You can access past blogs here: Salado UMC | Dr. Mosser's Blog
You can access past blogs here: Salado UMC | Dr. Mosser's Blog
Look at the picture. Kirsten and I were hiking with some friends a while back when we saw these signs. I just thought it was too funny. If you look closely, you can see the sign in the back, which tells kids to have fun using the playground; to get dirty. The closer sign says the playground is closed for cleaning. Sort of ironic, don’t you think?
And, sadly, these signs made me think how we, the church, sometimes behave. We are the possessors—the messengers—of the Good News of new life in Jesus Christ. As we have been celebrating during the Advent Season leading up to the birth of Jesus, we are harbingers of hope, peace, joy, and love. We’re called to roll around in the goodness and love of God—to get it all over us so we can call others to do the same.
Yet how often do we close the playground? How often do we create and perpetuate—usually without realizing it—barriers between our weekly worship of God and those around us? How often do we make our worship about us, and getting our needs met, rather than sharing our playground with those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to play.
As we close out 2022 and head into a hopefully less eventful 2023, how about we make a New Year’s resolution to keep the playground open?
Some of my favorite memories are of times spent with family and friends around a campfire. When I was young, my family would get together with my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins over Christmas. And most years, we would make a bonfire on Christmas eve. We would cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows and sing Christmas carols. It was a wonderful, peaceful, holy time.At least that’s how I remember it. In reality, it was often none of the above. One year it was so cold we couldn’t get the chili warm for the hot dogs—we couldn’t put it in the fire but if it wasn’t in the fire, it wouldn’t warm up. We had to sit so close to the fire that our fronts got singed while our backs froze. I remember another year when the wood was a little wet and it didn’t seem to matter where I sat, the smoke would follow me. I was coughing and my eyes were watering and I had soot and ashes all over me.But when we get together as a family and we look back on those times, it’s funny. It’s the freezing cold cookout we remember. It’s the one where we nearly got smoked out that sticks in our minds. And we’re not remembering those times because they were so bad. The memories are good. It’s as if by their difficulty, those difficult times somehow enhance the overall memory.And I think this illustrates, if in a trivial way, a more fundamental truth. The difficulties in our lives can and should enhance our appreciation of these lives we’ve been given. I’m not saying God gives us hard times to test us or to do anything else to us. I don’t believe that. But the way the world is, bad things are going to happen. What God WILL do is bring good from the bad. In Romans 8:28, St. Paul says, “God makes all things work together for good for those who love God . . . .” We have the option of accepting that good. We can wallow in bitterness and anger and despair, or we can trust in God and find peace, hope, joy and love. It’s our choice. We can look back at our lives as a series of freezing cold, smoke-stained campfires, or we can thank God for the hot dogs and marshmallows.
I attended “A Christmas Carol” at the Table Rock amphitheater last Saturday evening. Seemed like a pretty Salado thing to do. It was me and Kirsten, my son Jack and my mom. The show was awesome!
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the first time. When I was still preaching in Jarrell, some members of the congregation were in the play. So Kirsten and I went, along with my daughter Rachel and my mom. We decided to make a night of it. We had dinner at the Stagecoach and then we walked up to the Table Rock.
Yes, you read that right, we walked. You see, I was concerned about the parking situation and didn’t have a very firm grasp of the actual distance between the two points (at least a ½ mile). Did I mention my mom was in her mid-80s? And did I mention the road was very dark? And did I mention it was in the mid-30s with a howling wind? And did I mention I had neglected to inform my family that the play would be outdoors? Not my finest moment. I had on my long underwear and warm clothes, while everyone else was freezing. My mother is at the stage where she occasionally forgets things, but I’m pretty sure she won’t ever forget that experience. Every time I see her, she still “fondly” recalls it.
And it’s not just my mom. Kirsten isn’t shy about reminding me of that night. She still wonders why I didn’t tell them we would be sitting outside in the howling prairie winds. And, I guess I wonder the same thing. I mean, I’m not a sadist. I didn’t do it on purpose. I guess I just assumed they would have done like me and checked the website, done the research. But, of course, you know what happens when you ass u me.
And as I remember that story, I realize I assume a lot. I think we all do. I tend to assume that other people have much the same intelligence, abilities, knowledge, upbringing, and experience as me. By default, I assume others think like I do. And this can have unfortunate consequences when they actually don’t. It can lead to misunderstandings at best, and all-out war at worst.
But worse than that, it can lead me to keep quiet about Jesus. Even though I’m a pastor and it’s my job to share the Good News of new life in Jesus Christ, I tend to assume that most everyone else already knows it. And so, I often keep it to myself; not on purpose, not out of spite, but just because I figure everyone else is like me; everyone else—like me—has already found the comfort, peace, and joy that transcends the chaos of the world around us.
Which is, of course, silly. Because the chaos of the world around us, especially (and ironically) this time of year, is an ever-present reminder that not everyone has found that peace, that comfort, that joy. Not everyone has experienced the transformative presence of God’s Spirit in their life.
Now, this realization doesn’t mean I’m going to grab a megaphone, stand on the corner, and tell everyone who passes by that they’re going to hell. But it does mean I need to be more intentional about seeking to understand the actual reality of the people I meet, rather than just assuming they’re living a reflection of my reality. And, it means that as I learn their reality, I also share my reality; the reality that there is a different way, a new and different and amazing life that Jesus has made available to all of us … even those of us who expose our elderly mothers to the cold prairie winds.
I love a good funeral. I didn’t always feel that way. But, as I was going through the process of getting ordained in the United Methodist Church, one of my mentors told me that she loved funerals. I was shocked. At the time, it made no sense–all the tears, all the grief. But after participating in a lot of funerals, I realize her point is a good one. A life well-lived is cause for celebration. And, after all, a life well-lived here on earth is just the warm-up act for a life well-lived in eternity.
This last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend one of the most beautiful and meaningful celebrations of one of the most beautiful and meaningful lives ever. We were celebrating the life of my friend Myra Schomburg, who died right around Thanksgiving from ALS.
In typical Myra fashion, she designed the service (she even wrote her own obituary) to take the burden off of her family and friends (and to make sure it was done right!). I could go on and on about the sublime beauty of the music, the inspired symmetry of the scripture, the stories, the message. But it would be pointless. You had to be there.
So instead, I’ll talk about Myra a little. For the last several days, I have been assailed by light. The morning of Myra’s celebration, my devotional was on John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” A few minutes after reading that devo I received my “verse of the day” from the Bible App. Same verse. Saturday afternoon I began working on my sermon for next Sunday, which will close out our annual Christmas Cantata, “Seekers of the Light.” Then, this morning, the devotional was on John 1:4-5: “In him [the Word] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Someone is trying to send me a message, and I’m pretty sure the message has something to do with Myra.
Today’s devotional made the point that each one of us has been created for the purpose of not only receiving the light of Christ into our own lives, but also reflecting that light into the darkness and dismay of the world around us. And that’s exactly what Myra did. Before, during, and after the service on Saturday, people seemed compelled to share story after story after story of the myriad ways Myra had changed lives by shining the light of Christ.
Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). And it’s almost like he had Myra in mind when he said it, because she didn’t just reflect Christ’s light. She embodied it. She carried it around within her. And she refused to turn it off. She’s been described as a force of nature, sort of like a hurricane or tornado. And I get that, but I think it would be more accurate to say she was a force of super-nature, animated by a love for her savior and love for those around her that was so deep she refused to keep it to herself.
The light of Christ was her life. And she shined that light into the dark places around her, bringing light and life to so, so many lives.
I’m sorry she’s no longer shining her light here for her family and friends, but as I write that, I realize it’s not true. We, all of us who knew her, are carrying within us that light that animated her life—the light she’s now enjoying in pure clarity and peace. And I just pray that we will be half as fearless and determined in sharing it as she was.
Early yesterday afternoon, I found myself lying on my back porch. Don’t ask how I got there. Let’s just say it involved some weights and a sadistic online workout trainer. And as I lay there after an hour of torture, the trainer called for a “minute of peace;” sixty seconds of nothing. Seemed a little inconsistent after what he had just put me through, but by that point, I was all in for some rest, whatever form it took.
So, as I lay there collapsed in a heap on my back porch, gasping for oxygen, feeling anything but peaceful, I decided as part of my meditation to look up. And I was stunned into real peace. You see, right next to the porch are a bunch of red oaks which, as they do this time of year, are starting to change colors. Maybe because of the cooler temperatures and extensive rain over the last few weeks, or maybe because my brain was starved of oxygen, I was struck by the beauty of it all. The leaves at the top turning a vibrant red. Those lower trending towards yellow, and those at the bottom still green. I was transfixed by the precise, vivid, geometrical shape of the individual leaves. And the deep, cerulean blue of the sky in the background, almost fluorescent against the crisp outline of the green, yellow, and red of the leaves.In that moment, I was struck by the unfathomable beauty of God’s creation; not just the beauty of the colors and the shapes and how they interact with one another, but also the optical and neurological apparatus that enabled me to enjoy the show—the lens, iris, the light receptors in the retina, the nerves transmitting the signals to the optical centers in my brain, which was able to decode and make sense of it all. Almost unbelievable when you think about it.I’ve experienced something similar several times over the last few weeks, as the summer-that-would-not-end has finally starting giving way over the last couple of weeks to the onslaught of fall. The other day I saw a tall elm tree that had already lost its leaves and I was arrested in mid-stride as I considered the single trunk branching into two large branches, which turned into six, and then sixteen, and finally ended in the intricacy of a dense tracery of twigs forming an almost perfectly symmetrical translucent half-oval of dormant life. And then there was the young buck that Buster Ruth scared up on a walk the other day, which just sort of pranced through a brief opening in the scrub oak and cedar and then disappeared. And there was the day I watched in awe as the setting sun painted the underside of popcorn clouds through several shades and intensities of orange to pink to red to vivid, glowing purple. And as I look out my window right now, I see the gnarled asymmetry of a live oak which still somehow manages to instill a sense of balance and serenity.God is amazing! Whether you believe God did it all at once 10,000 years ago or had the ingenuity to craft it over the span of billions of years (He is God after all), God’s creation is simply stunning. And for me, especially this time of year, when I’m in it and attuned to it, I receive a sense of deep and abiding peace. I feel a deep connection to the creation that has been happening since the beginning and will continue to happen until the end—a creation that is the physical manifestation of the creativity and love of God.
So, I invite you. Take an intentional minute in the midst of the Christmas chaos to enjoy the miracle of a leaf, to soak in the astonishing beauty of the sky, to take in the divine grandeur of a sunset. Take a moment to abide in God’s peace. And give thanks to God.
Today is Thanksgiving, and you know that that means! Yes. I’m going to break out my blue flannel shirt—the one I wear every Thanksgiving. I think I’ve been wearing the same shirt every Thanksgiving since the 80s. I have no idea how or why this tradition evolved, but for me, it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without my ol’ blue. In fact, just thinking about wearing that shirt brings back wonderful, comforting, peaceful memories of Thankgivings past, spent with family and friends and presided over by my grandmother Shirsee.Speaking of Shirsee, before I was born, she made me a quilt. I loved that quilt. I slept with it. I ate with it. I carried it around with me pretty much everywhere I went, until it disintegrated. Then she made me another one. And another. I don’t know exactly how many of Shirsee’s quilts I went through but it was a lot. There was just something about holding on to that quilt that brought instant comfort and peace.During our recent move, as Kirsten and I re-stocked our cedar chest, we were reminded that our kids have carried on the family tradition. My daughter Caitlin dubbed the quilt she received from her grandmother “B.” When B was no longer serviceable, there was “ABC B” (which had the alphabet on it), then there was cold B and hot B, and many others. All we’ve got left now are fragments, but they were sources of comfort and peace for my kids.Then there’s “sleeping baby” (aka this year’s baby Jesus), which looks so lifelike that as one of my daughters carried it by its feet through the airport as a child, she drew the attention of law enforcement. Another source of peace and contentment (to everyone but the airport police).Over the course of my life, I have discovered many sources of peace and contentment. I like to hunt and fish. I like to hike. I like to kayak. I like to garden and enjoy working in the yard. And lots more. When you think about it, this life we’ve been given is jam-packed with ways to enjoy peace and contentment: a good book, sitting on the porch watching the sun set, sitting in front of a fire on a chilly, rainy Sunday afternoon watching the Cowboys demolish the Vikings.But, as we all know, that kind of peace is transient. Ol’ Blue will eventually wear out. The police might confiscate sleeping baby when one of our grandkids tries to carry her through the airport. The Vikings might be out for vengeance in the playoffs.And, of course, there are those things the world throws at us that take away our peace. Sickness. A close family member or friend dies. Your boss (or employee) is a jerk. Your finances are a mess. And it seems to reach a crescendo this time of year. So many parties, events, presents to buy and wrap, cards to write, and various other things we feel obligated to do.Peace can seem fleeting. And it is, when it’s dependent on us, or what’s going on around us. The fact is, real peace, lasting peace, can be found in only one place: a relationship with God.During his earthly ministry, Jesus referred to this relationship several different ways: new life, abundant life, eternal life. And he defined this sort of life precisely: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And when Jesus says “know,” He’s talking about more than just knowing about Jesus. The Greek word we translate as “know” is about intimacy, it’s about deep understanding. It’s the not relationship between a student and a teacher. It’s must more like the relationship between husband and wife, or parent and child.It’s a deep, abiding relationship of divine love. And it’s in this relationship that we find true peace, true joy, true hope. It’s the kind of peace that isn’t dependent on what shirt you’re wearing or whether the Cowboys are winning; whether you’re sick or well; whether you’re mobile or not. It’s a peace that lives in you all the time. It’s the presence of God’s Spirit—eternal and more solid than rock, “guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).And THAT’s a pretty good reason for giving thanks this thanksgiving.
One of the things I really enjoy about our new parsonage is that, for the moment at least, it is close to some relatively undeveloped land. I like to walk my dogs most days and—don’t tell anybody—I like to let them run off leash when possible. And this usually works out just fine. Both Ginger Ruth and Buster Ruth are pretty well trained, at least regarding stopping when I tell them to stop and coming to me when I call. So, in areas with little traffic or limited opportunities for them to knock someone down in search of a slobbery kiss, I’ll let them run off leash. This, of course, has the added benefit that they wear themselves out and are somewhat less prone to knock over drinks or one another or one of us when we get back home.
So, I was walking the dogs the other day in the yet-to-be-built-out development just up the road. No cars. No people. Perfect. Buster Ruth had gotten way out ahead protecting me and everyone else from a herd of vicious deer. I figured he had gone far enough so I blew the whistle for him to sit. He did so immediately, just as he’d been trained. I then blew the whistle for him to come to me. And he immediately and purposefully set out in exactly the wrong direction. The way I figure it, he had gotten turned around chasing the deer and was heading to where he thought I was. I blew the whistle again and he sped up … in the wrong direction and heading straight for a street with lots of vehicle traffic. Then he turned the corner and was gone.
I walked home calling his name without success. I got in the car and drove around the block and down the street calling his name without success. I even stopped at a police car with its lights flashing to see if he’d picked up or seen Buster, but no luck. So, I went home, a little panicked, intending to put out an APB for a big, dumb-looking, directionally challenged and drooling dog, only to be greeted by Buster, tail goofily wagging, glad to see me as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
It turns out that after he turned the corner, Buster found a nice neighbor lady, whom he walked directly to our house after only living there for a week. Buster is apparently not as dumb as he looks.
After I calmed down, I realized that I’m a lot like Buster. I’ve been trained pretty well. I was raised in the church (though I went away for a while). I’ve been to seminary. I’ve spent a lot of time with God in prayer and devotion, study and service. Yet, every once in a while, I still get a little too far out front, and when God tries to call me back, I go in exactly the wrong direction.
And I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, I know I’m not. The Bible illustrates this human tendency in the story of Adam and Eve. They lived in a garden, walked with God, talked with God. I don’t know if they chased deer … probably not. But everything they needed was provided for them. Life was good.
And then they decided they needed to find meaning, value, and identity outside of God. They disobeyed God’s one rule—that they not eat from a certain tree. They succumbed to the temptation to question God’s fundamental goodness; the fact that God loved them and would only do what was best for them. They ate the forbidden fruit. And, when God called, they went the opposite way. They hid in the bushes. (Genesis 2).
And we see this tendency reflected in our culture. We seem to be running further and further from God. Rather than rest in our core identity as beloved children of God, we are bound and determined to try and create our own meaning for ourselves—through our own ceaseless, 24/7 efforts to elevate ourselves relative to and in the eyes of the people around us. We buy into the idea that life is a competition and as a result, we buy into the idea that everyone who’s not part of my tribe, family, party, etc. is out to get me. We divide and we hate.
But that’s not how we were created to live. God calls us—and has been calling us from the very beginning—to Him; to rest in his love. To find our true identities there. To stop trying so hard to earn love when it is our birthright as His beloved children.
And here’s one way that Buster Ruth is smarter than the rest of us. Buster found his own way home. But God knows we’re not capable of doing that. That’s why God sent Jesus: to get us back to where we were created to be. Jesus is extending his hand. Let’s take it, and let’s let him walk us back home.
If you’re just now tuning into the saga of my move to Salado, Kirsten and I are making good progress, although things aren’t progressing as quickly as they might. Kirsten has been in Hillsboro finishing up her teaching and, as a result, I have refrained from making any significant decisions, such as where to put the breadmaker. But aside from that, the parsonage is great. Plenty of closet and storage space for all the stuff we should have gotten rid of before the move but now can shove in a closet and forget till the next move (which—if you’re listening Conference office—won’t be for a LONG time).
And, as my dogs Ginger Ruth and Buster Ruth will tell you, maybe the best thing of all is the back yard. It’s big, with lots of trees and rocks and squirrels and deer. Lots and lots of stuff for good red-blooded American dogs to sniff and dig up and pee on.
Which brings me to another part of the house that the dogs really like: the doggie door. We’ve never had one of those before, so we’re all intrigued. And this isn’t your parents’ doggie door. It’s like the iPhone of doggie doors. It opens when the dogs approach and closes when they’ve gone through. You can turn it on or off, or set it so the dogs can get in but not out, and vice versa. I’m a little ashamed of how cool I think it is.
But, despite a back yard that is, for all practical purposes, a doggie Disney World—a place practically infested with living, breathing, and, most importantly, moving potential chew-toys—our dogs, when put out there, more often than not just circle around to the doggie door, which obligingly opens up so they can come back into the house to lie down (and drool) on the carpet.
Now, in one sense, this is kind of touching. I mean, I’m happy they want to spend time with us.
On the other hand, it’s a little sad. With a virtual infinitude of running and jumping and playing and digging and chasing to be had outside, my dogs would prefer to lay on the carpet and occasionally thump their tails as Kirsten or I go to heat up some more queso during the football game (speaking purely hypothetically). Instead of chastening impudent squirrels and protecting the family castle from ravening herds of deer, they prefer the comfort and ease, familiarity and safety of being inside with Kirsten and me.
Like I say, it’s a little sad. But it’s also a little familiar. Don’t we often do the same thing. Don’t we all too often find ourselves, instead of outside in the backyard chasing the squirrels and the deer, inside the house and on the couch, watching reruns of the Office … or maybe just laying on the carpet with our tongues hanging out.
Which raises the question, “Is this what we were created for?” And the clear answer
is “no.” Jesus lays it out: “I came that they may have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). We were created out of the love that God is to live in that love and to live out that love; to live out loud as a part of the divine dance of love that binds together and constitutes the Holy Trinity.
And that sort of life doesn’t happen in our comfort zones. We weren’t created to just stay in the house. Jesus came to open the door (a full, human-sized door) into a hopeful, peaceful, joy-filled world of loving relationship with our creator and one another.
Of course, for most of us, it’s a new world and so, by definition, a little scary. But we’ve got to remember. Even though it might be unfamiliar and outside our comfort zone, it’s God that’s offering it to us; the same God who has loved us since before creation; the same God who wants and knows what is best for us. Jesus has opened the door to new life. All we’ve got to do to enjoy it is to trust him enough to get up off the couch and walk through it.
I have a good friend who says her dog Buck is the worst. I must respectfully beg to differ. Moving is the worst. Who ever thought up the idea of taking everything you own, putting it into boxes, loading it into a truck, unloading it from the truck, and then pulling the stuff you just put into the boxes out of the boxes which, through some mysterious process, aren’t the boxes you thought you put them in, and then putting the aforesaid articles where you think they belong, although you will probably change your mind in a couple of months but will be too mentally and physically exhausted to do anything about it? Who ever thought it would be a good idea to spend months navigating in and around a maze of boxes and assorted former box contents? It’s torture! It’s the worst.
And then there are the people. We humans were created for relationship. Literally. We were created out of the love that God is to participate in that love. To love God and love one another. But moving means leaving people with whom you have developed deep and meaningful relationships; people you have come to love. Moving is the worst.
Ok. I might be exaggerating just a little. Maybe it’s not the WORST. For instance, as I sit here I’m reminded of the move that Abraham made. He left his ancestral home and much of his family behind to move to the land that God promised to his descendants. And that ended up pretty good, right? I mean, Abraham’s descendants multiplied and nurtured a radical new understanding of a single divine and loving God. And then there’s one of those descendants—Moses—who moved God’s people out of Egypt and into the promised land, continuing to spread the good news of God’s love for humanity. And, of course, there’s Jesus himself—he moved out of the family home (in more ways than one) and into a new way of being in relationship with all people; a move that changed the world.
Today is my first day as the pastor at Salado United Methodist Church. This morning, after dodging unpacking remnants at the house, I arrived at the office, where I participated in a wonderful chat with several members of what I am coming to understand is an amazing staff. Then I walked next door and hung out for a while with some awesome kids and teachers at Parents’ Day Out. And after that, I walked across the parking lot and enjoyed some good company and good food with several members of the congregation who come to the church to hang out on Tuesdays. All this before 11:00.
And, in all of that, I began to sense something. Yes, there are still boxes with unknown contents left to unpack. Yes, there are still interior decorating decisions left to be made (and then changed). And yes, there are relationships that will likely diminish with distance. And finally, I am pastoring a congregation which still consists largely of faces without names. But in the middle of it all, there is a promise: new relationships. Kirsten and I have been given a great blessing: the opportunity to share the love of God—to be in relationship as we were created to be—with a whole new group of people.
When my friend notes that her dog Buck is the worst, she is careful to add that he’s also the best. And I think I know what she’s talking about. This moving thing is hard and when I’m in the middle of it, I can’t think of anything I would rather to do less. But in the pain and dislocation is also a promise: the boundless hope of sharing new relationships with new people in a new set of circumstances, sharing the love of Jesus with a whole new community.
Come to think of it, moving is the best!