The Beatitudes

We continue this week in our series on the Sermon on the Mount, entitled, “At the Feet of the Rabbi.” If you weren’t here last week or don’t remember, we introduced the idea that it was no accident Jesus chose to operate out of the role of the Jewish Rabbi. Remember, Rabbi means “my great one” because these guys were the best of the best, and the most honored in society. We also talked about the “yoke” of a Rabbi being the body of knowledge and work that the Rabbi had soaked up over the course of his life, and that he then passed on through teaching and experience. Each Rabbi wanted his yoke to live on in his disciples, so disciples were expected to follow the Rabbi, word for word, move by move, step by step, all over the countryside to soak it all in. That’s why the ancient blessing was: “May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.” It meant following so closely in his wake, or sitting so near his mud-caked sandals, that you lived and breathed your Rabbi and his yoke. THAT was discipleship, and isn’t it a good deal deeper than spending an hour on a Sunday every now and then? Absolutely.

This Rabbi is important to our series because the Sermon on the Mount is a tricky name. The truth is, WE have given it that name. Bible translators have said, “Hey, this guy is doing a bunch of talking  starting in Matthew 5, and the people are crowded around like a congregation, and he says great, quotable sayings…sounds like a sermon to me!” The problem we have today is that the word sermon doesn’t always carry a lot of weight anymore. A sermon for us can just be a 20-minute pop-off with some good jokes, and a 1-2-3 moral punchline. The first thing many of us think about a sermon is, was it a good one or a bad one. That was not the atmosphere in Matthew 5. If these people were intent on being disciples, of sitting at the feet of a Rabbi, of taking up a new yoke that would utterly direct their entire lives, this time on the mountainside was far more authoritative and substantial and moving than we can even imagine. That’s the attitude I want us to bring to this text too. I want us to sit at the feet of our Rabbi, hear his yoke, and very truly decide if we’re going to take it up or not.  Amen?

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Is EVERYTHING that seems successful or “winning” really a blessing? Every “good” thing? Look at the hashtag on Twitter at any given moment and see the crazy examples, some appropriate, some a totally false attribution. We’re speaking for God when we claim something is a blessing. Conversely, is every seemingly bad thing a lack of blessing? Aren’t we blessed even when we lose our job or fail in the eyes of the world?

In Jewish culture, failure or poverty or deficiency of any kind was a sign of a lack of blessing, a sign of sinfulness or God’s particular judgment.  Health problems could be traced back to our ancestor’s sinfulness.  For example, if someone were blind or had leprosy, they or their ancestors did something to deserve it.  Jesus is overturning this kind of thinking. He’s not just telling us about these poor downtrodden people groups, so that we’ll be “nice” to them, he is actively blessing them. He’s speaking the blessing into being. Or putting into words the heavenly reality that already is.  And it’s just the “other” people, he’s speaking truth into our lives as well.

He’s taking these seemingly “bad” things and flipping them on their heads and he’s giving us encouragement all the while.  Hear verses 3-12 from The Message version of the Bible.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

I can definitely relate to some of these.  Being at the end of my rope for one.  But don’t you see, Jesus is flipping the script, knocking the traditional understanding of blessing on its head and lifting up the tired, the poor, the downtrodden.  Not only that, he’s telling us to hunger and thirst after righteousness, be peacemakers, and willingly undergo persecution.  These are all earthly states with a heavenly reward bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

The Beatitudes are not just blessings but a call to action.

In the season of Epiphany, the Beatitudes are a call to action to point out just who Jesus really is.  Who God really is.  The Great God of the Universe.  The Beatitudes are a call to action to be Church, a call to action to make Jesus present and visible and manifest in our lives.  The Church gets the privilege of being on the front lines of these blessings bringing God’s kingdom to Earth.  Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” writes, “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning…”

The Beatitudes are a call to action for the sake of creating the world God imagines.  These days, we need this reminder — when our imagination may be squelched. When our hope for the future might have been dimmed. When we think what we do and what we say and what we believe does not matter.  Jesus calls us to himself and asks us to walk in his ways, to sit at his feet, and put his teachings into action.  Jesus gives us the strength to stand with the voiceless; those he seeks to bless.  But too readily, we give up at the slightest opposition. We give up when we don’t understand or don’t want to do the deep work to know what our neighbor truly faces.

Jimmy Carter writes, “Christians who truly follow the nature, actions and words of Jesus Christ should encompass people who are different from us. It is not easy to do this. It is a natural human inclination to encapsulate ourselves in a superior fashion with people who are just like us — and to assume that we are fulfilling the mandate of our lives if we just confine our love to our own family or to people who are similar and compatible. Breaking through this barrier and reaching out to others is what personifies a Christian and emulates the perfect example that Christ set for us.”

Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I look the other way?

Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I assume someone else will?

Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I explain away my perceived indifference because I don’t want people to think I take sides, because I choose to play it safe?

Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or keep silent so as not to offend, not to disappoint, in fear of not meeting expectations?

Christ teaches that the greatest joy and happiness is not in the conveniences and pleasures of this life, but it is laid up in heaven for those who willingly to take up their cross and follow him.

I read a story about Mother Teresa when she first began her work among the dying on the streets of Calcutta, India.  She was obstructed at every turn by government officials and orthodox Hindus, who were suspicious of her motives and used their authority to harass her and to frustrate her efforts. She and her fellow sisters were insulted and threatened with physical violence. One day a shower of stones and bricks rained down on the women as they tried to bring the dying to their humble shelter. Eventually Mother Teresa dropped to her knees before the mob. ‘Kill me!’ she cried in Bengali, her arms outstretched in a gesture of crucifixion, ‘And I’ll be in heaven all the sooner.’ The rabble withdrew but soon the harassment increased with even more irrational acts of violence and louder demands were made of officials to expel the foreign nun in her white sari, wearing a cross around the neck.

One morning, Mother Teresa noticed a gathering of people outside the nearby Kali Temple, one of the holy places for Hindus in Calcutta. As she drew closer, she saw a man stretched out on the street with turned-up eyes and a face drained of blood. A triple braid denoted that he was of the Brahmin caste, not of the temple priests. No one dared to touch him, for people recognized he was dying from cholera. Mother Teresa went to him, bent down, took the body of the Brahmin priest in her arms and carried him to her shelter. Day and night she nursed him, and eventually he recovered. Over and over again he would say to the people, ‘For 30 years I have worshipped a Kali of stone. But I have met in this gentle woman a real Kali, a Kali of flesh and blood.’ Never again were stones thrown at Mother Teresa and the other sisters.”

The rocks still hurt.  The grief of losing a loved one is still sometimes raw years later.  Even though we know that God is with us and it’s not a punishment, it’s still hard to receive that diagnosis.  Perhaps we can’t even understand these words until we become poor or meek or contrite or mourning or persecuted. Perhaps we don’t know what they mean until our stomachs ache with a roaring hunger and our tongues stick to the roof of our mouths with thirst. Maybe, maybe we cannot understand the words when we feel the most blessed. Perhaps they only make sense to us when we hit rock-bottom. When we too are persecuted.  When we’re so ashamed of what we did the night before that our lips tremble. When we are about to lose the home  where we were raising our children. When we finally realize that we have no control over our addiction. When we are in such mourning, that we stare at the ground as we walk and we cannot look up.

We can trust in the words of the Beatitudes and in the arms of the One who has the final word.  On earth we may temporarily suffer, but we have the hope of glory.  Just before his death, John Wesley, an ardent abolitionist, wrote a letter to William Wilberforce describing American slavery as the most vile in the world.  Grasping the hands of those who loved him, he repeatedly told them farewell.  At the end, when nearly all his strength was gone, his last words were: “The best of all is, God is with us.”  The best of all God is with us.  Romans 8:31 says,31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”  Even if we face trials in this life, even if we feel like all hope is gone, when we call on the name of the Lord we will be #Blessed beyond measure.

Epiphany at Evensong

Greeting 

Tonight we will celebrate the Ephipany (Manifestation) of the Lord.  This is always celebrated on January 6th.  The United Methodist Book of Worship says it’s an even more ancient celebration among Christians than Christmas, originally focused on the nativity, incarnation, and baptism of Christ.  Today we celebrate the coming of the three wise men (magi), who brought gifts to the Christ child.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.  You will do well to be attentive to this, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Amen.

Song – Holy Spirit

 Vesper Psalms

We started going through the Psalms one by one at Evensong.  We’re on Psalm 29 tonight.

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,*
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Song – Finally Free

Story –  

I’ve printed out the three scriptures the lectionary gives us to begin the new year (hold up the lectionary book and explain the lectionary).  I thought it appropriate during this Epiphany service to give you a quiet prayer time during this busy time of year of getting books and meeting with professors about changing class schedules and learning a new rhythm of life as you figure out where your classes are or when you will break for lunch.  Our hope is to create an atmosphere of Holy manifestations.  I’ve asked Erin to set out crayons, colored pencils and paint so that you can prayerfully draw or if you’re not into drawing, perhaps circle and underline and pray these scriptures while reading them.  Make this time be between you and God.  If somethings comes into your mind to distract you, pray for it.  If you have a burden on your heart that needs the community to pray, I invite you to share that during prayers and praises.  If you don’t want to do the prayer stations, you can reflect and pray.  Let nothing come between your time with your Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (NRSV)

3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 9What gain have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Psalm 8 (NRSV)

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Revelation 21:1-6 (NRSV)

The New Heaven and the New Earth

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Prayer Requests 

Communion

Communion Song Ever Be

Prayer after Receiving

Song – It Is Well

Call to Prayer and Request for Presence (Liturgy Reader)

May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end.

Our help is in the Name of the Lord; the maker of heaven and earth.

Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon) (Liturgy Reader)

Lord, you now have set your servants free to go in peace as you have promised;

for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,

whom you have prepared for all the world to see:

a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

      as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

 Song Gracious Tempest

 Benediction 

What’s Your Story?

I have no idea who said this but I know I didn’t make it up myself.  Someone told me once that we all have a sermon and each Sunday we just preach it a lot of different ways.  I’ve thought about this for awhile, and I have found this idea intriguing.  In discussion with Josh back and forth over sermons or with Mike back and forth over music, there’s a part of me that does believe that each of us is given this essence, this thing within us that’s just trying to get out and that’s our story.  It’s our thing to share with the world.  All of us are different.  And that’s what makes it beautiful.  We’re not competing over who has the best one or who has the loudest or most compelling, but we each have one to share.  Each of us.

I think for me it’s this incarnational theology thing.  I don’t even want to know how many sermons I talk about Emmanuel – God with us, that the Great God of the universe decided to come and be one of us, that God is with us in the midst.  I know I must say in the midst all the time.  I don’t know why this gels with me so much, but even if I’m not preaching about it – let’s say I’m talking about human trafficking or Ruth or the early church in Acts – whatever it is, somehow I end up back with this same uncontrollable and thirsty desire to talk to people about this Savior that wants to know them.  Not in an arrogant, aren’t we humans so cool, kind of way, but in a I want to know you and I created you and I have this awesome and amazing journey for you to go on.  Not saying that those are always easy stories – because there’s a lot of hurt and evil and junk out there, but a God that goes with us and that gets down in the mud and muck with us – that’s a God I can follow.

I could go down a list of what I think people’s sermons/songs/stories are.  Is that weird?  But can you think about it?  The people around you – what is their thing?  What is their essence?  What is that thing that they point to?

Let me put in a musical perspective.  I am not a musician.  I am married to one and I love him and he says I don’t count anymore as a non-musician because I’ve heard him talk so much about it.  Maybe that’s true.  But I love music.  Y’all know I love music.  My mind thinks in songs which is why I should give money to youtube because I use their videos so much.  So back to music – I digress – there’s this guy Stephen Oremus – arranger, orchestrator, musical director.  Randomly in July 2005 Mike and I won tickets to Wicked, the musical on Broadway.  (I know, I know, I can’t shut up about Broadway, but I like it.  I really, really like it.)  There’s was a guy conducting or whatever you would call that and he had the best time.  He was laughing and smiling and enjoying it in an amazing way.  Then here we are this past May and we won tickets to the Book of Mormon Musical and here’s this conductor smiling and so enthusiastic and really loving it and lo and behold – same guy.  Stephen Oremus.

Now the guy doesn’t even have a wikipedia page, and I’m tempted to write it myself because I really enjoy what he does.  He arranged the music for Avenue Q and Wicked and 9 to 5 and High Fidelity and All Shook Up and the Book of Mormon and as someone who at least loves and owns the soundtrack to three of those, I can hear similarities and musical themes that are common throughout and it’s so cool.  It’s just good music and arrangement.  As Mike and I were talking about this he talks about how sometimes musicians don’t want to have those themes throughout – you know just like in Project Runway when the girl had all the clothes with petals – you don’t want to be stuck on the one note.  But then he changed his mind and said, maybe that’s this guy’s thing.  Maybe that’s his gift, his essence – his thing to give.

I don’t know.  Call me crazy.  But I feel like all of us have that “thing” within us that’s waiting to burst out.  That gift whether it be the timid girl who then starts belting out the notes in Sister Act or even the first time Billy Graham stepped behind a pulpit or the first time you do that thing that just makes you feel beyond any word like happy, but alive or content or at purpose.

What’s that thing you want to share with the whole world?  What is it that you think they just have to know?  How do you share it in your own unique, God-given way?

I get the fear and the doubt and the times you may not feel it and the times when you’re frustrated or annoyed or just plain old pooped.  But what’s the story of your life?

Is my story – tired, frantic mother?  Is my story – I’ll be glad to talk to you when I’m fully rested and in a good mood and with the right amount of caffeine?  Is my story…

If you could tell someone in three sentences or less your greatest purpose or piece of advice or rule to live by or other cliched phrase.  If you could share the very essence of who God created you to be with someone, what would that look like?  Words?  A picture?  A song?  A hug?  A sweater?

Think about it.  What’s your thing to share?  Your gift to give?  What’s your story?  And how is it part of the greater story around us?  How are we sharing it with the world?

 

I love this song.  I actually love Michael W. Smith’s entire Trilogy on the I’ll Lead You Home album.  I know, I know – old school Christian music.  Don’t ask me how something titled Angels Unaware fits with this, but somehow I think we live our stories.  We live who we are in the good, the bad, and the ugly.  On the great days and on the dark days.  Whether there are angels unaware or whether we’re right there in the presence of God – we’ve been created and life breathed into us and a story placed in our hearts and on our lives.  We don’t always have to have it figured out or feel like we’re good enough, but God is faithful to us and we can trust God’s grace and mercy and never-ending love is available to each of us.

I honestly think of this song every time I say, what’s your story?  Matthew West says it well in the Next Thing You Know.

So what’s your story about God’s glory?  How are you letting your life speak to the world?

Those Lights

I’ve really enjoyed the lectionary texts from the past couple weeks that have focused on light.  I’ve always liked Epiphany but even more so this year for some reason.  I appreciate that Epiphany is not just one Sunday that we celebrate those lovely wise folks coming to see the new born King, but that it’s an entire season stretching until the day before Ash Wednesday where we’re all opening our eyes to God around us.  To me that’s pretty significant in our church calendar that this time between the birth of Jesus – the incarnation – and Lent is a time where we a people of the light get a chance to center and focus on that light, opening ourselves to it.

I admit that I’m now watching ABC’s “Off the Map.”  If that makes me a drama and Grey’s Anatomy lovin’ television watcher than so be it.  I like the concept that these three doctors have come to this jungle to get away from whatever they have left back home and yet they seem to face these same fears and concerns no matter how far they have run.  In the first episode the three newbies gather and realize that the doctors that hired them had done their homework on each of their back stories.  The guy of the group says, “So much for a blank slate!”

I think sometimes we feel like that.  “So much for a blank slate!”  We wish that everything would just go away and be wiped clean.  The thing is though that community and church is not just about slates being wiped clean although it does say Jesus scatters our sins from the east to the west.  But there’s something about people loving each other in spite of the flaws and the crud.  There’s something about folks sharing in that refuge and safe place and being that harbor for each other whether it’s in the good, the bad, or the ugly.

Sometimes that being there for one another is letting go of a past wound or hurt.  Sometimes it’s acknowledging and saying outloud a secret that has kept us bound and stuck, whether it be our own, a family secret, or a burden we just kept on carrying.  Sometimes it’s admitting that we may not have it all figured out and we really struggle in some areas.  Sometimes it’s confessing something and seeking reconciliation.  Sometimes it’s just being open to where the Spirit of God leads.

It amazes me that at the times we are the most down or low or hopeless/helpless/spent – these are the times that often the light starts to break into those cloudy days.  There’s just something about that light that no matter how dark it may get – it breaks in.  We watched the movie TRON last night.  I know, I know – not the most high brow or Oscar worthy – but it was really surprisingly good and we didn’t want anything that would make us think to much at the end of a long Sunday.  I never saw the original but I really liked this one.  Part of the beauty of the story is that one of the characters had never really seen the sun.  She had no idea what that would look like.  She had read about it in books, true, but if you think about it – if you had no concept of what the sun is – how do you describe it?  The warmth, the light, that it’s practically everywhere, that it moves and shifts and changes.

There’s something unexplainable about the light but there’s something incredibly powerful.  In these days after the shooting in Tuscon, as we think about what it means to be community and shelter for one another as the Jars of Clay song talks about that I’ve mentioned before, I think about all of us holding candles together as one.  All of us lifting those candles as one.  That’s a powerful sight.  That it’s our collective voice, our collective being – lighting up as one.  Not “Lord in your mercy, hear my prayers” but “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.”  That we as community as a fellowship of believers lift each other up, we rejoice with each other, we mourn with each other, we keep telling each other to press on.

In that same episode from “Off the Map” (I know, I know) the main doctor says at the end to one of the new girls who’s figuring out why’s she there to look at the Southern Cross.  They’re a set of stars that look like a cross in the sky (yes, I wikipedia-ed it so it’s sort of legit).  He talks about how Magellan used the Southern Cross.  He knew that even if he was lost, he knew that if he found that in the sky, he would make his way back home.  All he had to do was keep on going.  So he tells her, “Keep on going.”

Now I know that there are times when we don’t want to “Keep on going.”  There are times when we think we can’t keep on going, much less want to.  But there are people and songs and scriptures and even those sometimes annoying bumper stickers that are lights that pop out along our way that help light our path to keep on going.  There is a shelter of people that help us to keep on going.  And that’s not just with a slate wiped clean, because you can’t escape and dodge forever, but that’s with all of who we are and are yet to be.

So are we those lights for others?  Are we ready to welcome people?  Are we ready to open our arms and our hearts and our eyes?  Are we as the Church/church ready to offer a refuge, a harbor, a light to those in a world raging?  Or do we just look like a big blob of dark with all of our “stuff” that sometimes gets in the way?

One of my favorite songs off of the new Jars of Clay “Shelter” CD (i know i can’t stop listening to it) is one called “Small Rebellions.”  Sadly there are no youtube videos that I can find out there yet.  But the words are below.

“God of the break and shatter – Hearts in every form still matter – In our weakness help us see – That alone we’ll never be – Lifting any burdens off our shoulders – If our days could be filled with small rebellions – senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – if we stand in between the fear and firm doundation – push against the current and the fall – God of the worn and tattered – All of your people matter – Give us more than words to speak – ‘Cause we are hearts and arms that reach – And Love climbs up and down the human ladder – Give us days to be filled with small rebellions – Senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all – If we stand between the fear and firm foundation – Push against the current and the fall – We will never walk alone again – No, we will never walk alone.”

I’m glad that we don’t walk alone.  That there are lights along our way guiding us home and that we can be lights to the world.  Open our eyes Lord that we may see the ways that we can grasp hold of your light today that the world may see and know…

Psalm 27:1, 4-9, Isaiah 9:1-4

December 26th anticipating the New Year

(Post was written for a newsletter on December 26th)

The 12 Days of Christmas leading towards Epiphany continue on but already it feels like the season is beginning to pass as the debate begins on when to take down decorations and as new “things” have found their way into our homes.  Questions swirl in the mind both wondering – How are we going to fit all these toys in this house? And thankful – How good does it feel to finally get new kitchen towels after 8 years of marriage?  It feels good by the way.  This season is definitely a time to catch up with friends and family whether through visits, calls, or Christmas cards, but for me it also seems to be a time of reflection, taking stock, or working on things that might have slipped my attention during a busy semester.

I’m sitting here eating a chocolate covered marshmallow Santa as I type this and I’m thinking how ironic it is to talk at all about looking ahead and resolutions and New Year’s as I’m staring down at a bowl of Christmas candy.  So what will your resolutions be this year?  Do you do them?  I had a student a couple years ago that seriously did them and wrote them down and taped them up beside her computer.  Go her!  I’ve thought about it before and I guess have attempted a time or to, but I was much better at keeping “resolutions” while in an accountability group with some peers in college or as a Lenten practice.  In my mind why do we wait til certain times of the year to start making a change in our life?  Take for example me eating this bowl full of candy.  I can tell myself, hey – you better eat it now because come January 1st you’re not going to do this anymore.  Or I can just say, hey – if you eat more than one of those chocolate Santa’s you’re going to have a stomach ache and by the way – why are you always eating so much chocolate?  Maybe you should get more sleep or should do a little exercise.

I know, I know.  Enough with the inner monologue.  The thing about the Christian walk is that we don’t just evaluate and assess our lives once or twice a year.  We’re not just counted as naughty or nice once a year either.  This is a walk, a journey, and something that often takes some perseverance, faith and a whole lot of grace.   Sometimes we’re discouraged.  Sometimes we’ve had enough.  Sometimes it’s been a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, a bad year.  Sometimes we don’t know how we’ll pick up the pieces or where to begin.  But begin we will with the love and grace of God that is always sufficient if we but ask.

 I am reminded of the movie, The Sound of Music, another holiday favorite that I love.  When Maria comes back to the abbey not quite knowing what to do, and Mother Superior says, “Our abbey is not to be used as an escape.  What is it you can’t face?  You must find out.  You must go back.  Maria, these walls were not built to shut out problems.  You have to face them.  You have to live the life you were born to live.”  With the help of God we can face both the small and the most humungous of bumps in the road.  In this season of ponderings may we take a deep, hard look at the lives we are living and may we live them more abundantly and more hopefully in the love of Christ.  May we see the challenges of our days as opportunities to grow and learn.  May we know that making a change – creating a new habit or letting go of one – is not something that’s once a year, but we can keep climbing that mountain with a Savior that walks with us every day.  Listen to wonderful Mother Superior.  Listen to the Spirit of God alive and speaking to your heart.

“Climb Every Mountain”

Climb every mountain,

Search high and low,

Follow every byway,

Every path you know.

Climb every mountain,

Ford every stream,

Follow every rainbow,

‘Till you find your dream.

A dream that will need

All the love you can give,

Every day of your life

For as long as you live.

Climb every mountain,

Ford every stream,

Follow every rainbow,

Till you find your dream