Called to Be Our Best

We used to run around all over the place, busy, scheduled, appointments up the ying yang.

Go here, go there.  Things to do.  People to see. 

Articles about how to do our make-up and conduct meetings, on airplanes.  Pack for a week in one suitcase.  See the Taj Mahal in an hour.  Travel the entire world in ten days.

Let’s admit it: A lot of us were exhausted and we didn’t even know it.  We just kept winding ourselves up, and going, going, going.

We were exhausting ourselves and our resources: emotional, mental, physical, natural.

Some us had no spiritual exhaustion because spirituality was for sissies.  Or we had our silos, the church, mosque, synagogue, temple that was our club, where we went to be seen.

And some of us thought God was only in the building on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Or we tried to steer the Universe by ourselves.

We were running after elusive fountains of youth and measures of success which strained all our reserves.  Some of us strained others, too, sucking life from them like vampires, so we could have more.  Some of us were human bulldozers, plowing our way through fertile fields; we didn’t notice what we ran over.  Until it was too late.

We were so wound up, we didn’t know how to unwind.

A couple of weeks ago, while livestreaming from the pulpit in an empty sanctuary, I shared a message I heard in Washington, D.C., during the Yuppie 1990s: “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  And how I remember whispering to myself: “OK, but they still die.”

And some people might say: “You can’t say that Rev. Jenn.  That’s not motivating.  That isn’t inspiring.”

Really?

When current events remind us how precious life is?  That disease is the great equalizer?

Check out sacred scripture.  Read any of the Gospels.  Jesus says repeatedly: “I’m only with you for a while.  Listen to me now.  Here’s how to live.”

Check out God’s conversations with Moses.  How many times God says: “I am the Lord your God.  And you are Moses.  This is your job.  And this is how much time you have.”

So, if someone is upset with me for mentioning death, I invite them to consider how well they’re living.  What they’re doing with their precious time, this awesome gift of life they have.

Because, in my experience, with those I’ve been honored to share this journey, no one ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.  I wish I’d bought more stuff.”  But all of them said, each in their own words, “I hope I was the best person I could be.”

We are called to be our best selves.  The stuff we have is garnish.

Embrace your best self, right here, right now, and live it out loud.

That’s our call, and God knows, our world truly needs it.

© 2020 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved.

The Greatest Gifts

Less than a week before we celebrate the seasons of light, miracles, and rich cultural heritage, we Americans are processing another presidential impeachment.  In their outer solemnity, some people secretly celebrate.  Others scream and argue, as usual.  Yet, some of us are sad, shaking our heads in shock and surprise that it’s come to this — again.  We wonder what, if anything, we can do.

Some of us will say we must pray.  And, yes, for those who believe in the power of prayer, let’s pray.  And let’s also, after our “Amens,” be willing to do the deep, sometimes challenging inner work, which allows us to act, rather than re-act, with compassion and discernment.

Spiritual maturity requires that we live with integrity, both acknowledging and accepting that we’re responsible for our choices and our behaviors, whatever they are.  Only some people can live this way, and however we travel our life journeys, we’ll encounter those who choose to blame and shame.

We can say whatever we want about them.  Though the truth is: We still must consider how we’re living ourselves.  Are we willing to examine every angle before we pass judgment? Can we forgive what we imagine is unforgivable?  Will we choose to love, even when we do not like?  At the end of the day, these are among the questions we must ask ourselves if we want to feel peace of mind and contentment, even in challenging times.

The child who’ll be born in a manger, because there was no room for his family at the inn, would expect nothing less.  He’ll encourage us — again — to live as he did.  He’ll teach us to be wary of those who demand to be worshipped, using their greed and power to exclude and dominate.  He’ll remind us, by his life and teachings, that the only One worthy of reverence is our Creator, whatever name we call It, which doesn’t need or demand our allegiance, but invites us to live fully and faithfully, in the awe and wonder of all other creations.

In this season, are we willing to open the inn of our hearts to make way for new life?  Will we be the peace which nurtures equity, inclusion, and understanding in our world?  Of all the gifts we’ll give this season, these are the greatest.

Happy Holidays, Blessed Readers.  Namaste.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Included Now

Once Jesus was asked when the Kingdom of God is coming, and he replied: “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things which can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you.’” (Luke 17:20-21)

Jesus taught: The Kingdom of God is the place where all creatures, great and small — no matter who we are, what we do, how we look, where we’ve been, or who we love — are included. 

Yet, for so many, this “kingdom” is still like an exclusive country club enshrined behind locked gates to allow only a particular type — justified, gentrified, and classified as the best and brightest — who may belong.  As if each group is allotted its own territory, compartmentalized within a specific region, because some people aren’t the “right kind.”

In this age when information flows faster than water, we can study every religious belief, spiritual practice, and cultural phenomenon at the touch of a button.  The world is more wide open than ever.  Yet, the gates to the kingdom remain closed as anger, fear, and ignorance are permitted to prevail.  

No matter how we try to make it so, the Kingdom of God isn’t about materialism, politics, the right side, winning team, or sacred institution.  Alas, the Kingdom of God won’t ever be a blessed realm for saints, because that is not its purpose. 

Rather, the Kingdom of God is a fellowship of souls, each one, a beloved creation of a Beloved Creator.  Amid life’s messes and pains, joys and celebrations, and everything in between, the Kingdom of God reminds who we are and whose we are.  So, the only way we can hope to realize the glory of this kingdom is to release old beliefs and outmoded ideas of who belongs and who does not. 

All of Jesus’s teachings remind us that the kingdom of God is at hand, here now, if only we’re willing to allow it by opening our minds and unlocking our hearts, to see beyond our limited experiences and dim perspectives. Because the Kingdom of God isn’t something for which we can pray.  The Kingdom of God is something which we become.

And the Kingdom of God is always open, because in the Kingdom of God:

Everyone is welcome . . . Now.

Everyone is worthy . . . Now.

Everyone is deserving . . . Now.

Everyone is equal . . . Now.

Everyone is holy . . . Now.

Everyone is loved . . . Now.

Everyone is included . . . Now.

© 2019 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Give in Love

During my senior year of high school, I helped write a local, social history for our town.  In the process, I interviewed several residents who shared stories about their younger days.

Of them all, the only person I remember now is Ann, a widow and philanthropist, who reminded me of a duchess.  She had soft blue eyes and straight, silver hair wrapped in a neat bun.  Usually we met for lunch in a refined Italian restaurant more suited to society women than teen-aged girls.  Yet, Ann always treated me as a friend and always bought my lunch.

When I was with Ann, I dressed like a lady, sat up straight in my chair, ate small bites of the lasagna we often shared, and listened attentively to her stories so I could capture every word in my spiral notebook.  With her, I felt transported to another time, not only by her stories, but by her gracious manners and kind nature.

When I graduated from high school, she gave me a beautiful card.  Tucked inside was a crisp $50.00 bill.  I stared at it in awe as I realized that the money was a gift for me, not a donation to the social history project.

I no longer remember that history.  The restaurant has changed hands and been re-decorated many times since those days.  And that $50.00, which I invested in my college savings account, paid for tuition or books long ago.

Yet, Ann’s presence remains with me, her warmth and gentility, and even though she never said it, the love she gave me.  What I remember still, of all the words she spoke, is this: “Remember to give to others.  It always comes back to you.”

The child who’ll be born in a manger, who’ll teach the world new ways of living and being will teach this:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38, NRSV).

As some of us rush around to finish shopping, perhaps spending more than we intend, feeling more obligated than loving, let us remember that the price of the gift means little without the warmth of pure giving, which is the spirit of love.

As we consider our gift lists, let us remember that we give more in our presence, our kindness, our grace, and our love than ever can be wrapped in glittery paper.  When we give in love, we give ourselves as part of the gift.  And when the boxes are recycled and the gadgets wear out, no matter where we may travel next, our love will remain, flowing back to us, even years later, in rich and wondrous ways.

Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Habari Gani, and Happy New Year, Blessed Readers.  I love sharing this journey with you.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Walking in Faith

In the famous story about Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), Jesus goes alone to a mountain to pray, after he’s already worked a full day and fed 5,000 people.  Meanwhile, the disciples are at sea, in a boat battered by waves.  During fourth watch, (between 3:00–6:00 AM), Jesus walks upon the sea toward them.  At first, they’re terrified, fearing that he’s a ghost.

To reassure them, Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

And Peter answers, “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus replies, “Come forth, Peter.”

So Peter leaves the boat and walks upon the sea toward Jesus. But then, when he feels a strong wind, he’s distracted. He begins to sink and calls to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately, Jesus extends his hand, catches Peter, and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Sometimes, we’re like Peter, not fully grounded in our faith.  When we feel buffeted by life’s strong winds, we sometimes wake in the wee, small hours of the morning, worrying about difficulties and troubles.  Sometimes, our challenges are like hobgoblins that we imagine will haunt us forever.

Yet, as a master of spiritual maturity, fully grounded in faith, Jesus reminds us: We can learn to walk upon the waves of life when we remain buoyed by the infinite well of faith within us.  We’re also reminded: No matter what may be occurring in our lives, we can go to the “mountaintop,” to reconnect with God in prayer, meditation, contemplation, and reflection.

From that perspective, we can choose whether we’ll let life’s challenges sink us, or whether we’ll choose to do the personal, spiritual work which is needed to rise above them.  These challenges include:

  • Unresolved grief
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Physical ailments
  • Misdirected compassion
  • Inertia
  • Financial concerns
  • Excessive activity, anger, clutter, overload
  • Addictive behaviors

When our faith is misdirected, we sink.  Sometimes, we drown, spiritually.  Yet, when we choose to lift ourselves up in faith, rather than sink into depths of doubt, fear and worry, we begin to meet life as it is.  We realize that we have greater strength than we imagined to overcome difficulties.  On the way, we also discover that we’re growing in spiritual maturity and walking with ease upon our own sea of life.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Faith All Around

When something annoying, aggravating, confounding, distressing or upsetting occurs in our lives, we can choose to remain unhappy in the situation.  Or, as former Daily Word Editor Martha Smock advises, we can choose to meet it with faith.

Martha encourages us to “overcome unhappiness” by looking “past what seems to be.”  This means that we choose to see beyond the outer appearance of the person, place, situation, or thing which we’ve allowed to annoy, aggravate, confound, distress, or upset us.  This is similar to Jesus saying, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” (John 7:24 NLT).

As we go beneath the surface, as we turn to God’s Presence within us, we remember, as Martha says: “Nothing can separate you from God’s love, nothing can cast you down, nothing is greater than God’s power in you, with you, all about you.”  By choosing to meet life with faith, “cares slip away, and joy, the joy of Spirit rises up in you.”

“The often surprising result of holding to faith is the great welling up of faith you feel within you,” Martha says.  “Where before you thought you had faith, when you really take your stand and declare, ‘I have faith in God as the one presence and the one power, the one life, the one healer,’ there is an answering response within you.  It is as though God says within you: ‘I am here.  I am your life.  I am your being.  I am your all.’  You feel a new faith, stronger, more certain than any you have known before.  And with this faith comes healing” in every aspect of our lives.

When we meet life with faith, we remember the truth which Jesus declares: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19 ESV).

Our Championship Call

In this season of graduations and ordinations, the Women’s College World Series, French Open, Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Playoffs, I remember that once I wanted to be an Olympic swimmer.  I belonged to an aquatic club, and trained with an Olympian.  I swan thousands of miles.  I competed at bunches of swim meets.  Once, I earned a blue ribbon in a state competition.

I continued training and swimming, at great cost.  My shiny brunette waves faded to green frizz.  I battled recurrent sinus infections, ear aches and itchy, dry skin more than opponents in the pool.  No matter how much I trained, I couldn’t keep pace.  I realized that I’d never be as good as the Olympic hopefuls.  And, as I watched a classmate win medal after medal, with tremendous strength and ease, I realized something greater: I wasn’t willing to train harder.  Swimming for Olympic gold was her calling, not mine.

Each of us has a divine call, to be a champion, to do something which truly blesses our world.  This call, whatever it may be, allows us to express the essence of who we are as divine creations of God, source of ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.

And this grace, which some believe we must earn, is always free, always available, as soon as we decide to release the suffering, struggle and strife of trying to be someone we are not.  When we spiritually, if not physically, lay down, as Jesus urged (Matthew 11:28), the burdens we thought we were “supposed” to carry, and align ourselves with God.

Our championship call, no matter who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done or who we love, is to express our divinity, to radiate it far and wide, as Jesus did, so God’s divine works can be declared through us, as us.

Our championship call is to remove the bushel basket hiding our light (Matthew 5:15) and to shake the dust of what no longer serves us off our feet (Matthew 10:14), so we can succeed in far greater ways than we first imagined.  No competitions or contests required.

As we grow in spiritual maturity, we realize: We can’t be it all, do it all or have it all.  We also realize: That isn’t our call.   And as we align with God — and God’s will, which is always for our highest and best — our intuitive sense grows stronger and our still, small voice clearer.  We discern what is ours to do and what is not.  We discover rewards at each destination.  We rejoice in the beauty and wonder of our journey and the blessings of those who travel with us, for however long.  We cheer, with admiration, appreciation and love, for those who finish first, as well as those who finish last, because we behold the presence of God they are, always the mark of a true champion.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Growing All The Time

Sometimes, as we take the first small steps forward, plant the first seeds of change into our lives, we wonder whether we’re getting anywhere or accomplishing anything.  We know that we’re “supposed” to grow; yet when we seek signs outside ourselves, the landscape still appears barren.

I believe that Jesus understood our continual desire to both plant and grow.  In the “Parable of the Growing Seed” [Mark 4:26-29], which some Bible scholars believe is an Earth parable, Jesus explains:

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he[/she] does not know how.  Earth produces of itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  And when the grain is ripe, at once he[/she] goes in with a sickle, because the harvest has come.

As appropriate for his 1st century agrarian culture, Jesus uses the analogy of seeds and Earth to reveal how transformation occurs, within the Earth — and — within us.  He reminds us that once we choose to plant, we also choose to trust that our harvest will unfold before us, little by little, one step at a time.

Our understanding and acceptance of this is tremendously liberating as we remember: Seeds produce as is their nature — and so do we.  We are divinely created by God, Divine Creator of all things, to grow and thrive.  And when we remember that we can grow all the time, we also can choose to rise above and grow beyond daunting challenges.

The humblest farmers admit that they don’t completely understand how crops grow, although they understand their role: They nurture growth; they don’t force it.  This awareness reminds us to remain faithful throughout the process, whatever our process is, and trust in divine outcome, especially if we want to steer the whole Universe to make something happen before its time.

It also reminds us that crops grow in their time, which isn’t always ours.  Because the truth is: It isn’t our job to know how, when or where. That’s God’s job.  So on the way, we do what we can:

  • Basking in the sunshine and/or resting in the moon glow of prayer, meditation, reflection and contemplation.
  • Nourishing ourselves with healthy foods and yummy treats; a peaceful night’s rest; enjoyable exercise; fun, laughter and play.
  • Watering with encouraging words and loving deeds from those who most appreciate, honor, support and value our growth process.
  • Nurturing with gratitude for each day’s blessings.
  • Rejoicing in even the smallest sprouts and tiniest buds.

As we continue on our way, we begin to notice the depths of our innate faith, strength and wisdom.  Then we discover how perfectly our road is unfolding before us, as we allow God’s divine power and presence to lead the way.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Faith and Expectation

“To expect the good, to expect answer to our prayers — this we think of as faith.  The other half of expecting is waiting, and we do not often associate waiting with faith.  In fact, if we pray with great faith and expectation and our answer does not come immediately, if we have to wait, we may think that we have failed, that our faith has failed.  In our despair we may even think that God has failed. . . .

“Expecting and waiting: both are forms of faith.  It takes faith to expect answers to prayer, to expect healing in the midst of pain, to expect guidance when darkness envelopes us, to expect peace when turmoil prevails, to expect success though we have heretofore failed.

“It takes faith to expect answers to prayer, it takes faith to wait for the results that we have the faith to believe are forthcoming. . . .

“When Jesus compared faith to a grain of mustard, He was showing us that our expectation can far surpass the present smallness of that in which we place our faith.  An acorn is a small seed, but ‘lo! the mighty oak.’”

— Martha Smock

Moment with the Stranger

Years ago, while studying abroad in London, I developed what I thought was a deep callous on the bottom of my foot.  I treated it with ointment and patches, but it only grew larger.  My foot ached when I walked.

One day, my English mum saw me wince in pain.  Before I knew it, she whisked me off to a “doctor’s surgery,” as she called it. A pleasant woman like a physician’s assistant explained that I had a verruca (planters wart), likely contracted as a virus from the ballet studio I frequented.  When she pressed on my foot, I started to cry.  I wondered how something so small could hurt so much.

As if reading my mind, she handed me a tissue and said, “Nasty things, these.  Hurt like the dickens.”

Then she proceeded to treat the wart quickly and efficiently.  When she asked whether I had any questions, I expressed concern about how my insurance would cover the cost.  She reassured me that I only owed a minimal amount because I was a student residing with a British citizen.

I reflect on that experience now, contrasting it with what I currently witness in our global culture, kinds of nationalism which fears refugees and rising inflation, as much as diminishing resources, escalating insurance costs, and job loss.  I notice how many of us in “helping professions,” clergy, education, finance, law, medicine, can be daunted by all the work to be done.

The pressure sometimes to patch people up and send them on their way is overwhelming.  Yet, to truly invest a few sacred minutes being present with another person is part of our spiritual practice, the way we live our faith.  To share even a moment of the journey with a stranger is to acknowledge another child of God in our midst, no matter who they are, what they believe, where they’ve been or who they love.

Many spiritual practices require not only that we go forth and make disciples, sharing the truths of our own learning with those open to receive it, but that we also care, however briefly, for the strangers among us.  Scriptural law, one Jesus likely knew intimately, reminds us that we each are God’s divine creations and we’re to treat one another as such.

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)

In their vulnerability, strangers offer us one more opportunity to remember the depths of our innate compassion.  To remember our call to express the presence of God we are, no matter what our work.  In the process, even when the work isn’t necessarily easier, the journey is richer.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.