Tuesday, December 22, 2015

First Sunday after Christmas, Year C - Helpers...


These are the seasons where trying to stay "ahead" of the lectionary is hard.  Writing about Christmas in the final hours of Advent, especially when I hold the Christmas Eve candlelight service as the line of demarcation, crimps my sense of right and wrong.  Ha!

I am captured in these readings by the role of helpers.  Hannah has dedicated her son to God's service, and the 1 Samuel text gives us a glimpse of her dedication to his formation.  Each year she makes him a new priestly robe, so that each year as he grows, he grows into his priestly role.  Surely there was a lot more at work in Samuel's life -- God was with him.  But his mother, his caregiver, his daily nurturer, his snot and bottom wiper if you will, was also dedicated to his formation as a child and servant of God. The Christian educator in me surfaces this week as I check my reactions to parents standing mid-aisle during Christmas eve, blocking the back half of the congregation's view of the altar or table, to capture on video the priceless moment that there little one croons "Away in a Manger."  That is precious -- most precious if you are presenting that child in the sanctuary as a child of God dedicated to God's service.  Note in the text that Hannah and Elkanah were in the Temple to make sacrifices and to worship.  We know Hannah had a deep gratitude for this sweet boy who was a gift to her from God. (OK.  Enough...rant over.) Are we really attending to praise and thanksgiving and dedication in this season? It is oh so hard in the search to make a warm memory or feel something other than overwhelmed.

The psalmist calls us to praise and thanksgiving.  The line "he has raised up a horn for his people," calls to mind working with Rev. Lou Piel, who blew the shofar to announce the birth of a King at each Christmas eve service. After the presents are unwrapped and the Christmas dinner consumed, my prayer is to find space in my own life to give thanks for the gifts that Jesus, our Emmanuel, is in my own walk with God.  In the wake of a busy season of worship upon worship, maybe it feels good to gather in the sanctuary and sing joyfully - Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and my favorite - Go Tell It on the Mountain.

The passage from the letter to the Colossians seems once again a timely reminder - to both thanksgiving AND the extra dose of love and care everyone needs.  The image of clothing ourselves (which harkens nicely back to Hannah's lovingly crafted robes for Samuel) with compassion, kindness, humility and love (I probably should have visited that before the rant about 1 Samuel and worship, right? Yes.  I should have.) is somehow deeply helpful after the rush and crush of the season. How can we imagine ourselves equipped and ready to be a source of love and mercy in the chaos of emotions that is the space between December 1 and January 6?

And finally, from Luke, there is the retelling of Jesus departing from his family's caravan, his parents discovering him missing, and finding him after three days in the Temple...at which point he turns to them and says, what are you worrying about -- I am in my Father's house. (I am a parent of adolescents and young adults.  I get to say, "Isn't that just like an adolescent boy.") There is so much in this passage.  For me this week, the deep and abiding question is about where I end and my children and their identity and life as God's creation with free will and their own call and gifts begins.  Highly contextual reflection in my life right now.

Our life as Christians can be shaped a great deal in the next 72 hours if we are living in the moment, waiting, watching, wondering and then receiving and giving thanks.  And on the other side of God entering into life with us, we are also called into walking along side others, shaping them by our example, our deed, our own exploration.

Complicated week.  Complicated season.




Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent 4, Year C - Reading from the 5%

This week we swim deeply in God's promised justice and the hope of those who feel the pinch of scarcity, need, oppression.  And we set out our holy family, our wise men, our shepherds - decorated baubles mostly made in foreign lands.  Perhaps we have a set carved of olive wood from the Holy Land.

It is hard to read this story from the position of "the 5%." Or "the 10%." Or "the 1%."  Likely, if you are reading this post, you have a roof over your head, money in the bank, a couple of bibles on your shelves, gas in your car and milk in your refrigerator.

In the midst of our privilege, it can be hard to read the fullness this week's texts.

The prophet Micah speaks out of a gut-wrenching and tumultuous time for the Jewish people.  There were wars and raids and uprisings.  People were displaced, national identities uprooted. In these scary and hard circumstances, the people longed for a perfect King to lead them into a time of peace and prosperity. Can we imaginee how they must have felt abandoned by the Lord God.  With the boot of your oppressor at your neck, you long for a savior.

The psalmist begs the question "How long, o Lord?"  Can this age of suffering continue indefinitely? When will the God who kept covenant return to liberate God's people? "You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure."  The implication is that this is God's torment, God's justice...the people are paying a price.

Really?  Is suffering God's will?  The Israelites' trajectory was from slavery to independence to seasons of thriving intertwined with seasons of hardship, culminating in the destruction of their way of life with God. Along the way, their humanity caused them to stray, to wander, to seize power rather than to seek justice.

Hey now. That sounds a little more familiar now.

We are living in a world with a lot of pain and suffering.  And maybe, just maybe, we actually experience it in our own lives.  And I know that I have lots of resources at my disposal to numb whatever is causing me distress.  I can turn off the TV and go to the mall.  Or I can search the Internet to find someone who will speak good news into my life. I can have a glass of wine (or two). I have a lot of options for distraction from any hardship I face, and in reality, any hardship I face is likely minor.

I think this week's text really requires us to look at pain and suffering and fear and to watch for signs of hope.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author is linking Christ's sacrifice as the initiation of a new covenant. It doesn't matter that the Israelites (and all of us) wander...we are all redeemed and sanctified in Christ.

The gospel text from Luke is Mary's song, commonly called the Magnificat, proclaiming her understanding of the hope and liberation that the baby she carries will bring. "He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Which am I?

I am both, and I have the opportunity to choose a path of love and hope and peace and justice. Everyday I make the choice anew. And everyday, God walks with me, chooses me, weeps about my mistakes and rejoices in my turning. 






Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 3, Year C --- Still Waiting



THIS is why I like Advent so much.  It is a big tease.  We're still swimming in prophecy.  No Mary, no Joseph.  Waiting is hard. It reminds me a little bit of the advent calendars that I enjoyed as a child -- the ones with little perforated windows that you open to reveal a picture.  And for about the first 20 days of the month, the pictures were sort of generic, hard to figure out where they were pointing - cookies, candies, toys, maybe a snow man.  But as you got closer, the symbolism grew.  A star, a shepherd, an angel.

We're not yet to those really easily understood "windows" yet here in Advent 3.  

Drawing deep from the prophets, both the reading from Zephaniah and the reading from Isaiah represent the hope of Jews in exile.  Zephaniah references retraction of judgement, a promise of changed circumstances in which the oppressed will victorious, exalted, beloved, safe.  Speaking into recent current events, these promises are refreshing.  

I am really drawn to Isaiah 12:3, which replaces a psalm this week - "with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." This passage seems like a pep talk of sorts -- speaking of the goodness that is to come. Praise and thanksgiving are encouraged...for promises yet to be fulfilled, only glimpsed in hope.  Were the people able to see signs of things getting better? Or was it a sense of "surely this much change eventually. Our God has liberated us before.  Surely God will again liberate us."

Similarly, Paul's letter to the church at Philippi seems to be encouraging hope for things yet unseen.  Praise and thanksgiving are precursors to fulfillment. The Lord is near.  But the Lord is not necessarily right here.

But in the gospel reading from Luke, John the Baptist is a little less encouraging.  Repent you brood of vipers...  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  This sounds like high stakes.  His encouragement is to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Fruitful lives will be spared.  And baptized with the Holy Spirit.  This mention of the Holy Spirit by St. John the Forerunner has also captured my attention this year.  So often we attribute the promise of the Spirit's arrival to Jesus' promises as his end draws near.  But here we have John unveiling the possibility right before the launch of Jesus' ministry in Galilee.  

What does it mean for our faith to be high stakes?  Not born of tradition or of ancient promises, but of the lived belief that the Kingdom of God requires our fruitfulness?  Do we live like our lives matter to the greater good?  I've been swimming in a lot of reading about community lately. And a remembrance, in this season of global fear and unrest, that we are ALL made in the image of God and we cannot in fact SEE God without seeing the God in the "other."  That is high stakes.  Our choices matter.  Our lives matter.  Our love for others matters.

God, in the midst of shorter nights and longer darkness, help me to see glimpses of you even when I have to look in dark corners that I would often pass by without a second thought.  Help me remember, before launching into my opinion or my self-righteousness that everyone I encounter is also made in your image - another piece that belongs with mine in seeing the fullness of Your glory.





Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent 2, Year C


Who are the prophets that are speaking to us today?

As I read through the texts for the second Sunday in Advent, my attention is drawn t the voices that come before - the voices that announce the coming of something big.  

Especially coming away from this past week's reading and my own reflections on hope inspired by recent events and Luke's end times teaching, I am drawn to Baruch's command to action - get out of your jammies, take a shower, comb your hair, shake of the blues and put on your fine garments of righteousness, oh Israel.  

In Feasting on the Word, Year C Volume 1, commentator Deborah Block ponders Malachi's use questions to incite reflection.  A well placed question without a given answer is such a fabulous way to make us think.  When we are seeking to stir people, are we spoon feeding them ideas or nudging them to think, feel and act?  

Zechariah's song takes the place of a psalm...his is a song of wonder and praise to God who looks favorably on God's own.  It also places John the Forerunner in the stream of prophets and names his role - a prophecy about a prophet, if you will:

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most high; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people..."  

This baby has big shoes to fill as he grows.  

In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul speaks his own prophesy about how this community will become "pure and blameless."  I've never spent a lot of time thinking about Paul as a prophet in his day, and yet that is a role he played in the communities into which he spoke. 

Finally in the gospel passage for the day, John emerges and is placed in the context of the prophet Isaiah's proclamations.  As in Advent 1, our gospel text is NOT focused yet on the traditional elements of the birth narrative and we really get to once again slow down and put all the parts and pieces together carefully -- not in the rapid fire way that we may remember it from the high points of our childhood or from the way that society wants to race to the baby in a manger -- but slowly pondering what it meant for each character to fulfill their role.

And so I'm thinking about the role of prophets.  And wondering if we can hear modern-day prophets above the roar of the world around us.  I think that prophets are still speaking -- but between technology and globalization, how do they rise above the chaos?  And in that case, what is the role of community -- of the local church -- in listening for prophets even locally?  I know a few communities where one or two voices speak above the fray and name what they see...and what they envision...and what they understand the Spirit to be doing.  And maybe like Paul, they overlap many communities that are connected by their prophetic voice.

That's where my head and heart linger as we wander toward the second Sunday in Advent this year C.

First Sunday in Advent - Practicing Hope

A sermon reflecting on Luke 21: 25-36

Happy New Year!  It is the first Sunday of the year in the Christian way of marking time.  Advent is where the new year begins and this is the first of four Sundays in Advent. 

While the retail world has been sliding toward Christmas since the end of September, we are encouraged to enter first into a time of holy waiting – holy anticipation.  While the world is anticipating gifts under the tree and perfect Christmas decorations and cookies, we are really encouraged to look at where we are and what surrounds us and to anticipate the light that has come and will come into the world.

It reminds me just a little bit of the kind of reflecting that we often do as the calendar new year approaches, assessing what’s happened in the past year and setting intentions for what might happen in the year to come.  It could be a season of committing to new things – not MORE things, because that’s what the world all around us thinks we should do. But it could be a season of revising our lives in anticipation of Christ’s arrival.

Our text for today is NOT a part of the birth narrative – the adventures of getting the baby Jesus safely on this earth.  We’re not yet talking about Elizabeth and Zechariah and the expectation of John the Baptist.  We’re certainly not yet talking about Mary and Joseph and an angel’s visitation.

No… our scripture today is Jesus’ very own words about end times.  About expectation and longing and worry and redemption. 

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

Kind of hard to set that to the looping of Christmas music in the background.  Signs in the sun and moon and stars, distress among nations.  Yet here we are. The Lectionary, which is a three year recurring cycle of readings across the old and new testaments shared by many churches worldwide, begins the new church year in this place – talking about expectation and longing and worry and fear and ultimately, redemption – the Son of Man coming with power and great glory.

And this year, I feel like it matches our reality in many ways. Right into the midst of terrorist attacks and shifting world views, Pastor Rodney recently preached an important message, “do not worry.”

I find myself struggling these days to hold together the approaching holiday season with the 24/7 news cycle that is full of fear and foreboding.  We expect one crisis after another, and we may at times actually put on a cloak of fear and distrust. Voices of fear speak into our lives and say things like:
·      We should not let refugees in because one might seek to harm us.
·      We should own guns because we can defend our loved ones that way.
·      We should cling to what we know, hold fast to what we name “traditional” because the unknown, the emerging, the evolving, the new discoveries might be bad.

Just last week, my husband opened his email at work to discover that he’d been “registered” and obligated to a 30 minute, web-based safety training about how to respond in an active shooter situation. By way of background, Matt works in the Children’s Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital – and so in today’s environment, it makes sense that they would want the staff well-trained to respond to an active shooter situation.

The training focused on three viable responses:
  1. Escape, and take others with you, if you can do so safely.
  2. Hide, and hide with others, if you can do so safely.
  3. Commit to action and confront the assailant. 

Wow. That’s scary. 


But Matt’s reflection was this – he’d now had to think about the possibility and imagine what his response would be.  The training accomplished a level of awareness and preparedness.  That is the goal of training, right?  Expose us to the possibility and cause us to think about our response? Cause us to practice a response in our conscience so that when the need arises that response is somehow imprinted upon us. 

Notice that being fearful is not a trained response – take matters into your hands.  Do for yourself and others what you can in light of the situation.

Jesus continues:

28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly,

Raise up your heads.  My words will not pass away.  Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down by the worries of life.  Don’t be caught unaware.

Practice hope –

Merriam Webster defines hope this way – to cherish a desire with anticipation or to expect with confidence. Yet another definition, listed as an archaic usage, is TRUST.

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann points out that above the entrance to Dante’s hell in the epic Inferno are the words “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here” (Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 1993). Without hope, we cannot live full lives – we lead hellish lives without hope.

This first Sunday in advent marks a new beginning and it is a new beginning marked by hope.

God entered into this world, a baby born to a young mother and father, refugees fleeing violence and oppression.  My mother’s heart tells me that even without really knowing and understanding what this new life meant to the world, Mary looked into that new baby’s eyes with hope for his future.

Here in the last weeks of autumn we have watched nearly every leaf fall from the trees.  Grays and browns dominate the landscape and moldy death piles up at the base of towering oaks now bare.  The air is thinner, colder, often the sky is gray.  And we know that there will be cold rain, ice, snow.  The world as we know it will be buried in white at some point, hidden from our view.

But sometimes in March, the daylight will stretch out over hours and the wind will occasionally carry some warmth.  And perhaps through even snow, shoots of green will appear and crocuses and snow drops will bloom and birth new life in a new season. A new season – one with green growth and shady cover, of fruit and beauty will appear.

In the midst of the attacks in Paris, a different story, this one from Beirut where suicide bombs killed 40 and injured 200 days before the Pairs attack, surfaced in the Washington Poston November 16:

Adel Termos was walking in an open-air market with his daughter, according to reports, when the first suicide bomber detonated his explosives. Amid the instant chaos, Termos spotted the second bomber preparing to blow himself up, and made the quick decision to tackle him to the ground. The bomb went off, killing Termos, but saving countless others, including his daughter.

“There are many, many families, hundreds probably, who owe their completeness to his sacrifice,” Elie Fares, a blogger and physician in Beirut, told Public Radio International in an interview last week.

“In a way, Adel Termos broke human nature of self-preservation. His heroism transcended his own life to save others,” Fares told The Washington Post in an e-mail Monday. “To make that kind of decision in a split second, to decide that you’d rather save hundreds than to go back home to your family, to decide that the collective lives of those around you are more important than your own is something that I think no one will ever understand.”

I have returned to this story a lot in the past two weeks.  Because I believe this man understood that there was hope beyond himself.  He’d looked into the eyes of his sweet children and seen new life, new hope, a new heaven and a new earth.

In a season of fear, in the midst of an ancient refugee crisis, a baby was born in less than ideal circumstances. 
Hope came into the world.
Hope is coming into the world. 
Hope will come into the world.  Born in us.  Again and again.

Christ has died. Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

We speak these words when we gather at the communion table to receive the body and blood of Christ.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen. Christ will come again.


Our hope is not merely some promise about a world beyond this one.  Our hope is in the sun rising tomorrow.  Our hope is in cries of new life. Our hope is in seasons that just keep cycling to prove that new life is birthed from death. 

A life of fear means that we anticipate each loss with dread.  A life of hope means we see that new beginnings come from each ending.

Time and time again in this season of advent the scriptures we read include the angels saying, “fear not.” That is the voice of God speaking into our lives.  Fear not.  And…

Love God. 

Love your neighbor. 

Practice hope. 

In this new year, could that be your resolution?


Love God, love your neighbor, practice hope. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Advent 1, Year C - Happy New Year


I am currently working in a congregation that does not use the lectionary. And that makes me sad because my faith life has been shaped by the lectionary rhythm. And so, headed into my favorite lectionary year, (Year C) I thought I'd try to blog about it once again - this time a week ahead. The best motivation? I am preaching Advent 1...so I need to get on it!  I would love your feedback, your reflection, your engagement as I walk back into this discipline. When I wrestle with the text, it infuses my worldview. Join me?

As I write this, Matt and I are talking about a young man who has taken his own life. We are pondering Emma's RA experience this week caring for a resident threatening self-harm. Paris has been rocked by unthinkable acts of terrorism and the US, Europe and Africa are threatened by religious extremism. "Business as usual" feels precarious.

Then, add the seasonal backdrop. As the bright colors of fall leaves fade into drab hues, our market driven society drags our chilly fingers and toes into the consumer driven world of glittery, over-stimulated red and green Christmas. 

The lectionary, however, encourages us to move a little more slowly. This is the very beginning - the mark of the new year. 

And we don't begin in Bethlehem. We don't begin with a miraculous pronouncement of the one who is to come.We don't begin with carols. We begin with waiting, reflection, anticipation, hope.

We begin, in some ways, at the end.

The prophet Jeremiah anticipates one who will "execute justice and righteousness." That sounds suspiciously like judgement at first blush. 

And the psalmist seems to be pleading for refinement and correction, teaching and direction.

And that reminds me, a little bit anyway, of where my mind typically dwells in the new year. Fitting, right? It is the church's new year.

In Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica, he's praying for a correction in the community. He's praying for God to intervene, to redirect, to strengthen.

And finally, in the gospel of Luke, we are deep in. Jesus is in the temple threatening a dark time as the Kingdom of God draws near. He references heaven and earth passing away. He encourages his followers to remain alert and to pray for strength that they can withstand what is to come. 

Advent is a season of waiting. And we begin in the very darkest place, not exactly sure of what is coming at us. We know, in historical context, that the baby born in Bethlehem emerged as a powerful teacher, prophet, healer and leader. The very son of God came, walked among us in flesh, died at the hands of the dominant culture, and returned to life to eat again with those he loved. We know the story right up to today. But that doesn't mean we know the story tomorrow. Such has been the walk of Christions for 2000 years.

As we enter into a season of waiting, we wait, in some ways for what has already happened.

...We also wait in hope for what comes next.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Fingerprints

I found myself this evening wiping fingerprints off of doors.  You know...the grubby remanents of working hands coming and going, grabbing the door handle and leaving their mark.  

Can't people touch less of the door when they come and go?

Couldn't they at least limit the grunge to the handle itself.  Same with light switches.  I feel like they are in a constant state of fingerprinted ick.

But then, I remembered that my 21 year old son is away for the next seven weeks...and at his age, one never knows when he'll stop calling this place home.

And my husband has been out of town all week. No gardening, no shared meals.

And my middle child is working at camp all summer. The youngest is home, but she's working two jobs.  

So there will be fewer fingerprints all around. 

This really isn't a weepy reflection about fleeting childhood or even time with loved ones.

Why are fingerprints so offensive?

For that matter, why are scars something we seek to remove?

Stains?

Practically speaking, clean is good.  Of course.  But really, don't lingering marks change things?

Don't those fingerprints remind us of someone, something. I can tell you the source of every scar on my body.  And let's talk about stretch marks. 

Lately, I've been challenging myself to extend more grace to those I encounter.  I am a product of amazing, irresistable grace.  And it has made me new.  It makes me new every day.  Those scars, those life experiences that have left flaws and dents and pock marks are all shaping a new creation. 

And so I am feeling a little nudged.  Instead of wiping away the fingerprints of conflict, can I accept them as part of a new picture? A new way of being and seeing the other?

God of unbounded grace and inventive, stunning, innovative creativity, help me to revere the lingering fingerprints of life, the scars, the stretch marks...on myself and others.  They mark experience.  They mark good things and bad things.  And you are reflected in what continues from them.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Improvising

This past fall, I spent time with colleagues in ministry exploring facets of leadership in a program called Foundations of Christian Leadership, hosted by Duke Divinity School. One of the leadership skills we explored was improvisation. At the time, the exercises seemed a little out of place -- at the very least uncomfortable or beyond my natural skill set -- but I find mysel returning to this idea of improvisation again and again, particularly as it relates to worship, and specifically the work of leading worship.

This past Sunday, worship had all the components of complication: first Sunday in Lent, disrupted worship schedule due to snow, lots of visitors and extra worship participants, last minute arrivals and complicated hymnal flipping liturgy. Oh, and baptisms and confirmation. Head spinning stuff. Truly. For a while we feared we would have to toss in the imposition of ashes too, but the weather cooperated and we side-stepped that.

Worship at its most authentic is spirit-led... Sure, It has choreography and order, but we invite the unpredictable Spirit into our offering of adoration and praise to a wily, creative and whimsical God. Yes, there is a timeline and everyone needs to have a sense of where we are headed. The bulletin has to be completed days in advance and liturgists and other participants must be apprised of their roles. But space for the Spirit necessarily opens us up to different movement, keeps us on our toes, makes space for the unexpected divine.

It is hard to let go of a very human need for order and control. I would suggest that most modern churches came to be out of some drive to contain and not free the Spirit. So there is work to be done.

Here are investments and awarenesses that I am experiencing that make improvisation possible and effective from the chancel. 

Leadership needs to be grounded in the Word and in solid theology - especially theology of worship. Worship is the work of the people to honor God. Why do we do certain things? What must happen? What scripture informs and shapes worship in this community and how do we revisit this in our planning and our decision making? How is our worship shaped by our denominational tradition? Our local tradition? This wisdom is not confined to seminary trained and ordination anointed...it is a gift we have to all share. The more people aware, the deeper our community reach becomes in worship. The more who know, the more that will be able to be fully present to the work of worship.

There needs to be a deep trust in the other participants and within the gathered body. Think about the trust that needs built with the music director, the choir, the liturgists, the acolytes. Everybody needs to be able to trust that when the Spirit moves, we can stay true to the Spirit and back one another up. Sometimes watching my pastor lead worship is like watching people play frisbee. When it leaves the pasto's hand, he trusts someone will catch that flying disc. And we all have to be able to trust the next move. And the next. Think of how this grows and builds in a worshipping community...and of the diligent and intentional investment that makes this happen. Sone days it is like watching grass grow, but over time, what a lush lawn it could be!

Then we have to be risk-tolerant. Yes, I know that is not "the way we do" (communion, prayers of the people, passing of the peace, the offering, the procession, the benediction--you fill in he blank), but here's where the Spirit has taken us and we are still moving through this ing called worship. Will you trust me? Will you follow along?

In the hymn "The Summons" (TFWS 2130) we sing:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same? 
Will you let my love be shown, 
Will you let my name be known, 
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

In some ways, our willingness to invite the Spirit of the living God into our act of worship demands we answer this summons with a resounding YES!

The result means there is some unknown element, maybe a little chaos, lots of hard work...that shapes us, individually and communally, into something beautiful if we let it.

First Sunday in Lent, Year B

It is all about the relationship.

This week, these were the words that gave me pause:

Please don't let me be put to shame! 
Don't let my enemies rejoice over me! 
3For that matter, 
don't let anyone who hopes in you be put to shame; 
instead, let those who are treacherous without excuse be put to shame. 
(from Psalm 25)

From the rainbow set in the sky with a promise to never destroy humanity again to the revelation that Jesus is God's beloved son able to resist temptation in the wilderness, to the claim in 1 Peter that baptism is less a washing away of sins than an appeal to God for a conscience....it is about our relationship as humans with a powerful and sometimes intangible God. The psalmist pleads on behalf of anyone who hopes in God. Perfection is not the requirement. Righteousness as understood in second temple Judaism is not the requirement. 

A relationship with the living God is what is required. A real effort. An awareness of what God wants, expects...

Micah had it straight then, yes? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Jesus's command is not far from that - love God, love your neighbor.

At this early point in the Lenten journey, I know that my work is the work described by John Wesley as three general rules:
1) Do no harm.
2) do all the good you can.
3) Stay in love with God.

Staying in love is hard work. It is covenant work. It is give and take, struggle, experience, experimentation, regrouping, repenting, returning.

Patient God,
I know you embrace me even when I squirm.
I know you lay your hand on my shoulder even as I walk away.
I know you speak words of love even when I offend.
Thank you.
Bear with me?
And you will.
Thank you. 
Thank you. 
Thank you.
Amen.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday, Year B


Isaiah 61 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; ² to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; ³ to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. ⁴ They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.



The delayed parousia...

A seminary term. 

Scholarly language that is used sometimes to describe the "delayed" Second Coming of Christ.

As we begin Lent, we begin being reminded of our mortality...from dust you have come, to dust you shall return. 

And today, reading from Isaiah 61, the line "to give them a garland instead of ashes" strikes me.

Ashes were an outward sign of mourning or repentance, an acknowledgement of brokenness and ruin.  A garland was a sign of celebration and victory.

Here at the beginning of these 40 days, Isaiah's word promises gladness, praise, a garland. 

Holding together a millennia old promise that Christ will return with the reminder of our dusty lives along with the notion that Gid will comfort those that mourn... Difficult stuff.

And it has me wondering how much we are called to embrace Christ so that the return happens. Is it relational? It seems in some ways that giving our lives over to Jesus as Lord requires us to cede power that our very evolutionary biology can't relinquish.

But as we strive for independence and control, do we leave ourselves unable to reach out to the living, relational God that waits on us? 

This is where my heart lingers today.

Lord, as I enter into a season of reflection, help me be mindful that I cannot change my mortality. And I can let go of the worldly things that tether me to worldliness and keep me from embracing you. Amen.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fat Tuesday, Entering In..., Year B

Here on the brink of Ash Wednesday, I find myself holed up with a snow day -- a blissful gift because my greatest need right now is for thinking and processing and clarity. With each passing year, Lent shows up with different form and function in my personal and communal journey. This year, I am one year past a personal Sabbatical year - a mini Jubilee. Grace is abundant and alive and tangible and its work in my life is truly amazing.

Reading today from 2 Chronicles 7: 11 - 21 there is this direction:
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, ¹⁴if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

Now personally, I feel like my harvest has been rich, the abundance I have received, overwhelming. But then, I walk in a world that is hurting -- a society where personal comfort takes precedent over societal good, where people kill one another in some twisted allegiance to the loving God of creation or to mammon. 

Sackcloth and ashes...gnashing and weeping...dry bones that need breath and sinew.

And so today I am pondering how I might focus my Lenten discipline on a broken and hurting world - perhaps I can focus my prayer and attention on one broken situation that calls for humbling, prayer and turning.

We have strayed. We have forgotten. We forget. 

Make our paths straight, our intentions pure. 

God of power and might, heal us all. 

Heal the world.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Year B, the Transfiguration

It is a glittering, blindingly bright day here in Maryland. Powerful wind gusts and an arctic hammer have driven temperatures into single digits and the wind chill is hovering at teens-below-zero. Dangerous, scandalously bright, bracing...

How fitting that this week's focus is on the blinding, brighter-than-bleach revelation of the living God on a mountaintop.

In Mark's gospel, God's voice this time is audible to Peter, James and John. This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased. Elijah and Moses are standing with the glittering, dazzling, whiter than white Jesus. They desperately want to stay in the presence of the divine. They don't know what lies ahead, but they surely are in awe of what they are encountering here and now.

And in 2 Kings, Elisha is devotedly following Elijah to his end, clamoring to stay in his presence to the very end. Elisha knows that he inherits Elijah's prophetic legacy and responsibility. But I wonder if he dreads the reality if that. Just another city in the presence of greatness...

God lovingly seeks our presence and calls us to the hard work of being lovingly present to the world around us. It would seem this is a millennia old struggle, to rest in the amazing presence of a living, moving, powerful God and to be called to a broken, hurting, struggling world.

My house is warm, safe, full of good music and books and food and the company of my love. The world outside is dangerous - quite literally - today. Why would I choose to open the door and step out into the cold?

For right now, I rest in God's presence, giving thanks for the many blessings of this past week. And then, there will be work to do. In the cold. Down the mountain. Gazing up at a glittering sky.