"Earth's crammed with heaven/And every common bush afire with God;/But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,/The rest sit round it and pick blackberries..." --Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing." (Psalm 100:1-2, NRSV)
A common regret I hear from pastors (at least those I’m in conversation with) is the challenge of actually worshiping on Sunday mornings. Often the pastor has many other things on his/her mind: delivery of sermon, logistics, peering out into the pews to see who is/isn’t there. That last one is a big one for church planters as “butts in seats” is key to a church’s survival.
I’m no different with any of this. But last Sunday morning during my morning prayers, I received a nice gift from the Holy Spirit. It’s been a challenging summer for many reasons and one of them has been the move of my church’s location to a new venue and neighborhood. I think I underestimated how much of a change this would be for folks and I’m guessing it’s one reason our worship attendance has declined. That, of course, has brought me some anxiety, but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been more at peace with the situation and my role in it. I give thanks to God for that. The gratitude that comes from this peace really hit me last Sunday morning and it dawned on me that my worship that morning would be just that: worship. A chance to say thank you for the peace I’ve been feeling (in addition to the numerous other things for which I’m grateful). I had a sense that everything I did that morning would be an offering: how I would deliver the sermon, how I would preside over communion, how I would interact with the folks who attended. All an offering of my gifts to God for so many things. Once I came to terms with that, I found that any anxiety I might have been feeling about who would or wouldn’t show up that day melted away. What a difference that made!
In addition, I also had a sense that we must do everything we could to prepare the building for the one visitor who would come that day. We usually have at least one visitor so I started imagining who that might be. The name Lisa came to mind (I don’t know why, but I went with it.) We need to make sure we’re doing all we can to welcome Lisa, just like we’d prepare our home when we have guests over. We need to clean, be ready and welcoming, and have a sense of excitement and anticipation because, you know what, Lisa is coming today! That, too, changed my perspective about getting things ready for worship. (I frankly don’t know if someone named Lisa showed up, but I do know we had several visitors).
This post isn’t just for pastors—I think it’s for anyone who worships. Will you sing with gusto this Sunday? Share a welcome with friend and newcomer alike (especially newcomer)? Savor the bread and cup? Anticipate how God might be speaking to you through the Scriptures? If you’re new to worshiping, will you come with curiosity and questions? All of these things are gifts to God and I think helps us truly worship the one who was the giver of the gifts in the first place.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…" (Luke 6:27)
If you’re at all familiar with the church I pastor, you probably know we’ve run a few ad campaigns where we claim to love two seemingly opposite groups. We’ve kept basically the same pairs every time: We love gay/straight people. We love tattoos/suits. We love doubters/believers. We love Democrats/Republicans. The only variation depends on the sports season. We’ve loved Sox/Cubs and Packers fans/Bears fans.
Numerous people have told us that the ads caught their attention on the train, which is why we keep running them. Our newest campaign is launching this week and (because social-media savvy people say we should do this) we added a hashtag to the ads: #uvcbiglove. We’re encouraging people to add their own groupings like, “We love peanut butter/we love jelly” or “We love Rogers Park/we love Englewood.” (Type in that hashtag on Twitter to see what else we’ve come up with). It’s been fun to think of creative pairings, but it doesn’t take long before you start thinking of a duo and wonder, do I mean this? During our staff meeting on Tuesday, I mentioned, “We love Rahm Emanuel/We love Karen Lewis.” There was silence. Emanuel is the mayor of Chicago. Karen Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union and is considering running against him in the next election. Safe to say, there is no love lost between these two. Is it possible to love two people who are at opposite ends of the spectrum?
That kind of love has to be more than a cute catchphrase. It is truly a love that can only be God-given. But if following Jesus is supposed to mean anything, is supposed to stand out in this polarized society, it means, that, yes, we are called to love. Sometimes that love must confront and sometimes that love is gritty, grimy, and unpleasant. When we follow One who was willing to love like that, though, we have no other choice.
"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…" (Matthew 5:43-44, NRSV)
So there I was driving along one morning last week, anticipating the various things I was to do that day, when the bane of my existence appeared.
I have no idea if it was a man or woman, but s/he clearly was doing everything s/he could to make my life miserable. I was in the right lane with lots of cars on my left and the car ahead of me pulled to a stop and the hazards came on. A passenger (it looked like a high-school boy) took his time getting out of the car and meanwhile I was stuck with no way to pass the car. The driver could had easily pulled ahead a bit, but clearly s/he wasn’t interested in that. Just before I was about to pull what little hair I have left out of my head, a verse I read that morning popped into my head.
"Pray for those who persecute you."
I’ve typically kind of skimmed over that verse. I don’t know if I’ve ever had anyone intentionally persecute me, that is, knowingly desire to make my life miserable. But it dawned on me that I could easily slip a word into that verse and, voila, it takes on a whole new meaning.
"Pray for those who (unknowingly) persecute you."
That changed everything. Now, I know that saying that I was “persecuted” by this mystery driver is a huge reach. It was a minor annoyance and delayed my trip home by 20 seconds at the most. But I think I’m onto something. Ever since then, when I feel put out by someone, that little verse comes to mind and it forces me to get a grip. Yes, I’ll pray for the person who’s unknowingly “persecuting” me, but this exercise really helps me to stop for a moment and get a little perspective. I sometimes realize that the person who’s persecuting me…is really myself. So I say a prayer of me, as well.
"Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey…When he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’" (Matthew 3:4, 7)
This is, hands down, my favorite picture of my son. I love his expression, his sense of joy, just everything about it. But I also love what it represents to me
Every time I read this passage about the John the Baptist (read all of Matthew 3 to get a fuller picture), I think, this guy must have been crazy, wearing his goofy clothes and eating this strange diet. He also must have ticked a lot of people off because he spoke what was on his mind, regardless of what people thought. As I was reading the text this week, though, I found myself really admiring him.
What would it be like to fully bethe person you sense God created you to be? To be like my son, willing to throw your arms out and cry out, This is me! I sense this is what John was like. Here I am! Called by God! I may seem odd and outside of cultural norms, but I am loved and created by God, which is the most important thing.
I won’t challenge you to do all of this tomorrow. But maybe in this next week, you can pray about a way that you can a little more fully you. It may entail a tough conversation with a loved one or the slight rejection of a co-worker. But you’ll be you, which, I believe, is what God most desires.
Never too old to learn: a 94-year-old here at #GLS14 (at Harris Theater for Music and Dance)
"The Lord proclaims: Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths. Where is the good way? Then walk in it and find a resting place for yourselves…" (Jeremiah 6:16)
I was reading an interesting article yesterday (OK, OK, it was in “Men’s Health,” but don’t judge me) about how a fair amount of life’s wisdom can be summarized in 3-word sentences, like “Drink more water,” “Ask more questions,” “If late, call,” and, my favorite, “Facebook isn’t real.”
After reading this text from Jeremiah, it struck me that you can take the gist of this passage and condense it into one-word sentences as a good structure for your faith-walk during the day: Stop. Look. Ask. Walk. Rest.
Obviously I’m simplifying the verse, but it helped me slow down yesterday as I went through these reminders.
There are days when you might linger over one of these words and it could be your prayer for the day. Are you being called to stop? To not be on the go all the time? Or maybe you’re being asked to look. Notice things. Maybe it’s been some time since you’ve had a conversation with God. Ask. (One key part of this verse that I excluded in my one-word-a-thon can also stand on its own: “Where is the good way?” What a wonderful question to continually ask of God!) Or are you being moved to action? Walk. Finally, you could be worn out. Rest.
Use (awkward acronym alert) SLAWR as your prayer today. It may help you simplify things in a world that is seemingly ever more complex. Stop. Look. Ask. Walk. Rest. And I’d add one more. Repeat.
"I will bring them to my holy mountain, and bring them joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their entirely burned offerings and sacrifices on my altar. My house will be known as a house of prayer for all peoples, says the Lord God…" (Isaiah 56:7-8a)
It was a joy to receive an invitation for and attend a picnic last Saturday for a support group for LGBT couples who have adopted children or who are in the process of adopting. It was in the southern suburb of Matteson and it’s always nice to get out of the city. Lawns! Hoses! Free parking!
I was having a nice conversation with a woman named Julie when her daughter approached her and offered a gift. It was a handful of grass that she had plucked from the ground. Julie responded as any parent would.
"For me?!? Oh, this is so beautiful, thank you so much!"
Someone from another planet would wonder, “Why is this woman so excited about mere blades of grass?” The answer, of course, is that she’s a mom and her daughter gave her an offering and she naturally was thrilled with it.
When I read this text from Isaiah this morning, I thought of Julie and then thought of the offerings I give to God. I imagine God receiving them the same way that Julie received the grass. Sometimes those offerings are traditionally beautiful: kindness, patience, compassion. There are other offerings that are seemingly like weeds: unhealthy anger, gossip, resentment. But I think that God still lovingly receives these “weedy” offerings because it means I still want to be in relationship. That’s the key. Certainly we want to make offerings that bring love, but what God also desires is to offer our whole lives—the roses and the dandelions. And God will always receive them gladly.
Oh, the daughter’s name who offered the grass? Joy.