Thursday, January 28, 2021

We are one in the Spirit


John 4:24 CEB

God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”

This really struck me this morning.  All these months that we have been having to worship online, many have been calling what we are doing “Virtual worship.”  I think we would be more accurate in calling it “worshipping in spirit and truth.”

Although we are not physically together, the act of worship, even on YouTube, brings us together in spirit.  It becomes something much bigger than the 30 or 40 people who used to gather on Sunday mornings because it reaches out to persons who do not, for whatever reasons, go to an actual physical church but seek spiritual community.  That spiritual community gathering online reminds us that we are not alone, even if we are by ourselves as we sit in front of TVs and computer screens with our candle, bread and cup.  When we share the cup with the Elder on the screen, we are sharing not just with Jesus, but also with people we cannot see, but of whose presence we can be assured, if for no other reason than because we can see that there are other devices connected to the service at the same time we are.  

We will all be doing worship a bit differently from one another.  We might be attending online worship in sweats or pajamas instead of “Sunday Clothes” and lounging on the couch instead of sitting up straight in a wooden pew.  We might sing along with the Sanctuary Singers or simply listen to their voices.  But however we present ourselves for online worship, in spirit and in truth we are in God’s presence. 

When we do return to in person worship, we will continue to offer that online connection to those who cannot be with us physically, so that we may continue to worship in spirit and in truth in a much greater community.

Glorious God, we are so grateful that we are able to come into your presence on Sunday mornings.  May we remember that, even though separated by current events, we are all one community at worship, in spirit and in truth. Amen.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Here’s mud in your eye

 John 9:15. NRSV

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

National Public Radio has been doing stories on hymns lately.  Today I listened to a story about the efforts of Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina to make the hymn “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” the national hymn.  Not like a new national anthem, but a hymn that speaks to all persons.  It was written in 1899 to speak to the suffering of Blacks in the decades following the Civil War.  Since 1919 it has been the official hymn of the NAACP, leading to it becoming known as the Black National Anthem.  Today, Rep. Clyburn says, the words could help to bring the country together without taking anything away from “The Star Spangled Banner.”  I love that hymn.  The first time I heard it was at that first MLK parade I attended - the one where I saw sororities and fraternities Stepping for the first time.  

They are also doing a longer report on the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  I haven’t heard the whole report yet, but just thinking about that song always soothes my soul.  Singing it brings tears to my eyes, every time.  

I didn’t learn hymns in church.  We did sing a few pieces of music now and then, but they were in Latin and were an integral part of the mass.   I learned hymns at Bluegrass Festivals.  Sunday mornings were always dedicated to Gospel music and hymns like this one.  I loved this music and started learning the songs, singing along with the likes of Mother Maybelle Carter on record albums.  When the little Country band I was part of started playing in a bar that catered to truckers and bikers, our last set - by popular request! - was always Gospel Music and ended with Amazing Grace.  

Then - I quit drinking and drugging.  For anyone who has not done this, it’s hard.  Physically hard at first, but as time goes by the difficulty is more spiritual than physical.  Trying to overcome the obsession in the hours when I couldn’t be at a meeting or with other people in recovery or at work was really hard especially when I was alone.  I started singing Amazing Grace while driving my car.  The words spoke directly to my heart.  They spoke my Truth.  They removed the obsession, at least for a little while.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. 

I once was lost but now I’m found.  Was blind but now I see.

In the years since then have learned lots of different ways to sing Amazing Grace using different tunes and different tempos.  But the original version is still the one I sing when I am alone, when things are hard.  And it still makes me cry tears of gratitude for that grace.

Loving God, thank you for the grace you have poured out upon me.  It truly is amazing that you care about every person on the planet, every person who has ever lived or ever will live, even me.  Help me continue to see, just as Jesus helped the blind man.  Amen.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Wait for it


Psalm 31:24. NRSV

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,

    all you who wait for the Lord.

Waiting.  Ugh.   I do not like to wait for things.  I suspect most of us don’t like it much.  But sometimes the thing is worth the wait.  As Aaron Burr sang in the Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, 

Life doesn't discriminate

Between the sinners and the saints

It takes and it takes and it takes

And we keep living anyway

We rise and we fall and we break

And we make our mistakes

And if there's a reason I'm still alive

When so many have died

Then I'm willin' to

Wait for it...

We have been waiting for months . . 

for a vaccine

for in person worship and school

for pedicures and haircuts

for life to return to some semblance of “normal”

We know that most of these things will still take a while, but we can take courage knowing that God is with us. God is handling all of these things, guiding our scientists in research and our leaders in finding ways to get vaccines into arms and money into pockets, for our jobs and businesses to come back.  If we have faith we can wait for it.  We can keep doing the best we can until change for the better becomes reality.  In the words of R&B artist Ant Clemons’ song Better Days, “Better’s ahead.”

Gracious God, we don’t do waiting well.  We want everything right now.  Help us to know that better’s ahead and that you have everything in control.  Help us to wait for it.  Amen

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

This is a test.


James 1:2-3. Common English Bible

My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

Tests.  Yes.  There have been tests galore here lately.  But somehow each one has brought joy.  Just to name a couple:

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.  A day I think about racism and the fight for civil rights and his assassination.  When I have to confront my own privilege - again.   I read an opinion piece recently the author of which was worried because neighborhoods near a street named for MLK tend to have very high rates of poverty.  Well, duh.  Why do you think most of those streets were re-named for Dr. King?   Because they were in or very near Black communities.  But whenever I think about all the different MLK celebrations I have attended, all the church services and scholarship award ceremonies and parades, the singing and the speechifying, I always think about my very favorite MLK Day - the year I was asked to assist the judges for Stepping groups in a parade.  I’d never seen Stepping before and was blown away by the joy and exhilaration I was seeing in all the various groups.  I had no idea how the judges could choose between them.  Since then I have seen Stepping in other parades and celebrations, but also in churches.  Wow - talk about energizing worship!  Such joy!  I get happy just thinking about it.

Covid19.  A pandemic.  400,000+ people have already died in the US since the first cases were diagnosed a year ago.  We are locked down, stuck at home, isolated from one another, and humans don’t do isolation well. It has tested everything - our medical systems, economic systems, family systems, supply chains.  But creativity has blossomed.  When we had to stop meeting for worship in person we started figuring out new ways to do that thing Christians have been doing for nearly 2,000 years!   We had to build the airplane while flying it!  There is such joy in doing these new things, in attending several different worship services in one day, bringing people “into” church who didn’t used to show up for whatever reason before we went online.  We learned new ways to include the people we thought of as “homebound” because now ALL of us are homebound!  Such joy has come into our lives - in the midst of a pandemic!  

Tests are occasions for joy.  We can’t always see the joy at the time, but if we are willing to look for it, we can find it.

Loving God, we thank you for the teachers and the learning opportunities you put into our lives.  Even though we may not like tests, we know that joy will come with the testing. Help us to keep that in mind even as we go through the difficulties testing can bring.  We pray these things through our teacher, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

True Lies

1 John 4:20-21. CEB

Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

When I read this today I sat back in surprise when I saw the bald statement that these people are liars.  That is really pretty strong language.  I would be more likely to say they are mistaken, or that they need to examine their hearts for a different/better interpretation of what love is. But liars?  Is it a lie if you really believe it?  Is it a lie if you are telling the truth so far as you know it? 

Well, yes.  Belief in an untrue statement or position does not make it true.  

There are those who claim they “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  This often leads them to seek ways to deal with the sin which are not loving by any stretch of the imagination.  Some refuse to allow persons they consider sinners to be part of their congregation unless they stop practicing whatever the sin is.  Addicts, known criminals, gang members, members of the LGBTQ+ community and others who are metaphorical “prostitutes and tax collectors” are excluded from the congregation.  I know of a couple being kicked out of a church where they had been faithful members for decades because someone looking in their window saw them dancing in their living room to celebrate a wedding anniversary. That congregation believed that dancing is a sin, therefore  . . . Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater!  

The thing is, these folks truly believe that what they are doing in the name of hating the sin is loving.  It is not.

A woman I knew was welcomed into a congregation with open arms when she became sober, but after a relapse the pastor called her to the front and chastised her publicly.  This was hateful.  The loving thing would have been to offer her support or counseling, to seek ways to help her overcome her alcoholism - to help her heal physically and spiritually.

It seems to me that the primary test of what the loving response should be is to treat others as you would have them treat you. You know, that whole “love your neighbor as you love yourself” thing.   If the way we seek to deal with sin is to heal the sinner instead of hurting them, we are probably doing the loving thing.  

Please note: Everyone is a sinner.  God loves and forgives us. We must endeavor to do the same.

Gracious God, I love you.  Help me to seek the path of love always.  Grant that I might speak words of  truth that heal division.  Grant that I might truly love all of my siblings, as you love me.  Amen

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Feathery things

Romans 5:5. NIV

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

The first Sunday of Advent was Hope Sunday, and ever since then I have been running across writings on hope - in Scripture, in poetry, in friends’ sermons.  Today, “hope does not put us to shame . .”  My immediate thought was that this was about other people thinking there is something wrong with us if we look for the best in other humans or look toward the future with hope, as if there is something shameful about being hopeful. 

Yet, hope is what sustains us in troubling times.  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

Emily Dickinson

Right now we are living in troubling times.  Hope is what allows us to see a path to a good outcome.  Hope is what allows us to see a path toward reconciliation between all of the varying  and opposing parties to our current state of national division.  Faith is what tells us that God will make a way where there is no way.  Because . . . 

Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Daily (ish)


Matthew 6:11 NRSV

Give us this day our daily bread. 

Among all the other daily meditations I get is one titled Daily Zen.  It used to offer short very Zen sounding statements or poems about such things as sitting on a mountain near a tree with a breeze blowing or something equally calming.  They were the kind of statement you can focus on during meditation, which I’m pretty sure was the point.  Then a new person started providing the content.   I noticed the different name on the email, but I would have known it was a new person even if there was no name attached.  The poems and writings kept getting longer, too long to use as a meditation focus, so that was a problem.  But worse, my Daily Zen started showing up maybe a couple of times a week. 

At first I would simply skip the day’s offering if it looked “too long” which was anything more than about two sentences.  Eventually I noticed that the really long ones tended to be poetry, so I started reading them.  They were still too long to serve as a meditation focus on their own, but they often took me to a place where my mind could jump off into new places.  Even so, taking my cue from my dislike of long quotes, I try to only use one or two verses as a place to focus for my daily own meditation posts.

About those Daily Meditation posts.   I tell you about Daily Zen because I know that the Daily part of Daily Meditation isn’t happening quite as it could and that could be disappointing or even annoying.  Right this minute I can blame all the busy-ness around all Christmas services we are doing, but that’s not always the case.  Sometimes I’m just too tired to write another word.  Sometimes I get busy with stuff and remember late at night that I hadn’t written a meditation yet that day. And for the two weeks after Christmas I will be hibernating to gather strength for the coming Lenten Season, so there will be no Daily Meditations during that time.

I am quite sure that you all read some daily meditation(s) besides this one, and I encourage you to continue with that practice.  I’ll still be writing Daily (ish) for the rest of this week until Christmas Day.  I will return from my post-Christmas hibernation on January 9th.  

May the blessings of God fall richly upon you. Amen