Tag 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: 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

DSC02379 (2)

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.

Feeding the Hungry

Saw a sparrow feeding a young – though 3x larger – cowbird this morning.

Thought:  Wouldn’t it be grand if we fed whoever came our way?

Doesn’t matter how they got here.  Whoever ‘they’ are.  Wherever ‘here’ is.


Once upon a time I served as as associate pastor at a church that ran a food pantry and also administered an emergency fund.  There were rules, of course, for both.  The primary one used by the senior pastor was:

Error are on the side of generosity.

Those words have become a sort of mantra for me.  Whether working with a Food Pantry Board or an outreach committee of a local church or just trying to figure out how to respond to an appeal for help, error are on the side of generosity.

Today, as I think about the immigrants at our borders, my pleading, my prayer:  may we error on the side of generosity. 

Musing: Be the Church

UCC Sign at West Branch Friends Church

UCC Banner in front of West Branch Friends Church, West Branch, Iowa.  6/28/19.

As an ordained UCC pastor I was surprised – and pleased – to see this United Church of Christ banner in front of the West Branch Friends (Quaker) Church!

A similar banner – same words but printed on a rainbow background – was hanging in the Fellowship Hall at Congregational UCC, Newton, last Sunday.   At least I think it was a “Be the Church” rainbow banner.  As the substitute preacher for the day, I noticed there was a rainbow banner with familiar words.

What I remember clearly was a comment over coffee:

“After I saw the pastor from Ames UCC on TV, I wondered if we are too chicken to hang our banner outside.”

Ames UCC had a rainbow banner with the words “God Is Still Speaking” hanging outside, above the front door of the church.  It was torn down and burned in the early morning hours of June 11.  Though a bit shaken, the congregation has hung a new pride banner with the words “God is love.”

Both the Newton and Ames congregations have voted to be “Open and Affirming” (see below) congregations in the United Church of Christ.  So a pride banner is not surprising.

But it is a risk.  Not everyone agrees that our LGBTQ family, friends, neighbors, and church members should be fully accepted and respected as they are – beautiful, gifted,  valued children of God.

It’s hard, this business of following Jesus.  Of loving God and loving neighbor.  Of welcoming all – “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.”  Of not just going to church on Sunday but truly BEING the church all week long.

Whatever your faith,
however you understand God,
wherever you are on life’s journey,
I encourage you to
protect the environment,
care for the poor,
forgive often,
reject racism,
fight speak up for the powerless,
share resources,
embrace diversity,
and enjoy life!

DSC02357

My mousepad.

 


“Open and Affirming” (ONA) is a movement of more than 1,500 churches and other ministries in the United Church of Christ that welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members. More than 350,000 members of the UCC belong to ONA churches—and our movement is growing rapidly.

After a time of study, dialogue and prayer, churches adopt an Open and Affirming “covenant” committing their members to welcome LGBTQ seekers, support their relationships, and advocate for their basic rights. All sacraments and rites of an ONA congregation are available to LGBTQ people, including baptism, confirmation, communion, and marriage. ONA churches take seriously the Bible’s admonition to “accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7, NIV)

https://openandaffirming.org/ona/

ONA congregations are still a minority in the UCC denomination as a whole.  Some congregations have decided NOT to be ONA.  Some will not allow persons who identify as LGBTQ to marry in their sanctuaries or to be called as their pastors.  Many congregations have never had the discussion – it’s hard and it’s risky.  Some figure they are welcoming as they are and don’t need to do anything more.

Musing: Pentecost

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” – Acts 2:1-4 NRSV

DSC02146

Pentecost Sunday, Trinity UCC, Quincy, IL.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19.

Noise.  Like Wind.
Light.  As of Fire.
Thunder and Lightning?

I don’t remember ever thinking of the Christian Pentecost event as being accompanied by thunder and lightening.  But something the preacher said Sunday caused me to wonder … why hadn’t I thought of it before?  could there have been a wild storm?

Whatever happened, it transformed about 120 of Jesus’ first followers.
Fear flew out.  Courage blew in.
Timidity dissipated.  Boldness gathered.

Easter is the central event of the Christian faith.  But without the Spirit’s work at Pentecost, I’m not so sure the good news of resurrection would have spread very far.

DSC02130

Glass Wall.  Photo:  TLClark, 6/9/19.

If you haven’t guessed from the pictures, RED is the color of Pentecost.  Actually, red is the color most often associated with the Holy Spirit.  Since Pentecost is a celebration of the giving of the Spirit, red is assigned.  The sanctuary at Trinity UCC had dozens and dozens of potted geraniums with red blooms throughout the chancel (front of the church); they will be planted on the church grounds as a reminder of the Spirit’s work.

DSC02105

Centerpiece for Confirmation Breakfast.  Photo: TLClark, 6/9/19.

My youngest niece was confirmed on Sunday.  Since I’m not currently serving a local congregation we took the opportunity to be there.  Bonus: we were included as part of the family for the Confirmation Breakfast – a long standing tradition in that congregation where confirmands, their families, and their mentors are served a sit down breakfast before worship.  Added bonus:  just getting to spend time with family!


Note (because I know not every knows what “being confirmed” means): Confirmation is always associated with Baptism – a fact we sometimes forget when children are baptized as infants and confirmed as teenagers.  A confirmand/confirmation student usually goes through a season of education that lasts from a few months to a year to two years depending on local tradition.  Typically lead by a pastor, the class looks at key Bible stories and learns a little church history.  Sometimes they do mission or outreach projects.  Often there is a mentor who spends time with the student exploring questions of faith.  The process culminates in the Rite of Confirmation when the young people 1) affirm the baptismal vows that were made for them at their baptisms and 2) are welcomed as full members in the life of the church. 

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.