Friday, September 23, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-On Time

My baseball coach in college had a saying that I'm certain you've heard me use before.

It goes something like this:

If you're on time, you're late. 

As we talked about at Kirk Night this past week, context matters in regards to 'teachings.'

Coach said this usually at the start of every season. Of course the season started in August when practices were held late in the afternoon after classes and lasted late into the evening.

However, this adage took on new meaning, was recited louder and more often by coach when practiced returned in January. 

At 5:30 in the morning. 

But these practices weren't fun. They were the conditioning practices. The running until you felt nauseous and sitting on the wall until you were certain your legs would explode off your body. 

Oh, did I mention this was at 5:30 in the morning?

That is A.M. Not P.M. 

In January. 

When it is cold out. 

Before the sun even thinks about waking up. 
Before breakfast is served. 

"If you're on time, you're late."

College kids having practice at 5:30 in the morning expected to arrive more than 1 minute till in the coldest part of winter?

It is no wonder why "If you're on time, you're late" has been a mantra ever since. 

Which is what I love about worship at First Presbyterian Church. We have this line in our bulletin just above the beginning of the liturgy that expresses this same sentiment. Many of you know it by heart. It says,
As you enter the Sanctuary, we invite you to make the transition from "getting here" to "being here". Take these moments of quite time to come fully into the presence of God and the faith community. May you come to know the love of God, be transformed by Christ proclaimed, and leave with the promised Spirit to proclaim Love to the world. Thank you for making sure your cell phone is off during the worship hour."

Unlike Coach Carlson, if you show up on time to worship, we won't make you run sprints. 

This post isn't about that.

Instead, it is celebrating how important it is to find those times to dwell in God's presence without the distractions we carry around. I love how those lines invite us to take a breath and move away from the demands of life and move toward the refreshing and life giving breath of God.

You aren't there anymore.

You are here now. 

With me.

With us.

With God.  

After all, God isn't up there, She is right here--God with us. 

As I mentioned, "If you're on time, your'e late" has become a part of my life's philosophy. 

Often I show up way too early to appointments and meetings, leaving me playing on my cell phone and burning through data (that's a post and sermon for another time). But sometimes, when the phone is on silent and not attached to my hip, beauty surprises me. And because I left early, I can take my time to enter into this gift. 

Like the other night when I was heading to a meeting and the sunset was beautiful. The dust from the tractors in the fields brought out a color in the sky that left me speechless. I had time. So I took the nearest exit, pulled safely off the road, and snapped the photo of something I've seen multiple times in my life time...and yet it never gets old:

Friends, we all have our own patterns and habits. Some of them are so ingrained in us not even an encounter with a burning bush can change them. However, sometimes taking just a few moments to get from 'there' to 'here', is just enough time to see the world ablaze with God's love!

Sometimes, honestly, in that moment of settling, we set ourselves up for an encounter with the Divine. And that will be enough to get us from here to there, and then back here again.

Happy Friday.

See you at the Kirk House!


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Cheese Ball

Being a new person is difficult.

I recall many times in my life walking into a room where I knew no one and everyone else knew everybody.

Usually, in such situations, my face flushes, my breathing picks up, and I force smiles.

If there is a snack table, I’ll head there so I don’t have to make uncomfortable eye contact with folks I don’t know and see them whisper to their neighbor, “Who is that person?”

Most of the time this intensely introverted individual can be vulnerable enough to engage, albeit awkwardly, someone else; usually commenting on the flavors of the cheese ball.

On the flip side, being a group of people and welcoming new folks can be difficult too.

Collectively, we as a community wrestle with how we will be perceived and can become nervous. We want to make good first impressions and we want them to like us.

Thus, a storm of nervous energy is created because both parties want the same thing:  to be known.

Being aware of our surroundings and ourselves is essential for community. When we take the time to step outside of our own anxieties and consider what others might be feeling, tenderness and a deep sense of compassionate acceptance rises up. Suddenly, what seemed strange or unknown becomes, well, known and a connection can develop, which more likely than not, will lead to natural actions of kindness and generosity.

Friends, as human beings created in the image of God, we have been created for relationships. Hospitality calls us to an awareness of this deep relationality.

This is why the block party means so much to me. Especially since we just had a pork bar-b-cue and we will worship together the next day. As people of faith, we are to love our neighbor and to love our neighbor means to get to know them outside of parking in front of their house from 10-11am on Sunday mornings.

Did you know the English word neighbor comes from the Old English meaning a near dweller, one who dwells nearby? Thus, our block party is an attempt to extend hospitality by coming near to those who we may not know yet. In so doing, our awareness grows and we embody that part of our liturgy at communion that says, “No matter who you are, you are welcome here!”

The block party isn’t a fundraiser.

Nor is it a recruiting tool.

Rather, it is an event for God’s people to gather and share life.

It is an opportunity to move away from the cheese ball that is our sanctuary surrounded by similar smiling faces and move towards those neighbors who call our part of the world home.

So friends, this is your formal invitation to come and party for the sake of, well, community.

Sure the Illini are playing, as well as the Cardinals and Cubs, but that is why we have DVR.

The psalmist declares “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”

Know that you and your friends and your family are invited to this dance we call faith—this practice we call hospitality.

More importantly, know the party won’t be the same without you!

Here’s to the block party and cheese balls!