Category Archives: Faith

Photo Challenge: Holidays

Christmas Eve 2019, Urbandale United Church of Christ. Photo: TLClark, 12/24/19.

Christmas, for my husband and me, means gathering with other Christians to hear the old, old story of Jesus’ birth and to sing the old familiar Christmas carols.

When serving as a pastor in a church, Christmas Eve worship is a holy celebration I’ve considered skipping (not that that was an option!). Too many expectations. Too many traditions to be kept. So many memories held by the community. So many stories that could be told – some bittersweet, some heart warming, some simply silly or fun. So much love and joy. And always, always, a moment of wonder and of hope (which is why I’d never skip it!).

Candles on Christmas Eve are part of the tradition. The top photo shows the Advent candles – symbolizing hope, peace, joy, and love – with the Christ candle in the center; they were lit at the beginning of the service. The bottom photo shows a much cherished traditional end of Christmas Eve worship: holding a lit candle and singing “Silent Night.”

Singing “Silent Night” by Candlelight. Photo: TLClark, 12/24/19.

Tuesday Photo Challenge – Holidays

Life Is Short

Gerbera Daisy. Photo: TLCLark, 12/1/19.

“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us.  Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.”

–  Henri Frederic Amiel (Swiss Philosopher, 1821 – 1881)

Last week did not go according to plan. Not that we had any specific plans. But instead of staying home, we dropped everything to go be with family. Short story: Mom fell. Brain bleeds, broken cheek bone, and lots of facial bruising.

The good news: she’s doing really, really well.

It could have been otherwise.

Now that we’re home and getting back to our regular routine, I’ve been thinking about a Commissioning/Benediction I’ve used at the end of many Worship services. Based on a quote (above) by Henri Frederic Amiel, it goes like this:

Life is short
and we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.
So be swift to love,
Make haste to be kind,
And go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

~ ~ ~

It’s more than a flower picture, but since it is a flower I’m linking to Cee’s Flower of the Day Photo Challenge! Thank-you, Cee, for sharing beautiful flowers and encouraging the rest of us to do the same.

Revelation: To Encourage

Headstone with Book. Photo: TLClark, 9/2019.

I know there are some beautiful images in the book of Revelation, but I seem to have bought into the idea that the book was written to frighten and condemn. In rereading and reflecting on what is actually written I’ve come away with a new appreciation for this last book in the Christian canon.

John’s revelation is written as a letter to encourage and to challenge other followers of Jesus. The world as he knows it is in shambles. Churches are struggling. Members of the body of Christ are trying to do the right thing but it’s so hard, so confusing. Does it matter? Who cares?

Chapters two and three of Revelation are a series of shorter letters, one each to seven different churches. I was surprised by the notes of encouragement. For example, five of the churches are assured that their patient faithfulness has been noticed and is not in vain.

Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance …  I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” – Rev. 2:2-3

Pergamum: “I know …you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me…” – Rev. 2:13

Thyatira: “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.” – Rev. 2:19

Philadelphia: “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” – Rev. 3:8

“Hang in there,” the author is saying. “You’ve got this.”

During a particularly nasty time in one of my pastorates I led a funeral at a local funeral home for someone who was without a faith community. Making small talk after the service, the funeral director turned to me and said “I see the nonsense at the church is causing a few gray hairs.” It was nearly a throw-away comment. But it meant the world to me. Someone who was not in the fray had noticed and was cheering me on.

Whatever your difficult situation, especially one that is not what you wanted or is not what you expected, hang in there. You’ve got this. It will be OK. You’ve been noticed – by colleagues, by friends, by God. Don’t give up. Keep the faith. We’re cheering for you and believe you will make it through.

Revelation: God Is

Headstone Carving – Handshake. Photo: TLClark, 2019.

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from [the one] who is and who was and who is to come …”

Revelation 1:4b (NRSV)

Yes, dear one, there is a God.

Is. Present tense. Now. Today.

Not just today.
But also yesterday.
And tomorrow.

Is. Every today.
Was. Every yesterday.
Is to come. Every tomorrow.

Grace and peace to you from God, the Timeless One.

John, the self-identified author of Revelation, has been exiled to the island of Patmos. The world as he knew it has disappeared. Nothing is as it was. No one knows what is next. There are more questions than answers.

He receives a revelation from God through Jesus. Imaginative, bizarre, and strangely reassuring.

There is a God. In the midst of conflict and chaos, when things have gone from bad to worse, when anxiety creeps in and despair takes over, God is.

“‘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 (NRSV)

God, the Timeless One.

Alpha and Omega.
A and Z.
First and Last.
Beginning and End.
(And in-between? In the messy middle?)

All beginnings. All ends.
And all in-betweens.

Before the beginning and after the end.
Definitely in the messy middle.

God is.

“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4:8b,11

Revelation: Read Aloud

Headstone with Book. Photo: TLClark, 9/2019.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it;
for the time is near.

Revelation 1:3 (NRSV)

The time is always near. There are times when we are just more aware. Aware that life is precious. Aware that things will not stay the same. Aware that some things must end.

The book of Revelation is about end times. At least that’s my first thought when the book is mentioned. Full of weird visions and used by some (to try) to scare folks into heaven, it’s a part of the Bible I generally avoid.

But prompted by a presentation I heard last spring, I re-read the book The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. The chapter “A Story with Dragons: The Book of Revelation” nudged me toward a re-read of Revelation. So far I’ve avoided reading commentaries; that may change.

To add a little discipline to my reading and reflecting, I decided to blog about what caught my attention. I won’t be doing a verse by verse interpretation – that seems tedious to me and would likely be boring for you. At the moment I’m thinking a total of 10 or 12 posts for a book that has 22 chapters.

First observation: Revelation is meant to be read aloud. The words are heard differently when received through our ears rather than our eyes. The text paints some fairly vivid pictures. When I read aloud or am paying attention while another reads aloud, the images have time to develop. I can’t just skip past without nothing more than a glance.

Blessed,” the author says, “blessed is the one who reads aloud … and the one who hears.”

Keeping eyes and ears and heart open with high hopes of encountering the blessing. – Teressa

Musing: Persistence and God

My beloved and I tend to worship God with other Christians twice every weekend: with a Roman Catholic parish on Saturday evening and with a congregation of the United Church of Christ on Sunday morning.

One benefit is getting to sing a wider variety of hymns.

Another is hearing two different sermons on the same Biblical text. (Or, in my case some weeks, hearing one sermon on Saturday and preaching a sermon on Sunday.)

I cannot tell you most of what either preacher said this last weekend. Which is pretty normal. Even when I’m the preacher I don’t remember much of the sermon the next day. Just a main point or two. Or maybe a good illustration.

The text last weekend was the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

Luke 18:1-5 (NRSV)

It’s a parable, a story to make us think. As a parable, there is more than one way to interpret it – even when an interpretation is given in the text (see Luke 18:6-8).

Today I’m remembering the persistence of the widow and the call to not lose heart in prayer – individually (my own life), communally (in the life of the congregation), and world wide. Keep praying. It may not change the situation directly. But it may change me and my response to what is happening. Don’t give up.

But I’m also reconsidering the widow. Who is she, really? Me? You? Us?

Who is she pestering in her persistence? If we are the widow, does that make God the unjust judge?

What if the widow is God? God is the persistent the one. God is the one who never gives up. God pesters the unjust (me?) until the unjust relents and does the right thing.

It’s a parable. Told to make us think.

Thanks be to God for Fr. Michael for naming the widow as God and for all who cause us to rethink what we thought we knew.

Musing: World Communion

Leftovers, World Communion Sunday, October 6, 2019.

It’s been a week and a half since the observance of World Communion Sunday. Not all that long ago according to the calendar. But it feels ever so much longer. One of the days between then and now was set aside so my beloved could have an outpatient procedure. Complications meant spending the following five days in the hospital. Thankfully we’re home; John’s doing well; and I’ve had a chance to sleep and nap and sleep some more.

I thought I’d write about the communion part of World Communion when I took the pictures for this blog post. Maybe say something about remembering Christians around the globe, connected in the one body of Christ.

But since the six days at the hospital I’ve been thinking about the the world part. The medical school at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics attracts smart, kind, thoughtful people from across planet Earth. John and I delight in meeting, however briefly, persons with difficult (for us) to pronounce names. We are grateful beyond words for their expertise, their care, their commitment. Their presence reminds us that we are all connected in the precious journey of life.

Thanks be to God for the diversity and the gifts of the world’s peoples.

World Communion Sunday, Urbandale United Church of Christ, Urbandale, Iowa, October 6, 2019.