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Holy Lent, Holy Life: Service

Luke 10:38-42 This season of Lent is marked by a special emphasis on spiritual disciplines; things like fasting, prayer, and reading Scripture.  I, personally, find these activities important because they provide me space to be with God.  When I fast or pray or read Scripture, I get a chance to sit myself in front of God and listen. Which makes me think that these are things Mary would do. Not me Mary, but Mary-and-Martha Mary.  Jesus comes to visit this pair of sisters, and they respond to his arrival in two very different ways.  Martha does what needs to be done when an unexpected visitor comes to your home:  she runs around cleaning the bathrooms and setting the table and cooking a meal.  Mary does not; while her sister is in a frenzy, Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him.  Jesus praises Mary for her choice:  “one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). So the moral of the story is:  don’t serve like Martha; instead, sit and listen to Jesus like Mary. Wait a minute… The moral of the story is to not serve?  That can’t be right.  There are *SO MANY* verses that encourage us to serve!  For starters, how about Jesus’ own words later in Luke: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.  For who is greater, the...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Scripture

Psalm 19 I want to tell you a love story. I can’t remember the exact moment it started.  I heard this book read out loud during worship before I could even understand what its words meant.  In Sunday School I started to learn its stories through felt cut outs of rainbows and pyramids and big fish. When I was fifteen my youth director suggested I read a chapter of this book a day, starting with the New Testament.  I slowly worked my way through four gospels, and a book of Acts, and a bunch of letters, and a Revelation. Day by day, I fell in love with this book. But as I read, I also came across some material that was hard to love.  The sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7) was frighteningly strict about anger and lust and divorce.  1 Timothy said women should sit in silence in church (2:8-15).  When I turned to the Old Testament I found laws and slavery and war and murder. By the time I finished college, I was sure of two things.  One:  that God was calling me into ministry.  And two:  if I was to teach this book to others… I’d need a lot of help. So off to seminary I went. I learned Greek and Hebrew.  I studied commentaries.  I listened to lectures.  I was trained to “exegete” the text.  This was still the book I loved… but reading it had become a lot of work.  It felt like the honeymoon was over. I graduated seminary.  I was mentally exhausted. A few years passed. Then I got to teach “Disciple...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Prayer

Luke 11:1-4 Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us how to pray, as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). I can so easily imagine myself in this anonymous disciple’s shoes.  Jesus has asked for some quiet time to pray; we observe him from a distance, seeing him in deep conversation with God.  Jesus goes on and on, as absorbed as someone caught up in a good book.  Contrast that with my own prayer life:  a struggle to still my wandering mind enough to focus on God for even a few minutes.  What is Jesus saying to God?  How is he doing this? So when he returns to our group, a natural question comes to my lips:  “Jesus, teach us how to pray!”  And Jesus answers! “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial’” (Luke 11:2-4). And my inward reaction to that simple answer would have been:  “C’mon Jesus – you’ve been off praying for an hour.  There’s got to be more to it than that!” But maybe there’s not.  Maybe Jesus’ prayer life really is this simple. In these six lines, Jesus covers a lot of bases. “Father, hallowed be your name.” (Praise God for who God is:  our holy, one-and-only Creator God.) “Your kingdom come.” (Pray for the big stuff, like God’s will for this world.  Listen for how you...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Worship

Luke 4:1-13 Satan:  “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world – and the glory and authority that comes with it.  All you have to do is… worship me.” Jesus:  “It is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.’” Jesus is so good at these one-liners, knowing which Scripture to pull out to shut down temptation.  This is a good one for us to put in our pockets; we are seldom tempted with “all the kingdoms of the world,” but frequently tempted to worship something other that God.  In those moments, we can say, “It is written, ‘You will worship the Lord your God, and him alone shall you serve.’” But… where does it say that? Most likely Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 6:13.  But Deut 6:13 doesn’t go exactly how Jesus says it:  “You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve him, and swear by his name.” Um… the word “worship” isn’t in there at all. It sounds like Jesus is mis-quoting Scripture, especially if we think of “worship” in a limited way.  For many of us worship is what we attend when we come to church.  But Jesus is working with a broader definition, a Biblical definition that thinks of worship as something we do.  Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, explains that expanded understanding of worship: The Bible describes worship in physical terms.  The root meaning for the Hebrew word we translate worship is “to prostrate.”  The word bless literally means “to kneel.”  Thanksgiving refers to “an extension of the hand.”  Throughout Scripture we find a variety...

Holy Lent, Holy Life: Fasting

Matthew 4:1-11 I feel like I’m not supposed to preach about this. Today I want to share with you about the spiritual discipline of fasting.  But Jesus had clear words about how we are to fast:  “…when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:17-18). I want to share with you my journey with fasting… I want to tell you what I’ve learned from the past 9 months, attempting to fast one day a week.  And it feels kind of… wrong… because saying it in a sanctuary or putting it on a blog isn’t exactly keeping it “secret.” But, as William Law has pointed out, if we took Jesus’ instructions literally it would mean the only people who could fast would be people who lived alone (found in Spiritual Classics).  Sometimes it’s OK to talk about when we fast, and I’m hoping this is one of those times. So… let’s talk about fasting. First, some definitions.  Richard Foster gives a good working definition: “the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”  Note that fasting is “for spiritual purposes.”  A fast is not a cleanse or a weight-loss trick or a way to kick a bad habit, but a means of connecting to God.  A fast can also take many forms.   It can be a complete fasts (nothing but water), a partial fast (giving up just one item), or even...

Bragging Rights

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Today I want to indulge a little show-and-tell with three of my prize t-shirts. First:  A Wilderness Trail “Trail Blazer” t-shirt. I earned this t-shirt when I was seventeen and finished my fourth week-long hike with Wilderness Trail.  I was super proud to be initiated into the “Order of the Black” and learn their secret handshake (yes, there really is one; but if you want to learn it, you’ll just have to come to Wilderness Trail). I couldn’t wait to wear this when went I went back to school in the fall.  “What’s that shirt for?”  “Oh nothing – just backpacking 150 miles, that’s all.” Next:  A “2015 Co-ed Softball Champions” t-shirt.   This shirt was awarded to us at the end of a glorious season with our Andrews UMC team.  Despite a rash of injuries affecting pretty much every player over the age of 35, we managed to beat teams that were younger and had heavier hitters. Needless to say, I take a special pleasure in wearing this shirt around town.  And finally:  A Duke Divinity School t-shirt. Those who know me might think the Duke Divinity shirt was a recent purchase, since I’ve been working on my Doctor of Ministry at Duke.  But I didn’t buy this shirt as a student; my mom bought it in 2003, telling me I ought to get my doctorate from Duke one day.  (Side note:  Duke didn’t even have a “Doctor of Ministry” program in 2003; some people just have a knack for always being right.) A few weeks ago I sent a “final” draft of my thesis...