Tag Archives: Faith

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

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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