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liturgy

Litany of Confession, Isaiah 58

One: God of all people and places, you have shown us how to live peacefully with all our neighbors.

All: We are to serve you rather than ourselves. The only finger of blame we are to point is at ourselves. We should not speak evil to or about those around us. We are to share our food with those who hunger and take care of the vulnerable among us.

One: You tell us that if we do these things, gracious God, gloom will give way to noonday light and you will guide us in all things.

All: If we share our resources and ensure justice for all our neighbors, then our needs will be satisfied. Our thirst will be quenched and we will be strengthened for the days to come. We will flourish like a well-tended garden. We will know abundance.

One: God of hope and healing, we can lament and cry out to you over all that is lost or broken or covered in despair. Or we can let go of our selfish, fearful ways and seek to build your kingdom here and now.

All: As long as we believe the lies of those in power, we will remain divided and we will live in ruins. Yet, if we live in Love, we will give way to generations of peace. If we dismantle fear, ignorance, and hatred, we will be repairers of the breach. We can restore our streets for all who travel on them.

One: You remind us, steadfast God, that we need to rest and be renewed in body, mind, and spirit. If we neglect our own rest, we neglect you.

All: It is to easy for us to deny our need for sabbath. We focus too much on our calendars and forget that spending time with you makes so much more possible. If we come to you in delight rather than out of duty, you nourish us and prepare us for what is to come.

One: Forgive us, Patient God.

All: Forgive us for believing the deceit of today’s Empire. Forgive us for believing division and isolation and independence satisfy our needs.

One: Remind us once again, Holy One, of your promises and open our lives to your way once more.

All: When we take time to be still, to come into your presence, God of all, we recognize the yearning of our hearts. We yearn to be repairers of the breach, to live in your Love. Give us the courage to set aside our fears and foolishness, to accept your forgiveness, and trust in your ways. Hear our gratitude for your eternal call to live as your holy people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

RCL – Year C – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 25, 2019
Jeremiah 1:4-10 with Psalm 71:1-6 or
Isaiah 58:9b-14 with Psalm 103:1-8 and
Hebrews 12:18-29 and 
Luke 13:10-17

Photo: CC0 image by 4064462

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Musings

A Way in the Wilderness

Once more I find myself sitting in an airport waiting to board the plane that will take me to another state where I will keynote at a conference. This surprises me almost every time. I marvel that I am now paid to break the silence and shatter the stigma around suicidality. For decades I was told never to share the details of my past, the details of my struggle with suicidality, depression, and an eating disorder. Now I am invited to come and speak these things out loud and challenge people of faith (all faith traditions, not just Christian) to examine their beliefs about suicide and see what needs to change in order to save lives. It’s more amazing than you might guess.

While I contemplate the transformation my life has undergone in the last decade or so, I think about the woman who anointed Jesus with oil of nard. While I do not believe that John’s gospel has the details correct, there is power in the story nonetheless. I doubt that Mary of Bethany was the woman who poured the expensive perfume over Jesus. Mary was a friend and the risk of her anointing Jesus in the company of other friends, was minimal. To think of this woman as an outcast, perhaps a prostitute, who entered the home of a leper (Matthew, Mark) or a pharisee (Luke) assumed a greater personal risk. This personal risk of rejection or condemnation adds a depth to the story that is missing in John’s more homey account.

That being said, it’s the anointing itself that matters most. Be it Mary or an unknown woman, she anointed Jesus with immeasurable extravagance. A jar, perhaps an alabaster jar, of rare, expensive oil could have been used for other purposes. The disciples wondered why it wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor. If a more reasonable person wanted to support Jesus’ ministry, even in the last days, the oil could have been sold and the money used to purchase food, clothing, or shelter for Jesus and his disciples. Or, looking at the days ahead, the money could have been spent on a really good lawyer. Why simply dump it on Jesus’ head for no perceivable reason?

Well, Jesus answers this question, sort of… Jesus tells them that the poor will always be around or that they should always be with the poor. In contrast, he wasn’t going to be with them much longer, at least not physically. The anointing, the extravagance, was good and necessary. I can just see the disciples shaking their heads in puzzlement. How was this waste the right thing?

Many of us ask this question today. We have choices to make with our resources. How often do we choose to pour out our very best on Jesus? Are we willing to give to Jesus that which is most valuable? What extravagant love have we offered Jesus just because Jesus is Jesus?

When it comes to transformation, it might just require this extravagant outpouring from us. I think about my own experience. I held so tightly to my own pain. I thought it defined me. I thought it was the most valuable thing about me. Over time, I was able to let it go and ask God to put something new in its place. The letting go was scary, not unlike walking into the house of a pharisee or leper as an unwanted outcast. Trusting God to heal the deeply broken parts of me was a kind of outpouring, offering God everything I had in exchange, nothing withheld. Can you smell the nard, the extravagance, filling the room?

Church, it’s time we seek to anoint Jesus with that which we hold most dear. We need to break those jars and let the smell of extravagant love flood the room while the tears of grief fall. Trust in God is a gift we can offer anytime. If we break our precious jars over Jesus’ head, there are those among us who will not understand and grumble about the cost. God is always doing a new thing and clearing a way in the wilderness. It’s time for us to stop doing the same old thing and try out extravagant love and see what transformation comes in its wake. It is worth the risk. Lives will be saved as a result for this is God’s promise to us – life, and life abundant at that.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday in Lent – April 7, 2019
Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12:1-8

Photo: CC0 image by andreas N

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Musings Sermon Starter

Alive or Dead? You Decide

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A vision, a moment of clarity, a flash of insight, the proverbial “Eureka!” moment. Whatever you want to call it, it happened to me after my first yoga class ever last night. I don’t think it had anything to do with yoga as much as the conversation shared with my colleagues in text study earlier in the day. Yoga may have relaxed me enough to open me to the experience, though. Anyway, I’m going to call it a vision, even though that word itself sends shivers of discomfort through my being.

This vision occurred as I sat in my car after class. The sun had set, the nearly full moon lit the sky. I had a flash of a tree, not dead, but not quite a live and a person approaching, still a ways off, with an ax held ready. There were crowds around the tree. Some denied that there was a tree. Some said it was alive enough and should be left alone. Others wanted to learn how to nurture it into the fullness of life. Still others were offering better tree removal tools saying that the tree was wasting the nutrients in the soil.

All this was on display in seconds. Then a voice coming from the ax carrier: Alive or dead, you decide. No waiting. No procrastinating. Decide. In less than a minute, this vision was over and I was left shaking my head, trying to say that the decision is not mine to make. I put my car in gear and drove the couple miles home, thinking about the yoga class and not the vision that followed. Yet, this morning, it was the first thing on my mind.

Here’s the thing, Isaiah invites everyone to the table. If you’re hungry and can’t buy food, come to the table. If you are thirsty and can’t pay for a drink, come to the table. Stop paying for things that don’t nurture and stop laboring for things that do not satisfy. Repent of foolish ways, and come, have a seat at the table where you can eat until you are well-nourished and drink the water of life until your thirst is quenched. Sign me up! This table sounds perfect.

Yet, before any of us can get to the table, there’s a person with a fig tree that doesn’t yield any figs standing in the way. This person is displeased with the tree that has not produced figs in three years. It’s time to cut it down. The gardener rushes in to protect the tree, offering to fertilize and nurture it properly to see if the tree will then yield figs. The owner gives one more year. If it is still without figs, the tree will no longer be permitted to waste the soil.

Isn’t this a bit harsh? I mean, it’s just a tree and a few figs, right? Really, who gives a fig? All of us should. And here’s the heart of my vision, the urgency I felt in the moment: The church in all its manifestations is the fig tree. Our congregations are fig trees. Many of us have not born much fruit for far longer than three years. We are content to be “alive enough” but not fully living. We also don’t particularly welcome those who want to fertilize our imaginations and nurture any adventurous spirits within us. Nope, we want to keep our tree as it is, as it has always been. No need to proceed to that banquet table. We’re comfortable right here, thank you very much.

We must repent of our foolishness. God continues to call us to the table where all are welcome, especially those who hunger for community and those who thirst for love. Preserving our history without risking change for the present and future is a waste of soil. All our denominational differences might have mattered at one point in time and our numerous churches served a purpose in the past. Yet, God is calling us to a new thing, has always been calling us to a new thing.

We are being called to make room at the table for everyone, letting nothing get in the way. Nothing must prevent us from bearing fruit that will feed a starving world. We have been spending our resources for decades on traditions that no longer nurture and laboring to keep alive that which does not satisfy. We need to decide what to do before the soil around us is nothing more than a handful of sand.

Will we ignore the half-living tree? Will we keep it alive as is for as long as we can? Will we give in to the ax while the soil is still good so something else can be planted? Will we invite the gardener in to fertilize imagination and nurture our restless spirits so that the tree can come fully alive and bear fruit?

Alive or dead? We have decisions to make, my friends. What is God calling us to do and to be? What is the best use of our resources? How will we make room at the table? What will we risk so as not to waste the soil around us?

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday in Lent – March 24, 2019
Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Photo: CC0 image by George

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Musings Sermon Starter

Who are You?

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What makes us who we are? Is it what we do? Is it what happens to us? Is it our race or gender, gender expression, sexual orientation? Our age or education? Is it the way other people see us or the way we see ourselves? What makes us ordinary or extraordinary? Is it genetics or family relationships? What about environment or economics or opportunities? Mental health or physical health? My mother once told me that my grandmother asked how I could possibly have gotten into Princeton when I didn’t know anyone. Of course, my mother also told me that I had some “artistic skills” but they were learned, and my brother had the “real” talent. I grew up feeling less than ordinary, less than important. It took years to change that.

In more recent years I’ve been dismissed as just a woman, too young or too old depending on the circumstances. Sometimes it’s just a pastor. Sometimes it’s just queer. I shouldn’t know what I know or be able to do what I do because I’m not something in the eyes of someone who at least thinks they have power or authority over me. I can’t be Christian because I’m bi-sexual. I can’t be a pastor because I’m a woman. I can’t speak to mental health issues because I was educated in seminaries. The list goes on and on. I used to believe these judgments. I used to question myself and my value and my abilities all the time. I had a voice in the back of my head that constantly second guessed nearly everything I said or did.

Not anymore. Maybe it’s the privilege of being over 50, maybe it’s grace, maybe it’s healing, but I’ve come to a place where I know that no one thing defines me. I am more than a sum of all my experiences, education, roles, mistakes, and triumphs. I am decidedly more than anyone’s perception or judgement of who I am, or who I am not. And you know what? I am extraordinary.

And so are you. It’s ridiculous to allow anyone or any one thing to define who we are unless, of course, we’re talking about faith. God tells me I am Beloved and I am Delight. God says the same thing of every human being. Unfortunately, we don’t believe this message of love and value as readily as we believe the people who dismiss, devalue, and demean us.

Maybe more importantly, we believe that our value is determined by all the things society tells us define us. The funny thing is that social values are established and maintained by those with power. Those with power will always seek to disempower and oppress everyone else. They will twist everything to their version of truth and tell us everything else is wrong. How many of us have fallen prey to this power-hungry, greedy nonsense?

How many times and how many ways has God demonstrated God’s love for humanity? How many stories do we have that tell us it is God who makes the ordinary extraordinary? Jesus turned water into wine. The water was in purification jars and Jesus made it into wine. Water for purification rituals wasn’t needed when Divine Love Incarnate was present. Why not take that water and turn it into wine that would allow the wedding host to continue to offer hospitality?

This story also tells us that we become extraordinary when we use our gifts in service to someone else. Who we are and what we are able to do, don’t matter if we don’t use what we have in service to others. We are not meant to deplete ourselves for the sake of others. We are meant to serve others in a way that builds them up, that communicates their value as God’s Beloved or God’s Delight.

Imagine how different the world would be if we all recognized who we are and used the gifts we have in service to others. If everyone did this, not for the purpose of recognition, validation, praise, or payment, but to share the knowledge and power of God’s love? How extraordinary would we all be then?

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 20, 2019
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

Photo: CC0 image by Ilona

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Musings Sermon Starter

We are Named and Claimed

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With the recent release of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I hear a lot about Fred Rogers. People tend to go on about how much they loved his show when they were growing up. They watched faithfully and enjoyed his message of love, kindness, and acceptance. With each conversation I’ve been involved in, I try to keep quiet. So far, I’ve been unsuccessful. I always find myself blurting out, “I hated it!” It’s true. I could not stand watching the show as a child. I thought Mr. Rogers was a faker and a liar. He didn’t know me. It was seldom all that “beautiful” in my neighborhood. If confronted with watching his show, I would turn the tv off, leave the room, or read a book so I didn’t have to listen to him talk about how kind and nice the world was. Of course, decades later, I came to understand the power and the importance of the show and the work of Fred Rogers. But as a child, no, I wanted nothing to do with him.

This isn’t really all that surprising if you know anything about my childhood. I did not feel particularly loved or valued at home and in school I was often the victim of bullying. The truth of my young life is that most people weren’t very nice and nobody cared about me in particular. Why would I believe the perfect stranger on television who tried to tell me otherwise? I couldn’t tolerate Mr. Roger’s message of love because I hadn’t experienced it. And, being a child, I didn’t yet know that other families were different from my own.

This may be the problem when it comes to the kind of love Jesus preached and shared. Many people are highly suspicious of God’s love because they have not experienced it in a recognizable form. Today’s church has become so divided by doctrine and dogma, it’s hard to know what’s true or what’s right. Too often fear, anger, hatred, and judgment seem to be the way today’s Christians move in the world. Why would anyone believe in a God who only desires for us to know our value and live in love? It’s hard if you’ve only witnessed division among those who claim to be followers of Christ.

The concept of a loving God is not new to Christianity nor is our inability to claim it and share it. Many stories in the Hebrew Bible speak of God’s steadfast love. No matter how many times the people strayed from God’s ways, forgot to care for the vulnerable among them, and worshiped wealth and power rather than God, God remained. Always, God was present when the people remembered whose they were. Always, God’s steadfast love blanketed the people with forgiveness, grace, and new life. Without fail.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon you.

This ancient promise given through the Prophet Isaiah is still valid. We are still precious in God’s sight. God still calls us by name. We still belong to God. Yet, it’s too easy to forget. There is less evidence in the world of God’s love than there is of human fear.

As a child, I desperately needed the message Mr. Rogers tried to convey. I couldn’t hear it from a stranger. I needed to experience the truth from people I knew and trusted, and it took too many years before I was able to accept it. This is how we are with the message of God’s steadfast love. We don’t often accept it from strangers, even kind-hearted ones. We need to consistently experience God’s love from those we know and trust. It takes time before most of us can live out the truth of it.

Jesus had the benefit of a voice from heaven proclaiming his status as God’s beloved. That isn’t likely to happen to any of us today. We need to have the truth of our status as beloved proclaimed in the words and actions of those who bear Christ’s name. It is up to us to embody God’s love for everyone, most especially those who are vulnerable. It’s time we live what we claim to believe in a way that transforms lives. After all, this is what Jesus did. There’s no reason for people to hate church the way that I hated Mr. Rogers; everyone deserves to know that they are God’s beloved. How is anyone going to know the truth if we don’t live it?

RCL – Year C – First Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Photo: CC0 image by Mar

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Musings Sermon Starter

Seemingly Impossible Joy

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Rejoice in the Lord always. Always and everywhere. Was Paul kidding? The world is too challenging a place to be full of joy always, isn’t it? I mean look at what is happening around the world – war, hunger, sickness, climate change – and in this country – murder, incarceration, tear gas, hatred, fear – and in my neighborhood – isolation, anxiety, desperation. Who can find joy in all of this? Funny thing, Paul’s world wasn’t all the different. He was imprisoned, not for the first time when he wrote to the Philippians. He was no stranger to oppression, war, violence, hatred, fear, and other such soul-destroying things. Yet, he found joy in the Lord.

And we are supposed to do the same no matter what is going on around us or in our own lives. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, joy is not the same thing as happiness. Joy is a more mature, deeper, transforming emotion than happiness. Happiness is dependent on one’s circumstances. Lots of things can make us happy. Joy is built on the connection between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. Joy does not end when the moment has passed. This is how Paul could rejoice even when circumstances were not in his favor.

Where is the joy for today’s Christian? To be perfectly honest, I spent a good portion of my younger years feeling anything but joy. It was so hard to see through the pain of the past and the precarious balance of the present to any kind of lasting joy. It’s also hard to feel joy if one does not experience love. Only when I began to see myself as someone worthy of love, someone whom God loved deeply, did I notice joy blossoming in the depths of my being.

Zephaniah’s and Isaiah’s call to sing God’s praises even while still captive and filled with shame, make much more sense when considered in the context of God’s steadfast love. I don’t know why or how, but God continues to love humanity no matter what we do. When we engage in war and violence, God’s love remains. When we are filled with fear and hatred for our neighbors, God’s love holds fast. When we are lost to anxiety and despair, God’s love abides. Nothing we can do to ourselves, each other, or creation can change the fact that we were created in Love for love. For reasons beyond my capacity to fathom, God still loves all of humanity and waits for us to grasp hold of this truth.

When we understand ourselves to be God’s beloved, then joy becomes possible. The shame gives way to hope and the fear gives way to peace. Suddenly the world holds more beauty than violence and all our neighbors are God’s beloved. No, I don’t think it’s possible that any of us live in this truth 100% of the time. We are still subject to the emotions coursing through our bodies and the pressures of living in this chaotic world. The difference comes into play when we sit still long enough to sink into the very center of ourselves. When we allow ourselves to become conscious of the truth that resides in the depths of our being – we belong to God and nothing can change that. When we embrace this truth, then joy grows and becomes something that nothing can remove. Yes, joy can grow dim in the face of hardship. It can be masked by depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness. It can fade in the face of grief. Yet, it remains, always. A light in depths that cannot be extinguished.

Of course, this joy might require we do some odd things. We might have to write letters of hope and promise to churches from a prison cell. We might have to proclaim the power and presence of God to a people lost in shame and fear. We might need to preach release, salvation, to captives. We might have to sing while those around us weep, sing of God’s promise of hope, peace, joy, and love.

So, yes, let us rejoice always, trusting that peace that truly passes all understanding to keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. It might just get a little easier to stand with John the Baptist in the wilderness and prepare the way…

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday of Advent – December 16, 2018
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

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Musings Sermon Starter

Thinking Again…

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Ultimately, God is Love beyond our capacity to understand. The purpose of Love is liberation for all people. It’s funny that we spend so much time creating rules to decide who belongs to God when all God wants is to set us free. God’s desire for us is to be free from all that keeps us from being whole, complete, not missing parts of ourselves and trying to fill the empty places with everything that does not fit. God seeks to liberate us from our own fear of inadequacy and finitude, as well as from a society that thrives on kyriarchy. Fortunately for us, God is far more patient than we can imagine.

How many times has God indicated that while human beings are not God, we have infinite value and always have the potential to incarnate Love? Every story in scripture tells of God’s steadfast love for God’s people and God’s desire to liberate us all from everything that prevents us from being God’s people in more than word.

What if those suffering servant passages in Isaiah aren’t really telling us what the Messiah will be, but describing what each of us can be if we truly serve our neighbors with humility and love? What if this is what we were ransomed for? What if this life of loving service is ultimately what God wants from us? What if this is what atonement really looks like?

Think about it. James and John desired, according to Mark’s Gospel, to sit on either side of Jesus in glory. They wanted Jesus to promise them that they would always be the greatest among the disciples, sitting in places of honor throughout eternity. Jesus wasn’t thrilled with their request. First, he didn’t think they could really follow him from death to life. Second, what they asked wasn’t theirs for the asking or up to him to promise. They missed the lesson that Jesus keeps trying to teach. In God’s eyes, greatness looks a lot like humble service.

Jesus isn’t asking anyone to run to the back of the line and prostrate themselves to all who go on ahead. Jesus is asking that the one who has the most, offer their abundance to one who has less. Then one becomes two, and the two invite the next one to share the abundance. Then two becomes three, and three turn to the next and humbly serve… and so on down the line. When it comes to who is the least, the most vulnerable, then there is a crowd to raise them up. The first doesn’t become the last on their own nor are the most vulnerable strengthened with only one set of hands. In community we are transformed into the Body of Christ.

Here’s another way to look at it. Mark tells us that Jesus gave “his life in ransom for many.” For years the primary way Christians have understood this is substitutionary atonement – Jesus was the sacrifice for our sins. What if Jesus wasn’t atoning for anything? What if Jesus death (and resurrection) was to model for us how we save each other? Because the authorities of the day could not tolerate Jesus’ message of love and liberation, they killed him. Yet, God didn’t want violence and hatred to be the end of Jesus’ message, God raised him to new life. Jesus’ death was the ransom for our liberation, the price of our freedom. (In biblical times, ransom was the price paid to reclaim or redeem a person from slavery or servitude; it was the price of the person’s freedom.)

If we commitment to following Jesus, we commit to journeying from death to life. In order to experience the fullness of life, we must offer ourselves in humble service to our neighbors. In a spiritual sense, our lives become the ransom paid for another’s freedom. Love and liberation can be contagious if enough of us embody them, if enough us are willing to let go of our need to be certain of our own power and place in the world.

This is a challenging thought. We live in a society that thrives on individualism and independence. Jesus showed us the way of community and interdependence. None of us can embody Christ on our own; it takes all of us. It takes all of us willing to take on the responsibility of fostering justice for our neighbors. Jesus thought each of us was worth the ransom, the price to redeem humanity. What will it take for us to live that truth? None of us has to endure literal death, but we would have to let go of much of what the world tells us is important.

Long before Jesus came into the world, God demonstrated humanity’s value. Jesus’ life was the price of our liberation, a liberation we have yet to embrace. What if we stop trying to ensure our position as the best and the brightest, and begin to live the truth of God’s great love loud enough to prove that God has not been waiting for us in vain?

RCL – Year B – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – October 21, 2018
Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Photo: CC0 image by Marianne Sopala

Categories
Poetry Prayer

A Poem for Trinity Sunday

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Holy One,

I contemplate the sacred dance
and wonder when I will learn the steps
steps of peace, healing, hope
not just for a few
for all who yearn for freedom

You created all that is
as the Spirit hovered
and the Word spoke
and Wisdom beaconed
and the whole of You delighted in Creation

now we are tangled up in the limits of our language
trying to make You three and one
when You are always so much more
a Sacred Mystery breathing Life
and stirring visions

our lips have been burned clean
our sins have been blotted out
yet we remain outside your realm
(with guns in hand and fear holding us still)
which is close enough to reach
and too far for us to embody
because we have yet to believe
that which has always been:

Your love for us never ends
we can refuse to see it or claim it
we can deny it and avoid it
yet, we cannot separate ourselves from Love

what if the day is coming when our world is shaken
by the power of your glory
shaken so hard that we fall from doubt and disbelief
fear and hatred
apathy and ambivalence
into the truth of your delight in us?

what if we hover with the Spirit over Creation’s waters
and see only Love reflecting
an invitation to learn the steps of the dance
right now?

what if we hear the Word that sears our lips
and speak only grace, hope, and joy
echoing the song you’ve been singing from Earth’s beginning
longing for us to listen?

what if we follow Wisdom’s way
and create justice and offer mercy
until the world finds its rhythm
without violence
without destruction
without division?

God-in-Community,
may you remain patient with humanity
remain steadfast
until we claim your Love
share your Love
embody your Love

continue to shower us with forgiveness
until we know the truth
of your claim on us
and have the courage
to see you
in ourselves
in each other
in the whole of Creation

teach us to seek justice for all people
to love with your patience and compassion
and rely on You when we encounter the limits
of our bodies
of our minds
of our human ways

during this Pentecost season
blow through our lives
and set our holy heads on fire
that we may be the Church-Made-New
born again
born from above
born anew

Amen.

For sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Photo: CC0 image by Jill Wellington

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Something About Those Wings Like Eagles

Nature is a funny thing. We tend to observe its beauty and attribute it to the Creator. We experience God more readily in the woods, the mountains, at the beach, watching the sunrise, or standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. We’ve all had that overwhelming sense of awe when confronted with the beauty and wonder of the natural world. What happens to that surety of God’s presence and power when nature is not passively beautiful?

water-3119563_640When I was a child, I thought that God was the ocean. I suppose only a child growing up in a coastal area could come up with this, but I believed this for quite a long time. Everything I heard about God, matched what I knew about the ocean. God is always present, so is the ocean. God sustains life, so does the ocean. God is both known and a mystery, as is the ocean. God’s power is limitless and uncontrollable, so, too, the ocean. God is both beautiful and terrifying, just like the ocean. My childish reasons made sense. As I grew older, I was reluctant to let go of my understanding of God as the ocean. This image of God as ocean remains a powerful metaphor for me, and the beach is still my primary sacred space. There is no place I’d rather be when a storm rolls in.

To watch a nor’easter or hurricane roll in off the ocean is to be reminded of humanity’s finitude. Waves leap up with a terrifying grace and swallow all the humanmade boundaries – breakwaters, beach walls, and parking lot demarcations – with an insatiable hunger. When water spouts dance on the horizon, creating swirling funnels of water and wind, it’s impossible to think that human beings are the most dominant force in creation. If any of those spouts make it to the shore, devastation and destruction will be the monument to its fleeting presence. And in this time of superstorms, none of us need to be reminded of a hurricane’s power to destroy all that human beings have created.

It’s easy to see God’s power in the beauty, but what of those times when creation rises up to demonstrate her refusal to be tamed and displays her capacity to wreak havoc? Do we see the God’s power in the less passive aspects of nature? Perhaps we should, then we would not be so arrogant in our use (abuse) of the planet. We like to think of the softer, more beautiful side of God. We like to think of God’s love as a tender affirmation of our being, a gentle reminder of our true parentage. However, God’s love is not always gentle nor is it predictable or passive.flash-845848_640.jpg

Many years ago I worked a summer camp in Wisconsin. Living in the woods that summer was the first time I’d experienced God’s wonder and majesty away from the ocean. I was fascinated by the strange birds and creatures I encountered in those woods. It rained often that summer and I failed to take those mild storms seriously until one of them knocked me on my butt. I was enjoying my free time away from main camp when a rain suddenly started. I turned back toward main camp with every intension of enjoying a leisurely walk back to my tent. But the clouds darkened and the rain fell heavier and then the thunder and lightning began. I quickened my pace a little, but let my poet’s eyes wander around the path dreaming up lines to capture the imagery of the wet woods. Then it happened. A tree with a trunk nearly two feet in diameter was split by lightning. Before I knew what was happening, I was thrown back several feet to land on my backside, staring at the smoking tree with my hair standing on end. I bolted. I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in my life. I’d just seen a raw power unleashed and came with in a few feet of being toast. I’ve had a healthier respect for lightning since that day.

To be clear, I am not saying that God causes any of these storms. I’m also not saying that nature is God. However, if we can see the beauty and wonder of God in the natural world, ought we not to be seeing the fierceness, the wildness, and the unfathomableness of God in the storms and the unexpected intensity nature can throw at us? The many aspects of the natural world can be an excellent reminder of the many aspects of God. We don’t get to choose just the sweet, quiet moments of affirmation and say that there is nothing else in the world or in God’s love. We must also accept the powerful, chaotic moments that point toward our finitude and the mystery that lurks in nature and in the fullness of the Creator.

bald-eagle-1606699_1280.jpgThe power that can raise us up on eagle’s wings, cast out our demons, heal our brokenness, can also bring us to our knees, humble our arrogance, and reveal our fragility. Yes, there is beauty in the world that points toward its Creator. However, there is also untamable, unpredictable power that does the same. Nature is not ours to control. Harness her energy, learn from her mysteries, watch over her with careful, intentional stewardship for sure, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we rule over all that is. God is not ours to control, either. We are meant to live in the love of God, strengthened by God’s mysteries and presence, sharing in the abundance of life that God offers, but we are never to fool ourselves into believing that we have tamed the Holy One.

Maybe if we are paying attention to what the natural world is telling us with all of the superstorms, wildfires, earthquakes, famines, and more, we’d all find ourselves knocked back on off our feet with our hair standing on end, recognizing that we are not as powerful as we thought. So, too, with God. Isn’t it time that we remember that the God we worship is not a warm fuzzy character from a children’s book, but the mysterious power that created all that is and claims us as beloved in spite of our foolish, self-absorbed ways?

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Top Photo: CC0 image by Andrew Songhurst

Middle Photo: CC0 image by Jonny Linder

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Brigitte Werner

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Musings Sermon Starter

A Song of Praise

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If your house is anything like mine, there are remnants of Christmas everywhere. There’s the tree with a string of lights not quite working. There’s a box of wrapping paper and cardboard waiting to go out to the recycle bin. There’s a not-so-tidy stack of decorations that never made it to the tree. The new gifts sitting out because they haven’t found a place yet. Oh, and the kitchen, well, it’s the kitchen after a flurry of baking and candy making… It’s obvious that something happened here, it’s just not clear what that something was.

It’s just not clear what that something was. For many people, the day after Christmas is the day to put everything away, tidy things up for the new year. In the stores all the Christmas goods are on the clearance shelves and Valentine’s Day products have taken the prime spots. It’s hard to keep up when retail jumps from one holiday to the next without stopping in between. Church is different, though, isn’t it.

The Advent wreath is fully lit as the paraments change to white. Concerts and carols fill the week. How do we keep going with Christmas while the world moves on? How do we linger at the manger, under the star long enough to find some meaning in the annual remembrance of Jesus’ birth?

Isaiah, the Psalmist, Simeon, Paul all provide a clue to meaning making. They all point toward praise. Praising God in the midst of the chaos and the ordinary opens us to the truth of what happened under that star so long ago. Too many people say that they cannot praise God while refugees wander without a home, while people freeze to death for lack of shelter, while children remain hungry, while hatred runs free in our streets, and on down the list of social ills. Perhaps this is part of the reason for everything feeling overwhelming or out of control; we have forgotten how to sing God’s praises every day.

No matter what is happening in the world, God is still God. God created the world. God so loves the world. God became flesh and lived among us. God reveals the way of Love. If the world is overwhelmed with hatred and poverty and fear, it is not God’s doing. God is still God in the midst of the mess we have created. God was God on that first Christmas when Jesus took his first breath. God was God on that first Good Friday when Jesus took his last breath. God was God on that first Easter morning when Christ emerged from death. God is God, even now, when we live in fear, when we struggle for health and wholeness, when Pharaoh and Babylon are on the rise again, when we forget that nothing can extinguish Love. God is still God. God waits for us to recognize God’s presence here and now. God is waiting for us to sing praises to God even when we don’t feel like it.

There is plenty to sing about, really. God loves humanity collectively and individually, even when we don’t seek out God’s ways, even when our sin has lasting effects. Praising God for the goodness of creation should come naturally to our lips. Praising God for God’s amazing love for humanity should be as natural as breathing. We have forgotten to step back and look beyond our own lives, beyond this moment in time, beyond the remnants of this Christmas. We have forgotten to listen to the stories of those who have gone before us. We have forgotten to come before God in awe and gratitude for the gift of life and Love. Perhaps we have forgotten how truly loved we are. If we remember, we can change the world. If we remember, we will become known for our songs of praise.
Spend some time in these days of Christmastide under the light of the star that still shines, surrounded by the remnants of the day, and remember. Remember the days of old that enable the prophets and poets to sing praises to God. Remember the beauty and wonder of creation. Remember those who have shared faith with you. But most importantly, remember that Christmas is all about Love breaking into the world in a whole new way so that we will not forget that we are God’s beloved. That’s what happened in that stable so long ago. That’s what happened just a few days ago.

May we all become songs of praise to the One whose Love continues to reach for us, even now.

If you’re looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday after Christmas – December 31, 2017
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Photo: CC0 image by anja