Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Worship at Caring for Creation Conference and Prodigal Son Experiential Worship that incorporates the Wesleyan Model of Grace.

I lament that I haven't been blogging on my own blog during the past couple/few weeks. I have put some thought and effort into other blogs' comment sections here and other places

I've been obsessively looking at hogville.net and all the news surrounding Darren McFadden's lighting speed performance at the NFL combine: 4.33 forty time!

I've been planning worship for the "Caring for Creation Conference" at Mt. Sequoyah. I think it's going to present the opportunity to use the oft-ignored "prayer in the four directions" from the UM Book of Worship.

Here's how it will go--the scripture readings will all happen at the same time, in a cacophony of sound. It's a neat experience my Eco-group tried out at CST that I think provokes the spirit to listen for the voice of nature that is sometimes "trans-verbal." Hmm--did I just make up a word?

Call to Worship
Leader: We who have lost our sense and our senses—our touch, our smell, our vision of who we are: we who frantically force and press all things, without rest for body or spirit, hurting our earth and injuring ourselves: we call a halt.

People: We want to rest. We need to rest and allow the earth to rest. We need to reflect and to rediscover the mystery that lives in us, that is the ground of every unique expression of life, the source of the fascination that calls all things to communion.

Leader: We declare a Sabbath, a space of quiet: for simple being and letting be: for recovering the great, forgotten truths; for learning how to live again.
From the United Nations program publication for Environmental Sabbath/Earth Rest Day, June 1990.

Hymn: All Creatures of our God and King 62

Listening Closely

Scripture Readings in harmony: Leviticus 25: 2-7, Job 12: 7-10, Psalm 104: 24-28, Isaiah 11: 6-9, Isaiah 24: 4-5, Jeremiah 23: 23-24, Matthew 6:26, Romans 8: 19-23

Invitation to Focus and Silence: Nathan Mattox


Song (Maybe special music???)

Speaking Boldly

Voices from Tradition: Poetry, Prose, and Prayer

O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion…with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life.
~St. Basil the Great (329-379)

What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
IN pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch,
These are the measures destined for her soul.
~Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning, 1915

“Human beings are a part of the whole we call the Universe, a small region in time and space. They regard themselves, their ideas and their feelings as separate and apart from all the rest. It is something like an optical illusion in their consciousness. This illusion is a sort of prison; it restricts us to our personal aspirations and limits our affective life to a few people very close to us. Our task should be to free ourselves from this prison, opening up our circle of compassion in order to embrace all living creatures and all nature in its beauty.”
~Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Invitation to Speak out for Creation Cory Sparks

Hymn: This is My Father’s World 144

Fed Wholly
(congregation should leave seats and form a circle)
Centering and Confession (Traditional Lakota Prayer and adapted confession by Miriam Winter, Book of Worship, 470, 488) Denny Hook

Paul Reminds us that Christ is the center of creation, of our lives, and of the world. We seek the wisdom of directions. From each direction we return to the center reminded that Christ brings healing and salvation and by God’s Spirit renews the face of the earth. Let us be silent as we face our center point.

Let us face East. From the East, the direction of the rising sun, we glean wisdom and knowledge through desert silences and humble service.
Enable us, o God to be wise in our actions and in our use of the resources of the earth, sharing them in justice, partaking of them in gratitude.
Let us face South. From the South come guidance and the beginning and end of life.
May we walk good paths, O God, living on the earth as sisters and brothers should, rejoicing in one another’s blessing, sympathizing in one another’s sorrows, and together look to you, seeking the new heaven and earth.
Let us face West. From the West come purifying waters.
We pray that water might be pure and available to all, and that we, too, may be purified so that life may be sustained and nurtured over the entire face of the earth.
Let us face North. From the North come strong winds and gentle breezes.
May the air we breathe be purified and may our lives feel that breath of the Spirit, strengthening and encouraging us.
If we walked a path in each direction, the sacred paths would form a cross.
Returning to the center, we discover Christ, who calls us and challenges us.
We confess that the circle of love is repeatedly broken because of our sin of exclusion. We create separate circles: the inner circle and the outer circle, the circle of power and the circle of despair, the circle of privilege and the circle of deprivation.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive all who have sinned against us.
We confess that the circle of love is broken whenever there is alienation, whenever there is misunderstanding, whenever there is insensitivity and hardening of heart. R
We confess that the circle of love is broken whenever we cannot see eye to eye, whenever we cannot link hand to hand, whenever we cannot live heart to heart and affirm our differences. R
Through God’s grace we are forgiven, by the mercy of our Creator, through the love of the Christ and in the power of the Spirit. Let us Rejoice and be glad! Glory to God! Amen

Eucharist: I like the Alternative Great Thanksgiving in BOW on p. 78, I think it uses better images for our purposes, or I have a couple originalesque great thanksgivings that might serve us well….or you might have some input, Denny or Cory. What do ya’ll think?

Also, I recently remembered that I'll be in charge of the finale worship at the confirmation retreat at Camp Egan this coming weekend, so I've been making the preparations for that. We'll repeat the experiential prodigal son journey again that illustrates the Wesleyan idea of threefold grace. The kids start out in the pig stye and have activities that give them insight on prevenient grace, then they come into the worship area where their hands are washed and they make rings out of pipe cleaner and hear about justifying grace to signify the return home and embrace of the father. And then they are invited to the banquet table (which is behind them, they have to "turn around" to get there), which symbolizes prevenient grace. The thing went off really well last year, and I based it on a sermon I had previously preached. I'll try to take some better pix this year and give a better explanation of the service afterwards so you can get an idea for it.

So there you go. I've been busy, but wanted to record some of the reasons for my absence from posting. Peace!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.

They’re haunting words aren’t they? The words ring in our ears like funeral bells. Ashes to Ashes—I hear it and I taste the words. Ashes stick to your tongue, ashes cling to your clothes. When I preside at a funeral, I always feel a tremendous sense of humility when I turn toward the coffin before it is lowered into the ground, put my hand on it, and say, “We commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
I always think of the ashes that are the last part of a campfire. Faces are illuminated faintly by the slowly dying embers inside a haphazard bundle of logs. A night of stories, laughter, and fellowship naturally retires to a lulled hush as a campfire turns to ashes. Like campfires, our lives come to an end and we retire to ashes.
On this day we are called to remember that we are made from dust, and we will return to dust. Our life on this earth is finite—and as sure as our bodies, our societies, and even our sense of self arose from the primordial dust of time and space, all of it will return to this simple, yet inescapable origin. These words recall the creation story, in which God crafts our very existence from the dust and ash that is leftover from the tumultuous process of creating everything else. Many scientists posit a theory that the big bang will eventually collapse on itself in a dramatic reversal of infinite expansion. Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust. All will become nothing—and then what?

Though it may not be on the front of our minds, we will eventually die. Our bodies will decay or be burned, our mind and heart will cease being the place where our spirit resides, the memory of us will eventually fade among generations who had no immediate contact with our presence on this earth. Everything having to do with the vibrancy of my life will fade like that dimming campfire until there is nothing, not even a memory of me. Our tombstones will grow more and more worn, our names and lives will vanish with the winds of change.
Perhaps it’s just a folly of my youth, but I find it hard to imagine that there will come a time in the not so distant future when I will cease to exist, when my presence on this earth will not have amounted for anything. Perhaps I could tell myself that the world wouldn’t be the same without my presence having been in it, but how do I know that? One of my family Christmas traditions that makes my mom really happy is watching “It’s a wonderful life.” I’ve learned from repetitive viewing of George Bailey’s moral dilemma that I really do matter to the well being of the world, but there’s a more important source of my confidence that the world will be better off with me than without me even after I have died and been forgotten.
Though its “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” for me, I’ve given myself to something that lasts—God’s Vision! The mark you’ll receive on your forehead in a few minutes is a visible sign to ourselves and our community that we have made a decision about the placement of things in our lives. I see that mark on our forehead saying, “I commit myself to hoping for God’s Kingdom—and those efforts are going to make a lasting impression on the world.” Ash Wednesday is a gentle reminder that we are only temporary…..but God’s Vision is Eternal!
What is in God’s Vision? As Christians we believe it involves good news for the poor, release for the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, liberty for those who are oppressed, voice for the voiceless, strength for the weak.
The symbolic role that John the Baptist saw Jesus fulfilling when Jesus came for baptism was to “Baptize with fire.” Christ brings a purifying fire to the world that we’ve constructed with our egos, with our ignorance, with our hatred, with our sin. We celebrate a God who raises a new and better vision of the world and of ourselves like a Phoenix from these very ashes. Though I may pass to dust before this Vision is realized, Christ calls us to Hope for “the day of God’s favor.”
We must not allow our own finality to cloud our vision of what God has in store for Creation. We are part of that story, and God needs us to help fulfill that vision. By participating in this ongoing creation, we turn dust into beauty—we turn ashes into a Kingdom! By recognizing our own finality, and in so doing giving up the idea that our own fulfillment should be the center of our attention, we have the opportunity to give ourselves fully to the task Christ has put before us—opening eyes to the Kingdom, the Vision of God.
The cross of ashes that you wear on your foreheads today is a testament to this Gospel. You might be stared at today by people who aren’t quite accustomed to this ritual, but when and if that happens I would encourage you to share the Good News that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Yes! The recognition that we are very temporary is Good News indeed! Why? Because when we recognize that we are temporary, we recognize that God’s Love is eternal. When the false idols of our very understanding of “Self” crumbles to the ground, we fall down on our knees in awe and wonder at the great “I AM.” When we contemplate our endpoint, we no doubt remember our starting point. At each end, we see a Loving creative God--The one who made us, who fashioned us lovingly with mud and dust and Breathed the Breath of Life into our nostrils. This Alpha is also the Omega—waiting to change us into new creations as our bodies wither and die, and the Breath that was breathed into us at birth is taken back into the One who Breathed.
This is our hope, this is our testimony. This is why we do funny things like wearing a cross of ashes on our foreheads. What is old has died, and in us—in new wineskins, new wine is poured. Thanks be to God!

Got Inspiration?

Now that the only political candidate I have ever given money to has bowed out of the race (I always got yellow ribbons too), I was looking for another candidate to support. I'd actually been on the fence anyway, and leaning in this man's direction. Watched the debate on Thurs. or whenever it was. Don't dislike either candidate on the Dem side. I won't be unhappy if McCain is elected either, if he stands his ground and is his own man like he has been in the past. But, after careful consideration, I think this reeled me in. Call me a sucker for sentiment and "big ideas," but you try to not get chills.

A confession to begin Lent

I wrote this in our church newsletter. Once again, I share with you.

Pastor’s Perspective
Mark 1: 9-15
40 days

This month we begin Lent. This is the 40 day season when we focus on Jesus’ 40 day sojourn in the wilderness when he confronted temptation by Satan and focused himself for the ministry and message that we would come to call “The Gospel.” In the book of Mark, the Gospel writer describes the Holy Spirit “driving” Jesus into the desert for his confrontation with Satan in company with wild beasts and angels. Mark’s choice of words is in contrast with the other gospel writers. Matthew and Luke have the Spirit more kindly “leading” Jesus into the wilderness. I think Mark captures something here that we often times ignore about the Holy Spirit. We think we are awfully cozy with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides and protects us; it comforts and soothes our weary souls. But when do we feel the Spirit “driving” us like a herd of cattle? Mark portrays the image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending upon Jesus at his baptism, and then abruptly driving him into the wilderness. I have the image in my mind of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove with the words of a father’s favor, and then morphing into a hawk which flies with outstretched claws pursuing Jesus into isolation at a moment when he could have basked in the awe and reverence of others.
What are the things we feel the Spirit compelling us to do? Where are we being “driven?” The season of Lent is the intentional focus on these themes. It is not a fuzzy, feel good, easy going season of faith. It is a season of preparation, of repentance, fasting, and soul-searching. At the end of the “long night” of Lent is Easter morning, and punctuated throughout the 40 days are the “little Easters” of our Sunday celebrations. But we begin the season with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 6 at 6pm). The ashes are literally made of the dried up palm branches that we waived on Palm Sunday last year. They symbolized our fleeting allegiance to the “King of Kings” when it is easy and Jesus seems exalted and triumphant. Burning those palms reminds us that Jesus was abandoned by his friends and followers in the hours before the cross and that the crowds who shouted “Hosanna” were just as soon shouting “crucify him!” We are like those crowds when we celebrate Jesus when everyone else is doing it, and then forget about him when he is standing for something that isn’t popular. We are those disciples who stand by Jesus when it is easy and then flee from him when he requires us to sacrifice. This is why we mark our foreheads with the ashes of palm branches that were used for hollow exaltation. Too often, our praises and claims of allegiance to Jesus are just for show. This calls for repentance.
But Lent isn’t just a time of self-denial and emptiness. It can be a time of great spiritual renewal and direction. Remember, Jesus was also “waited on by angels,” in the wilderness, according to Mark. Some churches who want to distance themselves from “Christian jargon” and thus appeal to a wider, un-churched audience call the time “40 days of purpose.” I’ve always kind of disliked that terminology, perhaps because I’m a bit of a snob. I think, “365 days in the year, and we are talking about only 40 days of purpose?” But perhaps that slogan is more accurate than I’d like to admit to myself. How many days do I actually live focused on my purpose of being a follower of Christ? How many times have I followed Jesus out into the wilderness to face the wild beasts and Satan? More often than not, I fall into the purposeless routines that feel comfortable and non-threatening, and following Christ is the thing I do for an hour or two on Sundays—if that. More usually, following Christ is probably just a banner, or a family crest, rather than a way of life. More usually, I count discipleship as trying to understand the cross rather than stand under the cross.
So, let us embark on “40 days of purpose.” Let us do our best to grow as disciples and take a “closer walk with thee.” Let us be more disciplined about preparation, repentance, fasting, and soul-searching. Let us wear the ashes of our confession as we come to terms with our hesitance, our hollowness, and our habits. And let the Spirit drive us toward the cross, where we are forgiven for these trespasses.