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Musings

Discovering Joy

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Joy is a slow-growing, steadfast thing. It’s also not as fleeting as I once thought. I believed until quite recently that joy was an infrequent and reluctant visitor in my life. It would occasionally land for a few days and then flit away and I’d be left with comforting memories. I’ve discovered that it isn’t really like that; joy is a constant though it might sometimes be obscured. Strangely enough, the Book of Revelation helped me to come to this new understanding of joy.

Revelation is a book that is either loved or hated. No one feels ambivalent about it. Most mainline, progressive Protestant-types eschew the book entirely, dismissing it as an early form of science fiction or fantasy. Those who love it tend to see it more legalistically and take it as an actual prophecy of the end times. I am drawn to it for its poetic beauty. I can see that loveliness of the crystal city, feel the coolness of the river of life, and taste the fruit of the tree that will be the healing of the nations. Such promise in this vision of a new heaven and a new earth!

This last year has been a challenging one for me. I moved to a new city far away from all the places I had lived before. My mother died and opened old wounds I had thought were healed. These things combined in strange ways and resulted in me having to sort through my self-understanding from entirely new place. I wrestled with sadness, exhaustion, doubts, and a whole lot of pain. Yes, there were moments of joy and I knew that I was not alone. However, I felt I was missing something vital.woman-570883_1920

In the last few weeks I’ve had a very strong sense that something wonderful is about to
happen. I’m not prone to unbridled optimism. These last few weeks have not been easy ones so this pull toward expectant trust is also unwarranted. Yet, when I sit still and set aside my grief over my mother’s death, my concerns for the future well-being of the congregation I serve, anxiety over some medical tests, the stress that relocation has put on my family, and a few other things, I discover a sense of joy and wonder. I recognize, beyond doubt, that all really will be well, even when it doesn’t feel like it is.

Where does this come from? Well, you know that image in the Revelation text of a holy city? We, you and I and the rest of the Body of Christ, are that holy city. Or could be. All that Light is within us, within our reach if we can get out of the way. The Body of Christ is rooted in the Waters of Life. We are also the tree whose leaves will bring healing to the nations. At our best, the church is the new life described in Revelation and leads the way to peace. At our worst, we participate in the divisions and destructions, the sins, of the world. What might we be if the entirety of the Church committed itself to only speaking and embodying words of love? Healing of the nations, indeed!

I know these images appeal to my poet’s heart and they seem impossible. I really don’t think they are. There is a seed planted deep within each of us. Many of us don’t nurture it well or water it with gratitude often enough. We don’t take much time to notice how it grows or how deep the roots can go, so deep that they connect us to the very heart of the Creator. Sometimes we see its fruits and know that it’s there, at least in the moment. But it’s not a passing moment. Joy is a constant and it is within all of us just waiting for us to notice. It won’t take away the pain and heartache that comes with life, but it is a healing balm in these times of suffering.

Waiting for God to bring about this new holy city isn’t going to make it happen. If we live as though we are the Holy City, then we will become it. Toni Morrison wrote in Beloved, “If you can’t imagine it, then you can’t have it.” Can you imagine yourself as part of John’s holy city where living water flows freely and the nations are healed? There is joy there, joy enough for all.

(If you are looking for more sermon help, you might want to go here.)

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2016
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Top  CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe.

Bottom  CC0 image by Jill Wellington

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Musings Sermon Starter

Resurrection is Now

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Words, actions, and promise chase each other through this week’s readings. Peter speaks and Tabitha returns to life in Acts. The Shepherd’s promise of life and presence is clear in Psalm 23. Revelation is all about the promise of life yet to come. In John, the crowds have seen Jesus’ actions and they want clear, decisive words instead; Jesus gives them their words and a promise as well.

Circumstances in my life have converged in such a way that I feel an incredible sense of urgency. It isn’t so much personal as it is professional. I’m anxious to be a part of making changes. The political scene here in the US has stirred up hatred, fear, and ignorance. States are passing laws that target Trans people in ridiculous ways. There’s an increase in Islamophobia and the destructive words and actions that go along with a belief that all Muslims are a threat. Racial tensions seem higher than ever with amazing reluctance of white folks to acknowledge the depth of injustice. It would be so easy to give in to the fear, the ignorance, the hatred, and follow the loud voices who lull crowds into thinking that some mythic clock can be turned back and we can shove all the demands for justice and equality back into the oppressive, dank basement they have lived in for so long.

We cannot, nor should we try, to turn back the clock on the press forward or repress the yearning for a better way of life for so many people. Personally, I’m looking for those words that will call people to life. If Peter, glorious, imperfect, impulsive Peter, can be a conduit for life, then there is hope for all of us. Not one of us should be reluctant to speak into the void any words that will bring life. If God can work through Peter to bring about miracles, then it is just as possible that God can work through you and me.

This is the urgency I feel. We must add our voices in opposition to all those who are engendering fear and building walls of hatred. If was take seriously the words of scripture, we ought not be afraid to lend our voices to those who are not being heard. The familiar words of Psalm 23 are filled with promise. We do not walk through the valley of death or oppression or hatred or destruction or violence alone; God walks with us always and everywhere. If we pause long enough, we will recognize that we are being pursued by goodness and mercy. Maybe it’s time we let them catch us so we can go forward with intent to bring only good and be only merciful.

If this is not enough to inspire you to act or to at least understand my sense of urgency, read Revelation. It’s a beautiful passage, so full of hope and promise. The day will come when hunger and thirst are no more. God will wipe away every tear. If we are waiting for God to bring about such a day, we’ll wait a long time. God is waiting for us to embody Christ in ways that will bring about such a time when oppression is replaced by justice not for any chosen few but for the whole of creation. I think God has been more than patient in waiting…

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I feel somewhat justified in my impatience for the world to change. Jesus was impatient, too. He spent his life showing any who were watching what a life of loving kindness looked like. But even some who watched him didn’t get it. They wanted Jesus to tell them plainly whether or not he was the Messiah. His actions were not enough for some. His words were not enough for others. He talked about those who knew him, trusted his voice, and followed him. These he would hold on to forever. He didn’t say that there wasn’t room for more or that these were the only ones. Just that those who followed him were the ones he would hold into eternity. Jesus knew who and whose he was and invited others to have the same power and presence in their own lives.

In this Easter season it’s important to remember that the Resurrection is now. Life is now. We, the Church, are the embodiment of Christ now. The work that is to be done to bring about justice, liberation, hope, and peace for all God’s people is our work to do. Peter spoke words of life. We are promised God’s goodness and mercy always. Jesus invited us to live in that promise. I think now’s a good time. Do you?

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 17, 2016
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Top Photo CC0 image by Klaus Dieter vom Wangenheim
Bottom Photo CC0 image by skeeze

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Bidding Prayer Emerging Church liturgy Prayer Uncategorized

A Bidding Prayer for the Living of These Days

Come, let us pray for faithful people everywhere.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Loving Creator, you are the Alpha and Omega of all that is. The names we have for you are more numerous than we like to admit. The theologies we have constrchurch-59514_1920ucted cannot define or contain you. Remind us that you call people of all ages and places and reveal to them a way of love and peace. While language, tradition, and beliefs may separate us, you make no distinction among those who honor you by seeking paths of loving kindness. Replace our judgments and fears with courage to see you in the face of neighbors and strangers.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the church as it gathers here and elsewhere.
people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God who lived among us to teach us the way of peace, you yearn for us to turn to you. Your heart breaks when war and violence are perpetrated in your name. If we are to be the Body of Christ here and now, then we must offer hospitality and sanctuary to all who seek it – especially when asylum seekers speak a different language, call you by another name, or look different than we do. Remind us of the ways in which you spoke truth to power and set people free. Strengthen and encourage us to speak that same truth until justice is available to all.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all people, especially our enemies.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Ruler of all, robed in majesty, Holy One, we cannot imagine that you love everyone with the same unconditional, unearned love. We like to pretend that our way is the only way that honors you and that you love us best. Yet, if we are truthful, then we know that you love those who hurt us including the people of ISIS and Boko Haram and their hateful, violent acts hurt you as well. Yet, your love goes on forever. We are to live in this steadfast love. Give us the courage to lift our enemies before you and respond to hatred with your love and reminding ourselves that hateful, violent actions do not come from you.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for this nation that is home to so many peoples.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Gracious God who is, who was, and who is to come, you have blessed us with an abundance and desire for us to share with those in need. We’d like to beliewelcome-976277_1920ve that our country is your favorite, yet we know that your love knows no bounds. We’d also like to believe that the troubles of other countries are not ours. You call us to bear one another’s burdens and to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Set us free from the fear that binds us to brokenness. Speak your truth to those in power and empower those who hide in shadows to join together in the work for justice and peace.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the marginalized, the overlooked, the dismissed, and the forgotten people all around us.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Indwelling, ever-present God, you would make your home in us. All of us are created in your image and you would make each of us a temple of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can change that – not homelessness, mental illness, disabilities, economics, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other category we have created that enables us to devalue another human being. You tell us to love our neighbors and ourselves without qualifiers. May the day soon arrive when we can see you in whom we meet.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all who are grieving.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Eternal God of both the living and the dead, we turn to you for comfort and hope. Grief has touched us all this week. We feel the pain of Lebanon, France, Iraq, and Nigeria and of those much closer to home who have lost loved ones to violence and suicide. Remind us that the way of violence is not your way, that you came to show us how to live in love and peace. Even now, as we reach for that peace that passes all human understanding, we ask for your forgiveness, your healing, and your grace.
God of compassion and mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us give thanks to God.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Patient and generous God, our words fail to express the gratitude we offer. Even in times of sin, darkness, and despair you continue to love us and wait so patiently for us to return to the light of your love. Your truth calls to us over and over again. May the gratitude we feel in this moment open us even more to the power of your Holy Spirit to transform us that we may transform the world in love to bring about your peace.
In Christ’s holy name we pray.
Amen.

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RCL – Year B – Reign of Christ Sunday – November 22, 2015
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-12 [13-18]
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

All images from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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Musings Sermon Starter

More Than A Prayer

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I wanted to write a prayer for this week’s post. I even tried to write a prayer, but I couldn’t. It would be too easy for me to write a poetic prayer that generalized the issues shouting at me from this week’s news. What I see is in jarring opposition to what the lectionary texts proclaim.

I won’t say much more about the NPR article that talks of an increase in adult suicide because I’ve said enough already. But it raised the issue of hopelessness that has pursued me through the week. And after seeing Ironman 3, I am struck by how desperate we are for heroes, for hope, for something stronger than we are that can save us from all danger. On the contrary, Psalm 97 speaks of a God who guards the faithful and rescues them from the wicked. While the language of this Psalm might be a bit outdated, surely there is something here that is relevant and alive today. This God is not absent from the earth unless we all fail to live in God.

Next there is the remarkable story about the three kidnapped women in Cleveland, OH. There is something of the Acts story of release here. It is rather miraculous that a man would break down his neighbor’s door to free a woman screaming for help. We all know stories in which people just stood by and watch violence happen. We will never know how many others walked by as Amanda screamed for help. But a few days ago Charles Ramsey did the unexpected and set three women free. He denies being a hero. Others have pointed out his unfortunate past. However, the moment he set Amanda Berry free, he became a real hero, someone to be admired. What does it matter what he’s done in his past? The Apostle Paul saved a jailer who had done some horrible things and the jailer only witnessed a miracle rather than take part in it.

On a slightly different note, I do have to wonder at the response to Jodi Arias’ conviction. One article said, “Outside the courthouse, crowds cheered.” I understand the need for justice. The woman murdered her lover. She should pay the price. I understand neither the crowds nor the cheers. It adds to my sense that society is desperate to feel safe. Obviously, the day has not yet come when all who are thirsty are free to drink.

Coming full circle, I saw this Coffee with Jesus strip this morning.Coffee with Jesus

It’s perfect for this lectionary reading. It speaks to our need to have hope, feel safe, be loved. It succinctly points at the essence of the Gospel. We live in Christ. Christ lives in us. We worship an indwelling God. There is no need for superheroes or criticizing people who manage to selflessly do the right thing or cheering when a murderer is convicted. Bad things will happen but we will not be alone. We will rejoice with all those who are righteous. We will not celebrate the pain of others.

Finally, I know it’s Mother’s Day. So let’s honor all those who have nurtured us, who have shared their faith with us, who have inspired us to live with courage by shaking the dust off our faith and living in gratitude. If we each do this there is more room for God to dwell, more possibility for hope, joy, and peace.

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2013

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

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Musings Sermon Starter

Now or Later?

The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.
Acts 11:12

I was reading the passages from this week’s lectionary, especially this verse from Acts, and what keeps coming back to me is the whole idea that we keep pointing toward a time when Christ will come back and the world will be perfect. And yet we believe we are the body of Christ here and now. Then why are we not embodying these ideals here and now? Why do we make distinctions between one another? Why are we not doing more to alleviate sadness, and grieving and mourning? Why do we not love one another the way Christ told us to? We say that we are Christians and that we love one another, and we forget that we also say that we are the body of Christ. We are supposed to be embodying this new heaven and new Earth, now. So may it be.

110God of All Creation,
Move us out of complacency into love. May our love for you overflow into love for ourselves, other people, and all of creation. Amen.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 28, 2013

Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

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Prayer

A Prayer in the Aftermath

This is my prayerful response to the bombing at the Boston Marathon based on the lectionary readings for the week. If you are looking for a reflection on Psalm 23, click here.

Ever-living God, in days of tragedy and heartbreak, we give you thanks for all the signs of new life around us. The cold days of winter are behind us and the warm days of spring surround us. When anger, fear, and sadness threaten to overwhelm us, open our eyes to the world coming to life everywhere we look. Just as Peter called Tabitha from death to life in your name, you call us from despair to hope. You made us a people of resurrection; lead us into new life now.

Shepherding God, many of us walk in valleys of death; let us walk without fear trusting you to guide us to still waters. We lift up to you all those who suffer in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. But we do not forget all the places in the world where bombs are frequent – Syria, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, and so many other countries around the world. Guard our hearts and spirits from those who would have us live in terror.

God of mercy and grace, we come to you with much on our hearts and minds. We often feel overwhelmed with the state of our world. We focus on the bad news hearing only the awful things. We mourn with those who grieve the loss of life, limb, or innocence from Monday’s bombing. We cry with those whose lives and homes have been destroyed by earthquake in Iran and Pakistan. We echo the fears of flu in China. We wonder at the failure of Congress to vote with their constituents. And there are the personal tragedies – struggles with cancer, addictions, or illness or worries over finances or relationships with loved ones… You know what burdens us and what we are reluctant to let go of. Remind us that your mercy extends to all of us and all those in need. Hear the cries of your people and let us rest in your strong arms.

God who turns mourning to dancing, lead us in the steps of your dance. We long to hear the songs of joy that you would have our hearts sing. You are with the heartbroken and the hopeless bringing healing and promise. Take the heaviness from our hearts and let us sing your praise out loud. You have been with us through every tragedy, every heart break, every act of terrorism, every loss and you are with us now. You embody life and hope. Death and darkness and destruction have no power over you. We stand with you in resurrection light confident that you will wipe every tear from our eyes. Let us dance with you.

God who loves all creation, hear our gratitude for the blessings of this earth. No matter where we are, who we are, what we have done or not done, you shower us with your love. May our lives be filled with love for you and one another. May our acts of grace, hospitality, and forgiveness not be limited to times of tragedy but become our way of living in this world. Let us be gracious stewards of all that you have given to us. Let us live in the fullness of life, rejoicing in the Good News of Resurrection. We are an Easter people and we are your body. May we be reflections of your glory.

Hear the prayers of your people. In Christ’s name. Amen.

RCL – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 21, 2013DSC00108

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

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Musings Sermon Starter

The Sights and Sounds

This week it’s all about sights and sounds. The Acts passage tells of Saul’s conversion to Paul. It’s a dramatic story if ever there was one. Saul sees a bright light, hears Jesus’ calling him, loses his sight, and falls to the ground until Jesus sends Ananias to open Saul’s eyes. Next the Revelation reading actually contains the words, “Then I looked” and “Then I heard.” The scene described is countless angels and other creatures singing to Christ. The drama continues in the Gospel reading. Jesus “showed himself” by the Sea of Tiberias. There was a miraculous catch of fish, a recognition of the risen Christ, and the echoing question of “Do you love me?”

I keep trying to pull them apart to allow them to stand on their own. But this week, I can’t do it. Instead, I find myself asking a lot of questions.

  • To what Truth of Christ am I blind? Who is trying to remove the scales from my eyes?
  • Is Christ asking me to open someone else’s eyes? Am I listening?  Am I willing to do what is being asked?
  • What change is at work in me that I am resisting?
  • Who or what is singing praise to Christ right now? Me? The Church? People? Creation?
  • Why does this Revelation text fill me with such longing?
  • What does it mean to love Jesus and what does feeding his sheep look like now?
  • Is there a difference between loving Jesus in a human way (philios) or in a godly way (agape)? (Jesus gave Peter the same response, but the question was different. It must mean something?)
  • How would these passages be heard differently in different places in the world – Syria? North Korea? Israel? Ireland? China?
  • What sights and sounds point to transformation in the world today?

These are my questions. If you have others, please feel free to share post them. Or, if you are inclined to answer any of them, please do that as well.

Sing praises to God, O you God’s faithful ones,
and give thanks to God’s holy name.

For God’s anger is but for a moment;
God’s favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday of Easter – April 14, 20132013-04-04 19.05.42

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

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Musings Sermon Starter

Maybe It’s Just Me But Jesus Might be Missing

This is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It’s a day to take a deep, calming breath before Advent begins. It is an opportunity to look back at the last year before heading into the new liturgical year. The scriptures give us tools to guide our examination of this last year. They all point toward the sovereignty of God, the Lordship of Christ and beg us to ask if Christ really is Lord of our lives and what that means.

The passage from 1 Samuel records King David’s last words. One particular line stands out for me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. There are a lot of rulers in this world who claim the authority of God and yet there is no peace. The latest election season hear in America highlights just how far from this vision followers of  God can get. Not that I think America is a Christian country or that is should be, but many of those running for office claimed Christianity. Unfortunately, they left out the “fear” or more accurately for today’s culture the “awe” of God and the election became about their own power and authority. How often does a similar shift occur in our churches or our own lives?

The other readings for this week are filled with promises of God’s future presence. These are striking given the state of our world. With all of the disasters, war, and violence of this last year, do we really believe these words of scripture? I’m not sure we live as though they are true. Can any of us sing of God’s majesty today with the same conviction as the one who wrote Psalm 93? Sometimes I think that we value the works of human hands far more than the wonders of God’s creation. The sunrise is still more amazing than any technology, but how often do we take time to notice and give thanks?

When we read the words of Revelation, do we hear the hope and promise in this beautiful, mystical poetry or have we succumbed to those who would misuse this text? Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. What gets in the way of this peace? Where do we lose track of the promise of Christ’s presence now and in the future? Do our churches embody this belief of do they worship the Christ they have known in the past and not the One who can be known today or the One who is to come?

And then we come to the Gospel text… Is Jesus king or sovereign in our churches or in our lives? It was difficult in Jesus’ day for his followers to understand and believe what he meant. And Christ’s Truth has gotten more difficult to discern with the chaos of today’s world. But it’s there for all of us.

So on this last Sunday of the liturgical year the question to ask ourselves is, “Where is Christ in my life?” And if we are brave, we might ask ourselves, “Where is Christ in my Church?” It may no longer be politically correct to talk about the Kingship or Lordship of Christ, but how else do we ask who or what rules our lives?

More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is God! Your decrees are very sure;  holiness befits your house, O God, forevermore.

RCL – Year B – Reign of

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Christ Sunday – November 25, 2012

Series 1:
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-12 [13-18]
Series 2:
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37