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Showing posts from December, 2020

New Years Eve

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  New Year’s Eve can in some ways feel like we are on the threshold of something new.   Today is the cusp of beginning to paint on new canvass or turning the page to a new chapter.   At the same time, there are things we carry with us into the New Year.   Tomorrow morning, January 1, 2021, will still have some of the lingering leftovers of 2020.   We are still facing a pandemic and polarization.   And.   And there is possibility and potential.   And there is hope that is willing to see what is and what can be.   As Maya Angelou said, “If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present... gratefully.”   Here is one of my favorite prayer/poems by Jan Richardson BLESSING THE THRESHOLD This blessing has been waiting for you for a long time. While you have been making your way here, this blessing has been gathering itself, making ready, biding its time, praying. This blessing has been polis

New Years Week

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  Alongside the joy of s’mores I talked about yesterday, I led more funerals this year than I have in any other year before.  Wait.  Don’t quit reading, yet .  I know this may sound like a topic you would prefer not to read, but in keeping with Richard Rohr’s quote on great suffering being a teacher, I want to share five lessons I hold from being with people in grief this year.  I pray these words will resonate with you as truth from this year. 1. Grief is hard and we are all grieving.  Some of you are grieving the death of a spouse or family member.  Some are grieving the loss of a way of life.  Some are grieving relationships.  There is anticipatory grief where we know that someone we care about is about to die.  There is ambiguous grief, like a divorce, where the person still is alive, but we no longer are connected.  There is a cultural/collective grief around the pandemic, systemic racism and discrimination, and still lingering with the election.  There is good grief where we cr

New Years Week

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  Roasting s’mores around a campfire.   That is one moment that warms my heart and stirs my soul from this past year.   I’ll explain.   Our family had rented a cabin in a small town in Georgia.   We needed to get our kids out of their bedrooms, we needed to stop staring at the same four walls, we needed a change of pace and to breathe some different air.   We had been searching for somewhere we felt safe to get away.   Finally, we stumbled across this cabin with several hiking trails at nearby state parks softly whispering our names.   The cabin had a pool table, foosball, an indoor basketball hoop, and a firepit outside.   It felt like we were taking a leap of faith to leave what was known behind and venture out at a time when an invisible virus could be lurking anywhere.     But, our mental health said we needed to get away from the heat and humidity and feeling cooped up inside. We went.   We had a blast.   We laughed.   We played games.   We went tubing down a river.   We reset o

New Years Week

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  We have arrived at the threshold of the last week of 2020.  Some of you just mumbled and muttered to yourself, “Thanks be to God” or “Good riddance!”  Or maybe you find yourself start singing, “So long! Farewell! Aufwiedersehn! Goodnight,” from The Sound of Music.  That song is now going to be stuck on repeat in your mind all day long, you are welcome.  Seriously, we will remember this year, and not necessarily for warm, happy reasons.  A pandemic that torn up and tossed out the window the playbook of how we live our lives with vacations canceled and special events postponed.  The murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and too many other young African-Americans that shined a light bright on the systemic racism in our country and the hard, holy work that needs to be done.  An election that spotlighted how polarized and distrustful we are of each other.  Economic turmoil of jobs loss; people continuing to endure suffering and struggling to put food on the table or afford

Christmas Day

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  God of Goodness, we give you praise the light of your presence in the ordinary birth of the child. We give you praise that unobtrusively you are in the center of human affairs, involved in the struggle of life, and sharing human experience. We give you praise that out of compassion you take our part, and open to us a new way of life. We pray that this day we shall be able to see its true glory. - Caryl Micklem, Contemporary Prayers for Public Worship I pray for God to meet you in the midst of your life today. I pray for the holy to hover and hum in the midst of the less-than-perfectness of this Christmas; the could have beens and should have beens of this year. I pray for hope of Christmas to be found in phone calls and Zoom calls and moments of connection that let us know that one of the most beautiful parts of humanity is sharing our support, care for each other, especially this year. I pray for the peace of Christmas to be found in gazing at the lights on our tree, listening to mu

Advent Week Four: Christmas Eve

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  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.   Luke 2:20 The shepherds went back home forever changed.  I wonder if they returned to their normal life which no longer looked the way it did before they encountered and experienced the One who has eternal love dancing in his eyes.  Did they go back to the field where the angels had sung to them, but that holy hymn will forever hum in their hearts?  I wonder this because I wonder if tonight might cause a shepherd-like shift in my soul?  Can I return to normal life, especially after this year? Tonight we tell the sacred story that is at the heart of this year.  The question every year is the same, how will tonight change everything?  Are you and I willing to let the truth of Emmanuel, God with us and for us stir your way of being?  Or will we force ourselves back to familiar patterns especially because everything has felt out-of-whack this year?  We are on the thres

Advent Week 4: Joy

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But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19 Here we are on the day before Christmas Eve.   I know tomorrow will be different than years past.   I know Christmas Day will be different than years past.   I know that I grieve not being able to sing together, the holy hum of the sanctuary, the beautiful processional of children with the creche scene, the moments that the tiny hairs on my neck stand on end, and the joy of being able to wish everyone a “Merry Christmas” at the end of the 11 pm service. I know that this year is different and difficult.   Yet, I return to the truth that the first Christmas was difficult too.   The challenges Mary and Joseph faced, their fierce faithfulness, and their prayerful pondering sings to my heart this year.   To ponder is to pause.   To ponder is to be open.   To ponder is actively wait, watching in wonder or with curiosity for what is unfolding around you and with you.   To ponder means that we stand in the str

Advent Week Four: Joy

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  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;   and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. Luke 2:17-18 Who exactly does the “all” in the verse above refer to?   Were Mary and Joseph amazed by what the shepherds said?   To be sure, the shepherd’s story of how a choir of angels suddenly start singing to you, telling you to go search for a baby in a barn laying in a manger, and then that the shepherds were able to find them is pretty amazing. Or maybe, the shepherds after knocking on other barn doors had congregated a crowd of people with them.   “Come on,” they said, “We are searching for the Savior in a dirty, dusty, drafty barn.”   That would probably convince others to join in, I say with sarcasm in my voice. No, I think the “all” refers to you and me.   We are amazed by this story each and every time we tell it to others.   We are amazed at the way God works and what God is up to in the world comes in the form of the fie

Advent Week Four: Joy

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  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  Luke 2:15-16 I wonder what kind of GPS did the shepherds have to help navigate them to find Jesus laying away in a manger?   We have conflated and combined Matthew’s story of a star leading the Wise Ones to Jesus with Luke’s narrative.   Re-read the passage above.   Just as there is no donkey and no innkeepers who refuse to rent Mary and Joseph a room; there is no mention of a “star of wonder, star of night, star of royal beauty bright, westward leading still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect sight.” Moreover, I don’t know about you, but when I go with haste, I tend to make a lot of wrong turns.   When I am in a hurry and life gets blurry that is when I have unforced error after error.   Moreover, wh

Advent Week Three: Love

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  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  Luke 2:14-15 Music is at the heart of this holy season.   This week I have quoted a few lines of Christmas carols.   As we wrap up this week, I want to share this beautiful Spiritual, “Rise up Shepherd and Follow”.   These words invite us into the movement of what God is up to.   A movement that starts within and flows forth from us.   Christmas has both an internal and external dimension.   Internally our hearts can be warmed by: Christmas carols. Cards. Cookies. Ornaments that have our parent’s and grandparent’s DNA on them. Lights glowing and glistening in the night. Presents piled under the tree. Hold the figures of the Creche/Nativity Scene in our hands to hear each figure’s story. Please add to this list to what stirs your soul. But our souls are not cul-de-sacs for the spir

Advent Week Three: Love

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  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.    And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.   Luke 2:11-12 “Unto you,” those ancient words are still the promise of God’s presence in our lives today.   Unto you, in your life, right now.   I know that our minds can raise all kinds of objections about how we don’t feel like we are thriving, remember all those fears you thought about yesterday?   Unto you, those two words are repeated in the two verses above emphasizing the importance.   Into the messiness and less-than-perfectness of our lives, Christ enters.   The sign back then was a baby, a vulnerable infant under the watchful eye of his care-giver mother and father, lying in a feeding trough.   That is the sign ?   Not exactly the Grand Canyon or neon flashing lights.   It is perplexing and puzzling that the sign of the sacred is a baby wrapped lovingly then laid where a bab

Advent Week Three: Love

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  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  Luke 2:9-10  The angels swoop and stir amid the shepherds.   The angels sing out with a song to sooth the shepherds who tremble with terror.   When I read these two verses, I hear the brilliant line of O Little Town of Bethlehem , “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”   The hopes, your hopes this year.   The fears, your fears this year.   Both find space and place in Christ’s birth. I feel like a shepherd in the field this year.   A bit lost and weary amid a year of so many changes.   Separated from those I care about and unable to share hugs with those I do get to see.   The challenges of navigate the world in such a time as this makes us all feel like we are traveling without a map, GPS, compass, or any kind of instrument t

Advent Week Three: Love

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  In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke 2:8 God’s marketing strategy for spreading the good news of great joy for all people rests on shepherds.  God doesn’t call up Oprah or George Clooney or LeBron James for an endorsement.  God doesn’t take to Twitter or post on social media.  God doesn’t buy pop up ads to appear on our computer screens.  Pause for a moment to consider just how counter-cultural all this is: First, an unwed, young woman named Mary is the God-bearer. Second, Mary and her betrothed, Joseph, are forced to travel miles right when Mary is great with child. Third, a drafty, dusty, dirty barn becomes the setting and scene where God makes God’s grand entry. Fourth, the Christ-child is wrapped in strips of cloth lovingly by Mary (the God-care-giver) who then lays the holy child in a common feeding trough for animals.  Finally, shepherds are the messengers – for the full weight of this head scratchin

Advent Week Three: Love

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  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:7 (KJV) I invite you to take the Mary from your Creche/Nativity scene and hold her in your hand. As Mary ponders prayerfully, I encourage you to ponder too.   Can you picture Mary carefully wrapping Jesus in the swaddling clothes?    This reminds me of when I was as in soon-to-be parent-classes, I was taught how to, “burrito you baby.”   Honestly, that is what we were told and taught and had an instructor watch over us while my wife and I performed this task.   Clothes in this sense is the plural of cloth.   Jesus, like all babies, was wrapping in bands or strips of cloth.   One scholar said of Mary wrapping Jesus was, “Mary’s maternal care; she did for Jesus what any ancient Palestinian mother would have done for a newborn babe.   Ancient Jewish and Greek sources indicate that wrapping an infant in this way was common, or

Advent Week Two: Peace

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  I invite you to light two candles: one for hope and one for peace as you read today’s meditation. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. Luke 2:5-6 Wait…where is the donkey?! Every Christmas pageant I have ever participated in or seen has Mary and Joseph with a donkey. The donkey is Mary’s ride so she doesn’t have to walk the 90 miles from Galilee to Bethlehem. The donkey is crucial and critical for comic relief. Plus, the donkey allows the crafty person in the congregation to turn a wagon into an animal for Joseph to pull down the center aisle. The donkey is classic and central to this story. Who can I write to and make sure this oversight is corrected?? All that is to recognize that over the years we have added to the Christmas narrative. We have taken some creative liberties. The innkeepers who growl and groan and refuse Mary and Joseph a place to stay, no

Advent Week Two: Peace

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  I invite you to light two candles: one for hope and one for peace as you read today’s meditation.  All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  Luke 2:3-4 Joseph only gets an honorable mention in Luke’s gospel.  He first shows up in Luke 1:27. Well, not physically, just named as the betrothed of Mary.  The story that is really about Mary being called to be the God-bearer.   The above is the second time his name is dropped.  And a third time in 2:16 (which we will hear later) where he is at the manger with Mary and Jesus.  And…that is really it.  He is there when Jesus is circumcised and when Jesus stays behind at the temple at age 12.  Some translations name him specifically and others just have a generic, “Jesus’ parents”.  But that is it.  In Luke’s gospel, Joseph is silent, but he does get a participation trophy.   W

Advent Week Two: Peace

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  I invite you to light two candles: one for hope and one for peace as you read today’s meditation.   You are invited to read Luke 2:1-20 aloud...then settle into the first two verses:   In  those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  2  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Luke starts off by naming the powerful and prestigious people who lived in posh palaces.   Luke begins by naming the context when the sacred started stirring in a new way.   To locate God’s grand entry in the time of Augustus and Quirinius reminds us that God’s story and our story are not different or distance.   God’s story gets woven into human history.   God’s story is still being stitched into this world right here and now. Sometimes people like to debate or discuss if the census really happened?   They want historical evidence or to prove that this is true.   What I find more fascinating is the truth beneath w

Advent Week Two: Peace

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  I invite you to light two candles: one for hope and one for peace as you read today’s meditation. When was the last time you read the Christmas story as recorded by Luke in chapter 2? Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer that question in the comment section! Many of us just hear these words on Christmas Eve when the sanctuary hums with the holy. This year, seeing as our homes are our sanctuary, I think it is good to start to weave these familiar words into the walls around us. In the sermon on Sunday, November 29 ( click here to watch ), I encourage you to create an altar in your home. I suggested you could put an Advent wreath there with five candles (four for the Sundays leading up to Christmas – the candles of hope, peace, love, and joy – and a fifth candle in the middle to light on Christmas Eve/Christmas day). Or you could put priceless family treasures that have your grand-parents DNA and fingerprints upon them. Or you could place your nativity scene figures. Now, I wan

Advent Week Two: Peace

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So Advent helps us practice, year after year (will we ever get it right?), letting go of our certainties. Advent waiting entails letting go of our political posturing, our fundamentalisms and finger pointing, our hashtags and hubris. Rather, it teaches us to watch quietly, wait expectantly and prepare to seek the Christ child in humble places like a stable. Gretchen E. Ziegenhals I invite you to light two candles: one for hope and one for peace as you read today’s meditation. We enter the second week of Advent with the candles of hope and peace lighting the way.   These two candles guide us and ground us.   They both tell us the direction to go and teach us the way to be.   As Fred Craddock said, “Hope needs one calorie a day to survive.”   As Maya Angelou poetically penned about peace, “We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence. It is what we have hungered for. Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace. A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies. Security fo