Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Son Shared His Chips With Me

Today the scripture my pastor preached from was the miraculous feeding of the 5,000.  An iconic scripture, where we learn not just of the generosity of Jesus - but also of a little child.  I have often spoken of this scripture a lot with my wife.  As a former youth minister, one of her favorite questions to ask her youth when studying this scripture was, "So, where do you think all of the food came from?"

It's not out of the realm of possibility for the Lord to call the food to magically appear; food for 5,000 is nothing compared to feeding the whole nation of Israel as it walked the wilderness for 40 years.  The Lord also turned water into wine.  Where the Lord wants food, there's food.  That's pretty safe to say.

But ... what if the miracle here was getting people who would have otherwise kept their resources to themselves to share?  What if sharing was the real miracle?  Following the example of a 'youth' who gave his fish and bread, maybe others felt the need to give.  And not only was there food for 5,000 people that day, there were also leftovers.

Tonight at dinner, my son shared his chips with me.

I handed him a chip and he held it back out to me to take a bite out of.  So I took a bite ... And he laughed so hard.  And I laughed.  And he laughed some more.  It was made all the more wonderful because earlier today, while our pastor was preaching, I was wondering when my boy was going to learn to share.

Sharing sure is something.  And there are still plenty of chips to go around.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pop Tunes I'd Use In Worship

I'm not scared to use a pop song in worship.  I think it can be quite fun and illuminating.  I've used the standards, Where the Streets Have No Name, by U2, Simon and Garfunkel's amazing anthem Bridge Over Troubled Water, "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the Sound of Music, All You Need is Love by the Beatles. But I only use them if they can be relevant to the message.  When a pastor gives me enough time gather resources, it's amazing the ideas that can be brought together in a collaborative planning session.

Of the times I've used secular songs in worship, the only time they've ever felt like a failure is if they haven't properly been incorporated into the message of the day.  I'm a huge fan of the 'single thread' approach to worship planning.  That is, taking a single point for the day and making sure it's brought out in every element of the service as is humanly (and Holy-Spirit-ly...) possible.  Our call is to be fearless in presenting the Gospel, and the songs of the secular world can also be used, given the right context, to glorify God and help us work through the human condition together.

If given the opportunity, here are a few songs that I haven't used in worship from the secular world, that I would love to give a try:

We Can Work it Out - The Beatles
Probably in my top-five favorite Beatles tunes ever.  Imagine if we used this one to start off what can be a very contentious meeting?  "Try to see it my way, only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong ... We can work it out."  It's pretty good theology.

Fix You - Coldplay
I think if you were doing a sermon series on healing or pastoral care Fix You could be an amazing addition to a worship set.  "Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you."

The House is Rockin - Stevie Ray Vaughan
That's just a great intro to worship, right?

Burnin Down the House - The Talking Heads
Just for fun, this could be great on Pentecost.  "No visible means of support and you have not seen nothing yet."  John Legend did a version that was a little simpler with a little more soul, as you might expect from him.  But speaking of John Legend ...

Show Me - John Legend
A kind of stream-of-consciousness prayer, this one is more toward the sacred side of things than any of the others listed here.  With an amazingly prayerful guitar riff to start things off, Mr. Legend offers a prayer of searching - praying for revelation from God.  "Show me that you love me, show me that you walk with me."

Is there anything you would add?  How do you feel about using pop songs in worship?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Prayer for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

From the United Methodist Book of Worship:

We remember the conviction of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Therefore, let us pray for courage and determination by those who are oppressed ...

We remember Martin's warning that "a negative peace which is the absence of tension" is less than "a positive peace which is the presence of justice."
Therefore, let us pray that those who work for peace in our world may cry out first for justice ...

We remember Martin's insight that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."
Therefore, let us pray that we may see nothing in isolation, but may know ourselves bound to one another and to all people under heaven ...

We remember Martin's lament that "the contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.  It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo.  Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church's silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are."
Therefore, let us pray that neither this congregation nor any congregation of Christ's people may be silent in the face of wrong, but that we may be disturbers of the status quo when that is God's call to to us ...

We remember Martin's "hope that dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."
Therefore, in faith, let us commend ourselves and our work for justice to the goodness of almighty God.  Amen.

Quotations from Letter From the Birmingham City Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Baptized by the Red Sea

When I asked my pastor for a couple of simple books to help me break down (or introduce me to) sacramental theology, the first thing she told me to purchase was the study guide to By Water and the Spirit, as written by Gayle Carlton Fenton.  It fleshes out the official UMC document on baptism, also called By Water and the Spirit, as adopted by the 1996 General Conference as a way to firmly establish, and reclaim, the Wesleyan way of baptism.

As I've pondered through this resource, I've found my mind blown over and over again.  In a blessed way.

First is to realize that there's no true way to completely understand the mysteries of the sacraments   We journey with the sacraments of baptism and communion, as they are points where the Spirit (whether we're open or not) will enter and begin a change.  Whereas there's an awful lot we can do to offer our thanks and praise up to God, Wesley viewed the sacrament as reflected in his Anglican roots "that a sacrament is 'an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same."  So, God is at work in the sacraments.  And we join with God in them.

As the document and the book dive further into baptism's rich history in the Christian church, we find that it's truer roots are in our Jewish heritage, well before Christ was baptized in the Jordan by John.

Of the pictures of baptism (water as a change agent in the Word) in the Old Testament, the one that rocked my world the most has to be this:
Other biblical accounts associate water with other salvation themes present in baptism.  The Hebrew people were freed from their slavery in Egypt by God's action, which enabled them to escape through the sea (Exodus 14:19-31).  So, baptism is liberation from sin.  (page 19, By Water and the Spirit Study Guide)

On one side of the Red Sea the Hebrews are a nation of slaves.  On the other side the Hebrew nation is on their way to God's Promised Land.

On one side is their old way of life.  On the other side freedom in the Lord.

But, they have to get across first.  So what does God do?  He parts the sea, and the Hebrews run to the other side, chased by Pharoah's army - chased by their old life.

Grace was offered to the Israelites as they stepped out in faith to cross that body of water.  Can you imagine that?  The sea wasn't dried up - it surrounded them on either side as they ran.  No doubt they were afraid, but also no doubt that they pushed through with faith in the Lord.

The people of Israel needed a new start, God made that new start happen.  Crazy awesome.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

OT Reflections: Kicking the Can Down the Road

Progress.  It's a tough concept; but it's always the goal ... maybe.  What does progress look like?  Or to answer my question with another question, what does the word 'traditional' mean?  Or how about the word 'contemporary?'

These are all words that have different definitions according to different people.

When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, progress was finally made for the nation of Israel.  Finally, the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were on their way to the Promised Land after a long stay in Egypt complete with a harrowing escape.

But through it all, they grumbled.  A lot.  To Moses.  To Aaron.  To one another.  To God.  God carried them through many great obstacles as a way to build up their faith, but when ever things got difficult, the Israelites doubted.  And they disobeyed.

Because of their doubts, the generation of Israelites who led the charge out of Egypt would not be allowed to see the Promised Land.  The nation of Israel would wander, though they would be led by the Lord, for 40 years - until the generation of disbelievers passed away.

There's much to glean from the story today, but I find it particularly relevant as we look at a UMC, particularly in the US,  that appears to be in a wandering period.

What makes me say we're wandering?

The denomination isn't growing in the US, its home base.

The wandering of the Israelites began with unfaithfulness, so where is that we haven't been faithful that got us to this place?  Maybe right here:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “ I've received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I've commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Gospel of Matthew, 28:16-20
As the church doesn't grow, and in some places refuses to, the church wanders.  The thing for us, however, is that it doesn't appear that we have a 40-year sentence over our heads.  In fact, we don't have 40 years to waste.  The UMC today can't afford to kick that can down the road for the next generation to clean up.  And it's happening from General Conference all the way down to the local church.

In worship at another faith community a couple of weeks ago, I heard the pastor pray, "Lord, we pray for our children to have faith, but we also pray for our faith to have children."

Look around at your faith family ...Are you wandering?  What will you do about it?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

OT Reflections: The Kenosis of Moses

My wife and I have been on a journey the last several months together as we've taken on a "Bible-in-a-year" challenge.  While we've had to take a break for a day or two here and there, it's been fun and insightful to be on this journey together.

There's a lot to be said for dwelling and praying upon specific passages of prayer, but there's also a lot to be said about reading it quickly as well.  Reading the Word in three to five chapters per night can really give one a sense of the narrative of the Bible.  Sure, there's the occasional monotonous evening (Deuteronomic case laws, anyone?), but on the whole I've found it exciting to read the Word this way.

As we've gone through this, there are certain passages that hit an emotional note with me as we read and struggle through the story of our ancient Israelite brothers and sisters.  But for me, as for many, the story of Moses stands above the rest.  This passage comes from the end of Moses' journey:

Then Moses hiked up from the Moabite plains to Mount Nebo, the peak of the Pisgah slope, which faces Jericho.  The LORD showed him the whole land:  the Gilead region as far as Dan's territory; all the parts belonging to Naphtali along with the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, as well as the entirety of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea; also the arid southern plain, and the plain - including the Jericho Valley, Palm City - as far as Zoar.
Then the Lord said to Moses:  "This is the Land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised 'I will give it to your descendants.'  I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it."  Then Moses, the LORD's servant, died - right there in the land of Moab, according to the LORD's command.  The LORD buried him in a valley in Moabite country across from Beth-peor.  Even now, no one knows where Moses' grave is.  Moses was 120 years old when he died.  His eyesight wasn't impaired, and his vigor hadn't diminished a bit.
Back down in the Moabite plains, the Israelites mourned Moses' death for thirty days.  At that point, the time for weeping and for mourning Moses was over.  Joshua, Nun's son, was filled with wisdom because Moses had placed his hands on him.  So the Israelites listened to Joshua, and they did exactly what the LORD commanded Moses.
Deuteronomy 34:1-9 [CEB]

Can you imagine this?  120 years old, and Moses was still going strong, still pouring out his all in the name of the Lord as for his nation of Israel.  For the Lord, he became leader of his people - its priest (along with Aaron, to be sure), its judge, its jury,  its advocate, its general.  He never rested.

The heart-wrenching part, is that through one moment of weakness in drawing forth the water from the stone his way (and not the Lord's), he wasn't to set foot in the Promised Land.  And yet, even though he knew that, he lead his people.

I'll say that again ... He knew he wasn't to set foot in the Promised Land, and still he lead is people to it.

When we speak of the kenosis of Christ, we most often look at this passage from Paul's letter to the Phillipians:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.  When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 [CEB]
So what is this kenosis?  In our Christian terms, we're speaking of Christ's self-emptying (kenotic) love.  Not only did he come to earth in human form, but on the way out of his earthly existence - at his death - he emptied his Spirit out onto us.

But where as the King of Kings was a young adult when he poured out his love on to all of us for the redemption of the world, Moses was at an age when most people take a seat.  Actually he was more than twice the age of someone who takes early retirement.

Which begs the question, when do we get to stop moving for the Lord?  When do we get to sit down and rest?  When do we get to stop pouring ourselves out for the good of the Kingdom?  When do we get to sit back and back-seat drive for the sake of tradition?

Reading the story of Moses makes me ever thankful for the ones who have gone ahead of me and have pulled me a long with them.  I give thanks to God for the ones full of the Lord's wisdom who lay their hands on me as if I'm Joshua, anointing me to get the people moving onward.  It makes me thankful for my grandparents and parents who've never taken a break from serving the Lord.  I give grateful thanks and praise for those members of my choirs and bands who won't quit after decades of faithful service.  I pray for the many pastors I've had that have blessed me with their mentoring spirits.

Our associate pastor, a grandma (though you'd never know it to look at her), came to lay the Word on us in worship wearing her running suit, proclaiming the Gospel - "I'm not too tired to run for Jesus!"  That's the word I want to pass on to our struggling UMC congregations.  And I want to ask, "Are you struggling because you've forgotten that we're called to pour ourselves out again and again for the Lord?  Have you forgotten that we were given the Spirit of the Lord to pass on, not to keep for ourselves?"

When we empty ourselves out into others for the Glory of the Lord, the Lord will fill us up again.  And again.  And again.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Liturgy for Peace

On December 8, 2012, our worship ministry presented our annual Christmas Gala.  It was  time to sing big, beautiful choral music, and it was also a time of worship and prayer.  This year the gala, We Pray for Peace, was focused on praying for the peaceful kingdom to finally come into fruition around us - and to ask God what it is we should be doing to help bring that kingdom about.

The 'meat' of the program was Gloria, by Antonio Vivaldi.  One of the more accessible master works in the canon, this neopolitan setting of the Gloria text of the Catholic Mass is just a lot of fun to sing.  Our primary instrumentation for the evening was a string quartet (the Gloria just isn't right without them), as well as piano, organ, and a little acoustic guitar for fun.  As is tradition in our faith family the event is intergenerational with our Chancel and Youth choirs combining voices for the service.  The Chancel Choir carried the brunt of the Gloria, and the Youth Choir offered anthems with a little more 'contemporary' feel.  Our bell choir also participated in a mighty way.

The program is presented in three acts.  The first act, "The Prophets Knew ...",  focuses on that peaceful vision of Isaiah.  The second act, "We Call on the Lord ..." begins with a plea from the psalmist as we pray for a change to come into us and to the world.  Here we pray for the world we live in today.  In the third act, " ... And the Lord is With Us!", we tell the Christmas story.  I've been told that every sermon should end on a hopeful note, so we closed with the Hope of the Nations, born unto us.  In our telling of the Christmas story, we focused on the readings that included the angels.

I'll be including commentary and links to resources throughout the liturgy of the program.  Feel free to use any or all of this program, and may the Peace of Christ be with you as you jump into 2013!


We Pray For Peace


Processional     Wonderful PeaceGustaf Nordquist
We began the service with both choirs processing to this beautiful, hymn-like anthem while holding candles.

Do you hear the angels sing?
They’re singing Glory to God!
But that’s not all!
They’re shouting down that Peace has come!
Listen to the angels sing!

*Carol 238     Angels We Have Heard on High, stanzas 1, 3, 4      GLORIA

Anthem      Da Pacem Domine      Melchior Frank, arr. by John Leavitt
                   Give us peace, O Lord.
The Prophets Knew …
Our youth pastor shared this short introduction to the journey of the service.  It was not printed in the program.
Long before the holy family, the angels, and the shepherds welcomed Christ into the world, the people were waiting and watching for the appearance of the Messiah.  The prophets preached to the ancient Israelites to be ready, for the light was coming and the peaceful kingdom would come to fruition.  But they often forgot to keep watch, just as we now often forget that the peace of Christ is within us, and that it is our great joy to spread that good news.  Tonight we’ll sing.  Tonight we’ll pray – pray with the Saints who have gone before us for these many centuries.  Tonight we call Christ down, to renew us, to revive us, to show us the meaning of this season again – to give God the glory, for God’s great redeeming love was revealed to us at Christmas.  May we hear the angels singing tonight – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Gloria      movements 1 through 7      Antonio Vivaldi
Glory be to God in the highest!  And on earth peace to men of good will.  We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we adore Thee, we glorify Thee.  We give Thee thanks for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father almighty and to our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
Old Testament Reading      Isaiah 11:1-9

Anthem      Creation Will Be At Peace      Anna Laura Page
This anthem setting of Isaiah 11:1-9 is stunningly beautiful.  It also comes with a bell choir addition to the accompaniment.

*Carol 211      O Come, O Come Emmanuel, stanzas 1, 2, 6, 7      VENI EMMANUEL
We Call on the Lord …

A Lesson from the Psalms      Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Carol      Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus      arranged by Travis Cottrell
Our youth choir presented this praise and worship setting of the advent carol by Charles Wesley.

Gloria      movements 8 through 10      Antonio Vivaldi
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.  Who taketh away the sis of the world, receive our prayer.  Who sitteth at the right hand of the father, have mercy upon us!

Hymn      For the Troubles and the Sufferings of theWorld      Rodolfo Neto
This plea comes to us from Brazil and can be found in Global Praise 3.  Our youth choir lifted it up.

Solo     “The Call” from Five Mystical Songs     Ralph Vaughan Williams
This baritone solo is the original setting of UMH 164.  It works very well with organ accompaniment.

Christmas Prayers of Intercession      When the World Was Dark      Iona Community
      Sung Response      Jesus, Remember Me      TaizĂ© Community
We used this intercessory prayer time as an opportunity to bring two monastic communities together, Iona and TaizĂ©.  We took our time here and didn't rush through.

Anthem      We Wait for Thee      Victor C. Johnson

Offertory Prayer 

Offertory      In the Bleak Midwinter     Gustav Holst, arr. by Karen Buckwalter
A touching setting of the hymn for bell choir.  It's not overdone in the least bit.

… And the Lord is With Us!

Gloria      movements 11 and 12      Antonio Vivaldi
For thou alone art holy.  Thou alone art Lord.  Thou alone, O Jesus Christ, art most high!  Together with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.  Amen!
Up to this point the Chancel Choir had sung all of the Vivaldi.  We had the Youth Choir join us here.  I couldn't let them out of learning at least a little bit of one of the great choral works ... And they loved it.

From the Gospel of Luke 1:26-33      The Angel Appears to Mary 
Carol 200      Tell Out, My Soul      WOODLANDS

From the Gospel of Matthew 1:19-23      Joseph Dreams of the Angel      
Carol      Sing We Now of Christmas      Arr. Lloyd Larson
For bell choir.

From the Gospel of Luke 2:1-7      Jesus is Born!
*Carol 246      Joy to the World, stanzas 1, 2, 4      ANTIOCH
From the Gospel of Luke 2:8-20      And the Angels Said …
Carol      Glory in the Highest      Chris Tomlin
The youth choir offered a version of Chris Tomlin's Christmas hymn with the string quartet.  The arrangement was found at

*Carol 240                                           Hark The Herald Angels Sing       MENDELSSOHN

Pastoral Benediction

Choral Benediction      Carol of the Bells      arr. Peter J. Wilhousky


And that's a wrap!  Total time of the program came in at an hour and a half, and we wouldn't have changed a thing.  But is there anything that you would have added in or taken away?