Friday, September 07, 2018

16th Sunday after Pentecost September 9, 2018

     Mary, my life partner for over 51 years, had to undergo knee replacement surgery this week. Her recovery is coming along fine and has been my focus this week. As a result, I am a bit behind in sermon preparation. This experience has served as a reminder that the preacher never develops the message in a vacuum. We read the scripture and prepare the sermon in the context of both our personal and ministry lives. 

We Hear a particular passage differently each time we approach it. The same is true for those experiencing the sermon as they HEAR the passage and our message through the filter of their present and past experiences. This is why we are able to preach many different sermons on the same scripture passage again and again throughout our ministry. How am I Hearing this particular text at this particular time under these particular circumstances. Preacher, what do you Hear?

Mark 7:32-35 They brought to Jesus a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha”, that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

My assumption is that Jesus spoke the word “Ephphatha” in a loud voice, a commanding voice, a confident voice, a voice that cannot be ignored but can certainly be rejected. What does it mean to “be opened”? What do I refuse to HEAR? The temptation, of course, is to close up, shut out, refuse to hear those things which make us uncomfortable and threaten our sense of security. What are those things that I and the folks listening to the sermon don’t want to be opened to?  Maybe the things that most threaten me (us) are exactly the ones that I (we) need to be opened to.
The life of the recipient of this miracle was changed forever by Jesus’ command and compassionate action. If I were to take this command “to be opened” seriously, how would my life be changed?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

13th Sunday after Pentecost

      I will be preaching quite often at a number of different congregations during the remainder of this calender year. My process of preparation for these opportunities raises many questions, ideas, and images that can be helpful in shaping the final message. I wondered if others facing the same daunting task each Sunday might find my musings a useful resource in their own preparations. Therefore I have decided to risk sharing these reflections on my blog with the hope they might inspire, inform, and invite others to be creatively open to the Spirit's stirrings within and amongst us. I will not post every week but those in which I have a preaching assignment. Following this coming Sunday the next up will be September 9th. Please let me know if you find this effort of an old preacher helpful.

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 5:15-20
            - “Be careful then how you live” In the Greek it is a present active indicative and if I remember my Greek correctly this means it is NOT a command but a description of life as a Christ follower.  This is what life looks like.
- Literally, “Be careful then how you walk”. I understand “walk” in the NT to be a metaphor for life or life style.  Do I walk with awareness? Paying attention to where my feet are taking me? Do I have a destination in mind? What do I see, hear, and smell as I walk?
-   “not as unwise people but as wise” So…… wisdom connected to awareness? Paying attention to where we are walking (living) and the destination. And those we encounter? To wander with a purpose.
            - “making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
- Is this the purpose of life (the walk) in a nutshell? Melody in our hearts and gratitude on our lips?
- “My heart sang”. We use that expression when we make an intimate connection with an experience, a person, a piece of music or art. 
- I think of the Haugen hymn “Sing to the Lord a New Song”. “The Lord has done marvelous things, I too sing praises in a new song.”
- What melody is playing in my heart? Often it is a melody of resentment or fear or impatience or anger or……….?
-          What does a melody to the Lord sound like?

John 6:51-58
-          “came down from heaven” “the bread that I will give” Here, once again, we have the emphasis on God taking the initiative. The Heavenly Father reaching out through the Son to God’s children. This, I believe, is Grace. Not God responding to our efforts, prayers, behavior, etc. but Divine Love seeking us out.
-          “have eternal life” “abide in me, and I in them” “will live because of me” What we have here is an invitation to a relationship with God the Father through Jesus. A relationship initiated by God and sustained by God.

-          This meditation on Luther and the sacraments is a good refresher.

-          The personal pronouns; I, me, and my, appear 17 times in these eight verses. This passage and the sacrament it points to is not about us. It is about Christ and his desire to stay connected to us. His desire to keep his promise of everlasting life. Jesus’ sacrifice for us. For me. For you. For all.

-          “eat my flesh, drink my blood” “whoever eats me” Let’s be honest. This can sound creepy, offensive, cannibalistic, unrealistic and foolish. Imagine someone new to the Christian message stumbling into church this Sunday and hearing these words for the first time. Then seeing parishioners obediently parading to the front to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. What would they think? How would they feel? What questions would they have?

-          MYSTERY! In a culture where we attempt to explain everything. Where we look for cause and effect. We are called this Sunday to speak of “mystery”. The mystery of God’s graceful love as revealed in the life, words, acts, and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. The mystery of Christ’s presence in wafer/bread and wine/juice of Holy Communion. The mystery behind the powerful words “the body of Christ given for YOU, the blood of Christ shed for YOU”.

-          I was doing field work at a rural church in South Carolina. The regular communion assistant would distribute the wine to those kneeling at the communion rail. In a deep southern accent he would say to each one; “the blood of Christ shed for you”. I would always try to be at the end of communion rail where he would always say, “and for you, too”. Yes, for me, too and for you, too. Even us. That is the grace-filled mystery that sustains us and gives us life.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Experiencing Beauty

Each day seems to bring news of so much ugliness; violence, conflict, devastation, death, etc., etc. The only antidote that I have found to the sadness and helplessness is to both carry and seek beauty to the best of my ability. This was indeed a weekend of experiencing beauty.
My wife, Mary, recently made contact with a group called “Street Soldiers” that gathers every Friday evening in Albany to share food, clothing, and other necessities with folks who are homeless. Mary created and put together seven beautiful quilts that she wanted to give away. She also baked cookies and encouraged me to make a large pot of chili to share. It was a summer like October Friday evening as we gathered in Washington Park with this wonderfully caring group of folks. The beauty was in the joy expressed by both those giving and receiving. See photos by clicking here

Our family gathered on Sunday morning to prepare “Brendan’s Breakfast”, a pancake fundraiser to honor and remember our grandson, Brendan, who was killed in a motorcycle accident last summer. We work together to serve pancakes (all you can eat), bacon, juice, and coffee. All donations received are used for camp scholarships. Last fall/winter we raised almost $3,000. All of those funds were distributed this summer. It is a beautiful experience to watch my family work together and it always feels as if Brendan is there with us.
In between these two events, on Saturday afternoon, we traveled up to Cambridge, NY to visit Bedlam Farm. The farm is home to author, Jon Katz, and Maria, a very fine artist. We attended the spring open house and were inspired by Jon and Maria’s hospitality and compassion. Just beautiful.

John making a new friend, Donna Wynbrandt. They sang, "I've been working on the Railroad" together.
 John and The Tin Man

John and Red

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Autumn at Last

Late September days of temperatures in the 80's and 90's have finally given away to Autumn chill today. Reminded me of this from Harry Potter except it's happening on almost the last of September.

 “Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.” 
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Navajo Prayer

Anne Hillerman, writing in her novel, Song of the Lion, shares this Navajoh prayer used in the early morning to greet a new day.

With beauty before me, may I walk
With beauty behind me, may I walk
With beauty below me, may I walk
With beauty above me, may I walk
With beauty all around me, may I walk

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Clouds of Sadness

Like a cloud, it descends upon me
Distorts my vision of self and others
Clarity is no longer possible
All is fuzzy, out of focus
Like a cloud, it will pass
Eventually, when the sun shines again

Friday, September 15, 2017

Rituals and Responsability

 I have been thinking recently about the connection between ritual and responsability. A responsability that can be to the animals, family, ourselves, others, community, etc. I remember that one of my daily rituals in the winter when I was on the farm in Iowa. The beef cattle were in a field a few miles from the main farm. In the cold weather the pond would freeze over during the night and this was where the cattle drank. My responsability/ritual was to drive over there early in the morning and chop a large hole in the ice. Every morning the cattle would see me coming and gather patiently at the edge of the pond. After I succesfully chopped through the ice they seemed to look at me gratefully as they lowered their heads into the water. I rmember fondly how our icy cold breaths would mingle in the winter air. This early morning ritual made getting out of a warm bed meaningful.

There was a time when writing in this blog was a daily ritual for me. It forced me to reflect, respond, and articulate the daily ebbs and flows of my life. I have not regularly practiced this "blogging" ritual since our family experienced a series of challenging and life altering occurrences. It is now time to again practice those rituals/responsabilities that connect me to friends and family. I believe that this is a significant part of the grief process and a neccesary step forward.