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."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Take Refuge

But whoever takes refuge in me
shall possess the land
and inherit my Holy Mountain.  Isaiah 57:23c

When I was in high school I attended the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Iowa.  At that synod the youth were introduced to political refuges.  They were fleeing Central America because of all of the violence and upheaval taking place.  As we (the USA) fought and tried to keep in power many dictators.  There were people seeking asylum in the United States but being denied because they were fleeing the forces being backed by the US military.  So at this meeting we met one of these refugees who had sought asylum in the USA and was being provided sanctuary by a UCC church.  Until that moment I think maybe I knew that people sought the US for refuge, but I didn't really understand what it meant and what my role was to play in that.  I didn't know that churches often became places where people went for asylum and sanctuary.

"Take refuge in me."  Can you imagine what the words must sound like to someone who is with out home or country?  To someone who has had to flee their home because they are on the wrong side of a political disagreement?  Take refuge in me.  God is the place of refuge, security, safety.  God is the shelter from all that is wrong, all that keeps us from what is right and true.  To take refuge in the Holy One calls on us to live in the shelter of God's presence, to live our lives always in God.  When we do that, when we live each moment in God we inherit the Holy, the Sacred.  We dwell on the Holy Mountain, the temple of God, the place where God lives.  Now the sacred is here and not there.  We awaken to the fact that we have been surrounded by the Holy but forgot or couldn't see. 

God show me the path to your refuge that I can be part of your Holy Presence and learn to provide refuge for others.  Amen

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inch by Inch

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up
 so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
 to spring up before all nations. Isaiah 61:11

There is something about sowing a seed and watching it grow. When Reed was little we lived near the edge of a forest. There was one spot in our tiny backyard that had enough light to plant seeds. I knew there wasn’t enough sun for vegetables, so I decided to try flowers. I cleared the area, pulling out the grass and small plants. I picked out stone after stone making a border around the edge. My son was two and he thought this was the best job. Being able to put your hands in the dirt, pull out the rocks and then get to keep them made my sons day. When we had soil ready, we then added bags of dark rich compost and topsoil, spreading this life-giving rich earth. I decided to plant wild flowers. So we sowed the area with seed. We watered the ground and sang the Jim Manley song “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow, all it takes is a rake and a how and piece of fertile ground.” Green slowly began to appear. We watched, we waited, we watered, and we sang. Then one day it bloomed. There was a riot of colors with trees right behind. Our hard work and the earth’s desire to bring forth shoots led to this blooming.

God is also a patient gardener. God has created a righteous world. The holy One patiently tends the earth waiting for the soil to bring forth shoots to bloom. The blooms can do nothing less than praise the creator.

God, give us the patience and endurance it takes to sow seeds that will bring forth life, righteousness, and praise. Amen.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What is the Language of God?

This spring around Easter the United Church of Christ released a new ad on the internet. The ad is called what is the language of God. At the bottom you see the words religion with relevance. The ad shows the hope and dream of the United Church of Christ to be a church that speaks the language of God.

What is God’s language? Compassion, Community, Love, Justice, Hope, Equality, Praise. These words are interspersed within the images of the people of the United Church of Christ expressing those sentiments. It shows people marching for equality with workers, with minorities, with LGBT persons. There are pictures of pastors preaching and children laughing, creation growing, and people singing. There are people eating together, sharing communion and being baptized. This is the church on the move that is a multicultural, multiracial church. It is a vision of the church that has kept me in the United Church of Christ.

Can you imagine a church where you praise God and act for justice, where you provide compassion to a hurting world and feast at a table, where you celebrate the joy of a child first walking and a lesbian couple being married, where you march for immigrant rights and baptize in a river, where you comfort the hurt and celebrate a disabled person’s win, where you laugh, cry, pray, hope and march together! When I see this vision of the United Church of Christ I want to be part of the dream. I want to share the language of God with those around me.

So my question for us is how can we share with the Lake Geneva Area that we are speaking the language of God? In what ways do we share love? Compassion? Community? Justice? Hope? Equality? Praise? If we aren’t sharing this language what do we need to change in order to be able to share this language? How is our religion relevant? How will we embodied the God Is Still Speaking mission and message here is Lake Geneva so that people will find our church and find a home?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Word of God is Like the Rain

My word is like the snow and the rain
that come down from the sky to water the earth.
They make the crops grow and provide seed for planting and food to eat.
So also will be the word that I speak -
it will not fail to do what I plan for it;
 it will do everything I send it to do. Isaiah 55:10-11.

The word of God is like the rain. What an interesting concept? I have lived in very different climates over my life. I have lived in places when the rain blew in fast and furious and could leave in its wake destruction. I lived in a high mountain desert where it rarely rained and if it did rain it might miss your house entirely but get the next block over. I lived in places where it seemed like all it did was rain from February through May and I wished it would stop and I could see the sun.

The word of God is like the rain. When I lived in Wyoming there was no rain. There hadn’t been rain in two years. The plants struggled to grow and you had to decide whether to spend money on the precious resource water to keep life green. The drought cycle was lasting longer because of how we humans used the earth. God’s word is like the rain in a drought; sometimes it seems like it will never come, that the rain is being kept away, that we humans have created a barrier to the word.

Sometimes the rain is a slow steady rhythm that soaks the earth and grounds. The rain replenishes all that has been lost making life spring forth abundantly. God’s word is sure and steady falling constantly then we hear the word everywhere we turn.

Sometimes the rain blows in with loud thunder and flashing lightening. It is quick and powerful, drenching and destroying, terrifying in its power. Sometimes God’s word is like that entering our lives and causing us to radically change and transform from its forceful strike.

The word and rain we can’t live fully, wholly without either. The rain and word have consequences and produce results when the rain and word fall where intended. Rain comes to places where there are no humans. Places where rain is sent because of what else is there. The goat born where no one else except God is present, but has purpose and beauty to God the only one who sees.

Rain of God, pour down your life giving word upon us that we may see and appreciate what your word and your rain bring to us. Amen.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Holy All Around You

Lake Geneva
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. Isaiah 65:17-19

Have you ever sat outside in your favorite spot and breathed deeply? Have you closed your eyes and stilled your mind in prayer and silence? When you’ve reached the point where there is an inner stillness have you opened your eyes? At that moment everything is brighter, clearer, and stiller. Everything is so alive and so full. A newness has come over you, so that what was before beautiful is now the most holy and precious sight you have ever experienced. A new heaven and a new earth has been born in that moment. What was ordinary has become extraordinary. The sights, sounds, and smell have moved you into a new heaven and a new earth. You have awakened to the Holy that is in you leading you to experience the Holy that is all around you.

One question is how to bring that experience to the seat of power. Is there a way to express this since of the Holy in the seat of power so that when decisions are made about the earth the experience is not as an object to be used and consumed but as part of the Holy to be treasured and cherished? In Isaiah’s vision God’s law can remake the seat of power and transform the old into the new. The seat of power, Jerusalem, will now be a joy and the people will be a delight. God has allowed us this ability to see the new, to dream the possible.
Delight and Joy of my heat open within me the means to see and to live the new heaven and the new earth. Amen.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Are We Gnats?

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended. Isaiah 51:6

This passage speaks of the impermeability of life. I was taking a class in seminary called the Epic of Creation in which scientists and seminary professors led this seminar. The scientists spoke about the constant changes taking place. There are theories about the expanding universe. This expansion would lead to the end of the heavens. Like smoke the heavens would drift farther and farther apart until there was nothing left to see.

During the lectures on evolution, I was forced to think about the mortality of a species in ways I had never considered before. Sometimes there appears to be a cause for one species dying off. But it is usually bad luck. There doesn’t seem to be a reason. Yet the whole line has disappeared. What a new perspective this gives to us humans? If we are gnats to be easily destroyed our life and purpose shifts? We may be only visitors. That while our branch has grown so far it may go no farther.

The image of the earth as a garment brings into dramatic relief how it is we treat the earth. There are some of us who toss out the old as the wind changes. There are some of us who wear the same dress for forty years. There are those who only reuse, remake clothes that someone else has worn. To view the earth as a garment is to view the earth as disposable.

And then we learn that God is permanent. God’s salvation is forever. God’s deliverance will never be needed. How is it that we can in our impermanence become permanent?
God sees the smallest creature that bothers you, we know that you are our salvation and will deliver us from the misperception that we are more than we are. Amen.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Make Me A Servant

1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." 12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.  John 13:1-17
Lake Geneva Wisconsin
When I got down to the lake on my walk today.  I sat down on the dock and put my feet into the water.  It was so hot today.  I didn't just want to be near the water.  I wanted to feel the water:  let it wash a way the heat and dirt, let it cool and refresh, let it calm and sooth me.  As I am dangling my feet in the water, I start thinking about John's story of the last passover meal.  At this festival, in the midst of dinner Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe, tied a towel around himself and began to wash the disciples feet.  Not because they were dirty and had just entered a house that probably already occurred since they are eating. Like the woman who anointed Jesus. Jesus knowing he is going to God anoints his disciples. Peter doesn't want this act of servitude performed on him.  Jesus says to be part of him Peter must be washed.  Being Peter, he says well don't just stop at my feet wash everything.  He tells the disciples to be like they must do as he did.  To love and serve as Jesus loved and served to to do as he did.  Jesus loved us so much he served us, as we are to in turn serve each other. 
Make me a servant
Humble and meek
Lord let me lift up those who are weak
And may the prayers of my heart always be
Make me a servant
Make me a servant
Make me a servant today

Friday, July 16, 2010

Being in the Holy Presence

Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent - its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on my holy mountain, says the Lord (Isaiah 65:24-25).

Different rules apply when you are in the holy presence and on the sacred land.  When you are surrounded by the holy, God's peace is the important factor.  God's peace make the world into a new and different place.  Walter Bruggemann says that the elemental hostilities are ended just as the worldly hostilities are stopped.  Peace prevails locally and cosmically.

Poetically this a glorious vision of the most powerful and the most vulnerable, the royal and the workers - lying together.  Yet is a culture that wants to cast aside the earth that wants to control, own, dominate the earth.  This vision is troubling because it is so apart from what is essential to the nature of these living creatures.  For the earth to live and flourish the cycles of life must be respected.  Predators must hunt.  If they don't hunt, they die.  If they don't hunt the populations will become huge and end up starving and dying.  A natural cycle is broken.

So in God's Holy Presence and in God's sacred earth what rules would exist?  Would the change come in human perception?  Would we learn to thank every creature for the life given so that we might live?  Would we be grateful for the cycle of life trying to be part of these cycles rather than apart from the cycles.

In God's presence and on God's sacred earth is the peace that prevails,a peace brought by a new appreciation and respect within humanity for the sacred circle of life.
God, teach us your ways of peace that we may become part of the sacred circle of life.  Amen.    

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to Save a Life

A song has been stuck in my head since I came back from the Wisconsin Conference meeting. I have been singing “How to save a Life” by the Fray.
Step one you say we need to talk
He walks you say sit down
it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
And you begin to wonder
why you came

Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up
with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
How to save a life
How to save a life

Jim Griffith one of the keynote speakers said people are searching for is a church that places a high value on saving one life. How to save a life. What does that mean for the church and how it worships and practices in a community.

This idea came as Jim told a story about Tony Campolo. He was at a conference in Honolulu and couldn't sleep. Well after midnight he wandered down to a diner to get something to eat. The place he found is where the local prostitutes came at the end of a night of turning tricks. There, he overheard a con¬versation between two of them. One, named Agnes, said, "You know what? Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm gonna be thirty-nine." Her friend snapped back, "So what d'ya want from me? A birth¬day party? " The first woman replied, "Why do you have to be so mean? It's my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I've never had a birth¬day party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?" When they left, Tony had that nudge we get from God. He asked the shop owner if Agnes came in every night, and when he said yes, Tony invited him into planning a surprise party. Together they arranged for a cake, candles, and typical party decorations for Agnes, who was, a complete stranger. The next night when she came in, they shouted, "Surprise!"-and Agnes couldn't believe her eyes. As people sang, she began to cry so hard she could barely blow out the candles. When the time came to cut the cake, she asked if they'd mind if she didn't cut it, if she could bring it home-just to keep it for a while and savor the moment. Tony led the guests in a prayer for Agnes, after which the shop owner told Tony he didn't realize Tony was a preacher. He asked what kind of church Tony came from, and Tony replied, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” The shop owner couldn't believe him. "There isn't a church like that. If there was, I'd join it."

Jim Griffith went on to say we as the church should place a high value is placed on the redemption of a life. Churches need to be about the business of saving a life. Our history in the church is a history of redemption, of lives that are saved. To understand the heart of people we need to preach a message of adoption: if you feel as if nobody wants you, remember God wants you. God understands the value of one life. This week as I sat down to work on my sermon I think that was why “how to save a life: was stuck in my head. In chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke we see this God who thinks nothing of throwing a party for undesirables. The chapter begins, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." Jesus then tells them stories. A shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in order to find and rescue one lost sheep. A father with two sons who has one that got lost and yet is welcomed back home. A father who has a second son who has never done anything wrong and yet can’t accept a father who welcomes the lost. A woman who having lost one coin searches everywhere until she finds it. Each story ends with a celebration of the lost being found. Are we willing to through a birthday party for a prostitute? Are we willing to give up a little of our comfort in order to save one life.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fish Kill

Why was no one there when I came?
Why did no one answer when I called?
Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?
Or have I no power to deliver?
By my rebuke I dry up the sea,
I make the rivers a desert;
their fish stink for lack of water, and die of thirst.
I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering. Isaiah 50:2-3.
This passage evokes an image of the time I felt, saw, and smelled a fish kill. I was living in Connecticut at the time near a cow farm. This wasn't a cow farm like when I was a teenager in Illinois. The cows roomed the fields and pastures. In Connecticut these cows were never free. They did not go out of the barn accept when they were loaded on the truck for slaughter. The farmer dumped the waste into the stream running through his land. A stream that was a tributary to the river where my son and I went to play. The summer he was caught dumping was the summer the fish died. Until the fish died no one cared about what he did with the waste. The water has the most foul odor. There were fish by the dozens that just died and floated in dank smelly water. The fish died because they couldn't breathe in the clogged water. The abuse of these cows had repercussions on the fish and on the water in the area.

While the passage I choose speaks of exile with God having the power to redeem and save, but no one being is open or able to answer. When no one is able to answer it is like the heavens itself are mourning. The entire universe mourns the fact that humans refuse to be redeemed. Humanity is not turning back to God, so the heavens show forth the deepest sorrow.

God we know you try to reach us but sometimes you call or come to us and we do not answer. Open us up to see the consequences of the way we are as a people. Don't forsake us when forget or get lost. Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jesus is Knocking

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me.  Revelations 3:20
What is your relationship to Jesus?  There is a painting that shows Jesus standing at a door knocking.  As you look at the door you can see there is no knob or latch.  If the door is to be opened the person on the inside must answer the knock.  Jesus is knocking will you open the door?

With Jesus standing their knocking, where are you in relationship to your door?  Does the door open easily and smoothly?  Are you someone who is always inviting Jesus into your life.  So when you here the knock you stop what you are doing, get still and invite Jesus in.  Or is you door covered with overgrown vines and brush growing up around it because you haven't opened the door in a very long time.  It has been so long since the door has been open that you aren't even sure you heard a knock.  Jesus will not break down the door.  He will not force a relationship.

Jesus is standing at the door knocking.  Jesus wants a relationship, wants you to open the door to your heart.  No one can open the door for you.  You have to choose to open the door.  Are you willing to take that chance and open the door.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Water of Life

Yesterday, one of the catalogues I used to get caught up with me. It is a gardening catalogue that always used to entice me to get outside and start planting. It had some amazing looking berry bushes, but the majority of plants are friendly for the environment because they don’t need a lot of water. When I lived in Casper, WY I was starting to replace lawn and plants with drought hearty varieties, because water was such a precious resources. Especially in Wyoming I experienced for the first time what it meant to see water fading from the earth. As Ziggy and I would walk along the river you could see the riverbank fading.

I watched this documentary on water on the Sundance channel this week that reminded me of how precious water is now that I live in an area blessed with an abundance of water. Water is essential to life. 70% of the earth is water but a smaller percentage of that is fresh, clean, and accessible for humans. Since 1950, the global use and demand of water has tripled, this has resulted in groundwater levels in every continent reaching an all time low. With water tables continuing to fall and becoming polluted, the availability of water in the 21st century will be among the most challenging resource issues.

As the earth is beginning to dry this summer it is time to think about changing our impact upon the water table. Psalm 65 speaks of the God of creation, the God who is like the water, which enriches the earth.

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose
and bring near to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth's farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges, softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

As I reflect upon this Psalm, I am struck by the image of God as water, What if we were to view God and our relationship to God as a river? Have you ever sat by a river as it rushes past? With its currents, waves, and whirlpools, the water is always rushing on and is never the same. The water is being pushed ever on and yet the water is still there where you sit: the same, yet always different. What if God like a river is eternally flowing, sometimes flooding and sometime dribbling, but always moving on, a constant changing flowing force. How should we touch the constant flow, the timeless and changing all at once? Take time to meet God in the river. May you be blessed with the ever flowing Spirit constant and shifting, eternal and fresh.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How do you define life?

God makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
God waters the mountains from her upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of God's work. Psalm 104:5-13

When Reed was little he loved dinosaurs, so I knew way more about dinosaurs then I ever wanted to know. One his favorite places to go was to the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. The entrance to the exhibit explores the origins of life, the universe and everything. In order to get to the dinosaur bones you have to go on an evolutionary journey from the birth of life on the planet through the end of the Ice Age. One of the hands-on exhibits in this first section asks you to identify which of the following things were alive: a crystal, a river, a virus, and a human. The answer was the human. The crystal can grow, but it isn’t alive. A river is just water moving from one place to another. A virus cannot live if it is not inside of a host. The only one alive is the human.

So the first time we went there is led to the two of us having an interesting discussion of what life is. I asked him whether he thought the river was alive. He said yes of course it is. A river is bursting with life: fish, plants, frogs, bugs, birds, microscopic organisms. Isn’t it interesting how life is defines? The river is not alive because it does not have the characteristics of animals and plants. Yet animals and plants could not live if the river was not there as an ecosystem a river is surely alive. In fact it is teeming with life. On the lowest level, all sorts of tiny organisms feed, collect, and graze breaking down plant matter that grows on the stream bottom or falls from the overhanging vegetation. There are snails at work processing calcium in the water to build their shells, while salamanders sun themselves on nearby rocks. Trees and plants filter pollutants and sediments from run-off and provide shade for fish. Larger fish eat smaller ones and smaller predatory organisms parasitize larger fish. Birds, snakes, frogs, bears, and other land animals, including humans, all come to the river for food.

What does it mean to look at a river as if it is not alive? When a river is nonliving it becomes possible to treat it as a resource to be used rather than a precious gift we cherish, love and wonder about. This exhibit caused me to think about the importance of how and what we teach our children. I become concerned when the world around us becomes an object rather than a subject. When we separate the wonder we have in the natural world from the science we use to study the world. When a river is abused the life within it begins to disappear.

During our visit we also watched a movie about the search for life beyond the earth. We went to the show because he wanted to know if there was a proof of aliens. But we learned about a chaotic mass of gas and dust that becomes a galaxy full of stars and planets. Yet there watching that movie I again missed a sense of God in creation, in the search for life. It all happened so scientifically. And while I don’t dispute evolution, I am troubled when we separate the world into discrete parts. Science is for our jobs and school; while God is for Sunday mornings. Yet life is an interconnected web where creation cannot be separated from the creator who embodies all of creation. My favorite part of the creation story is that it begins – “In the beginning when God began creating, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). God took the mess of chaos and to the chaos began to create an order. For me the important point in this whole poetry of creation is that God began crating. The wonder of all we see and experience in the world is a creation of God.

So the next time you are learning about the science of the planet remember to ask about the aliveness of the earth and wonder about the God who began creating. My hope is that we can teach children as Rachel Carson said, “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.”
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
All your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Holy One directs his love,
At night her song is with me (Psalm 42:7-8).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All the People

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel. Luke 2:29-32

These are the words Simeon says upon seeing that Jesus a baby brought to the temple for blessing: You God have done what you have promised. This child will bring salvation to all people. What does it mean to speak of God’s saving presence in this day and age? Not just the people who we are comfortable with but to all people. We are to speak God’s word to those we like and those we don’t. We are to speak God’s word to those who are lost and those who are found. We are to speak God’s word to those who are last in the eyes of the world and to those who are first. We are to speak God’s word to those who are blind and to those who can see. We are to speak God’s word to those who are hungry and to those who are full. We are to speak God’s word to the poor and to the rich. We are to speak God’s word to hose in captivity and to those who are free.

What an incredible challenge to speak god’s word to all people. It means that some days the word is going to make you downright uncomfortable. Sometimes the word spoken will be asking you to move beyond where you are to believe that it is possible to have a world where all the people are welcomed, fed, and free. Sometimes the word that is spoken will bring you good news, release, recovery, and freedom. God’s word that is constantly speaking is always changing and always renewing us so that we can bring the light of revelation to all people.

As part of the United Church of Christ, we are to be a people that accepts all the people, as god accepts and loves everyone. This is the point at which the UCC slogan convicts me of not quite believing that all the people are included. The problem comes for me when I am forced to welcome those who see and experience God’s word as literal and already spoken. Those people who were continually trying to save my soul throughout high school, because I couldn’t have heard God speaking, for the word I heard god speaking, spoke of a different god. Yet being member and pastor of the United Church of Christ to accept all the people. No exceptions, no exclusions.

How will we be a church that allows all the people to be welcome in our doors? Even those people who confront us with our own prejudices are to be welcomed.

God accepts all the people.
No matter who you are,
no matter where you are on life’s journey,
you are welcome here.
All the people.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Prayer in Worship

He whose soul remains forever turned in the direction of God…finds himself nailed to the very center of the universe. It is the true center; it is not in the middle, it beyond space and time, it is God. Simone Weil, Waiting on God

Prayer is a serene force at work within human beings, stirring them up, transforming them, never allowing them to close their eyes in the face of evil, or wars, of all that threatens the weak of this world. From it we draw energy to wage other struggles – to enable our loved ones to survive, to transform the human condition, to make the earth a place fit to live in. Brother Roger of Taize

Summer has always been a time when I become most connected to my interior life and renewed by the connection I feel to the earth and to God. The first summer I was in seminary I went everyday to sit on my favorite rock in Connecticut. It was at Diana’s Pool and overlooked a waterfall. I would sit their breathing in deeply the peace surrounding me. I would listen and watch the birds sing and flat on the air currents. I would listen to the rustling of small animals in the woods. If I was early enough I could catch a deer drinking from the river. During this time I would say thanks for all that I had been given, pray for my church family and ask God to guide me where I should go. It was a time when I seemed able to make the time to write about my love of God, my love of the earth, and my passion for scripture that celebrate both.

Then I would lead worship on Sunday and be frustrated by the time of prayer where the connection I had with God outside seemed distant and far away. I wondered how the time of prayer could be changed. When I pushed the boundaries of silence people would start crinkling their bulletins and shuffling their feet. When I would try to write prayer on my own, my words always felt inadequate. I was left longing for more.

So how can we make the experience of prayer within worship reflect the answer I am always given when people find out I’m a pastor and want to explain why they don’t go to church. They tell me I find God outside and inside is just dull. So how can we make the prayer in worship relevant to people.

I wonder if one of the ways we do this is to start using the psalms as our guides for prayer. These prayers are both prayers and song. The psalms come in two main forms. One is lament: the cry of help, the cry of suffering, the cry of loss. The other is thanksgiving and praise to God: the cry of joy and hope for this bountiful earth and glorious creator, the cry thankful for all we individually and as a community have been blessed with. There is also a third kind of prayer, without demands or explicit expression of praise. In Psalm 131 for instance, there is nothing but quietness and confidence:

O God, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like a weaned child that is with me O Israel,
hope in the Holy One from this time on and forevermore.

A time of silence, but how do we make the silence pregnant with the Spirit? Taize worship consists of singing with silent meditation, prayers of intercession, and with readings from the book of Psalms. Silence is a central part of this service and provides an opportunity to commune with God. Taize is a monastic community in southeastern France. Brother Roger began this community to bring young people together through the mission of healing the divisions between Christians. Thousands of people from all over the world gather at Taize every week to pray, to search, to sing, and to find refreshment and renewal.

My yearning is that in worship we can create a time of prayer that places us in God’s hands, opens us up to the power of the Spirit blowing through us and touches our hearts.

Healing, sovereign God, overmatch our resistant ears with you transforming speech. Penetrate our jadedness and fatigue. Touch our yearnings by your words. Through your outloudness, draw us closer to you. We are ready to listen. Amen (Walter Brueggemann).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

the gift

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her." Mark 14:3-9

A woman comes with the most expensive perfume you can buy. A perfume that’s wealth could have been put to use helping those Jesus came to help. Some of the people around Jesus said this gift was too extravagant it shouldn’t have been wasted we should have used it wisely. We should have taken the money and helped those we are supposed to be helping. Jesus stopped the scolding and said she did a beautiful work. She has done what she could.

What would I have done? Would I have been with the crowd or with Jesus? When I was younger I would have been with the crowd. I was all into justice and would have seen this as an extravagant waste of resources. Back then I wouldn’t have been able to say thank you and received a gift.

Now after being in the ministry for a while, I’m learning to appreciate the gifts as they come. The beauty of a work isn’t always the same for every person. There was a little girl during my first years of ministry whose family was different from the rest of those who attended church. They lived in a trailer park and there were many different men in the mother’s life. This little girl came up to me after church during the Christmas season and said she had this bear she thought would look perfect with the decorations. Could she bring it and put it on the table. I told her that would be great. So she brought me this bear. I was a little taken aback because I was expecting a fuzzy stuffed animal and instead she gave me this figurine of bear dressed like Marie Antoinette all in pink. Not our typical Christmas color, but I helped her place the bear in the perfect spot and she was so happy. She kept saying isn’t it pretty? This wasn’t what I expected or what I would have chosen, but it was precious and beautiful to her. There was nothing about this gift that said church to me, but for that little girl she was making the space beautiful by giving her most precious gift. A gift that when I tried to give it back to here after the season she said it’s for you. She had given her piece of beauty. A gift that has taught me to treasure the simplest joy. A gift that taught me to experience the beauty of a work given to God no matter the form or substance. A gift given by the youngest among us was the most precious.

God open us up to see the beauty of the gift given from the heart. Help us to give thanks and remember each of these blessings. Amen.