A Child Is Born To Us!

Today’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:14-16; Luke 1:46-2:20

A child is born to us!  A son is given.  What a heavenly spectacle it is.

The Sheep Stood Stunned in Sudden Light

by Thomas Troeger

The sheep stood stunned in sudden light.  The shepherds shared the creature’s fright, while heaven’s star embroidered train swept over hills and down the plain.

They heard a rhythmic, rumbling roar, like breakers breaking on the shore and running up the thirsty strand to toss a treasure on the land.

And then the waves began to sing!  A sea of angels, wing on wing, was circling, chanting in the skies the news of Christ before their eyes.

This night, O God, again we hear your hidden ocean drawing near, against we sense through Jesus’ birth the sea of grace that circles earth.

O when the voiceless night returns and heaven’s sea more softly churns, may faith be like the shell that sends the sound of oceans waves and winds.

Through faith we’ll hear the angels’ songs, and though the dark be deep and long, we’ll bravely live, for by our side is Christ who came on heaven’s tide.*

From heaven to earth – from spirit to flesh – we celebrate the miracle of the incarnation.  Our Christ is born – Emmanuel – and he shall bring peace.

He shall bring peace.

Merry Christmas, my friends.  Merry Christmas

*Troeger, Thomas H., Borrowed Light (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 28.

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Heritage: Birth of the Church

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12

This Sunday the Christian Church celebrates Pentecost!  The great fifty days of Easter are complete – meaning the Season of Easter is complete – yes, Easter is a season as well as a day!  And now we cross the threshold into the season of Pentecost…which is many many many more days than the season of Easter.  In fact, in the liturgical year, the season of Pentecost is the longest season…lasting 27 weeks this year!  Woah!  That’s 189 days of Pentecost!  Good thing I like the color green.

(Extra points to the friends that catch that reference!)

Pentecost is the birth of the church.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is given to humanity, Peter preaches one intense sermon, and then Acts 2:41-42 tells us “So those who welcomed his [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They devoted themselves to what we now know as the pattern of worship in the church – teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers.

Thomas Troeger – one of my all-time favorite authors, poets, and hymnwriters – likens Pentecost to a homecoming.  Folks are gathering from the corners of the earth in one central location to remember, to celebrate, and to reconnect.

When I think about my high school homecomings…I am overwhelmed with memories of friends running around in garnet and gold war paint, waving our arms as tomahawks to the driving and deafening beats coming from our marching band, and cheering our football team to victory.  “Garnet!  Gold! We Are!  Lake Gibson!”

We had one goal – one mission – win the game!  The players, coaches, cheerleaders, dancers, color guard, band, and crowd – one goal, one mission – win the game!  In certain moments it was like we moved as one, breathed as one, tackled as one, scored as one.  And when the game was over, winners or losers, we would sing our school song and go home.

The homecoming game wasn’t the only football game we played each year; the season was 12 games in duration.  But the other games didn’t seem to have the same spirit as the homecoming game.  They just were…when the homecoming game was.

So I think about this likening to Pentecost – as a homecoming for the church.  This one day we celebrate as one, sing as one, for some churches wear red as one, and for other churches (I hope Reeves does this!) eat cake as one!

Let’s face it…we all need to walk around with red-dyed mouths.  It will be awesome!

There’s so much spirit on Pentecost.  The church is overwhelming with energy. It’s a mountain top experience…and then (as it’s been my experience) the church falls hard back into the valley.  The spirit dissipates and it’s back to church as usual.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m over church as usual.

I want that spirit and energy of Pentecost every week!  Every Sunday is a little Easter – our remembrance of the resurrection – of Jesus defeating sin and death.  Every Sunday is also a little Pentecost – an opportunity for the church to come home, to remember, to celebrate, to collaborate, and to return to service in the world.  I’m not saying every week in worship needs to be a high-energy hoopla of a service.  God’s presence can be known in the mighty earthquake and a thunderstorm as well as a still small voice.  There is presence – mighty presence – in stillness as there is in loud exaltation.  What I am saying is that every week in worship needs to be an authentic reflection and response to the moving of the Spirit in our midst.

God is faithful in giving the Spirit.  May we be faithful as we are enlivened by it.  May our worship reflect our reception of it.  May our worship be a pleasing fragrance, a holy and living sacrifice to our God.

Reflection: How will we allow the Spirit to lead us?  How will our worship reflect the in-breaking and presence of God’s Spirit?  How will we be a Pentecost people every Sunday of the year?

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways speak the tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

* from “Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.

Alpha, Omega, and Everything In Between ~ Wandering with The Law

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Deuteronomy 6:1-9

In 1897 master painter Paul Gauguin painted a massive piece – roughly 4 1/2 feet by 12 1/4 feet! – in oil on canvas entitled, “Where Do We Come From?  What Are We?  Where Are We Going?”  You can view the artwork here.

In this piece Gauguin explores the many stages of life.  Reading the piece from right to left we first greet two women and a baby, characterizing the infancy and fragility of life but also the promise and hope of new life.  A man sits near them providing a caring and watchful eye as they women ponder the future.

In the center of the piece there are many scenes: a youth picking a fruit symbolizing exploration and the search for resources to sustain life while a child eats fruit already harvested.  There are animals representing companions that we have in the world and an idol statue, which for Gauguin, represents the presence of the spiritual and the sacred in humanity’s midst.

At the left we see a woman crouched and frail, preparing for death, and she is accompanied by a young woman as her caregiver in her final days.

From life to new life – where we come from, what we are, and where we are going.

The Deuteronomist (the writer of Deuteronomy) offers a Scriptural narrative for the Israelites of where they come from, what they are, and where they are going at the conclusion of  chapter 6.  It writes,

When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statues and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household.  [The Lord] brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that [the Lord] promised on oath to our ancestors.  Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case.  If we diligently observe the entire commandment before the Lord our God, as [the Lord] has commanded us, we will be in the right.  (Deuteronomy 6:20-25)

From this Scripture passage we can answer about the Israelites the questions Gauguin posed in his painting title:

1. Where did the Israelites come from?  God brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

2. What are they?  They are God’s chosen people – from the time of Abraham and Sarah to their present to their future, which is our present, to our future, which is another generation’s present, and so on for eternity.  They, and we, are God’s chosen people.

Where are they going?  God is preparing them to enter the land God has prepared for them – the Promised Land.  And in giving the people this land, God asks for obedience to God’s law in return.

Coupled with the Law is the giving of the Shema.  The Law provides instruction for righteous living, which will lead to fruitful, enjoyable lives.  The Shema is a call to obedience to the Law and therefore to the life it will yield.  The end of Deuteronomy 6 explores for readers what God has already done for the people, reminds the people of God’s continuing presence, and foreshawdows what is to come.

God knows the answers to the three questions.  In time, as God always has, God will reveal in entirety those answers to us.   For now, may we find contentment in knowing that God has brought us this far, that God has chosen us – we are God’s and God is ours – and that God will surely lead us where we are headed next.

Prayer: We Travel toward a Land Unknown by Thomas Troeger                      (from Borrowed Light, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, page 44)

We travel toward a land unknown – God’s word our only chart – and breathe in the wind that has swept and blow from that land to the human heart, and on the wind we hear the sound of Miriam’s dance by the sea, and we dance with the slaves whom Pharaoh bound but the Lord of hosts set free.

Then where our freedom first was won we settle down to stay, but find that the journey has just begun, that the wind blows another way.  And on the wind we hear the song of Moses, David and Ruth, who are giving us strength to right the wrong and to speak and do the truth.

And when we think the journey’s end is very near at hand we learn that the road has another bend and we’re far from the promised land, but then the wind returns and lifts our heart and our strength and our soul, and we’re filled with the steadfast Christlike gifts that reveal again our goal:

We travel toward a land unknown but all along the route we’re thanking our Lord for the wonders shown and the faith that has conquered doubt.  Give thanks the wind is blowing still, and pray that the church may be blessed with the vision and grace and strength of will to be faithful on its quest.