Category Archives: Faith

Musing: Be Merciful

Shadows on Path. Photo: TLClark, 9/15/19.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Happy the kind — because they shall find kindness.”

– Matthew 5:7 New Revised Standard Version (merciful/mercy) and Young’s Literal Translation (kind/kindness)

I’ve been humming a song off and on since worship Sunday morning. Every once in awhile I sing a few words of the refrain: “So be merciful, just as our God is merciful.” It’s a newish hymn – published in 2015 – by Ed Bolduc. The tune is new and the refrain is new. But the verses are from a hymn first published in 1854: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Frederick W. Faber.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in [God’s] justice, Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.

– Frederick W. Faber, “There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy,” stanzas 1, 5

According to Hymnary.org, one version or another of Faber’s hymn has been published in at least 757 hymnals. Faber’s other famous hymn – “Faith of Our Fathers” – shows up in at least 728.

From what I can see there were at 12 stanzas in the original “There’s a Wideness to God’s Mercy.” Different folks mix and match the stanzas into verses (typically two per verse), usually leaving out a few. There are, of course, several different tunes to which it can be sung – which is exactly the sort of thing that can lead to my confusion when leading worship in a new (to me) place!

I began this blogpost thinking about mercy – hence the beatitude at the top – and was delighted to discover Young’s Literal Translation of kindness. The dictionary at the back of my Greek New Testament lists both mercy and compassion as suitable translations. Whatever word we use, we are called to be merciful / kind / compassionate in response to God’s mercy / kindness / compassion.

So be merciful, just as our God is merciful.
Be merciful, just as our God is merciful to us.
Let there be a wideness in our mercy.
Let there be a kindness in our hearts.
Oh, may our lives be merciful.

Ed Bolduc, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy / Be Merciful,” Refrain (c) 2015. World Library Publications.

My you know mercy, compassion and kindness.
May you be merciful, compassionate, kind.
Teressa

p.s. Here’s a link (I hope!) to a video of the Bolduc’s version. Enjoy!

Musing: Potter and Clay

Molding Clay. Photo: TLClark, 8/13/19.

So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

– Jeremiah 18:3-6 NRSV
Creating Bowl. Photo: TLClark, 8/13/19.

Pastor Dave’s sermon Sunday was drawn from Jeremiah 18:1-11 and left me thinking about how we are molded and formed in life. The people around us shape us for good or for ill. The conversations in which we engage nudge our thinking one way or another. The books we read, the shows we watch, the music we listen to – it all plays a role in making us who we are.

Shaping the Vessel. Photo: TLClark, 8/13/19.

The text and the sermon reminded me of pictures I took at the Iowa State Fair in August. Jim Miller of Blue House Pottery demonstrated how to throw clay and mold various vessels. (To learn more about Blue House Pottery or to see finished work click here.)

Stretching the Vessel. Photo: TLClark, 8/13/19.

As I cropped the pictures I was focused on the hands that were doing the molding. What you can’t see – except in the second to last picture below – is how the potter’s attention was fully focused on the clay as it was being formed into a vessel.

Imagine, if you will, God’s full attention focused on you and your people. How might God be forming and reforming the vessel that is your community?

Forming the Base for a Large Vase. Photo: TLClark, 8/13/19.

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me:
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

“Spirit of the Living God” by Daniel Iverson (1926)
Forming the Top of Large Vase. Photo: TLClark, 8/13/19.

The potter in these pictures is working on one vessel at a time. More often than not, I think of God the potter shaping one person (me!) at a time. But the Biblical text is about God forming a people, a community, a nation. It is in relationships with God and with others that we (the clay!) are formed in faith, learn to be be faithful, and practice faithfulness.

Measuring. Photo: TLClark, 8/13/19.

Yet, O Lord, you are our [Parent];
 we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

– Isaiah 64:8 NRSV

Musing: Prayer

“[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.'”  – Luke 11:1 NRSV

Who taught you to pray?

“My sister,” was the quick, first answer when I asked the congregation last Sunday.  I have to admit that I was a bit surprised.  But I shouldn’t have been.  Our siblings – biological or spiritual – teach us all kinds of things when we pay attention.  Why wouldn’t a sister be a teacher of prayer?

Other answers were more along the lines of what I expected.  More than one mother taught the bedtime prayer “Now I lay me…”.   At least one father made sure the family said grace at mealtime.  A grandmother was mentioned.  And a Sunday school teacher.

Earlier in the worship service the three children in the small crowd, their father, and I enjoyed Tim Ladwig’s beautiful interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer.  Ladwig’s illustrations in this children’s book are exquisite and a great way to talk about the meaning of each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer in ways younger children – and the rest of us – can understand.

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Whenever I preach on the prayer, I remember one question from the old Evangelical Catechism:  “What is prayer?”

101.
What is prayer?
Prayer is the conversation of the heart with God
for the purpose of praising [God],
asking [God] to supply the needs of ourselves and others,
and thanking [God] for whatever [God] gives us.
Ps. 19:14. Ps. 34:3. Ps. 103:1-4. Matt. 6:6. Matt. 7:7- 8. Matt. 18:19-20. Matt. 21:22. Ps. 92:1. 1 Tim. 2:1-2. 1 Thess. 5:17.

Evangelical Catechism, https://www.ucc.org/beliefs_evangelical-catechism

“Prayer is a conversation of the heart with God.”

A conversation.  Speaking and Listening.

For praise. For help. For giving thanks.


I didn’t use it last Sunday, but here’s my favorite prayer by Saint Francis.

The Prayer before the Crucifix by Saint Francis

Most High,
glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
true faith,
certain hope,
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
Lord,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

May it be so.

Musing: Sing

“O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” – Psalm 95:1 NRSV

One of the best parts of leading worship last Sunday was being in a congregation that knows how to sing!  It was a small group (just eleven not counting the guest pianist, her family, my husband and me), but they knew how to make beautiful, joyful noise.

“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.”  – Psalm 96:1 NRSV

This week I provide Pulpit Supply (lead worship and preach) in another small congregation.  Having been there before I know they have amazing instrumental musicians and solid singers among their membership.  It’s too bad their numbers have dwindled and the choir has been disbanded.  But we’ll still make joyful music!

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Kitchen Table as Makeshift Desk.  Photo: TLClark, 7/15/19.

On an entirely different note (pun not intended but noticed), here’s part of a paragraph from the book I’m currently reading.

“This is our role: To weave together those disparate energies.  To manipulate and mitigate and, through the prism of our awareness, produce a singular force that cannot be denied.  To make of cacophony, symphony. …”

– N. K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky (Series: The Broken Earth, Book Three), http://www.orbitbooks.net, 2017.

Our role:  “to make of cacophony, symphony.”  Such a rich image!  Especially since Jemisin is not writing about musicians.

Whatever the cacophony of your life, may you discover a joyful noise, a song, a symphony.  May you sing.

 

Musing: Cross

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  – 1 Corinthians 1:18 NRSV

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Stained Glass Cross.  St. John UCC, Melbourne, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 7/7/19.

Crosses and stained glass windows are not unusual in a church.  But I can’t remember seeing another cross-shaped stained glass window.  Which is why I shared the photo on Facebook with a note of gratitude for being warmly welcomed last Sunday by the congregation where I provided Pulpit Supply.

It’s not a great picture but many of my Facebook friends responded to the photo with a “like” or a “love” or a “wow.”

The reaction to the picture has caused me to pause.  My Facebook friends who follow Jesus represent a broad spectrum* of Christianity.  We do not all agree on how to faithfully respond to the challenges in the world today.  We don’t even all agree on what some of those challenges are.  But we all claim the cross as a symbol of our faith.

President Lincoln’s words came to mind:

“Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. … The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.”

– Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

Staying friends on Facebook with those with whom we disagree is hard.  It’s tempting to ‘unfriend’ them.  But many are part of my extended family.  And seeing some of their posts is helpful – if for no other reason than to remember there are well-meaning people who understand the world differently than I do.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

– Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

 


*United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, United Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Quaker, Pentecostal, Nondenominational, and who knows what else.   There are, I’m sure, a few who no longer darken the doorway of any church.

Substitute Pastor

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“Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2 CEB

Pastor S called late Tuesday afternoon.  “My son’s been in a bad motorcycle accident.  Can you cover for me this Sunday?”

Yes.  Of course.  I’m available.  And that’s what I do: lead worship and preach when one of my colleagues will be away.  We call it pulpit supply in the United Church of Christ.

“Oh,” one of my husband’s relatives said once she understood what I do, “you’re a substitute pastor!”   I’ve been called worse.

Pastor J called Wednesday morning.  “Is there any chance you could do some pulpit supply?”  She was asking for a congregation down the road.  They and their (now former) pastor have had a parting of ways.

Yes.  Of course.  Just not this Sunday or the 21st because I’m already committed.  But that’s also what I do:  step in as a stable presence to lead worship and preach, to love the people through an unexpected difficult time, to remind them they are not forgotten by God.

When colleagues are headed for a conference or taking a vacation, they ask early.  When there’s a family emergency, they call as soon as they realize they may need to be gone on Sunday.   When a church and a pastor have parted ways, Pastor J or someone in her position will call.

So today I’m looking at a bulletin that was handed to me, writing prayers, thinking of a children’s message, and trying to figure out where Pastor S might have been going with the sermon.  I’ve pretty much decided to ignore her sermon title.  But we won’t know the details until Sunday morning.

If you’re looking for a substitute pastor, I may or may not be available the 14th and 28th.  But I should know by Monday.

Blessings,
Pastor Teressa