God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mountain Solid

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult,
O earth; break forth,
O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones. Isaiah 49:13

Throughout the Bible creations is called on to sing and exult. In these calls there is not a sense of this as a human enterprise. This is the entire created order heaven and earth singing. Sometimes a particular element is called on to sing. In this case the mountains are the area closest to the holy. This is the place where real encounters with God were likely to occur. This is the place where humans thought that God dwells. So the area most sacred between heaven and earth is to sing.

Have you ever taken time to hear the mountains sing? Are you still enough to be aware of the life and breath coming from the mountain. O ne of the meditations that Thich Nhat Hahn teaches is mountain solid. On your in breath you breathe in the word mountain, you are the mountain. On your out breath you breathe you are solid. This meditation is very comforting, compassionate meditation. When you are feeling vulnerable or lost, to become steady, solid, enduring, as a mountain brings a calm stillness allowing you to in be compassion in the midst of turmoil. This grounds you vastness so that you can bring this solidness to others.

God, grant us the time and space to hear the mountain singing. Allow us to become like the solid mountains bringing comfort and compassion to those we encounter. Amen.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Up in Smoke

My son and I were driving back to Casper, Wyoming from Denver where he had been staying with his dad for the summer. We had just gotten past Douglas when we started to see this huge cloud of smoke coming from what looked like Casper. So I called a friend to ask what was going on and she told me that the mountain started burning at about noon on Monday. I asked if we should turn around or was it safe to come back. She said at the moment people were being evacuated south of where we live.

Reed said to me, “Mom that is about the time you were picking me up. You know what that means. It means all of your problems are going up in smoke. Since you got me everything will be all right.”

I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t always feel like everything will be all right. In the moment of crisis it is hard to see beyond the crisis. When he said this to me it was hard to picture my problems going up in smoke. The church I was pasturing let me go because they didn’t have enough money to pay me. They were broke; which meant now I was broke and looking for work and wondering where my son, the pets and I were going to live. At that moment it didn’t look like my problems were going up in smoke. I wanted a solution to present itself immediately. I wanted God to fly down and fix everything for me. But God rarely does what I want.

Which is when we have to cling to the promises of our faith? Sometimes Friday can be really awful. Sometimes Friday is really bleak. Sometimes Friday is so dark it seems like the world is going to stop. Sometimes on Saturday morning you don’t even want to crawl out of bed because the world is still out of focus and dark. And Saturday night isn’t a whole lot better. But then the first rays of dawn start spreading their beauty and color. Sunday morning has rolled around. As a resurrection people, God promises us that Easter Morning will always dawn. That life will come from death, that healing will come from pain that joy will come in the morning that a new heaven and a new earth will arise out of the dust and ashes. We are a people of promise and hope. God promises to never forsake us through the pain of Good Friday and will be with us into the brightness and joy of Easter morning. May we always remember we are a resurrection people.

In the bulb there is a flower;
In the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise:
Butterflies will soon be free!

In the cold and snow of winter,
There's a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.

There's a song in every silence,
Seeking word and melody;
There's a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future;
What it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
In our time, infinity.
In our doubt, there is believing;
In our life, eternity.

In our death, a resurrection;
At the last, a victory
Unrevealed until its season,
Something God alone can see.
                  Natalie Sleeth, Hymn of Promise

Sunday, June 27, 2010


There was a moment when an entire room of ministers, spouses, and children stopped what they were doing and went to the big picture window. Right outside there were two bull elk playing with each other and ramming heads. We were two feet away from them. They looked like they were having fun. They weren’t trying to hurt each other but they kept butting heads. It was amazing to watch. But even more amazing was the sense of wonder that filled the room. There was no noise as everyone stared out the windows watching. The wonder and joy in the air was electric.

You get the same feeling if you have ever been around a child the day of the first snow. There is an excitement that cannot be contained. The kids are so bouncy; they cannot be still even if they wanted to. They jump and laugh and stare out the window watching it fall. They are waiting for that moment when they can get out in the snow and play. There is such joy and excitement that it’s contagious.

Now think about how most of us adults respond to the snow. There is anxiety about what this means. Will it snow so much that school will be canceled and we have to figure out what to do with the kids. We think about the shoveling we will have to do that lead to sore backs and muscled. We wonder where the scraper is, where the boots, glove, and hats are. We wonder whether there is any salt and how bad will the roads be. Snow seems like a lot of work. There is so much more to do. The wonder and beauty of snow sometimes seems lost on us.

In Matthew, Jesus talks about the attitude we can have. If “your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light (Matthew 6:22).” But if we have an attitude of obligation, duty, worry about where our next pay check is coming from, where we will get clothes, food, and a job our eyes will be closed to the experience of God’s presence. Our eyes reflect what we are filled with. When we have lost the capacity to wonder, we need to become like children again. We need to be with children and learn from them. We can then experience the joy of wonder.

Think about the excitement of falling in love with Jesus the very first time. There is nothing that can compare to the sense of wonder and awe. You want to get out and build the kingdom. You want to learn all that you can about Jesus, life, the Bible. You want to grow closer and closer to God through prayer and meditation. Life is suddenly so full and exciting. When we begin then to experience God’s presence in the people and world around us we become like the crowds who gathered around Jesus as he healed, taught, and welcomed the world into a life with God. “They all shook their heads in wonder, astonished at God’s greatness, God’s majestic greatness (Luke 9:43).”

If we change the way we approach other people and the world around us, we may be astonished by what God has waiting for us. If you are willing, you will be open to the movement of God in your life and the life around you. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well (Psalm 119:14).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Entertaining Angels

“Be sure to welcome strangers into your home. By doing this, some people have welcomed angels as guests, without even knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

There is a story told about Abraham (Gen 18). Abraham is sitting in front of a tent. He raises his head and there are three men standing near him. When he sees them he runs to meet them and bows. Abraham hurries to find food; he kneels before his hosts, washes their feet, gives them bread and milk. These are the eternal gestures; the sacraments of hospitality. The vagrant, the wanderer, far from being despised, oppressed, murdered becomes the occasion for an encounter with God. So while Abraham thinks he is greeting strangers, we know that he is actually encountering God.

We are all born with the gift of hospitality that Abraham shows to the strangers. Until we are taught differently, hospitality comes as a natural instinct. Have you ever watched the reaction of a six to twelve month old child, when they are given something? The child will perhaps enjoy the gift briefly, but then he or she will give the gift back to you, with a smile and possibly a hug. You then give it back and she is full of joy and then returns the gift to you. The game continues of giving and receiving.

As part of the United Church of Christ we have accepted that we are a community that welcomes the stranger that welcomes the lost, the hurt, and the rejected. We have declared ourselves a community of welcome. What does that mean for a church community? When we open the door to a needy neighbor, a weary sister or brother, a stranger in distress, we will begin to hear the knock of angels. In the midst of this practice we will catch glimpses of a God who asks for our welcome and also welcomes us home.

Welcoming God, gently nudge us share your hospitality with the lost, the rejected, the neighbor. Amen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chaos and God

For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it (he established it;
he did not create it a chaos,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, "Seek me in chaos."
I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right. Isaiah 45:18-19

God created the world to be inhabited. God did not create chaos. What does that mean? What is chaos? Is it complexity; that marvelous sense that there is a pattern to the whole universe, that if you go deep enough what looked unrelated is actually a field, a pattern. Does this mean that the randomness, the seeming separation is but illusions? God didn’t create a jumble. God spoke truth and rightness.

Or is chaos – what is spoken of before the beginning. There was darkness, void, churning and God, Spirit. It is chaos that is untruth and wrongness. Chaos breaks through the bounds bringing disorder, evil. God works to keep chaos at bay, but does not create a control of it.

Yet there is more also to chaos here. There is meant to be order. There is meant to be light, life, truth, rightness, yet we seek chaos. We seek that which leads to destruction. That is not what God intends. God intends life for this world. A pattern based on truth and rightness.
God order our chaos. Open the way of truth and right. Speak the word that we might hear and follow. Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Can we walk right with God the way creation does?

Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,
and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also;
I the Lord have created it. Isaiah45:8
Righteousness and blessing, the two are tied together in this song of praise to the creator. To walk right with God, to lead a rightly ordered life, to lead a life that will sustain you is the call of this passage. To be righteous, to walk right with God is an inherent part of the created order. Righteousness is something that falls like rain. Yet we choose not to be righteous. We choose to lead a life separated from God, yet God is waiting for us to open up to the possibility that salvation and righteousness are there all around us, part of the very fabric of creation. And when we for the first time truly see that the earth and heavens are free of righteousness we will know what it means to be one of the created, a part of the whole creation that is overflowing with with the order of God. Salvation which has been here around us in the earth will come out into the open will be visible because we will be able to see. Salvation is like the new spring waiting to burst forth with life-giving freedom. Freedom is already here waiting, when we see salvation we will recognize and live a righteous life.

Creation is already blessed with a righteous life. The created order knows how to live in right relationship to God. The heavens and earth are receiving righteousness if we but see, if we but know. The call of this passage is for us to recognize what is and what will be. To see that how we are to live and how we are to relate to God is there, before our eyes waiting.
Creator of all, may we awaken to your salvation and burst forth with the new life of righteousness. Amen.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Boomerang and the Spirit

When Reed was little he was outside playing with a new boomerang he had gotten. He came running into the house to say Mama, “come and see. I finally got it to come back to me.” So we went outside and Reed let go of the boomerang and just then a gust of wind came bursting through the yard and carried the boomerang up over our heads and onto the roof. This meant that I had to find a ladder and try to get it down. While Reed is telling me how it always works until the minute he comes and gets me to see. “Honest Mama it came flying right back, just the way it was supposed to.” We eventually got the boomerang back, but learned an important lesson about the unpredictability of the wind.
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. John 3:8
This passage of scripture comes in between the story of the Wedding of Cana where Jesus turns water into wine and the encounter with the Woman at the Well. In this story Nicodemus, a Pharisee, questions Jesus about the signs he has done. And Jesus speaks about the Spirit, Wind of God, and what it means to be part of the kingdom of God by having to be born from above through baptism by water and Spirit. But what if we were to read this text against the grain and focus on the discipleship component. This raises a number of interesting possibilities for our life of faith.

If the Spirit blows where it wills, that means that we can never be sure when the Spirit is present in the people we encounter and the situations we find ourselves in. We would need to start opening ourselves up to an awareness of how God may be acting in the people we are encountering. If God is present what would we then be called to say and do as followers of Jesus? Would we act differently, speak differently, because we knew that God is at work in the situation and we are meant to be God’s hands and feet in the world.

What if during this month you were to take a day, an afternoon, an hour and allow the wind to blow you? What if you asked God to use you this day, to guide you to a person who needs a word of hope, who needs a sympathetic ear, who needs to be confronted with truth. Would your life be changed by the movement of the Spirit as your guide?

Spirit, spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free,
Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.
You moved on the water, you called to the deep,
Then you coaxed up the mountains from the valleys of sleep;
And over the eons you called to each thing,
“Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings.” Jim Manley

May God’s Spirit blow through you calling, freeing, stirring you to new places and people,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Panting for God

The summer I had first gotten Ziggy (my dog). I was trying to find the perfect place to walk. A friend had suggested we go up on the mountain and try the Braille Trail. This is a beautiful trail made by the Lions Club through the mountainside for the blind. There are stops along the way describing the flora and fauna and providing ways to tell the difference between objects. It is a beautifully marked trail that runs beside a lovely creek. On this particular walk, I was enjoying being under the trees and looking at the beautiful yellow, purple and white wildflowers and hearing a babbling brook flow gently by. I was enjoying the peace of being away from everything.

Then Ziggy encounters the absolutely perfect spot. We have reached a wooden bridge crossing over the brook. Ziggy runs down into the water and takes a joyful drink. "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God." Ps 42:1 Ziggy starts jumping and playing. She is splashing up and down the stream full of the joy of life and relief from the hot weather. There is such delight in her. You can feel the happiness radiating from her as she frolics up and down.

I had come up to the mountain hoping to find a place where I could sit and be in the presence of God. As I watched her, I heard the approach of kids. I knew our time of solitude was over. I called her to come. A phrase was running through my head: As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. When we returned home, I looked this passage up and realized this was the word I needed to hear that day. Psalm 46 continues:

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually,
"Where is your God?”. . .
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall again praise God,
My help and my God.

Sometimes the words we need to hear are the words of anguish and release. When it seems like what you have done or are doing is not working your soul longs for God. You long for the word of liberation and peace. When you have heard that word you can remember the joy of the puppy dancing in water and the time when you were full of praise for the God of help and hope.

By day the Lord commands God’s steadfast love,
And at night God’s song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

The God of my life is the God whose steadfast love is with me always; who is the refuge I can turn to, and the truth that will lead me. And it is the God who is the God of joy. The God who laughs as a puppy chases a butterfly trying to catch it. Getting closer and closer and actually touching noses only to have it fly off for another run through the flowing stream and strewn rocks. The God who our souls long for is there both in the times when we feel alone and in the times when joy is abundant. When we stopped to drink of the water and are refreshed we can sing praises to the God whose steadfast love is with us forever.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peace, Be Still

When you set out to seek God where do you go? Do you head to the mountains to find God in the majesty of a hike? Do you drive to the ocean to experience the solace and comfort of the waves crashing in and out? Do you take a hike beside your favorite river or stream? Do you row to the middle of the lake and fish while experiencing the quiet comfort of the gentle rocking motion of the boat? How many of us this summer will head to the lakes to experience a time of rest and relaxation. What is it that draws humans again and again to seek out water? Even the poets try to answer this question.

I must go down to the sea again
To the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship
And a star to steer her by.
John Masefield

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll;
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain!
Lord Byron

This is where I chose to go to experience God, to take time away to reconnect with and be comforted by God. There is a comfort to be found in the waves rolling in again and again. There is something about water that draws us in and fascinates us. When we are by water we touch the eternal.

At the Green Lake Conference center this weekend I was reminded of a movie I watched about water.  In this movie on the secret life of water, Dr. Masura Emoto, a Japanese scientist, wanted to study how water crystals were formed and whether they truly were different like a snowflake never being alike. He discovered differences between fresh water and tap, clean water and polluted water. He discovered that the vibrations of words and music changed the shape and structure of the water. He looked at water crystals before and after prayer and discovered that the crystals changed their geometry reflecting back more complex patterns through the vibrations. When negative words were used the crystals lost their structure, shape and form and seemed to become deformed. Now this is not an exact science and there are a lot more misses than hits, but think of some of the implications for us. Did you know that babies in the womb are 98% water and as we age we gradually lose the amount of water within our bodies? The average middle-aged adult is 70% water. With that amount of water and knowing that the words spoken around us are reflected in the crystal structure of water, can you image the impact on your body when you surround yourself in prayer? What if we were to go around saying the words Jesus spoke, prayed by the sea “Peace, Be Still.” Would this prayer spoken, often change who you are? If you head out to the shore try saying, feeling, hearing these words, “Peace, Be Still!"

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
"Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Beauty in the Ugliness

Beauty From Brokenness
Hope for despair: God, in the suffering this is our prayer.
bread for the children, justice, joy peace;
sunrise to sunset your kingdom increase.
God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion, we pray;
melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain.
Come, change our love from a spark to a flame.
                                          Graham Kendrick
When spring hit, my first year in my new house I had an overwhelming desire to plant. So I had my trusty Jackson and Perkins catalog and ordered some hybrid tea roses. As I poured over the catalog I found a beautiful orange one, a yellow one that had pink tips and I think the last one was pink. So when they showed up, I was excited to finally be planting, I dug the holes according to the directions and built my little mound for their bare roots and coming from a long line of farmers threw in a healthy does of manure. I filled with soil and watered it. Nothing happened. I kept waiting for the leaves and flowers. Just when they finally started to grow, there was a lawn mower incident. There I was with two mutilated stumps. I watered them. I fed them and surrounded them with a barrier. One didn’t make it. But one held on to life and by fall was again growing leaves. The next spring it continued growing. I didn’t have much hope of any flowers. But at the beginning of August the first beautiful yellow rose bloomed; followed by five more. The rose was very frail. The stems were not strong enough to hold the flowers up. But this flower that and been broken and struggled to survive was now blooming with beauty.

The Beatitudes are some of the most powerful words that Jesus spoke, words that speak of a beauty that has been broken; words that turned the existing world on its head. The Beatitudes are descriptive of a people, of a different beauty, a different culture, a different economy - the economy of God, the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus put it. This is a beauty where the blessed are the poor, the mourning, the thirsting, the meek, the pure, the hungering, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3-11).
These are not the typical marks of beauty. “People get into ugly spaces. Full- bodied beauty can contain discord, clash, burn, sting, ugliness,” (Sweet, McClaren, and Haselmeyer A is for Abductive, 2003). Works of Art, like the movie Hotel Rwanda are beautiful and yet contain horrific ugliness. There is beauty in this man’s struggle to do his job and to love his wife and children, neighbors, and family when they are now considered the enemy because they are of a different ethnicity. And the movie is horrific for there is a scene as he is driving back from seeking help where a fog settle over them and the road because rough. We find out the road is rough because it is littered with slaughtered bodies. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:12). Jesus’ sense of beauty is to turn us upside down and inside out. For Jesus’ listeners who gathered that afternoon in Galilee, his words were a prophetic restatement of the prophet Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Come change our love, from a spark to a flame,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cry creation

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing,
O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
and will be glorified in Israel. Isaiah 44:23
Why do the heavens and earth sing and shout at the redemption of Israel? This is not the unqualified praise that creation gives to the glory of God; this is a command to sing and shout for God has acted. God has redeemed Jacob,  This is Israel: Jacob the trickster, Jacob the wounded, Jacob the father of the tribes of Israel. This ancestor – one who was not perfect, who was deeply flawed, who wrestled himself, his God and was forever marked by its change.

Creation is commanded to shout and sing for the changing, for the freeing from bondage. The bondage creation is to rejoice in is the freeing of humanity from this belief in separation from God, this belief in superiority over creation. Creation longs to shout and sing for the day when humanity remembers what God’s intentions are for the redeemed. God intends a world where we can hear the heavens sing: a world where the depths of the earth cry and are heard, a world where there is time to stop and hear the singing in the mountains.

O God let the redeemed sing. For you have allowed us the ability to learn it is different. To live the changes we want to see now. Amen.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A thousand Glad Answers

On reading the Psalms

You speak words of promise, and we answer.
A thousand times we answer,
in a thousand tongues –
                 we answer in hymns of praise,
                 we answer in songs of thanksgiving,
                 we answer in lyrics of gladness,
                 we answer in abrasive anger,
                 we answer in deep abandonment.
We answer and draw close to you.
And in answering we are changed:
                given freedom,
                come to truth
                bound in obedience.
We answer and are yours, all yours,
             not our own,
             yours, and glad that we belong to you our faithful savior.
Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggemann, p. 169
I love to read the prayers that Brueggemann writes, because they take me to places I don’t normally go in my own prayers. As Brueggemann says, the best prayers engage in candor about our lives, practice vulnerability, run risks, and rest in confident trust. When we pray our hearts are opened, our secrets are exposed, and our desires are made known.

I would love to say that I could write prayers that acknowledge our flaws and push us to the joy that can only be experienced in God’s presence, but I am not comfortable with public prayer. I don’t know if it was growing up UCC or just my introverted side that comes out, but I find coming up with the words for public prayer a challenge. I would love to be full of the elegance and provocation that Brueggemann can pray. I would love to be able to speak with the passion, longing, and joy of the psalmists, but part of me is afraid to dare. So I invite you to dare with me this summer, to pray.

In Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayers for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Clairborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. They argue that we must pray and then be ready to become the answer to our prayer. As they argue we could spend time trying to plead with God to do something or we could see prayer as convincing ourselves to do what God wants. “We need to pray like everything depends on God, and live like God has no other plan but the church”(p. 117). God has no one else; we are the ones we have been waiting for. Their book pushes me to think of prayer as more than words or an attitude, but as a practice to be lived out.

So how do we learn to pray? The Psalms hint at a life of prayer that is passionate and thoughtful. They push us to be in a full-bodied relationship with God. When we read and sing the Psalms we can experience all the depths of emotion. We experience anger, confusion, longing, questioning, trauma, awkwardness, praise, thanksgiving, personal devotion. There is so much that we can learn about how we speak to and of God. I hope all of us can learn to be open to God and learn to express what is calling us whether it be hurt or thanksgiving, longing or certainty, fear or comfort. The psalms show us how to live a life a prayer and honesty before and with God.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our Mount Rushmore's

Mount Rushmore, SD
Mount Rushmore, SD
On our first trip home from Wyoming to Illinois, Reed and I stopped at Mount Rushmore. I had been there before when I was probably about Reed’s age. So in my head I had these images of what it was like. I remembered a lot of woods and trees. Being from the center of Illinois seeing a place with a lot of trees always imprinted in my brain because all we had was the tree in the front yard and the one in the back. I have this impression of having walked along a narrow dirt path that wound through the trees and then of seeing the faces of the presidents.

So Reed and I got there and we parked in this state of the art parking garage. And began walking up these beautiful stairs and then through this archway where you could see Rushmore for the first time. It was framed by a long pathway with columns and arches. The faces were visible from the moment you entered the top of the stairs.

It’s truly amazing, but completely different from what I was expecting or even imaging was possible. Part of me yearned for the old surprise and the comfort of what was in my memories. But part of me was completely awestruck by the newness and grandeur of what was there.

It seems to me that we often carry around with us images in our heads of what the church used to be like and do and what worship has always been. Yet, the images and memories we have in our heads are from a different time, place, and culture; a time and place that gives us comfort and makes us long to return to the familiar. Yet it turns out that while we were not looking the world changed on us. What we remember while satisfying to us can not appeal to people like Reed who are seeing it for the first time and coming from a totally new perspective and have a different impression of what church should look like and do.

My generation of people who for the most part grew up unchurched and may not even have been raised in a Judeo-Christian home. Prior to the Passion of Christ, when asked what Easter was about they would have said spring, baskets, candy, the Easter Bunny. These are the people we want to join our church they are the ones now with kids. Yet when they come into the building and experience the old Mount Rushmore they don’t come back, for it wasn’t meaningful for them.

What comments do we hear about our worship gathering? Do people say, “I enjoyed that” or “That was fun” or “Good job today?” Or do they say, “I encountered God here today” or “I felt the presence of Jesus here.” (Dan Kimball, 35). What would the worship experience be in our church in order to have the people’s responses be different? Are we willing to suffer a lot of discomfort with a move from the remembered images of our Mount Rushmore’s to the new experience of new generations?

This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. Exodus 8:1

Worship the Lord with Gladness; come before God with joyful songs. Psalm 100:2

Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  Job 1:20-21

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry hosts, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them, and the multitudes of heaven worship You.”  Nehemiah 9:6

God is spirit and God’s worshippers must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24

Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “god is a consuming fire.”  Hebrews 12:28-29

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer you bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Romans 12:1

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Don't Stray From the Path

Yellowstone, Wyoming
One summer while we were living in Wyoming my sister came to visit and we went to Yellowstone and I was struck by the signs posted around the park.l “Don’t stray off the path or you’ll die.” Ok, maybe it wasn’t worded quiet that forcefully, but it did say stay on the designated trail. If you go off the trail you may fall through the thin crust and be burned by the volcanic activity. And yet it looks so tempting to stray from the trail. It looks solid enough. There is grass, bushes and what looks like solid land. And yet, there is the sign, people have died who have walked off the path. So if you are wise, you follow the trail.

Early Christians were known as people who followed the trail. The early name for Christians was people of The Way. “The Way” is the name Jesus gave himself in the Gospel of John when Thomas asks him “How can we know the way?” Jesus says, “I am the way” (14:5-6). The way is a difficult trail to follow. The Beatitudes give a glimpse of the people Jesus is calling us to become. A glimpse of what it means to live as if we are already within the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke these words when he was himself on a journey. The crowds were beginning to follow him. He found a quiet place on a hillside and began teaching the way:

Falls Yellowstone, Wyoming
You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You're blessed when you're content with just who you are - no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat. You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for. You're blessed when you get your inside world - your mind and heart - put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family. You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. Not only that - count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens - give a cheer, even! - for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble (Matthew 5:3-13, The Message).
 This version of the Beatitudes really makes you think of the new attitude you are being called to have while you live in a manner that will bring the kingdom closer and allow you to draw near to God. This path seems difficult and dangerous. In fact to follow the way may lead you to place your very life in danger by sharing a truth that makes the rest of the world uncomfortable. To follow Jesus makes us uncomfortable. But the journey on the way leads us to places and views that we never would have seen if we had not set out on the journey. As followers of the way: we come together to learn so that we can be sent out to teach, we are gathered to be blessed so we can be sent out as a blessing to the world. We gather to be refreshed and empowered by the Spirit so that we can go back out into the world as Jesus kind voice, loving hands, smiling eyes, and healing touch. And where we are sent, we encounter the most beautiful experience we have ever had. Like the journey my family had in Yellowstone, when you set out on the way you never know what the view near the end will be.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Whose Chosen?

Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished,
quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. Isaiah 43:16-21

My chosen people… Who are the chosen? We automatically jump to Israel as the chosen as the ones for whom God is doing a new thing. For these words were spoken to the people of Israel. While Israel as the chosen was the intended meaning of the author. I want to push the meaning of the words in the context, in a world outside of and different from those who wrote or first read this text. Within this passage before we have God giving drink to the chosen people. Those who are giving a drink are named. God is honored by the wild animals. The jackal and the ostrich honor God. To them God gives water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. These people – wild animals honor God and are given water. These wild animals have one of the same roles as Israel. They are to honor and praise God. These wild animals are as important as part of God’s creation as are humans. For it is the animals not humans who are given Water in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

What would it mean if we were to think about wild animals as people? We have given corporations the right to be persons and yet disregard the life around us. Would our treatment of wild animals change as a result? Would they be guaranteed rights that would protect both the desert and wilderness?

Is the new thing God is doing to allow us to be part of a creation where we as human are not the only people to praise and honor God?
Great Spirit help us to perceive the new thing that you are about to do. Open us up to feel creation as the one who created the heaven’s and earth experienced it. Amen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Life

For a long time I have held my peace,
I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.
I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.
I will lead the blind by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them.
They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame
— those who trust in carved images,
who say to cast images, "You are our gods." Isaiah 42:14-17
A swallow lands on the growing bush in the rock face. All alone it looks to be sitting, watching, guarding. Then another bird lands, its mate. Paired for life. Never to be alone for long. They play. Flying back and forth. Seeking a cooler spot, a bit of food. Stretching their wings, they fly and return. One never leaving the branch for long.

This idyllic scene happens were the forest seems to be reclaiming more and more of the rock face along the river. Into this scene comes the powerful image of God, the warrior, God the mother.

God is crying out like a woman in labor. Panting, gasping, screaming, knowing the new is going to come, but the change is painful, agonizing. In order to lead the blind to the light, on the path yet unknown – some death, destruction and pain comes first.

We are the blind, unable to see the ways we have destroyed and killed for the present without a plan of redemption. Next to me is a tree. It appears that lightening has struck it, causing the tree to decay. Yet at the very base of the tree a new tree has started to grow from the death there is new life. In the pain of old is born the new.

We know Holy One that you will not forsake us. You are creating a path, a road we have not known that leads us out of the darkness and into your marvelous light. Amen.