Thursday, January 17, 2019

Moment of Amazing Grace

January 16, 2019
Well Homily
Psalm 29

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

May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Thus, says our psalmist from tonight’s reading at the end of Psalm 29. 

This comes at the end of the psalm where we have heard of many places God has been or God is. 
The voice of the Lord is in over the waters, in the sound of thunder, in the flashing flames of fire, and in the shaking of the wilderness.  The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare! 

God is in the midst of the noise, the wind, the earthquakes…in all things loud! 

I don’t know about you, but I like God in the peace of the sunrise over a calm lake and the and in the sparkling of the stars on a dark night.  I think for me there is more comfort in knowing God in those peaceful (to me) places rather than in the chaos of wind, thunder and fire. 

But then again, it is good for God to be there, too. 
Because it is in those moments of trouble, struggle or chaos that I need to know that God is present and will not be moved. 

On Sunday morning, as I finished a run in in the freshly falling snow, I knew God was there as my feet crunched the snow and as I stopped to hear the snow falling on my jacket.  I like that dark, early morning quiet time…it’s holy.  I look for God there and see God there. 

On Sunday morning, as I was two pages into my sermon at the late service, and all of the sudden saw page four…I was a little shook up.  I saw the sentence and knew it was not time for that page yet…and then saw that it was page 4 not page 3.  Pastor Bill was adamant that he had NOT switched the order of my pages.  I was smiling and trying to get myself back together, and then laughing and again, trying to get myself to focus.  I took a big breath and jumped right back in, the sermon continued, as did the rest of worship, as did the rest of the day. 

Yet in the middle of what seemed to me like eternity when I was trying to realign myself with my sermon God was there in the most holy and grace-filled way. 

In the middle of what could have been a moment of sheer panic and distress, I felt comfortable, and looking back, I feel like God was there, no I know that God was there, but I felt God’s presence in the people in worship at that moment.  That moment was holy and filled with the most gracious people and space that I have ever encountered. 

It’s really hard to put it into words, but there was something freakin’ amazing about this space in that moment. 

You all were (and are) the presence of God in this place. 

Anne Lamott in her book Stitches writes,
“When we agree to (or get tricked into) being part of something bigger than our own wired, fixated minds, we are saved. 
When we search for something larger than our own selves to hook into, we can come through whatever life throws at us.” 

Whether it was the wind or the Holy Spirit or me who accidentally shifted those pages in Sunday’s sermon, we’ll never know.  But I do know this, that this greater community – you all saved me in that moment.  You held me in an embrace of love and grace that I could never fully thank you for…because that’s how grace works…when we least expect to receive it, there it is! 

My prayer for you all and the people of this place is the closing words of tonight’s psalm: 
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace! 

May you all feel the strength that God has given to each of you to know that you are able to hold others in love, forgiveness, understanding and grace. 

May you know that you are a force of love that is making an impact in this community and world by proclaiming God’s love and grace. 

And may you know that the strength of God shines through you when you extend a word of forgiveness, a handshake or hug of peace and through a smile.  That strength lets those around you know that they are loved, supported and cared for no matter what they are going through. 

May you also feel blessed by God’s peace.  Know that as you reach out in love to others and perhaps wonder if you are falling short, or maybe you are just not feeling strong enough…may God’s peace surround you and uphold you when you are in need.  May it be seen in the presence and love of others. 

And now may the Lord give strength to his people, may the Lord bless his people with peace and may that peace, which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

When will then be now? Soon! (or now.)

January 13, 2019
Baptism of our Lord
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17,21-22

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

So here we are, celebrating the baptism of our Lord, almost halfway into the first month of a new year and how are we feeling? 
So often a new year comes with feelings of excitement, hope, maybe some new energy, maybe some trepidation, but for many folks it begins in a positive way. 

I have to tell you, as I met with an awesome group of high school youth last week, the sentiment was not quite there.  There were wonders and concerns about what the new year would bring and there was some feelings of …hey…this new year isn’t really kicking off that well.  On the 6th day of January, some of them wanted to press the restart button on 2019. 

I wonder if any of you have been feeling the same way.  That even with the hype of a new year, things haven’t really changed in a way that you had hoped for. 

I thought about the conversations around the table with those youth and thought about how we think about then and now…how we think things will change in the future and wondering about when that will happen. 

In the movie Spaceballs, yes, Spaceballs, work with me here.  It’s a Mel Brooks spoof on the Star Wars films that was released in 1987.  At one point in the movie, Lord Helmet, is trying to find the princess, so they use a new technology where they can actually rent the movie that they are in so they can watch it to find the princess.  It’s hard to explain, so here’s the scene where they watch the film. 

When will then be now?

When will then be now?  When will 2019 be the best year ever?  Soon!

Isaiah has a different response…
“But now thus says the Lord,
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel;
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.” 

But now…

The people of God were in exile because of their own doing and there was no one to save them.  But now…the God who created them has risen up as their redeemer and restorer.  (Long)

This is part of the Old Testament’s sweeping saga of salvation.  God creates the world and God’s people, and the people mess up and God sweeps in to save them.  Things go well for a while until the people mess up, fall short, turn away from the ways of God and then God sweeps in again to save them.  Time and time again, this is the story of our salvation history. 

But now…God reminds them of the promise. 
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 

This promise is one that has been seen through the ages. 
It is the reminder that the salvation of the people comes not because they love God, but because God loves them: “You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.” 

The saving of God’s people does not happen because the people love God, but because God loves them.  It is God’s love that brings salvation. 

That, my friends, is good news. 
But wait, there’s more! 

It’s what Isaiah doesn’t say, that is also important. 

Isaiah does NOT say that there is nothing to be afraid of. 

Did you catch that? 

Even with the saving power of God’s love, we are reminded, do not fear.  And that’s important, because that’s Isaiah’s way of saying that fears will present themselves. 

Even though God’s presence is with God’s people and the good news that salvation comes to us because of God’s love for us, the fears will still be there. 

And fear, that can be a powerful force. 

"Do not fear,” is often easier said than done. 

I often joke that my biggest fear is dropping my cell phone in a port-a-potty. 
It’s more of a paranoia than an actual fear for me. 

I think fears are different for everyone. 

Fears may stem from our physical well being, our job situation, our home life, our relationships at work or school, the state of our nation, the color of our skin, our gender or our outward appearance. 

Fears may stem from our innermost being where we may fear that we are not good enough, strong enough, brave enough or just plain enough. 

Fears that may not worry others may be larger than life for you. 
Fears that impact others, may not have ever dawned on you. 

We may have fears for ourselves or fears for those whom we love. 

Looking around the rooms we can only guess that there are a multitude of fears that any of us could name. 

But there is something bigger and greater than all of these fears. 
It’s the presence of God in our lives and in our world. 
God reminds us not to be afraid because God is with us. 

God says, do not fear…when you have been in harm’s way I have been with you and will continue to be with you. 

The way we remember that is through the waters of baptism. 
Through these waters, we are named, God’s beloved…
We are claimed as God’s beloved…God’s own…

These waters, this promise of God is bigger than any of the fears we see, hear or face…

God says, because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…

Name those fears, beloved…what are they…the future, relationships, work load, school work, stress, social media posts…? 

Name them…in prayer, in writing, in words to others…

Name them, beloved, because you are more than the fears that you feel or know…
They cannot claim you, they cannot own you….

Only God can do that and has done that through the waters of baptism. 

Louder than any fear hear this…

You are beloved. 
You are God’s own. 
You are loved. 

Carry that with you as you come up to receive communion this day.
Dip your fingers in the font to remember the promise God made with you.

Beloved, be loved. 

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. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Prayer & Healing Homily: Candles, Light & Peace

Prayer and Healing Homily
January 2, 2019
John 1:1-14,14, 17

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

We gather today in the light of the Christmas season: giving thanks to God for the gift of Jesus, the gift of light and the gift of this community. 

The reading we heard tonight is a fraction of what we heard on Christmas Eve as we lit candles in worship. 

There is something holy in the lighting of candles…

When I was a youth director at a church in New Britain, Connecticut, we took our youth group to an event called Night Watch.  We headed into New York
City to the chapel of St. John the Divine where we would spend the night. 

We had a joyous bunch of 7-12 graders ranging in energy levels as the event began.  Most of the 7th graders could be described as ‘bouncy’.  We played some getting to know you games as we met the other youth who were part of the overnight program.  When it was almost bedtime, we were told that we would be able to see the chapel.  We calmly headed upstairs and before entering the chapel space, we were each given a lit candle. 

We were invited to walk anywhere in the chapel space, but were asked to maintain silence. 

As we entered the chapel, we saw the lights of the individual candles dotting the space of the chapel that was 3 football fields in length.  It was amazing to be in such a vast space, with such a large group, but to only know of each other’s presence by the light of their candles. 

I knew the light of Christ was shining in that space, because I could see the dots of light throughout the chapel. 

Here, on Christmas Eve, I knew the light of Christ was shining as candlelight filled this space at all of our services.  At the 8pm service, as I distributed communion on crying room side of the sanctuary, I could hear that someone was very unhappy in the crying room.  Even with special music playing, the cries coming from that room were entering into the sanctuary. 

As communion ended, we lit candles, we heard the passage from John, and we heard the choir sing, O Lux Beatissima…one of my favorite pieces that we have sung at Trinity. 

As the light was passed around the sanctuary the choir sang these words:
O Light most blessed,
Fill the inmost heart
Of all thy faithful.

Without your grace,
There is nothing in us,
Nothing that is not harmful.

As I looked around the sanctuary, I saw faces young and old, looking into the light of their candles.  There is something about the light of a candle, surrounded by the calm stillness of this worship space that causes us all to pause and look. 

Then we joined in singing Silent Night.  As the words of the familiar and beloved tune filled the sanctuary, my eyes were drawn to the face of a mother who was peering in the direction of the crying room.  With a smile on her face she was trying to connect with her daughter in the crying room.  At this point the crying room contained two dads, each holding their young daughters who were eagerly peering out the window at what was happening in the sanctuary. 

There was no crying or sight of any tears…at least in that moment…
The four sets of eyes in the crying room were intently looking at the light of the candles and listening to the sounds of the congregation singing. 

It was not a silent moment, but oh, was it a holy moment. 
There in the light, was peace. 

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. 

It is good for us to hear this passage again in light of the Christmas season, because even though we may walk in the darkness of pain, loneliness, sickness of uncertainty of the future, the light of Christ still shines in our midst. 

The light of Christ still shines this night and all nights.  The presence of Christ still breaks into our world…and the darkness that is part of our world cannot comprehend it. 

In this season of life and light, we long for the promise of the resurrection, the promise of God breaking into our world…the promise that God will reign in a new way. 

That light brings grace and truth into our hearts, our homes and our world each day. 

I don’t know about you, but as we near the end of the season of Christmas, I hesitate to put all the additional lights away.  There is something about the soothing lights on the tree, those decorating the porch and those strewn about the living room that I’m not quite ready to let go of just yet. 

In what ways can we continue to let that light shine? 
How does the light of Christ bring peace to you this time of year? 

Our call and our mission is to continue to let that light shine, no matter what.  We are called to show others the grace and truth of Christ in our everyday lives. 

We are called to let that light shine so that others may see our good works that give glory to our father in heaven. 

We are always in situations that allow us the opportunity to let Christ’s light shine.  As a new year begins, look for ways to share that light, that peace, that grace with others. 

Look for ways to let that light shine.

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.