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."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Be the Church

This reading was created for my installation service at St. Paul's UCC in Hinckley, IL. My son helped me to read and edit this for worship.
Reader 1:   Is it true? What they say about the church?

Reader 2:   Is it true that the church is dying?

Reader 1:   Irrelevant?

Reader 2:   Is it a bastion of intolerance like they say?

Reader 1:   A house of hate?

Reader 2:   A place of judgment?

Reader 1:   A place of guilt?

Reader 2:   If not, then what is the church?

Reader 1:   I am the church.

Reader 2:   I am the church. Jesus was trying to get away. He was tired. Was worn out from all the people who came wanting to be healed. Wanting to be touched, wanting to know God’s presence. He was tired. There into the house came a woman. A foreign woman. A woman of a different race, a different religion. A woman that didn’t fit. A woman that people like him called – scab, scum, parasite. She needed him. She needed someone who would help her daughter. Her daughter was so little and so hurt. So she fell to her knees and begged him to help. He was so tired. He didn’t want to help. He was mean. Jesus was mean. He told her she was a dog and didn’t deserve help. He called her a dog. The little girl need him and so her mother said, “Even dogs get crumbs. All I need is a crumb.” She changed Jesus’ mind. She made Jesus see that ministry is not bound to a particular people. God’s love and healing is for all. She made him see that even foreign bodies matter. If Jesus can change his mind and realize that God’s love and healing for all, how can we not stand up and say black lives matter? How can we not stand and say immigrants, foreigners are welcome? We will be the church, we rejects racism.
Reader 1:   I am the church. I want to be the person who forgives often. Jesus told us to forgive any time we pray. Jesus had come home to rest and teach. So many people had come to the house to listen. So many had come for just a glimpse of heaven, a piece of God’s love. There was a man who couldn’t come. He had been so sick for so long. He couldn’t even move from his sick bed. He had friends, friends who knew that healing happens when Jesus comes by. They picked him up and carried him to Jesus’ house. They dug through the roof and lowered him to Jesus. He looked at this man. This hurting man and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus looked inside deep inside. He knew that there was so much hurt and pain. And Jesus gave him the forgiveness he didn’t even know he needed.  How can we do any less? When we see the pain how can we not say you are forgiven? We will forgive the unforgiveable. We will be the church, we forgive often.

Reader 2:   I am the church. He was teaching and preaching, healing and comforting. Jesus decided to get away, but the people saw and followed, coming from the towns and villages all around. He looked on those people with compassion and began to teach them. When it got late, his friends told him to send them away so they could eat. But Jesus looked at them and said, “You give them something to eat.” All they had was leftovers from lunch. But Jesus took that lunch and fed them. All of them. When he was faced with a crowd of hungry people again he fed them. How can we look at the poor and not act. How can we hear the words ‘You will always have the poor with you’ as an excuse not to help. When we pass laws that cause people to lose their driver’s license for failing to pay their student loans. Where we jail people for being unable to afford the ticket or fine. Where we use the poor as atm machines but don’t allow them to use their benefits how they will. When people were hungry, Jesus fed them. How can we do any less? We will be the church, we care for the poor.

Reader 1:   I am the church. You tell us you “give power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” (Isa 40:29). This woman was bent over, worn down, had been sick for 12 years, bleeding with no help in site. She thought if she just touched you she could be well. Just one little touch. So she reached out and she did. She was powerless. She had no one to help, everyone she went to provided no comfort. Her condition just got worse. But then, with that touch, she was healed. Jesus felt his power go out. He asked who touched him. His friends said “For real?  Do you see this crowd?”  But she fell to her knees and told Jesus her pain. He heard how powerless she was in her life and sent her away in peace. We look at the world and see the Yazidi women being raped and know we can’t remain silent. We see the Syrian refugees and know we can’t ignore them. We look at those places of deepest need, and feel you turning to them knowing your power has gone out and saying go in peace be healed. But we know to be healed we have to be your hands, your feet, your heart. We have to choose that place where we can make a difference, so they can go in peace. We will be the church, we fight for the powerless.

Reader 2:   I am the church. When God created the world and all within it, he looked around and said that it was good. How did we get to the point where we deny science because a faith story about goodness becomes an action plan for humans to do as they wish. God created the earth and made us to be farmers from the dirt. We were created to feed people and cherish the Good earth given to us. What if our churches showed the love of creation, taken our church property and turning them into gardens? What if we made our church lawns into food forests? What if we planted vegetables and harvested fruit and nuts so we could feeding the homeless shelter, the community dinner, providing produce to the food pantry, free food to whoever drops by? What if all our churches put solar panels on their large roofs - Using the light for power, and using the savings for mission? What if we become churches that question oil bombs rolling through our towns? What if we modeled how to live in this place as one of God’s good creation? We will be the church, we protect the environment.

Reader 1:   I am the church. Sunday the most segregated day of the week. I am in my worship with people who look and sound like me.  You attend worship with people who look and sound like you. But we know the stats. We know our country is more diverse than ever. We know that what we see here on Sunday does not represent your kingdom. That upside down crazy rainbow kingdom. The kingdom you created in Babel where the languages and people of the earth were created and separated in different languages and love. But we know you brought that diversity back together again. At Pentecost you made us able to hear and understand each other. So why on Sunday are we all so similar? Help us be your rainbow church where people mix in the diverse melting pot. A place where we learn and hear about each other. Where your stories become part of my story and my story is changed for the better. Help us strip Sunday of this segregation. Make us a place of welcome for all people. Black and white, Hispanic and Asian, gay and straight, questioning and sure, republican and democrat. We will be the church, we embrace diversity.

Reader 2:   I am the church. You told us the greatest commandment was to Love God with everything we have, everything we are. We love God when we enter the church like Jesus did reading together the scriptures. Sharing what hear God saying in the scriptures, and learning how others are experiencing God’s word and presence. We love God by becoming the house of prayer that Jesus wanted. He was so upset that day he walked in the temple and saw all that money changing hands. As he watched people make money on God. He started turning over the tables of those buying and selling. He wanted the church to be a place of prayer for all people. So how can we do any less? Praying our sorrows and joys, praying our pain and our hope. We love God when we sing together, laugh together, cry together, eat together, and comfort each other. We will be the church, we love God.

Reader 1:   I am the church. It sometimes seems like to be a Christian you don’t get to enjoy life. There are so many dos and don’ts. Church seems like serious business. Yet there was that day when Jesus met Levi. Levi was a tax collector. One of the despised because everyone figured that in order to live the way he did, he had to have stolen money from us. But Jesus invited him to join the party, to follow him. Later that day he was eating at Levi’s. He was drinking wine, eating, talking and laughing with this unruly group. People saw this and got angry accusing Jesus of eating with tax collectors and sinners. But don’t you want to be part of that church that throws Birthday parties for prostitutes at 3 in the morning? That hold a Drag Queen Gospel Festival? A church that has block parties, neighborhood potlucks, festivals and parades. A church that laughs and dances more than it fights. A church that teaches, encourages us to live life fully, joyfully, basking in the wonder of God’s love. We will be the church, we enjoy this life.

Reader 2:   When two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, we will be the church.
St. Paul's UCC Hinckley, IL

Reader 1:   When I show love, we will be the church.

Reader 2:   When I reach out to someone in need, we will be the church.

Reader 1:   When I am Jesus to the world. We will be the church.

Reader 2:   I am the church!

Reader 1:   I am the church!

Reader 2:   I will not be thoughtless!

Reader 1:   I will not hate!

Reader 2:   I will not posture and pretend!

Reader 1:   I will not make church about me!

Reader 2:   I will be real,

Reader 1:   Be honest,

Reader 2:   Be vulnerable.

Reader 1:   I will be me.

Reader 2:   We are God’s people.

Reader 1& 2: We will be the church.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Stairs to NoWhere

On my first walks through my new town I was puzzled by the stairs to nowhere. I don't know that I thought about it a lot but I looked at this front lawns with the stairs leading to nowhere and did wonder what that was about.

Some of these stairs are well maintained. Others have had the stones flattened so its just a patch of large cut stone slabs in the middle of the front lawn. So I think it clicked in my head what they were when I came across the pole to tie the horses to. I realized those stairs where probably used to help you get into the buggy or on a horse or in a  model t.
As I was walking by these stairs to nowhere the other day, a song from Christopher Grundy started playing on my phone, I had downloaded this as a song from General Synod, When Jacob Awoke.
When Jacob awoke with the sky up above 
and his head on a stone, he said,
“Surely, the HOLY ONE is here in this place 
                                                     and I just didn’t know it ‘til now. 
This is none other than the house of God 
and this is the gate of heaven,
the gate of heaven, the gate of heaven.
This is a story of a stairway (NIV), ladder (NRSV). Jacob who has tricked his brother and father is sent out to find a bride. So he heads away from his family and stops to rest for the night with a pillow of stone for his head. Jacob dreams that he saw a stairway rising to heaven with angels going up and down. God was at the top and told Jacob that his descendants will inherit the land he is asleep on and his offspring will spread out throughout the earth and be blessed. God promises to be with him, to watch over him, to bring him safely home. When Jacob wakes up he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28:10-22. The stone pillow became the sign of God’s presence in that place, which Jacob marked as the gate of heaven.

Thinking about this story changed how I looked at those stairs to nowhere. What if instead of heading to nowhere they are the stairway to heaven, the gate of heaven. Then when I pass by them here on my walk I have a moment when I can stop and be reminded that God is in this place. God’s gate, stairway is right in front of me. For this story of Jacob is about waking up to the presence of God, to awaken to God being here. These stairs in Hinckley remind me that surely God is in this place, I just need to wake up to experience the presence of the Holy One.