There Aren’t Really Any Monsters Under the Bed!

There aren’t really any monsters under the bed!

A sermon given August 2022 on Blessing of the Backpacks Sunday
By Kate Fields

Picture this! It’s night time and all the lights have been turned off. The bedtime story has already been read, and you’re supposed to be going to sleep. But sleep is totally impossible because, you’re absolutely sure that at that very moment there is a very scary monster directly under your bed who will at any moment grab you! So you pull the covers completely over your head and do your best to stay very still so it doesn’t realize you are there. And then eventually as minutes pass, you gain a little courage to peep out one eye from the blanket. Nothing there. Then, a bit more courage to pull the blankets down. You know what you have to do. You have to face the monster and vanquish it!

So, you grab the game controller by your bed just in case you need something hard to throw quickly. And then you get a final surge of courage to do it. You leap from the bed down onto your knees and pull up the covers under the bed to deal with this monster who is a mortal threat. And then… you see it…. all that’s actually under the bed is a missing sock, a candy wrapper and some dust bunnies.

It turns out that there aren’t really monsters under your bed. All that fear was for naught.

Isn’t that so real though? Maybe you are a full blown adult and you can actually fall asleep without looking under the bed. But life can be hard and sometimes scary and we all still have monsters who we are sure are under the bed. Fear can be a good controller of our minds, our bodies, and it can direct our paths.

I think this is why in scripture, Jesus talks about fear so much. Jesus says some version of “do not fear” over and over and over in the gospels. It almost seems as if “do not fear” is actually a part of the gospel, which means good news.

It’s everywhere— today we have three instances where we see some variation of: “do not fear” in scripture.

In our lectionary Gospel text today in Luke 12:

Jesus says: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Creator’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In this context, we are not supposed to let fear keep us from living lives poured out in service to others. Why does Jesus say this? Because fear of not having enough— can be a deeply embedded fear in our lives and it can keep us hoarding what we have because our eyes can only see scarcity. There’s not enough and there never will be enough. We can’t see the bounty, the plenty, the beauty, and the opportunities around us.

Our next text is Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, or teachings he gave his disciples right before his death. Flag these as really important teachings that Jesus wanted to be sure his followers understood before he left them. I think of these teachings as I think of a spouse or a parent hollering at you as you’re late and running out the door: “Remember this….. ”
In this passage, the disciples couldn’t believe Jesus was about to leave them… and furthermore, they didn’t want to see him go. He was their teacher, mentor, rabbi, Savior, and their friend. But he tells them essentially in this verbose passage that he has to go so that he can prepare a place for them in paradise, and also that he has to go on, so that the Holy Spirit, the very third part of God, their Advocate could be given to them.

Jesus says in John 14,
25 “I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. 26 The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Creator will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.”
I am giving you my powerful Spirit to go and do the work of love in the world. In fact, just a few verses prior to this, Jesus says: the world will know you are my disciples by how you love each other. Do not be troubled or afraid. I leave my peace with you.
Then lastly, our Psalm text— from Psalm 56:3-4 reads:
3 whenever I’m afraid,
    I put my trust in you—
4         in God, whose word I praise.
        I trust in God; I won’t be afraid.
    What can mere flesh do to me?

You may know this Psalm from learning it in song format in a children’s song — my mom taught me this to try to give me the courage to face my fears as a kid.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you, I will trust in you, I will trust in you.
When I am afraid, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise.”

Anyone know that? Am I completely dating myself?
Do not fear. Don’t not be afraid. Have no fear of them. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. These are ALL over scripture. We could be here all day exegeting verses which talk about not fearing. All of these different ways of saying:
whatever is to come will not be waded through if you let fear drown you
We know that fear can be downright paralyzing. And I’m not talking about the helpful and necessary kind of fear that helps us create healthy boundaries, like say, not sticking our hands on a hot stove or attempting to merge onto the busy interstate without checking the mirrors first. Or like, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber says:
“The only time fear isn’t a liar is when you are actually about to be attacked by a bear or asked to do the chicken dance at a wedding or some other imminent threat.”

The kind of fear that we are talking about today is fear that attaches our worth to our successes and failures and loves it when we build walls of shame around those insecurities. It steals sleep, and joy and in return, and replaces honest smiles with fake ones. It’s a fear that keeps us scared of ourselves and others, and thus, unable to love with the kind of love that Jesus would model even through this death.
This fear does not co-exist well with gratitude and humility, so it keeps us entangled with scarcity, pride, and arrogance.
Jesus said: do not fear. That is not to say that fear won’t be around you and in you, but part of the Gospel’s Good News is that fear does not have to drive your bus anymore. It does not have to control your life. So when those frequent flyer thoughts of fear come up, remember these words of Jesus. Remember there is a powerful, divine peace given to you. Remember God’s Spirit is with you. Remember that you are so loved by the God who created you. Remember that you are part of a strong church who loves you and has your back. Do not be afraid.
So kids, especially as you begin a new school year and have all kinds of new things that you aren’t sure about and maybe even scared of… remember that God is with you. And remember that monster under the bed. It’s not even real.
I’d like to close with a brief story. My spouse and I went to a concert a few months back where Kathy Matthea and Suzy Bogguss sang together. They are good friends so it was a lot of fun to see them go back and forth. In between songs, Kathy shared a story about her mom. She and her mom were very close and apparently Kathy loved singing basically ever since she could talk (are any of us surprised?). Anyway, as Kathy grew up, she really wanted her mom to sing with her, but her mom never would. She thought she had a terrible voice and was too afraid to sing in front of other people, even her family. So Kathy never heard her singing voice. As Kathy’s mom entered her final years of life, she developed severe dementia and to everyone’s surprise… she sang all the time. Kathy said simply: “My mom forgot that she couldn’t sing.” And she sang and sang and sang and sang.

My prayer is that if you have perceived monsters under your bed that are keeping you from singing — from living— that you would pull up those covers and realize they aren’t even real. Forget them. Forget that you don’t think your voice is good enough. Forget that you can’t do something because you’re scared of putting yourself out there. Forget that you think you aren’t smart enough or good looking enough.

There aren’t really any monsters under the bed.

We need you to be you. We need your gifts. We need your courage. We need you to show up and show us your heart.

Do not be troubled or afraid. May it ever be so.

An Embodied Lent- Week 6

Lent 6, April 10, 2022: Embody Sacrifice 

Blessings this Holy Week to you!

Yesterday, on Palm Sunday, as our children led the palm processional, we begin the final week of Lent which is also known as Holy Week. Do everything you can to make this week a priority. Let yourself focus on spiritual practices, take time to be quiet, to feel the sadness of the week, and make plans to attend a Maundy Thursday service, Good Friday service, and/or Easter Vigil service as we sit in the heaviness of the death of Jesus, our Lord. 

Though our lectionary scripture takes us to Luke’s version of the Last Supper, we know from John’s version that during this final supper Jesus had with his friends, he bent down and washed their feet. This act of service took a lot of sacrifice on Jesus’ part; he sacrificed his ‘power over’ and embraced a ‘power with’ in order to serve his friends. In Luke’s version, we see the disciples arguing at dinner about who is the greatest of them. Jesus corrects them saying, the greatest one among you serves and then says, “But I am among you as one who serves.” Wow.

When we serve others, we are hopefully motivated by love (though other motives are certainly possible). If motivated by love, we are sacrificing our time and energy, redirecting it from being spent on ourselves to spending it on others. When we admit we don’t actually know the best ways to serve others at times, we can be open to sacrificing a need to control and embrace learning. When we choose to live in contrast to the insatiable greed that our society operates within, that may lead us to sacrifice in certain ways. These sacrifices, though they can be uncomfortable, can become the soil where abundant life grows.

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40, Luke 22:14-27

Song: Listen to Lean on Me by Bill Withers 

Write or draw a prayer that embodies what sacrifice feels or looks like for you

An Embodied Lent- Week 5

Lent 5, April 3, 2022: Embody Generosity 

Generosity is a gift that we can nurture in ourselves by practicing it over and over. We can be generous with our hearts, willing to lower our walls and open our hearts to others. We can be generous with our time, putting down our screens, and giving our focus and attention to someone when they are talking with us. We can be generous with our words and seek to give people around us encouragement and loving words. We can be generous with our finances and give to further the work of love in the world. Our generosity is an out-flowing of our love. 

We can learn a lot about generosity from Mary. Her heart was full and rejoicing that Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus came to her home to share in table fellowship, Mary took very expensive oil, bent down and washed Jesus feet using her hair. This is an intimate and embodied act of worship as Mary prepares/ anoints Jesus for the brutality of his upcoming death. Mary did not try to deny Jesus’ death. Instead, she prepares him for it in an incredible act of generosity that puzzled his followers. Mary’s love is what compelled her to give this extravagant, generous gift. May our love compel us to be generous, too. 

Scripture: John 12:1-7

Song: Listen to Kind and Generous by Natalie Merchant. 

Write or draw a prayer that embodies what generosity feels or looks like for you.

An Embodied Lent- Week 4

Lent 4, March 27: Embody Forgiveness

I have often heard, and learned from experience, that when you don’t forgive someone, you really do it to the detriment of yourself. They hurt you, leaving a wound you wish wasn’t there. You are left feeling angry, hurt, and betrayed. These emotions become welcome friends to our hearts, and while they may give a temporary reprieve from the hurt, they eventually start wreaking havoc. Before long, they can creep in and take hold of our joy and peace. 

I’ve also heard that not forgiving means that you have given the perpetrators of your pain more power over you than you could ever realize. You give them the power to affect your joy and peace. That’s a lot of power to give away.

Forgiving them seems counter-intuitive. It seems like you are relinquishing your power, your stand, your pride, and are becoming weak. But maybe the act of forgiveness is one of the most courageous, strength-requiring acts that a human can endeavor to achieve. It hurts to have been wronged. You may have been given an apology, or maybe not. But as unlikely as it seems, forgiveness is one of the routes of healing. Forgiving is taking back the power that they once had over you. It’s allowing a new day to be just that, a new day. This does not necessarily mean that you communicate that forgiveness; it may be that the best way to forgive someone who brought toxicity into your life is to create boundaries where they are no longer in your life. If you have wounds that are stealing joy and peace, may you have the courage this Lenten season to begin the personal work of forgiveness. 

In the Gospel story of what has become known as the Prodigal Son/Child, we see several chances for the family members to forgive. The son must forgive himself for causing his family so much pain and loss because we see that he starts to believe that he is mistake rather than he made a mistake. The father (and probably mother!) must forgive their son for his immature and thoughtless actions. The older brother must forgive his dad for the anger he holds for having not been seen and recognized for the good work he has done for his family. There is need for forgiveness all around.

One of the most beautiful elements of this story though is not just the forgiveness but the embodiment of the forgiveness. The parents runs to the child and embraces him with no reservation. The thing that we thought would happen (the child meeting an angry parent) does not happen, and instead the child is welcomed with complete welcome and love. This is what forgiveness looks like and it is how God longs for God’s children to come home.

So if you are holding something this Lent that is no longer yours to hold, may you have the strength and courage, because you have been forgiven, to let it go, to be opened, and to take your power back.

Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Song: Listen to No Hard Feelings by the Avett Brothers

Write or draw a prayer that embodies what forgiveness feels or looks like for you.

An Embodied Lent -Week 3

Lent 3, March 20, 2022: Embody Spirituality 

Isaiah’s vision of wholeness, like our Lord’s supper, is a vision of people being fed without cost and the thirsty being properly hydrated. This is a radical kin-dom vision where all have their hunger and thirst satiated. It is one we can work towards making a reality. In a spiritual sense, Isaiah writes, “Listen carefully to me and eat what is good; enjoy the richest of feasts.” In many ways, tending to our spiritual life, feeding and nourishing our spirits with spiritual practices like centering prayer, Lectio Divina, walking prayers, breath prayers, chanting psalms, journaling, guided meditation, Taize, meditative walks, reflective reading of scripture, and the Examen of St. Ignatius are all ways to “eat what is good.” Psalm 34:8 says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” When we feed our hearts, minds, and spirits with this “good food,” we embody a spirituality that is deep, wide, and full of wisdom. 

Psalm 63 begins, 

“God! My God! It’s you—I search for you!

    My whole being thirsts for you!

    My body desires you in a dry and tired land, no water anywhere.

Yes, I’ve seen you in the sanctuary;I’ve seen your power and glory.

My lips praise you because your faithful love is better than life itself!

So I will bless you as long as I’m alive; I will lift up my hands in your name.

I’m fully satisfied— as with a rich dinner.”

Lent is a beautiful time to let God feed your soul. Lent has these boundaries of six weeks, so you are not committing to a year long program, as some of us are nervous to do. Let yourself lean into practices which embody spirituality this Lent. And in doing so, may God nurture something deeply beautiful in your spiritual life. 

Scripture: Psalm 63:1-8, Isaiah 55:1-3

Song: Center your heart as you listen to Taize songs. Check out Wait for the Lord, Prepare the Way of the Lord, and Bless the Lord.

Write or draw a prayer that embodies what spirituality feels or looks like for you.

An Embodied Lent- Week 2

Lent 2, March 13, 2022: Embody Justice

Jesus cared about justice. He cared about the agrarian crisis that workers were undergoing in the 1st century; he cared about the family farmland that was being snatched up and the waters that had been fished for generations becoming over-fished. He cared about the heavy Roman taxes that workers were being subjected to and the system of debt that these taxes often created. Jesus saw what injustices created by systems that use people as pawns do to people, and he refused to participate in that kind of kingdom. 

In light of what Jesus stood for, he rode into Jerusalem in protest and contrast to how lord Caesar would have entered a conquered city. Jesus entered not on a warhorse, but on a donkey. He was surrounded by disciples with palm branches instead of spear tips. He came knowing that he would be tortured and murdered. Yet, he brought his body to Jerusalem, for he would not participate in the rotten power system that named Caesar “lord” and oppressed so many. The embodiment of the crucifixion is God’s deep embodiment within human suffering, injustice, and heartbreak. 

The Gospels are clear: Jesus cares about justice. So, too, should we. We care not just about immediate needs like food, clothing, and housing, but also about why those immediate needs exist in the first place. Why were these people hungry? Why were they thirsty? Why did they have no clothes, and why were they in prison? In other words, we have a Gospel imperative to look upstream at what is polluting the water.

Justice-making has starting points that include examining one’s own biases and origins of those biases, lamenting the way you have acted on those negative biases, examining the privileges that you have based on various identities that you hold, learning about systems that hold certain identities supreme, praying for God’s direction, listening to the voices of persons who have experienced injustices and learning from them the ways that they seek justice, partnering with organizations and organizers who have been doing this work for many years, adopting a sense of humility that allows you to learn and invites others to learn with you, and joining communities that can hold each other accountable in doing this good, holy work. This work of justice-making can lead to an abundance in life that is liberating and redemptive. Thanks be to God for the chance to do the work and a wonderful community to do it within. 

Scripture: Luke 13:31-35

Song: Ella’s Song by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Write or draw a prayer that embodies how you understand a God who cares about justice for all creation. What does God’s kin-dom (kinship relationships) or kingdom look like?

An Embodied Lent- Week 1

Lent 1, March 6, 2022: Embody Worship  

For this Lenten 2022 season, the theme of this series will be embodiment. In a time when we have not been able to safely gather our bodies in person, now that the pandemic has lightened, we long for embodiment… hugging, looking into each other’s eyes, eating together, are all gifts that we haven’t had for a while. I hope this series on embodiment as it follows the Lenten Revised Common Lectionary is a good guide on your journey!

Worship is embodied. In faith communities, we gather and bring our bodies to worship the One who created us. We join our voices in singing as we feel the reverberations of the organ in our bodies. We bring gifts to offer to God, raising them in the air during our Doxology, in praise to God from whom all blessings flow. 

When we can, we hug each other and shake hands, or smile and share the sign of Christ’s peace with each other. Maybe we share a meal after Sunday’s worship with folks of the gathered community. Members joining by livestream are able to share prayer concerns through Facebook, light a candle at home as our Christ candle is lit, and text each other the peace of Christ. 

The physical actions of worship include touching, kneeling, standing, passing, embracing, lifting, bowing, feasting, fasting, singing, reciting, and offering. These actions work to unify our bodies, beliefs, hands, minds, faith, deeds, theologies, and practices; they coalesce in a holy way to lead us to community.

The ways that we bring our bodies, minds and hearts to God in worship make a difference in our spiritual journeys. The faithfulness of bringing our bodies, minds, and hearts back to worship, over and over again, and create rhythms that hold us in times of worry, sadness, loss, or fear. This kind of faithful worship also helps us deepen community with people in our village who can hold us in those difficult seasons of life. The Servant Song by Richard Gillard contains these lyrics: 

“We are pilgrims on a journey, we are travelers on the road;

we are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you, in the night-time of your fear;

I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.

I will share your joy and sorrow, till we’ve seen this journey through.” 

May our embodied, faithful worship invite us fellow-journeyers to live in community where we laugh and weep together, holding each other till we have seen this journey through. 

Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 4:1-2 

Song: Listen to Beautiful Things by Gungor

Write or draw a prayer that embodies your own unique worship of God.

My Good Friend

Two solid years in a pandemic, when it seems everyone has lost someone dear to them, I have to one more to add.

In early January, a few months back, my family and I lost our dear Windchimes. Even still in March, I miss her. Chimsey was a rescued greyhound who came bounding into my life years ago when I was a seminary student. I remember the day when the van opened and I first saw the face of my girl. She had been returned to the rescue because her owners moved somewhere where they couldn’t have dogs. She was really skinny and had some medical issues that cleared up with veterinary care, but left her toothless.

She moved with me from seminary in the south to the first congregation I served up north. It was an amazing experience to be in a new place serving the most incredible congregation, but it was also new, hard, and had its lonely moments. Chimsey and Toby, my other grey, were my family on those cold winter nights. She was the church hound and came to work with me; she was even a brides-pup in a wedding I officiated of congregants who loved greyhounds! She absolutely loved running and zoomed around the yard every chance she’d get.

Then, when I married into my now family, Chimsey was along for the ride and made them her new family too. She was extraordinarily funny and sassy. But most of all, she was my friend. She loved me and I loved her.

Sometimes, I still look for her in the morning when I wake up, or when I come home from being away. I miss her still.

You may have lost a beloved pet too during the pandemic and if you did, I am so sorry. The grief journey is very real in losing a pet, so I hope you are kind to yourself as you figure out your life without them at your side.

Surely, we’ll meet again someday, Chimsey, and until then, I hope you are running so many zoomies.

Rest in peace, beloved Windchimes (2007-2022)

Something Familiar

In the new terrible territory of a pandemic,

in which none of us had the tools to navigate,

we look for something familiar for comfort,

something that reminds us of the before days,

before the world was flipped upside down

and unfamiliar, novel things became our parlance and lived stories.

Mother Earth is the thing,

She is the thing that has stayed our hearts in the deep anxiety,

She has changed seasons to remind us of what doesn’t change in a pandemic,

She has remained constant.

Now she brings autumn with a cool Labor Day weekend,

and will soon be create gorgeous natural oranges, reds, and yellows,

a fire of autumn that can’t help but bring the comfort of

something familiar.

Love is never too big.

I heard once that love creates space for those we love to be who they are.*

Sometimes there isn’t space in the world for people to be who they are. And so your love for them must help create that space. We are each other’s keepers. Interconnected by the fact that we have been created by the Holy One.

For this very basic reason, I don’t think love can ever be too big. Love can’t ever be oversized.

Big love.

Big love.

Big love.

Love never harms. It always creates space. If you are harmed, it wasn’t love.

Some days the only way I can cope with people who have a problem with who I love is just love even bigger. Find another way to love more.

So, if you love me, create space for me to be myself. If I love you, I will do the same for you.

Love is almost always a risk. It’s so vulnerable. And also, it’s powerful and it grows like a mighty tree that will give you shade when you are exhausted. It creates stuff that you could have never imagined. It creates an abundance because fear isn’t there to convince you that there is scarcity.

If you don’t choose love, I feel sorry for you. Your life is poorer for it and you will never get to see the miracles of love abundant.

As for me, I wanna see what big love can do.

*a great Catholic/ Jesuit theologian named Herbert McCabe said this.