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."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

David and Abigail

Are you listening to the who's?  I love the story of Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss.  In this story, a very large elephant hears the cries of the tiniest people you can imagine who live on a speck of dust.  He saves them and places them on a clover to keep them safe.  But the other jungle animals don't believe there are people living on a speck of dust and try to get rid of the clover.  They go so far as to have a bird fly the clover into a field of clover.  But Horton has promised to watch over them and searches every clover until he finds the Who.  The other animals continue plans for their destruction.  Horton tells the who to shout as loud as they can to be heard.  Well the who begin shouting, they add drums and horns until finally all the animals are able to hear the Who.  Then some of them begin to offer their protection.

Our Story today from 1 Samuel 25 about David, Abigail and Nabal is a story about Whos.  David hits up Nabal for extortion food, since David didn't attack them and made sure that no one else bothered the sheep being sheered.  Nabal says no to the extortion.  David decides he will wipe out all of the men of Nabal's tribe. He arms his men and sets off.  In the meantime, one of Nabal's men has told Abigail that David is going to kill all the men.  Abigail sets out to meet David with her donkey full of the food David had demanded.  She falls on her knees begging for mercy.  David hears her plea and grants her request to save her people.  Abigail heard the cries of her Who and set out to make those cries heard by those who threatened them.   Abigail is able to save her Whos.

Who are our Whos?  Who do we hear crying out for help and are we getting ready to help even if it means taking the fight to the halls of power.  I thought of the story of Rachel Carson.  A woman who learned to love nature and taught us to love the sea as she did.  As she studied and wrote about her love of the sea and how life is connected, she noticed the trees being cut down and the rivers being to be destroyed by pollution.  She wrote about Silent Spring about this destruction and the danger of doing nothing.  Her book so inspired people that it help to usher in our clean air and clean water acts that have saved many many Whos.

As I was working on this all week I was struck by the story of 11 pastors being arrested in Washington DC.  These pastors have been holding a daily prayer vigil to protest budget cuts that will hurt the most vulnerable.  They are interested in holding our elected leaders accountable and asking them not to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.  I was struck by the similarity of stories.
Faith leaders arrested in Capitol Hill protest to protect nation's most vulnerable persons
These pastors are trying to say to power: hear all the people.  Give a place at the table to those who are not invited.  Sandra Sorenson, the director of the United Church of Christ Washington Office was one of those arrested.

When asked why she felt civil disobedience was necessary at this point in the budget debate, Sorensen said, “Those who struggle on the economic margins of our society –– children living in poverty, people living with chronic health issues, seniors, women trying to escape domestic violence in their homes –– the most vulnerable do not have a voice at the negotiation table. Our faith calls us to lift up the voices and the stories of the most vulnerable.”
“With economic disparities becoming ever greater, now is not the time to balance budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable,” Sorensen said. “We risk leaving our children to shoulder a legacy of poverty, underinvestment and diminished opportunities if we do not adequately fund programs that invest in the common good and make all of our communities strong.”
Sorenson has heard the who shout and is working to change the outcome by taking their cries to congress.  

I also happened to be rereading Letters from a Birmingham Jail this week.  When Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested for civil disobedience, he wrote a letter to moderate white clergy who would not take a side, a stand against in justice in his letter he wrote.  
And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"
 When you hear a who cry will you too be an extremist.  Will you be an extremist for love?  Will you be an extremist who extends justice?  Will you challenge the center of power to behave justly?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Beauty of Weeds

       Part of my childhood was spent in the flatlands of Illinois, where you could see for miles and miles.  There were corn and soybean fields from horizon to horizon.  When I would meet people from outside the area they would ask: how could you stand the boringness of the scenery?  Where was the beauty?  I would talk about sunrises and sunsets because you could see the sun splinter from horizon to horizon.  But if you pushed me to tell you what I found beautiful I would point to a weed.  When we would drive from the top of the state to visit my brother in the middle of the state, I would spend my time looking at the weeds on the side of the road.  They in fact were my favorite flower and my favorite color.  I loved to look at those touches of blue/purple next to either the green or brown.  This was the beauty I found on all our trips.  This was a plant that was spindly and even when mowed would learn how to grow to survive the mowing.  I love the flower’s ability to grow where it will.  It doesn’t seem to care where it grows; it just follows the traffic and sprouts all over.
       There is a story Jesus tells about a weed that grows.  It is the biggest bush.  He used this image of this weed to describe the kingdom of God (Mark 4:30-34).  Pliny the Elder describes this weed in the encyclopedia he wrote in 77 AD.  “With its pungent taste and fiery effect, mustard is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand, when it has once been sown, it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once. (Pliny, "Natural History" 19.170-171; Rackham et al. 5.528-529)”
       This weed grows out of control and attracts unto itself birds that are particularly desired. This pungent shrub can take over.  There is something uncontrollable about this weed.  Jesus says this weed is like the Kingdom of God.  The weed grows to provide shelter and the seed just spreads.  The weed is very hard to get rid of.  The Kingdom of God a weed!  The Kingdom impossible to destroy, providing shelter, and spreading where it will.         What if this summer as you wander around you look for these weeds and every time you see one, think about spreading the seed.  Let the Spirit use you to spread the kingdom.  Is there someone you can help, be an ear to listen, a voice of hope, laughter that heals, a welcome that is extravagant?  Is there someone you can invite to encounter God with and through you and our church?  Is there someone you can help find shelter, a meal, a place that it safe?  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Do you Marvel?

Library Park Lake Geneva,WI

Do you ever just marvel at the beauty of where we live?  Ziggy and I were walking by the lake when we sat down on the bench to pray and just gaze out in wonder (or in her case scope out all the other dogs and possible food or affection that could be received).  As we were sitting there a bird came in and hovered in front of a flower.  I was a bit puzzled because it was way too big to be a hummingbird and yet there it was suspended in front of this flower appearing to drink the nector.  And then it would land on the more substantial greenery before moving to the next flower.  This was all just feet away from Ziggy who hadn’t appeared to notice the two birds.  I was transfixed watching them and marveling at this beautiful place we get to live and how amazing is God’s creative hand.  As I was watching this my ipod began playing:  Sing Alleluia by City on a Hill
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
Sun, moon and stars rejoice on high
Praise to the Lord of light divine

Sing alleluia, sing alleluia
Praise the Father above
Sing alleluia
Sing alleluia, sing alleluia
For His infinite love
Sing alleluia
In that moment you could hear creation singing.  I couldn’t help but thank God for the moment, for the marvels of creation.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

David and Jonathan

1 When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; 1 Samuel 18:1-5a
     I am spending the week with Jonathan and David.  I am preaching on chapter 20, but their relationship begins here with this passage.  A passage that makes most of the people I have read this week squirm.  So what do we do with this passage.  "The soul of David was bound to the soul of Jonathan and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."  I ran across a number of sermons about soul friendships a worthy subject.  Who doesn't want a friend that knows you better than yourself and loves you and God.   We could all use a friend who is true.  
     But ... the word friend never appears in this text.   I mean switch the names and you have a line from any romantic novel.  Where love is described as deep and true as something where not just hearts but souls meet.  So all the articles about David and Jonathan being gay raise a legitimate point based on the language of the words we have here.  And those articles that try to discount this interpretation seem to miss the feeling behind the words.  
     So what makes some of us want this relationship to be more than friends and what makes some of us say no after all David had many wives and look what he did with and to Bathsheba.  And maybe that is what most of these commentaries miss.  They want to place people in a simple category: gay or straight, black or white, good or evil.  But the entire story of David tells us that life is messy, that people have moments of great good and also great evil, that God uses and loves deeply flawed people.  So why does David have to be either Gay or straight?  Why does he have to pick a side and stay there forever.  I believe that sexuality is more nuanced then that.  There are people that are totally gay or straight and there is a continuum in between where it is not black and white or clear cut.  But we here in the US live in a culture that creates these clear divisions we want to label people and then we have them in a category that fits.  David is gay, look at how he and Jonathan love each other.  David is straight:  it doesn't say they slept together and he has many wives and children, and the passion for Bathsheba.  David is definitely straight.  
     The problem is life is messy.  David both loved Jonathan and loved his wives (until they try to kill him).  So may part of what we need to learn from David and Jonathan is to live in the messiness, to learn to accept people where they are and who there are without trying to place them in the categories we want them to fit in.   Maybe what we are invited to do is learn to love them as God loves them, to see people as God sees them - Beloved Children.      

Thursday, July 14, 2011

David and Goliath

Have you ever struggled with the issue of Holy violence?  The text I preached on this Sunday was David and Goliath.  A beloved story from most every one's childhood, who doesn't love the little guy defeating the giant.  When my son was little we spent our days killing giants and defeating enemies, we had sword battles and dragon rides hoping to defeat evil.  Even then, I had wanted to have a son who grew up knowing that violence was wrong and that war didn't solve anything, but until he encountered his first sword and began playing Robin Hood, he had never taken to any toy we had.  But Robin Hood struck a chord with him and we battled the sheriff over and over again, helping the poor, defeating the evil. We fought the giant of injustice where wrong was clear for people were in poverty.  

So here I am with a text that says:
36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you."
 45 David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."  1 Samuel 17
Then David picks up his five smooth stones uses one and kills Goliath, cuts of his head and displays it around town.  The Lord had given him the victory.  But ... where is God in this story?  Do I want to believe in a God who delivers military victories to his people?  Do I want to believe in a God who condones violence,, if it is for the greater good?  I know I didn't buy it when reading Reinhold Nieburh in seminar. We can make rationalizations and come up with plans for war, but that does not mean it is just and it does not mean God is on your side.  After all as we look out at the world how many acts of violence have been committed in the name of God?  I will admit I took an easy way out and just said I was sure how I felt about God being on the side of violence.  And spoke about killing the giants of injustice.  That we each have a smooth stone and
that we can pick up to battle a giant of poverty, discrimination, violence, preventable diseases, destruction of the environment...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Music to Sooth the Soul

16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better." 17 So Saul said to his attendants, "Find someone who plays well and bring him to me." …  23 Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
1 Samuel 16:14-23

How has music soothed your soul? 

When I was in a freshman in high school my father took a new preaching gig in a small town in farm country.  A place and people where I never fit or was allowed to fit.  So I lost myself in music.  I would poor out my heart every afternoon when I got home from school:  singing my pain and hope.  I sang the songs form Fame one of my favorite TV shows.  Even though my parents hadn’t allowed me to see the movie, I sang the songs.  The hope of shining bright as the body electric or the pain of Out here on my Own.  I played Shuman and Beethoven.  Letting the music carry me way from a place where it hurt to go to school.  My poor siblings and parents had to hear the tears unshed.  Music to sooth your soul.    

I again needed music to sooth my soul when I was going through my divorce.  I had this long trip I took every weekend from one side of Connecticut to the other so my son could stay connected to his dad.  When my son was in the car, we listened to his favorite tapes.  When I had the 2 to 4 hour drive back I started listening to the radio but my normally stations were playing the songs of falling in love.  Not what I was interested in hearing.  But then my family’s favorite music hit home.  I started listening to the country station and the “You've done me wrong Songs” hit the spot.  The Dixie Chicks Goodbye Earl was popular. As I healed my need for those songs changed.  Music to sooth your soul.

The soothing power of music became clear to me when I did my CPE unit.  One of the chaplains was learning to follow David’s practice of playing his hammer dulcimer and seeing relief come to his patients.  I could see the music bring hope to the entire wing as he played.  People became quiet.  The restless patients became calm if only for a moment.  This power of music hit home with one of my patients.  As I was leaving for the night, a family came into the room of a woman who was expected to make it through the night.  They started singing and sang this woman into the next world.  The patients around her asked what had happened last night and many spoke of how they wanted to be led out of this world in the same manner.  Music to sooth your soul. 

What songs do you think David played to Saul to sooth his soul?

Can you hear David sing when Saul was fearful:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! Psalm 27:1, 9

Can you hear David sing when Saul was worried about forgiveness:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. 
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! 
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? 
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. 
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.  Psalm 130

Can you hear David sing to Saul when he was lost in depression:
 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. 
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. 
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. 
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  Psalm 30

When Saul we paranoid and feeling surrounded by enemy can you hear David sing:
 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
 your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.  Psalm 23

And then some days, the good day David sang to Saul and Saul joined in:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— 
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 
who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 
who satisfies you with good as long as you live 
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103

David sang the music that soothes the troubled soul.