Category Archives: Faith

Monday Musing: Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me.”
– John 10:14 Common English Bible

Good Shepherd Sunday.  The Fourth Sunday of Easter.  (Did you know that Easter Season in the church lasts 50 days?)  Every year there is a reading from John 10. 

“I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen.  I must lead them too…there will be one flock, with one shepherd.”
– John 10:16 Common English Bible

Although it wasn’t part of the reading this year, I found myself thinking about the “other sheep” mentioned in verse 16.  It may be my favorite line in John 10.  Jesus has other sheep.  I find that strangely comforting.

Jesus’ fold is ever so much larger than what I see in any of the communities in which I worship.  People – Christian and non-Christian – who don’t believe as I believe.  People whose faith experiences are unlike mine.  People who worship God in ways foreign to my experience, who call God by other names, who follow entirely different religious paths.  People who don’t look like me or dress like me or think like me or speak like me or  (fill in the blank)________________.  I cannot, must not count anyone out.  Jesus counts them all in.  One flock with more variety than most of us can imagine.

“The Lord is my shepherd.  I lack nothing …
“You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.”
– Psalm 23:1, 5a  Common English Bible

Here’s the thing about this table in front of our enemies: our enemies are at table, too. And they’re probably not at another table.  There are no clear lines of separation; there is no segregation.  The Good Shepherd is host; friend and foe alike are all seated at the same table.

“Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.”
– Psalm 23:1, 5a, 6  Common English Bible

Good Shepherd Sunday and Mother’s Day coincided this year here in the U.S.  It reminded me of Bobby McFerrin’s beautiful version of Psalm 23 – a tribute to his mother.  Here’s one I found in cyberspace.

 

Monday Musing: Alpha and Omega

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God,
who is and who was and who is to come,
the Almighty.
– Revelation 1:8 New Revised Standard Version

Sometimes, in the space where I’m drifting off to sleep,
texts I’ve heard recently,
words I’ve just read,
and songs I’ve sung in the past
meet up in my mind.
They’re a bit shy, a little nervous,
not sure they should be in the same place at the same time.

That summer was a new beginning, a new end.
When I look back, I remember my slippery
hands of paint and the sound of Papa’s feet
on Munich Street, and I know that small
piece of the summer of 1942 belonged to only
one man.  Who else would do some painting for
the price of half a cigarette?  That was Papa,
that was typical, and I loved him.
– Markus Zusak, in The Book Thief

Alpha and Omega.
First and Last.
Before the beginning and beyond the end.
Always there.  Always here.
Always now.
Past.  Present.  Future.

Yet we measure time in discrete bits, distinct seasons.
That was then.
A new beginning.  A new end.
This is now.
Also a new beginning and a new end.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing, in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
– Natalie Sleeth, “In the Bulb There Is a Flower,” verse 3

Linear.  One thing after another.  Never to go back.
Circular.  One thing after another.  Back at the beginning again.
Timeless with God.

Easter

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Second Sunday of Easter, Faith United Church of Christ, Muscatine, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 4/7/13.

Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?”

When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!)  Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled.

But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.[aHe has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.”

Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.[b]

[a] Or the Crucified One         [b] In most critical editions of the Gk New Testament, the Gospel of Mark ends at 16:8.

Mark 16:1-8, Common English Bible (C) 2011

That’s a wrap.

In the most ancient editions of the Gospel of Mark (which was the first gospel written), it all ends here:  an empty tomb, terror and dread.  No sighting of Jesus.  No sign of the rest of the disciples.  No more words.

To end on a note of fear is neither uplifting nor hope-filled.

And yet it’s my favorite ending.  It leaves so much to the imagination.  It recognizes that whatever happened and whatever comes next cannot be fully explained.  It is a matter of faith.

Clearly the woman talked about what they saw and heard at the tomb.  Jesus must have met them and the other disciples – including Peter – in Galilee.  Otherwise there’s no story.  Jesus would have been forgotten like the now unknown traveling preachers, teachers, healers, magicians, and story-tellers of his time.

The tomb is empty.

Jesus is risen!

Now what?

No matter where you are on life’s journey of faith or non-faith, from whatever religious or cultural tradition of your past or your present, may you have peace in your life this day and every day,  Teressa

Photo Challenge: Worship

Where does one begin to capture an image of worship?  As an ordained pastor and teacher in the United Church of Christ, my mind went in dozens of directions – not all of them church related!  I settled on sharing photographs related to two Sacraments celebrated as a part of Christian worship.  The things pictured are just things until they are used by a gathered community to remember, to share stories, and to celebrate what God has done, is doing and will do.

EUCHARIST (‘thanksgiving’) – COMMUNION – THE LORD’S SUPPER

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.”  – Psalm 34:8a NRSV

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Communion Table, Psalms Retreat, Pilgrim Heights Camp & Retreat Center, Montour, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 9/11/14.

These first two pictures are from a one-day retreat I led based on the theme “Taste of God.”   We gathered for Morning Prayer, had a chance to work in the garden harvesting vegetables, and shared in a time of Worship with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

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After Sharing the Bread and Cup, Pilgrim Heights Camp & Retreat Center, Montour, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 9/11/14.

Did you notice the honey pot in the second picture?

“I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
– Psalm 81:16 NRSV

My preference for Communion ware is definitely not the shiny plates and wine/juice trays for individual cups used in every church I’ve served.  Nevertheless I am always fascinated at the way the surfaces reflect candles and lights and windows!

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Pastor’s View of Communion Table, Faith UCC, Muscatine, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 4/8/12.

My husband and I were in Seattle for a wedding last fall and dropped in for Sunday Worship at the UCC congregation nearest our hotel.  The chalice, paten (plate holding the bread) and cloth were beautiful.

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Chalice, Broadview Community UCC, Seattle, Washington.  Photo:  TLClark, 10/7/18.

BAPTISM

More reflections on shiny church things!  The pictures were taken before Sunday morning worship in two different congregations.  Each had a silver pitcher from their early days that we used to pour water into the bowl for a baptism.

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Window Reflections in Baptismal Bowl, Bethany UCC, Baxter, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 5/29/16.

Worship - Faith - Baptism Pitcher Reflecting Rose Window

Rose Window Reflected on Pitcher, Faith UCC, Muscatine, Iowa.  Photo: TLClark, 4/17/13.

Just because I like it, here is a picture of me introducing Elle – a newly baptized “child of God, follower of Jesus, member of the church” – to the congregation.  

Worship - Bethany - Baptism (2)

* * *

Following the news of the devastating fire in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Frank at Dutch goes the Photo! wrote, “it was immediately obvious to me that the theme for this week’s challenge is to be Worship. Regardless of religion, faith or belief system, we can all worship; whether it’s a universal being, nature or the love of our life… Please take this challenge into the direction of Worship that speaks most to you and share it creatively!”

Thank-you, Frank, for encouraging a broad definition of worship.

Unwilling to Understand

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Photo:  TLClark, 4/14/19.

It’s Palm Sunday.  But the sermon I heard this morning could have been given any Sunday of the church year.

I remember exactly one phrase:  “unwilling to understand.”  It fit beautifully with whatever the Deacon (we were worshiping with Roman Catholics) was saying.  But I’ve already forgotten the exact context and that’s OK.  Even when I’m the preacher I don’t necessarily remember the sermon.

How often are we willfully unwilling to understand?
Whether it’s the changing climate or the plight of the refugee,
whether it’s the rising water or the post-storm debris,
whether he is an unknown immigrant or a well-known relative,
whether she was born recently or decades ago,
whether they live a world away or just down the street,
whatever the situation
it’s ever so much easier to simply ignore what is reported,
to look away from what is shown,
to shut mind and heart to what is revealed,
so we can pretend it is – or they are – someone else’s problem.
I know I’m guilty.

Meanwhile we Christians say we follow Jesus – one who did not ignore what was going on around him.   Jesus did not look away from the people before and beside him.  He did not shut his heart and mind to the great needs of the world.

Lord, make me willing to understand.  And willing to act.

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Photo: TLClark, 4/14/19.

The Golden Rule at Church

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 NRSV

“Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.” – Luke 6:31 CEB

Love is kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4)  But sometimes what we call kindness or think is a kindness is not experienced by another as such because it is not kind.  It is an insisting on our own way (see 1 Corinthians 13:5).

I’ve long said church – my church, your church, all church – would be perfect if it didn’t have any people.  But then it wouldn’t be church.  (sigh)

We human beings are a contentious lot.  We are eager to get our own way.  We frequently forget – and too often choose to ignore – the Golden Rule:  do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Getting church right is hard, hard work.  It’s been that way for a long, long time.  Just read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to get a glimpse of the turmoil in the early church.

And yet the church – the body of Christ – in all its imperfection continues.  There are many faithful leaders – ordained and lay.  There are countless loyal followers of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit still sheds wisdom on those who have ears to hear and hearts to heed her teaching.   The same God who created “in the beginning” is still at work doing a new thing.

Some days I believe it.  Other days I don’t.

Which is why we need each other.  Some days I keep the faith for those who struggle.  Other days I’m held through the struggle by those keeping the faith.

May it be so for you.

Another Snowy Sunday

It snowed nine or ten inches between 9 p.m. Saturday and mid-day Sunday.

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Since snow-covered, slippery roads have veto power over (nearly) every voluntary activity, my husband and I missed gathering with other Christians to worship God for the second week in a row.  We’re the type that rarely miss church.  Missing two Sundays in a row is highly uncharacteristic, nearly unthinkable!  God doesn’t mind; but it makes my week feel odd.

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Our driveway Sunday morning after a bit of shoveling on my part an hour or so earlier; before the professionals arrived.

A week ago we held our own little worship service.  We sang a few songs from Taizé, read John’s favorite scripture (Matthew 6:25-31), prayed, and sang some more.

This Sunday we listened to Iowa Public Radio and worked on a puzzle while waiting for our out-of-town weekend guests.  It had just begun snowing when they headed to the hotel late Saturday; we were hoping they’d safely return to our home Sunday.  (They did.)

Whether heading to church or staying home, It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders has become one of my must-listen-to Sunday programs.  Sam and his guests help me hear the week’s news from a perspective outside my every day experience.  It has the feel of chatting with friends and leaves me feeling both encouraged and challenged (much like a good sermon).  I can’t tell you what I heard yesterday but I’m sure it fed my spirit (also like a good sermon).

Be safe, friends, wherever you are whether or not there’s snow on the ground.  And may you hear something today that feeds your spirit.

Teressa