Thursday, January 19, 2017

I Have Heard You Calling in the Night, Part 4

Heard You Calling, continued...

We don’t want to read the next part of the scripture. In this passage, Herod orders the death of the children in Bethlehem, because he is afraid of losing power to a new king.  This is not out of character for Herod. William Barclay says, in his commentary, “Herod was a past master in the art of assassination. He had no sooner come to the throne that he began by annihilating the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews Later he slaughtered 300 court officers out of hand. Later still he murdered his wife Mariamne, and her mother Alexandra, his eldest son Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. And in the hour of his death he arranged for the slaughter of the notable men of Jerusalem. So ordering the death of 20 or 30 young boys – nothing new for Herod.  What does this horrible act say to us?

Horrible things happen in this world.  Horrible, terrible things, that we cannot understand. We are not protected from them, and we will experience the pain of suffering and grief. We may not, thankfully, experience what the parents of these children did, but loss will come to us.

In 1944, Methodist minister, Rev. Leslie Weatherhead, delivered 5 sermons to his congregation in London. Their city was under constant siege – they were seeing death and destruction all around them – including of their church building, City Temple.  Weatherhead’s sermon series during this time was later published as a book called The Will of God. I highly recommend it.   In these sermons, he speaks about God’s will for his people, and how it is accomplished.

He suggestions God’s will can be seen in three parts:

  1. God’s Intentional Will – These are the desires of God’s heart for us, His ideal plan, flowing out of His goodness.
  2. God’s Permissive Will – This is what God will accept, given our choices, good or bad, in particular circumstances, so as to not limit the free will He has given us. 
  3. God’s Ultimate Will – This is how God achieves His ends, given man’s choices, be they good or bad. He works all things together for the good of those He called, who love Him.

Too often, for me, I hear people say, when suffering happens, that it was God’s will.  I don’t believe that. I believe God’s will for us flows out of goodness. Was it God’s will that Herod murder these children? No. Emphatically, no. God has given us free will, and accepts our choices. And yet, there is, thankfully, God’s ultimate will – and God’s ultimate will for us is good, and it will be accomplished, in spite of what we do.

God sent Joseph and Mary to Egypt to protect Jesus. So that the world transforming Christ could live to accomplish God’s ultimate will.  In the meantime, God is present with us – in the good and in the bad. God stays with us, even through our suffering.  God was with the refugees – Joseph’s family, and God was with the parents in Bethlehem, and we can rest assured that God is with us, and remains with us.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I Have Heard You Calling in the Night, Part 3

Heard You Calling, continued...

Have you ever been in that situation before? Have you ever felt that God was calling you to go to a new place, or to do something you have never done before? How did you react?

I’m not Joseph, and I’m not suggesting that I am, but I’ve felt that way before.  More than nine years ago, I was working in medical research with Marshall University at the VA Medical Center. I enjoyed my work, but I had this feeling that God was calling me to change. I look back now, and I can see how I was preparing to leave – I was inventorying all my samples, and creating indexes of them, so that other people would be able to find what they needed if I weren’t there. I was clearing out what needed to be thrown away, and making sure all the procedures were written down. I had no idea of where I would end up going, but I was preparing for it, all the same.

In the spring of 2008, a friend hinted that I should apply for the opening at the Foundation. I heard that, and thought, “There is no way I could do that. It’s not at all what I want to do. Bad idea.” And then I went to bed.

And I did not sleep.

And I thought about it all night long.

And I wrestled with God about it for hours.

And then I woke up – well, got up, because I did not sleep that night at all – and I told my husband, Steve, “I think I’m going to apply for the Associate Director position at the Foundation.”

I have a Master’s degree in biology. I am not trained for this job. Leaving what I was doing was a complete leap of faith. Even now, when people ask me why I did it – why I left a job I had had for 19 years to do something completely different, that I knew nothing about – I say, “Because God called me to do it.” When we sing that song, “Here I am, Lord” and we get to the line, “I have heard you calling in the night,” it almost always makes me cry. I did hear God calling in the night, and here I am today.

It was the best professional move I ever made. I love what I do. Everyday. I am able to use the gifts God has given me to do the work that God needs me to do, and I am in a sacred place. I am only here because I said yes. Even though I was afraid. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing. Even though I wasn’t completely sure. When God calls, listen. Say yes, and see where God takes you.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Have Heard You Calling in the Night, Part 2

Heard you calling, continued...

Sometimes, when we think of the Christmas story, we combine what we read in Luke, what we read in Matthew, and what we traditionally have heard.  I think it is good to take a moment to pull the pieces apart, and look at each of them separately.  The birth narrative in Matthew focuses on Joseph – it is in Matthew that we see the angel visiting Joseph in dreams – first to convince him not to abandon Mary, and now again in these verses.  Remember that one of Matthew’s purposes in writing his Gospel was to place the story of Christ in a framework for the Hebrew people. If you read this passage carefully, you can hear the story of Moses echoing through it.  Think about it. Both what we read today and the story of Moses include a trip to Egypt (for Moses’ ancestors), a baby in peril from power as children are massacred and a return from Egypt. When we read the first two chapters of Matthew, we get a better picture of Joseph – and I think we can place ourselves in his shoes – or maybe sandals – a little bit better.

The passage from Matthew (see yesterday) can easily be divided into three parts, and I want us to look at each of them, and see what God is telling us today in these words written 2000 years ago. What does God’s call on Joseph’s life say to us? What about the killing of the young boys? And what about the return to Israel from Egypt? These words weren’t written about us, but I think we can hear God’s words to us in them.

We pick up the story right after the wise men leave. After they left, Joseph is told in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, and to stay there until Herod had died. Think about that for a minute. I wonder if Joseph had been a world traveler before this? I’m guessing not. So, in a dream, God tells him to leave, right now, with his baby and wife, and go across a desert to a land where he hasn’t been before, and stay there, for who knows how long. And what does Joseph do? He obeys. How would he have felt? I imagine he was afraid – that both of them were afraid. I imagine that they would rather have stayed where they were – a place familiar to them – than go to Egypt. Our nativity scenes don’t depict this – they don’t show a Joseph and Mary who are refugees, far away from home. This is not an “Away in the Manger” story – this is a story of a family fleeing the country for their lives – or at least for the life of their child. Joseph and Mary go – because God calls.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

I Have Heard you Calling in the Night, Part 1

January. It’s that time of year when we may or may not make resolutions. It’s the time of year when we pack away the Christmas decorations. It’s that time of year when I’m glad we use an artificial tree, and I feel sorry for those of you who have to dispose of the real ones. The last time Steve and I did that, we suffered through the whole process, getting jabbed over and over by dry needles – the same dry needles that then fell to the floor to bury themselves in the carpet.

Anyway, it’s the time of year when we pack away the stockings and the nativity scenes.  Except in our house. In our house, we keep the nativity scenes up all year round.  And we collect them, so there is an entire bookcase in our house devoted to nativity scenes. Big ones and very tiny ones. One of them is from my childhood, and I remember it always being under the Christmas tree. I would play with it, moving the pieces around. The characters are a little damaged, and when you look at them, you can see some attempts at repair, but the set reminds me that our faith should be accessible to all of us, including our children. It reminds me that my faith has been a part of me since I was a child. Another set is from Guatemala, and it reminds me that Christ is bigger than we can imagine – Christ is not a gift we can keep to ourselves, but must share with the world, and Christ is a gift that the world shares with us. One set is made of rock, and it reminds me that God is older than I can ever understand. One set is just of Joseph and a pregnant Mary as they make their way to Bethlehem. The two pieces are made so that Joseph interlocks behind Mary, sheltering her, and it reminds me of Joseph, and the role he played in the nativity scene.

These sets are beautiful – some to look at, but all are beautiful in the language they speak to me, reminding me of our faith, and what it means. Even so, they are not complete – they do not tell the whole story. And sometimes, in their beauty, we miss what might be the most important parts of the story of the incarnation of Christ.

Hear these words from the book of Matthew, chapter 2, verses 13-23:
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my 
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,  “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

The word of God, for us, the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Logos: Isaiah 49:1-4

Portland Head Lighthouse, Maine
Isaiah 49:1-4
Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me. 
He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 
And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.” 
Ponder for a few moments what it means that God called you before you were born. Think about what it means that God knew your name before your parents did. You are created by God, loved by God, called by God to God's purposes.

What does it mean that you are a polished arrow in God's quiver, hidden away. You are prepared (polished) for the work God calls you to do. You are kept close to God, in God's arsenal of tools as God walks - you are the way God will accomplish God's will.

 In you, God will be glorified. In you, God will transform the world. Your labor will be changed so that it is no longer for nothing and vanity, but so that the work you do for God is productive and meaningful. You are lacking nothing in the way you are made or prepared. You are ready for what God wants you to do. Fly.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Someone Else

In Sunday school a few weeks ago, Mike was telling the story of a young boy he coached in baseball.  This was a player who never hit the ball and never was able to run to the first base. One day, he hit it. Everyone stood around, because everyone else thought someone else would go get the ball.  The boy was able to run to first base, and when he got there, his whole body expressed his joy in the accomplishment.

As Mike told the story, that phrase, "everyone thought someone else would go get the ball" stuck with me. Are we like that in life? Are we like that in church? Do we too often say, " Someone should..."?  Or, "I wish somebody would..."? Is God watching us, thinking, "I certainly wish at least one of them would..."?

Are we waiting for someone else to catch the ball? Why don't we do it? Are we busier than everyone else? Are we less talented? Less interested? Less involved? 

Could it be that we are just to lazy? Am I too lazy?

I'm mixing the metaphor just a little, but I'm certain we are missing out on the joy.


Don't hear that I'm saying we should do everything, but I think most of us aren't in danger of doing that.  Is there something God is calling you to do that you are waiting for someone else to do?  How about me?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Creation


Frederick Buechner (Wishful Thinking): If you think you're seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you're crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again either.
I've mentioned before that there are times that my camera helps me to see God around me better than without it. A couple of months last year, I posted an image on Instagram and Facebook each day for thirty days - Images of the day.  I'm posting a collage of the October images here.  If you read the blog, you may recognize some of them, but not all.


I'm going to add a series to the blog called Perspective. I'll post an image and explain what I see in it - the questions it brings to mind. I think I'll do this once a week.

Look around you intentionally.  I think you will see evidence of God. You will certainly find that you will wake up to something new every day.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Reality of Doctrine

St. Louis
In Wishful Thinking, Buechner says, "No matter how fancy and metaphysical a doctrine sounds, it was a human experience first."

I have yet to find anyone who can adequately explain the doctrine of the trinity. There are those who come close, but their analogies and descriptions always somehow fail. I don't find that to be evidence against the idea of God being three in one, but only confirmation that God is bigger than our words can ever describe and more complex than we can understand.

However, the belief that God is creator, sustainer and redeemer is part of my faith. It was articulated by others, long before I was born, but my experience supports it. I see the beauty of the creation of God all around me - in nature, in animals, and in the people who walk through life on this planet with me. I see the power of the grace of redemption through Christ - how impossible it is to forgive and love, and how, with the example of Christ, we do it anyway. I see the sustaining power of the holy spirit in the way people are able to survive the unsurvivable and in the beauty of worship.


I may not be able to explain how God is one and yet three at the same time, but human experience tells me it is so.

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Monday, January 09, 2017

On Feet


On Feet:  Generally speaking, if you want to know who you really are, as distinct from who you like to think you are keep an eye on where your feet take you. (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)

As Christians, especially as Christians who participate in regular worship, we are often asked to proclaim what we believe. Stating a creed is helpful - there is something important about putting words to our faith - not only so that others will know what we believe, but so that we will remember. "I believe in the Father, maker of heaven and earth...."

And yet, we are often called hypocrites. Why is that? Because sometimes we are atheists in our actions. We proclaim a Christ, and that we believe in God, and yet sometimes we act as if we don't. We act as if we have no faith at all.


So, I like what Buechner says. Check where your feet are going. Do your action (do my actions) match what you say?

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Logos: Psalm 29

It's rare (very rare) that I repeat a post, but Psalm 29 is in the lectionary for this Sunday, and the following poem, inspired by Psalm 29, written in 2007 and published on the blog then, has always been one of my favorites. So, a repeat for Logos this week:

Be My Voice

I depend on you, God’s many angels.
I count on you, His heavenly creations,
To praise his name,
When my lips fall silent,
When I stand here, a creature of dust,
Made silent in amazement at his glory.
Fill the heavens with His praises,
Glorify his name with your sweet songs,
For there are times when my throat closes,
And my tongue falls silent.
There are times when his majesty is too great
For my feeble songs and my useless words.

His voice is never silent.
It echoes across the waters
Lifting waves in its wake.
His voice is powerful,
Thunderous,
Mighty and glorious.
His voice is majesty.

The bass of his voice makes mighty trees tremble.
Even the most towering,
Even the ones which seem to reach all the way to heaven.
The tenor strains lift me to my feet,
And give me wings to skip like a child.

His voice has the heat and flash of fire,
It shakes the wilderness,
It thunders across empty land,
Land not seen by anyone.
His voice even reaches to the wilderness of my heart,
His breath warms my coldness.

His mighty voice,
His powerful exhalation,
Stirs the leaves of the trees
Whips them around as if a mighty storm were passing.
His exhaled breath,
Strips away the leaves,
Strips away my pretenses.
Leaves us all bare,
Until all that we have left
Is to glorify his name.

Our mighty God sits high in heaven,
Enthroned as a king
A reassurance for all of eternity.
He gives me strength.
He gives us strength.
He creates in us a mighty and powerful ability
To do His work in the world.
He rules from heaven,
And he gives us the wonderful blessing of peace.

Praise His name and His mighty works,
Be my voice, all you angels,
For when I stand here speechless.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Guilt

Bug Lighthouse, Portland, Maine
Have you noticed the following in the story of the paralytic in Matthew 9:
But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. (Matthew 9:4-7)
Jesus heals the man, but how does he do it? He forgives him.

What is guilt? Is the definition "the state of having sin" too simplistic? And who is guilty? We all are. Buechner, in Wishful Thinking, says that "The danger of our guilt, both personal and collective, is less that we won't take it to heart than that we'll take it to heart overmuch and let it fester there in ways that we ourselves often fail to recognize."

How can we react to being guilty? We can ignore it; we can pretend that we are not guilty. Have you noticed that when people are ignoring what they are doing wrong, they are often seeing that sin in others and judging them for it? It's called projection, and while it is normal, it is not a healthy way to deal with guilt.

How else do we deal inappropriately with guilt? We can become angry at others for pointing out our sin - angry to the point of action against them, whether we break a relationship with them or do something else that is hurtful.

Guilt can move us to isolation and depression as we struggle to handle something that we just can't handle.

Is it any wonder then that Christ healed the paralytic by forgiving him?  Buechner goes on to say, "It is about as hard to absolve yourself of your own guilt as it is to sit in your own lap."  We need Christ.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

A Holy Place

I remember, year ago, walking into a Mission in California - this one - and feeling from the moment I entered it, that it was a holy place. I'm not sure why I thought that. Was it the organ music playing? The decor of the sanctuary? The hushed quiet (beyond the music)? Some olfactory trigger?

I actually don't think it was any of those. I don't find organ music to be particularly holy. I've been in multiple sanctuaries - with pews and stained glass - and not all of them "feel" holy. 

Buechner says, in Wishful Thinking, that the only thing that is holy is God. Anything else we call holy "has something of God's mark on it." And he says we know it when we encounter it.

There have been times in my experience with my church when we have worshiped other places than the Sanctuary. And there are those who object to that, claiming that the Fellowship Hall or the Chapel "don't feel holy to them." There is nothing about a room with table and chairs near the kitchen that is or isn't holy - it's the experience of God that brings the holiness.  So while that room may not "feel holy" to someone else, to others of us, who have encountered God in this place, it is holy.


It might not be a good judge of worship space to declare its holiness or lack thereof. What is holy to one is not holy to another, and to claim it is an inherit aspect of the place is to deny that holiness is God's alone.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Still Hallelujah

The other day I was driving home, listening to the 2016 Pentatonix album for Christmas.  On it is the song Hallelujah.  Have you ever heard it before? There are so many different musicians who have released versions of it - this is only one of them. It was written by Leonard Cohen in 1984.  (There is an interesting Rolling Stones article about it here).

The song starts us telling us about David, and then David watching Bathsheba, and we move into Samson. It's not a song about the beautiful nature of God, but is instead full of statements that we are broken - and yet still we cry "Halleluah."

The article has an excerpt from  The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of 'Hallelujah' by Alan Light.
"A blaze of light in every word." That's an amazing line. Every word, holy or broken – this is the fulcrum of the song as Cohen first wrote it. Like our forefathers, and the Bible heroes who formed the foundation of Western ethics and principles, we will be hurt, tested, and challenged. Love will break our hearts, music will offer solace that we may or may not hear, we will be faced with joy and with pain. But Cohen is telling us, without resorting to sentimentality, not to surrender to despair or nihilism. Critics may have fixated on the gloom and doom of his lyrics, but this is his offering of hope and perseverance in the face of a cruel world. Holy or broken, there is still hallelujah.
I love that last line - Holy or broken, there is still hallelujah.

Later, Lincoln Brewster sang a version of the song called Another Hallelujah.  It is a song of praise, without any of the brokenness of the Cohen version. It feels stripped of something to me. There is nothing wrong with a song of praise, of course, but it is the brokenness of the original that demonstrates to us the necessity of God - why we need God.

Read the Psalms. These poems are full of praise and despair. Glory and hopelessness. We might want to ignore the Psalm that speaks of dashing baby's against rocks, but to deny that poem is to deny the pain that calls to God. We can't rewrite the brokenness out of our lives. It is there. And holy or broken, there is still hallelujah.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Logos Isaiah 7:10-13

Isaiah 7:10-13:

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.  But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
  • If God wants me to have a donut, then there will be a parking space in front of Jolly Pirate.
  • If God wants me to give money to this homeless man, then he'll know to ask for $2.76.
  • If God wants me to become lay leader, then Shirley - the woman who never attends the Lay Leadership Committee meetings - will be the person who asks me to do it.
  • God must want me to go to Disneyland because that stain on my blanket looks like Mickey Mouse.
OK, I'm being silly, but do we ask for signs before we are obedient? Do we sometimes fail to recognize that God has already provided all of the guidance that we need? Could it be that we don't want to see all of the signs around us?

So we wait. And while we might not ask for something as silly as a Mickey Mouse stain, we do avoid looking into the eyes of the homeless man, or answering the phone call from the pastor. We fail to heed even the most obvious directions from God, not because we are blind to the signs, but because we refuse to see them.

Or am I the only one who thinks so? Who does this?

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