Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent Meditation Series: Creation - Not for Sale

Matthew 3:1-12
Creation - Not for Sale

Gracious God, this day you call us to actions
which speak at least as loudly as our words and to words
which indicate a change of heart and growing regard
for your creation. Bless us in our Advent journey as we seek
your incarnate presence in every aspect of our lives.
Amen.


In today’s Gospel reading we hear John the Baptist calling the crowds to repentance, to a turning around of their lives, to a turning to God. This turning must not be shallow, flaky, or fickle, but rather, deep, whole-hearted and unwavering. “Bear fruit” he cries out, “worthy of repentance” (v8). Let it be seen that your life indeed has turned around, that your focus is re-framed, and your priorities are re-set. Let it be seen that your actions line up with your expression of repentance.

This is an important message as we consider the theme Creation—Not for Sale, one of four themes adopted by our sisters and brothers in the global Lutheran community as they mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. (The over-arching theme is Liberated by God’s Grace. The other themes are Creation—Not for Sale, Salvation—Not for Sale and Human Beings—Not for Sale.) As we consider God’s creation, there is an urgency of concern about the global environmental crisis. We can no longer deny the harsh realities of islands drowning as sea levels rise; of deserts expanding in the face of unchecked deforestation; of weather patterns changing and growing violent as global warming continues; of lifestyles and livelihoods disappearing as the Arctic ice cap melts.

Really coming to terms with these realities was very much the focus of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference—COP21— held in Paris. “COP21” refers to the ”Conference of Parties” and to those countries which have adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the midst of that great gathering of political and religious world leaders, and among thousands of ordinary citizens from every corner of the globe, a huge ecumenical service was held in Notre Dame Basilica. I had the great privilege of being there.

A message from the Council of Christian Churches in France included the following:

“Aware of the impact of the lifestyle of most of the developed countries, we need to call into question the logic of our consumption and to allow our attitude and witness to experience conversion— practising restraint and simplicity, not as a form of heroic renunciation, but as a form of joyful sharing. Our hope as Christians rests in our belief that our world is not destined to despair, but to transformation, and that human beings capable of self-destruction are also capable of uniting and choosing what is good.”

This “conversion” is the very thing that renowned environmentalist David Suzuki calls “the necessity for a massive change of spirit” on the part of leaders in government and industry and on the part of consumers in society…which includes us all. Suzuki has said he looks to both business communities and faith communities to provide leadership in calling for this “change of spirit”.

The liturgy in that great basilica concluded with a litany of repentance and of pledges to have us think and act differently. Here is an excerpt:

“Creation is suffering because of us.
The land has deteriorated.
Jesus Christ calls us to vigilance and commitment.

Our common home is damaged.
The poorest are excluded.
Jesus Christ calls us to solidarity and sharing.

Before you Creator God,
we pledge to take specific actions and to change our practices.
Jesus Christ calls us to conversion.”


We pray that by our decisions, and by our actions upon them, we may “bear fruit worthy of our repentance.” ✦



Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada

Borrowed from a series of Advent devotions prepared by the leaders of Anglican and Lutheran churches in full communion. Click here for the full booklet.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent Meditation Series: Liberated by God's Grace

Matthew 24:36-44
Liberated by God's Grace

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.
Come to us in all the moments of our lives.
Help us to watch so that we are amazed by
your love. Bless us in our Advent journey.
Amen.


But of that day and hour no one knows…and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man…two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left…you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Welcome to Advent.

This warning from Jesus comes after Jesus’ words about the end of the world. The apocalypse is upon us, there will be tribulation and the world will see the day of God’s vengeance on human sin. This doesn’t seem to quite fit with the Christmas decorations, lovely carols, and relentless merriness that has been in stores, in advertisement, and in the media since Labor/Labour Day. It is jarring to hear about judgement and the Second Coming whilst shopping for that perfect Christmas sweater or sampling figgy pudding. And what about our Lord’s admonition to be awake, be aware, be ever-vigilant? We won’t know the hour. We might be left behind. At the very least it is exhausting to be on watch all day every day.

How is this passage from Matthew good news, and how is it good news at this time of the year? Where is the grace and how do these verses help us to know that we are liberated by God’s grace? It sounds like the law to me. It seems to be about what we need to do to be ready on that great and terrible day, what action we must take so that we will be taken and not left behind. Blessed Advent? Bah humbug!

There is a secular counterpart to this apocalypse. Young children are taught that Santa Claus is keeping track of who is “naughty or nice,” meting out consequences and rewards accordingly. Popular Christmas song lyrics, while upbeat in cadence, deliver messages that instill dread. The message is clear: Be awake, be aware, be ever vigilant. The day is drawing nigh.

It is interesting that pop culture can give voice to the prevailing theology of many in our churches. We don’t trust that God’s promised grace is real and for us and so we come to believe and act that the word of God is not gracious, but vengeful and punishing. Through that lens there is no way that we can see the gospel for the first Sunday in Advent as the announcement that we are liberated by
God’s grace.

But hear the Good News. Jesus was announcing the end of the world. It is the day of God’s vengeance on human sin. And this is what God’s vengeance looks like: a helpless baby in a stable in Bethlehem, a helpless man on a cross outside of Jerusalem. The end of the old world of sin and death has come exclusively through God’s reconciling mercy.

Matthew 24: 36–44 is God’s word of promise, a gift to us that we might open ourselves, our eyes, our lives to the incredible, surprising, immeasurable and intimate love of God. It’s right there in front of us—two men working in a field, two women grinding meal—in the ordinary, in the everyday. God doesn’t want us to miss it. God wants us to watch. ✦



The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Borrowed from a series of Advent devotions prepared by the leaders of Anglican and Lutheran churches in full communion. Click here for the full booklet.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Christ is King

This coming Sunday is known as the Feast of Christ the King. It celebrates Christ's authority as King and Lord over all things in heaven and on earth. He is the One in control and has complete sovereignty over the people and animals of the earth, even the earth itself, the universe, and beyond. (1 Chronicles 29:11-12) This year, with the election being so close to Christ the King Sunday, it has caused me to think about Who is in control, Who really is King. Our nation and all of the nations on earth are in God's Kingdom and always will be.

In preparing for Sunday's music each week, I spend time with the text of the psalm and apply musical sounds to the words. For this Sunday, it is Psalm 46. After reading through it, I decided to spend some extra time studying it because the words struck me. The psalm speaks to how God is our refuge, our strength and how we should not fear even though the world is falling apart all around us. He is the One there for us. The psalm continues to speak about nations, kingdoms, and the earth being under His authority. The end of the psalm tells us to "Be still, then, and know that I am God." This verse has always had a special place in my heart, but to connect it to the opening of the psalm, the nations, and how He is King made me desire to just be still and know that He is God, know that He is indeed King.

I hope that you take some time before Sunday to read through it, study it. Let the words penetrate to the depths of your heart and may you know that Christ is your King.

PSALM 46 
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;
Though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.


There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be overthrown;
God shall help her at the break of day.
The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.

The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

 
Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,
what awesome things he has done on earth.
It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, then, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Compassion

On Monday at Theology on Tap we were joined by Carolyn Witt Jones, who spoke to us about compassion, and the city of Lexington's initiative to take on the Charter for Compassion. As Carolyn explained what the Charter for Compassion was and how individuals sought to use it to make a difference in our community she shared with us her own experience at Yates Elementary School where she recently lead a Mix It Up Day. On Mix It Up Day the students were "mixed up" into different lunch table arrangements; instead of sitting with their usual friends (where races were typically parceled out into clumps around the lunch room), students had the oppertunity to make new friends as they ate lunch in a "mixed up" group of peers. Through this experience the students were able to find that they had more in common with their peers of different races then they may have previously thought before.

Carolyn's experience with the students of Yates Elementary School reminded me of my own experience in Israel. During seminary I had the oppertunity to travel to Israel and stay at St. George's College. Here we were able to learn about a lot of the efforts taking place in the community to support the Palestinian and Israeli relations. One of those efforts was lead by a former Hassidic Jew, who started an after school program for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. This program allowed for children from two very conflicted communities to come together and do what children do best, play. Here children were able to see through their national and religious differences and get down to the serious business of fun and games. The most moving and astonishing aspect of this program was the difference it made in the lives of these children's parents. While the children had no problems quickly putting their differences aside, the parents were a different story. But, as they continued to pick their children up week after week, they slowly but surely began to interact and communicate with one another, sharing the common bond of their children's friendships.

Today, in the wee hours of the morning, the long awaited announcement  from what seemed like an even longer presidential campaign was made. No matter my feelings on the outcome, it is obvious that we find ourselves in the midst of a very torn and divisive country. As we look forward to our future it is our call not only as members of a democratic country, but moreover as Christians, to find compassion for our neighbors in this nation. Never before has our country seen this much division, or felt this much pain from overdue reconciliation. It is our duty to love our neighbors as ourselves, and find a way to come together. Before we can begin this work, we will need to show ourselves a little compassion, being sensitive to the fresh news we have just received. As we continue to move forward as a country, we need an intentional return to the compassion that Christ showed the world, and calls us to show each other. We can be active participants in our future, as we come together, and bring the kingdom of God closer to this broken world, starting first by showing our neighbors a little more compassion.

As we seek to find solace and comfort, let us look to the words of our most compassionate God, in Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
   God will help it when the morning dawns.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
   I am exalted among the nations,
   I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

If you are in need of conversation or prayer know your clergy are here for you. We are happy to make ourselves available during this time. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Walking The Way With Those Who Have Gone Before

Almost four months home from walking the Way of St. James, I am still pondering what it was all about. I now have an icon of James in my office that I look at daily. But who was he really and why do almost 300,000 people walk the path every year to honor him?

James was the brother of the apostle John and son of Zebedee and Salome. It is believed that James had an ordinary education and led a common Jewish life. One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he spotted James and his brother mending nets on the fishing boat with their father. He asked them to come and follow him. The nets were dropped and they followed immediately.

I am sure that those few short years were packed. We know that James heard many stories from Jesus. We know that he was one of the few who witnessed the transfiguration as well as the raising of Jairius’ daughter.  We also know that he could be pretty narrow, fickle, narcissistic and arrogant. He actually asked to sit on either the right or left hand of Jesus in the kingdom. He incited violence on a few Samaritans because they were not welcoming.

In spite of all of his hang-ups, James was given the power to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. This he did with all of his humanity. We now know him to be a saint. Many go on pilgrimage yearly to catch a glimpse of who he was and to get close to him in some mystical way.

A dear friend of mine just died. She was in her eighties and I had not even known her for 10years, though it seems like a lifetime. She gave me many life lessons. Change was something that she embraced. She loved to learn and be stretched in her thinking and beliefs. She was doing this till her last breath. A friend who was with her near the end said that she even voiced,  "I can't wait to see what is next.  I am so curious about it all.  People say it will be more beautiful than we can imagine."  She obviously had a deep faith. Her theology had changed quite a bit in the last few years as she grew in depth spiritually. She was honest, always telling things like she saw them. She was not afraid to rock the boat. If she felt that she had wronged someone, she was quick to apologize and make amends. She was comfortable with her humanity. God had definitely given her the power to proclaim the gospel. She too is another saint along with James that I have come to know on this pilgrimage of life.

As we approach All Saints Day, take a little time to remember and celebrate saints of old and those saints that you have come to know recently. We have all been given this power to proclaim the gospel through our humanity. We have to choose to embrace this gift daily.

The Way of Saint James is helping me to see the many saints who walk this way with me. “God help me to be one too."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Preach

Yesterday we celebrated St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular and admired saints. Known for his love of animals and dedication to Lady Poverty, St. Francis is known for his devotion to the teachings of Christ. The Society of Saint John the Evangel, in their Word of the Day email blast yesterday, reflected on the word “Preach” using St. Francis’ famous quote  “preach always, using words only when necessary.” Their reflection on his quote spoke to the importance of our actions in our everyday life as they mirror the teachings of Jesus to those who we meet throughout our day, and echo the message of the Gospel in the world.

On Monday, at Theology on Tap, we looked at a recent article from the Episcopal Cafe, “The Shadows that Follow Us” by Robert Azzi (an American-Arab-Muslim columnist, photojournalist, and active in interfaith worker, especially with the Episcopal Church). The article covered the history of racism in America, and our need for repentance instead of avoidance. As we reflected on Azzi’s words and the recent tragedies in our country, surrounding issues of race, we asked ourselves “what could we do?”. How do we respond as Christians seeking to fulfill our Baptismal covenant within our community and the world?

Reading the SSJE Word of the Day on “Preach” I was reminded of exactly what we could do. We can, and our called to, act as Christ in the world. We are living testaments to the good news of the Gospel as we share Christ’s love, peace, and grace with all whom we meet and encounter. St. Francis life is a testament to the fact that we are all called to preachers, both in our actions and our words. What are you called to preach today? How will you spread the good news in your actions, and when necessary with your words?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thou Shalt Love

          There are some traditions from my Jewish background that have followed me into my life as a Christian. The menorah my family used when we celebrated Chanukah sits on one of my bookcases. On the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths, I put on my father’s prayer shawl, such as Jesus would have done at the Temple before he read from the scrolls, and recite the Kaddish, the prayer for those who mourn.  On both my front door’s frame and my back door’s frame, hang two small boxes, the tops of which point to the east. In those boxes, those mezuzahs, are these words, written in Hebrew, from Deuteronomy II: 18-21, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day shall be upon thy heart. And thou shalt teach them to thy children when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by thy way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates that ye may remember and do all my commandments and be holy unto your God.”

Several months after my father died, my stepmother gave me a box of my items that belonged to my father, things she thought I might like to have. She had no idea what treasures she was giving me. The box contained my father’s prayer shawl, given to him on the occasion of his 13th birthday. Also in the box was a small blue velvet bag tied with a gold cord. Contained in that pouch were my father’s tefellin, the small black boxes I had seen my father wear on his head and on his left arm from time to time, such as after his parents died and when he headed out to synagogue with a friend for Sabbath services. I recall the time I had asked him why and how he wore those strange boxes, especially one that was tied by leather straps to his forehead. He started to explain and then stopped and told me to go get my bible. After he tied the boxes, one to my left arm and the other to my forehead, he opened the bible to Deuteronomy II and read verses 18-21.

As I stood feeling the pressure of the boxes strapped to my forehead and my bottom side of my upper arm, my father explained to me that he wore the tefellin out of a sense of duty to God. I had long been taught that with faith in God came responsibilities to God. Verses 18-21 were a summation of some of those responsibilities.

For as long as I can remember, I have had the habit of kissing my fingertips and then reaching up and touching the mezuzah that is affixed to the back doorpost of my house. I am certain it is a habit I developed from watching my father do the same thing each time he exited the house in which I was raised. That simple act, as I head out into the world, reminds me of God’s presence in my life and of my responsibility as a result of that presence. I try daily to live up to those responsibilities. I admit, some days I think I am much more successful than on others. But with each new day, as I head out the door, I tap my kissed fingertips on the box on the doorpost of my house and hope people whose paths I cross that day are able to see the love God has for each of them reflected in me.