Monday, July 9, 2012

"The Sweet Surrender of Submission" sermon audio by Suzanne Burden

Hold your hands out in front of you, clenching them and digging your nails in. Now open your palms in surrender. Which is easier? God is teaching me to choose surrender and submission.

Following is the hardest sermon I've preached yet. Discover the beauty of what God teaches us about submitting to him—and dying to ourselves to truly live.

Peace to you.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

If God is my father, this is my family

You can be lonely in a crowded room, in a busy hospital, in a bustling church. But here's what I'm beginning to believe: loneliness in a church setting may actually hurt most, because in the body of Christ we are to be binding up each other's wounds, listening to each other's confessions, actually physically breaking bread together. In fact, the list of "one anothers" in the Bible is quite extensive!

These are not suggestions, but imperatives from the very words of Scripture. 

Today I googled quotes on loneliness for a writing project I'm working on about community. And it was really telling that such similar sentiments came from secular writer Kurt Vonnegut, often known for his outrageousness...and Catholic activist Dorothy Day. It is as if they were at the same party, or at the very least that both had walked through the terrible darkness of loneliness:

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

If I were to ask you if you have ever been lonely in church, in a small group Bible study, or on a Christian retreat, you would invariably say "yes," because each one of us has known the pain of isolation in a group. And many of us hang out in groups that claim the name of Christ. In all of this, though, I believe we've cheated ourselves: so many of us in the U.S. have believed that our faith was an individual matter, that it is "just between us and God," and so we isolate, we posture, we plan our lives out without the interdependence that God built into our natures, that he calls into existence through His body.

In this, Pastor Eugene Peterson is instructing me, through the book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:

"For God never makes private, secret salvation deals with people. His relationships with us are personal, true; intimate, yes; but private, no. We are a family in Christ. When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith. No Christian is an only child."

With great irony, I've written this post on a day when I feel a great deal of loneliness and uncertainty. Since moving four years ago, loneliness has been a fairly consistent struggle—pastoral ministry helps, but does not cure this ache. But instead of dwelling on friendlessness, or childlessness, or loss of family members, I feel like I want to hoist my loneliness flag in a different direction: with God's help, I want to paint a vision for what his church should be. A healer of hurts, a noisy bunch of diners breaking bread, a family that stays together no matter the inconvenience or toil. A persistent community of God-worshippers in which solitude only leads us back to the raucous joy that can be found when we gather together.

"We are set apart for service to one another. We mediate to one another the mysteries of God."-Eugene Peterson

What about you? Do you struggle with loneliness in your church community? Have an example of the church doing well in celebrating life together?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Keep It Simple, Sister

KISS. Originally an acronym for "keep it simple, stupid." I, however, like my title better. It reflects my ongoing journey to embrace simplicity. Of casting off the nonessentials in order to embrace the essentials. Of choosing people above programs. Talk-to-me-in-person-time over technology. It is an ongoing dance, this journey to saying no over and over again so that ultimately I can say—yes, Lord. Yes, Lord, to your best for me.

"God made man simple; man's complex problems are of his own devising." (Ecclesiastes 7:30 JB)

Simplicity can be defined by many things, inward and outward, but I am finding that Christian simplicity surrounds this truth: I am becoming, and accepting, and living out fully the person God has created me to be. And in saying this, I am declaring that anything outside of the person God has created me uniquely to be can and must go. I do not want to live in duplicity, pleasing others and pretending to be someone I simply am not. That is the heart of simplicity.

I am convinced that Quaker pastor and author Richard Foster likes to kick my butt around a bit. Reading the first six chapters of Celebration of Discipline has shined a spotlight on my failure to fully embrace the means of grace God has invited us into. And yet—at this point in my life, I consider my shortfall not a scolding, but a delightful invitation. The world calls me to live my life frenetically, disconnected, seeking my own comfort, things, and satisfaction. Jesus calls me to something entirely, delightfully different. And I want different.

It is all about seeking the Kingdom of God first, according to Foster. And, of course, according to God's Word as well (Matthew 6:33).

"Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity." - Celebration of Discipline, p. 88

Can you imagine living this way? Can you imagine the cost of NOT living this way? I simply cannot afford to ignore the invitation of Jesus to live truly and simply any longer. Just the first step on a journey to understanding what all of this means.

How about you? What keeps you from Christian simplicity? And what draws you to it?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Things only a female pastor hears

Actual questions and statements I've heard in the last six months:

  • "What does your husband think about all of this?" (i.e., you serving as a pastor)
  • "What do you do exactly?"(i.e., and please tell me it isn't preaching)
  • "So you're ministering to women, then?" (or variations on this question)
  • "A female pastor. How wonderful! And I got to see it before I died."

And the really amazing thing is these questions mostly make me smile. To some, I may be hard to categorize and understand; to my Savior, I am simply his daughter. The one who is simply trying to be obedient—to say, "Yes, Lord," no matter what comes. 

Your turn. What would you ask a female pastor if you could? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Why Women Matter to God" sermon audio by Suzanne Burden

In God's perfect plan, events converged that allowed me to share the ezer/imagebearer message for girls and women at my church this year. The result: for me, pure joy. For others, a challenge and realization that the biblical identity of every girl and woman is bigger than many of us have dared to dream.

In short, I'm thankful. Here's the 30-minute message:

Yes, an infertile woman can preach on Mother's Day...with great joy. Enjoy, and don't hesitate to share your comments here.

Monday, April 30, 2012

If I were Amish

If I were Amish, my life would likely consist of a three-mile radius.

Amish buggy in Walnut Creek, Ohio
Providing I was the Amish woman who worked in an inspirational carvings store in Walnut Creek, Ohio. I know this because she told me. She, who lives in the largest Amish settlement in the world, a settlement which boasts over 35,000 Amish, lives her entire life in the space of three miles. Good thing, too, because she travels by buggy or bicycle. The farthest she has ever been is Pennsylvania, where she has some cousins.

So I told this young woman, who seemed simply at ease in her simple blue frock and bonnet, that I'd always wondered what it would be like to live in an intentional local community like that. She half-smiled with pity in her eyes. Or perhaps I just imagined it.

I dared not tell her that I was driving one way to seminary and another way to serve as a part-time pastor, that my husband cooks, or that I had an iPhone in my purse that serves as my life's central command station. I'm not sure she could have borne all that news without weeping for me. Being in an intentional community of simplicity, a community in which every shop I entered was playing Christian music, and in which Amish of every age were bicycling over the hills in the wind and rain made ME feel like the outsider.

David, surrounded by "peace and comfort"
That is as it should be. Sitting in the der Dutchman restaurant, the only available dinner choice in town, I overheard a waitress greeting a woman with a head covering. The waitress approached her family, which included several good-sized children and said "I know you!" "What did your last name change to when you got married? Ah, yes, Yoder. Of course."

And I wondered what it would be like to be that woman. What if my last name were Yoder instead of Burden? What if my circle were small, but my faith was large? What if I cleaned and cooked for a living and found abundant satisfaction in simple things? What if I didn't have insurance, but knew my neighbors would come through for me come hell or high water? What if?

I wandered into a thrift store last Thursday and saw a teenage Amish girl in very conservative dress eyeing some black ballet-type shoes. She tried them on, sticking her foot out to admire them. And I tried to imagine what she must be thinking. Well, they aren't practical, but they are inexpensive. Would mother and father approve? Where could I wear them? and finally, They make me feel beautiful. At that, I left the store, leaving her to continue to admire them, to toss the idea around one more time, to decide if her life could embrace a pair of delicate ballet flats, to imagine herself wearing them somewhere nice.

der rolling hills

And this is where I decided we are not entirely different after all. In Walnut Creek and the nearby Sugar Creek community, Amish farms butt up to hotels and restaurants, thrift stores and gift shops. It is a dizzying mix of simplicity and tourist traps—and Amish and Mennonite locals are at its center. Abstaining from the world through radical nonconformity, the many different sects are content to get their goods into the marketplace and make an honest profit.

So this rag-tag mix of what the world considers misfits thrives, bolstered by thrifty living, laboring close to the earth and God's animals, enjoying a simple rhythm that 99% of the United States of America will never know or appreciate. This devotion, rooted in their Christian faith, attracts thousands of curious visitors, many of us wistfully longing for a simpler time and pace. So many of us want the same things. The Amish, however, are willing to forgo normal to maintain Christian simplicity.

It's not a perfect life, but I admire them for it.

If I were Amish, my life would likely consist of a three-mile radius. And my relationships—in person and offline—just might go deeper than I've ever dreamed.

Your turn: What appeals to you about Amish faith and simplicity? What do you think the Amish can teach us about living more authentically?

Monday, April 9, 2012

What if Easter teaches us to let go?

I can only speak for myself—but Holy week was exhausting. I'm not sure a pastor is supposed to say that, but there it is.

In a strange way, I felt that I was giving birth to something wild and wonderful. It was a privilege to be involved with both Good Friday services and to read so many of the passages dealing with Jesus' death and sacrifice to our congregation. To serve communion twice in one evening, to have the privilege of saying to young and old, "The body of Christ, broken for you" as they took the elements, remembering. I felt as if I had entered the Story in a new and fresh way, as if I was there, as if I was witnessing the horror and the desertion of the disciples, the blood, and the final cry declaring it was done. Over. Finished.

Then there was the earliness of Easter morning—but unlike the female disciples who ran to anoint his body for burial, I was simply helping to set up breakfast for our choir and orchestra. Elements of a different kind. The rush of the celebration followed by smiles of victory, the Easter song, hands raised to the Risen Savior, folks crying out in song, "Worthy is the Lamb!"

Hands to shake, girls twirling their skirts, guests to welcome, the lonely to hug, workers to encourage. Easter dinner with family, warm fellowship, laughter, remembering, observing grief of loss loved ones together, being.

Any sane person would have let it at that. Perhaps I should have.

And yet. Although it would have been easy to skip the Sunday night Bible study for women in addiction recovery, something told me that would be passing up an opportunity I didn't want to miss. Bible studies teach themselves on Resurrection Sunday, as people yearn for the details of Christ's death and the story of the empty tomb. On at least this one day of the year, they want to know what it means to them. And, of course it means everything. New life. The old has gone. The new has come!

So I went, laboring over the story with enthusiasm, engaging them as if we were there, reading John's account with excitement and joy. As my voice began to strain from all the speaking, my heart threatened to give way as well. Two of the women who have been a vital part of our study, engaged, attentive, those in whom Jesus appeared to be doing something so beautiful, ditched the whole recovery program. Without a goodbye. These are the times I feel betrayed, when my heart begins to question what God is doing there. Although I knew better, I wanted to punch a wall. My love for them made me feel like my heart might explode, and I wanted to run from the brokenness of it all.

You see, while you were enjoying your Easter, dressing up in your Sunday best, doing Easter-like things and enjoying yourself, hopefully remembering Resurrection Day—others were wondering how they will go on at all. 

People were running back to the addictions that destroyed them. They were crying over failed marriages, wondering how they will pay their rent this month, begging God to bring them a job, wondering what they will do about an unplanned pregnancy.

I guess I never thought about this before getting involved in the middle of the mess; now I think about it all the time.

As I went to bed last night under a cloud of grief, I couldn't even name what I would need today to allow my spirit to be restored. It turns out what I needed most, more than anything, was a simple time of communing with God. In the book Celebration of Discipline, we are studying Christian meditation and the power of Christ transforming us in these silent, surrendered places.

And so this morning I practiced the simple exercise of holding my hands down, as I tearfully released all those persons and situations in which my heart aches for resolution and grace to prevail. The tension began to drain as I slowly let go. Hands up, I received the grace of our Savior, asking for his empowerment in every area of my life I could think of, accepting his sufficiency and the empowerment the Holy Spirit gives to each of His children.

The key thing is this—I received.

No one can force this newness of life on those who insist on clinging to the old, but it is available all the same. And that is the only truth that allows me to let go. It's been a bumpy Easter, but today my soul is being fed, nurtured, watered. And finally, strengthened. That is the only place—this quiet, surrendered place—from which new life and hope can come again.

Do you practice Christian meditation? How does reflecting on God change your heart, your outlook, and your life?