Tuesday, July 12, 2011

sing, sing a song....but how to pick which one?

I don't know about you, but I love music.  There is always something playing in my house, whether it is on the radio, iTunes or on the record player.  I also love to sing...so I especially like music that allows me to sing (and sometimes dance) along.  There is something about music.  It can move my body to dance, to laugh and even cry.  I can relive memories through music and love when I hear a song in a new setting that brings me back to the first time I heard it.  There are many songs that seem to express my feelings better than I can, or can connect with me when I feel no one else can.

Every Sunday at camp, all 10 summer when I was on staff, we would sing the first verse of Beautiful Savior as grace for the dinner meal.  Every time I sing that hymn, no matter what the worship setting is (Indiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania or some place else) I am immediately transported back to the dining hall at Camp Calumet in Freedom, New Hampshire on a warm summer day...just ready for another meal with good friends. 

While songs and music can transport us to different places, sometimes we bring music out at a certain time and place, because it is 'tradition.'  For me, Thanksgiving is not complete unless I have heard the original version of Alice's Restaurant Massacree by Arlo Guthrie.  Growing up, we would listen to the 18 1/2 minute song as it covered the whole first side of the vinyl album.  This past year, I knew I would be driving to see friends on Thanksgiving, so I downloaded it, just in case, but ended up catching it on the radio during my drive. 

Not just at home, or while driving in the truck am I embraced by music, but also in worship. 
For me there is unity, there is fellowship, there is the reminder of our connection through baptism as we chant the liturgy and as we sing old and new hymns together.  It enhances the worship experience as we all lift our voices and 'Sing to the Lord a new song!' No matter how we think we sound or how we think others may hear us...in community we lift up a communal voice....joining our voices and hearts as one as we share the gospel message. 

In John Bell's book The Singing Thing, the first section of the book answers the following question:
Why do we sing? 
He suggests the following reasons.
1. Because we can
2. To create identity  
3. To express emotion
5. To revisit the past
6. To tell stories
7. To shape the future
8. To enable work
9. To exercise our creativity
10. To give of ourselves

I think it's important to remember who we are when we gather together to sing.  When we gather together to worship and sing, be it Saturday evening, Sunday morning, or midweek services during Advent and Lent, we are gathered together as the Body of Christ to proclaim God's word. 
So while we are individuals in that space...we are united in baptism to proclaim God's word.  We hear different scripture readings each week that guide our hearts, mind and actions to new ways of hearing the 'old, old story' that is alive in our world today. 
John Bell writes,
"The discerning pastor or pastoral musician has to be able, for the good of the rest of the congregation and the integrity of the event, to help those choosing the hymns to distinguish the difference between what is individually evocative and what is suited for community singing." (p. 41)
The musical leadership at Trinity is guided by our weekly scripture readings so that the hymns sung and the special music that is shared helps the people gathered to sing and hear the gospel message.  When we sing together in worship....we are not singing for the accolades of the congregation, we are not singing to glory of each other or to out-sing one another or to lift up days that that our nation honors and celebrates, we sing for no one around us, but we sing for the glory of God.  The songs we lift up are another gift God has given us that we freely give back. 
Who we are in the sanctuary shapes us for who we are outside of the church building...yes there are songs that we hear and sing in other places that share good morals and heart moving stories, that move us to laughter and tears that we would love to sing with friends...and share with friends at church, but I caution each of us...to listen to the words of the hymns we do sing and how they speak the gospel message to us.  Listen to the gospel message we sing to others. 
And watch how that message of an unconditionally loving God - molds us, our families, our communities and our world. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

holding one another together . . . in prayer

Here's my sermon from Sunday. 
I can't tell you how much worship this weekend impacted my life.  Through the three different worship services, tears came to my eyes seeing people sharing stories, holding hands and praying for one another.  I have already heard back from many people about how they felt about worship and how it has already influenced their everyday lives.  And to me, that's what it is all about.  What happens when we gather together to worship shapes us for our time outside of worship.  I am so grateful to be part of a community that talks to one another about where they see God in their lives and where they feel they need God's presence.  To see people actively praying for one another is so amazing.  I give thanks to God that the folks at worship were willing to move around, talk to one another and pray for one another...this faith community is an amazing group of folks.  We have the ability to be the Body of Christ in the world around us because in this place we are strengthened and nourished.  In this place we are fed....

I encourage each of you to talk with someone about where you've seen God in your life recently, to share a current struggle and then pray for one another....it's pretty amazing. 

July 3, 2011
3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145: 8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen. 

Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. 

I love this passage from Matthew.  It is one of the scripture passages that we often shared during compline – the prayer service at the end of the day, when I was at seminary.  It was that pleasant reminder that whatever was still weighing heavy on us, whatever was stressing us out, whatever was still taking its toll on us at 10 o’clock at night was known and shared by God. 

This passage is a gentle reminder that we cannot handle everything on our own.  If, I’m beginning to sound like a broken record up here in the pulpit it’s because I keep saying this…and it’s completely true – we can’t handle everything on our own.  But how often do we think and try to handle it on our own? 

How often in the midst of our daily lives to we turn to prayer, to share our struggles, our questions, our frustrations with God?  I came across two situations lately…the first is a struggle a colleague of mine had.  She was at Starbucks and ran into a parishioner who didn’t make it worship anymore because Sunday was his day to sleep in.  She struggled as she listened to his busy schedule and how she had been present for him and his wife through marital problems…and here she was listening to his excuses for not making it to church anymore.  As they parted ways, she shared the experience with me and I suggested that she give it to God in prayer.  She said, “huh” I hadn’t even thought about that. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m just as guilty of that…forgetting in the midst of the struggle or frustration that God is present with me…and I should share the heavy burden. 

The second situation is about a friend who traveled to visit family and friends this summer.  She was a bit worried about the drive because her car has many miles on it.  The day she left it was raining…okay it was pouring!  As she got into the car she said a prayer before she left.  As the rain came down harder and harder, she prayed harder and harder.  In the midst of it she wondered if these were signs that she should turn around and go back home because it wasn’t safe….

As she continued her journey, she realized that these were not signs to turn around, but rather to move forward.  The obstacles during this drive brought her closer to God and when she arrived she realized that they were not obstacles at all, but the rain helped keep her car cool and her speed slow.
Those are just two examples of people, in their everyday lives…facing different situations…and turning to God in different ways.  But here’s the thing, it’s a challenge to do it out there in the real world...if we were to individually take our spiritual temperatures right now, what would they be?  How well are we in prayer, scripture reading, giving of our time and our treasure, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others? 

Don’t worry…I didn’t bring any thermometers to take any spiritual temperatures, but you know.  And it all comes back to this place…if we are not praying, reading scripture, giving of our time and treasure and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ’s presence in our lives in this space, what are the chances we are doing it out there?  In our homes, at school, at our jobs?  So here’s what we are going to do. 

We are going to do just that.  In a moment you will pair up with someone – who is NOT sitting with you – take a moment and share a time this past week where you have seen Jesus in your life…then take a moment and share a struggle that you have now…after you have both shared, then hold hands, yoke together….and pray for each other.  Lift up each other’s joys and struggles to God here and now. 

It’s simple share a joy, where you have seen Jesus present, share a struggle where you need Jesus’ presence, then pray for each other. 

(At this point....the congregation moved around into pairs and trios....talked and prayed.)

Pretty amazing huh? 
The opportunity to deepen relationships with others…by sharing the stories of where we see Jesus here and now. 
The opportunity to hear the struggles and burdens of others.  
The opportunity to pray for one another in the midst of all that is happening. 

Because that last one….praying for one another is that reminder…of Jesus’ word that he shares the burdens, the struggles and the challenges.  We are not alone.  Christ is always in our midst…look around you and see….share the joys, share the struggles and the pray together along the way. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.