Sunday, April 17, 2022

Weeping at the Tomb


I awakened this Easter hours before daybreak. It’s not because I am preparing to attend a “sunrise service.” I’m not. The church I serve will meet today at 10, our normal time for gathering on Sundays.

This is our third Easter since our community went into pandemic mode. On the first Easter, we met on Zoom and there were many tears shed. Last year, we met outdoors in person. We simply hosted a party for the neighborhood. It was a blast but some of the members of our congregation wondered “when church was going to start” and apparently we disappointed them.

This morning, I am ready for another in-person gathering that will look a little more like normal. We’ll gather outdoors for a little while at the beginning but then we’ll head into the sanctuary to sing, hear the story together, reflect upon it, and pray.

As I think about the way our ministry has changed over the past two years, it is heartbreaking to me to acknowledge that we have let so many people down. That’s not the sort of thing you want to hear from a pastor on Easter Sunday, but it’s the truth.

Our church decided to approach the pandemic as an opportunity to experiment with different ways of being. I suppose every church has had to do that to some extent, but the sad news about our little congregation is that, despite our efforts to innovate…the church seems to be dying.

We’re all tired. So tired. Grieving the loss of what we once knew. Confused, frustrated, and sometimes angry. All the feelings you would expect to feel…in grief.

This Easter, I feel like a failure. That’s the God-honest truth.

In Scripture, we are told that some women made their way to the tomb “at dawn on the first day of the week,” not long after they had laid Jesus to rest just before sunset the previous Friday.

In the apostle John’s account, Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb weeping when she sees that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb and Jesus’ body has gone missing.

That is what I feel like this Easter.

But as I am wakeful this morning, and the sun has yet to rise, I am cherishing the collective memory of Jesus’ appearance to her in the garden by the tomb. She thinks he’s the gardener at first. Until he asks her why she is weeping and speaks her name.

So, this morning, I am speaking with my Lord in my own inner garden. Asking him to tend the ground of my entire being with care. Asking him to see my tears and open the ears of my heart so I can hear him speak my name.

And I’m asking him to heal this world. And I’m asking him to help me be even a small part of that healing work, to share his resurrected life and his renewing love with others. I’m asking him for faith. I’m asking him for fresh hope. I’m asking him for rest not only for myself on this day after the Sabbath but the rest of his peace for our entire society and for creation herself. Start with me, Lord, but let the rest of your resurrection usher in a new dawn, a new day, the reign of grace and joy and all things bright and beautiful.

Lord, make it so. Deliver us from the clutches of death, even if it means something needs to die for your love to rise.

………………..

Weeping at the Tomb

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Orkhan Farmanli via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

 

 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

I had Jesus over for dinner on Tuesday and his pronouns were

I had Jesus over for dinner on Tuesday and his pronouns were
they, them, and theirs,
she, her, and hers,
we, us, and ours.

She took this picture of me in the kitchen,
then she told me I didn’t really have time
to post it on Instagram.
I did it, anyway.
We made pancakes.
It was Fat Tuesday.
We laughed a ton—
it had been a while since we’d all been together—
it was so damn good to be together again!
They came bearing gifts like
berries and homemade pickles
and microbrew beer.

He told jokes and wore yellow-rimmed glasses
and plays Wordle and we teased each other.
She was in third grade and had long green hair,
she was one and she cut her pancakes in little squares
so she could eat them more easily,
she had just learned to walk,
she was retired from her life in the theatre,
and wandered out to the kitchen
where the griddle was hot,
and I put a fresh cake on her blue plate,
and she commented how nice it was
to have a meal made for her for once
because she’s used to having to cook for herself
and everyone else all the time.

They’re vegans.
We made almond-flour pancakes
with applesauce in the batter and no eggs.
She said we didn’t have to do that,
but we said we wanted to,
and, besides, we all thought
the vegan pancakes were better, anyway.

He’s a mother and a professor,
an animal lover and a dog-walker,
a graphic designer and a bagger,
a middle-schooler and a musician.
They’re going on a cruise, him and her,
just the two of them—
their first time in the Caribbean—
a music festival on a ship,
and he only has to play two shows the whole time.

She knew who The Mavericks were
and loves them.
She was the first one there
and the last one to leave.
She helped us do the dishes
after the others had gone and
we gave her a ride home.

She speaks Spanish.
Denmark and Greece and Texas are in their blood.
Russia and Ukraine, too.
She asked if we could have a moment of silence.
We paused to remember
two years of mask mandates,
five days of war,
millions of deaths,
hundreds of thousands of refugees,
multiple fears, and
one brave hope.

She said that was the quietest this bunch had ever been together
and we laughed again after the silence.
And that’s how we made me believe again
that Jesus could be
she and he,
and them and us—
because at our pancake dinner on Fat Tuesday
they showed me that
Jesus could also be
me and mine—
because somehow…
and I can’t explain it…
I need them to be me
if they are going to become we and us and
we are ever going to be
my All in All.

…………………………

I had Jesus over for dinner on Tuesday and his pronouns were
by Troy Cady

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

my Refuge

You are my shelter,
my refuge, Lord.
When it feels like
the world is caving in,
Your love is
my safe place.
In You and You alone
I find all beauty,
truth and goodness.
My heart—
hidden in Your heart—
Your life, my life.
Under the cover
of Your wings
I sing to You.
Alone with You
I am never alone.
Here with You
I hear Your promise
and Your Word
quiets my heart.
Here with You
I find rest,
the perfect rest
of Your loving presence,
my refuge,
my refuge,
my refuge.

……………….

my Refuge
by troy cady
 
Photo from the Boston Public Library via Unsplash.
Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What is Worship?


At our church here in Chicago, we have been talking about the nature and purpose of worship. I was asked to respond to the question that is the focus of this essay: "What is worship?" Here are my thoughts. I hope they are helpful to someone! -Troy

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What is Worship?

reflections by Rev. Troy B. Cady

 

           

Intro & Thesis

 

What is worship? There is no easy answer to this question; however, we could start by acknowledging that to worship God is to glorify God.

 

But that begs the question: what does it mean to glorify God and how do we glorify God?

           

I suggest that, at its core, worship is devotion; whatever captivates your greatest devotion is what you worship. To worship is to love; a life lived in love for God and others is what brings God glory. To live in love is to worship God.

 

In this essay, I look at what the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles of the New Testament have to say about worship as I describe various forms of false and pseudo-worship in hopes of helping us understand worship in terms of devotion to God, love for God and love for others. 

 

The nature and forms of idolatry

To see how worship and devotion go hand-in-hand, let’s take a step back from the question of God-worship. It is possible to worship something that is not God or someone other than God. The Bible identifies this as idolatry.

            Whatever you are devoted to the most in life…that is what you worship. The fact is: many Christians in America today are more devoted to their political philosophy than they are to God. It is easy to make an idol of politics.

            Still others are most devoted to upholding a certain vision of family life. Though God desires us to be nurtured in the context of loving community, when we insist that such a community must look a certain way, we have made our ideal of family into an idol.

            In a similar way, if you devote your life to the accumulation of wealth, you worship riches. If you are most devoted to achieving society’s standards of success or popularity, you are really worshipping some arbitrary ideal of accomplishment or the ever-elusive high of gaining fame and human esteem. The sobering truth about worship in our society today is that humans have perfected the art of finding almost anything else to worship if it means they can avoid devoting their entire selves to God. 

 

Some common Christian idols

Ironically, a common object of worship for many Christians is the Bible. Let’s face it: when we would rather just talk about what the Bible says than to devote ourselves to God and practice God’s way of love for others, we are really worshipping the Bible…not God.

            In the same vein, Christians are even capable of worshipping the idea of worship. We do this most commonly by defining worship in reduced terms, equating it to the act of singing “worship” songs with other believers once a week (typically on a Sunday morning for about an hour). Many Christians have come to worship worship by insisting their worship be offered in a certain way and with a certain style. If it is not in our preferred form (usually singing) and style (usually a particular genre of music), it doesn’t feel very worshipful to us. This is not to diminish the value of singing our devotion to God; it is simply to remind us that worship is so much more than singing.

            I think one of the saddest expressions I have ever heard in my life is when Christians talk about the “worship wars” that take place in the church today, as if worship is something to fight about. When we start fighting about worship, we could well wonder whether we have, in fact, stopped worshipping God. 

 

What Jesus says about true worship

In John 4, Jesus addressed our propensity to substitute God-worship with the worship of the trappings of religion itself. In this text, a Samaritan woman asks Jesus where (and, consequently, how) the true God-worshipper should worship. Jesus’ reply is telling. He says that true worship is not about where you go to worship (“neither on this mountain [in Samaria] nor in Jerusalem”), but true worship is about the spirit.

            In other words, the real place of worship is in your heart. Worship is simply the act of devoting our hearts (the entirety of our being) to God. 

 

To worship is to love God

This picture of true worship coincides with what is perhaps the greatest confession of all time. Significantly, it is a confession that has been used for millennia in communal worship settings

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

                                                                                                            (Dt. 6:4-5)

 

            Perhaps the best way to define worship, then, is to define it in terms of loving God. After all, to love God is to cultivate our devotion to God. As such, this confession to love God with all of our everything represents the height and depth, the breadth and length of our worship to God. To the extent that we love God in everything and with everything—to that extent—we worship God. 

 

Where and when to worship

It is no mere accident that the text in Deuteronomy 6 goes on to describe where we are to practice loving God with our everything. Not surprisingly, the location of this kind of devotion is…everywhere. And the time is…all the time: “…when you sit at home…when you walk along the road…when you lie down…and when you get up.” More than the tabernacle, the temple, the synagogue, or the church building, the text tells us that the true place of worship is in “your hearts.” In other words, every place and every time is a place and time to worship. As the poet Wendell Berry says, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

 

How (not) to worship

But how do we show our love for God? There are many ways to do this but the Bible is clear that one can do many religious things to express one’s devotion to God while still missing the very heart of worship.

            God addressed this with these words spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 

“These people come near to me with their mouth

    and honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me

    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Is. 29:13)

 

            In light of God’s never-failing love from one generation to the next, it stands to reason that really all God ever wants from us is to show our worship of him by simply loving him in return. More than our songs, more than our tithes, and more than our study of the Bible…God just wants us to love him in return. If those religious activities help us to love God, great; but church history has shown that Christians can be very good at practicing their religion while at the same time failing to love. While it is true that love for God is often expressed through musical praise, generous giving, and listening for God’s voice by meditating on Scripture, it does not follow that these activities are inherently acts of true worship. True worship is a matter of the heart, not a matter of mere ritual performance.

            This is why Jesus echoed the refrain from Isaiah 29 when he addressed the Pharisees of his day. His words to them were bold because the Pharisees were the ones who were regarded as the most devoted to God, the true God-worshippers. But Jesus exposed their hypocrisy by appealing to the heart of worship in their own tradition. In short, Jesus wanted them to see how they were very good at doing all kinds of religious things for love of God, but had, in fact, neglected love for their neighbor.

            In Matthew 15, Jesus identifies how the Pharisees even used their own devout religious observance as an excuse to mistreat their own parents in old age. In Matthew 23, he describes how the Pharisees faithfully tithed as an act of worship but “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” He admonishes them: “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”    

            Jesus’ critique, then, gives us a clear answer as to the best way to show your love for God: it is to love your neighbor. 

 

How the apostles describe worship as love

The apostle Paul describes this very dynamic when he says that the entire law is summed up in one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

            That is quite a striking statement. In essence, he is telling us that if we can only keep that one command, we will also be keeping the command to love God. But…how could this be? Could it really be that simple? All we need to do to love God is to love our neighbor?

            The apostle John explains (in refreshingly simple terms) how this could be so: 

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (I John 4:16, 19-21; italics added)

 

            For this reason, any act of service you render to your neighbor is an act of service to God himself. To put it another way: to serve another is to render worship to God. That means…when we share food with the hungry, we are really worshipping God; when we companion the lonely, we are really worshipping God; and when we help heal the infirm, we are really worshipping God. Anything you do to love your neighbor…you are doing as an act of love for God.

  

Worship: living for God’s glory and neighbor’s good

In the local church where I serve, we often like to say that the church exists “for God’s glory and neighbor’s good.” It’s a lovely sentiment, but Jesus, and Paul, and John take this idea a step further. They tell us that when we live for neighbor’s good, we are really living for God’s glory.

            Again, the prophet Isaiah speaks to this: 

“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

    ‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

    and you have not noticed?’

 

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife…

    Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

    only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

    a day acceptable to the Lord?

 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

    and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

                          (Isaiah 58:3-8; italics added)

 

            It is important to notice that this text about the true worship that happens when we love our neighbor concludes with an image of God’s glory breaking forth like the dawn. If worshipping God means glorifying God, this text helps us make the connection that the glory of God breaks forth when (and only when) we worship God truly by loving our neighbor.

            I was saddened the other day when a friend told me an experience she had one Sunday at a church she attended. After the service, all kinds of people were trying to get out of the parking lot when a man in a large luxury car became upset at her for getting in his way. He was so upset he told her to f*** off with his middle finger raised at her. And this is just one example. As a pastor, I have seen firsthand how church people can enjoy a lovely worship service one hour and the next treat their fellow congregants or pastoral leaders like dirt without so much as an apology ever being offered. What a sham we have made of the idea of worship! How we have cheapened it. When churches have lovely worship services but church members do not even share God’s love with each other, what is happening in the church service cannot really be called worship. Our true worship is displayed in learning to love one another and extending that love to all. 

 

In conclusion: God’s glory and the common good

In contrast, I want to conclude now by sharing with you a story that illustrates just one of many ways God’s glory breaks forth when we simply serve the common good. It was a conversation I had just this week with a small group of people I know. One of the group members happens to be a teenage girl who wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, advocating for sane measures in school policies in hopes of protecting the vulnerable in the midst of the pandemic.

            As we shared our elation with her on being published in such a prestigious newspaper, we returned to the theme of worship that we have been learning about for some weeks now. And I mentioned to her that advocating as she did for the sake of others was really an act of devotion to God, a way of worshipping God. She said that hadn’t occurred to her but, as she thought about it more, she became animated and excited. I wish you could have seen the glow on her face as she took in the good news of that truth—that anything we do can be done as worship unto the Lord.

            This young woman really knows what it means to worship. She knows firsthand that we really can worship God with our everything at all times and in all places and in all kinds of ways. All we need to do…is love.

            Since God himself is love, may we always remember that the very glory of God is the life lived in love. Let us worship God, then, in spirit and in truth. Let us live in love. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

the new birth

Today my hope is that we will all "remember Love in the mess of our lives for the rest of our lives."



Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Joy, the Poustinik and their Poustinia



This month my prayer book includes small excerpts from a non-fiction work called ‘Poustinia’ by Catherine de Hueck Doherty.

‘Poustinia’ is a Russian word meaning ‘desert,’ but the book is about the value of seeking solitude and silence for one’s own spiritual wellbeing, in the spirit of the great Desert Mothers and Fathers of old. In those days, a hermit would establish residency in a far-off place…like a desert place or deep in a secluded spot in the forest. They did this to practice being alone with God and keeping silence, so they could listen more intently for God’s voice.

In Russia, a person who does this is called a ‘poustinik’ and their dwelling place is called a ‘poustinia.’ Of course, one needn’t physically retreat to a place like this if one wants to commune with God (though it helps), so Catherine de Hueck Doherty wrote her book in hopes of helping everyday people like me and you practice the spirit of ‘desert spirituality’ right where we are from one day to the next.

Often, we think of the practice of silence and solitude as abhorrent, unnecessarily severe, and undesirably ascetic. In much of North American culture, there is a value for popularity and for those who have a way with words. Our airwaves and television programs are filled with constant chatter and talking. Rarely do we stop to practice being fully and simply present to ourselves, the world, and God just through sitting in silence for any significant amount of time. It is as if the moment there is a bit of silence, we quickly and eagerly feel the need to fill it with something else.

We have become so accustomed to the noise that even when we begin to practice silence, our mind instantly fills with thoughts…words, words, and more words…and our heart cannot be at rest, at peace with stillness. Our body may be stilled, but inside we are racing…going, going, and going all the time.

But this way of living robs us of joy. It keeps us from cultivating the kind of peace that penetrates deep to the core of our very being. It blocks us from truly knowing our own profound beloved-ness and the intrinsic beloved-ness of others. In the end, it hinders us from being loved and loving.

Far from making someone stern…cold and stand-offish…the practice of silence-in-solitude opens us up to the world and fills us with the joy of knowing love in the very depths of our being. This is why Catherine de Hueck Doherty writes these words in her book about the way of the ‘poustinia’:

“If you ever see a sad hermit or poustinik, then he is no hermit at all. The most joyous persons in Russia are the ones who have the eyes of a child at 70 and who are filled with the joy of the Lord, for they who have entered the silence of God are filled with God’s joy….You cannot fool people as to such things as the presence of love and joy in a human being.”

My invitation to you this holiday season is to take some time…out of the normal hustle and bustle…to just sit in silence and savor it, rather than filling the silence with something else. Just breathe. Just be. Cultivate joy and peace deep within just by knowing that God is present and loves you, just by being present to the time you have and the space you inhabit.

……………………………

Joy, the Poustinik and their Poustinia
reflections by troy cady
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*Photo by Brett Jordan via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

stand still



Stand still.
You don’t have to keep moving.
You don’t have to make something happen.
God’s gentleness is strong enough to hold you.

Why are we always so anxious
to go somewhere…anywhere else
but right here, right now?
In whatever wherever
you happen to be,
there is the Presence of love,
the Presence that caught up
with your running.
It is here in this place
that God whispers,
“Stand still.
Just be with me.
I Am.”

Why are we always trying
to keep up with the world?
Come out of the frantic swirl.
Just give it a rest.
Find what’s best
in the stillness.

Before all your seeking
there was One who sought you,
One who endures,
who was and is and is to come,
the Ground of Being.
Take off your shoes.
Feel the fertile ground.
Stand still where you are.
Return to the Center.
Hear the soft sound
of this grounding.
Close your eyes
to open yourself
to see the beauty
full peace of earth.

………………..

stand still
by troy cady
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*Photo by Merri J via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.