“Praise God with strings and pipe!” – Psalm 150:4b (CEB)
“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!
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.
“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.
My first thought for the photo challenge “radiant” issued by Jansen Photo was of a bride glowing on her wedding day. New parents gazing at their new bundle joy also came to mind. Then I thought of family and beautiful smiles at special events. While looking for smiles in the electronic files I was sidetracked by pictures of stained-glass windows.
The first photo was taken on the Pentecost Sunday my youngest niece was confirmed. I was struck by the dove at the top, the red glass, and the flames of fire – all symbols of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The blue glass makes me think of Baptism which is closely associated with Confirmation. The tree (could it be a vine?) and the branches remind me of Jesus (“I am the vine and you are the branches.” John 15:5). The butterflies symbolize resurrection and new life. Is the owl there for wisdom? Are the three eggs in the bird’s nest a symbol of the Trinity?
The next photo is of a window in the sanctuary at the same church. You can see greenery and grass through the clearer grass at the bottom of the window.
The most radiant window that I’ve photographed in the age of digital cameras was at a church I served in eastern Iowa. Here it is on an Easter Sunday.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
* * *
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.
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.
“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.