Show Up, Pay Attention, Tell the Truth, Be Open

“Will you preach?”

It was the second request from clergy friends.  Having just settled into an apartment in Eugene, Oregon, I asked for a few days to contemplate.  “Yes” and “No” argued while I remembered seeing God in surprising places over the past three years.  “Jesus is Everywhere” began to write itself, even before I agreed.

I served as Associate Pastor at Newman UMC, in Grants Pass from 1987-1989.  Preaching monthly, leading youth groups and working with two different Senior Pastors, I was putting down roots when the church’s finances demanded that I be moved to another appointment.

Preaching on November 10, I remembered  what a beacon of hope this congregation is for Grants Pass, Oregon.  They listen and respond to worship leadership (and chuckled and teared up at times),  They worship and pray and play together, then serve as public servants, business owners, and elders in the community.  They have hosted Planned Parenthood events for decades, enduring street side protests every time.  They work with other churches to address homelessness and poverty.  They are one of the places where God is Incarnate, within their lives in the Grants Pass Community.

I am paying attention to the deep JOY and YES that I knew as I was preaching.  It worked.  Just when I am more and more done with the United Methodist Church!  I want to pay attention to this paradox of affirmation.  It is dangerous; it is Holy; it is a mystery. I have no idea what the outcome will be.

Years ago I came across the work of Angeles Arrien, Ph.D who is a cultural anthropologist, award-winning author, educator, and consultant to many organizations and businesses. From her book, “ The Four-Fold Way”, come this wisdom:

Show up and be present.

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.

Tell the truth without blame or judgment.

Be open to (but not attached to) outcome. OMC Profile Photo

So I am doing these things.

A link to closing words of sermon, as sung by Carrie Newcomer

“Three Feet or So” sung on Utube byWords and Music by Carrie Newcomer
©2016 Carrie Newcomer Music (BMI), Administered by BMG Chrysalis

If you want more…listen or read below here.

Here is a link to my words spoken aloud.

Or under sermons, Nov. 10, 2019 if the link above does not work.

The text of the sermon follows here, in preaching layout.

Sermon for 2019.11.10

Jesus is Everywhere: Snapshots from a Wandering Wonderer

Newman UMC, Grants Pass OR

Reverend Brenda S. Wills

John 14: 15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep[a] my commandments. 16 And I will ask the God, to give you another Advocate,[b] to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees this Spirit  nor knows this Spirit. You know this Advocate, because the Spirit abides with you, and this Spirit will be in you.


18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in God, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by God, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Text # 2

Years ago I came across the work of an anthropologist who studied cultures and religions around the world. Angeles Arrien, Ph.D.[ is a cultural anthropologist, award-winning author, educator, and consultant to many organizations and businesses.] recommended four ways to be in life.

Show up and be present. 

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. 

Tell the truth without blame or judgment. 

Be open to (but not attached to) outcome.  

Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable to you, Loving God who knows us all about us and loves us anyway. Amen

First Snapshot:

Last Sunday, I was walking from worship to our All Church Conference.  As I reached for coffee, a woman introduced herself as the Council Chair at Wesley UMC in Eugene.  I was blessed from head to my feet with surprise.  Jesus is everywhere, when you stop to notice.  There was Jesus, looking like Holly Moline Simons.

Holly grew up in this church and I knew her when I was pastor here in the late 1980’s and her parents gave me a lovely Bed &Breakfast last night.

I bring you this morning, word snapshots from my last three years, traveling as a wandering wonderer.  These are Glimpse of God, or Snapshots of Jesus.  They offer the best witness I can bear to the resurrected, daily presence of the Risen Christ in our world. Jesus is everywhere!

Our Western Jurisdiction Bishops this week put out a

“Declaration of Safe Harbor: moving forward with grace, not persecution.”

It is their intent to set aside complaints against clergy accused of being gay or performing LGBTQ+ weddings. That is true for every Annual Conference in the Western Jurisdiction, including our Annual Conference.


Living with grace, not persecution.

Walking each day so that I share love and not fear.

It is not easy to live this way in our divided United States or divided United Methodist Church. Or in the neighborhood.  On Wednesday, not a mile from my apartment in Eugene, a person was killed and two others injured in gunfire;  reporters say it was a neighborhood dispute.

Our Bishops rooted their words in the very baptismal vows that bind us together into the Body of Christ.  You can find these words on page 34, in the front of the UM Hymnal,

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,

reject the evil power of this world,

and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you

to resist evil, injustice and oppression

In whatever forms they present themselves

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,

“Yes, yes yes.” I said.

Listening to the Bishop’s short video on Facebook.   Then I closed up the computer and turned on the evening news.   And it got harder to see God, to notice Christ in my neighborhood. Hard to recognize the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth Jesus sent to us.

Do you know what I’m saying?  Is keeping hope, living with grace, as hard for you as it is for me, some days?

I believe to my very core, that God loves us.   I believe Jesus Christ was crucified by a Political Empire that was  threatened by Jesus’ call to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they presented themselves.   And I know that  Christ Rose and death did not win.  So now,  Jesus is everywhere.

Next Snapshot:  On Easter Sunday, 2017, I left my house in Toledo, Oregon, to be rented out.  I got in my camper van and went to church in Corvallis.  As usual for starting big adventures, I arrived late: after the Processional, after the Choir’s Anthem, after the sermon. I walked in just in time for the offering.  The closing hymn  was my all-time, have to sing it or it isn’t Easter favorite hymn,  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”  I began nearly two and a half years of wandering, with tears of wonder, feeling blessed and grateful.

It was the first of many moments when, if I could get out of my own way and not beat myself up for getting a late start, or be angry at traffic, or weather, if I could simply,

Show up and be present. 

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. 

Tell the truth without blame or judgment. 

Be open to (but not attached to) outcome.  

I would know I was in the presence of the Risen Christ, and God was with me.

“Christ the Lord is Risen Today” sent me off with an Alleluia.   I was able to journey and bring  help where hopelessness reigned. I witnessed the beauty of Creation from magnificent canyons, to ancient dinosaurs and delicate wildflowers.  I learned lessons I never signed up for.

Show Up and be present.

Be open to surprise and wonder.  I love to look at reflections in water, and take pictures that require some pondering.  I was doing that in Zion National Park, the first week of my journey.  I was resting after a climb and spoke to some women, talking to fellow hikers about incredible wonder around us. “Wait, Are you Brenda Wills?” one of them asked.  Yes, I said slowly.  They had recognized my voice; they were physical therapists and nurses who worked in Kalispell Regional Medical Center in Montana, where I had worked from 1999-2007.  Jesus / God connecting and affirming ministry while reminding us of wonder, ten years after I left to come home to Oregon.

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. 

I think of First UMC, in Orlando Florida, which is located a few blocks from the Pluse Night. Club where, in 2016, a security guard opened fire and killed 49 people and wounded 52 others.  First Church Orlando, staffed its building with counselors and hospitality for 24 hours a day for week after that massacre.  They became a sanctuary for survivors and friends of those hurt, a place where people put love into action.

Ok – now your turn now.

Show up and be present.

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.

Tell the Truth without blame or judgement.

Be open to ( but not attached to) outcome.

What snapshots – glimpses of Jesus,

Moments of Holy Wow, Bits of Gratitude do you notice around you?

In the past week or two, have you been near-by when God’s love was moving?

Did you see a sweet exchange between a couple of Halloween Characters, perhaps a parent and their little monster?  Take a moment and let yourself be grateful you saw LOVE / saw Jesus / recognized God in human form — decked out in a rabbit costume or dressed up as a princess. Maybe it is the snuggle you got from a four-legged friend, your cat or dog.  The wisdom of something you read. Or the voice of a friend.

For some, this may be a season where God seems absent.  Colder weather and falling leaves are reminders of death or endings as well as signs of harvest and gratitude.

Sometimes we have to go back to the basics.  God loves you.  Just as the majesty of the ocean or the rapids on the Rogue River are present – whether we see them or not—they are there.  Likewise, feel it or not, believe it or not, You are loved by God as you are. Because that is who God is.

As we enter these darkening days, look for glimmers of light, and be alert for places where you – yes you – are invited to be Light/ be Love for someone else.  It may be as small a thing as saying, “that is not funny” when you hear racism, or a sexist joke, or bullying.    Your small voice may be a snapshot of Jesus, a glimpse of Love in human form.

You did, after all, have communion last week, right?  The body of Christ broken open for you.  The cup of Christ, the Cup of new life given for you.  You ate those reminders of God in human flesh. We  celebrate that Jesus busted out of the grave and said, “Lo I am with you Always to the ends of the Earth.”  You are the place where God lives; you arethat snapshot of the Holy for someone else.

Show up and be present.   Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.

Tell the Truth without Judgement or Blame

Just as I began to travel, my youngest brother Roger was diagnosed with ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig Disease.  I arrived in Indiana to find him falling at home multiple times a week, and my family unaware his daily living could be different.  I had to speak to Roger, and my other brother and sister, and tell them the truth.  Without blame or judgement.

Roger could no longer live at home. His disease needed more support than working family members could provide.

I do not think of myself as a snap-shot of love; but I did have, after 20 years of hospital chaplain work, an understanding of disability and disease and I knew how to navigate in  the healthcare system.

Show up,  Pay attention, Tell the Truth.

Be open to ( but not attached to) outcome.

It was some of the hardest work I have ever done, navigating our family system and forging channels of communication where we had for decades been able to only visit about kids and weather and sports.  Now we had to talk together about life and preparing for death.

Roger, certainly, gave me glimpses of Jesus.  Watching him become unable to walk, then shift from eating with his right hand to his left, adapting to the present reality.  One day I asked him how he dealt with the stress of having ALS, and he said, “ What stress?”

He meant it.  Roger had been gifted all his life with some cognitive disabilities that caused him to be very difficult to live with.  He could not remember short term what was said to him.  He could not make long range plans.  So, with his ALS, he did not stress over what was coming, but enjoyed his television routine, his bingo afternoons and outings in the facility van to eat out, even after he used a feeding tube for his medication and nutrition.

Like Jesus suggested, he did not fret over anything.  Most of the time.

Be open to ( but not attached to) outcome.

I had dreamed our family would suddenly, under my leadership, become excellent communicators.  IT DID NOT HAPPEN.  We are the family we have always been.

In April of 2018, my brother Roger died peacefully.

Was this all a plan of God?  I don’t think so.  I don’t believe God sends ALS to little brothers or creates cancers to make us strong.  Nor do I believe heaven is a better place than here.

My experience and belief are simply that the risen Christ is with us, and God’s love walks with us into and through the most difficult moments in this life, and beyond to the next life, whatever that next place is.  So, showing up and doing what I could to help my family in Indiana was what I called my “ministerial appointment” for a year.  No sermons. Not even God talk.  Just lots of sitting by and waiting.

And yet – as I said using the words from the musical Wicked at the close of Roger’s funeral, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been change for good.”

This sermon could go on and on – like every slide show you’ve ever been to. I will stop after one more snapshot of Jesus.

Two friends were the face of God for me, when I’d call and say, “ I need a night out “ and they’d invite me to drive the hour to their place, have dinner and go to church the next morning.  My sanctuary.  A place – we did not speak of God – I just was loved and I found comfort.

They invited me to a concert by a Quaker woman from Indiana named Carrie Newcomer.   She sang, and my heart was broken open and healed….the words

I close with the words to a song she wrote, to offer how to live in these hard times, when we so often feel there is nothing we can do.  There is, she suggests, we can change the way the world is, in the three feet or so that is around you.

Audio link:

Three Feet or So

When I’m weary lost or sad
Overwhelmed or just fed up
I say grace for what I have
And most the time that is enough

We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the loss we’ve ever known
What is gone is always near
We’re all the love that brought us here

And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here

If I start by being kind
Love usually follows right behind
It nods its head and softly hums
Saying “Honey that’s the way it’s done.”

We don’t have to search for love
Wring our hands and wring our hearts
All we have to do is know
The love will find us in the dark

And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here

I can’t change the whole world
But I can change the world I know
What’s within three feet or so

We are body, skin and bones
We’re all the love we’ve ever known
When I don’t know what is right
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light
I hold it up into the Light

And the things that have saved us
Are still here to save us
It’s not out there somewhere
It’s right here, it’s right here

Words and Music by Carrie Newcomer
©2016 Carrie Newcomer Music (BMI), Administered by BMG Chrysalis


6 thoughts on “Show Up, Pay Attention, Tell the Truth, Be Open

  1. Dear Brenda,

    I just finished reading this Bren Bits and listening to the suggested song. My spirit has been moved!

    I have been feeling The Nudge to do something more in my CASA volunteer work. One of my current cases is quickly coming to end as adoption draweth near. I called my supervisor when I left my visit to that foster home yesterday morning to let her know I would be willing to go ahead and take on another case now if it could be within Madison County. She didn’t respond for a minute and I was wondering why. She then told me she had to pause and take a deep breath. She and her supervisor had been going over cases in need of priority assignment for a CASA. They had both agreed that it would be the perfect case for me if only I was available right away! I met her in the office this morning, read over all the case info to make sure I do not know anyone who is party to the case.

    I have been praying for God to put me where I need to be, trusting whatever I need to acquire will be provided and whatever I need to leave behind in order to have an open heart will be taken from me. Your words speak truth and power. Thank you for being you and His.

    In Christian love always,


  2. I stumbled across this today, as I searched for the words to the Fourfold Path, which I had learned many years ago. Thank you for sharing this. It encouraged me today.

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