Monday, December 30, 2013

What Gives You Life?

For the next 30 days, I will be be receiving an amazing gift from my amazing church. Broadneck has the remarkable practice of giving their pastors a sabbatical of 30 days after three years of service. After three and a half fantastic years at Broadneck, I will be taking my sabbatical now through the month of January, taking time to get married (an unusual use of sabbatical, I know!) and to rest and find refreshment for continued ministry.
As I have prepared for this time, I was convicted that I wanted January to be a "sabbatical" of sorts for you What Gives Us Life?" I have asked them to consider not only what they see as life-giving in the lectionary passages for each week, but also to share some of what is giving them life currently as they continue the journey of faith.
all as well--a chance for you to find renewal and restoration as a congregation. I also wanted to lend some coherence to the month even as you have the gift of hearing four different amazing preachers--Cherie Smith, John Roberts, Leslie Copeland-Tune, and Brent Walker. So I asked all four preachers to offer reflections on a common theme: "

This theme idea was inspired by one of my favorite writers, Barbara Brown Taylor, who had this to say in her book An Altar in the World (my recommended reading for you this month!):

Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him. “Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.

This is my prayer for you this month--that you might rediscover what your life depends on, or discover it anew--that you may find a way to connect to the things that give you life and to stay close to them. Most of all, that this may be a life-giving time for you as you consider the one in whom "was light, and that light was the life of all people" (John 1:4). What is saving your life right now? What does your life depend on? And how might God want to help you connect to new life, rest, and renewal?

Some people will be sharing their testimonies addressing this question in worship in the coming weeks, and I hope you will consider how you would answer these questions for yourself. Share your answers with me when I return!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Year in Review

This coming Sunday, as part of our worship, we will offer a litany that includes a paraphrase of a simple prayer that has been one of my favorites since I first heard it on a New Year's retreat as a teenager:

For all that has been, Thank you. 
For all that is to come, Yes!” 
(Dag Hammarskjold) 

We will say these lines together as part of a litany blessing the year that has been in the life of our church, and blessing the many, many transitions that surely will be part of 2014.

All this got me to thinking about what a truly amazing year 2013 has been in the life of our church. From our incredible, congregation-changing week of hosting 25 homeless guests for the first time through the Winter Relief program in January; to an amazing art-infused Church Council retreat in April; to an intergenerational Seder dinner in March followed by a beautiful celebration of Easter; to the youth group trash pick-up in April; to the Strawberry festival in early June followed by Music and Arts Camp at the end of the month; to serving through My Brother's Pantry in July and in West Virginia in August; to Tea and Parables in September and our Bryan Moyer Suderman concert and chili cook-off in October; to a beautiful All-Saints Day and baby dedication in November, and now this Advent of a Holy Pause--it has been a remarkable year, one that has made me more grateful than ever to call myself Broadneck's pastor.

2014 promises to bring new things--some of which we embrace, some of which we wish were otherwise, some of which we have no idea yet. Births, deaths, marriages, retirements, sabbaticals, moves, illnesses, new relationships and opportunities--all of these are part of our journey as a family of faith. As we move into this new year, my prayer is that we will continue to walk together with joy and intentionality, and most of all with love for one another. Join us on Sunday as we say "thanks" for what has been, and "yes" to what will be.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Poem for Christmas Eve

Take the time today: read Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-18 here.

Then read the poem below from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. Though I hope today won't bring snow (I want to worship together tonight!), I feel like it captures the sense of Holy Pause we have been aiming for throughout Advent. How do you need to pause tonight, to experience the silence immense, the heavens holding a million candles, welcoming the light of the world?

A blessed Christmas to you all.

"First Snow" by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Wilderness Do You Wander?

Our texts for this third Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11, which you can read here.

Have you ever been to the wilderness? I don't have a lot of wilderness experience, but I do remember the shock of my one major wilderness trip: to the Grand Canyon. As we were driving from Nevada through Arizona to reach the canyon, I was stunned to pass a road sign that said, "Next gas station 57 miles." 57 miles? Who knew there were still places in America you could travel 57 miles without finding a gas station...or even an interstate exit! Where was I?

Then I got to the canyon, in all its majestic rugged beauty, and my favorite picture of all the MANY I took there is this one:
It sounds silly, but maybe not so much I guess after I professed my draw to trees and my desire to be one in the sermon last week: I fell in love with this stubborn, scraggly thing that had stubbornly taken root in rock, pushing through the most hostile of climates and circumstances to find life. This is what you find in the wilderness: stubborn, resilient beauty. Life in unexpected nooks and crevices.

Today's passage from Isaiah reminds us that there IS life even in the wilderness--where there seems to be just nothing. Matthew's Gospel reminds us that even in the dark wilderness of a prison cell, just beyond the walls (and even within them) there IS God at work, even in places where it can be hard to see just what's going on. 

We all find ourselves in different wildernesses from time to time. Look at the various wilderness pictures below. Which one resonates with you? Where might you need claim that "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing"--even the one you may be walking, wandering, or driving through this day?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Peaceable Kingdom

Our texts for this second Sunday in the season of Advent--our season of Holy Pause--are Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12, which you can read here:

At our first Tuesday night "Holy Pause" gathering this week, a variety of reflection stations were set up around the worship space to allow people to practice pausing and opening themselves to God's holy presence in different ways. One of the stations was entitled "Looking," and at it was an art print of the above painting by John August Swanson, "Peaceable Kingdom."

The instructions on the station read, "Read Isaiah 11:6-9, then spend some time looking at John August Swanson’s painting entitled “Peaceable Kingdom.” Consider these questions:
         How do the image’s colors and lines illuminate the scripture’s meaning?
         Where do you see God in this image?
         Had you been the artist, how might you have illustrated this passage?

Here were some things that occured to me as I meditated on this image:
         I wonder why the scene was set at night time? 
         Why are there pairs of some animals, and only a single one of others?
         With peace, I often think in pastel colors...I love how rich and full these colors are. This scene is not is VIBRANT.

What captures you in this art image? What captures you in the images painted by the author of Isaiah? What might this vision really look like lived out?