Preparing for Worship January 13, 2013
What kind of art paintings really impress you? Is it that which bears the clearest resemblance to how the world really looks? (I think they call this “Realism”) Perhaps you really enjoy art that catches a mood or an impression which is beyond or outside of a clear reproduction of its look (impressionism). What we look for and enjoy in art says something about how we see and what we look for in the world.
Now let me ask you an epiphany question; “Where have you seen God at work lately?” Even as I ask the question, I’m wondering to myself, “Is this a question that is more about where God is or about our seeing?” It is certainly about both. This is also an epiphany question, because where you see God at work is at some level an expression of God’s presence. It is a manifestation of God.
I like to engage in this spiritual question discipline (Where have you seen God at work lately), because it helps us engage in the art of looking to see God at work.
This art comes to expression in us in our baptisms, where God’s working in our lives begins to take root and plants itself in promise and community and faithfulness.
Maybe art and spirituality have more in common than we often realize. Perhaps coming to see God alive and at work in our lives and in the world around us is an artistic appreciation that comes with time and grace and our learning to see as well.
Thanks be to God who makes light and gives us sight, to God whose artistic expression fills the world around us and even seeks to shape the world we perceive.
Reflecting on Worship January 6th
(Taking the message with you)
Have any strangers come through your life recently? Have any brought news of hope and encouragement that surprised you? In this day and age, we do need to be alert and wary of those who would harm or steal. But sometimes God comes through our lives in the form of a stranger. The Magi came through Bethlehem with a perspective and a view to what had happened that surprised those who were with the child. These travelers journeyed long with a persistent eye toward a light in the heavens. They brought gifts but also made many wonder about the significance of this child. Sometimes God comes to us through those who are new to us.
Lives of faith will always engage in the struggle of the encounter with the stranger. It was the Good Samaritan who stopped to help the stranger beaten in the ditch (Luke 10). It was the three visitors who brought God’s presence to Abraham by the trees of Mamre (Gen 18). Perhaps in an occasional stranger passing through our lives, God will reach out and come near to us. This manifestation of God often comes to us new, unexpected and as though from afar or through a stranger.
To really engage God’s full presence in our lives, let us prepare ourselves to see and welcome those whom we have yet to meet, who show interest in knowing the light of Christ. Perhaps they are messengers of God. AMEN
I arose in darkness this morning. This time of year the dark of night flows into the working day. Huddled around the growing warmth of the wood stove, I sipped my coffee and watched the glimmer of day gathering in the East. In the black of the moonless sky the stars were strong in their shimmering contrast. I love these morning moments. They seem to speak of what God is doing. Just as the light persistently dawns, and the stars stand out in contrast to the night sky, so the coming of God, lightens and warms into our lives with promises that are persistent and reliable. This is the truth of Epiphany. Every moment we have is a good moment to keep an eye to the emerging grace and mercy of God. Slowly the light of God begins to illuminate the day ahead.
The Story of the Magi comes late in the story of Jesus’ birth. So far, only a few have heard tidings of the great wonder. Then enter the Magi, following the inviting movement of the star, traveling long to come and worship the one born King among the Jews. Now the story begins to spread even further. Herod tries to end it, but the action continues. Now it works its way down history into our lives as well.
This spreading of God’s coming isn’t always clear and bright – right in front of us. But more and more do come, the hope and illumination of God’s word continues. It is as through it comes to us as from afar, working and journeying to be made manifest to us. It grows bright as a sign of God’s presence with us. Even in the darkness of these winter mornings, there are signs of God’s presence, persistently bringing light and hope into our lives. I pray that this kindling warmth and dawning brightness will continue to show forth the grace of God alive among us, even now. Happy Epiphany!
Preparing for Worship December 30
I’m kind of glad there aren’t any stories from my tween years floating around in written form. It is interesting that we have one of Jesus. Holding together the youthful behavior of a young boy and the growing wisdom and understanding of God can be hard to imagine.
Our images of God don’t easily combine these characteristics. Yet, here in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is beginning to show signs of the insight and wisdom of God’s presence together with the impetuousness of a young boy.
Somehow the incarnation allows for this unity of human behavior and divine character. Among other things this suggests to me that we are loved as a people as much as the scriptures tell us, maybe more.
As we continue to search out Christmas and the wearing of the gifts that have flowed into our lives, we might also begin to think about one more gift that this child brings – a vision of how wondrous our humanity is in the sight of God. May the gifts of Christmas continue to be surprising!
Reflecting on Worship Dec. 23
(Taking the Message with You…)
What signs have you noticed that God’s promises are active and at work in you life? What community has sustained and upheld you when you needed it? How did this happen? Was God at work there? How did you know? How would you describe these fingerprints of God’s activity in your life?
Do you think you have somehow been the fingerprint of God in someone else’s life? Perhaps they told you how important your help or support and caring has been to them. When we touch people’s lives with God’s presence we aren’t always aware of it ourselves.
The Christmas Story comes to us as good news and a new view to this wonderful thing: God comes near to touch our lives in a very human way. The Christ Child from God suggests that God now comes to us in human ways and through other people. Jesus is not the only human through whom God comes. Whoever carries Christ also brings the touch of God. When the servants of Christ touch our lives or when other people do God’s work in our lives, it is a moment and a method ordained by God.
I tell you, in these moments, the Christmas Story continues to be lived out. In these moments the incarnation (the enfleshing) of God’s work leaves its fingerprint in our lives. In these moments the purposeful mercy of God touches our hearts and changes our lives. Christmas is this embrace of God. This gift we also can now share with others to whom God sends us.
How might God be preparing you for the work of bringing God’s touch (fingerprint) into the lives of those whom God wishes to sustain with grace, mercy and hope? This question is what Christmas is all about!
The Peace of the Lord, be with you always.
(preparing for Sunday December 23)
What kind of spoor can you identify? What is “spoor” you say? They are signs left behind – like foot prints. Wikipedia says, “Spoor is any sign of a creature or trace by which the progress of someone or something may be followed.” I always know when the deer have been in the garden, partly by the hoof prints in the soil and also by the nipped branches or partly eaten fruit between 2 to 4 feet high.
I can identify the prints of deer, dog, bear and people…. maybe geese too. Prints can tell you a lot. Where the prints are washed out or wind-blown can tell you about when they were left or the weather conditions or the ebb and flow of the tide since that time. They can also tell you about who or what has passed this way and perhaps what direction they were going. Depending on your mood or interest, they might even invite you to follow, to see where they may lead.
Over the years certain people have left indelible makes in my life. Many of them have influenced me positively and give me courage or better perspective or confidence for living. I can name scores of them by name and see their faces clearly. Others of them have faded from my memory, but I know in my soul that their influence has helped to shape who I am and what I care about.
The Apostle Paul writes something similar about people of faith connecting with other people, in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3. He says that we are each a letter from Christ for all to read, not written with ink but with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps wherever the Spirit of God touches our lives – right there is the touch and fingerprint of God. That print is left upon us so that others also may see the grace and mercy of God. Can you follow that print? It’s an amazing trail.
Preparing for Sunday Dec. 16
Luke 2:7-12 “…she wrapped Him in cloths,
and laid Him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.”
The prophets of old hungered for the nearness and vitality of God to be alive and present among God’s people. They called for it, yearned for it and warned of ignoring it. They spoke of it with power and conviction. Because of their passion and hope, many people would not receive them. Murder and death were tools often employed to silence those instruments of God.
To King David, God promised a righteous branch, a king from his own lineage who would reign on his throne forever, but David didn’t see it. He was left to wait and trust God.
There has always been a labor in loving God and waiting for God’s nearness. I call this, “The labor of discovering Jesus.” Even Mary is not spared the labor of bring the life of Jesus into the world, or the labor of watching the world attempt to snuff it out.
I want to suggest that there is not anything magic or easy about God’s coming among us in Jesus. It is filled with all the hard work of finding and having life in this world we all share. And it is filled with all the work and waiting and anticipation of long centuries of God’s people hoping for and desiring God’s strength and presence among God’s people.
Even when God finally does come (yes, it’s a miracle), but it’s not simple, or easy or magic. It is earthy and challenging and filled with the need for faith and hope and struggle that life has always been about.
Giving birth to Jesus in our communities and in our lives is never simple and I would never say it was easy… nor I think would Mary. It is filled with all the challenges of pregnancy and labor and giving birth. And when God’s nearness comes and is right on our door step, even there, our work of welcoming and preparing for, and giving Jesus the center of our lives, goes on.
Giving birth to Jesus in our lives and communities is not magic but it is the work of faith – and a gift that God brings into this difficult reality we call life. Come Lord Jesus!
With One Voice #629 “All Earth is Hopeful”
(taking the message with you…)
Reflecting on Worship for December 9 (Advent 2)
Where would you place yourself on this scale?
(Very Humble) 1 2 3 4 5 (“Humble, what’s that?? Are you kidding?!)
Do you long to hear words like “friend, move up to a better place?” No, these words are not from the TV show “The Jefferson’s” These are words are from a parable of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear these words of honor, “Come friend, move up higher” and “You are honored in my presence.” One way to be sure that this never happens is to always seek the highest and best spots for yourself.
On the other hand, the practice of humility is a great discipline. (Kind of reminds me of “discipleship.”) The humble person sees other individuals as no better or worse than themselves. Humility is a sober and self deprecating thing.
Do you like these qualities in others? Do you even recognize them in others or yourself? Was Jesus humble? Humility was the kind of heart that belonged to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Where in your life might be a good place to practice Jesus’ advice and Mary’s heart? How might we go about developing this character in ourselves? It might be in the grocery line, or you might practice it where two traffic lanes merge into one. You might also apply this to someone near you who is having a fit of a day and you can step aside to help or let them go first.
It’s about waiting for honor to find you, and instead of looking for it – to begin silently behaving in a way that honor has some chance of finding you. Here is another way to gauge it all, ask a true friend, “Where would you put me on this scale?
(Very Humble) 1 2 3 4 5 (“Humble, what’s that?? Are you kidding?!)
Let God do the lifting up and let me remain humble!
(preparing for Worship Dec 9)
As I have learned my way around the sport of sailing, I have learned to always be on the look out for things that might go wrong. In sailing, things can go amiss quite quickly and when they do, quick action is essential. Doing the right thing, right away is a skill you have to learn to develop. Of course, there is a leaning curve there, a long process of learning what the options are. But it’s also seeing the problem coming that helps more than anything. It is part of being prepared.
Also, part of being prepared is having the resources you need in an emergency. In sailing it’s sometimes called having “redundant backup systems.” Here is an example, I can empty the bilge with the hand pump or I can turn on the electric bilge pump at the DC Panel. There is also a bilge switch that will turn on the bilge pump if the water level gets too high and an alarm that sounds when the bilge pump as been on longer than one minute. All of these options play their role in being prepared for what might go amiss on the water.
But, it’s not just about having multiple ways to do things. It’s about being prepared for as many possibilities as you can imagine and then, thinking through how you might act and what you might need, in that case. The more likely a scenario or the more catastrophic the scenario, the more prepared you want to be, with a plan and the resources you will need. That is why we carry flairs for emergency use, and an emergency raft, and an emergency radio, etc.
The Season of Advent and the Coming of Christ, also suggests that we have some preparing to do. And just like in sailing, the exact nature of what might come will have a direct impact on how you will prepare.
So, when Christ comes, the promise declares, justice will be brought about, the proud will be humbled and the humbled will be lifted up. This suggests that we might want to be on the side of being about justice now. If peace will come with Christ, then we might, want to have within us already a desire to be at peace with all.
Do you have a heart for treating all people who cross your path with fairness and justice? Do you see inequities that occurs in the community around you? Perhaps the coming Advent of Christ invites us to be about being prepared today for the coming life that will come when Christ returns. Perhaps preparing for the Advent of Christ might look like preparing our eyes and our hearts to see what is already amiss around us, and then, make preparation for its coming.
I think that is the Spirit of the Angel Tree program and the Our Daily Bread Food Pantry and many other efforts that we excel at during this time of the year. Happy Preparing for Christmas… and for Christ’s coming.
(taking the message with you…)
Reflecting on Worship Dec. 2
Can you remember a time when you sat on the examination seat and waited for judgment? Maybe it was in a court of law or a court of honor (scouting).
The one I remember is math class. When the teacher stopped evaluating our work based on our answers and began to require us to show our work and how we got to the conclusions we reached. There it was for the teacher to see. There was no wiggle room, everything we knew was right there – and so was everything we didn’t know and weren’t clear on or just plain didn’t understand. Judgment was clear then, even if awkward. But there was a curious mercy there too? When the teacher could see easily what we didn’t know, they were much better able to help us learn and to bring understanding where we didn’t have it. They could see just what we needed work on.
Where in your life do you fear judgment and how might God be working there to bring growth, new knowledge and new life?