Saturday, November 28, 2015

Church Season: The Day After




Ever had a party?  After all the guest leave there are dishes in the sink, the once-freshly-washed floors are suddenly again dirty, there are bits of food scattered around, trash to take out, and you try to return to ordinary of life.  Yet, something is different.  Hopefully it was a good party where laughter was absorbed into the walls of your home.  Hopefully with each dish you wash you remember the delicious food and friendships deepened.  Hopefully as you rewash the floors you know that the impression of your friends was left on your life.  It takes time after the party to appreciate how quickly the time went and beautiful that moment was.  Easter is a grand, great, holy celebration, but most of us don't live life in party after party.  We live (what I said previously) in-between.  In-between the holy and ordinary.  In-between the to-do-lists and the complete.  We live between what was promised on Easter and what will come when God's realm is fully established.  

The day after Easter is not only about cleaning up...it is about trying to live our life as though that empty tomb held more truth than we could every explore in a lifetime.  There were fifty days set aside between Easter and Pentecost.  Fifty day when we could let the events of holy week settle into our soul.  Yet, usually we pack up and leave after Easter.  Usually, we think not much happens.  But God is found in the ordinary.  God is discovered in the clean up.  God is there not only in joyful, but moments we are just trying to get food on the table for supper.

Easter was an amazing, life-changing moment.  And it takes intentional and prayerful time to process.  Easter takes time to bask in the light that poured forth from the empty tomb on Easter.  Easter is about noticing God's grace not only in moments of loud trumpet blasts, but also the quiet laughter of a family meal or coffee with friends or just a quiet night at home.  The day after Easter and the one after that and the one after that...this is where really the traces of God's grace start to make all the difference.   

I hope this stays with you...now, I have dishes from supper to tidy up.

Blessings ~ 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Church Season: Easter



After the joy of God breaking into our world at Christmas, the season of letting that sacred truth saturate our lives (known as Epiphany), the recognition that everything is not chocolate rivers and we have brokenness in our lives (called Ash Wednesday), the season of Lent (deepening a connection with God), and finally Holy Week where we go from the enthusiasm of a parade to the pain of desertion/betrayal/denial by so-called friends, we arrive exhausted (perhaps physically, emotionally, and spiritually) at an empty tomb.  This great cycle of birth, death, and resurrection is part of life.  All around us, the soil is constantly being transformed as some plants die and others strike out tiny sprouts.  Our bodies are constantly shedding skin cells as new ones are made.  In our lives, constant change of family and friends and in our own bodies is a theme.  

God enters into that cycle, participates in the dance, and on Easter morning proclaims, that now there is a new beat/riff.  Now, instead of brokenness or fear or desertion being the final word, there is new life and promise.  Instead of thinking we have this whole thing figured out like a puzzle, we realize there is more mystery than knowledge.  Easter is the comma to life.  Easter is the pregnant pause that suggest, "Wait...wait there is more."  Easter is the profound, paradoxical truth that God is at work even in empty tombs of our lives.

Yet, that is scary.  Because when the dead won't stay dead, everything we think we know is in question.  Everything is turned inside out, upside down.  There is a re-birth that is working within us even in the darkest days.  I recently heard from a scientist that every atom in your body was around before we were born.  Yet...yet out of some 6 billion people YOU are the only one who will have have your particular make up of atoms bouncing around.  I love it!  That is grace upon heaping helping of grace.  That is good news upon good news.  We need Easter after the Friday world we live in.  We need new light after the deaths we experience week after week.  We need hope when things feel like they are going you know where in a hand basket.

Easter is a promise...that we never quite grasp...but hopefully/prayerfully are grasped by.  I don't think we ever understand Easter, but we can stand under a grace and love that brings new life from empty tombs and echoes of emphatic "yes" to life.  May Easter be found in your lives this week as our still creating and dancing God moves in our midst with more than a trace of grace!

Blessings ~ 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Church Seasons: Holy Week



As the season of Lent enters its final week, we set aside the week before Easter and call it, "Holy".  The week begins with Palm Sunday, Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  We continue on Maundy (Greek word for commandment ~ referring to Jesus' new commandment to love) Thursday where we celebrate the Last Supper and, in some churches, foot washing.  We come the next day, Good or Holy Friday, where we stand at the foot of the cross.  For me, God did not need Jesus to die on a cross to satisfy some anger.  God had already come to us in the form of unconditional love and unceasing grace.  But when met with such a radical, unimaginable, un-human-like gift, we could not deal with the sacred.  In some ways, we still cannot.  We don't like it when we receive a gift without one to offer in "exchange".  We don't like it when we are upset and someone says, "I love you" or "I forgive you."  Such words fuel our fire of frustration.  Friday is us confronting our humanness and the myth of redemptive violence.  Jesus offered us a better way than eye for an eye justice, but we keep clinging to the old way rather than Jesus' new commandment.  Friday is only "Good" in light of Easter morning.  Friday is only "Holy" because our violence and brokenness is never the last word.  

These three days can turn the soil of our soul.  They shine a light bright on joy turned to betrayal and denial and desertion of friends turn to death.  In the course of one week we experience and explore every emotional humanly possible.  I don't know why exactly these services are not jammed.  Every where people are thirsty for meaning.  Every where people are talking about spirituality.  If you want to stop splashing around in the shallow end or cotton-candy promises of happiness that leave us feeling empty, we can find no deeper and more holy time than the three services of Holy Week. 

I realize that this has not always been the explanation of the Christian Church.  I understand that after the palm branch waving of Palm Sunday, most of the time the pastor sounds more like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" or what Dallas Willard once called, "Vampire Christians" so interested in Jesus' blood.  Some of that has to do with the time of the Gospels.  Blood was the life force.  Blood had to be drained from a sacrifice just right in order for it to be excepted.  Just as our understandings of "freedom" or "consumerism" influences our faith today, so did the practices and ideals of Jesus day impact people's confession of faith.  So, before we go rolling our eyes, let us be honest that the expressions of faith today are culturally conditioned too...it is just that we don't always see our assumptions.  

These services can take us deeper into a connection with God and neighbor.  These services can lead us to a deep place.  If Lent is in invitation to explore further "God-with-us", Holy Week is trying to binge watch the mystery of God in the course of one week.  Holy Week is an invitation into God found in moments of joy, to holy meals, to garden moments of despair, to accusations and trials, to a cross, and to the silence of sighs deeper than words on Saturday.  That is life.  That is Holy Week.  There is more than a trace of grace...it is the very foundation and culmination of God-with-us, the light that shines in the darkness.  If that is what we are about, then Holy Week is a week we cannot avoid, for in it, we might just find life that is true life.  I pray it will be so for all of us this Holy Week.

Blessings ~   

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Church Seasons: Lent



From Ash Wednesday, we set out on a journey of forty days, not including Sundays.  The first question might be, "Why not including Sundays?"  Because we live on the other side of Easter, we know the end of the story, every Sunday, even in Lent, remains a mini-Easter celebration.  Every Sunday is a celebration of the possibility and promise of resurrection, even in the journey of Lent.  It is an interesting juxtaposition and tension.  And we usually don't do well with it, we end up treating the Sundays of Lent be governed by our inner-Eeyore.  We are sad rather than celebratory, we are solemn and serious rather than practicing our "alleluias".  Most of this has to do with tradition and our general distrust of all things enthusiastic in worship.  It need not be that way.  Worship in Lent can hold in tension the pain and joy.  In fact, if we don't shine a like on the intimate dance of two in these forty days, when we will do it?  Yes, the cross is horrific.  Yes, there is brokenness in life.  Yes, just a few days ago, we saw this as Paris fell under attack.  Yet, there can also be moments of joy and hope even in grief and pain.  We have fallen into extremism when we think we are capable of only one emotion.  Lent asks us to dive deeply and dwell with the ways our hearts, souls, minds can hold the tensions and ride an emotional roller coaster.  I have recently celebrated three funerals in a short period of time.  I have seen waded up tissues and tears.  I have seen people grieving knowing that life is no longer than same.  And I have seen people laugh joyfully as they share an experience with their beloved family member, now in God's embrace.  I have seen people lean trustfully into God's promise that this life is not all there is.  So, Lent calls us into the twists and turns of life.  Lent builds upon Advent, the promise of Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh here and now.  Without Advent, Lent would be solemn and serious.  In the light of the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love, facing the cross can help us find the courage we need holding onto the promise that Sunday comes after Friday.

Lent is also a time when we can explore the rawness of faith.  Lent invites us to go deeper.  And, unlike Advent where all sorts of activities compete for our attention, Lent doesn't have company parties or gift buying or cards.  When was the last time you sent out cards for Lent?  But maybe you should.  Maybe it would be a time to build upon the experience and practices of "God-with-us" from Advent and Christmas.  Maybe this can be the season when faith can take the center stage and we can engage in prayerful practices or simply try to keep staying awake and alert.  Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book about finding Altars in our world around us.  That is a practice we can engage in during Lent.

With the ashes of Wednesday lingering, we start a journey that faith is more than self-help or improvement.  Faith calls us out of our confines of self-concern to see all of God's creation and all God's beloved as part of who we are.  There is unity in community, there is self in the eyes of others.  We need to explore that truth, for it does not come easily in our consumerist culture.  We explore relationships with God and other and self as a way of digging deep into faith.  

I pray as you enter Lent this year it will be about more than prayer or fast; giving up or taking on; that it will be another season of preparing, plotting the resurrection and new life found in God.  May there be more than a trace of God's grace in Lent this year.

Blessings ~ 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Church Seasons: Ash Wednesday



After Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and being in-between...we arrive at Ash Wednesday which marks the start of Lent.  I will talk directly about Lent in the next post...but it is good to center on the service that starts that 40 day journey to the cross.  Ash Wednesday centers around the phrase above, "From dust to come, to dust you shall return."  That does not sound very happy!  Where is the positive thinking?  Where is the uplifting thought?  Where is the inspiration?  No wonder people avoid this service...plus isn't this really Catholic?

A couple of thoughts.  First, on Ash Wednesday we do come face to face with our mortality.  Again, most of modern-day, Western thoughts wants to avoid this topic.  We are a death-denying culture.  We Botox and photo-shop our way to believing that we can live forever.  The fact is when you spend time around people in their 70s plus...most DON'T want to live forever.  I love serving a church that has wisdom of age to look at life, see the blessings and brokenness, and honestly say, "One day, I will not be here and it's okay."  But to say, "From dust to come and to dust you shall return," in our faith is not really morbid...it is an affirmation of our original blessedness.  In Genesis 2, God kneels prayerfully in the dirt, fashions and forms a being, and breathes life into that beings nostrils.  With each breath, we breathe in God's presence and life and energy.  We each breath, we breathe in the promise of original blessedness.  Ash Wednesday, viewed through this Scriptural lens, says to us, "We and star-dust and earth are connected in sacred ways."  Dirt and dust can be brought to new life through the breath of God.  

I pray that you will participate in an Ash Wednesday service in 2016.  As you enter into and prepare for Lent, this service is a holy threshold.  Gathering to set out on the journey with others reminds you that you are not alone.  The ritual of putting dust made from the ashes of last year's Palm Sunday parade on your forehead helps connect us to the circle of seasons/life.  It is a holy mark because it traces where the water at your baptism evaporated.  And both are true.  At your baptism, God made the holy promise to be in your life, sealed your heart as a beloved child.  At Ash Wednesday, we make a covenant with God to be honest that we don't always live our life by that truth.  We need this moment of confession and preparation for the long journey of Lent, to the cross, darkness of Friday, and the mystery of Easter.  

I pray we will not always leap from mountain top to mountain top in worship, that we will allow our worship of God to walk the valley...for as Psalm 23 says...there is more than a trace of God's grace there...it is a dwelling place for God's love.

Blessings ~ 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Church Seasons: In Between



At some point the Christmas tree comes down, the creche scene is wrapped carefully and put away, we hang our new calendar on the wall, and we enter a season in the church of "in-between".  We have celebrated another Advent/Christmas/Epiphany and we are anticipating another Lent.  Some years, this in-between time lasts a few weeks, other years it can be closer to two months.  It is not exactly the most exciting season.  There are NO great decorations to put up in the church and the liturgical color green (which I find ironic in the north...where the tree shed their green leaves months ago and the green grass is covered with snow upon snow upon snow...feel free to visit Florida at that point).  

Usually to be in-between something is not seen as a good thing.  We talk about being between a rock and a hard place or in the messy middle or caught in a sticky situation where you are darned if you do and darned if you don't.  But, then, I found the above picture.  Let's face it, whatever they put in the 'stuff' in-between the two Oreo cookies is AMAZING!  Who hasn't twisted the cookies, peeled off the 'stuff' to save the best for last?  Sometimes being in-between is okay and can be even good.  I look at my kids who could be called 'tweens, they are in-between childhood and teenagers.  That is VERY good, especially since I don't have to teach them to drive yet!!  But it is a magical, beautiful time.  My kids have great, unique personalities.  It is fun to see them growing up in that place of letting go of childhood but not quite ready to face the realities of adulthood.  Being in-between might be just as sacred as belting out "Silent Night"...which always gives me goosebumps.  Maybe it is just that we have not always seen the in-between that way.

Where are you in-between right now?  In one sense, I am in-between with the church I presently serve.  I have been there almost two years...my new pastor smell wore off a long time ago.  Yet, I have not been there a long time yet.  Trust is still earned day-by-day, decision-by-decision.  But I know the people well enough to start laughing at jokes together and sharing in the sacredness of everyday human life.

True is we live most of our lives in-between and in the ordinary (which we will arrive at in a few posts after Pentecost).  That is just as holy and sacred a time as Christmas or Easter.  So may you this week think about places where it feels like you are in-between.  May you prayerfully ponder what God might be up to in that space...and by all means feel free to buy some Oreos to help!

May you sense more than a trace of God's grace in these days.  Blessings ~ 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Church Seasons: Epiphany



There are twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany, which is where we get the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas"...although I have no idea what I would do with six geese a-laying and twelve drummers drumming just sounds loud.  There is a connection between Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  We spend four weeks preparing for the birth of the One with promise dancing in his eyes.  We spend four weeks making room and ready for God to enter into our lives anew and afresh.  We bask in the silent, holy night of Christmas.  Then the next day, we pack every thing up, put the tree back in the attic, try to get the tinsel out of our carpet fibers, and start making New Years Resolutions.  But it wasn't always that way,  Many people can remember NOT putting their tree up until Christmas Eve and the tree would stay up until Epiphany.  I am not suggesting we go back to those 'good ole days'.  What I am suggesting is maybe we find ways to keep basking in the glow of Christmas.  There is no way one hour on Christmas Eve helps us fully explore the mystery of God entering our world.  There is no way that one day, December 25, with its often frenzied opening of packages and racing to family events, helps saturate us with the truth that God's love is no longer distant or disinterested in us.  God's love comes into a smelly stable.  God's love breaks forth in a barn.  God's love is scene only by a couple (Mary and Joseph) who never would have been lifted up as an ideal marriage and some shepherds considered thieves.  It takes more than one day, it takes more than twelve day, it takes a lifetime of returning to this season to help us begin to grasp the scandal of Christmas.  The scandal that God is a weak force, one whose love really does make all the difference, but we keep clinging to 'might makes right' and 'knowledge is power'.  The scandal that God is willing to walk among us in the flesh.  The scandal that God faces death.  Or as C.S. Lewis once said, God coming in Jesus is the 'intolerable compliment,' because suddenly faith is not only about intellectual assent, faith is living, breathing, sweating, eating, and sharing all the beauty and brokenness of life in the form of Jesus the Christ.  

I need twelve days to let that soak and saturate my life.  I need to keep standing in that divine light.  I need to keep lighting the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love as well as the culmination of those lights in Christ, to see how God is moving now as 2015 dwindles and 2016 dawns around me.  The season of Christmas into Epiphany is a bridge.  We sit with the profound question, what difference does it make right here and now that God is still willing to come into this world and move into my neighborhood?  What difference is that going to make in my life now and in the year to come?  For me, that truth keeps challenging me to be more loving, especially toward people who frustrate me.  For me, that truth keeps pushing me to delve deeper into where I sense God right now and where might I be missing God.  I need the light of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, especially since all around me in nature the night is longer.  Sure, the winter equinox has occurred, but it takes awhile for that event to be fully realized.  The same is true for Christmas and Epiphany, God entering in takes awhile.

So this year, as we round the corner to Advent, I encourage you to do a few things:
1.  When you write your Christmas cards, maybe choose one of the words of advent, "Hope," "Peace," "Joy," or "Love" and write that in the card.  Or when shopping asking which of those words would you most want to give to the person you are trying to find something for?  How might those words be tangible in your relationships in this season.
2.  Keep celebrating Christmas and the truth of God's love entering in long after the stores put the items on clearance.  God's love breaking into our world is way too beautiful and bright for us to stop basking in that grace on December 26th.
3.  Keep a journal of ways you sense God.  What new insights roam around?  What new directions are you longing to God?  Where do you need a renewed sense of hope, peace, joy, or love?

I pray that as we move through these seasons this year, you will sense more than a trace of God's amazing grace and that grace will last all of 2016.

Blessings ~