A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Trust For Joy – Christmas Sunday

angel trumpet 12Isaiah 9:2 – 7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

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Because of a child that was born there is joy for the people. Why does this particular child bring so much joy? Because this child will focus on endless peace. He will see us all equally and treat us all with integrity. He will remove the needless burdens others make us carry. And the memories that cause us pain and nightmares will be healed.

The kind of joy that is described is like that of people dividing plunder. Probably because of our Christmas season this makes me think of kids at the Christmas tree gleefully unwrapping presents that they were surprised to find there. There is an excitement to joy as well as a deep sense of security. To me that is what makes it different from being happy. Happiness can be fleeting. Joy is grounded in a truth that will see you through tough times. Having joy, even if it is just a glimmer, can be the reason you get through tough times.

This is important because although Jesus was born and he is who we call Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace; even though he does see us all equally and treat us all with integrity, the lived experiences of people on this great planet of ours does not often reflect that ideal.

We also might reflect on the fact that the world is not experiencing peace. There are still wars of many kinds going on as well as domestic violence and oppression. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words still ring true in his poem “Christmas Bells” which he wrote Dec 25, 1863. His son was fighting in the civil war as a Union Soldier. He was badly injured and close to death. In the depth of his despair he wrote this poem which includes specific mention of the civil war. In one stanza he speaks of the canons from the south drowning out the carols of peace on earth and good will. The poem continues this way …

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

In that last stanza what I hear is a man who is trusting God. What are these bells which are ringing out more loud and deep? Might they be bells of joy? A joy which is a foundation and security. One which allows room for change, transformation, hope, and a future peace?

Jesus wasn’t born because everything was okay and he just wanted to party with us. He was born, divinity wrapped in humanity, to be the bells that pealed more loud and deep. And then he passed on his mission to us.

Joy and beauty and amazement and wonder are contagious. So is evil, hate, violence and that lot. Equally contagious is ambivalence which tends to lead to atrophy, which degrades into evil, hate, and violence. The Christ-Centered mission that Jesus passed on to us is one of offering healing, hope, wholeness, beauty, and determined love to everyone. equally and treat us all with integrity. We are to remove the needless burdens others are made to carry. We can also help them remove the memories that cause them pain so that their nightmares will be healed.

If every day you can meditate on the joy in your life of having been transformed through love by our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – divinity wrapped in humanity … if every day you can do this … then you will be a bell that peals more loud and deep for others to hear, to have hope, and to experience a joy that will move them.

But first you have to trust the joy that God has given you. Dust if off if you have to. Recite the truth of it in your soul. Get out the spiritual WD-40 and work its hinges so that they become free.

Remember with me and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that God is not dead nor doth God sleep. God lives … and right now we celebrate his new born life with his mother Mary and his father Joseph.

Trust For Love

Micah 5:2;4 – 5a (NRSV)

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. … And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

 

Luke 1:46-55 The Message

46-55 And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

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manger 3

A promise came through the prophet Micah and was fulfilled through the prophet Mary.

Micah proclaimed a promise of hope and a future. Mary realized she was God’s hope and God’s future. She exclaims about how blessed she is and praises God for the gift she has been given. She feels seen and loved. Her heart is full of love for God, for the child she is bearing, and for the people to whom the child is being sent.

Today we look at the symbol of the empty manger and remember that although Mary’s proclamation is joyous and full of praise, that she also endured great hardship and pain. Waiting for her baby to be born had its own wonderfulness, especially after Joseph received his revelation about Mary’s pregnancy. Sure there was probably small town gossip about what was going one, but she could handle that.

I can imagine she and Joseph setting things up for the baby. They probably had some sort of a cradle for him – whatever they were using at the time. Joseph was a carpenter so maybe he made the cradle as well as some toys for Jesus to play with. And they made sure to have blankets and clothes. Family and neighbors likely helped them get all set up. Mary knew that her time was due to have her baby. She was getting the last minute things done as best she could.

And then trouble happened. To be honest each gospel account of Jesus’ birth varies. Luke says a census was called and that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Matthew says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as if that was Joseph and Mary’s hometown. But then the Magi came and told them that Herod was seeking the boy’s life so they fled to Egypt for a few years. Then they came back to Bethlehem but because of more trouble they decided to go to Nazareth and there they stayed.

Either way – there was trouble and they had to risk their lives to save their son.

Mary needed to remember her proclamation of joy which was steeped in being seen and being loved by God. When trouble came she had to trust in that love … and so did Joseph.

Let’s take the Luke version of the story. Mary and Joseph get everything ready for the baby. The cradle. The blankets. The toys. And then the census is called and they have to leave for Bethlehem to be counted. Joseph is worried about Mary and the baby. How is she going to make it? What can he do to help? Mary is steeling herself for the journey. She knows the baby is due to be born so she takes a couple blankets so she has something. But they can’t carry much. The clothes, the toys, and the cradle will have to stay home. As picks up her bags to leave she feels Jesus kick and puts her hand on her side. She looks at the empty cradle and walks out the door.

All she can do is trust God for the love that she felt when all this began.

That is all that we can do too. We can make the best preparations possible. We can do the best we can with what we have and know. But we can’t predict every circumstance and we can’t predict the outcome. It boils down to trusting the God of our love. Every day. Moment by moment.

The week let’s remember the times that God interrupted our lives in good ways … ways in which we felt seen, known, and loved. And then let’s trust God that all of that is still true even if our circumstances have turned. We can walk with Mary letting go of the stuff we can’t take with us, wondering what is ahead, and trusting God’s love with each step.

Good News or Bad News?

Over and over angels, Spirit, and Jesus remind us to not give ourselves to fear.  I don’t believe we live in a time which is any more violent or oppressive than any other time. I do believe that we live in a time where mass violence is more easily enacted and that fear mongering is more easily spread.

Sometimes I wonder if going to a worship service holds any meaning. Why get up on a Sunday morning when we are already so tired and so busy? How does it help?

Earlier this week I went to a concert at Culver Academy. Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals were performing. It seemed to me that everyone left the auditorium that night feeling good, possibly inspired. The words and music were uplifting and energizing. That night I heard Good News. It wasn’t preaching … it wasn’t focused on Jesus … but still I heard Good News.

When we rehearse in our minds, hearts, and spirits the voices of bad news then we can become despondent and lifeless. Everything looks bad. Even the good things that we can see are filtered through a gauze of sadness and hopelessness.

We must not give in to the bad news and let it take our lives away. This is the purpose to church. To remind us that there is Good News. To inspire us to face the bad news filtered through a gauze of hope and life. Church is also a place to build determination to be a light in the world and not a damp wet soggy rag.

Gathering together for the purpose of being inspired, determined, and hopeful is the best that a worship service has to offer.  There will always be bad news. We might feel like we have little we can do to change what is going on. But if we give up altogether then bad news has won.

Don’t give up. Rehearse in your mind, hear, and spirit that there is good in the world – that life holds beauty. Consider coming to church to gather together for mutual inspiration.

Philippians 4:8New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Advent – Trusting For Faith

shepherds_field

Luke 2:8-11, 15

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord . . . When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

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 Working third shift is tough. I did it for a little while. There were some advantages but I found it wasn’t something that I could do long-term. I know there are folks who do … and some do it by choice. I don’t know if these shepherds were taking the night shift by choice or if they were on the bottom rung of the social ladder. My guess, given their societal structure, that they were on the bottom rung. Shepherds in general were considered bottom rung, so to be working third shift was likely the lowest of the bottom.

It was a night like any other. They were watching for hazards or predators on behalf of the flocks they guarded. In the midst of a normal night there comes a surprise. Not a predator which they would have anticipated. Instead an angel greeted them.

These were rough people; the shepherds of the night. They did not scare easily. They fought off any and all who would try to slay or steal their flock. And yet we are told that they were terrified. The heavenly realm had just burst upon them. We would be terrified too.

The angel spoke words of peace and gave them good news – tidings of great joy. These rough men listened – astonished. Had the heavenly realm really just broken in upon them? How could this be? Surely they were the last ones to know. They were the last ones to know everything.

They led their flocks to Bethlehem to see the thing that they had been told. They left right away to behold this amazing and life changing news. They left immediately to find great joy. They left because they believed. Their belief … their faith … drew them onward.

These shepherds, not the last to hear this great news but the first, before kings or governors, before the rich, before the well fed and acceptable people, these shepherds got words first.

If anyone needed to hear good news of great joy it was them. If anyone needed something greater and more wonderful than the life they knew it was them. They grabbed on to this message of hope with their faith and didn’t let it go. They let it move them – physically taking their flocks to the town of Bethlehem. They also let it move them in the hearts and spirits. Their minds were moved in how to imagine such a thing so wonderful. And they went to see.

What will your faith grab hold of? Is there any good news of great joy that you have heard? Will you let it move you? Do you think you are the lowest and on the bottom rung? Do you wish you had better? Do you need good news? Will you welcome a surprise from the heavenly realm, as terrifying as it might be?

Terrifying because even though you are ready for almost anything you never imagined anything quite like this?

I want to walk to Bethlehem with you and see the thing that was told to us. I want to experience new life with you and become more than we are today.

I want to be like those shepherds with you. Let’s believe together and let our faith move us toward beauty, love, and life as we follow the angel voices even if we are terrified. Let’s believe, move, and be changed.

Trusting God For Peace

Luke 3:1 – 6 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,  “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Scripture: Isaiah 40: 1-3 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

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 Isaiah and John the Baptist both prophesy that a way is to be prepared for God. The preparation is the removal of obstacles. That can be seen as being a kind of peace. I think that we see peace that way most of the time – as the removal of obstacles which makes life easier.

But peace is more complicated than that. And also it is more simple. Peace is so simple that for us it is complicated.

As we know, Advent means to wait. When we wait, especially if it is to be for a long time, it is helpful to have something to think about … to meditate on. Last week we meditated on Hope. This week we are meditating on Peace. We have a whole week to ponder the complicated simplicity of Peace.

In a nutshell, peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the absence of violence. Conflict is not the problem. How we deal with conflict is the problem.

We live in a violent world. Lately I think it is fair to say that we live in a violent country. I wish I could say with confidence that everyone who hears about violent actions are heartbroken and deeply grieved. But I know this is not the case. Some people believe that violence is the only way to show whatever group of people they hate that they need to sit down, shut up, go away, and be very afraid.

Violence comes in many forms – physical, verbal, emotional, and spiritual. It can be manipulative or head on aggression. People perpetrate violence (and by that I mean that they start it) because they are afraid and they don’t have the skills to express their fear or to figure out why they have it.

As Christians we are called to follow Jesus, our Prince of Peace. What does that mean in our day to day lives? How do we wait while meditating on peace? Jesus himself was a little difficult to understand when it came to peace. At one point he told people that he wasn’t here to bring peace. At another time he said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.“

Jesus also says that we are to take up our cross and follow him. That is not exactly a recipe for no conflict. What it speaks to is our intentional way of living – facing conflict with a heart that is stayed on the peace of God.

We may not have the ability to give the world a worldly kind of peace. But as Christians we do have something unique to offer. We have access to Spirit peace. This is a way of life – it is a choice and a difficult one at that.

When we live in Spirit Peace we know that it is going to look odd to those who don’t. It might even increase the aggravation of those who don’t have it. Jesus experienced this all the time. The more he lived in the peace of his soul the more people wanted to throw him off a cliff or to crucify him. So the trick is to not get discouraged when your soul’s peace is aggravating others and they try to get you riled up.

I believe that the best response to violence is beauty and love. What if we perpetrated acts of beauty in the face of anger, intolerance, hatred, and all those other toxic ways of being? What if we refused to participate in violence even during conflict? What if we blessed instead of sending a curse?

This is not the world’s peace. It is God’s peace. This is how we prepare the way for the Lord. This is how we prepare our hearts for the incarnation of God in the baby Jesus. We live in peace and offer peace to a world which may not know it evens wants it. We bring beauty in us and with us. Even in the hard times we do our best to perpetrate beauty.

Will we fail sometimes. Oh yes. Will we find ourselves in the momentum of anger, rage, and possibly violence? Possibly. Can we then stop and shower our own souls with beauty? I believe we must. In the words of Isaiah, “Comfort, Comfort oh my people.” Speak tenderly to yourselves and each other. Prepare yourselves with beauty. Not as the world sees beauty, but in the beauty of unconditional love. Prepare yourselves with this beauty because God is coming near.

Amy Grant and Corrina Gill

Amy Grant was and is very inspirational to me. To gear up for my day I decided to listen to some of her music. There is a lot of good stuff – old and not so old. One of my favourites “Better Than A Hallelujah”. I thought about posting that song but instead decided upon this one. What captured my heart is the way that Amy looks at her daughter Corrina. The love between them is breathtaking, hopeful, and sacred. I hope you enjoy it too.

“Spirit Break Out”

Dance – it is my worship method of choice. I don’t get to do it much any more for a number of reasons.

Lighting – I have done a little lighting design for dance and much more lighting set-up. But it was years and years ago. Still, it captures my heart and spirit.

Music – And essential aspect of my isness.

Here is a phenomenal video which brings these three together. I fall in love with God over and over when I see the testimony of God’s creation. I hope you enjoy this beautiful testimony.