Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Church Seasons: Christmas

After the church season of keeping awake and alert.  After Advent lighting the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love.  As the days grow darker and the candles drip wax growing shorter, eventually the waiting and watching is over.  God breaks into the world.  Advent is the preparation for Emmanuel, God with us and for us.  The candles of hope, peace, joy, and love help direct our gaze toward where we might notice God within us and around us.  If we want to know what God is up to in the world, Advent says, look where hope causes the tiny hairs on your next to stand on end.  If you want to know where God breaks in try cultivating peace, shalom (wholeness) in your life and in your relationships.  If you want to prepare the soil of your soul for Christ, try radical, unconditional love (especially if that means reaching out to someone in a different tribe!)  If you want to make room for God, make room for joy.  Christmas is the culmination and coming together of hope, peace, joy and love.  Those candles are not extinguished on Christmas Eve...they fan the fire and spark the light of Christ, God entering our world.  God enters in the most peculiar and unobtrusive a stable?  Really, a dirty, dark, damp, dank stable?  What kind of God would want to enter that way?  Or better yet, what kind of God wants to take on flesh and actually walk around this broken...and sometimes beautiful world?  

We have emptied the mystery of Christmas by thinking we've got this story all figured out.  Yeah, yeah, yeah we say....Joe and Mary traveling...let me tell you about travel and getting stuck at the Des Moines airport with two small kids.  No room for them at the inn...been there...sleep on my in-laws fold out couch with what someone generously called a "mattress".  Shepherds, this profession that let their sheep graze on other's property...oh I know about unexpected relatives showing up and grazing on all the egg nog in my refrigerator!  Christmas has become mixed and mingled with culture.

What if this year, in December, you let hope, peace, joy, and love really try to sink in and light your way?  What if this year, when you write your Christmas cards you pick ONE of those words for each person in your family?  Who needs hope right now?  Who needs a word of love right now?  Who needs peace?  And the point is that we can't give that hope, peace, joy, or love.  It has already been given and already lives in our world.  Christmas is a luminary moment that blurs the past, present, and future.  Hope, peace, joy, and love already broke into our world two thousand years ago.  Hope, peace, joy, and love are rekindled in our lives right now and set ablaze in our hearts.  And the fulfillment of hope, peace, joy, and love will still come as God continues to create and love this world into a new way.

One final thought on the season of Christmas...which is to really let the scandalous love of God enter our world be part of what you mediate upon.  To say, God took on flesh because God's love could allow nothing less, is life-changing and we never quite grasp.  What wondrous love is this, O my soul, we could sing out.  When the tips of the flames of hope, peace, joy, and love touch, what sparks is the light of Christ.  What starts to burn brightly is a dream God had from the very beginning of creation, that chaos and brokenness would NEVER have the last word.  Christmas is full of mystery and promise and sets the tone for the entire church year.  

May you sense a trace of God's grace as we turn the calendar to November and begin to plot calmly the revolutionary love of God's presence, Emmanuel, entering in once again. 

Grace and peace

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Church Seasons ~ Advent

We have looked at the four seasons, now we turn to the church seasons.  There is a different rhythm and routine to the church year...what is often called the liturgical year.  These seasons offer us an important insight about faith and living in relationship with each other.  The church year starts with the season of Advent.  This is the four Sundays before Christmas.  Christmas is always on December 25th, so look backwards and find the four Sundays preceding and that is Advent.  

Advent was at one time forty days, mirroring the season of Lent (the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter).  But at some point it was narrowed.  Each Sunday you light a candle for the season of Advent.  The candles are named: hope, peace, joy, and love.  These candles light the way for the coming, the birth of Jesus at Christmas.  These candles light the way as darkness descends on the earth (until the winter solstice ~ which is December 22nd, the longest night, and slowly days start to have more sunlight).  In one way, the church mirrors what is happening around us.  As night is growing longer, less sun, we light candles to proclaim that hope, peace, joy, and love can never be extinguished.  These candles, often in a circle like the candles above, are like a compass.  We strive to orientate ourselves toward hope, peace, joy, and love.  We strive to stand at the center where we find Christ.  

Season of Advent is about waiting (not only for Christmas presents) but for the long-expected Jesus.  It is about watching for signs of God's movement.  It is about keeping awake for the sound of God's still singing voice.  It is about preparing a place in the "stable" of our hearts for the One who is God's love incarnate (in the flesh).

Most scholars talk about the scandal of the particular.  That God was willing to take on flesh, enter into our lives and be make real God's presence.  Emmanuel means God is with us.  Sometimes that is to suggest that God is NOT with you...who the other group is that gets on your nerves or tests your patience.  Emmanuel is for all people.  In fact, the prophet Isaiah images all people...ALL people... streaming to God's mountain.  That may not have a snowball's chance in Florida of happening, but that is the kind of vision and prayer we try to stay awake, alert and ready to receive anew during Advent.  

In some ways, four weeks is not enough for such life-changing world.  In other ways, we don't need to stop waiting, watching, and preparing just because the calendar is turned to December 25th.  As the first church season, this wisdom sets the tone for the entire church year.  As we move on to other seasons, listen for how this truth keeps on echoing...echoing around.  

Until then, where are you in the advent of your faith journey, which might feel more like spring than the bleak mid-winter when Advent takes place.  Where are their the faintest signs of hope, peace, joy, and love starting to spark, promising and pointing to something more?  That is the truth of Advent and one I pray that you will begin to hold onto before we even light that first candle at the end of November.  May you find some candles, light one and call it hope.  Where is hope stirring?  Where do you need peace?  What brings you joy?  And where does love glow brightly?  Don't push off preparing room for Christ...for indeed that is an invitation every day...not only in December.  May you sense more than a trace of God's grace as you light candles and reflect on the season of Advent.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Seasons Part Three

Having explored briefly the season of fragile but exciting growth in spring, the continued growth of summer...when tomatoes ripen, but so do storms brew on the horizon; we move on now to fall, autumn, and harvest.  The fruit is ready, the veggies plump, the earth yields a cornucopia of goodness.  The season of fall also brings an important transition.  The act of harvesting the seeds planted is at once both a beginning and an end.  The days of watching the slow growth give way to the food nourishing our bodies, often bracing for the bleak mid-winter around the corner.

The cooler breezes and fireworks of God's creation tell our bodies that something is happening.  Fall happens to be my most favorite time.  Of course, fall in Florida is different.  The leaves do start to change, but it is slow, more subtle and we will spend most of winter racking around our yard.  I know people up north feel very sorry for us.  But sometimes the work of harvest can be slow too.  It starts with one red tomato or apple, it can take time before we taste another.  

There is a beauty to the fall that echoes spring.  What was first planted is now harvested.  In some ways, spring and fall dance today as summer and winter dance.  The former are about beginning or endings, while summer and winter are about surviving through the extremes.  Spring and fall are about promise and results; summer and winter are about the strength to continue.  Seasons impact our spirituality.  Seasons of faith.  We need times of planting, times of waiting, times of harvesting, and times of barrenness.  We need spring, summer, fall and winter.  Sometimes, we are led to believe that we have to produce, produce, produce (always post another blog, write another sermon, make the next iphone, consume...consume...consume.)  But when we are always trying to get to the harvest of fall, we miss the profound beauty of the other seasons.  We miss the important message of tending the tiny seed, or watching for the millimeter of growth, or seeing that letting the land (and the soil of our souls) rest is good, important work too.

I continue to ponder where in my soul I find myself in these seasons.  There are new opportunities for ministry, but they feel like tiny, vulnerable seeds...not sure what will come.  There are signs of growth in other places, but very little harvest.  There are much joy and love, but also some ministries that need to take a break and deep breathe.

I pray you will let the truth of the seasons guide you in the coming days.  There is beauty in letting the land and our lives rest for awhile.  And there is a time after rest, when the snow thaws, to re-group and re-gather and begin the process again.  Every season matters, every season has truth.  So, what is the truth from the spring of your life?  Where do you sense God working?  What is growing strong, but not yet fully bringing forth fruit?  Where is the juicy apple of live running down your chin?  And where do you need to be...simple be and know God, with the implication that we are not God?

I pray those questions will rest within you and offer you more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Seasons Part Two

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness; To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love  Verse 2, Great is Thy Faithfulness

There are seasons in our lives.  Times when emotionally, physically, or spiritually we feel in a season of spring growth, summer sustaining, autumn harvest, or winter fallow-ness.  One place of tension can be when we feel in one season in one place in our lives and another season at another place.  For example, maybe work is one season and family is another.  We can also feel in different seasons within our own bodies.  We can feel physically in a time of rest and barrenness, while emotionally in spring time.  At such moments, being in different seasons within our bodies, usually one will dominate and even direct the other parts of our lives.  Do you sense that one season might be a bit more over-powering?  I sometimes suspect that feeling in winter emotionally, physically, or spiritually can be a dominate theme even if in the other two places you feel vital and more alive.  Or maybe you feel inexplicably irritable or restless or just plain off/out-of-sync.  

The hymn above reminds us that no matter what season or seasons...God is there with mercy and love.  While last time we look at the growth of spring, we step into the sustainability of summer.  Summer is that season where things feel like they are swimming along.  Summer can be a time of rest or vacations.  Summer can be the time when storms pop up, suddenly and even severe and dangerous.  Just as spring brings fragile, new growth as well as mud.  Spring can be a transition time when there is the possibility of a warm snow or cold rain.  Those days eventually give way to warmer and warmer days.  In Florida, there is a pattern to a summer day.  The heat and humidity build to an afternoon rain shower, which adds even more humidity until you start to feel like you are swimming in moist air.  

Spring and summer share the promise of slow growth.  Tomatoes sprouts eventually bring forth leaves, then buds, then small green tomatoes which ripen and turn red under the warmth of the summer sun.  Where is your spirituality growing?  Are you growing more emotionally healthy?  Are you caring for your one precious, wild life (as Mary Oliver calls it).  We never stop growing.  We never stop thinking.  At a recent class, I was reminded that you cannot stop your thoughts...otherwise you are no longer alive.  So, our thoughts guide us, either toward healing/wholeness or toward barrenness.  Sometimes we need those no productive winter times.  We need moments of rest and to stop creating all the time.  

In the next post, we will talk about harvest and move into winter.  But for now, I invite you to ponder prayerfully those places of growth.  For me, the seeds that I am seeking to cultivate in the spring and summer of my soul are what Paul called the fruits of the Spirit which are: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23),  While that list can be a bit daunting...I also remember that these are not the fruits produced by Wes...they are the fruits of the Spirit of God.  Opening to the Spirit in the spring of each morning I pray those seeds (rather than the seeds of gossip or fear or scarcity) will grow in my life that day.  Even if the growth seems small...that is still a trace of God's amazing grace in my life.  and I pray for yours too.

Blessings ~ 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Seasons of Life

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven Ecclesiastes 3

There are seasons within our life.  Times when we go through droughts and dry spots, feeling under the scorching heat of stress like a Florida summer.  Times when we are intentionally barren, choosing to let rest and renewal happen like in an Iowa corn field in winter.  Times when life feels renewed or reborn like spring.  Times of noticeable transitions like autumn.  The questions is, what season are you in?  Where do you find yourself?  Maybe in-between a season, not quite one or the other.  

Over the next few posts I want to look at the seasons then talk about the church seasons.  Noticing and naming what season we are in spiritually, emotionally and physically is important.  Some of the tension in our lives comes from feeling spiritually in one season and emotionally in another.  Yet, at other times, we might feel in one season spiritually and it will dominate and dictate over our body and heart.  So, living seasonally, can help...even in Florida where the shifts are subtle.

For example, it is now fall around here.  True the leaves are not radiant red or beautiful yellows.  My sweaters are still tucked away.  But, I do notice that the air feels less humid, there was a cool breeze swirling around yesterday out in the yard, and autumn is taking hold.  While I miss the fireworks display nature puts on in the north...I do not miss the snow.  

I want to start with spring, a time of renewal and rebirth.  There is a famous passage in John where a leader of the religious order named Nicodemus goes to see Jesus under the cover of darkness.  He does this both literally so that he may not be seen by others and metaphorically because he does not see clearly what Jesus' ministry is all about.  Jesus says to him that he has to be re-born.  I know, lots of religious people take that literally.  They say you have to have some kind of experience, maybe say a certain prayer.  And those of us in the progressive moment want to distance ourselves so much from that image, that maybe we have left John chapter 3 behind too quickly missing the need we all have for spring time.

We need places in our life where something is just beginning to bud.  I can think of three conversations I had last week where there was a new sprout of life peaking out.  To be sure, it is vulnerable...things may not go as I am hoping or planning...I need to wait and see what happens.  In spring you take one step and then ask, "What is the next right step?"  Too often we want to rush, microwave and micro-manage growth.  That makes some sense.  Our food is so process and rushed to the stores today that we've become impatient and want it now...right now please!  Growth takes time.  It is the slow steady work, some of which is in our control and some is beyond our grasp.  So, each day you tend and look for even the slightest change.  Rebirth happens slowly sometimes.  We need places where we are feeling the steady flow of the spirit.

Do you have a sense of spring in your life right now?  Often when we struggle it is because we either want to rush the germination process or because the new sprout of life is vulnerable it is can be broken easily.  To be sure, there is excitement and joy in spring.  Think about those first conversations that went all night with your partner.  Where one topic led to another to another, and you were so fascinated at the discovery, that you just kept talking.  Spring enlivens.  Spring can be soggy at times.  I also think that each season has it possibilities and struggles.  So the possibility of spring is new life...the struggle is waiting for the flower to bloom and reveal its color.  The struggle is our patience...the promise is that over time, the growth can be see if we are looking and watching.
Where is spring right now in your life?  Or, where is that trace of grace happening right now?  I pray you are able to notice and name at least one place and that it will strangely warm your heart.

May the God of all seasons receive you and bless you now and in the days to come.    

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Power of music and power of community

I wanted to share the above video as a reminder about the power of community and the power of music.  The people here wanted to have the Foo Fighters come and play a concert in their they made a video.  Almost 25 million people have watched this.  First, I find it fascinating that someone came up with this idea.  Second, that people would come and do this.  But then again, people show up every Sunday to sing hymns, pray, and (what really makes me marvel) listen to a sermon!  These are not everyday activities, but there is power in the communal.  I am sure people had a blast meeting other people who drum or play guitar or sing.

In what ways are you connecting with others?  Where do you find community?

These are important questions for parents feeling stretched and pulled in many directions and that if their child doesn't get into that program the whole future is bleak.  It is important for people who are retired and wondering how to not just fill their day, but do so with purpose.  It is important for people nearing the end of life, in that last chapter, who do you write that well?

Too often, we feel isolated because we don't ask the above questions publicly.  But we need to.  We need to be willing to see how your question connects to others people's questions and how they are different.

I pray you will enjoy the video.

I pray you will seek relationships that set your soul singing.

I pray this will open you to more than a trace of God's grace.

Blessings ~

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...