Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Quick Question

“Where are you?”

I begin most days answering this question in my journal at the start of each morning. 

Lately the words have been similar.


Usually when I get to this place, I realize I’ve lost center. Somewhere amidst the running from here to there, between the four churches I moderate, and the everyday going-ons of adulthood, I forget to take time to 


The other day I stumbled across these words and they stopped me in my tracks:
13-16 The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.
It was the last line that spoke to me the most. 

Friend, you don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to be everything to everyone. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now. Take your time. Take a moment to breathe. And do so with your spouse, your friend, and with yourself. Return to the center. Allow the child within, the one who cannot be weighed down by all our worries, and let God hold you against Her heart. 

In just a few days we begin our preparations for the nativity of Christ known as the season of Advent. Once more we will hear the invasive news that it is time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness. Amidst the news of war and rumors of war, between the pages of bad news, and in light of the darkening days, the message we find during this season is...

But peace takes time. To get to the center of this promise, we have to want it, move toward it. This means we need to make space to lean into what we are preparing for:  the vulnerability of God made known in the birth of Christ. 

Friends, before the calendar gets away from us, remember, don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Where are you?” Take time to see where the holy breaks into the daily. In the days to come, I invite us to open our broken, wearied, or tired hearts to the healing grace of God, who always stands inviting us to that place of peace...

the center, where the light of Christ dwells.

As you go about your day and through this season, may you know God’s presence; may you hear the good news of Christ’s love for you; and may the Holy Spirit surround you as you walk and wait for peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Confession-Eucharist

Okay, I have a confession.

Rarely do I do these as your pastor. But, I have to make it known.

You ready?

...deep, dramatic breath...

I’ve already started making my list of all the things I want to do/accomplish in 2018.

Yea, I’m one of those people.  What makes me different is that instead of calling it a “New Year’s Resolution” list, I call it, “The Things I’m Going to Try and Do that Will Bring a Smile to My Face” list.

What a catchy name, yea?

Want to know what is number one on my list?

To live from a place of thankfulness.

Did you know in Greek the word for thanksgiving is Eucharist?

Which is what the long prayer we offer up before we celebrate communion is often titled “The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving”.

The Great Thanksgiving prayer is in fact that—a prayer of thanks. It tells the story of the gospel, it reminds us of God’s promises, Christ’s faithfulness, and the Holy Spirit’s presence. The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving gives thanks for creation, then for redemption (a fancy word meaning the action of God not leaving us to our own devices), moving through Christ's conception and birth to his suffering and death and then to his resurrection and ascension. In giving thanks and retelling the story of salvation history, we are reminded of God’s graces and how in the simple meal of bread and juice/wine, we are united as God’s family, on earth, and in heaven.

Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist—it is a meal of thanksgiving. It is a taste of what will be and a reminder of how all of life is a gift. A gift best experienced when shared with one another.

So yea, I want to live this type of life—a Eucharistic life. And there is no better time to start than today, in this season of thanksgiving.

I’m thankful for you, friend. I’m thankful that somewhere along the way your story and my story crossed, and that together we are telling the life-giving story of God.

What a story it is, too. It is one full of beauty and heartache, good times and hard times, bountiful harvests and valleys of dry bones. Yet the thesis, the main point, the good news in it all is the promise of God’s faithfulness.

So, as we move into the official start to these ‘holy days,’ I share with you one of my favorite quotes from Presbyterian pastor and writer, Frederick Buchner:

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you.

May you know how thankful we are for you. May you know how delighted God is to call you God’s own. May you know, in the deepest part of your being, the truth in the psalmist words:

God is God,
     And God has bathed us in light.
Festoon the shrine with garlands,
    hang colored banners above the altar!
You’re our God, and we thank you.
    O my God, we lift high your praise.
Thank God—God’s so good.

    God’s love never quits!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Pray This Way part 1

“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven….”
~Matthew 6.9-10

            Sunday was an awful day for our friends in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six lives were taken by gun violence. Not only did the wrongdoer of this tragedy inflict pain, grief, sadness, and anger on the families, community, and nation, this person also compromised the safety of a church. When we aren’t safe in our places of worship—the space we set aside as “sanctuary”—where are we safe?
            Emerging out of this incident, which is yet another mass-casualty shooting in a matter of months, is a cultural debate about “thoughts and prayers” being our response toward all those affected by gun violence. As a pastor, I’d like to offer up my thoughts about this in an honest, biblical way.
            First, we must pray. We must hold those who have lost their lives before the light God, asking God to welcome them in glory. We must pray for those who now enter into a dark season of sorrow, praying God will comfort them in their grief. Our prayers may become a strong tower of hope. And yes (even though we may not like this), we must pray for Devin Kelley, the child of God who used guns to take the lives of twenty-six saints. My prayer for Devin and his family is that God’s love may break through hardened hearts and darken minds and that God will have mercy on him.
Hear us, O God of compassion,
surround those who have been shaken by tragedy
with a sense of your present love,
and hold them in faith.

            We prayed.
            Now what?
            Perhaps an answer to this complicated question is found at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer. On Sunday we began a three-week series addressing the question, “What exactly are we praying when we pray the ‘Our Father’?” In light of Sunday’s tragedy, there is a new question we can add to our consideration: What does the Lord’s Prayer have to do with the Christian response to gun violence?
            There are many prayers to be prayed, but to pray as Jesus taught is a peculiar kind of activity based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we boldly declare that God has not abandoned the world to its own devices but is present among a people on the move—a people moving from our old ways of doing things… we, ordinary people, who have been given the extraordinary authority to be part of the divine, peaceful transition from the evil realm to God’s reign now.
            Did you catch that? The Lord’s Prayer is an invitation to join in on the world’s transformation by being Jesus’s followers. To follow Jesus means not only believing a particular doctrine but also incarnating the love that has saved us. When we pray this prayer, we bend our lives, and our wants towards God’s life and what God wants.
            We live as we pray. Prayer then leads to action. When we pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and as we allow this prayer to seep into the crevices of our hearts, we become that for which we yearn. We are able to live hopefully in a fallen-yet-being-made-new world because of the One who has taught us to pray “this way.” Pray for God’s kingdom to come, yes; but also live and organize our lives in such a way they usher in God’s peace.
            As we pray, “Your will be done,” we beg God not for what we want but to have our lives caught up in that which is larger than our lives; we are asking to be caught up in what God is doing. And if God is who we say God is, then God is making this world, inviting us to join God, and working so that violence of any kind is ended. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that the peace in heaven is experienced here on earth.
            If this seems strange, too idealistic, or too impractical, then I say, “good”… because it is. Remember, Jesus instructed the Lord’s Prayer to be prayed aloud, as a public gesture. Thus, in praying the Lord’s Prayer and in the living this prayer, God’s people will appear strange. Some of us might even be called fools and dreamers. 
            When we say, our thoughts and prayers are with these people, what are we really saying?
            If we allow the Lord’s Prayer to shape our faith, we know how our thoughts and prayers will lead to actions and participation in bringing about justice and peace with God’s help.
            Prayer isn’t passive.

            Prayer is when we bend our hearts, hands, and resources to God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
 What do you say, church? Let us 'hallow' God's name and our lives by being Christ to the world, to those grieving, and to one another. Amen. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

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

The Pope said it best yesterday:

“The saints weren’t perfect, but they allowed God to touch their lives.”

To put it another way: they were like candles; their lives shone of Christ’s love.

Last evening, during our “All Saints Supper and Celebration,” I asked each person to talk about their first Sunday school teacher. Mine was Marylou Crocker. To this day I consider her to be a saint—if not because of the countless ways she faithfully serves the church—because she most definitely deserves that distinction for putting up with my boyhood antics for all those years!

Marylou was the one who taught me about the light of Christ dwelling in me.

Though I doubt she would have put it that way, I now know the importance of the Bible song she taught us as we sat around the little table. It is probably one you recognize. It goes:

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, Let it shine,
Let it shine.

In teaching me this timeless folk song, Marylou instilled two truths:

1.     I have a light. God breathed life into me, and I am one created in God’s image and likeness. This light is a gift from Christ, who—in his life, from his death, and by his resurrection—dispelled all darkness. The light (albeit a little, flickering one) is a light no darkness can ever overcome.

2.     I must let my light shine. By the Holy Spirit, God has gifted me with graces to reflect God’s love with my very life. The light shines when I love my neighbor as I love myself. The light grows brighter when I love my enemies, care for the downtrodden, and break bread with the faithful. This gift of light is to be shared, not hidden. It is by our lights—the very lives we live—that we keep vigil in times of great darkness.

While I do this, maybe my light isn’t such a little, flickering light, after all.

In Luke 11.33 Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.”

Friend, let your light shine. Let your life speak of the goodness you know to be God’s grace in your life. Embody the light of Christ that has come to dwell as the dawn of your hopes. Welcome the breath of the Spirit that breathes on the embers of your dreams, bringing to life creativity and joy!

Later on in his homily, Pope Francis said, “The saints above all are our brothers and sisters who have welcomed the light of God into their hearts and have passed it on to the world, each one according to their own tone.”

We are like stained glass and the light the shines in us will be different. The saints have taught me that I need not be Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, I need to be Adam—only Adam—cultivating the flame God has gifted uniquely to me. As those before us lived to let the light of God pass through them to hold off sin and darkness, so may it be the same for us. My light placed next to your light, and then set next to your neighbor’s light… well, those make for a light as bright as the sun.

I wonder what that must look like? Who knew that to be a saint would mean to live like light shining through stained glass...

The light shines through a stained glass in Adam's study.