Taking the Message with You…
Reflecting on Worship from Palm Sunday (3-24-13)
When I was a kid, we would spit and swear when we wanted to be believed “beyond question.” If that wasn’t good enough there was the last resort of all: cut your thumb and offer it as proof you were telling the truth. If your friend accepted your pledge he would touch your thumb with his (cut or uncut). Kind of gross, huh?
Even as kids the power of a blood covenant seemed like words of steel. Perhaps this is also true for us as we hear again the passion, suffering and shedding of Jesus’ blood. This is a word of God that can be believed. What was that word? The very life of Jesus was that word: A word that is to be believed. Everything he said and did is to be accepted and believed as the true Word of God. In this gift and pledge there is new life.
God’s coming near to make a pledge that will change everything for us, when we accept it. Do you find acceptance within you for this kind of pledge from God? It seems that words of steel are given so that they can be believed. Perhaps that makes clear the work we have to in this all. Believe God. Thank goodness that this is still, even more encouragment for us to believe that Jesus life and death. It comes on Easter. If you can accept the pledge in this death, given for us – then receiving the life that comes with Easter will not be far behind. AMEN
Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion has long been a challenge. It is hard to plan a meaningful worship experience that begins with joy and triumph that can settle in our bones which at the same time takes us to the disillusionment and surprise of Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution. How do we hold these two very different experiences together? How do we experience each of them fully on one Sunday? And more importantly how does each of these events in Jesus’ life inform our faith lives and discipleship today?
It is true that disillusionment is a real experience that we run into along the journey of faith. Things don’t always look like they are going to turn out like they are supposed to. Walking through the valley of the Shadow of death is a difficult thing for anyone. But David reminds us in his poem (Psalm 23) that even there the presence and guidance of our shepherd steadies us so our faith can trusts in God’s faithfulness to bring us to the day of triumph and rejoicing again.
So, this is our challenge: to meaningfully hold these two challenging parts of this Sunday before Easter together into a unified witness that God works in and through events that we have trouble making sense out of. This activity is a mark of discipleship and an activity that those who travel in faith must at some point learn for themselves. Let us gather and practice this activity of faith as we hear about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is arrest, trial and suffering.
(Preparing for Worship March 17th, 2013)
The best partnership I have in my life is with my wife Shannon. I guess I should back up a step. Really the partnership that brought me to the place that I was ready for Shannon was my partnership with Jesus. Jesus has this way of keeping at things in my life that need attention, so that I come along a little at a time each day. And then, when the time is right and the planets align, he “speaks” or “nudges” me into the action or activity for which he has prepared me. It was like that when I met Shannon. It is like that again and again in my life when important encounters come along. It seems that often I experience Jesus working in my life and walking the trail with me as I journey in faith in these current days. Do you see Jesus in interesting junctures in your life?
Reflecting on Worship March 10, 2013
“You can’t go back.” It’s hard thing to learn. Picking up the pieces of a painful experience is always a challenge, but we can’t really go back to the way things were. I think that is what the Humpty Dumpty poem of childhood is all about. It is wasted energy to try and rebuild the past or to model the present after some imaginary idea time.
The good news is, although we can’t go back, we can always go forward. I like to say it this way, “home is always ahead of you.” Which is to say that finding ourselves; discovering our best expression of belonging, discovering that place where we can thrive – is always before us. And we can always come home. Coming home is the gift of welcoming people into our lives for blessing and encouragement and celebration. Coming home is making new friends, renewing old ties and gladly welcoming people into our hearts and into our homes. All these things are part of the work of moving forward and coming home.
The Prodigal Son struggled to come home but if you will notice, his older brother has almost as much work to do before he will be able to really be at home. Where in our lives is there work to be done so that we too may come, or be at home with God’s love in our lives?
Ever explored New Orleans with more than 33,000 young people? It’s quite an adventure! We explored being Disciples, Servants and Peacemakers. Everyone seemed to be on the path of discovery and new experiences. I had the pleasure of accompanying one of our young people back to the convention center to look for a backpack and a pair of shoes that were left behind the day before. We were excited that we were indeed able to simply find the Lost and Found booth. There we had a curious experience. We described the backpack that was left, “It was a green Columbia day pack with yellow piping.” The attendant went into the next room and returned with a back pack. It looked like the one we had lost but it wasn’t She was undaunted. She returned again, and this time she had the right one. Curiously, the contents were missing. We mentioned this and she asked us what was in the back pack. So one item at a time, we described the lost contents of the backpack. One item at a time, the attendant would go and bring from the back room an item that seemed to fit our description. We were in luck, four of the six items that were in the back pack were found. When we came to the water bottle, our Lost and Found helper, simply smiled, nodded her head and pointed to the 12 LARGE boxes to her left that were filled with every make, model and concept of bottles used to keep one hydrated in the heat of July in New Orleans. She simply said, help yourself. There were even new bottles from one of the event displays that perhaps did not want to take the inventory home.
On our way out, I happened to peak through the doorway into the mysterious back room from which lost things are retrieved and was astounded to see aisle after aisle and table after table of sorted, categorized and lined up items all lost and not yet found. The volume could have filled twenty dump trucks. I couldn’t believe it! Who knew that some much lost stuff could be generated from such a gathering? Well, there were 33,000 youth, not to mention some 6,000 adult leaders, chaperones and event providers. I guess it makes sense but still boggles the mind.
This whole experience left me wondering how much of our stuff we loose (most of which we can live without). But if this describes our human behavior how much that is really important to us do we misplace, forget about, abandon or simply fail to keep track of?
What help or hope and healing is there for this characteristic of our humanness? Perhaps the parable of the Prodigal Son (or is it the parable of the older brother – or the parable of a father’s love) gives us some hope for humanity that is busy loosing things and one another all the time.
Preparing for worship 3/3/13
[The Camino de Santiago (Camino means “the way”) is an ancient pilgrimage trail with beginning points in France, Spain and other spots around Western Europe.]
On the Camino you begin to realize that many people are beginning from different points of origin. Not everyone begins from the same beginning point. So as you are traveling you may be walking with people who have already traveled hundreds of miles as well as with people who have only just begun their walking. This is fine because you really can’t make assumptions about the people with whom you are walking, you really must stay open to who they are, why they walk and from whence they come. What is uniting, what we have in common, is the same destination.
But there as some things that clearly set apart those who have traveled two, three or four weeks from those who are just beginning. Long time travelers tend to be efficient with what they carry. They pack quickly in the morning, carry very little extra or extraneous stuff, their boots are warn and still strong. Those who have been walking usually walk as through the walk is their joy. Those who are beginning look as though they simply hope to finish the day. Beginners often have packs that are too heavy and they have not yet build up their walking wisdom or their endurance.
Beginners sometimes have grandiose plans for their walk and talk abundantly about the things they will do or see. Those who have walked long tend to be very realistic in their plans, expect things to come up that will change their planning and don’t talk all that much about what they have accomplished.
Much of this is also true of those who walk the Walk of Faith. We are all heading in the same direction with very different beginning points and those who have been walking for some time walk alongside those who are just beginning. Faith is a personal walk that others cannot do for you but part of gaining strength in the journey is walking along with others who walk around you. You must learn to walk your own walk – and the longer you have walked the more you know about how to make your way and how to deal with the challenges that come along.
Traveling mercy is something you learn along the way. It’s caring for those having a difficult time, it’s showing a short timer how to keep blisters clean and in good shape. It’s about being patient with yourself as you walk as well as being patient with those who walk near you. I have come to realize, much of the pilgrimage itself is all about learning to receive and share traveling mercies. Some of those mercies come from heaven and some of them come from those who travel the way along with you.
Peace to you all as you learn to walk the Walk of Faith.
Reflecting on Worship from February 24th, 2013
(taking the message with you)
Every day I engage in creating hope and trust and belief between my daughter and myself. Most of the time I shape what I say and what I do in order to establish and sustain her hope, belief and trust in me.
I already know, somewhere along the way I will let her down. Somewhere I will fail to do what is expected or perhaps needed by this one whom I love. I just hope that I can develop a track record long enough and persistent enough that she might see my failure and still have no doubt in my love and care and passion for her as a person.
Yes, I live in this hope. In fact, I can’t seem to help having it. I seem to have to keep doing this “building faith” with her even though I know I will fail at it somewhere and somehow. I can’t stop this activity any more than I can stop loving her. It is a conversation I have with myself and a conversation I am having with her.
I guess my “hope in God” is a conversation too. I’m looking to know and better understand what God promises to me and looking to have enough confidence in God’s intention to bring those promises about that even when it appears that they have failed or been delayed I will have enough reason to hope. I hope to keep that conversation active enough that even when the waves are high and the challenges deep, I will have no doubt in what God promises and all confidence in their coming true.
How are your conversations in faith going these days, with God and with one another? What can you do today that will work toward building up and sustaining this vital connection we share with each other and with God?
Walking by Faith,
“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Gen 15:6
a) Doubt it so that you don’t become dependent on the promise coming true?
b) Hope it does come true but keep doing what you would have done anyway?
c) Explore the confidence you have in the one who makes the promise so you know how much weight to give to the promise?
d) Decide if the promise is significant enough to put your full effort in hoping that it will come true?
I’m kind of a “c” type person myself, but I have met large numbers of type “a” and “b” personalities. I admit I have met very few type “d” personalities. I think it would be very hard to live in complete trust and abandon toward any promise or hoped for result. The thing is, that whatever our initial response to a promise, coming to the point of believing it really does have power to impact our lives. In fact, coming to believe a promise can have a profound effect on when, how and if it will come true at all.
Really, it seems that so few things in our lives have enough certainty about them that it must be a near impossibility to live without any measure of faith. But I think the real question is how faith and trust and hope can be nurtured in our lives, in our families and in our important relationships.
When it comes to the promises of God, it may be even more important for us to engage the question of faith and the nature of our faith lives; for when God’s promises do come true, those who have trusted in them stand the best chance of knowing the deepest and fullest blessings of all.
Where are you in moving toward trust, belief and significant hope when it comes to the promises of God in Jesus Christ?
From the beginning when God chose to create a people after God’s own heart, God “walked with Abram.” In the course of time Abram became Abraham. From his birth, Jacob’s whole life story was a journey with God with fits and starts, but always with God’s faithfulness. He became known as Israel. Saul the Pharisee expressed is zeal for God by arresting and imprisoning those who followed Jesus. It was on a journey to Damascus that his journey took a left turn. He became knows as the Apostle Paul. Even Moses’ story of faith joins up with the story of the Israelite people and their coming out of Egypt, wandering through the desert and then reaching the Promised Land.
With all of these examples it is not surprising then that we too are somewhere in our journey and also learning to “Walk with God,” as Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Lent is that season in which we again and again give attention to our journeying in faith. Perhaps we too will live into a time when our names will change and we will have become the people that God is making us into. This is our hope and our activity in Lent as we also prepare ourselves to receive Easter with a living hope within us.
(Preparing for Sunday Feb 10)
The last time I had one of those mountain top experiences I said to myself, “I am going to stay here; this is where I want to live!” Well, I knew I couldn’t stay there, so I thought I’d try to take the experience with me back into the real world. That lasted about a week. It is hard to duplicate in the valley what happens on the mountain tops. But I still remember a number of those powerful experiences. I carry them with me. Many of them have really changed me for the better. Some of them actually help me in discerning my path ahead.
What actually seems to be happening is that going back into the valley of everyday life with the vision of the mountain top invites me to think about my path along the way, and slowly and I guess imperceptibly, things begin to change. Some of those mountain tops I don’t remember so clearly these days. But I remember that they happened. I remember what they meant to me. I remember what I thought about what was important to me then.
They are all still with me, for they have helped to bring me to where I am in life.
Perhaps these transfiguring events are caught up in my everyday life in ways I’m not completely clear about. Perhaps they are awakened or stirred with me as I read the scriptures, as I go to church and as I help others along the way. Maybe they have an accumulative affect in shaping who I will become.
Perhaps Jesus’ transfiguration and our mountain top experiences with him help us make sense of the cross and our struggles in life and have a way of bringing us through to the place where God plans to meet us face to face.
Perhaps these experiences really do point the way to who we are becoming.