Friday, November 28, 2014

waiting

It’s time to shop wait.

Sunday marks the beginning of a season that calls us to practice something that is hard for most of us: waiting. It is the season of Advent. The word Advent means “coming” but I suppose we could also call the season “waiting” because that is what we do during Advent. We wait.

For what do we wait? For whom?

We wait for the coming of the Christ.

“But, didn’t he already come?”

Yes, that is what Christians believe. And, yet…we look around and see pain, hunger, corruption, and greed. If Christ, the redeemer, has come…why does the world still look unredeemed?

There are many answers to this question but one answer is: We are still waiting. The king who came...is still coming. This is a mystery in which it seems there are more questions than answers. Christians do not like that. We want answers.

Advent is a time to make friends with unanswered questions. It is a time to quiet the noise so we can hear the questions; it is a time to sit in the midst of the tension those questions create. The tension awakens a longing. The longing cries out, often without words, “Come, Lord.”

…………………..

In our time, Christians quote nativity narratives during this season—we cite the early chapters of Matthew and Luke, with a measure of Isaiah and pinches of the minor prophets thrown into the mix. We like the parts about fulfillment. We like the part where the angels make an announcement to the shepherds.

But what do they announce?

“Peace.”

Do we have peace?

No. When we have peace, we will not read about carjackings and the health care crisis; when we have the peace God intends there will be no such thing as death row and deception.

We are still waiting.

A better text to mark the season can be found in Romans 8:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption…the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”   -Romans 8:22-25

This is not our typical “Christmas season” text but it is well-suited to reality. There is much here to embrace. Slowly savor these formative words and phrases. You have time; we are waiting.

“creation”

“groaning”

“childbirth”

“wait”

“hope”

“wait for it patiently”

…………………………..

I understand that it is important to prepare for Christmas by making sure we have all our gifts purchased in good time, but as we hurry to shop maybe we can also find a way to be quick to wait.

Stillness and simplicity come to mind. This season of waiting is certainly counter-cultural. It is hard to wait, to be still, to pare down activity and shopping.

But it is good for us to do so.

…………………………

The word “redeem” carries with it the idea of “buying.” When Christians say that Jesus is our Redeemer, they mean that Jesus has “bought us back.” We belong to him now.

I think of that scene in Les Miserables where the kind, old priest refuses to charge Jean Valjean with theft. After the police leave, he tells Jean Valjean that he has just bought his life.

That is the picture of what Christ does for us. We are guilty but he buys our innocence.

What mercy! What grace! What freedom! With such a redemption, what more do we need? 

As we hunt for holiday bargains, I invite you to ask this question. It is an uncomfortable question—certainly counter-cultural—but I do believe it is a good question for us.

“With such a redemption, what more do we need?”

……………………………………….

Waiting does not preclude working. During this season of waiting, we consider those aspects of our world that are still “groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” And, we face the hard truth that just sitting and waiting for “the God who is coming” misses the point. In this in-between period we are given work to do.

At the end of the first Advent, Jesus commissioned us to do the work he modeled for us: heal the sick, feed the poor, “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” He modeled forgiveness and grace, mercy and justice. He modeled humility and gentleness. He modeled truth, beauty and goodness—all categories that are up for debate in our departments of Philosophy. (We like to call them metaphysics, aesthetics and ethics to skirt the heart of the matter.)

The model of Jesus, however, is so wonderful because it does two things at once for us—and these two things seem to oppose one another.

On the one hand, the model of Jesus lays to rest the question, “How should we then live?” We have an example in the person of Christ. He shows us how to live. In Jesus, we have a crystal clear picture of truth, beauty and goodness.

On the other hand, the model of Jesus stirs a hornet’s nest in us because it begs the question, “How should we then live?” His model is one of freedom. He gives you the task of discovering how you will uniquely embody his character.

The model of Jesus also stirs us to a hoping kind of action because we see that our lives do not match up to his yet. We see that his will is not done “on earth as it is in heaven”—yet.

And, we see that that is precisely the work he has given us to do. When we say “Amen” at the end of speaking The Lord’s Prayer we are saying, “So be it—and empower us to make it so, to cooperate with God in making it so.” There is a tension implicit in calling out “Amen” because when we say it we are asking God to “make it so” while God’s “Amen” replies: “You make it so.” God’s will is that our will would cooperate with his will.

So, God forgives when we forgive. God feeds the hungry when we feed the hungry. We do not need to wait for God to do this because God has given that task to us.

What does this have to do with Advent?

If it seems like peace is a long time coming, work and wait—and you will see Jesus in the faces around you and—Lord willing—yours.

Advent is a good time for waiting and working…which is to say, hoping and redeeming.

I invite you to make friends with waiting these next four weeks.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

from The Book of Common Prayer

I invite you to pray this with me today.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, 
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks 
for all your goodness and loving-kindness 
to us and to all whom you have made. 
We bless you for our creation, preservation, 
and all the blessings of this life; 
but above all for your immeasurable love 
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; 
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. 
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, 
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, 
not only with our lips, but in our lives, 
by giving up our selves to your service, 
and by walking before you 
in holiness and righteousness all our days; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, 
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen. 


-from The Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

let me pretend that wishing makes it so

Let me pretend that wishing makes it so. I wish…

…your mom could come to celebrate with us tonight. Right now, we’d have a few minutes to catch up before you get home from work. And I’d tell her what she already knew.

“Heather has your compassion for the down-and-out. She makes friends of strangers and family of friends. She’s a hard worker, honest, and real. She’s creative and has a gift for words. She won’t let anyone put her in a box…she’s tough, that one.

“She’s generous. Why, just the other day she was trying to think of a way to give to someone in need.”

Your mom smiles.

“She has your smile, perfectly asymmetrical, curving just to the side.

“She doesn’t give up, ever. And she knows how to fight a good fight. She’s quick to forgive.

“And she’s a great cook, can you tell?” I pat my belly, protruding prominently.

“She loves her some Christmastime and she reminds me she learned that from you. Thanks!

“You’ll be proud of her when you see her, when she comes home.”

I wish…

…I could see you celebrate with your mom tonight. That would be my birthday gift to you. Let me pretend that wishing makes it so.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

save us from the delusion that we have made our own living

Almighty God, we must confess 
your people are the least likely group 
one would expect you to work through. 
It’s as if you have chosen the second string 
of the worst team 
to start the Super Bowl.

We have no skill except what you have given us. 
We have no wealth nor power apart from your grace. 
All that we are and all that we have is simply a gift from you.

So keep us from pride. 
Save us from the delusion that we have made our own living.

Receive our lives as a humble offering. 
To you and you alone be all glory, honor and power.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

a prayer by thomas merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. 
I do not see the road ahead of me. 
I cannot know for certain where it will end. 
Nor do I really know myself, 
and the fact that I think that I am following your will 
does not mean that I am actually doing so. 
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. 
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. 
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road 
though I may know nothing about it. 
Therefore will I trust you always 
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. 
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, 
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 

–from Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

Sunday, November 9, 2014

a wonderful invitation

Yesterday, I had the chance to interact with my son about a wonderful text of Scripture from the book of Revelation. It is the scene portraying the throne room of heaven. The King is seated in the middle. He has the appearance of beautiful stones, an emerald rainbow encircles him. He is surrounded by four winged creatures, each unique, each covered with eyes. They are surrounded by twenty-four elders, dressed in white with gold crowns on their heads. Two phrases stuck out to us:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Revelation 4:11)

and

“Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’” (Revelation 4:8)

Many things could be said about these verses, but we noted a few things:

1. God is worthy of our worship. God is worthy to receive the best of everything there is, the best of everything we are, everything we have to give: glory, honor and power.

2. Worship happens day and night—and never stops.

In light of God’s indescribable worth, it should humble us that God does not impose worship on us. He invites us to worship him, but never forces it on us. To worship God is to love God and love is not an obligation. It is an invitation.

As Nic and I discussed the text, it became apparent to us that worship is, indeed, a privilege. Though it is something God deserves, our worship of God is not a duty, it is an opportunity. Worship is delight. Though there are no explicit words in the text to this effect, it seemed clear to us that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders enjoy worshipping God.

Yes, worship is an invitation and an opportunity. Though it happens day and night, we have a special opportunity one day a week to gather in worship each Sunday. Nic and I talked about that phrase “day and night”. As we talked about worship in terms of honoring God it became apparent to us that anything we do that honors God is worship.

So…if washing the dishes helps others, we honor God. If that is the case, washing dishes can be worship.  Yes, anything can be worship, but still we continued to gravitate to talk about worship as something that happens on Sunday morning when we gather with our local church.

Why is that? I don’t think it’s bad to think of worship that way. But I wonder…what’s so special about Sunday morning?

Well...it is special. When else do we get to worship together like this? It’s a privilege. It’s an opportunity. It’s an invitation to a special celebration. Though washing dishes is no less worshipful, gathering together on Sunday is truly special and different.

That is why we try to give our best in putting thought into the elements that fill our time of gathered worship. At the church I attend here is what happens on any given Sunday:

The musicians come early to practice, the sound technician comes early to work out bugs, the visuals on-screen are prepared. A child comes early to receive instructions on lighting the Christ candle. If you are in the sanctuary two minutes before the service starts here is what you experience:

…there is a short amount of time to get yourself situated; phones are put on silent, bags or books are put in place, coats are taken off. There is time to just breathe.

…the bell chimes, calling us to worship. A few brief words are spoken to call our mind, body, and spirit to worship. There is more time to breathe.

..the bell chimes again and a child walks slowly down the center aisle to light the Christ candle. The child doing this is eager about it. It is special to them. There is time to breathe and smile. There is something joyful about a little one leading us in worship this way.

…you hear words that the candle reminds us Christ is with us. We sing together and later there is a time of simple silence. Again, more time to just breathe, to be loved, to love, to honor God by giving him undivided attention.

So, this is an invitation…if you are a church-goer, I invite you to try practicing this kind of privileged worship for the next three months. Aim to arrive two minutes before gathered worship begins. Get yourself situated.

These commitments may seem small (if hard, for some of us) but they have the effect of yielding a disproportionate amount of fruit for so few seeds. Sowing these small seeds is an opportunity to reinforce that gathered worship is special…a privilege.


Friday, October 17, 2014

glad hope

Do not fear.
God is near,
nearer than a moment’s breath,
closer than the truest friend in death.

Do not fear.
God is here,
a solid path under your feet,
the sun above to warm the day,
the star ahead to guide the way,
behind you in mercy,
within and without in grace.

Are you brokenhearted?
There is a healer.
He is the same
one who made clay
and you are a masterwork
in the making,
soft

and he is shaping
something new
with love moving his hands
and a song swelling
from the depths—
he sings from the gut
strong and sure.
The words have ancient weight
but the tune is ever-new.

These notes you hear,
this music,
is how God breathes
new life into dry dust.
When the pitch is low,
God mourns with you.
He suits the song
to the times,
a companion in sorrow.
But eventually,
when we are fully alive,
we will rise with
God’s wind in our lungs—
souls filled with glad hope.

Look! There is a child
dancing and laughing.
Do not fear.
God is near.






glad hope
a poem by troy cady