Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Through Stained Glass: Vacation Bible School

This isn't so much of a post as it is an announcement.

VBS is coming to St. John UCC and First Presbyterian Church! So tell your friends and neighbors, family and coworkers, that they won't want to miss out at this unique VBS opportunity.

We will explore the theme of God as Creator, Christ as Healer, and the Spirit as life-giver. Each night will use different activities to bring the story of God to life--painting, singing, dancing, creating, playing, and being!

Want more information? See the picture below. Still wanting to know more? Feel free to email First Presbyterian Church at requesting a pdf flyer. Or call the church office at 217-732-6141.

This will be an excellent time for your students to connect with each other, the mentors who will be helping at these events, and the God who knows us by name.

See you on Tuesdays: June 26, July 24, and August 21!

Note: we encourage you to pre-register but it is not required!

Embark on an Adventure
leading straight to
the of God!

Children: Pre-K to rising Freshmen

June 26
@ First Presbyterian

July 24
@ St. John UCC

August 21
@ First Presbyterian

5:30-5:45       Same Day Registration & Check-in
5:45-6:15       Free dinner, provided by your St. John & First Presbyterian friends
6:15-6:30       Worship
6:30-7:20       Godly Play—From Nothing to Something: Activities and Lesson About Creation

7:20-7:30       Closing Ritual

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Through Stained Glass: Rest Word

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from the Holy One. God alone is my rock and my salvation; God is my fortress, I will never be shaken. ~Psalm 62:1-2

What an exciting time of the year!

School is out for the summer. Teachers can catch their breath before they begin planning for the next academic term. Students get to participate in extracurricular activities like music camp, church camp, and all the sports. Parents and grandparents, perhaps they aren’t as excited since this means finding babysitters or planning events to keep their little ones busy. Gardens are bursting with life as the extreme heat of summer moves in along with those pesky, isolated thunderstorms. The air smells of bar-b-cues and freshly cut grass. The neighborhoods are coming alive, festival season commences, and farmers come to the market with their early harvests and are even preparing for the autumn harvesting season.

A different rhythm has started. Things look and feel and smell and taste different. It all is good.

In the church, we start a new season. Well, not really. We enter into a familiar season known as “Ordinary Time.” The golds of Easter and the red of Pentecost have been neatly folded and placed in their hiding places until they reemerge for next year’s lectionary cycle, Year C. Like the grass in our yards, the paraments on the pulpit lectern, the one draped on the altar (table ?), and the pastor’s stole turn green. During the time of the year when communities come alive with activity, for those of us who follow the liturgical seasons, church may seem… well… dull, bland, and

Ordinary isn’t bad. Ordinary is good. In fact, I think it is an invitation. It is an invitation for us to continue the practices we have picked up thus far and to explore further what we may need to let go of to see God’s presence in our lives. It is a season ripe for naming God’s presence in cookouts and block parties when you’re knee-deep in the garden or watching your kids run through the sprinkler. This season on the other side of Pentecost is also the perfect time to respond to the Spirit’s prompting in your life to volunteer at the food pantry, lead a lesson at Vacation Bible School, or write that note you’ve been meaning to write your dear friend who is having a hard time.

For me, I’m using the reentry into “ordinary” time by revisiting my Epiphany word. Y’all remember these we handed out at church, eh? They were little starfish with words written on them, and they were meant to inspire you to do whatever word you received. Mine was “rest.”

Rest. So ordinary, right? Yet, my calendar is as full now as it was in Advent and Lent. My little Jeep Cherokee named Vic will traverse all over central Illinois for appointments and visits. In the coming weeks, I have meetings in Peoria and Petersburg, Pleasant Plains and Middletown…and beyond. If there was ever a time for me to stop and reflect on my epiphany word, it is now.
            When I am in a rush, I am easily distracted and not often present with the people in my life.
When I am busy, I am not usually my best self.
When I’m tired, I’m quickly overwhelmed and am left buried beneath despair and fatigue.


It’s as though the Spirit knew on Epiphany what my spirit would need after Pentecost… in the ordinariness of life. Welcome, summer. Welcome, Ordinary Time. Welcome, rest.

God rested. We must, too.

What was your word? How might you ponder its meaning in your life? How can you embrace God’s guiding light in your life?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Through Stained Glass: Prayer of Protection


That’s what Christ prayed to God for in his prayer for the disciples.

Jesus knew the difficulties facing the disciples, Jesus saw the crucifixion and resurrection in the distance and prayed that the disciples would be united and for their God’s protective presence for the disciples.

After all, God is like a mother hen who protects her chicks on her wings.

A few weeks ago in my preparation for a sermon, I stumbled across a Celtic prayer that I’ve incorporated into my own prayer life. It is called the ‘Caim Prayer,’ or the Circle Prayer. This prayer is a way to surround oneself with the protection and blessing of the Triune God. To perform the Caim Prayer, you stand up, point your right index finger at the ground and turn in a clockwise circle.  At certain positions, you will say prayers.

The purpose of this prayer is to imagine as you draw the circle on your hand, on a piece of paper, or as you spin around offering up prayer, that you are encircled in the protective love of the Triune God. Praying the circle prayer is a way to start your day with the reminder that you are in God’s love and God’s love is in you. And when you find yourself amidst a stormy season of life, the circle prayer can help you remember that the Holy One has removed all evil influence from your circle; and that you can be at peace within it.  You can even imagine this as a traveling circle, it is always around you when you walk it comes with you.

Christ prayed for the protection of the disciples, and Christ continues to pray for our protection. Remember this as you go about your day. When you see a circle, or a stop light, or a ring from your coffee mug on the newspaper, know you are not alone. The Triune God goes with you, protecting you from the toils and snares of the evil one.

Rest in the center of God. That's where we find our home. And there's no place like home!

There are many 'Circle Prayers' once can pray. Perhaps the most
famous is the St. Patrick Breastplate Prayer. It is quite long, but these
lines are both powerful and beautiful. May they become for you a source
of comfort, peace, and a guide to the protective peace of Christ.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

*Photo was taken by Kelli Woodford. Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Through Stained Glass: Walk the Talk

This is part 1 of a 2 post series about the promised protection of Jesus as we walk the wisdom way.

In just a few verses we see Jesus go from teacher to servant, to friend, and then to a pray-er. 

Jesus says three times in a couple of chapters that what the disciples are to do when he dies, is resurrected, and then ascends, is to love—one another as Christ loved them. 

This love will challenge the world. It will cause an uproar, and they will probably lose their life because of it. Then in John 17, Jesus prays for the disciples, the infant church. He prays that they may be one. He prays to God reminding God that God gave the disciples to Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus says, “They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you…they have received [the words you gave me] and know in truth that I came from you; they believed you sent me.” 

Jesus gives them back to God, the Father/Mother. Jesus asks on their behalf that God will protect them, “so that they may be one, as we are one.” 


We share in the same union with God as God does with Jesus. Did you catch that? Do you get the beauty in this petition of Christ’s? Jesus wants us as God’s people to know joy. This joy, of course, comes when we are one, embracing the larger narrative of Scripture that God wants unity, not uniformity. Thus, we as God’s people are not gatekeepers to the heart of God but we are ones who fan the flame of Christ’s love so that it may spread, and by God’s breath all of us are consumed with the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus could have removed us from the world and this life then and there, but Jesus doesn’t. Instead, Jesus asks for our protection as we strive to be one. No, as we BECOME one. You see, Christ sends us the way Christ was sent by God to proclaim release to the captive, hope to the hopeless, and offer good news to everyone. This world is in the process of being made new by us, God’s people!

Here's the take away in this post. It is through our witness, as we do the work Jesus gives us, that Jesus will be made known to the world. 

OMG, right?

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” 

Jesus has shown us the way, and it involves walking. At the end of his ministry with the disciples, Jesus holds up how we share the wisdom of God. He doesn’t give a theological discourse or offer some apologetics lecture. Instead, Jesus says, “as I am, you, too can and must become. I will be here to help you. But you must do the work.”* 

Don’t get me wrong. Beliefs about Jesus are essential. However, what we hear in Jesus’ prayer for the disciples, and for us, is that what matters is not so much to believe the theological premises of Jesus but to share in Christ’s unity with God. We are to put on Christ as we live in this world. 
In four chapters we see Jesus the teacher; Jesus the servant; Jesus the Son; Jesus the pray-er; and Jesus, the lover. 

Now, what the world sees is up to us. 

Thanks be to God that Christ has sent us the Spirit to guide us, protect us, and gift us with love. 
So, what will you do? How will we be God’s presence in a hurting world? 

May you know God’s love for you runs deep within you. May you trust in Christ’s promise to be with us always, even until the end of time. And may you welcome the Spirit to move you beyond your fears so that we may make the love of God known throughout the world…

Not only with our words…

But with our lives as well!

*Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind: A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. Boston: Shambhala, 2008. 20-21.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Through Stained Glass--Birds: Buntings and Grosbeaks

The rain is calming.

It is steady but falling gently.

If you silence the chirping birds, you can almost hear the grass and the flowers and the weeds growing. Drenched in rain, they are singing the song God the Creator has put in them.

Recently, I sat with a friend and watched the falling rain; my friend (he or she) pointed out, “Isn’t the best feeling the splash from the rain hitting the ground?”

I suppose so.

After the long fall from far above, a raindrop hitting the ground isn’t violent. It’s calming.

As I write this, Silas is snoozing at my feet. I watch his golden coat turn a dark copper red the longer he lies in the rain. His nose to the air, he sniffs a mystery my nose can’t solve—some faint spring perfume drifting in the wind. I wonder what he dreams. I wonder what he feels.

Two days ago, an oriole fed at my hummingbird nectar. Twice the size of the feeder, itself, I watched him drink deep before he departed for the next leg of his journey. “Where have you come from, friend? To where are you flying?,” I thought as I looked at him. I hope he gets to wherever he is going safely.

Today, two of my favorite birds found their way to my makeshift aviary: indigo buntings. In addition to their striking blue feathers, I am fond of this little bird because of their song, which is full of wonder and awe for life. “What! What! Where? Where? See it! See it!” That’s what they sing. Like Silas, they don’t mind the rain. Neither do they seem bothered by their neighbors: the cardinal, the yellow finch, and—a new favorite—the rose-breasted grosbeak. What community do you have? What are you teaching me?

At this moment, I am astonished by the colors in my backyard: copper, crimson, amber, saffron, indigo, cream, ivory, and jade. All these fancy words, but there’s no need for them; the colors are pure… they are gentle: red, yellow, blue, white, and green. Who knew heaven was right outside my back door?

Chances are good that by the end of the day, I’ll lament at least once that the rain means I’ll have to start my cantankerous lawnmower. But that’s for then when the chirps and songs of my feathered friends will be interrupted by the ballads of small engines that mow the dandelions into oblivion, and life will be back to its usual, hectic self. But that’s for then when the gentleness will turn to jaggedness.

All these simple, often unnoticed glimpses of grace will be gone…until the next time, I take the time to set aside the ‘work’ and watch the world go by.

With all of this, I can’t help but turn to Psalm 8:
 “O Adonai, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

 “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?”

That’s the good news, friends. God has gifted us with creation. It isn’t meant to be used or exploited but cherished and loved in a way that all of creation is celebrated, honored, and adored.

How will you celebrate creation? How will you name God’s presence? Or maybe you need to ‘let go’ of something to delight in God’s goodness.

Perhaps we could be like the bunting; perhaps we might sing our own song and tune... but—just maybe—we might sing with them in one, common lyric, “See it! See it!”

the quality is poor, but here are the birds mentioned in the post

Friday, April 6, 2018

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

O sing to God a new song; sing to the Holy One all the earth.”

This is the opening line of this morning’s psalm.

As I write this post in the hallowed halls of Eden Theological Seminary, I can hear birds chirping outside the window. The daffodils down here in St. Louis are in full bloom, and with their faces turned toward the rising sun, their radiance sings of spring’s beauty. The lawn in the courtyard on campus is nearly all green, becoming lush with each warming minute. Creation is singing God’s praises.

Resurrection is happening. Sunday we met Mary and the disciples in the garden where the tomb was empty. A ‘glowing’ young man told us in Mark that Jesus was raised and he wasn’t there. In John, Jesus calls Mary by name, and who she thought was the gardener was in fact, her Christ. Both give the command to go and announce the good news of Jesus being raised.

That is a new lyric in the aged old song of God’s love for us and creation.

Then Jesus says to Mary, let go of me—don’t cling to me because I have not ascended to the Father/Creator. In letting go and not clinging to the risen Christ, Jesus’ ascent and return to God enables the disciples to share fully in Christ’s relationship with God.

How about that, am I right?

We share in Christ’s union with God. What is true with Christ’s relationship with God is now true for us, God’s children!

Like Phil Collins, I can’t sing. However, knowing I am in God and God is in me inspires within me to sing a song, or write a poem, or do a dance, or weep tears, or do something that offers my thanksgiving for God’s gift of love!

Friends, how will sing a new song to God? What words will you use? Perhaps write a haiku?

Another question, what might you need to let go of to receive the good news that Christ is risen? The new life offered to us in the resurrection?

In birdsong, I heard God’s presence. In the creativity and compassion of my colleagues as we discuss wisdom and beauty, I saw the face of Christ. In your prayers, the Spirit warms my heart.

On this beautiful Friday with the new song in my ear, I leave you with a question from Luke’s resurrection story. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."

Well, why do you?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Wait for It...

There’s not much to say today.

Though we know what is coming, they didn’t.

Though we know after the egg hunts are over and bellies are filled with grandma’s delicious breakfast, good news will be announced to the women, they didn’t.

All they knew was that their friend,

Their teacher,

Their brother,

Mary’s son,

Was crucified.

For the first time in months or years, they didn’t Jesus wasn’t with them.

So, they found themselves in a place where we find ourselves the most:

The in-between.

Where we wait and wonder and worry about what happens next.

Yes, we know death.
            Death of loved ones.
                        Death of dreams.
                                    Death of the world around us.

But we very much so know the gift of resurrection’ life.
            Life of a new child, grandchild, or godchild.
                        Life in the rejuvenating creation springing up around us.
                                    Life in the relationships of those we love, or when plans come together.

But most of the time, our days, like Fr. James Martin notes, aren’t filled with the unbearable pain of a Good Friday. Nor are they suffused with the incredible joy of an Easter. But most days are filled with waiting.

And waiting takes on many forms, right?

“The wait of despair, the wait of dull passivity.”

Then there is the wait they did, and we do: Hope.

Which is why my favorite part of the Triduum, or, the Paschal Mystery, is Holy Saturday. It is the most relatable, it’s the most tangible. It is the day which is most real—amidst the darkness and uncertainty, the transition of the world and in our personal lives, God is doing something. What exactly? Most days I don’t know.

What I do know is that throughout the story of salvation, when it looks like death, or pharaoh, or the flood, or the exile, will have the last say –







Today is Saturday, the first day the disciples were alone when it seemed as if this kingdom of God thing had been silenced. For us, we are on the verge of one leaving one month and entering into a new one. Oh, and it is a full moon. Today is a strange day for us, too.

Like them, we are left waiting and hoping, looking for the signs of new life appearing right around the corner.  Like them, we look around and think, "Where in the world is God in all of this pain, sadness, and violence?" Like them, we too wait for something new to happen.

Which is why we wait and listen, watch and pray. Instead, because God is the God of life, we trust the process, embracing the change happening, believing renewal is always waiting, and hope is never dead.

We wait. Tell the story of salvation. And remember how Jesus said, "I'll be with you always."

What else do we need to say?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Skip the Sadness

It isn’t my favorite part of the story.

I wish we could skip past it.

I can handle the verse that says “when he breathed his last…”

And I can handle the part where Jesus tells John to care for Mary.

The part that gets me is the mocking, the name-calling, the crowd who just Sunday cheered for their ‘messiah’ now are bullies. They call him a liar. They spit on him. They chose Barabbas because they can’t think about abandoning their party line and allegiance with Caesar. They chose to hate. They chose the familiar path of complacency instead of the long, laborious work of love. 

So they blamed him because he wasn’t violent. They berated him because he was more interested in making sure all had a place at the table instead of saving space for his friends. They put a crown of thorns on his head because he pledged his life to the One who sent him, and not to the crown of Rome. They called him a traitor because he trusted in God and not in Caesar. They beat him because he beat them with kindness and compassion. They killed him because he was a friend to the widow and to the poor, the eunuchs and the sick, the lady who sat alone in pain and the prisoner in her cell. They killed him because when they wanted him to play the game...
Yes, Christ was crucified because he ate with the outcast and despised.

Yes, Christ was crucified because he protested the use of swords and defended the children.

Yes, Christ was crucified because the world lost its imagination.

Yes, Christ was crucified because the world turned its back on each other.

Yes, Christ was crucified because his reign was one where the last was the first, the least was celebrated as the greatest, and those who were lifted up were the ones who emptied themselves out for the sake of others.

This is hard, isn’t it?

Reading these words. Can’t we fast forward to Friday? Do we have to talk about these things? Must we discuss the poor? Must we think about the persecuted? Must we talk about the evils of our lives, in our community, and in the world? Must we talk about politics? Must we talk about religious institutions? Must we do the hard work of naming the ways we continue to crucify Christ in our midst?


I mean, I guess you can. But what’s the point of resurrection then? If we aren’t willing to die to self, then why celebrate the death of God? Good Friday is everything but good. It’s all that’s bad in the world, in us.

Despite the darkness around the death of Jesus, it gives us a chance to choose once more:











The Crucified Lamb?

Perhaps that’s why we need today.

So that we may open ourselves up to the mystery of what is to come, open ourselves up for the rescuing of all people, allowing our bodies, our stories to be broken and our blood, our spirits to be poured, discovering…

As one pastor has said…

Our Eucharistic life.

And I’ll say…

Our resurrected self.

Sure, Sunday is coming.

But right now, it is Friday.

And today, this moment, the hour when Jesus says, “It is finished,” is not my favorite part of the story.

A church that doesn't provoke any crises,
a gospel that doesn't unsettle,
a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin,
a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the
society in which it is being proclaimed--what gospel is that?
The gospel is courageous;
it's good news
of him who came to take away the world's sins."
~Archbishop Oscar Romero, April 16, 1978

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-The Very End of Love

I find myself reading this story over

And over

And over

And over.

Letting the words run over me the way the water washed over the disciples’ feet, I rest in the good news of verse 1 of chapter 13:

“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

These words open the floodgate of tears for me. Yes, I love the Lord’s Supper. In fact, I’m an advocate of celebrating communion every Sunday, the way Jesus instructs and Calvin encourages. I love the telling of that story and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Bread broken, wine poured out, for us and for the forgiveness of sin.

But it is this part of the story that got me today:
“Jesus…got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

In this act of humility, we as the church gain a new vision and a new commandment:  to love one another. Our calling as God’s children is to love one another—to love the whole world finally, I suppose—as Jesus loved us. To do that, we need an infusion of a kind of love that does not arise naturally from the context of the world as we know it. Jesus says it’s by our love, and not by our church attendance, the world will know we belong to God.

Side note: Here’s the thing about this ‘new commandment.’ It isn’t new. Instead, it is part of the new life to which the disciples are invited. A life of one who follows God via the Jesus way involves loving others.

Which is why this story is one I have read over and over and over.

Why today in my study tears finally fall. For me, this is the good news of it all:

            Up until
                        The very end
                                             Christ loved his own.

"Christ's own." That's us. We belong to Christ. We are in God and God is in us. In this love is where we discover, preserve, and create community--the reign of God.

On the night Jesus shared his last meal with his friends, just before Judas would leave to betray him, he gifted them…gifted us…with a new commandment: that we love one another. In bread and wine, basin and towel, Jesus gifts us with God’s vision for humanity—a vision of goodness and compassion for each person and all things.

On the night before he was handed over to the authorities, Jesus gave the commandment of love—a message of gentleness and tenderness, nonviolence and forgiveness.

"By believing against all odds and loving against all odds, that is how we are to let Jesus show in the world and to transform the world."

Yet, for this to happen, it begins with Jesus washing my feet.

Which is why the tears fell.

Why they fall now…