Ecclesiological Etchings: 11-30-16

image

Scripture: James 1:17
Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.

Thought for the Day: It was on this day in 1982 that Michael Jackson released his second solo album called Thriller. I believe it is still the best selling album in history. At the time, I was a sophomore in high school, and we all loved the songs: Billie Jean, P.Y.T., Human Nature, and of course, Thriller. It may not have been your music, but he was an incredible performer and his music was amazing for my generation. At the same time, Michael Jackson was such a broken human being. I want to be cautious in my judgement of him as it is not my place, yet he clearly dealt with serious health and mental health struggles. Amazing gifts within a very flawed human being. I won’t seek to diagnosis it or even explain the causes, but he is an example of awe inspiring gifts becoming lost. Maybe our stories are not as extreme or tragic, but how often have our gifts become lost amidst poor choices or cultural pressures?

Prayer: Father and Giver of all good gifts, continue to guide me into a place where my gifts can be utilized for the good of others. Amen.

img_0273

 

img_0259

 

 

Ecclesiological Etchings: 11-29-16

image

Scripture: Psalm 72:3-8
Let the mountains bring peace to the people; let the hills bring righteousness. Let the king bring justice to people who are poor; let him save the children of those who are needy, but let him crush oppressors! Let the king live as long as the sun, as long as the moon, generation to generation. Let him fall like rain upon fresh-cut grass, like showers that water the earth. Let the righteous flourish throughout their lives, and let peace prosper until the moon is no more. Let the king rule from sea to sea, from the river to the ends of the earth.

Thought for the Day: Though the historical context of the Psalm was centuries before the birth of Jesus, there are interesting connections. The Psalm is specifically speaking of King Solomon, but Christianity has drawn upon the words of the Psalm as a way of describing the Kingship and Kingdom that break in upon the world on Christmas. The one whose birth occurred in a stable, among some of the poorest of folks was and is the one who shall live and reign as long as the moon, from generation to generation. He shall bring righteousness and peace, bringing an end to injustice. In faith, we declare these words to be true, yet we look around the world and it sure does not appear to have happened. Christian theology has often spoke of the Already but Not Yet. It’s as if the blueprints and tools of such a reality have been airdropped to us, and though we have recovered them, we just discovered that the person reading the blueprints was looking at them upside down. God uses fragile and flawed creatures to wield the tools of Kingdom building – the tools of love, compassion, mercy and hope. As we continue in our Advent journey, let us not become frustrated or disillusioned. Instead, let us look to the one whose life was and is the blueprint of the kingdom.

Prayer: Build within my heart, Merciful God, your kingdom of righteousness and peace. Allow it to have a strong foundation so that I may be one of the pillars upon which you build your Kingdom here on earth. Amen.

LOOKING FORWARD
TO THE CONCERT
THIS SUNDAY

img_0273

Ecclesiological Etchings: 11-28-16

image

Scripture: Romans 13:11-12
As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the tools of light.

A PORTION OF SUNDAY’S SERMON: I had a number of people request that I share the list of six “simple and random” ideas for bringing light to those who live in the shadow of hopelessness. They were not intended to be an exhaustive list or even an overly creative list. They were more of a random selection of ideas that would hopefully encourage even more creative ideas. The following is what I shared in my sermon:

1. We need to help people get out of their heads. Hopelessness causes people to become disconnected from others, and when there is no one else around, people talk to themselves. The conversations people have in their heads tend to intensify anxiety and fear that first prompted the feelings of hopelessness. We need to invite people to get out of their heads and get into hand-holding. Those who have distanced themselves from others need to reconnect. Community doesn’t belong in the theoretical, but in tangible expressions like hand-holding, hugging or offering a supportive shoulder on which to lean. Offer a hand to someone.

2. We cannot wait for people to exit their darkness before reaching out to them. We need to use God as our model, for God chose to enter the darkness with the gift of hope. We need to pull back the curtains and let the light shine. I always loved the story of the woman whose neighbor was going through a period of darkness. She was overwhelmed in her hopelessness after her spouse’s death. The woman took breakfast over to her neighbor every morning, but after entering the house, the first thing she did was to open the curtains and let the light in. She knew that her neighbor would have otherwise sat in the darkness all day.

3. We need to invite people to take Sabbaticals from social media and the news. Right now, these are creating and communicating some of the most negative energy in our world. They reinforce people’s fears and anxieties, pushing them further into the darkness. On our break from social media and the news, we need to try something outrageous and actually socialize and make news worth telling.

4. We should memorize short portions of scripture and offer them as gifts. A friend of mine’s son was going through a difficult time. Three times each day, my friend would send his son the same verse of scripture. It read:
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness could not extinguish the light.”
Every morning, noon and evening, those words would come to his son’s email box. Each time, his son would we read the words out loud. At first, he said the words but did not believe them. But weeks of repeating them over and over, he came to a place in his life where he truly believed that the light came into his darkness, and the darkness was unable to extinguish the light.

5. It may sound overly simple, but we need to invite people to take a walk – a walk in the neighborhood or a park. Not only are you outside and walking alongside another human being, but you will pass by other people, giving them a nod or a ‘good morning!’ The person is interacting with more and more people, even if it is nothing but a quick acknowledgement.

6. And finally, out of our Congregational Conversations earlier in the fall, I challenged people to be in worship at least 75% of the time, if not more. This is not simply because we need to be in worship, but each of us has been given tools of light (Romans 13:12). The way God has gifted you might just be the gift someone else is needing. Your presence in worship might just be the instrument by which God will shine light – shine light into the life of a person who happened to show up that morning desperately yearning for even a glimmer of hope.

Ecclesiological Etchings: 11-27-16

image

Scripture: John 18:37
“So you are a king?” Pilate said. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”

Thought for the Day: Why purple? It’s a good question – why do we use the color purple to decorate during the season of Advent? There are many reasons, some connected to legends, but the birth of Jesus was understood as a royal birth in the bloodline of King David. Purple is the color of kings, and though Jesus grew up to be a very different king, people of faith have and will continue to declare him as Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Purple is also a liturgical color that signifies reflection and contemplation. We use it during Advent and the season of Lent, times when people are invited to be a bit more introspective. During the season of Advent we are to look within ourselves and ask how we might better prepare ourselves for the arrival of the infant king. Today we will light the first candle on the Advent Wreath. The color of the candle is purple and its light will invite us to look into the shadowy places of our own lives and ask, “Is there room in the inn for Jesus my king?”

Prayer: With each day in this Advent Season, I wish to prepare for your arrival, O Lord of Life. May my heart be like a throne where the Christ child can reign with love and compassion. Amen.

TODAY’S SERMON
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

img_0270

Ecclesiological Etchings: 11-26-16

image

Scripture: Isaiah 9:6
A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Thought for the Day: I offer you these words on the Season of Advent from Henri Nouwen:

Keep your eyes on the Prince of Peace, the one who doesn’t cling to his divine power… Where is this peace to be found? The answer is clear. In weakness. First of all, in our own weakness, in those places of our hearts where we feel most broken, most insecure, most in agony, most afraid. Why there? Because there our familiar ways of controlling our world are being stripped away; there we are called to let go from doing much, thinking much, and relying on our self-sufficiency. Right there where we are weakest the peace which is not of this world is hidden… Claim that peace that remains unknown to so many and make it your own. Because with that peace in your heart you will have new eyes to see and new ears to hear and gradually recognize that same peace in places you would have least expected.

Tomorrow, we begin the season of Advent. It is the same thing that has happened for centuries, but just because it is a part of the Christian routine does not mean it must be routine. Let it be the unexpected power that it was that first Christmas adventure. Let it announce again its message of peace in our weakness and places of insecurity. Let it be a message of Good News like never before.

Prayer: For your message preparing to be born anew, we look and listen. O God of the Incarnation, continue to find places of revelation like a feeding trough in an insignificant town among a forgotten people. It is such places that help to communicate the message of love, mercy and compassion. Amen.

BEGIN THE NEW CHURCH YEAR IN WORSHIP

Advent Begins Tomorrow
img_0259

Ecclesiological Etchings: 11-25-16

image

Scriptures: Deuteronomy 12:7-8
You will have a feast there, each of you and your families, in the LORD your God’s presence, and you will celebrate all you have done because the LORD your God has blessed you. Don’t act like we’ve been acting here lately—everyone doing what seems right to them…

Thought for the Day: As I am still feeling the ramifications of my multiple trips to the refrigerator for leftovers, I am thankful for the feasting I have done with my family. This passage comes at a turning point – the people preparing to enter the Promised Land. The Lord does not say to the people, “Shape up, change your ways and then you can feast.” Feasting is not used as a prize or a carrot, but as a place where reflection through thanksgiving occurs. As we feast, it is hard not to appreciate the food set before us. It is also difficult to ignore the stories of those who have nothing, those hospitalized, those waiting for test results, those in places of war and great poverty. The feast pushes us to a place of both appreciation and action. We should not continue in the ways that are destructive to community, but seek to enrich and strengthen the lives of others. Let the feast be enjoyed, but also let the feast challenge us and let it strengthen us for the work that lies ahead.

Prayer: Thank you for being the Source and Master of our feast, Lord God. Thank you for all you provide. As we enjoy and celebrate, let us also hear your call to bring the feast to others so that they can feast upon the food, the loving fellowship or the encouragement found in community. This we ask in the name of the one who was and is the Bread of Life. Amen.

THIS SUNDAY
IS THE FIRST SUNDAY
OF THE ADVENT SEASON
img_0259

Ecclesiological Etchings: 11-24-16

image

Scripture: Psalm 75:1
We give thanks to you, God. Yes, we give thanks! Your name is near. Your marvelous deeds are declared.

Thought for the Day: Today, I am thankful for the opportunity to be thankful. I know that might sound strange at first, but in my life, I have met plenty of people (and not just children) who do not seem to have an ability to appreciate and express gratitude. For whatever reason, they only see the world and its blessings as theirs for the taking. They do not see life as relationship; they do not see life as community; they do not see life as an opportunity to give and receive, and enjoy the opportunities to give and to receive. I am probably not as appreciative as I should be. “Thank you” does not come out of my mouth as often as it should, but I am thankful for the many times I am able to say, “Thank you!” To be thankful is to recognize that I am not the center of the universe. It is the removal of arrogance that clouds ones vision. Gratitude and a thankful spirit is a sign that one’s vision is pretty clear, recognizing how life is an amazing gift to be celebrated. Today, give thanks for all the many good things in life…but also give thanks for the opportunity to be thankful. To be a thankful person is to live life to the fullest.

Prayer: We give thanks to you, God. Yes, we give thanks! Amen.

YOU CAN STILL GIVE A 53rd GIFT
THIS SUNDAY
img_0215