Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Light Years

It fascinates me to look into the night sky and to really think about what I am seeing.  If a star is 100 light years away, then it is so far away that it takes light 100 years to reach us.  That means that when I see the star, I'm actually seeing the light it shined when soldiers in Europe were fighting in World War I.

If you used a telescope, you might be able to see a star that was 2,000 light years away, and the light that you saw would be what the star sent into space on the night Jesus was born.

When astronomers see a star explode, if the star is 500 light years away, they are seeing something that happened 500 years ago.  That just boggles my mind.

Could it be that reading the Bible and trying to understand it shares some characteristics with astronomy?  When we read a letter Paul wrote, we are reading something that was written almost 2,000 years ago.  It was written to a church that existed 2,000 years ago -- what one would consider "light years" away from us.  We are looking back into the past, and we need to remember that.  We are also hoping that God will shine in our lives today through this letter that was written to a church 2,000 years ago.   And God does.  It's fascinating.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

God speaking

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.   And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’  (Mark 1:9-11)

Mark compares the Spirit descending to a dove. Luke says that the Spirit descended in a bodily form like a dove.  Imagine for a moment a dove descending onto Jesus.  What would that have been like?  Would it have been a quiet, soft glide of the bird as it gently approached Jesus?  Would it have been more noticeable, like a dive bombing bird after french fries?  Either way, I imagine those around paid attention.  It was not an ordinary action.  The voice from heaven probably added some punch to the message, too.  Could anyone have gone away that day doubting that something extraordinary had happened?

Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down.   (1 Samuel 3:4-5)

In this passage, we see that Samuel is hearing the Lord, but his mentor, Eli, doesn't recognize who is calling to Samuel (at least at first).  It takes three times for Eli, the Priest, to clue into what is happening.

In both incidents, God isn't being subtle.  It's the listeners who need to listen and see.

The beginning of chapter 3 in 1 Samuel says, "The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread."  How often do we say something similar?  How often do we doubt that God is communicating with us?  Maybe God is, and we just aren't listening.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Not alone in our Baptism

Think back to either when you were baptized, or to a baptism you remember.

I can remember my own.  I was seven, and I wore a white dress.  I remember standing in front of the congregation at the Presbyterian church near where we lived.

Among the other baptisms I can remember are those of my two sons.  I remember family joining us in church.  I remember all of us sitting together, and I remember standing up with our sons as either Dr. Wood or Rev. Campbell (depending on the son) baptized the boys.  I remember the congregation's responses in the liturgy, and I know that many of those who sat in the congregation are the same people who taught their Sunday school classes, who watched them in plays at Christmas, who gave money so that they could go on mission trips and experience the joy of youth groups.  These were the same people who hug them when they come back from college, and they are the same people who help to model for them what it means to be a believer.  These people are the body of Christ for them.

The devotional I read this morning said this, "...baptism is a community experience through baptism, the Holy Spirit creates community.  There are no individual believers; we're all communal believers held together by One who transcends all time and place through eternity and grace."  (Myron Wingfield; Disciplines 2015)

We can certainly have experiences of God's nearness and revelation in solitude, but we are made to be community.  We are created to be part of the body of Christ, and that creation is seen in our baptism.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Not Alone

A couple of Sundays ago, our Sunday school teacher told a story about an experience she had with the Lord's Prayer. Several years ago, she was leading a group of kids as they said the prayer.  As they continued, the kids got quieter and quieter, until eventually, she was the only one who was praying.  As she said it alone, she realized that she couldn't remember it.

Whenever I lead the congregation in the Morning Prayer, I always make sure I have the Lord's Prayer written down and that I have it with me.  I fear that the same thing would happen to me in the anxiety of praying in front of a large group of people.

The thing is - the Lord's Prayer is a corporate prayer.  Think about the words - they include many repetitions of the words we and us.  We are meant to pray it together.

Maybe that says something about how we are to live it out - corporately.  Just as we can have problems praying it alone, I'm certain we will have problems trying to live it out alone.  We need each other to live the lives that God intends.

Just one more reason to be part of the Body of Christ.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Gifts and Gender

I was reading Facebook yesterday and ran across a post by Rachel Held Evans.  I don't remember what the post said; it was the comments that interested me.  The discussion moved into the traditional roles of men and women in the family.  The commenter (not Rachel Held Evans, whose opinions run the opposite of the commenter's) suggested that men have certain gifts and women have certain gifts, and those gifts should dictate how the family worked.  The man would be the one with the responsibility for being the head of the household and the disciplinarian, and the woman would be the nurturer.  Her opinion was that gifts are divided that way, and that's the way a family should be.

Huh.  Baldedash.

Everyone has gifts.  Everyone has different gifts, and God does not give them on the basis on gender.  I know it would certainly make life simpler if we could look at a person and say, "Oh, her gifts must be.... or "He's a man; these are his gifts."  Life isn't simple, thank God!  It just makes me wonder how anyone could believe that a stereotypical generalization could be better at deciding family roles than two people learning about each other and then deciding how each can contribute the the family unit.

My husband and I are, together, head of the household (and I know he would say the same thing if you asked him).  We each have responsibility for leading our family.  Neither one of us shoulders it alone.  Working out family dynamics might be harder this way, but it is so much more rewarding.

Life in a church is the same.  It's wrong to relegate women to certain roles and men to others.  It denies the gifts that God has given to them, and makes for some unhappy people who are unable to reach the potential God has designed for them.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This morning I read Psalm 139.  Look at verses 14 and 15:
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth...
Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  Those words are often spoken at the graveside of those who have died as a reminder that we were created by God from the dust and to dust we shall return.  I wonder if the psalmist was remembering the creation narrative when he wrote these words about being woven in the depths of the earth.

It's an interesting image of God as weaver.  I don't know much about weaving - that's one craft I've never explored - but I know that the process is laborious and the product can be intricate and beautiful.  The weaver designs the fabric by the color of the yarn that is used to warp the loom and to create the weft (see me throwing out terms that I barely understand?  The warp are threads running perpendicular the weaver and the weft is the thread that is woven through them.  I think).  Woven fabric is fearfully (with awe and reverence) and wonderfully made.  I am certainly in awe when I see it.

And does the passage say anything to you about how long God has known who we are? If the psalmist traces our origins back to the creation narrative, when man and woman were created from the dust, then could it be that God does, too?  Has God known each of us from the beginning?  Or at least, has each of us been a thought - a creative spark - in the creator for a very very long time?

You are a beloved child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made by your creator?  Do you need to hear that today?  Is there someone else close to you - or who you have never met before - who need to hear that today?  And have you thought about looking at the person with whom you are angry and seeing that person as a beloved child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made?  Would it change how you respond to that person?

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Beloved

What is in the word beloved?  What does it mean to hear it?  Is there a transformation of the soul to hear that you are loved?  How much more so to hear it from God?

I commend to your reading this blog post on the Painted Prayerbook:  Baptism of Jesus: Beginning with Beloved

Who's life can you change today by share words of love?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

No Room

You remember the story, don't you?  Mary, who is very pregnant, comes with Joseph to Bethlehem.  The time comes for her to have the baby, and yet there is no place for them.  They end up in a stable or a cave, and they place the baby in a feeding trough.  There was no room for Jesus.  William Barclay says that there was never any room for Jesus - the only place that had room for him was the cross.

Think about Herod and his attempt to kill Jesus by having all the first born sons murdered. Herod had no room for Jesus in his quest for power.

Think about the disciples.  At first, it seems they are making room for Jesus.  They answered his call and followed him.  But then think about Judas, who couldn't make room for Jesus in his expectations of what a Messiah would be.  Think about Peter, who, for a while, was unable to make room for Jesus, resulting in three denials.  Think about all the others, who were hidden away during the crucifixion.  Did they make room for Jesus?

Think about the Pharisees and the scribes.  They were constantly trying to trap him with questions and accusations.  Eventually, because there was no room for Jesus in their interpretation of the law, they worked to have him arrested and executed.

Think about Pontius Pilate.  He questioned Jesus and finally backed away from the situation, offering the crowds Jesus or Barrabas.  Then he washed his hands of the matter.  There was no room for Jesus in Pilate's governance.

Do we make room for Jesus?  Do we allow Jesus to enter our hearts and minds, to influence our decisions and action?  Where in our lives is there room for Jesus?

Jesus, though, makes room for himself.  He made room for himself on the cross, he made room for himself in our lives because to leave us alone meant that there would be no room for us in front of God.  Jesus made room for himself so that we could have a place as children of God.  Thanks be to God.

So, what is our response?  Do we make room for Jesus in our lives and in the world so that others can have a place?

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Perspective

My father-in-law doesn't like it when people use the sun visor in the car if he is driving.  He complains that it blocks his view.  I never understood this; the sun visor does not block my view; in fact, why would car manufacturers place these in cars if they blocked people's views?

But the other day I was thinking about it, and I realized that he is 6'3" and I am 5'4".  What doesn't block my view probably does block his.  It's all a matter of perspective.  I'm surprised it took me 30 years to realize that.

Sometimes it helps to see the world from someone else's perspective.  It can broaden our own horizons, and it can help us (me, anyway) to be less judgmental.  What can you see from another perspective today?

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Perfection

Last Friday, I wrote about the (unconfirmed) idea that Columbus wrote at the end of each journal entry that they were "moving westward."

In the United Methodist Church, when a person is being ordained, he or she is asked if s/he is "going on to perfection."  I told a Sunday school class that once, and they didn't believe me.  There are those among us who would never say that they are going on to perfection.

Are we?

Are we moving westward toward error free living?  No.  Do I think Wesley thought we were?  No.

What about wholeness?  What about communion with God?  What about moving toward who God created us to be?  I hope we can all say "Yes" to those measurements.  At the end of the day, can we say that we have moved westward toward perfection?  It might be a good evaluation to do each day.

Without movement toward perfection, its doubtful anyone could answer yes to the next question, "Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?"

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Friday, January 09, 2015

Moving Westward

In my short exploration of Google, I can't find any support for this statement, but in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, the minister told us that at the end of every journal entry Christopher Columbus made, he said something like, "and we moved westward."

He knew his goal, and even when the days were filled with setbacks, he saw movement toward his goal.

I'm working with a Strategic Planning committee at our church.  I have this feeling that in order to move toward where we want to be as a church - where God wants us to be - we need to be able to state the goal.  My organized mind wants to state a goal and make a plan to reach it - then spend time as we move seeing if we are "moving westward."

Why?

  1. I think to make a plan, we have to have a destination.
  2. I think without constant evaluation of our direction, we will forget where we are going, and forget to adjust our path to aim for it.  Instead, we will continue to do what we have always done.
  3. I think that measuring our progress gives us hope that we are actually moving toward the goal.

Prayers that today you and I will move westward.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Blessing

I read this on Facebook this past weekend:
"To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective.  To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God's own initiative.  To pronounce a blessing is to share in God's own audacity"  - Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
What or who do we bless?  We say a blessing at meal times, we bless someone when he sneezes, we might say a prayer of blessing about our children, the pastor might say a benediction, which seems to me to be a sort of blessing.

What does it mean to see something from the divine perspective?  I wonder if it means to see people and gifts as they might be - as God intends them to be.  It is a kind of transformation, isn't it?  To see something with God's eyes changes it - recreates it, or at least recreates how we see it.

To pray a blessing is to shine the light of God on something or someone.  When we bless the food we've been given, we might be seeing it as a gift from God rather than a hotdog.  When we bless the offering after it has been given, we can see it as the means to do God's work instead of pieces of paper and round coins.  When we bless a person, do we begin to see him as the person God created rather than through our own eyes, clouded by unforgiveness and judgment?

Perhaps we should be saying more prayers of blessing, if only to change our perspective.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Pride

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus....He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death. (Philippians 2:3-5, 8)
How does pride get between us and God?  How does that work?

  1. When we are proud, do we think we do not need God?  Is there an "I've got this," attitude to our lives?  There is an Emmaus prayer that has the phrase in it (or something like), "I pray for the one who needs you the most, and the one who think she needs you the least."
  2. When we are proud, do we think we know best?  "No, God, it's better my way."  Are we just a little arrogant?
  3. When we are proud, do we think we are better than other people, and more deserving of God's favor?

Pride may be one of those heavy, destructive forces that we must give up to open up the way for God to reach us.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Joy in Worship

In Sunday school last Sunday, Mike talked about worship.  He asked us if we come to worship with an expectation of experiencing joy or if we come out of obligation.  He said that he had never paired the words joy and worship together in his mind. He came to worship as a young person because it was expected.
Some questions:

  1. How about you?  Do you attend worship out of obligation or do you come excited, expecting joy?
  2. What difference does it make why you attend worship, as long as you are there?

My definition of joy is probably different from the secular definition of joy.  I define joy as that experience you have when you are close to God.  I believe closeness to God - you know the moments I mean, right? - brings you joy.  It's not chocolate chip ice cream joy, it's a deep, in the heart, kind of joy.  So it seems to me that worship, by definition, should bring us joy. It might be challenging, or sad, or praise-filled, but it should bring us close to God, and should result in joy.

I'll admit, though, that I often attend worship out of a feeling of obligation.  I should be there, so I go. Is that obligation or is it discipline?  It might be part of both of those.

What difference does it make?  I think if we don't expect to find joy in worship, if we don't expect to come closer to God, if we don't expect that our relationship with God will be strengthened, then it is hard for any of that to be the result of worship.  I don't doubt that God can surprise us, and when we least expect it, make himself known to us, but I think it is more likely for us to be drawn close to God when our hearts and minds are open to it, expecting it.

And if worship doesn't bring us closer to God, then how can we witness to those who do not attend worship that worship makes a difference in our lives?  I'm not sure, "Come to worship because you should," is a very good motivator.  I think, "Join me in worship because it changes my life," is a better one.

What about the idea that God commands us to praise him?  Isn't that enough motivation for us to attend?  Maybe, but why does God expect us to worship?  Could it be because he knows worship can bring us closer, and give us joy?  I don't think he needs our worship; I believe he knows we need worship.

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