Saturday, November 28, 2009

Week 1, Day 4

Week 1, Day 4
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 & Philippians 1:3-11

There are many Sundays when I use some form of these words from 2 Corinthians in the Assurance of Pardon, and I often wonder if they hold meaning for folks. Do we really think of ourselves as new creations in that moment each week? What about each and every day?

I was particularly struck by 2 Corinthians 5:18 today: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation. The passage goes on to call us ambassadors for Christ. It always makes me sad to hear about studies where the top three things non-Christians say about Christians is that we're judgmental, anti-gay, and hypocritical. I'd say we're not doing the best job as ambassadors if that's the case. I continue to be a firm believer in making every effort to be a reconciler.

Today, as I was at Harpeth, helping with the hanging of the greens, that annual tradition of pulling out the wreaths and various decorations in order to spruce up the church for Advent. I was standing at the front of the church, looking out on the pews, and somebody on the stage right side asked me a question. As my eyes were pulled that way, I noticed that a beam of light was shining right on Mary Smith's old seat. The rest of the pew wasn't lit. None of the other seats in that area were lit. Just Mary Smith's spot. We had just been talking about reserving a couple of rows. For that brief moment, I felt Mary's presence there, watching over us as we decorated the sanctuary. I took a few moments to simply thank God for Mary's presence in my life. I miss that sweet woman. She ministered to me in so many beautiful ways. I hope to be more like Mary when I grow up.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Week 1, Day 3

Day 3
Romans 6:1-11 & Romans 13:11-14

I've been reading the New Living Translation the last few days, mostly because it was the first translation I came across on the shelf at home, but also because I enjoy it's straightforward language from time to time. It translates Paul's me genoita in Greek as "Of course not!" I like that. Of course we don't go on sinning so that grace may abound. That would be ridiculous.

Dying to sin: Do we really? I mean, do we really kill off that part of us that's "prone to wander" as the great hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing puts it? When we consider baptism, we seldom focus on "dying to sin" or "dying with Christ." These are the texts of the Bible that make we wonder if we're missing something by practicing infant baptism. Sure, sure, I know that the sacrament isn't about us, but rather about God. But, I wonder just when it is that we encourage folks in our churches to die with Christ and be "reborn" for new lives. In our focus on continual conversion, do we miss out on an opportunity to pass out the new clothes that Paul talks about in Romans 13:12?

"Clothe yourselves with the armor of right living, as those who live in the light."

As for the question in the book: How can we put on the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives? I do think that's a question that needs to be asked everyday. How can we embody Jesus and wear him on our sleeve in such a way that nobody would ever doubt whose team we're on? Here are a few quick possibilities, many of them taken from the minds/mouths of other folks:

  • Seek first understand and then to be understood
  • Spend enough time with Scripture so that its stories become our framing stories/defining narratives
  • Be peacemakers
  • Judge not, lest ye be judged
  • Live simply so others may simply live
Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 2...and a half

Wow. I start a discipline for one day and then blow it. In my defense, my parents are in town, and it keeps me busy keeping them busy. Here are my reflections for day 2 and kind of a half. At some point on Friday or Saturday, I'll make up two days' worth.

Day 2
Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9
The devotional guide draws a parallel between these strong words from Isaiah and the Pentecost story...both texts of God bursting onto the earthly scene in a radical way. I think I'm with Annie Dillard on this one. I don't think most of us show up to church actually expecting or even hoping for God to show up in a radical way similar to fire that makes wood burn and water boil.

I also wonder how often most of us church-going folks take the time to truly face our sinfulness. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all say the prayer of confession and know in our brains that we're sinful, but do we echo Isaiah who says, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags"? Ouch. I'm quite proud of my righteous deeds, thank you very much.

Reflection question: What does Isaiah's image of God as potter say to us about God's continuing work of forming and changing us?
Great question. I love the potter imagery. I like Hands of the Potter by Caedmon's Call, as it explores clay in many forms. In fact, here are the lyrics to serve as the rest of my reflection for day 2:

Lord if i'm the clay
Then i've been left out in the sun
Cracked and dry, like the mud from the sty
Still clinging to the prodigal son

But I'm on my way back home
Yes I'm on my way back home

Into the hands (into the hands)
That made wine (wine) from the water
Into the hands (into the hands)
The hands of the potter

Lord if i'm the clay then
Let your living water flow
Soften up my edges, lord,
So everyone will know

But i'm on my way back home
Yes i'm on my way back home

And Lord, when you listen for the song of my life
Let it be, let it be, a song so sweet
Let it be, let it be, a song so sweet
Let it be...

Lord, if i'm the clay then lay me down
On your spinning wheel
Shape me into something you can fill
With something real

And I'll be on my way back home
Yes i'm on my way back home

Monday, November 23, 2009

Expecting the Unexpected for Advent

In an effort to set aside the Advent season as a time for reflection and preparation for the arrival of "little 8 pound, 6 ounce baby Jesus" I'm committing to blogging every day from now until December 25th. My posts will be focused on an Advent Devotional Guide one of our adult Sunday school classes is studying called Expecting the Unexpected by Blair Gilmer Meeks (For all you church professional types, Blair Meeks has some great resources for Advent, Lent, and general liturgical use).

There's a hymn assigned for each week, which I'll be posting on Mondays, including a link to the Cyber Hymnal, which will play a scaled down midi version of the hymn for you. There's a focus Psalm for each week as well. Then, there are daily Bible readings and reflections. I'll strive to throw out a few of the reflection questions and share my thoughts. As always, I welcome comments, but please leave a name if you aren't already a blogger user.

So, without further explanation, here goes.

Week 1 Expecting Christ's New Creation
Psalm 25:1-10
Hymn: Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!

Day 1 Bible readings: Isaiah 2:1-5 & Isaiah 11:1-10

List the images of peace that caught your attention in the two readings from Isaiah:
As for Isaiah 2, I was struck by the emphasis on learning. People flock from all around to learn God's ways that they may walk in God's paths. And this isn't some heady, intellectual, ethereal lesson. This is one of those classes where you get your hands dirty. This is the art room in workshop rotation, or maybe the "real life application" room (Ruth's Real World at Harpeth). But instead of toilet paper tubes, cereal boxes, and old scraps of fabric, the call goes out for these folks to bring spears, swords, and other weapons of war. Instead of creating Christmas tree ornaments with popsicle sticks, God, the ultimate teacher, will teach the peoples of the world to make plowshares out of those swords and pruning hooks out of those spears. Weapons of war will be used to create the tools of planting and harvest. Learning the ways of the Lord does NOT include war. "Neither shall they learn war any more." Not only will there be peace, but people will quit learning how to do the war thing "just in case."

I want to go to that Sunday school class, but I wonder what I would bring for the art project. I don't have any swords, spears, guns, knives (well, besides the ones I use to eat). What do I own that contributes to war? What do I have that needs to be transformed for planting and harvest? What do I own that contributes to the destruction of God's beautiful creation? What would you bring to that Sunday school class?

Isaiah 11: That is a big bunch of animals all living together on that mountain, and, just as in Where the Wild Things Are, a little child shall lead them. Even the animals have learned the ways of the Lord, the ways of living peaceably with all. And in the midst of all these animals is the one with a spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. People look at that mountain and wonder just what the heck is going on. Do our churches look like that holy mountain? Do people look at us and wonder just what the heck is going on? For the most part, I kind of doubt it.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Preaching to the homeless

On Wednesday, I was scheduled to lead the chapel service that takes place for homeless folks before they eat lunch at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN. Initially, I was going to talk about the call of Jeremiah found in Jeremiah 1:4-10. We're using that on Sunday for a "connect with youth" Sunday, and thought I would try out some of my stuff. Then, about an hour before the service was to begin, I received an e-mail telling me that one of the regular attendees of the chapel service and the free lunch on Wednesdays had been murdered while he slept the night before. Shot in the back of the head.

Needless to say, I didn't talk about Jeremiah. I decided to use Psalm 10, a lament Psalm, that names the pain and suffering of the "have nots" who are oppressed by those who always get/have what they want. I expressed my sorrow at the loss of life, and let the folks at chapel know that I believe in a God who hears our lament, and a God who expects us to be real with our pain, sorrow, doubt, frustration, and even hope. I asked folks to offer up some laments, and then we all responded with the response of "God, You are a revolution!" These are words from a David Crowder Band song called Revolutionary Love.

I'm scheduled to preach at chapel again next week. God only knows what the message will be. I do know that preaching in that context feels completely different than Harpeth. Sure, people are people, but it feels somewhat strange to stand before those folks and speak of matters of faith. Allowing Psalm 10 to do the preaching was the way to go this week. I wonder how the regular preacher does it week after week. Surely he doesn't use the same sermon he preaches on Sunday morning. Or, does he? Anyway, I'm schedule to preach at chapel again next week. God only knows what the message will be.