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Prayer of St. Columba

St. Columba lived from 521–597. He was responsible for bringing Christianity to Scotland from Ireland. This prayer is found in the Book of Common Worship (2018), p. 1106. I created the hand motions to help children of all ages memorize the prayer.

With you, O God, to guide me, (facing forward, hand gesturing to God in front of us)

I journey on my way. (both hands extend forward to the path ahead)

I know you are beside me (arms to the side, one at a time)

all through the night and day. (hand move together in arc, making circle with fingers)

Within your hand you hold me; (hands rotate to make cup)

what do I have to fear? (hands uplifted to sides)

Your loving arms enfold me, (arms cross and embrace self)

your grace is always near. Amen. (hands cover heart)

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03.17.19 Waiting Without Boredom Philippians 3.17-4.1, Psalm 27 Sermon Summary

Between Psalm 27 and Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we receive some help in observing a faithful Lent. It’s the second Sunday in Lent, and it is appropriate for us to hear Psalm 27. In the Jewish lectionary, this psalm is read during the High Holy Days between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It’s a time of rededication and repentance, just like Lent is for Christians.

Psalm 27 offers help for Lent in two ways. First is related to language. Rededication and repentance create challenges. As New Year’s Resolutions remind us each year, change is hard. If our attitude is set too low, we will fail. But language can help us set our attitude aright.

Psalm 27’s attitude is urgent. There’s a battle for the author’s life, and the language is fitting: “evildoers assail me to devour my flesh;” “an army encamps against me;” “war rises up against us.” There are probably actual events in the author’s mind, but these are behind the text and beyond our experience.

However, the difficulty of change, of rededication and repentance, IS within our experience. Psalm 27 invites us to address our spiritual challenges as “adversaries and foes” and “false witnesses breathing out violence.” Doing so can motivate us appropriately. It can give us “courage” and help us “wait” for the Lord. “Waiting” in the Bible is often active, not waiting around, and that’s the idea here at the end of Psalm 27. This language is active.

Second, Psalm 27 helps us in Lent by giving us images for prayer. This is helpful when our words fall short, and is especially helpful for people with vivid imaginations. So God is our “light” and our “stronghold.” God “lifts our heads over our challenges,” “camouflages us under his tent,” and “sets us high upon a rock.”

Psalm 27 envisions us living “in the house of the LORD,” and “seeking God’s face.” And God, the psalmist depicts, turns the divine face toward us. These are vivid images for use in prayer. Images and imagination have traditionally been undervalued, especially in Presbyterianism. But Psalm 27 gives us license to use them.

In the Philippians passage Paul also gives us perspective during Lent. He is writing from prison yet full of joy and determination. For Paul, Jesus Christ is our Savior with power to subject all things to himself. That power was on display in his resurrection. When the Savior’s work is complete, Paul says, our body of humiliation will be transformed to conform to Christ’s body of glory.

From Paul’s perspective, our true home is heaven. What is heaven? It is simply the presence of God without distraction. And Paul says a Savior from home is coming to release us from our spiritual prison. So Paul stands firm in faith, even in literal prison, and urges his followers to do the same. The Philippians are to imitate Paul.

When you read Philippians you can see Paul’s character, some of the traits he would commend us to imitate. Beyond rejoicing in imprisonment, Paul believes that dying exalts Christ (because of the shared resurrection we have with him in baptism). But he also realizes that living in this world can also exalt Christ. So to imitate Paul is to live fully in this world.

Paul also urges us to grow in our knowledge of Christ. From his own experience, he testifies that knowing Christ is greater than righteous living. You’ll find other inspiring traits to imitate throughout the letter to the Philippians.

The Second Helvetic Confession says: “We acknowledge the saints to be living members of Christ and friends of God who have gloriously overcome the flesh and the world. Hence we love them as brothers and sisters, and also honor them. We also imitate them.”

May these passages inspire a more faithful Lent, helping us to set our attitudes high enough, giving us language and images to enhance our prayers, and inviting us to imitate faithful examples.

03.10.19 Verifying Who We Are Luke 4.1-13 Sermon Summary

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that after his baptism, Jesus was driven by the Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Only Matthew and Luke give us a detailed description of the temptations, and they switch the second and third temptations.

No one was there with Jesus, so obviously Jesus must have told the disciples the details. Why? Was it to show how powerful he was? Do Matthew and Luke resort to the testimony of the Devil to identify Jesus as the Son of God? Or was there another reason?

Why did Jesus tell his disciples about his wilderness trial, about his “vision quest” as native religions call them? The story of Jesus’ temptations is an archetypal story. We’re given clues to read the story as more than history. For example, Jesus is driven to the “wilderness,” which makes us think immediately of the wilderness experience of the ancient Israelites being liberated from slavery in Egypt to the Land of Promise.

He is in the wilderness for “forty days”—another symbolic clue. In Noah’s story, the Flood lasted forty days. Moses was on Sinai for forty days. The spies were in Canaan forty days. It was forty days between the Resurrection of Jesus to his Ascension. These literary cues tell us we’re in the genre of archetypal story.

Jesus’ temptations are told to us by Matthew and Luke for our benefit. Just as Jesus expected us to fast—“When you fast,” he says; not “if you fast”—so he expects us to face temptation. Not these exact temptations, but these types of temptations. These three are basic and inclusive of any others.

The three temptations are to turn stones into bread, worship Devil to receive worship, and to throw oneself from Temple to be rescued. Jesus is teaching something general which we can apply to the specific situations in our lives. We are all are tempted, tried, tested, proven, and improved.

God’s calling upon us is to fulfilment of our destiny of who God created us to be. Temptations ask the question, “Will we rise to it?” That’s all temptation is. It’s a test of our identity. Will we behave as children of God or not? Temptations are opportunities to grow as children of God.

As we learn these three temptations, we can apply them to every temptation we face, every trial we experience. And we’ll have resources to navigate our own faithfulness. So remember these archetypal temptations. Jesus faced them, and so will we.

The first temptation is to turn stones into bread. It is the temptation to be practical. We do need to eat. We do need to do something useful. This is the temptation to provide for ourselves, to “look out for number one.” And not just now, but into the future. This is the temptation to be preoccupied with the material. It tells us that “what we see is all that matters.”

But Jesus teaches that there is value in what is NOT useful; for example, grace. Grace cannot be calculated or measured. There is no economy of grace. Grace is God’s continuous self-giving. It has no value in the way we calculate value, and without such value, it is useless. But it has a value in a different economy. Jesus is calling our attention to this truth.

Our work has value—we work and we get paid. But ultimately it is God who provides. Thus the proper attitude is not, “I deserve this; I’ve earned this.” Such an attitude leads either to pride or to resentment. Rather, the proper attitude to work and rewards is humility and gratitude.

Material things are wonderful, but they are not all that matters. We’re called to be more than consumers and more than producers.

Perhaps this Lent you can trace some of your spiritual sickness to this first temptation.

The second temptation is to worship others in order to receive worship. It is the temptation to believe that if you succeed, others will admire you. If you make the sacrifice, you’ll have others’ esteem. What kinds of sacrifices are we tempted to make?

Some of us are sacrificing our happiness to this temptation. Others sacrifice their health. Some sacrifice their relationships with their spouse or children. Many of us sacrifice the present to the future. We are sacrificing our very selves.

But Jesus teaches that we are to worship and serve God first, then prioritize accordingly. How did Jesus do this? Some examples. Remember he taught, “Consider the lilies of the field, how beautiful they are, here today and gone tomorrow; God provides better for you.” Remember he said, “Let the little children come to me, though they offer no value to your society, and I will bless them.” In summary, he taught, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where they last, not on earth where they do not.”

I suspect that your own meditation on the second type of temptation can help you find the idols in your life.

The third temptation is to prove your relationship with God. “Throw yourself from the Temple height,” the Devil said to Jesus, “let everyone see your favored status.” It is a test to place our trust in human testimony as opposed to God’s testimony. We ask, “What are people saying about me? How many FB friends or followers do I have? How many ‘likes’ did my post get?”

Before all these, God has already given his testimony about us. Through baptism we are God’s “beloved,” and “in us God is well pleased.” God will not ask about our popularity, but whether we believed we were a child of God, and whether we behaved like we believed it.

We can still try to prove it to others, to impress them so they say, “What a godly person! See how God has blessed them! See how God rescued them from the fall from the Temple!”

Or we can remember the promises God has made to us in Christ: “I have claimed you as my children. Now trust that I will provide: You need bread and more than bread, and I will provide it. I love you for who you are, not for what you can do or how many people admire you. All I want from you is your attention and your love. Don’t sacrifice yourself to get MY attention. I am obsessed with you already. You are my beloved child; now act as my child, regardless of what others may say. Be kind, be generous, be gracious, for that is my DNA, and you carry it as my child.”

We remember these promises at the Table of the Lord. Here we receive God’s Word reminding us we are one with Christ. Here we receive God’s Spirit accompanying us as she did Jesus into our own wilderness. Here we remember that when temptations and trials come, God is near to us, maybe even the closest he can be to us. Here with Jesus, we recognize trials as opportunities to grow more into our calling. Here we receive grace for the trials we face.

03.06.19 The Blessing of God’s Judgment, Ash Wednesday Lectionary

In Reformed worship it is customary to read and interpret scripture. But during such heavy lectionary days as Ash Wednesday, there are simply too many scriptures to interpret. The hope on these days is that the festival theme provides enough context to guide interpretation. Or we pray that the Spirit picks up something from all this scripture for everyone who listens. Or we trust the surrounding ritual helps interpret the passages.

Some things we’ve heard in the assigned lectionary reading for Ash Wednesday include: Our reconciliation with God through Christ; the nature of true and false fasting and the consequences of these for the nation; and Jesus’ instructions on giving alms, praying, and fasting. Tonight I want to share some thoughts on God’s judgment, and the blessing of it.

The Bible teaches that God is a judge and that judgment occurs all the time, and that there is a final judgment. But just because it’s in the Bible—and it’s in there a lot—doesn’t mean we understand it correctly. God’s judgment might be the second most misunderstood teaching in the Bible. God’s grace being the first.

Our propensity to self-justification and our popular imagination have combined to really confuse us on God’s judgment. We think it’s about punishing those who are sinful—and we look forward to it happening to someone else. We think it’s reserved for those who reject Christ, even though we reject Christ all the time.

We think it’s about God venting his anger, and there is some truth to this, because God is angry. God is angry about sin. Sin was never God’s intention for the world. Sin hurts the world God created. It hurts us who are created in God’s image. And it hurts the rest of God’s creation, created out of God’s artistic imagination.

So God is angry like you would be angry if some force hurt your beloved or something you created to express yourself.

God is angry, but not with US. God is angry FOR us. Because before we participated in any wrongdoing, before we committed any sin, we were first victims of sin. God’s judgment is best understood not simply as judgment upon sin, and a rejection of sin. God’s judgment is best understood as God’s redemption of sin, as God’s triumph over sin.

This changes how we hear the first words of judgment. After sin entered the Paradise God created, the last thing God says to the human before expelling them from the Garden of Eden is, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It’s a reminder really, that all things NOT the Creator, all created things, have a beginning and an end. We were never anything more than dust, never anything more than creatures; creatures originally and ultimately dependent upon our Creator. We are absolutely dependent upon God.

Our existence depends on God . . . and so does the existence of sin. THIS is the good news of God’s judgment. Because even though God tolerates sin now, God’s judgment in the biblical sense is that God’s creatures will endure, but sin will not.

Sin has been atoned for in Christ. Everything lost will be found. Everyone enslaved to a debtor will be redeemed. Every injustice will be made right. Everything returns to dust. And whatever God raises FROM the dust will be restored and no longer subject to sin.

So I invite you to come and receive ashes on your forehead. On your way, touch the waters of baptism and remember your union with Christ in death and resurrection. After receiving the ashes, go to one of the posters on the back windows. There take the chalk and write the name of someone who has returned to dust. Their struggle with sin is over.

Or write the name of something we wait to return to dust—cancer, perhaps. Or injustice. For God has promised these too will come to an end. We can entrust all things to God’s care.

Then let us rejoin one another around the communion table where we will begin our Lenten journey with Christ in us, the hope of glory.

 

 

 

The Lines

2/15/18

Every week they form a line

to receive from me

“The Bread of Life”

and

“The Cup of Salvation”

My hands are squeaky clean

like a doctor’s in the examining room

as I dispense medicine for the soul.

Many receive as a matter of course.

Most respond

“Thanks be to God”

and that out of habit.

Such is the danger of weekly Communion.

But others receive with joyful tears

or reverence

or humble gratitude

and say

“God’s grace for me”

or

“The presence of God”

or

“Forgiveness for my sin”

or

nothing at all.

This week they formed a line

to receive words of judgment

“Remember you are dust,

and to dust you shall return.”

I have the thumb of a mechanic

black greasy ash fills the space between my flesh and nail

as I cross each forehead

with the fact of our mortality.

Some respond

“Thanks be to God”

probably out of habit

perhaps to expedite the anxious moment

or maybe because mortality is the good news to end their suffering.

I am startled by the response of one:

“God have mercy upon me.”

Such is the danger of speaking the truth.

02.24.19 Music Accompanies Salvation Psalm 98 Sermon Summary

Note: This homily was delivered on the occasion of dedicating our new organ. It is based on Psalm 98 and the hymn “When the Morning Stars Together” in the Glory to God Hymnal number 689.

In the Creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 there is speaking and fashioning but no songs, no singing. Later throughout the scriptures, however, music is heard. Take Psalm 104:12, for example. In a passage extolling God for creation, mention is made of the birds singing. Of course. It would be natural that when the birds were created there would be singing.

But what about the rest of creation? Was there singing throughout when God made the universe? In Job 38:7 God asks, “Where were you when the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” Here the answer seems to agree with modern physicists: the whole universe sings and has from the beginning.

Likewise, Isaiah 55:12 says that when God’s word accomplishes its purpose (and remember, it was God’s Word that created everything in Genesis 1), mountains and hills burst into song and the trees of the field clap their hands.

Psalm 29 says that the voice of the Lord is over the waters and the God of glory thunders. It’s a description of a mighty rain storm. And in the Revelation of John we are told many times that God’s voice is like the roaring of many waters.

I think it’s safe to conclude that music has accompanied creation from the very beginning and does so to the very end. And if so, then music accompanies salvation also.

It’s little wonder that God’s people make music, in synagogue and church as the Bible testifies, but also in every other religious tradition. The Bible testifies to music making by humans through singing, of course (the Psalms and other canticles), through stringed instruments like the lyre, lute, and harp, through percussion instruments like cymbals, timbrels, and drums, through horns like trumpets and animal horns, and through wind instruments like pipes from which we get the organ.

Most people today envision the church when they think of organs. The organ was invented in Alexandria 300 years before Christ. There blowing air through pipes was first automated. The organ accompanied games and circuses. Think about silent movies from 1910s being accompanied by organs.

The organ didn’t move into church until around 900, and it was well-established by 1400. In 1515 or so the modern organ as we know it emerged. In England in 1649 the Puritans destroyed organs. Nonetheless, organs reached their height in late 1800s to late 1900s. The industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was responsible for the installation of 8,812 organs in churches, concert venues, and civic halls by 1873. “I give money for church organs” he said, “in the hope the organ music will distract the congregation’s attention from the rest of the service.”

Today, the organ is a distraction for reasons other than Carnegie hoped. It’s not a pleasant diversion from the sermon. Some people refuse to worship unless there is an organ. Others refuse to worship because there is organ. This leads me to make a cautionary observation.

Music is highly personal. We fall in love by it, it accompanies our grief, it expresses our anger. In recent decades, music has become hyper personal. Today you can listen to countless selections of music that conform exactly to your preference. Individual tastes reign supreme. This is a very recent development.

Our ego plus endless choice has produced cranky consumers, and you see it in the church. It can keep us from worshiping together. I hate the organ, says one person. Well, I hate guitars. I don’t understand chant. I can’t stand drums. Some people hate singing. Others can’t tolerate silence.

How can we worship together with this cultural dynamic at work? I think we can if we remember two things. First is the reason we make music. We humans make music to worship God. Music-making is an expression of our divine image to create. Even though some music may obscure this original impulse, it still necessarily reflects it.

Second we do not have the luxury of worshiping alone. All creation worships its Creator. All cultures worship God. Even the most individualistic passages of scripture (and they are rare) expand eventually to envision and include all creation and all nations.

We can worship together with whatever instrument we bring—voice, organ, tambourine, hands, or just ears. We can worship together because we’re all part of God’s creation. Let us remember that we are each an instrument of God, no less than King David or Mary the Mother of Jesus, no less than the bread and the wine of Communion, no less than the organ we dedicate this day. And let us worship God together and with all creation, singing praise to the one who gives us life.

Dedicatory Prayer

Lord, as part of our worship each week we offer ourselves and our world to you through prayer. In baptism we thank you for your claim upon our lives and pledge to follow your guidance. With song we lift before you our joys and our heartaches. In all these ways, we make dedication to you each week in worship.

But this week we offer special prayers of thanksgiving and dedication. We thank you for the gift of music, and the opportunity we have to join together, not only with brothers and sisters in Christ in this place, but with those around the world, throughout time, and even with all creation, praising you in song.

We thank you for all who in the past many years have contributed to our desire to have organ music empower us for a new generation. We thank you for those who discerned and designed this organ and its installation for us. We thank you for everyone who donated to our new organ fund, for their love for music and the church is combined this day in the dedication of our new organ.

Make us all to be good stewards of these gifts—the contributions, the prayers, the skillfulness, and the music this organ represents. May all who listen and sing do so with joy and thanksgiving. May we follow the example of faithful servants like our organists, whose hands and feet harmonize the sounds of this instrument, adding our ears and our voices to their offered gift.

Let this organ, and the worship it accompanies, ever call us to faith and generosity, that in life and in death, with all that we are and all that we have, we may offer ourselves to your praise. We dedicate this organ to you. We dedicate all who hear it, in worship and weddings and funerals, to you. We dedicate all who sing with it to you. And we dedicate this church, served by this organ, to you. In Christ’s name do we pray. Amen.

02.17.19 Christian Roots and Fruits Psalm 1 Luke 6 Sermon Summary

Psalm 1 was placed at the beginning of the book to guide us in how to read the rest of the psalms. It lays out two paths in life, the righteous one and the sinful one. Like other “wisdom literature,” it uses metaphors from nature to teach. In this case, the righteous are like fruitful trees and the wicked are like chaff that the wind blows away.

In wisdom literature, the advice on living is often simple, but sometimes simplistic. Jesus was a wisdom teacher, but he was one who respected the complexities of life. For Jesus, there are not just two simple ways through life. Indeed, there are many ways to follow Jesus.

While Jesus occasionally drives people away, like the Rich Man to whom he said, “you must sell all you have and give to the poor,” (Luke 18:18ff) or the crowd to which he said, “you must partake of my body and blood,” (John 6:53ff) most of the time he lets people follow him for their own reasons, at their own pace, or not at all.

Something I’ve learned over the years as a pastor and as I read the Gospels is that not everyone comes to Jesus to be a disciple. And not everyone who comes to Jesus becomes a disciple. And this seems to be OK with him.

We get a picture of this from Luke’s “sermon on the plains.” Jesus has spent the night in prayer to discern whom to appoint as apostles, that is, “sent ones,” from among his disciples. Returning then to active ministry, Luke describes the Twelve Apostles, a great crowd of disciples, and a great multitude of people.

The great multitude came to Jesus, some to hear him, some to be healed of diseases, and some to settle troubling spirits. These may sound familiar to you, because on Sunday and throughout the week people come to the church, the visible manifestation of Jesus, for all these same reasons.

Luke has good news for all of them. No matter why you come to Jesus, whether as multitude, disciple, or apostle, Luke reports that Jesus healed them all. Perhaps Luke is making a spiritual statement here, that healing occurs in the presence of God, and that letting Jesus into your life brings healing.

Regardless, Luke seems to suggest there’s room on the path of Jesus for a lot of people to come for whatever reason they come. There’s room for me and you.

But there is also a distinction, for in the midst of this multitude, “Jesus looked up at his disciples,” Luke says, and begins to teach. The sayings that follow are for disciples. “Blessed” are the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the hated. And “woe” is pronounced upon the rich, the satisfied, the rejoicing, and those well-spoken of.

Apparently even among the disciples there is great variety. Some are poor, others rich. Some are hungry, others full. Some are mourning, others are celebrating. Some are persecuted, others popular.

Some interpreters say Jesus is speaking of the afterlife here, of a great reversal of fortunes in a last judgment. Maybe. Or maybe Jesus is simply revealing reality: A present reality we easily overlook and that is also real in the future.

Jesus’ term for this reality is the “Kingdom of God.” And it is no less real for Jesus in this life than it is in the future. So Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor for theirs IS the Kingdom of God,” and “Blessed are those who hunger now for they WILL be filled.”

This is the reality of the Kingdom of God, and is it not ALSO reality that the rich will experience woe? For riches do not ultimately satisfy us. Ask most people, even the rich, “How much money would it take for you to be happy?” And the answer is always the same: “Just a little bit more.”

And the same is true with the satisfied, the celebrating, and well-spoken of. Woe is coming in this life and in the future, for these happy circumstances are rooted in happenstance and are not the enduring blessings of the Kingdom.

Luke has given us all good news, whether we are part of the multitude who came to hear, be healed, or with troubled spirits, or among the disciples who may be poor or rich, sad or happy. No matter what our circumstances, the Kingdom of God has already come in Christ and will ultimately prevail over our circumstances. Luke wants to teach us that we can orient our lives around this truth and experience blessing.

Jesus surely knew Psalm 1 with its stark, binary contrast: The righteous who meditate on the law on one side and the sinners who follow the wicked on the other. Jesus also sees these two ways, but he sees a larger picture and takes a longer view.

We might combine Psalm 1 and Jesus’ teaching into a “law of returns”: Whatever you return to IN your life will determine the returns ON your life.

If you return to Jesus again and again, first for healing, perhaps, or to comfort a troubled spirit, eventually the returns on your life will be the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But if you return to riches again and again, the return on your life will be woe.

Just as many came to Jesus with a variety of needs, so we come to his Table with a variety of needs. We come to be reminded that we live by bread, but not by bread alone. We come to be reminded that wine gladdens the human heart, but that it is just a foretaste of divine presence.

We come to be reminded that we may come to Jesus for whatever reason, by whatever cause, trusting him to provide for our needs, over and over, with more and more of our lives.

And we come to be reminded that we may return again and again, rooting our lives in Christ, finding our way blessed, until we reach that final Kingdom like that tree planted by streams of water, eventually bearing the fruit of the Spirit.