Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Holy Week and Beyond

Pastor’s Perspective: Holy Week and Beyond

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  (Luke 24:5)
These words, spoken by an angel at the empty tomb on Easter morning, haunt us—don’t they?  They are words of hope but also of chastisement.  We are people of the empty cross—we claim to celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday—and yet so often, we look for the living and breathing Christ only in the pages of record of a history that is dead and gone.  We look for the living among the dead when we try to trap Jesus in the pages of the Bible only, and we fail to see him in the everyday world that we inhabit.  As Jesus himself said, God is a God of the living, not the dead.  That isn’t to say we should have no appreciation for the story of what happened.  On the contrary, we gather together in the first week of April on Thursday and on Friday nights to remember that story that so often moves us to tears. 
            On Thursday we hear about the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples.  It was a celebration of the Passover meal, that yearly ritual in which all Jews remembered together with friends and family the powerful events of their own history, in which God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and carried them into the Promised Land.  God had commanded his people to remember this event by participating in a meal each year.  God knows us so well because God created us.  And isn’t it true that sometimes a smell or a taste can cue a memory in our minds so vividly?  Remembering is re-membering the past and how it continues to shape us. 
            On Friday, we hear the story of Jesus’ passion in the Tenebre service.  “Tenebre” means darkness, and as the story unfolds and candles on the bare altar are extinguished, we’ll experience together perhaps a small taste of the darkness that must have been experienced that day by Jesus and his followers.  That darkness is important.  Darkness is integral to a deep and vibrant spirituality.  St. John of the Cross was a 16th century Spanish priest who wrote about a “dark night of the soul” when describing the spiritual journey toward God.  It is our fate to suffer and to grieve and to not comprehend the depth and breadth of the Truth and Love which envelops us.  Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that we suffer and grieve on our own or remain ignorant forever.  So on Good Friday we gather in the darkness together.  We huddle beneath the cross and hear the last words a loving savior gave his faithful followers. 
            On Easter Sunday, the Good News breaks open like that jar of nard that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet for burial.  The Good News “fills the whole” place, as we hear of the surprised wonder of the disciples.  But, as the angel said, we do not look for the living among the dead.  The miracle of the resurrection, for us, is not only that Christ conquers death and returns to his disciples in a living and breathing body.  It is the miracle that continues 50 days later, at Pentecost, when Jesus imparts his Spirit on the group that is gathered in his name and changes them into a living, collective, body.  So, when we only seek Jesus in the pages of a story, however rich and beautiful and life-giving that story is—if our gaze is only directed toward the scriptures to try and find the meaning and power of a Living and Loving God, we are looking for the living among the dead.  When we enact those scriptures, when we respond to them by living lives that are inspired (literally “breathed into”) by them, they become the “Living Word” that we so often call the Bible.  Those words tell us to look around for God—look in our daily lives.  Look especially at the poor and mourning.  Pay close attention to those who are oppressed or maligned.  It is easy to be inspired by the beauty of creation—and I can attest to the power of finding God’s presence in a magnificent sunset or in a grand mountain vista.  But Jesus reminds us to not forget about the underbelly of creation too. Do we see God’s presence in the people the world says are repulsive?  Jesus says, “I am there.”  It is when we open our eyes to this truth that we seek the living among the living.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Little Birds

I wonder what it must be like
to be a priest
who places the sacrament
directly in the mouths of his people,
and sees them
as filmy eyed hatchlings,
peeping and desperately seeking
with mouths wide open.

If anything were to ever make me feel transparent,
I think that would be it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Letter to Glenn Beck

Little Red Book being distributed to churches
Nathan Mattox  
View Contact

Dear Mr. Beck,
I heard what you said about social justice being a covert word used by secret communists and nazis in the church to advance the common agenda of those groups.  I am disturbed and alarmed.  My own church uses that secret code word on their church website, which is umc.org.  I feel even more threatened because I began to notice lots of "Little Red Books" around the church. I have heard that this is a famous communist book so I began to grow even more enraged and appalled when I noticed that it said things like "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." and "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind,  and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you."  These are only a couple of lines from that wretched commie tract, and it's chock full of stuff like that.  I feel so threatened and alarmed and disturbed and appalled and enraged that my head is spinning.  Please give me some orientation with your words of determination and resolve and purpose!  You told me I needed to run as far from my church as I can, but where can I find a church without those Little Red Books in them?  I'm beginning to notice that they are everywhere, even in motel rooms!  They even put little pocket sized copies of them in the children's Sunday School classrooms to infect their precious little innocent minds.  
Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition!
Nathan Mattox
Morris, OK  

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

U2charist order of worship

I've spent the past few days putting together this service for our church here in Morris.  I'm excited, but also a little daunted about it.  I'd say about half of our congregation has never heard anything by U2.  (Mostly George Strait fans around here--and some family members of Merle Haggard)  We're going to be doing a lot of sitting and listening to recorded music, so I'm trying to think of ideas to get the congregation active or involved in some way.  I reeeeeealllly do not foresee any of my congregation getting up and clapping their hands and singing along and all that that may happen at other U2charists.  But, the folks are used to me brining in a song from time to time to hear and reflect or perhaps write something while they listen, etc.  If you have ideas, please share.  I'm rigging up a screen so that we can see some of the videos or other images/slideshows I may put together over the next few days, so there's a whole other layer of things to be nervous about.  I try to come right out of the gates with some of the most overtly religious songs by U2 to buy the some credibility with those who aren't familiar.  I wrote a confession where I drew from a few U2 songs (Acrobat, A Sort of Homecoming, One, Love Rescue Me), but I'm also still considering just having Love Rescue Me as the song of Confession-It has great lyrics and was cowritten with Bob Dylan-put in your vote!  Feel free to use or adapt for your own purposes.  I'm really excited because one of the youth is going to play Yahweh on guitar for the service.  There's a couple neat videos on youtube for that song too, so I may use them in some way as well.  For the service of Word, I'm probably going to use an interactive reading that combines a few stories from the Bible with "I still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" that I found at Bob Carlton's church. http://thecorner.typepad.com/bc/2006/02/u2charist_form_.html Thanks to them in advance.  I also got the opening prayer from them.  For the Children's sermon, I plan to talk with them about music and how it moves us, and then teach the kids to sing the old Bible School song, "this is the day that the Lord has made" which we will mash up with the refrain from Beautiful Day, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away."  Oh, by the way, I noticed I have nothing from the 90s in the service.  Thought about using "One," my favorite song, but I had used that in a worship service recently, so they were already exposed to it.  I'd rather give them new stuff.   I'll probably wind up taking a couple/few songs out, I'd like to cut it closer to an hour to an hour and ten, but I thought I'd put the first draft up here for your use and pleasure, in case you're one of those hour and a half type churches.  In Morris, OK, we have pot roasts in the oven.

First United Methodist Church www.morrisokumc.blogspot.com
 U2charist: I will Sing a New Song

In this service of worship, we will be drawing from the music and lyrics of the band U2 to express our praise and thanksgiving, confession, and yearning for connection with God.  The band has been making music on a world stage for 30 years.  Each time they tour in concert, they draw millions of people, where they offer a sensory rich spectacle that attempts to focus fans toward goals in humanitarian causes developed by the United Nations.  They offer prayers and even play Psalms and recite other Scripture when they play.  They are a “secular band” that unabashedly proclaims their faith, and what it compels them to do in the world.    Approach this service with the prayer that whether you are a longtime fan of U2, or have never really listened to them, God will open something new inside you. 

Song of Praise: Magnificent (from No Line on the Horizon, 2009)


I was born

I was born to be with you

In this space and time

After that and ever after I haven't had a clue

Only to break rhyme

This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue

Only love, only love can leave such a mark

But only love, only love can heal such a scar

I was born

I was born to sing for you 

I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up 

And sing whatever song you wanted me to

I give you back my voice 

From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise ...

Only love, only love can leave such a mark

But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify

The Magnificent


Only love, only love can leave such a mark

But only love, only love unites our hearts

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify

Prayer:                        Liturgist
We gather here in your presence, God,
In our need and bringing with us the needs of the world.
We come with our faith and with our doubts;
We come with our hopes and our hunger.
We come as we are, because you invite us to come.
You have promised never to turn us away.
Open us, God, to experience you here.
All Respond: Amen.
Prelude: Rejoice (from October, 1981)
Scripture Lesson: Psalm 40, read responsively with response, p. 774                 Liturgist

Song of Response: 40 (from War, 1983)

Prayer of Confession:
Holy God,
We confess at times of saying “Lord, Lord,” and then closing our hearts to others.
I must be an acrobat, to talk like this, and act like that.
We confess a numbness toward your presence in the world around us.
Dislocated, suffocated 
The land grows weary of its own 
We confess that we bear grudges and plot revenge against one another
We hurt each other, then we do it again. 
Our hearts are broken, Lord, mend them and fill them with your Love and Forgiveness.
I'm here without a name in the palace of my shame.  Love rescue me

Song of Assurance: Grace (From All That You Can't Leave Behind, 2000)

Prayers of Joys and Concern:
During the time of sharing our joys and concerns, after a name or circumstance has been shared, the pastor will repeat the name or circumstance.  If it is a concern, we will pray together, “We carry each other.”  If it is a joy, we will pray together, “Only Love can leave such a mark.”  After the local joys and concerns are shared, we will hear the song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” which elaborates on the theme of war and violence, which are our global concerns, and is a prayer of petition. 

The Lord’s Prayer

Offertory: Love and Peace or Else (from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)

Children’s Sermon:                   Pastor

Interactive Scripture Reading and Homily
I still haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (from The Joshua Tree, 1987)

Invitation to Communion: Yahweh (from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004)  Atticus Dellinger

Great Thanksgiving and Communion: All are Welcome to receive. 
(I'll probably just choose three of these
American Prayer (Live version recorded at a concert in South Africa with Beyonce Knowles at a benefit concert for Nelson Mandela in 2002)
Mercy (unreleased) 

City of Blinding Lights, (From How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) 
Where the Streets Have No Name (from The Joshua Tree, 1987)

Hymn of Invitation:

Take My Life and Let it Be: 399