Wednesday, November 12, 2014
We are beautiful,
Blessed, And broken.
And so: We try
filling the God-spaces
Playing at divinity,
We are royalty,
And so: We suffer
To our not-Gods.
Than it looks.
A reflection after
studying 2 Samuel 11,
2 Samuel 12, and Psalm 51
in preparation for worship
Thursday, October 02, 2014
You are the Holy One,
(although we have been
known to forget it).
We have been known to
treat you in overly familiar ways,
miscategorizing you as a mere friend
or bearer of good advice.
Forgive us for that presumption.
There is something in us
that wants to shrink you
to a manageable size.
So – although we tremble
to ask it, from time to time,
impress upon us
Your wild imagination,
Your crazy schemes,
Your Holy call.
Shock us (from time to time,
but only when we really need it)
Remind us that Holy has chosen us.
The source of Freedom has chosen us.
Remind us that, as Christ taught and lived,
Love has chosen us. Amen.
Wednesday, September 03, 2014
For me, this road began (mumble) years ago when I ran a short-lived pizza & movie series at church. While prepping for it, I bumped into a lovely little site called Hollywood Jesus and I never looked back. That site's gotten a little blinky for my taste but still offers great connections if you're intimidated. We never got to the discussion part of the night when we did it at church, because we were mostly homebodies, and by the time the movie was over, everybody just wanted to get home. But in the comfort of your own household, with family or a congenial group of friends...you can talk back to your Netflix feed all you want.
You also don't have to be a pastor to inflict this curse on your own child (or spouse). Read a Bible passage together. Make it easy on yourself...pick something familiar, or short. Parables work - try the feeding of the 5000. So does whatever the pastor talked about in Sunday service. Or choose Christmas or Easter. Then talk about where you saw it in a book, in a TV show, in a movie...or in your own life.
Some sightings that we're fond of:
- Harry Potter...that was easy. Way. Too. Easy. This is a gimme. The whole train station scene in the last movie? Go watch it. But there's also Wizard Chess in book 1/movie 1. Give that a whirl.
- Divergent (series)...there are incidents in all three books.
- The Matrix...another gimme. If you can't see it, then you're not looking.
- Gran Torino...that was Mom's movie night. The PK didn't get to see that one. You probably shouldn't let your kiddo watch it either. But this is another gimme. You'll understand when you watch it.
- Les Miserables...Read Isaiah 2:4. Then 1 John 4 (the letter, not the Gospel). Then listen to the finale.
- Doctor Who...We just rewatched a 3-episode arc from 2007. Start with Utopia, then watch the next two episodes. How many Jesus things can you spot? Of course, if you're a real Whovian, you might need to rewatch all of the New Who episodes and catch the Christ imagery.
I dare you to start playing spot-the-Jesus. It'll start to grow your own faith, your Biblical knowledge, your connection to the sacred stories. If you do, leave me a note. I'd love to hear from you.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Christ is waiting in the wings
To meddle with your assumptions.
No matter how far off script you have gone,
No matter how convoluted the plot,
There is always a new way through,
A divine gift, offered freely for you.
(Thank the heavens. Thank God.)
Developed for a God on Broadway worship series,
Used on the Sunday when we took our theme from the show 'Pippin.'
Monday, August 04, 2014
"Those old hymns just don't make any sense to me. What do those words mean anyway?"
A post on the "use hymnals and not screens" side of the debate from Ponder Anew (theologyinworship.com) has been circulating among my pastor friends on Facebook. Without disparaging any of the well-thought-out points the author makes, I'd like to rebut the assumption that this has to be an either/or proposition, and gently suggest that there are strong reasons to both/and.
7 Arguments for Hymnal, Songbooks, and Screen (and sometimes, none of the above)1. Hospitality.
2. Follow the Bouncing Ball.
Postscript: the original post that this responded to has received over a quarter of a million hits. OP has put up a response here, A Call to Think About Worship, with which I am largely in agreement. Neither reactivity, nor sentimentality, nor new vs. old are productive avenues for conversation. Kudos to the OP for a calm, non-anxious approach!
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Thou Shalt Not (preached on July 20 2014 at McFarland UCC)
It would be nice if positive language did it for us all the time. And yet, it's not quite sufficient.
At the opening of Shrek, the Musical, the young ogre’s parents sing him a song, “it’s a big bright beautiful world...but not for you.” At the age of seven, they warn him against men with pitchforks. They let him go out on the road, telling him, “Just keep walking…and you’ll find somewhere to go.” There’s something a bit warped – broken - about a world in which parents have to put those images into their children’s heads, for their own protection. It’s enough to drive you to live in a swamp. By yourself. With a ‘Keep Out’ sign.
There are good reasons to frame things in the positive. But sometimes, for the most compelling reasons, we have to identify ourselves in the negative. In the story of the nation of Israel, a good portion of the law is occupied by statements of, “we are the people who do not ___.”
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes. My ordinances you shall observe and my statutes you shall keep, following them: I am the LORD your God. You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live: I am the LORD.
- from Leviticus 18
Among all the thou shalt nots, there was a particular kind of sacrifice that was singled out for attention in the law of the Israelites, as given to them by God - child sacrifice:
You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech,
and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
- Leviticus 18:21
For the nation of Israel – our faith ancestors - child sacrifice was utterly forbidden. And yet, it was apparently common enough that God needed to say it, over, and over again – through the law and through the prophets – with the strongest language imaginable. An abomination, it is called. Something that defiles. Something that cuts you off from the worship of God, from the sacred assembly.
… I myself will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people, because they have given of their offspring to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech…
- Leviticus 20
Never was this commanded by God. Never did it come to God’s mind, the prophet laments. Through Jeremiah’s voice, the Holy One tells us what happens when the children are turned over to the fire:
I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth,
the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”
When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you.
- Ezekiel 20:31
The Children of the Drug Wars: A Refugee Crisis, Not An Immigrant Crisis, NY Times.
The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.
- Malachi 3:5
Being made a Christian means getting a heart transplant, and a new identity to go with it. We become the ones who clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned. We become the people who do not neglect the stranger.
We are the people who do not turn away the children.
We are the people who do not send children back into the sacrificial fire.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
I tried God on Broadway as a short preaching series last summer as way to get myself out of a preaching rut. As it turned out, it's also good for worship attendance. The church vitality folks will tell you that visiting musicians bring along a fan club of friends and family. I can't claim to have been that strategic. I just wanted to have a little bit of fun.
Having stumbled into a winning strategy, though, when it came time to plan this summer's worship arc, I knew what I had to do. In my innocence, I committed myself to rounding up twelve consecutive weeks of singers who were willing to offer their talents for free. I thought I could have this accomplished by Easter, so as to promote the series. In the end, it was a bit like playing 3D chess to match up singers' availability with weeks we still had to fill, and ensure that it wasn't for a show we'd already scheduled at another point that summer. After a few rounds of shuffling, the season looked like this:
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Things that I thought I knew:
Children are supposed to be safe at school.
The shooting in Newtown, Connecticut would be the beginning of the end of the fight against licensing restrictions on firearms.
I thought I knew that the solution to poor dating prospects generally does not lie in ramping up one’s antisocial behavior. I thought ‘day of retribution’ referred to a dusty, archaic Biblical prophecy…or maybe a new video game…not a YouTube clip full of threats against women.
Speaking of ancient history, I thought I knew that we were done with Wild West showdowns over grazing rights. I thought past due grazing fees in the amount of one million dollars was a pretty good reason for not being able to graze your cattle on federal land. I was pretty sure that it didn’t meet the definition of tyranny to pay a 20-year-past-due tax bill.
I thought I knew that it was a reasonable expectation to go shopping at a Target (no double-entendre intended) or eat at Chili’s without seeing someone carrying long guns. That there was no plausible reason one would need them while buying a grande-nonfat-caramel-ribbon-crunch Frappuccino.
I did not think, when I completed seminary, that I would have developed an entire sermon series on violence and terror – most of it gun violence – in less than five years of ministry.
I checked. I went back and counted. My ninth sermon to this congregation was on the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona, January 9, 2011.
Then, March 24, 2012, following Trayvon Martin’s killing.
I somehow missed the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in July 2012. I think I was away from the congregation that weekend. The same summer, the Sikh temple right here in Wisconsin. I was away for that one, too. No sermon.
I did preach on December 16, 2012, following Newtown.
April 21, 2013, following the bombings in Boston.
July 14, 2013, in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.
And today. In the wake of the UC-Santa Barbara shooting, in the wake of Tuesday’s shooting in the state of Oregon, a foiled plan for a high school mass shooting in Tennessee and countless others that I didn’t have time to read in my news search.
“How long, O Lord!”
Seventy-two incidents of gun violence in schools since Sandy Hook. Forty-one deaths in 62 documented incidents in US schools. Eighty-six people die from bullets in the US on an average day.
Hear these words from the prophet Joel:
Hear this, O elders, give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you wine-drinkers… (Joel 1:2-5a, NRSV)
Joseph says, “far, far away, someone was weeping, but the world was sleeping…
To this sleeping world, the prophet Joel says, “Wake up!”
The shooting in Oregon last Tuesday was the thirty first firearms attack in a US School since the start of the year. Where are we – not even halfway through the year? That’s more than one incident a week.
We close our eyes, and we draw the curtain on our national sickness. We treat vulnerable bodies a human shields, arraying them between us and what we do not wish to see, what we do not wish to confront: that our worship of the right to keep and bear arms, the lifting up of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution as a false idol, has led directly to a culture of death.
The prophet Joel, again:
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near— (Joel 2:1, NRSV)
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;
gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged;
gather the children, even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:15-17, NRSV)
One mass killing a week. I could be preaching one of these gun violence sermons EVERY WEEK. What if I did? What if all of us did? What if the seventeen percent of the United States that attends to church refused to close its eyes, refused to sleep through this problem? What if we refused to admit defeat? What if we refused to make of our heritage a mockery?
What if we stood on the side of the Risen Christ, the visionary Spirit, the Great Creator who is the source of Life and not Death? What if we didn’t just stand, but spoke, and acted, and insisted– held our government accountable for these deaths, for its failure to act?
What we have had, to date, is a lack of vision.
Remember who we are. We are followers of a visionary who dared to act and speak as if money and military might were not power. We are followers of a visionary – and we walk in footsteps of visionaries – who gave everything for the sake of the work of God.
Remember who you are: You are dust and ashes, and you have the breath of God within you! You have seen death and you have risen. You have seen apparent defeat, and yet here you are, walking and talking and singing Alleluia! Community of Christ, how dare we act as if we had no power?
Peter’s first sermon -- after the arrival of the Holy Spirit set the church aflame -- used this text from Joel as its anchor. Hear it again:
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters.
Your old ones will dream,
your young ones will see visions.
I’ll even pour out my Spirit on the servants,
men and women both.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
and signs on the earth below:
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Judgment Day of God,
the Day tremendous and awesome.
Whoever calls, ‘Help, God!’
On Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be a great rescue—just as God said.
Included in the survivors
are those that God calls.” (Joel 2:28-32, The Message, adapted for inclusive language)
Community of Christ, you are those whom God calls.
There will be a great rescue. This a great and holy work. The world is waiting.
Monday, June 02, 2014
Have you ever had a letter that you read over and over again, so much that it was falling apart? A real letter, on paper, not made up of cascading electrons? Hand-written, probably, although composed on all kinds of paper – lined paper with frilly edges torn out of a notebook; fine stationery; a scratch pad once kept by a telephone.
You know the sort of thing I mean? A piece of correspondence that’s a treasure. A letter that is more than mere words on a page, but holds something that was once so true for you that it was worth holding onto. Maybe it’s bittersweet, a note from a lost love; encouraging – words of praise from a teacher or mentor, endearing sentiments from a child or your life partner. Maybe it came in an actual envelope, with a stamp on it and a return address – or perhaps it was tucked into your palm at passing time in the hallways. You might come across one in a family Bible, in an estate-sale book from a secondhand bookstore. Maybe you put yours in a special box, or between the pages of a journal. When I was a teenager, you might tuck a note like that under your mattress.
The best ones – the ones really worth saving – don’t stay tucked away for long.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Monday, May 05, 2014
Easter Season Call to Worship
One: It is so good to remember...
Many: To remember the sacred stories together, and connect them with the everyday.
One: It is good to remember the Easter message, A saga spanning generations -
From death to life. From despair to A New Hope!
Many: We have this hope because Mary said, “I have seen the Lord!”
and a roomful of once-frightened disciples said, “We have seen the Lord!”
One: The Good News is a powerful Force! It has continued to this day,
Because one person told another, Master to Apprentice, Teacher to student,
Until it came to us: Christ is Risen!
Many: Christ is Risen indeed!
A Prayer of Confession
Holy One, risen from the dead --
In dark places, we find ourselves,
with just a little knowledge to light the way.
You see more of our faults than we would like.
Forgive our fear, our anger and hate.
Forgive all that we do that leads to suffering.
When we enter the murky swamps of the human heart,
we find a disturbing lack of faith in your power,
a disturbing reliance on our own power.
We have tried our own way.
We know that Your way leads us through the suffering,
and on the other side, returns us to life.
Teach us to claim this new hope,
based upon your resurrection --
to live in love and harmony
with the whole of your universe.
Acts 9:1-19. Our accompanist played the Imperial Death March as the theme for Saul. :)
Sacrament of Communion
Invitation to the Table
Perhaps you’ve heard about the Great Feast of Rejoicing. All people welcomed to the table, enough and more than enough. A feast where the power of life reigns. This is Christ’s table, and whether you have kept close, or come from a galaxy far, far away…you are welcome here!
Ruler of the Stars and Planets, Spinner of Universes,
Creative impulse who gave shape to all things,
We give thanks for all your good gifts:
For the unfolding of tremendous diversity,
Species and songs and stories that each tell a tale of your handiwork.
For breathing life into us and calling us good,
even when we struggle to live into our promise.
When we turned from your way
and Embraced the Dark Side,
You did not forget us.
You came to us as Jesus, our Master and Teacher.
You journeyed with us into an abyss of betrayal and despair.
Threatened by agents of destruction, your dearest ones abandoned you,
but all was not lost. Even the blueprints of death are not hidden from you.
From the terror of the cross, you launched a sneak attack on Death
and set your sights on an impossible future, cracking open the tomb.
For all these things we give you thanks and praise,
singing with the faithful of all times and places, Holy, Holy, Holy.
[Continue with the consecration of the elements,
Words of Institution and sharing the bread and cup
in the way your community is accustomed.]
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Risen Christ, we give thanks for this holy meal.
We reach for the stars and walk the good earth,
sustained by this Bread and Cup.
We prepare to leave this place, your Easter people,
overflowing with rejoicing and the power of Life! Amen!
Again, you are welcome to use these materials in your own setting.
Please attribute per the Creative Commons License you'll find in the footer.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Sunday, March 16, 2014
(always more ready to hear than we are to pray):
We confess, we are not
what you have called us to be.
We long for the easy solution,
the quick answer,
The drive-through soul wash
to rinse off the season’s grit.
Generous, Mercy-Filled One
(always more willing to give
than we are ready to receive):
For the thousandth time,
we ask for forgiveness.
We know our need is deeper
than we let on.
Perhaps one day we will trust
That the promises are true,
and real, and for us.
In the meantime, we pray,
remind us (over and over again).
Monday, February 03, 2014
inspired by John 4:1-42