Saturday, March 31, 2007

Giving Up Chocolate for Lent

Did you see this?
What in the world do you suppose is going on here?

I'm wanting to incorporate more art in worship.
But maybe I'd take a pass on this one.
It sort of reminds me of the butter cow at the state fair.

Dying (and Rising?) for Denominations

Several of you have picked up on the idea of church denominations being less relevant these days, which I mentioned in last week's sermon. Life long Presbyterian that I am, that feels very sad to me, although I know it is true. A fellow Reformed tradition clergy-type wrote about why that is in this blog: Some of you might like to take a look.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Looking toward the Cross

Only a week now until Good Friday. As we look toward the cross, these words, from an ancient African hymn can help bring it into focus:

The cross is the way of the lost

The cross is the staff of the lame

The cross is the guide of the blind

The cross is the strength of the weak

The cross is the hope of the hopeless

The cross is the freedom of the slaves

The cross is the water of the seeds

The cross is the consolation of the bonded laborers

The cross is the source of those who seek water

The cross is the cloth of the naked

- Janet Morley, All Desires Known (London: SPCK, 1992)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

600+ years of journeying

Want to see what more than 600 years of faith looks like?
And you know what I like best? We aren't at the end of the road.

The Big Picture

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday is fast approaching. The Triumphal Entry text is Luke 19. Then there is a long section of Luke that tells the story of the Passion so beautifully. It's a story. And it's long. Two chapters long. I don't want to diminish the big picture by picking out one or two details. So I'm thinking of just reading the whole thing and letting that be the sermon. Mostly. (You know I'll have to say something.)
Have you ever been in worship where the sermon disappeared? Did you mind? Do you think God minded?

Stephen Colbert as a Witness

I'm not sure how tongue in cheek this is - but here's a post about Popular Culture and Lent I think you might enjoy:
I'm going to study preaching with the author of this blog at Calvin College this summer.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Annie Dillard Rocks

Here's something I came across that speaks to Lent so beautifully:

"I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. . . . I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down." - Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 242.

That Christ would come and walk through this "splintered wreck" with us, and become "bloodied and scarred" for our sake; it is a kind of awful beauty that makes our walk worthwhile.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Change in Sermon Text

Well, since it is Member Anniversary Celebration Sunday, I'm not going to use the Gospel text for the sermon Sunday. The other New Testament reading is Philippians 3:4b-14 - which I hope will be perfect for such a lovely occasion. It ends with - "Forgetting what lies behind and straining froward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." It fits the "road trip" theme better, too.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

We're Getting Close Now

The Gospel for next Sunday switches from Luke to John. It's John 12:1-8 - the story of Mary (which Mary? - Martha's sister Mary) anointing Jesus' feet with the expensive nard. Judas complains, of course, and Jesus says, "Leave her alone."
So, even though it is not Luke, who always seems to highlight women and Jesus' treatment of them, it still has that sort of focus.
One thing that stands out on first reading is the snarky way Judas addresses the situation. He complains, but not to Mary. It's sort of passive/aggressive. And then the author parenthetically slanders ol' Judas: It's not that he cares about the poor. Judas complained because he embezzled from the common treasury.
I don't guess there has ever been a time when people in the church just talked to each other, eye to eye, about their disagreements.
The other thing that this scripture sets up is the two biggest priorities of the church: fabulous worship and meaningful mission. Jesus didn't think they were in conflict. Why do we so often get stuck thinking we have to make a choice?
Tomorrow at lectionary maybe I'll get a different perspective. What do you think?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Gospel this Week

The Gospel lesson for this week is that wonderful story of the Prodigal Son, as told by Luke. This is such a great scripture! As a sermon text, it presents different challenges than the last one, though.
The challenge, in my mind, is how can the sermon stay out of the way of the story Jesus tells? It's tempting to simply read the text and sit down.
You can't improve on the set up, or the characters, or the conflict. And how do you "improve on" the way Jesus leaves the story - which is by posing the question, "What kind of a son are you? Prodigal or Elder?"
I know this story is familiar to everyone. But read it again. Notice how Jesus plays with "dead and alive" images. "full and empty", too. And how the relationships are understood by the characters. Everyone knows Jesus is a great teacher, but He's even better than you think!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Fast Monday

Well, B. challenged me to fast from sunrise to sundown on Mondays. I'd never done that before, so I tried it. The first time it seemed really hard, because I wasn't sure I could do it. I was surprised how many times I got up from my desk and walked into the kitchen, just to take a little break. Once I even got the refrigerator door opened before I remembered that I wasn't going to eat. Funny, how mindless I can be. And when I got hungry, I'd think "If this gets worse and worse as the day wears on, I'm gonna be in trouble."
But the second time, having made it before, it seemed much easier. I was conscious of being hungry, but I knew that the hungry feeling wasn't going to get much worse, and that I could stand it. And . . . dinner was REALLY good. I was really thankful for the food when we bowed our heads to pray.
The first day, I prayed for help to meet the challenge.
The next time, my prayers were more about thankfulness.
This time, I was so busy running around all day, I was glad I didn't have to stop to eat.
I wonder what it will be like next time.

Lenten Poem

Here's a poem from Candles and Kingfishers by Ann Lewin:

Lent is a time to learn to travel
Light, to clear the clutter
From our crowded lives, and
Find a space, a desert . . .
But if we dare to trust the silence
To strip away our false security,
God can begin to grow his wholeness in us,
Fill up our emptiness, destroy our fears.
Give us new vision, courage for the journey,
And make our desert blossom like a rose.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Rotating Tires

Just got back from Walmart, where I needed to pick up some paper and supplies for church. I decided to get my tires rotated while I was there. It's one of those car maintenance chores that I don't always take care of in a timely manner. There's rarely a "tire rotation emergency" and there is never a convenient time to go be trapped in Walmart for who-knows-how-long. But if you don't do it the car begins to pull to one side, at first gently and then insistently. So, for the sake of the longer journey, you have to make time to take care of it.

On our faith journey, too, I think we need to pay attention to our maintenance schedules. It's too easy to wear down unevenly and start to veer off the road if we've been riding on the same routine for a long time. Maybe worship, prayer, giving and serving have been stuck in the same position for too long. And we may not even notice how our faith is "pulling" off to one side or the other. We need to mix up the "tires" so the wear can be better distributed.

Lent can serve as the rotation we need to get our spiritual life back in good condition for the road ahead. The morning prayer time in the sanctuary, the Lenten scripture readings, adding the targeted giving of One Great Hour of Sharing and new set of parish concerns has gotten me out of my usual routine. I'm not really comfortable doing things differently. But the discomfort does prompt me to turn to Jesus.

How's it going for you?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Old Testament Lesson

The Gospel Lesson is a hard saying of Jesus.
This Isaiah passage is just blessing after blessing. I'd say that this has about 7 sermons in it. Seven juicy "ducks" - as the Lutheran pastor calls them. Enjoy!

Isaiah 55

Ho! everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
And you who have no money, com, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in fatness. (!)

Incline your ear, and come to me;
Hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the people,
a leader and commander for the peoples.

Behold, you shall call nations that you know not,
and nations that know you not shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God,
and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their ways,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;

Let us return to the Lord, the he may have mercy on us.
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

That's just great stuff!

Monday, March 5, 2007

From Scripture to Sermon

Monday mornings, my first meeting of the week is lectionary group. At 9:00, from 3-6 of us minister types meet to attempt to shake off the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat clinging to us from the sermon-making attempt of the previous week. And to start the process of sermonizing all over again.

This is my first experience with a lectionary group. (So-called because we all have agreed to use texts from the Revised Common Lectionary as the basis for our worship work.) When I began attending, I had a tiny reservation about the group: we're all preachers. Shouldn't sermons be written with the congregation whose going to have to hear them? But I've discovered that our very different congregations do, in fact, shape what each of us has to say. Most weeks our sermons, though sharing the same text, are as different as our churches are. Or as we are. Which is to say VERY different.

But this week, I thought maybe I could have the advantage of the congregation's thoughts, insights, questions, understandings. Will you look at this passage and tell me how it strikes you, as we enter our 4th week of Lent?

Luke 13:1-9

There were some present at that very time who told Jesus of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, NO; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
And he told them this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, 'Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' And he answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

Well? What do you think/feel when you hear that? What pops out and puzzles you? What needs investigating? That's where I usually start. I'll be looking forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Sermon Follow Up

Thank you, Jan, for this beautiful story. At one point in the week, I had it in the text of the sermon, but I wasn't sure I could tell it without tears, so I decided to omit it. But it is beautiful.

God's Wings

A little something to put things in perspective.
An article in National Geographic several years ago provided an
interesting picture of God's wings.

After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno's damage. One Ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched
statuesque-ly on the ground at the base of a tree. Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he gently struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother's wings.
The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast.
Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." (Psalm 91:4)

Jan added:
Being loved this much should make a difference in your life. Remember the One who loves you, and then be different because of it.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Sermon Preview

The scripture is Jesus longing to gather Jerusalem to himself, as a hen gathers her brood. I'm struck again with the implausibility of the image for a diety. So domestic and not glorious at all. Jesus really challenges us with this one.

What do we expect from the heart of God?

Sunday Morning Prayer

Does anyone get up on Sunday morning and pray for the organist and the preacher and the congregation to get up and get to worship? I hope so.

Here is the BCW Sunday morning prayer -

Mighty God of mercy, we thank you for the resurrection dawn bringing the glory of our risen Lord who makes every day new. Especially we thank you for
the beauty of your creation . . .
the new creation in Christ and all gifts of healing and forgiveness . . .
the sustaining love of family and friends . . .
the fellowship of faith in your church . . .
Merciful God of might, renew this weary world, heal the hurts of all your children, and bring about your peace for all in Christ Jesus, the living Lord. Especially we pray for
those who govern nations of the world . . .
the people in countries ravaged by strife or warfare . . .
all who work for peace and international harmony . . .
all who strive to save the earth from destruction . . .
the church of Jesus Christ in every land . . .

Eternal God,
our beginning and our end,
be our starting point and our haven,
and accompany us in this day's journey.
Use our hands
to do the work of your creation,
and use our lives
to bring others the new life you give this world
in Jesus Christ, Redeemer of all.
(Lord's Prayer)

The grace of God be with us all, now and always. Amen.
Bless the Lord. The Lord's name be praised.

Snowing Again

Today reminds me of a Truman Capote quote that an old friend shared with me:

"All human life has its seasons, and no one’s personal chaos can be permanent: winter, after all, does not last forever, does it? There is summer, too, and spring, through sometimes when branches stay dark and the earth cracks with ice, one thinks they will never come, that spring, that summer, but they do, and always."

I don't know where that quote comes from. I don't remember anything of his being quite so up hopeful and uplifting. But there you go.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Saturday's prayer

I forgot to put the Book of Common Worship prayer on for Friday. I trust you all "winged it" with no trouble!

Here's Saturday's:

Great and wonderful God, we praise and thank you for the gift of renewal in Jesus Christ. Especially we thank you for
opportunities for rest and recreation . . .
the regenerating gifts of the Holy Spirit . . .
activities shared by young and old . . .
fun and laughter . . .
every service that proclaims your love . . .
You make all things new, O God, ans we offer our prayers for the renewal of the world and the healing of its wounds. Especially we pray for
those who have no leisure . . .
people enslaved by addictions . . .
those who entertain and enlighten . . .
those confronted with temptation . . .
the church in North America . . .
God our creator,
yours is the morning and yours is the evening.
Let Christ the sun of righteousness
shine forever in our hearts and draw us to that light
where you live in radiant glory.
We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
(Lord's Prayer) Amen.

To be honest, I've never seen this prayer because I've never gotten up on Saturday morning to pray. But I like the "yours is the morning and yours is the evening" line.

Speaking of the evening: The full moon and Saturn and the star Regulus are supposed to be beautiful this week - kind of all together in the sky. The planet is goldish and the star is blue. Maybe we'll have a nice clear night after the wind blows away all the clouds.


Oops! PeaceBang got bumped til tonight on Nightline. ' Hope none of you stayed up past your bedtime on my say-so.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Must See TV

Amazingly, I'm not talking about WILL-TV's "rerun" of my dear husband Tim's documentary "10 Sisters" Mar. 11. (Although that, of course, is "must watch" for you poor souls who were unable to catch the premiere in February. )

No. This "must watch" is tonight. My favorite blogger - PeaceBang - whose "Beauty Tips for Ministers" is so much fun, is going to be featured on Nightline tonight. It's sort of a shame that Ted Koepel isn't still the anchor, because I think he could do with some of her tart but tender advice about his terrible haircut.

Her stated goal for the blog is to "defrumpify" the clergy. It is a goal which I endorse, even if I'm as frumpy as most any reverend around at times. (At least I don't wear sweatshirts to Presbytery. Anymore.)

So if you stay up late enough for Nightline.
And if you know what channel it is on.
(ABC - simple, before cable and dishes and all)
And if you are at all interested in "meeting" someone I admire from a distance.
Tune in and tell me what you think.