Monday, January 19, 2015

After the quake

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)

That was the theme verse this past weekend as we were REdefined at the Harrisburg Youth Quake. 

22 youth and 9 adult leaders spent the weekend together laughing, singing, dancing, dressing up in crazy outfits, playing games, meeting new people and deepening our relationship with God and with one another. 

We heard stories from Dan Scharnhorst about what it means to be REdefined because of God's great love for us.

We sang and danced with Captive Free and Bread of Stone as lyrics spoke to us about who we are as human beings created in God's image, loved and treasured by God for who we are. 

It was an amazing weekend. 

But I think what may have stuck out most for me was when we shared highs and lows on Saturday night.  The question asked was, "What is something you would not have experienced today if you didn't come to the Youth Quake?" 

All sorts of answers came out.  From silly things, like hiding under tables, playing team ninja and laughing uncontrollably, to real things, like
meeting new people and developing new friendships,
spending time in conversation with youth and adults from our congregation,
spending time with people,
sharing a meal with members of Captive Free,
getting to meet members of the band Bread of Stone,
being able to hear that a member of our group writes and shares poetry,
thanks given to the people at Trinity that for the first time high school youth attended as Junior guides,
hearing the adults thank the youth for being there for the weekend....
packaging food for hungry people around the world,
hanging out with my siblings and cousins for the weekend,
and the countless other things that we could only experience as attendees of the Harrisburg Youth Quake. 

And those are the joys and the challenges that come along with attending a life changing weekend like this one. 

Now we are back....back at home....back at work....and tomorrow, back at school. 

How will we share this message?  As Dan said, "We need to let go and jump out of the plane." 
In all reality, we came to the Quake just so we could leave.  We came to the Quake so we could be reminded of how we are REdefined.  We came to the Quake so that we could connect and reconnect and be sent from Harrisburg to share stories and laughter and the good news of Jesus Christ with others. 

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happened in Harrisburg is meant to be shared. 
If you attended the Quake, be sure to tell someone about it. 
If you didn't attend the Quake, ask someone to tell you about it. 

Share the stories, listen to the stories and hear the amazing ways that God REdefines each of us because of the gift of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. 

Until the next post . . .

Monday, January 5, 2015

What does God smell like?

And the word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.  (John 1:14 - The Message)

This is the verse (and the translation) that sparked my prayerful sermon preparation last week. 

Feel free to share or post sights, smells, sounds, tastes or things you've touched (or have touched you) that have reminded you that Emmanuel (God with us) is here...with 

January 4, 2015
2nd Sunday of Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 147:12-20
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:(1-9)10-18

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

Merry Christmas!  Even as we see decorations coming down, our homes returning to some sense of normalcy and preparing to return to school or work after some time off, Christmas is still here.  The 12 days of Christmas continue until January 6, when we celebrate the arrival of the magi visiting the baby Jesus. 

Even with this winding down, we still know that the celebration of that one night, changes our world and our lives every single day. 

This passage from John is one of my favorite passages of scripture.  Verse 5, in particular.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.  My favorite translation of this verse is from the King James version, The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. 

The light has broken into our world, in the presence of a baby boy, and the darkness that we have walked in, that we have lived in, and that continues to be a part of our every day world, cannot comprehend this light. 

As we lit candles on Christmas Eve and heard part of this reading from John, we celebrated light overcoming the darkness in our homes, in our lives and in our world.  The glow of lights in this sanctuary on that dark Christmas Eve night was the light we needed to see breaking into our world. 

Yet our passage from John goes even further today.  As we continue reading we hear that the word has become flesh and dwells among us. 

Hear the words to verse 14 again:  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And now hear that same verse from The Message translation:
The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. 

God is here.  In flesh and in blood and abides, lives with us, in our homes, in our neighborhood, in our lives and in our world. 

And that, my friends makes a difference. 

Most likely, we have seen God in our homes through the seasons of Advent and Christmas…we made ready our homes with decorations, perhaps we lit Advent wreaths or read from an Advent devotional during meals.  We probably gave or received gifts and participated in a festive meal. 

You see, with (or without) us even noticing, the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. 

A few months ago, we had a warm evening the night of a Parish Planning Council meeting.  As I walked by the parking lot before the meeting there was a gathering of neighborhood youth just hanging out. 

I said, hey….what are you doing?  (You see sometimes there are local youth playing kickball or soccer, which could do some serious damage to these stained glass windows.) They replied….playing manhunt. 

“Oh,” I said, “Good luck.  And be careful, we have a meeting tonight, so there will be cars pulling into the lot shortly.

“Hey,” one of them said, “Can you pick someone to be it?  Nobody wants to be it.”

I said sure…and after guessing a few numbers, we had a new person and they were off and running….and I heard one of them say, hey, she’s pretty cool….

And that was light breaking into darkness, that was the Word living in the neighborhood.  So often, too often, I would say that the interactions I have with youth in the parking lot or around the churchyard are not as positive.  For whatever reason, there seems to be a wall of defense up between these young folks and myself. 

Yet in that moment…of a game and a favor….we had a connection.  God was in our midst, allowing us to be in community with one another.  
What are the ways and where are the places you have seen, felt, heard, touched or even smelled the word breaking into the world and living in our neighborhood? 

This past week at our Bible study, the local pastors got into a conversation about what God smells like.  No really….we did. 

We thought, if we’re going to talk about the word becoming flesh and blood and moving into the neighborhood, we have the opportunity to think about how we experience God in our lives with all 5 senses. 

I know, it may seem a little out there….but think about it, just for a bit…

We often talk about how we see God in our world.  Through all the volunteers and the generosity of the donations to the food pantry.  In all the volunteers that made the four worship services happen on Christmas eve.  To the conversations and positive interactions we have with people in our own neighborhoods.  We see God in our midst….

But how do you hear God?  Is it in the music and scripture proclaimed in this place?  Is it in the giggles of little ones as they try to escape mom or dad in the supermarket?  Is it in the sounds coming from the organ, from our choirs or from bells?  Is it in the familiar bark or purr from your pet? 

How do you hear God in your midst?  Perhaps it is even in the still silence at the very beginning or end of the day. 

Think about it. 

How do you know God is with you….by what you taste?  Do you taste God in the bread and wine during communion?  Do you taste the fellowship and the gathering around donuts in the social hall?  Do you taste the gifts of cooking and baking that God has given people when we feast upon soups, breads and desserts during fellowship nights?  Do you taste God when you sit with your family for a familiar meal?  Or when you have been away from food for a while, that first bite….does that taste like God?  Nourishing you and feeding you when you are hungry?

You may not have thought about this before….but think about the tastes that remind you of God. 

And now for the fun one….how do you smell God?  What scents remind you that God is here?  Is it the scent of hay and a calf on Christmas eve?  Is it the incense that rises during Lenten Vespers service?  Is it the double smoked ham that permeates this building for days after the ABO Christmas party?  Is it the scent of cinnamon that wafts into the sanctuary here on sticky bun Sundays?  I could go on and on….what about outside of this space? 

Is it the smell of chili or cornbread baking in your kitchen that you know will go to feed folks at the Opportunity House? 
Is it the smell of freshly treated fields?  (you know what smell I mean) Knowing that the food we receive is tended to and cared for by our neighbors? 
Or is it the scent of grandma’s perfume or dad’s aftershave….

What does God smell like to you?  How do the scents that fill our world and our noses remind us that God is with us? 

And that leaves us with the sense of touch.  How do you touch God?  Or rather, how does God touch you?  Is it when the bread is placed in your hands at communion?  Is it in a handshake or hug as we pass the peace?  Is it in the holding of someone’s hand when you cross the road?  Or is it the feel of wet cheeks as you hug or kiss a dear friend who has been crying?  Is it the physical shake of someone who feels completely broken down?  Is it in the picking up of drywall or paint as you work on a local service project?

Again…I think what started as almost a silly question at Bible study, really opens our eyes, ears, noses, hearts and minds to how God is living in our neighborhood. 
What ways do you experience God in your midst?  Smells? Sights? Sounds? 

How is God continually deepening God’s relationship with you by using all of your senses? 

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

Emmanuel, God with us….here.  now.  always. 

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