Friday, November 30, 2012

An Invitation to Advent

Our primary text for this first Sunday of Advent is Luke 1:5-25, which can be found here.

Most of the mail I get, I confess, ends up in the recycling bin:  advertisements, unsolicited items from businesses, impersonal pieces addressed to "Current Resident." But there is one type of mail (other than my Thursday arrival of Sports Illustrated) that I always pay attention to:  anything that looks like an invitation.  Something addressed personally to me from someone I know well, someone who has something exciting going on in their lives that they want me to come be a part of and experience alongside of them.

This year, we are going to be looking at the stories of Advent and Christmas as God's personal invitations to us--God inviting us to be part of what God is doing in the world, God inviting us to practice ways of being open to God's movement in our lives.  We will be meeting characters in the first two chapters of the book of Luke--Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Bethlehem shepherds--who accepted surprising invitations to be part of God's story in different ways.  We will be taking time to ask ourselves, what is God's invitation to each of us in this season?  How are we being invited to participate in God's ongoing story in this world in surprising ways?

As part of this season, I want to encourage you to consider who might need a personal invitation from you during Advent.  I recently read a study that said 82% of people who are not part of a church would be at least somewhat likely to visit a church if they received a personal invitation from someone they know.  Broadneck is an exciting place to be right now.  Who in your life needs to share in that excitement with you?  Who might be yearning for the sense of community and opportunity to gather together in God's presence that Broadneck can offer during the holidays?  I want to challenge you to print off the invitation above and personally hand it to someone in your life during this season, inviting them to worship or perhaps to our Christmas Caroling and Chili Supper planned for the evening of December 16.  As God has invited us into God's story, we are called to be inviting others in as well; to whom might you turn this season and say, "Hey, I want you to know you're invited.  Come along with me.  Come and see"?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Crowning Day of the Year

Our texts for this coming Sunday, which is celebrated as Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday, are Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8, and John 18:33-37, which can be read here.

As I was explaining to the Worship Ministry Group a few weeks ago, this coming Sunday is the final Sunday of the "Church Year".  The "Church Year" or "Liturgical Year" that we follow in our worship does not follow a January 1-December 31 cycle like our calendars, nor work on a September-to-June sort of school year calendar; rather, our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent (as we anticipate Christ's coming birth) in early December and ends with Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday in late November.  Thus, by worship standards this is the last Sunday of our year before we get a new start for Advent next week and prepare to move through the story of who Christ is together once again!

The end of a year is a good time for looking back and looking forward.  And so I would encourage you to do that with this year of worship we have just been through--and the year of worship that lies ahead.  Perhaps the art pictured above can help you do this.

What have you learned about God through the course of this year?

How have you come to experience Jesus in a new way as you moved again through the story of waiting for his birth, of celebrating the beginning of his ministry through Epiphany and the end of his ministry through Lent?

How did Jesus' resurrection take on meaning for you this year, or how did you come to experience the Holy Spirit lighting your life or joining you to others in a new way?

What have you learned through this long season of Pentecost growth--as we have read letters to ancient churches, prayed together the Lord's Prayer, considered our calls to discipleship, and thanked God for the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us?

How, on this "crowning" Sunday of the year, might you come to see the ways that Christ reigns over all of your life--or, perhaps, invite Christ anew to do so?

These are good things to consider with gratitude during Thanksgiving Week!  And as you reflect on these things, I leave you with these words from a worship website I respect a lot, Liturgy-Link, as a blessing for the coming Sunday:

Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He reigns over us and all our world with justice, mercy, and peace.
So as this year comes to an end and a new one begins, may we sing all joy and praise to Christ who reigns now and always.


Monday, November 19, 2012

A Family We Can Relate To

My apologies!  I wrote this and thought it published on Friday, but due to a technology glitch it is not appearing until today!  So here are some thoughts around yesterday's lessons:

Our texts this week come from the first two chapters of the book of 1 Samuel:  1 Samuel 1:1-20, 24-28 and 2:1-10, which can be read here.

It is interesting to come to the story of Hannah at this point in the church year.  Odd, I guess, would be more accurate than interesting.  Here's a little lectionary lesson for you:  if we had stuck with the scriptural suggestions of the Revised Common Lectionary all year, our texts through the summer would have come almost exclusively from 1 and 2 Samuel.  We would have already met Samuel, Hannah's prayed for son; the first kings of Israel; and covered the arc of Israel's history through these two books.  So why wait and go back to the start of the story now?  Doesn't that seem a little out-of-order?

I seriously doubt that what I am about to point out is the reason we meet Hannah in late November, but I'll entertain the thought anyway:  maybe this story is one we need to read as the holidays approach.  Because, after all, it is at least in part a story about family dynamics, unfolding during an annual event where all the family was together in a way that highlighted differences and made tensions rise.  Sound familiar to anyone who is approaching holiday family time with a little fear and trepidation?  Every year, this family went through the same destructive cycle:  they'd go up to Shiloh, make the sacrifice, and while Peninnah and her children would receive a large portion of the sacrificial meat, Hannah--childless--would get only one portion, lost and neglected in the family shuffle.  Elkinah, her husband, tried to make her feel better by doubling up what she got--but it was still less than the rest of the family got, and furthermore only highlighted her isolation, her other-ness.  Then, she had to endure the mocking of Peninnah (who apparently was NOT a gracious "winner" in the family childbearing sweepstakes), the confusion of her self-centered husband who thought he should be enough for her, and the emptiness of her arms that reminds her of what she's never had.  In the end, Hannah storms away from the dinner table, refusing to eat.  Ever seen a family circus like this?

So, though I don't think this is what Hannah's story is about at its heart, I think at this time of year we can certainly use Hannah's story to consider how we interact with our families and friends in the coming days of gathering together--how we can be sensitive to the griefs people bear, to the differences in how our lives have turned out and how we view the world.  And, as Hannah slipped away to the sanctuary to fervently pray when she could not take it anymore, we can consider how God might be present as we gather with others, as we deal with those we are missing around the table, as we deal with those we cannot stand around the table.  How does God work through the petty dynamics and story of this one family to begin to bring about something that will transform not just this family story, so they don't repeat the same cycle year after year, but to reorient an entire nation's history? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Can I Just Sing?

Our scripture texts for this Sunday come from Ruth 3 and 4 (specifically, Ruth 3:1-11 and 4:13-22, but the whole of both chapters--actually, the whole book of Ruth!--are worth reading) and from Mark 12:38-44, which can be read here.

I don't want to write a sermon this week.

Well, that's not true; I just think someone has already written what I have to say in this sermon better than I can.

You see, I often think musically--and as I read the texts for this week, song after song kept flowing through my brain.    This happens a lot, but this week the correlations I made were so strong that I wanted, instead of writing a sermon, to just make an iTunes playlist of three or four songs that I think portray what I hear of God in these stories better than any words I can assemble and speak.

I don't think I could get away with this, though; so I am going for a compromise.  I am going to attempt to play one of the songs in worship on Sunday as part of my sermon; and the other two, I offer to you here for your viewing/listening pleasure.  I encourage you to check out the links below to two remarkable songs:  "Show Up" by Jill Phillips, and "Kingdom Comes" by Sara Groves--the first a fairly new song to me, the other a song I have sung frequently in my head for years.  Read the scripture texts, then listen to these songs.  Why do you think these songs are the ones that came to mind for me out of these stories?  What do these songs spark in you?  How do you see them as connected to the stories of these three remarkable-yet-unremarkable widows, Ruth, Naomi, and the nameless widow with two copper coins?

Ponder, listen, and enjoy!

Kingdom Comes by Sara Groves on Grooveshark

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Remembering the Saints

Our texts for this first Sunday in November, traditionally celebrated as All Saints' Sunday (All Saints' Day proper is today, November 1!) are the first chapter of the book of Ruth (read the whole thing--it's worth it!), and the brief but central teaching of Jesus from Mark 12:28-34.

As a Baptist I didn't grow up celebrating All Saints' Day--or even talking about saints, really.  What did saints have to do with my life, after all?  Most of them were nuns or priests or monks, living in another culture and country and day and time, doing insane things like being beheaded for the gospel or drinking the pus out of people's festering wounds (Catherine of Siena did this--no lie).

As I have come to appreciate the liturgical calendar of church holidays as an adult, however, today has become one of the most holy and bittersweet and sacred days of my year.  Because it is a day to remember not just those from long ago, those martyred and canonized; it is the day to remember the people with whom we are connected across time, by faith as well as DNA--those to whom, in many senses, we owe our lives today for the way they blazed before us, and the example they gave us of how to live faithful lives as ordinary, broken people.

Our biblical examples for this week are Naomi and Ruth--two common, unlikely saints if ever there were any:  a bitter aging widow and a young foreign widow, two women with no one left who are suddenly connected to one another by an act of faith--an act that will join not just their futures, but the futures of many generations to come--including ours.  Their story is a rich one I am looking forward to exploring together.

But today, I encourage you to think of who the saints are in your life--those who have taught you by love and example what God's faithfulness, what God's steadfast love, looks like.  Pull out old pictures, old letters, remember those related to you by blood and by spirit who have shaped who you are in Christ.  Remember especially those who have gone on to the next life over the past year whose lives continue to be joined to yours in some mystical, memorable way.  I am going to spend today remembering two great saints I was blessed to be related to who have left this earth over the past year--my Great Aunt Lucy (otherwise known as "Sister"), and my grandmother Eleanor (otherwise known as "Grams").  This picture is the only one I have of me with both of them, and I'm making it my wallpaper on my computer today as I reflect on what sainthood really is.  Both of these women lived lives of faithfulness into their 90s that looked quite different from one another, but that taught me lessons about independence, the fierceness of love, steadiness, unconditional care, and perseverance that I hope I can hold onto into my 90s if I am gifted with a life this long.  They are saints to me because of what they have taught me about my connection to God and the way I want to be connected to others as I live on this earth.

So who has been a saint to you?  Not for the extraordinary things they have done, like slaying lions or bringing about miraculous healings, but for their everyday acts of faithfulness that have changed your experience of God and this world?  Take time today to remember them, to celebrate them, to live in the bittersweet memory of those who have come before and after whom we hope our legacies will be patterned. And hear Paul's words to the church at Corinth as words of blessing addressed even to ordinary old you:

"To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."