An Easter Song

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Holy Saturday

A blessing for this day…

STILL

This day
let all stand still
in silence,
in sorrow.

Sun and moon
be still.

Earth
be still.

Still
the waters.

Still
the wind.

Let the ground
gape in stunned
lamentation.

Let it weep
as it receives
what it thinks
it will not
give up.

Let it groan
as it gathers
the One
who was thought
forever stilled.

Time
be still.

Watch
and wait.

Still.

—Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Good Friday

 
Today is the day we enter into the darkest part of the gospel story.  Here we move with Jesus to the cross and watch as he suffers and dies, killed by the Romans to make an example of anyone who would claim to be King other than Caesar, and handed over by the religious leaders who would sell out their allegiance to God in order to maintain their power and position.
And we look inside our hearts on this Good Friday and realize that we too like to make examples of those who disagree with us and come against us.  And that we too work very hard to not let anyone disrupt the world we are trying to construct for ourselves – willing to crown as king whoever we need to, to keep things the way we like them.
 
But Jesus’ way is SO unlike our way. 
Jesus moves freely, unencumbered by concern for himself, or perception of what others will think, without a desire to be right, to be in charge, to win.  And the earliest followers of the crucified Jesus found here in the words of the prophet Isaiah this stark contrast being named explicitly.
 
Jesus was not the kind of messiah we would ever pick. 
He demonstrates God to us by compassion, mercy, submission and finally by being hung, naked and beaten on a tree outside the city, where he dies.
 
The kind of God that we would make, is one much more in our own image – one who is vengeful and powerful and who when struck, turns NOT the other cheek, but who fights back – to win.
But Good Friday has a way of pointing out this violence and power-hungry way in each of us and then, directing us to the cross says, “That’s not the kind of God we’ve got….
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…He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:3-7)
 
Read slowly and with great care the account of Jesus’ crucifixion as found in John’s Gospel – John 18:1 — 19:42
 
Prayer: 
Forgive us, O God, for mistaking winning and being right with being disciples of your Son Jesus.  Let us sit in quiet before you on this day, when the effect of our sin is seen and felt most clearly.  And, by your mercy, may a new and genuine sense of gratitude well up in our hearts today – that even when we’re at our worst you come to us in order to have us and redeem us – as we see your servant Jesus high and lifted up on the cross.  Amen.   

The Work We’ve Been Given: Worship

This is the first sermon I preached in the parish churches. It was the first Sunday in July 2015.  It was a communion Sunday. 
The Work We’ve Been Given: Worship
For these first three weeks together I want to share deeply with you from my heart about the church, about how I’ve come to think about God’s saving and perfecting work in us in and through the church and to paint for us a picture…
a picture with handles…
so that together we can see and get our hands on, in ever increasing ways, the vision of who God calls us to be together as the people of God at Gold Hill UMC/Pepperell UMC.
Here’s what these first few weeks will look like…
The first two weeks we’ll talk about “the work we’ve been given to do” as God’s people.
Today we’ll look at worship.
Next week mission.
Two weeks from now we’ll wrap up this short three week series with a look at the rhythms of life that serve as a kind of support and foundation of the more public works of worship and mission.
I want us to begin this way because I think it will give us a chance to build together a framework out of which everything else in this season of life and ministry together will flow.
Sound good?
Let’s begin!
When we talk about the work we’ve been given to do as God’s people what we’re talking about is the word “Liturgy”.  For many of us that word has meant a particular way of doing whatever happens on a Sunday morning… a style, a way of praying or singing or something.  But the word “liturgy” literally means “the work of the people.”  It’s common work.  It’s participatory – the work the people do… and it also carries with it a sense of for the common good – it’s work that is good for the people.
The Psalm that Riley read this morning calls us to the work of worshiping God.  And this is a specific call to be an active participant in the gathering of people for the sake of worshiping and celebrating and loving God.  It isn’t a call to worship for clergy or the choir to do this work that the people may gather to watch… it is a call to the people… it is in every way “the work of the people!”
And we are called to this work, as the psalmist reminds us, because it is God who made us.  And there is no aim or agenda beyond this.  The work of worship is NOT a means to something else.  We don’t worship SO that anything else may happen or unfold.  This work is good work in and of itself.  We worship God because it is God who made us, it is God who is good, it is God who is our end, who holds the future who will bring the coming Kingdom.  So we worship. God. Period.
Worship is our work by virtue of being the creation of the creator.  But that has gotten all messed up and muddled…
It is this same created-ness that leads us to worship something, someone… and we are all, in some way bent to love and worship something, someone other than God, alongside God.
And this is such an important word for the church… for us who do gather for worship.  Because the temptation is that we can gather here and feel good that we’re here to worship the true God…
…BUT it seems to me, a part of what makes for authentic worship, real worship of the one true God is that even in being gathered to worship we have to find ways of being honest and carrying before God all the other things, people we’ve set up as God in our life.
In other words, in the very work of worshiping God what we discover is God’s goodness and faithfulness to form us and make us people who are able to worship God deeply, with all of our hearts, soul, minds and strength.
It was the 16th century mystic, Teresa of Avila who prayed, “God I don’t love you.  Often times I don’t even want to love you…. BUT, I WANT to want to love you.” – a prayer that expresses a longing for correct desire…
When we gather to do the work of worshiping God there can be (it is not to be assume, it may not happen… but it MAY happen that) a posture of our hearts that is formed over time that makes us increasingly able to worship God… to be people who not only want to love God, but in ever deepening ways really do love God.
There are certain tensions that will always be present to some extent in our gathering for this work of worship.
Tension is a good and necessary part of this work of worshiping God because it is here in our worship that heaven and earth are held together.  It is here in our worship when we pray for God’s kingdom to come and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, yet we carry in here with us all the places we’ve come from where it is clear that all is not as it will be when God brings things to their good and just end.
So we gather in the tension of life as it is in all of its imperfection, earthy-ness, brokenness, ups and downs, joys, sadness, successes, failures, etc AND we have to hold that in tension with God’s kingdom which is in small and fragmentary ways, even now, breaking in and present among us.
We have to hold in tension BOTH.
We cannot be God’s people gathered for worship and let the weight of the world overwhelm us and yet neither can we gather as God’s people and, close our eyes to the world all around us and pretend that everything is all sunshine and roses.  The work of worship happens in the intersection of ALL of that.
And so we will work to find ways of keeping that tension always before us in our times of worship.
Sometimes that will be uncomfortable.
But it will be necessary and it will be good work for us to do together.
There should also be a kind of rhythm that becomes evident in our work of gathering for worship… we should feel the rhythm that can emerge from it…. this sense of having been scattered – having been out there to live as God’s people we are, on first day of each week, gathered for worship so that we may be scattered again.  It is our having been out there… the victories  and weaknesses of our dicipleship that should pull us together for the work of worship… and it is that work of worship that should serve as a kind of launch pad, sending us from this place for another week of following our Lord in all the places he is leading us… til we gather again.
The Communion table is actually a place when we feel both the tension and the rhythm…
We taste and see that the Lord is good and we reenact the story of God’s self-giving love shown to us in Jesus’ suffering and death… even while we made aware of how that love has yet to taken full hold of our own hearts and lives… we hunger and thirst for it all the more.
Having been gathered, offering prayers, songs, attending to the Scripture – we now move forward from our seats, we come with hands open to receive, to be gifted…. not so that we can stay here and be people who have received or people who are gifted… But in order that we may go from this place and be given away for the sake of the world.  This is the move Jesus teaches us time and again.  And we take it in.  All the way.
May you find today that you are being nourished, given strength to go from this place to do the work that God gives us to do!

Some Sermons

For a couple of years I got to preach on a regular basis in a couple of United Methodist Churches, alongside of some really amazing college students.  I haven’t been doing that now for a whole year, which is crazy to think about.

Lately I have been looking back over some of these sermons.

And one of the things I’ve been thinking about doing is to begin to share some of those here, every so often.  It’ll give me a chance, one at a time, to review and edit some of the work I’ve done over the last couple years – to keep letting it do it’s work on me.  And it’ll allow me to share this work in a broader way.

I also have some sermons from the season before that – I may get to sharing them… but it was a difficult and heavy season and I’m working my way up to revisiting them.

Anyway,  I think this will be a fun place to start.

Grace + Peace,

Back to “Normal”?

I’ve been back from the two-week pilgrimage to Israel for nearly a week now.  And there are many signs that things are getting back to normal.

For instance – today for the first time since I’ve been back, I didn’t get up before my alarm.  When it went off today it scared the CRAP out of me!! I’d forgotten what it sounded like.  I was beginning to wonder if I was magically going to be a morning person now… but I think false “alarm”…. I was just adjusting to the 8 hour time change still.  I have mixed emotions about this.

Another thing I’m noticing about my “normal” – I’m not nearly so physically active as I was for those two weeks.  I sit a lot here.  I drive some.  But mostly I sit.  For two weeks I was walking, hiking, climbing ALL over.  And I’m indoors a lot, too.  A lot.  My emotions aren’t mixed about this… I don’t like it.

Also, I am reading, writing, reflecting less on my days… the pace is beginning to go faster, again.  During the two weeks there were times when we didn’t have anything to do or places to be and so I thought and prayed and listened.  Something happens in my “normal” that wants to rush to fill anytime that may be “in between time” or “down time” durning the day.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I do love being back.  I love my life and my family and my work.  It is SO good and SO full of meaning and beauty and the best kinds of challenge.

In some ways “normal” IS really great.  There’s a lot about my day-to-day and especially the people that God has given me in this season of life and work that it is plain to see how this is all a gift and it only takes a moment of holding this in my mind for me to have a sense of gratitude begin to well up in me.

And yet, what I know about myself is how I let the other parts of “normal”… the settling back in, the almost playing victim to, “that’s just how it is.” “that’s just my schedule,” etc… I let that take over and dominate my way of moving through life.

What I have been thinking is that the pilgrimage wants to continue to play out in me, reminding me that I have been given a great deal of power to keep shaping the journey and following the Spirit’s work… letting my days, here and now, do something other than just go with the flow, settle back in to those parts of normal that tend toward not paying attention, not noticing God’s ongoing movement in and around me.

So here’s to “normal”, in all the best ways!  It’s great, it’s what we’ve got, it’s going to be what most days are.

But here’s to staying awake to each day, each opportunity, each moment – knowing how to make the most of the time – to walk around, to get outside, to listen, to let some time be slow time, to notice God in the “normal”.