Piece of the Puzzle

random musings on whatever…

Liturgy for Epiphany 2A

Call to Worship (inspired by Psalm 40:1-11)

One: Happy are those who do not turn to false idols but put their trust in God.
Many: Let us put our trust in God!
One: God hears our cries and lifts us from our despair.
Many: God hears us and helps us, asking nothing in return.
One: O God, do not withhold your mercy from us.
Many: God’s steadfast love and faithfulness will keep us safe forever.
One: God’s wondrous deeds are beyond compare!
Many: We come together to sing God’s praises to the world!
One: Let us share the glad news of God’s salvation with joy.
Many: Let us delight in God’s desires for us.

Invocation (inspired by 1 Corinthians 1:3-6, Isaiah 49:6)

Holy One,
Call out to us this day and fill us with your grace and peace.
Enrich us with your Spirit that we may be strengthened
in our service to you. Guide us on your path
that we may be the light of your salvation to the world.
Amen.

God is with us

Although some of us might have already taken down our trees, manger scenes, and other decorations, it is still officially the Christmas season. In the church calendar we celebrate Christmas until Epiphany begins on January 6, which is also still about recognizing the light that has come. Sometimes we need these many reminders of God’s presence born into our lives.

What does it mean when we celebrate this child Jesus who was born so long ago? Historically, there isn’t much we really know with certainty about Jesus’ birth. We have the four biblical gospels, but Mark and John don’t even talk about Jesus’ birth and Matthew and Luke differ on the details. And, of course, these accounts of Jesus’ birth, as well as those of his life, death, and resurrection, aren’t really written to give us historical details, but to tell us deeper truths of who Jesus was and is.

Matthew tells the story of an angel visiting Joseph. The angel tells Joseph that there is something special about the baby that Mary is carrying and the angel gives the baby two names: Jesus, which means “one who saves,” and Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Both names are important statements about who Jesus is, but perhaps “God is with us” better captures the spirit of Christmas.

Christians understand God as having taking human form in a small baby. A baby is vulnerable. A baby needs help. A baby does not represent a vengeful God who comes to crush our enemies. God doesn’t come to us as a violent God, but as a child, vulnerable as we are vulnerable, to be received and loved, not feared. John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus. Despite the connection often made between this famous bible verse and Jesus’ death, John 3:16 doesn’t actually talk about his death and resurrection. It says only that Jesus is a gift of love. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love. Jesus as “God with Us” is also “Love with us.” When we get to wishing people would put Christ back into Christmas perhaps we’re really saying let us put love back into Christmas. I’m ok with that because the world needs a lot more love.

Christmas is ultimately not about Mary being a virgin, or the wise people traveling from a far away land, or angels appearing to shepherds. All of these are wonderful stories which are told to convey to us the truth that God is with us. Our Christmas celebrations invite us to stop and look for “God with us,” to notice the Christ-presence in our own time, to notice where and when Love is born into the world. Take a moment today to look for signs of love within you and around you: a kind word, someone helping a stranger, a special unexpected gift, an act of charity and compassion, sunshine peaking through winter clouds, the companionship of a pet… where do you see Christ in the world? Where do you see love in the world? Stop and look. Stop and listen. For God is with us.

====

This reflection was published in my church newsletter on January 3, 2020 and inspired by the sermon, “God is with Us,” from Sunday, December 22, 2019. Audio recordings of most of my sermons can be found at https://phoenixchurch.org/home/phx-sermons/.

What it means to support Donald Trump

If you support Tr*mp you are teaching our children that

  • profit and power are the only worthwhile goals in life
  • it is ok to lie anytime, anywhere, for any reason… if anyone points out you aren’t being truthful, just accuse them of spreading fake news
  • it is ok to grab a woman anytime, anywhere, for any reason
  • it is ok to not pay your debts
  • it is ok to take advantage of other people for your own gain
  • it is ok to do what you want to whomever you want whenever you want
  • it is ok to ridicule and denigrate anyone who criticizes you… if you do something wrong, just blame it on the person who points it out
  • it is ok to ignore the law (and due process and the constitution) if doing so is convenient or profitable
  • people don’t need access to health care unless a profit can be made from it
  • the environment doesn’t matter… if people complain you’re destroying the air, water, etc. then just deny it. They’ll believe it because truth doesn’t matter.
  • people who aren’t like “us” (that is, white, male, and heterosexual) don’t matter
  • gay people (as well as lesbian, bisexual, trans folks) don’t matter
  • anyone born south of the border doesn’t matter
  • corporate profits (thus making the rich richer) are, in fact, the only thing that does matter
  • racism is perfectly acceptable
  • violence is perfectly acceptable
  • putting innocent children in jail is perfectly acceptable
  • if you’re rich and powerful, no one will hold you accountable
  • you shouldn’t worry about anyone but yourself – which is the only reason I can think of that poor or working people would support Trump – he gives them permission to tell the world to f*ck off
So, basically, if you support Tr*mp, you’re a danger to all that is good and moral in life. You’re a danger to our nation.

Also, you can’t espouse the above values (i.e. support Tr*mp) and still claim you follow Jesus… folks like Falwell and Graham should take note.

A Lament for Truth

A Lament for Truth
By Kenneth Arthur

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Somber suits donned,
we gather to mourn.
Tears caress cheeks
as we face truth:
Truth is dead.

It may have won out some day
but instead we done shot it dead.
Without Truth, there are no
truth-tellers, no prophets.
No Moses to demand let my people go.
No Nathan to hold murderous adulterers accountable.
No Isaiah to stand up for widow and orphan.
The prophets died with Truth.
No Martin to march for justice.
No Harvey to run for office.
No one to lay bare consequences
of power and greed.
No more whistle blowers because
truth has been shot dead,
branded fake, no longer necessary.
No one paid much attention anyway.
We prefer our emperors naked
as long as they strut with confidence
and a fuck you attitude we can mimic.

So we shot Truth dead
and gather to mourn
and wonder if anyone –
politician or preacher,
pipe fitter or paralegal –
has the power to stand graveside
and shout, Lazarus, Come Out!

Reflections on the messages of the Goose

Part 2 — To read part 1 go here.

I’ve already tried to describe a little of what going to the Wild Goose Festival is like in Part 1: What is the Wild Goose Festival and what is it like? Now I want to take just a couple more paragraphs to reflect on the messages of the Goose. I’m so impressed by the big names that come and speak at this festival every year. I can’t say enough about how inspiring and energizing the experience was but I’ll mention a few of my favorite things from this year’s (2019) festival, in no particular order.

The opening night speaker was Otis Moss III. His talk was energizing but to be honest I don’t remember much of what he said. I don’t think that is his fault. He spoke on opening night and so much happened since then it just got pushed out of my brain. I’ve heard him speak before and I’ve always come way impressed.

I also love hearing Barbara Brown Taylor speak. She was interviewed about her new book, “Holy Envy.” I tried to buy a copy the next day in the festival bookstore but it was already sold out. I’ll be buying a copy now that I’m home. She wrote the book as a tribute to students she’s taught as a world religions professor. She writes of their experiences learning about other religions as well as how we can learn from each others’ faiths. Again, I don’t really remember a lot of the details but I was left with the feeling that this is a book I definitely need to read.

William Barber, a Disciples of Christ Minister and found of the Poor People’s Campaign, is also always inspiring. He made a passionate call for a “moral Pentecost” – right here and right now! It’s something we should all be concerned about and consider getting involved with: https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/.

One of the musical groups was the Nine Beats Collective, a world-wide ranging group who gathered to do music inspired by the Beatitudes. Check them out: https://9beats.org/.

In a smaller workshop I attended one of the speakers talked about forgiveness not only being about the “sinner” but also about the victim of the “sin” and the pain of those sinned against. We can’t claim innocence but need to deal with our complicity in others’ pain. That seemed like a point worth hanging onto for further reflection.

Christy Berghoef, Brian McLaren, and John Pavlovitz had a panel discussion on civil discourse vs. prophetic voice. I found it engaging because this is a tension I’ve felt as a minister. I would paraphrase the conundrum like this: Do we work on building relationships with those we disagree with, which might involve holding our tongue or moderating what we say and how we say it? Or do we bluntly tell the truth as we understand it and let the chips fall where they may, even if it may break relationships instead of building them? Berghoef was new to me and I’ve always admired McLaren’s work. I knew of Pavlovitz before this talk but he’s always seemed too confrontational to me. I came away impressed by him. I’m a fan now. One thing he talked about is while he uses his prophetic voice in social media and comes across as a jerk to many, he also tries to engage in dialog with those he angers. So maybe there’s a line here where we can be truth-tellers and still be relationship-builders. I hope so.

Another person who was new to me was Stan Mitchell. While many of the messages I heard over the weekend were energizing and inspiring, his really touched my heart. The weird thing is, I’m not really sure why because what he was saying was pretty much what I’ve tried to preach myself but perhaps presented in a little different (better?) way. Or maybe it just had to do with where I was spiritually and emotionally in the moment. Anyway, what he was talking about was coming from a church where he was taught of his supposed inherent evil and separation from God as a fallen human being. He gave interpretations of the Garden of Eden story and of the Parable of the Prodigal Son to make the point that we are not inherently evil but we are inherently beautiful, good, and beloved by God. Some points to ponder: it’s not sin that separates us from God but shame. When Eve covered up her nakedness in the Garden, it wasn’t because she was bad and she had to be covered before God would come near her but she needed to cover up so *she* would be comfortable in God’s presence. It wasn’t about sin, but about shame. God doesn’t separate from us, but we separate from God. Further, he didn’t like the word separation but preferred estrangement from God because estrangement implies that in our natural state we belong with God. Separation is space between two (potentially unrelated) things. Estrangement is space between two things that belong together. Mitchell didn’t state it, but I think the estrangement terminology comes from the theologian Paul Tillich. Also, talking about the Prodigal Son, Mitchell pointed out that the father in the parable never goes looking for the son who squandered his wealth. But he does go looking for the son that had stayed home but doesn’t come to the feast. That is, the lost one in the parable is really the elder son. There was more to it, but I think it is a point worth reflection. I wish I had a video of this sermon. It really made me think about shame and what shame I might carry with me that estranges me from the Holy.

So, perhaps the big question is that now I’m home, how do I carry this experience into my every day life. With current events, the plight of children housed in concentration camps by my own government is on my heart… one of many important, emotionally deflating, and often inter-related issues (for example, what’s happening to those children is directly related to racism and the white nationalism espoused by our president). Can I do something about it? How can I use my prophetic voice and my circles of influence to create justice in the world?

My post festival to-do list: 1) find my niche in justice seeking and 2) make time for my spiritual practices that I might get in touch with my inner shame and draw closer to the Holy. Will I do these things? Only God knows for sure what the future holds, but here’s a prayer that the Wild Goose (i.e. the Holy Spirit) will fly before me, leading me (and all of us) into the Way of God’s kin-dom of love and justice.

Page 1 of 31

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén