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, November 27, 2011

Elizabeth's Song (Ave Maria)

When I was doing my CPE unit, one of the patients who was in for a couple of weeks made it her mission to teach me the Hail Mary.  The first time I had stopped in her room and talked with her and finished by asking people if they wanted me to pray with them something I was only becoming comfortable with.  Now I was faced with having to say a prayer I had never learned.  So I told her I didn’t know it but I would pray with her while she said it.  That night I looked up the prayer so when I saw her the next day we could say it together.  She wasn’t content that I read it she wanted me to be able to say it from my heart.  So that night I set about memorizing it. 
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.
I felt a little odd saying this prayer, it just wasn’t part of my experience or tradition.  Then I took a class on the Gospel of Luke and wrote a paper on Mary.  I wanted to find out why Jesus would reject her when she is outside the place he is teaching.  While studying all the reference to Mary I learned about Elizabeth’s Song, otherwise know as the Ave Maria or Hail Mary in Luke 1.
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
The first song given to us in Luke’s gospel begins with a shout of joy.  Elizabeth a woman who never expected to be having a baby has been blessed by God with a baby.  This gift allows her the ability to see the divine, the holy when it appears before her.  So when she opens the door to a pregnant Mary, she is able to see God at work and pours out a blessing upon Mary.  She declares her blessed and her baby blessed.  She then shares how her own baby leaped for joy.  Elizabeth than says you are blessed Mary, not just because of this baby but because you heard what God was saying to you and believed.  You are blessed because you believe. 
This first song of Christmas is asking us to bless.  To greet those we meet with God’s blessing.  To greet those we meet with joy.  To share what it means to live a blessed life.  To share God’s blessing with those you meet. 
So this first Sunday of Christmas, let us pray for blessings.
Bless you, O God, father of all and gentle caring mother, do not forget your children.
Bless you, O God, who has given us the great gifts of creation and scripture. 
And you bless us, with love, with forgiveness, with vision.
Bless us this day so we may share our hopes to you:
            Hope  for those caught up in war…
            Hope for those who are homeless…
            Hope for those who are ill…
            Hope for those struggling in relationships during this family time…
            And for the deepest hope of our hearts…
God is with us and our hope is reborn.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What is Christmas about?

I was sitting with a group of kids getting ready for the Christmas play in worship one Christmas.  While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, I asked them what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas.  One of them told me a DSI, one said a special Barbie.  I said I wanted an ice cream maker.  A 3 year old little girl, in her Cindi Lou who costume with red cheeks, pigtails, and twirly dress, looked at me very solemnly and said, "Santa only brings toys."  Santa only brings toys.   

I remember one Christmas morning

A winters light and a distant choir

And the peal of a bell and that Christmas Tree smell

And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas

They sold me a Silent Night and they sold me a fairy story
These little ones were a quiver of excitement that Santa was coming to bring them a dream.  The dream for Christmas was of packages and the bearded man with his toys.  This story came back to me this year as I thought about our Christmas dilemma.  Where will we be Sunday Christmas Morning?  Some churches are canceling services.  So when we make a choice about Christmas day and spending it with family will we take time during the day to remember the reason for the celebration?
In the song, I Believe in Father Christmas, the author contrasts the belief in Father Christmas with the belief in the Israelites, the rain with the virgin’s tears.  On Sunday December 25th will we remember the magic of Christmas is a story of the coming birth of babies who will grow up to change the world?  The Gospel of Luke begins with the stories of two coming babies, the struggles the families go through to have these babies and the hope these babies represent.   
This Christmas we will sing Zechariah’s Song from Luke 1:68-79, about his new baby John, the Baptist.  In this song / prayer, the baby will help to usher in the dawn from on high.  He will be great in the sight of the Lord and filled with God's Spirit.  He will turn people to the Lord.  He will prepare the people for the One who is coming to bring salvation.  
68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.  78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

We will also sing Mary’s love song to God and her child in Luke 1:46-55.  She sings of our God who looks on us with mercy, our God is on the side of the poor and hungry, and fulfills the promises made to our ancestors.  
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

So this Christmas will we believe in this dream and hope for a Christmas of salvation and peace.  As Bono sings "I wish ... at Christmas we get what we deserve."  May we meet this season the God of the Israelites, the God behind the plan of salvation who turns the world upside down and inside out.  As Mary and Zechariah sing, even when we experience anguish, pain and sorrow, will we remember the God of Mercy who sends babies to change the world.
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Kitten for Mission 1

On Monday night, I came to church and was going around the building opening it up for the Ecclesiastical Council ( the UCC  final step for ordination where the association votes to affirm the persons call  on the condition of receiving a job offer) we were having for our recent seminary graduate.  So I am turning on the lights and unlocking the doors and I get to the outside door where people come into the building for the food pantry.  As I got to the door, I saw a box and thought someone brought food for our Mission 1 collection.  The United Church of Christ is on a mission together to collect food for the hungry, dollars for neighbors in need, an offering of letters to congress and money for African famine relief.   We had begun to fill up the windowsill in the sanctuary; I was really hoping for more food.  So then I bent down to pick up the box and it meowed at me.  Which caused me to actually read  the writing on the box which told a story of a person seeking on home for the kitten.  The weather was turning cold and while wanting to care for the kitten the person knew that wasn’t possible.  The note asked us to please find the kitten a home.

I was torn, knowing I couldn’t afford another pet with two of my own that we had rescued I asked the people to call around and find where we could take the kitten.  But while celebrating this beautiful moment for our seminarian whose call from God is to grow a church devoted to earth care many of us were worried about this kitten.  I knew myself and didn’t go look or pet it because I would take it home. 
We found a place to take the kitten but it got me thinking about hunger and poverty.  When food for people becomes hard to attain then those companion animals also suffer.  There is less food and less money for medical care.  Here we were as a church confronted with this economic crisis in the form of a kitten.  What are you supposed to do with a abandoned animal?  Experts recommend that people struggling financially to support their pets take the following steps:
·         Contact local shelters or rescue groups to locate pet food pantries or to find pet-friendly apartments if you have to move. They can link you with programs that can help with necessary vet care, medications or low-cost spay/neuter. In an increasing number of cities, groups are forming to provide short-term foster care for pets whose owners need a little time to get stable again.
·         Go to the home page of the Humane Society of the United States (hsus.org) and click on Pet Tip, which offers a state-by-state, ever-growing list of groups offering free or discounted pet food, medical care or temporary foster care.
·         Barter a short-term living arrangement for your pets. You provide free dog-walking or housekeeping or landscaping services for someone who gives your animal a home until your finances improve.
·         If you conclude you must give up your pet:  See whether responsible pet-loving friends or family can take it. If it's a purebred, contact the breed rescue group in your region. A few will also consider mixed-breed dogs that are primarily a particular breed. Contact no-kill shelters or rescue groups first.
But…What are our obligations as a church to this lost kitten and the other companion animals who are being hurt during times of economic turmoil?  When our seminarian was asked what her favorite scripture passage was, she said “The earth is the Lord’s and all that’s in it.”  So when we as the United Church of Christ are thinking about confronting food related injustice during this 11 days, one of those injustices that never even crossed my mind until a lost kitten appeared on our church doorstep, was how will we help all the earth that is suffering.  Will we add petfood to our list of healthy food donated to the local food pantries?  When we say all are welcome will we welcome the lost kitten on our doorstep?  Who will we include when we pray “that they may all be one”?