothing…for a week. He must have been longing for an encounter with the crucified and risen one, but feeling left out from the experience that the others had had, and probably feeling separated from the other disciples, too.

How often are we like Thomas? We ask questions of our Lord and our God, trying to make sense of it all. We wrestle with God’s Word for our lives and try to follow what Christ has called us to do. We see the violence and hurt in this world and wonder how the resurrection has changed things. We long to encounter – to stretch out our hands to touch the crucified and risen Lord and know that this is for real. We want something personal and tangible in our faith.

And God knows that. Thomas had to see Jesus before his very eyes in order to believe, so Jesus shows up and offers his hands and his side to Thomas so that he can believe. God knows what we need in our lives, and amazingly, God keeps showing up, making Godself known to us. The wounded God shows up and reaches out his hands to us in our woundedness and brokenness. And we experience Jesus, maybe not like those first disciples, but we see him nonetheless. We see the God that journeys with us in our wounds and the scarred Jesus in the scars and hurts of others. We encounter God in sharing a great evening with family or friends. We experience the joy and hope of the resurrected One in the laughter of children. We are awestricken by the beauty of creation and the creativity of the One who shaped the world. We touch and taste Jesus in broken bread and wine poured out for the healing, forgiveness and redemption of all creation.

Yes, Christ keeps showing up, pointing to the wounds of the world, and inviting us to see how he is at work. He calls us to look at the scars and to see his very own wounds. To walk with others in their brokenness, working to bring healing, and to be surprised, shouting out, “My Lord and my God!” when we recognize Christ’s presence in the world. And he calls us blessed that we believe when we encounter him in the word, in water, in bread and wine, and in community.

The lesson for today ends with two sentences. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The writer thought it important that we hear this account and that we know that even if we don’t see Christ like the first disciples, God will keep showing up and helping us to see, understand and believe in different ways.

The writer thought it was important to share this so that we could believe and continue believing, and have abundant life in Christ. So that we wouldn’t remain locked up in our rooms of fear, doubt, worry, or stress, but that we would be filled with Christ’s peace and the animating breath of the Holy Spirit. Christ is calling us to go into the world and to encounter him in the woundedness there, so that we too may see and believe, saying “My Lord and my God!”

I’d like to end with blessing. Thomas was blessed and transformed by his encounter with the risen Christ. And we, too, are blessed and transformed by Christ as he walks with us in our beliefs, as well as in our doubts, wounds, brokenness, struggles, and unbelief.

So in a few moments, I will ask you to stand up, find a neighbor and bless them.   With their permission, you can trace the sign of the cross on their hands, a symbol of their work in the world. And maybe you can offer a blessing such as, “God bless you, bring you peace, and help you to see Christ in the world.” So start blessing!

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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This is the sermon I preached this morning on the fantastic story of Martha and Mary found in Luke 10:38-42:

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ 41But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

Martha and Mary.  Two of the Bible’s more famous siblings.  I love this story.  First of all, I have two brothers, so when Martha gets a little whiny about Mary just sitting there at Jesus’ feet, I totally hear the sibling rivalry coming through.  In my head, it always sounds like, “Jesus, tell Mary to help!”  I don’t know what Martha actually sounded like, but that’s what it sounds like in my head.

Second, this story is one that could easily fit into our day.  Let’s see… Martha and Mary are at home and they receive a knock at the door – Jesus is here!  If this story were taking place today, I’d imagine that Martha had been preparing on Pinterest, the social networking site for DIY projects, crafts, cooking, and saving and sharing all of your favorite things.  No, I’m not addicted at all! Anyway, Martha, who had been busily pinning and saving all of the most amazing Mediterranean dishes she could find, is now busily whipping them up in the kitchen while Jesus is out in the living room talking with Mary.

Running back and forth, Martha catches sight of her sister just sitting there at Jesus’ feet, listening to him.  Martha stops in her tracks thinking, “oh not she’s not!”  Her face begins to flush red and she hurries over to Jesus, eager for a righteous third party to play judge over this dispute.  But she doesn’t get what she’s looking for and Mary ends up being praised for listening to Jesus.

Now at this point, if I were Martha, I’d be frustrated and angry that my work was under-appreciated and that I wasn’t going to get any help.  I’d also be embarrassed that my esteemed guest had told me I was wrong in front of my sister.

We don’t know if Mary and Martha gave each other a hard time after this visit, but we do know a couple of things about these women.  For starters, it is crucial that we don’t look at this text as denigrating service or action, because Martha was doing exactly what was expected of her.  She opened up her home to Jesus and welcomed him in generously.  And in a culture where hospitality of the stranger was expected and treasured, Martha’s welcome of Jesus and the way in which she sought to serve him was admirable.

Besides, the story immediately preceding this one in Luke’s Gospel is the story of the Good Samaritan – a person whose loving service is lifted up as an example.  Jesus says at the end of that memorable story to “go and do likewise.”  So what’s going on here?

This is where looking at the text is really helpful in understanding a bit better what was taking place.  It’s not just that Martha was distracted by her serving and couldn’t really focus on her guest – the word used is even stronger than that.  It actually says she was being “overburdened” or “being pulled” or “being dragged from all around.”  She was being dragged away from the very one she was seeking to welcome and to graciously host in her home.

And when Jesus responds to her, he says that she’s continuing to be anxious or “unduly concerned” as well as “distracted” and “troubled.”  I don’t know about you, but none of those words or phrases has a positive connotation for me!  Martha is stressed out, overburdened, anxious, troubled, and being dragged away from Jesus.

My heart goes out to Martha.  No, even more than that – I believe I have been Martha at various points in my life.  Seeking to do all the right things and overextending myself in various activities, even “good” activities.  Running around like a chicken with my head cut off, feeling exhausted and zapped of my creativity and energy.  I hear Martha’s story and I completely get it.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.  In a 2012 New York Times Opinion Column, Tim Kreider wrote about “The Busy Trap.”  He writes: “If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are.  It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.  It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”

Now, those are some harsh words, but after I read that article last year, I began paying attention to how others answered the questions “how are you?” and “what are you up to?”  More importantly, I started paying attention to my own answers to those questions, which were almost always some variation on “I’m good.  Busy, but good!”

We live in a society that preaches, “time is money.”  Our success is often gauged by overtime, productivity output, and how full our planners, Blackberries, iPhones or Google Calendars are.  It’s so easy to feel like we have to be on the move, doing something in order to know that we are worth something – that we are busy, important people.  In some ways, it feels good to be able to rattle off all of the many important tasks we have before us, or even better, that we just recently checked off of our to-do lists.

But I wonder if it’s not more than that.  Are we afraid of not being busy?  Are we afraid that sitting and resting, or reflecting or praying makes us unproductive members of society? Or are we afraid of what God might call us to do if we ever settled down enough to listen?

I sort through all of these questions and it seems like it is so hard to be still and to listen.  And it is.  But there is also amazing hope.   Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, in the role of a disciple, listening deeply, drinking in his words, and spending time with this guest to her home.  While Martha is being dragged away and overburdened by all of her tasks, Mary literally “takes her place beside” Jesus.  And Jesus says that this attentive time spent with him is the better part – the good portion.  But he goes even further.  He doesn’t just focus on Mary and leave Martha to run around, stress herself out or exhaust herself.  Instead, he tenderly calls “Martha, Martha,” urging her to leave her frantic rushing about and graciously inviting her to spend time with God.

And just as he called to Martha, he continues to call to us today.  Jesus calls us gently, “Come, sit at my feet.  Spend time in my presence, listening deeply to my voice.  Rest, learn and be refreshed.  Come to the waters and remember you are forgiven.  Come to my table and be strengthened by the food I offer.  Come and hear my word.  Come study it and let it take hold in your heart.  And I will send you into the world alive and centered in me.”

I think that’s why we come back each Sunday.  We need this every week – to be refreshed and strengthened in community.  We need to be reminded of that one thing that is necessary, that is really and truly useful – spending time dwelling in the presence of Christ and letting his love for us work in our hearts that we might better love ourselves, each other and all of creation.  We need to be reminded that God loves us and desires to spend time with us, not because we’re busy, important, or successful people, but because God is loving and faithful.

This story happens in Martha and Mary’s home.  Jesus encountered these two sisters in the middle of normal life.  And Jesus meets us in the midst of our everyday lives – breaking in and calling us to take time out of our busy schedules to spend in worship, thanksgiving and praise.  It doesn’t have to be a full-blown worship service, but how can you practice hospitality and invite Christ into your everyday life?  How could you make a space to encounter Christ and spend time in the presence of God?

Maybe you could pause for a few moments of quiet and prayer in your cubicle, office or even in the car as you commute – and please, keep your eyes open and on the road!  Or you could read a brief devotion in the morning, over your lunch break or before bed.  Maybe you love singing and hymnody, so taking time to sing a hymn that is near and dear to you could be a great way of making space.  What about the arts or crafting?  Perhaps your craft time is a place to invite God in and to listen for that still small voice?

The irony of this is that it takes some work to practice being still and listening.  I know I have felt overburdened and dragged all around like Martha, feeling like there’s no way I can possibly squeeze in prayer or devotion on top of everything else.  However, I have repeatedly been amazed at how much sitting in quiet prayer with God has refreshed me and brought things back into focus.  It’s in those quiet times that I remember that life is a gift to be enjoyed, not worried about.  I remember that it’s not about my never-ending to-do list, but about being attentive to what I am being called to do in that moment.  How might making space to listen for the voice of God and to make God the goal bring all other things into focus in your life?

It’s not that service or action is a bad thing.  Rather, it’s when that service obscures or takes the place of God that there is a problem.  When we’re distracted from God and hearing God’s call in our lives because we’re so busy serving or being active, that’s when Jesus gently calls us back, reminding us that a life lived as disciples learning at Jesus’ feet is the better part – the part that will never be taken away from us.  AMEN.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

For Times of Transition

On Wednesday, February 20, my classmates and I will will find out to which regions (there are nine in the country) we have been assigned as future pastors in the ELCA.  This is the first step in actually being called to serve in a congregation.  After regions, we’ll hear from bishops, letting us know to which synod we’ve been assigned (there are 65 synods, and each synod is like a diocese).

It’s an exciting time, pondering where we may be serving in just a few short months.  In what area of the country will we be?  What will the congregation be like?  What opportunities will we have? What challenges will we face?  Where will we live? What if it’s not at all what we’re expecting?  What if we are called to a place we don’t like? What if we’re called to the place we preferenced, but it’s not a good fit?  The questions and speculations seem endless.  And it’s tiresome.

My theme song for the past few weeks has been Phillip Phillips’ “Home.”  This song really makes me want to drive with all my windows down on a beautiful day.  It also makes me want to stomp my feet, clap and dance at some kind of folksy pub music night.  I think both are appropriate!

But beyond the driving, boot-stomping beat, Phillips’ soothing voice and the oddly fitting cross-country road trip video, I also just plain love the lyrics at this stage in my life:

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

I feel like I’m holding my breath before the next big step and listening to this song, I hear reassurance and the promises of God coming through these poppy, folksy lyrics.  My road is unfamiliar, but I need not feel alone, because I have a whole bunch of wonderful family, friends, fellow seminarians and sisters and brothers in Christ supporting me – just as I am supporting and praying for them.  And the God who has called me to this unfamiliar road is paving the way, leading me ahead, one step at a time.

The line, “settle down, it’ll all be clear,” helps me to remember to be still and to trust God (Psalm 46:10), or in the words of Cheri O’Teri on Saturday Night Live, to “simma down now!”  I’m reminded to take a break from worrying about what the future will hold and to enjoy the present, knowing that all will be revealed and I shouldn’t get into a tizzy about something that hasn’t even happened yet!

And about all those demons – the demons of worry, anxiety, stress, and doubt about my ability to actually do this – they just fill me will fear and make me forget how far God has brought me in the past few years.  They make me forget that God loves working through (and has chosen to work through!) normal people to bring about God’s kingdom.  Just as God worked through sinners, deniers, murders and all sorts of broken people in the past, God continues to do so today.  And God can work through me too 🙂

And even if I get lost along the way and make mistakes, there will always be the voice of God directing me back to the right road, embracing me in forgiveness and abundance grace.

So wherever we end up, I trust that God will make that place a home.  I trust that I will be given what I need to serve God’s people with compassion and faith.  To walk with them and pray with them.  To teach them and learn from them.  To preach God’s word and to hear them speak God’s word from their lips.  To administer the sacraments of baptism and holy communion and to worship with a new community of people.

I’m just praying that I remember to hold on to God as we go.  I’m just praying that I remember that my energy, strength and ability to serve find their source in God’s loving heart.  I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will keep the cross of Christ always clearly in my sight.  I’m praying and holding on for dear life as we leap into this next adventure!

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Two weekends ago, I saw Toy Story 3 with my fiancé and my youngest brother. This was after a wonderful day spent playing soccer (football to the rest of the world!) and hanging out. When I paused to think, I found myself feeling like I was re-living my middle and high school days. You see, most of that time in my life was spent playing soccer and helping to coach my brothers’ soccer teams. In addition, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were movies we all watched a lot. I think we may have even had most of them memorized! 😉

In any case, I started to reflect on how busy life has become now that I’ve “grown up” and how marvelous it was to let loose and play. Life is full of to-do lists and responsibilities, and can feel quite overwhelming and hectic, but what if we made time for having fun like we made time for responsibilities? What if our to-do lists included built-in relaxation and play time?

I wish my to-do list looked like this!

And what if we totally let go and just enjoyed ourselves, forgetting other people were watching?:

Stress is known to cause physical ailments and even to shorten lifespans, but play, relaxation and laughter reduce stress. In seminary and CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), we talk about self-care frequently – how to keep the various aspects of our lives (physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, relational, etc.) in balance so that we do not burn out. In the ELCA, we have the “Wholeness Wheel” to keep us on track. While juggling these components may seem intimidating, being mindful of each of them and trying to be attentive to each area even if only for 10-15 minutes a day can help us pay attention to the whole picture.

I love to keep busy and be productive, but as I go through life, I’m realizing how important it is to play and to carve out time to have fun. It refreshes the soul and renews the spirit. It re-energizes us and fills us with joy so we can go out and do our work to the best of our ability. If we don’t take time to enjoy life, we become run down and are ultimately less effective. Having fun plans also gives us something to look forward to when we feel trapped in the mundane routines of life.

In short, it’s beneficial to spend time as we did when we were children: playing 🙂 So in the words of Woody from Toy Story, “So play nice!” Oh, and go see Toy Story 3 – it’s awesome!

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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