Tag Archives: #God

“The Wonderer” (1st stanza)

This is the first of what I imagine to be several posts in response to the poem “The Wonderer” by Robert William Service.  You can read the whole poem here.

Here’s the first stanza:

     I wish that I could understand
     The moving marvel of my Hand;
     I watch my fingers turn and twist,
     The supple bending of my wrist,
     The dainty touch of finger-tip,
     The steel intensity of grip;
     A tool of exquisite design,
     With pride I think: “It’s mine! It’s mine!”

Have you considered your hands lately? 

Take a look.  Finger.  Thumb.  Joint.  Palm.  Knuckle.  Notice the colors and the textures.  See the veins carrying blood, keeping you alive.  Are there scars, telling stories of mishaps or something more serious?  Is there jewelry, reminding you of precious vows or a special trip or a favorite person? 

Think about how you use your hands every day.  Marvelous, aren’t they?!!

dsc01171 (2)

Who has held your hand, recently or long ago?  Whose hand have you held?  With love.  In friendship.  To pray.  To teach.  To reassure.  To connect.  To hold up.

“Though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand.”  – Psalm 37:24 NRSV

“Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.” – Psalm 73:23 NRSV

“…even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” – Psalm 139:10 NRSV

May your hands be helpful today, to you and to others.  May they bring joy, offer comfort, spread kindness.  May they be a reminder that you are loved beyond measure.

Christmas Countdown: Travelers

DSC00956 (2)

“Wind Gusts 40+ MPH” – The wind did blow and there were 40+ mph gusts.  Thankfully the roads were clear and dry!  (And we drive a low-profile vehicle.)   Photo:  TLClark.

We arrived safely at our Christmas destination.  Wind gusts over 40 mph for the last 250 miles were the only unpleasant surprises along our way.  Upon arrival we were greeted with big smiles and open arms, given a room to call our own while we are here, and invited to help ourselves to whatever we wanted.

As we traveled, my mind wandered to other journeys and other people.

First, travelers from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 and 2:

  • Zechariah went to serve in the temple.  I’m guessing he left his wife at home.  Since they had no children and were in advanced in years, she may have been alone.
  • Mary “hurried” to visit Elizabeth.  It seems she went by herself.  Walking or riding a beast of burden?  Was it far or dangerous?  Why did she go?  How did she expect to be received?  Elizabeth loudly blurted out a blessing as she greeted Mary with open arms; it was indeed an “extravagant welcome” (as noted this morning by the pastor at Mayflower UCC, Billings).
  • Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem, as ordered by Caesar Augustus.  An uncomfortable journey, I imagine, for Mary and her betrothed.  Often pictured today with a donkey, but there is no such creature mentioned in the text.  When they arrived, there was no space for them in the “inn” – probably not so much a place to rent a room (i.e., not a hotel or a B&B) but rather the guestroom in the family home (perhaps occupied by earlier arriving extended family).  They made do in the space – likely attached to the home – where the animals were kept.  Perhaps they were not quite the outcasts that I have often imagined!
  • Shepherds, after hearing astonishing news from an angel, rushed off to visit the newborn child.
  • Mary and Jesus took the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as prescribed in the law of Moses.  They were joyfully greeted by Simeon and then by Anna.

That’s it.  Those are the journeys connected to Jesus’ birth as recorded by Luke.

Next, travelers associated with the birth of Jesus as noted in the Gospel of Matthew:

  • Magi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”
  • Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath and so he took the child and his mother to Egypt – a family fleeing for their child’s safety.
  • Eventually, Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe so they settled in Nazareth.

Finally, I think of travelers today and the people who will greet them along the way and at the end of the journey.  I think of

  • those traveling with happy, hope-filled anticipation – to share a holiday, to meet a new baby, to gather with loved ones, to connect with friends old and new;
  • those who travel with heavy hearts for a final visit with one in Hospice care or for a memorial service to celebrate the life of one who has died;
  • those fleeing because home is no longer is safe – refugees, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, persons who identify as LGBTQ;
  • those working to help travelers long the way – staff at hotels, gas stations, restaurants, airports and train stations including security personnel, maintenance crews, janitors,  highway patrols, pilots, taxi drivers, conductors, stewards, hosts/hostesses, and so many we take for granted;
  • those welcoming the road-weary with a refreshing beverage, a good meal, a shower or bath, and a safe place to sleep.

May all travelers be protected on their journeys and be extravagantly welcomed at each stop along the way.

DSC00953 (2)

Road construction / maintenance safety equipment along I-90 in Wyoming.  Photo: TLClark.

Thanksgiving Sunday Pastoral Prayer

DSC00745 (2)

I’ll be preaching in a small country church tomorrow – country as you can only get there via gravel road, small as in maybe 50 total members with an average worship attendance of 15 or 20.  I’ve met a few of them in person and talked to two others on the phone (the organist and the one printing the bulletin).  In other words, I don’t know them so the pastoral prayer will be somewhat generic.  But it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving and gratitude is never out of season.  Please join me in prayer.

PASTORAL PRAYER

Turning to God in prayer, I invite you to take a slow, deep breath.  In the silence, count your blessings and give thanks.  (silence)

Creator of Life, Giver of all good gifts,  having paused to count our blessings, we are amazed.  Thank-you.

Thank-you for the breath of life, the gift of birthdays, and for all who bear your image – the people around us, neighbors and strangers, nearby and far away; infants and children; teens and young adults;  those in the middle years of life; and those living their last days.

Thank-you for family and friends, for partners and encouragers in life’s journey.

Thank-you for love and laughter and even the tears that remind us of the most important thing:  we are all beloved – beloved by others, beloved by you.

Thank-you for land and sunshine and rain, for orchards and gardens and grain.

Thank-you for providing all that we need – food and drink, clothing and shelter, music and art, poetry and prose, rest and play and so much more.

Thank-you for the curious and the brave, for the imaginative and the practical, for hard workers and gentle spirits, for all who make your world – this earth – a good place to call home.

We are grateful to trust you with the concerns of our hearts and so we pray

for the people on the prayer chain…

for all dealing physical and mental illness and for those who love them…

for refugees fleeing for their lives, for immigrants seeking to survive, for individuals everywhere dreaming of a way to thrive…

for communities reeling from disaster – wildfire and tornado, flood and famine, hurricane and earthquake…

Holy One, send healing, send hope, send wisdom.  Use us as answers to our prayers.

We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Where God Lives

“You are awesome, O God, in Your holy places.”  – Psalm 68:36 JPS

Sitting on the chancel steps with the children, I asked them about where they live – in a house or an apartment or somewhere else?  There were a few giggles; Gracie, age 3, told me she lives in her house with her brother and mom and dad.  Her grandparents live on a farm in a house – not in the barn.

We noted some people live in tents and some don’t have homes.  We talked about how Joppa builds Tiny Homes for the homeless.  (The kids at Ankeny UCC take up a weekly coin collection during the offertory; in July this year it is designated for Joppa.)

We named places where some of God’s other creatures live:  nests (birds), hives (bees), dens (bears), shells (snails).  One child pointed out that rabbits just dig a hole in the ground.

Then I wondered where God lives.  “In heaven” was the first quick reply.  “Up in the clouds” was the next answer.  A third child just gave me a puzzled look.  Gracie whispered “in my heart.”

Jesus lives with us, in our hearts.  That means God is with us wherever we are.  And wherever we are, we are with God.

Calling God’s Name

 

“Father of orphans and defender of widows is God in his holy habitation.”  Psalm 68:5

Ankeny United Church of Christ is up to Psalm 68 as they read through the Psalms a chapter (or less) at a time during Sunday worship.  Since I’m a bit of Psalm nerd when Pastor Nathan asked me to fill the pulpit I immediately spent time reading, reflecting, and then studying Psalm 68.

IMG_6760

The book I read for the Children’s Message yesterday.

On first read I was taken by all the images – names – for God:

  • One who rides the clouds!
  • Guardian of orphans
  • Defender of widows
  • Giver of a home to the lonely
  • Redeemer of the prisoner
  • Leader through the wasteland
  • Sender of rain
  • Refresher of land
  • Provider for the poor

That’s just the first ten verses!

The next verses are about God the mighty Warrior.  Which I’d like to ignore.  But it got me thinking.

  • How do the names we use for God shape our faith?
  • How do those names shape the way we treat others?

What is your favorite name for God?   How does it shape your faith?

Trinity: God Dancing

IMG_1756

Dance.  Photo:  TLClark

There were many, many things I could have purchased at the annual Plowsharing Fair Trade pop-up store hosted by Peter’s UCC, Washington, Missouri, more than a decade ago.  But a soapstone carving of three figures dancing was the only one to capture my theological imagination:  it made me think of God.

With Jews, Christians, and Muslims around the world, I believe there is one and only one God.  (We make gods of many things – but that is a thought for another day.)

As a Christian pastor and teacher I wrestle with the historic doctrine of the Trinity:  God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.  One of my favorite teachings about the Trinity has to do with ideas of fellowship, community, and dance.  Theologian Shirley C. Guthrie introduces it this way:

John of Damascus, a Greek theologian who lived in the seventh century, developed this understanding of the Trinity with a concept called perichoresis (perry-ko-ray’-sis).  This Greek word is worth learning because it gives us a lovely picture of God.  Peri (as in perimeter) means “around.”  Choresis means literally “dancing” (as in the choreography of a ballet).  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are like three dancers holding hands, dancing around together in harmonious, joyful freedom.

(Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, Revised Edition (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 91)

Guthrie goes on to say that the “oneness of God is not the oneness of a distinct, self-contained individual; it is the unity of a community of persons who love each other and live together in harmony.” (p. 92)

“The unity of a community.”

Isn’t that a lovely image?  One is not whole without the others.  The others are not whole without every single one.  One might dance alone.  But whether we are speaking of God or of a fellowship of believers, only in community is the dance made whole.

May you dance with God today.

-Pastor T.