Category Archives: Faith

Monday Musing: Ascension

Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hand, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  – Luke 24:50-51 NRSV

Ascension.  Another weird story in Christian scriptures that I’d rather ignore.  Jesus – the risen Christ – carried into heaven.  Forty days after Easter.  A Christian holy day.  My guess is many Protestants don’t realize it’s come and gone.

So when looking up a quilt fabric store on the internet the other day I was surprised to discover the following announcement in large, yellow letters at their top of their web page:

Store is CLOSED Thur. May 30th for Ascension Day  

Really?  Here in Iowa?!!  I’ll try to remember to ask about it when (if) I get there.

Ascension was not acknowledged in any way, shape, or form by my home congregation this year.  If I’d been preaching last week, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it either.

But our local Roman Catholic church marked the day at weekend masses.
And the priest did something I like to do when preaching.
He quoted from a contemporary text.
Not a commentary.  Not an overtly Christian or specifically religious book.
A work of fiction published in my lifetime:
Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a story by Richard Bach.

They came in the evening, then, and found Jonathan gliding peaceful and alone through his beloved sky.  The two gulls that appeared at his wings were pure as starlight, and the glow from them was gentle and friendly in the high night air.  But most lovely of all was the skill with which they flew, their wingtips moving a precise and constant inch from his own.

Without a word, Jonathan put them to his test a test that no gull had ever passed.  He twisted his wings, slowed to a single mile per hour above stall.  The two radiant birds slowed with him, smoothly, locked in position.  They knew about slow flying.

He folded his wings, rolled and dropped in a dive to a hundred ninety miles per hour.  They dropped with him, streaking down in flawless formation.

At last he turned that speed straight up into a long vertical slow-roll.  They rolled with him, smiling.

He recovered to level flight and was quiet for a time before he spoke. “Very well,” he said, “who are you?

“We’re from your Flock, Jonathan. We are your brothers.”  The words were strong and calm.  “We’ve come to take you higher, to take you home.”

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: a story, (c) 1970

Do you know the story?  Jonathan, a seagull, had been cast off from the flock.  He didn’t fly simply to find food and eat.  He flew for the shear joy of flying.  And that was unthinkable, unacceptable, intolerable.  So he was alone.

And now he is not.

That’s not where the priest went with the story.  But it is what has caught my imagination after re-reading the book on Sunday.  Though physically alone in a particular time and place, Jonathan was not alone in pursuing a dream of perfect flight.  He had kindred out there somewhere.  One day, they found him.

When you’re feeling cast off from the crowd (whether a little or lot),
may you know you are not alone.
May your kindred find you – or you find them –
and together pursue a dream that brings beauty and joy into the world.

Monday Musing: Gift

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;
but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace.
Don’t let your hearts be distressed; don’t be fearful.

– John 14:27 The Inclusive Bible

Peace, it seemed to me, would be the theme of the sermon Sunday morning.  It wasn’t.  The theme was gift.  I always like it when the preacher take a text a direction I hadn’t considered!  While I don’t remember much of the sermon, I do remember it began with this video.

Gift.
Freely given.
No strings attached.
No expectation of reciprocity.
For you to do with as you see fit.

It’s hard, giving freely.  I want the recipient to smile, to be happy or pleased, to be grateful.  I hope the gift will be used, appreciated, maybe even cherished.

And there’s a risk.  What is given might offend.  It could be ignored or re-gifted or simply tossed out.

Gift.
Because we don’t want people to stay sad.

Monday Musing: Joyful Noise

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.”
– Psalm 100:1 NRSV

John (my husband) sings with the Magnificat Choir of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Catholic parish.  They led the music at the 10:30 a.m. Mass yesterday, so I worshiped there.  The music was beautiful, joyful noise unto the Lord.

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My favorite hymn of the day was Ubi Caritas.  Here are the refrain and the first two (of five) verses.

Refrain:
*Ubi caritas est vera, est vera;
Deus ibi est, Deus ibi est.

1.
The love of Christ joins us together.
Let us rejoice in him,
and in our love and care for all
now love God in return.

2.
In true communion let us gather.
May all divisions cease
and in their place be Christ the Lord,
our risen Prince of Peace.

*Where there is true charity, God is present.

Text and Music by Bob Hurd, based on Ubi Caritas, 9th century.

But that wasn’t the only music of the day!

The joy culminated with The Pines of Rome by Respighi played by the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra.  They let out all the stops; it seemed every member of the orchestra was on stage.  (Except the regular Concertmaster.  I’m guessing he had a family obligation not be missed, something like a college graduation.)

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In the final movement, six additional musicians appeared.  They were at the edge of the audience, 25 rows up, each juggling an instrument, music, and a music stand with its own miniature light.  Though they were as unobtrusive as possible, those of us above the 25th row couldn’t help but notice.  The three on the right turned on their lights.  As they lifted their instruments – a trombone and two trumpets – the three on the left – another trombone and two more trumpets – turned on their lights.  Soon all had joined the orchestra in playing grand, glorious music.

May you have a song in your heart,
a smile on your lips,
and nothing but joy at your fingertips!
– Irish Blessing

 

 

 

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

Worship - Faith - Cross and Window

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

Worship - Eucharist Table - 2

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.

Worship - Eucharistic Table - Psalms Retreat

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!

Worship - Faith - Eucharist - Pastor View

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.

Worship - Bethany - Baptism set with reflection

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.  

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* * *

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.