Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thoughts about the Trinity (previously posted on the Faith Formation Blog)

Trinity Sunday has always been one of my favorite Sundays of the liturgical year -- It is always celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost, and before the season of Sundays after Pentecost, usually referred to as "ordinary time".

The mysterious concept of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit -- three in one all at once -- is a concept that stretches our mind to a point beyond words. We sing about the concept: "Holy, Holy, Holy" is perhaps one of the most familiar hymns. In our statements of faith, The Nicene, the Apostles', and the Athanasian Creeds, we declare our belief as a community in the various persons of the Trinity. Still, few of us have a mental understanding of how to explain the Trinity, and it is only the most courageous of preachers who attempt to offer such an explanation in the context of a 12-17 minute long sermon.

An easy way out would be to simply tell a cute story:

A priest was in a public place where he witnessed a man who collapsed and was clearly in mortal danger. The priest (of course) ministered to the man, kneeling by his side: "My son, do you believe in God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit?" The man opened one eye partially and said...
"What... I'm dying.... and you're asking me a riddle?"

I suppose light humor can help us get around the frustration of our own inability to articulate the MEANING underlying our songs, our prayerful phrases, or our statements of faith. However, in honor of this, one of my favorite Sundays, I want to offer an image I was given by C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, that has increased my understanding of the Trinity.

Consider the geometric figure of a cube. A cube is comprised of 6 squares joined in a three dimensional fashion, right? And squares are comprised of four lines of equal length... and lines are created by connecting two points (taken even further... the connecting lines are nothing other than a series of points)

So you are looking at the cube... and it is a matter of your focus or the intention (choice) of your mind as to whether you are looking most closely at a square, a line or a point, or the cube as a "whole" comprised of many parts. Also, as you look at various squares, look at what happens when you gaze at the bottom line running parallel to the space above the words "so you are looking at the cube..and " (do this for 5 seconds) Now look away from the figure (for 10 seconds) and look back, but focus upon the space above the TOP line, that is below (and parallel to) the phrase "lines are nothing other"--and slowly move your focus to the space on the right of the cube (5-10 seconds or until you see the figure "flip")
It is amazing how we can see the points, lines and squares in so many ways all at once, simply by allowing our senses to be open to a variety of perspectives and places of full attention.
So.... back to the idea of the Trinity. God's mystery of creation, compassion and abiding/eternal/infinite presence is one that we can experience "all at once in totality". Still, there are moments in our life when our spirit, heart or mind seem to be most fully aware of one aspect of the three in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In closing, we are reminded, though, that we can never, ever fully comprehend the mystery of God through the limited vehicle of OUR understanding. We are reminded, too, that it is not at the moment of understanding Father, Son and Holy Spirit that we are activated in our mission as Christians: It is the moment when our hearts are ignited in belief!
Then we begin to set our feet on paths unknown to us, but made sound and sure by God, revealed through Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Recall these words from Pastor Randy's Pentecost Sermon:

As we journey through this life we come to pivotal moments in our discipleship.  Some of those moments are planned out, like when we are baptized, when we start school, when we affirm our baptism, when we graduate from high school or college, when we get engaged, get married, have children, or retire.
These moments of our life journey are often seen far off from a distance; perhaps our parents planned them, or perhaps we had anticipated them for months and even years ahead of them actually occurring.  However, there are also other pivotal moments in our discipleship journey.  These crossroads in our daily living evolve and occur because of happenstance, because of unique factors and situations that develop slowly or suddenly, many of which are well beyond our control.  We find ourselves thrust into the middle of something that we may have perceived ahead of time, but didn’t know for sure when exactly it would happen, or more then likely, we find ourselves standing knee deep in the water of a river of life, whose rains we never saw coming.  

For your reflection:  

What is going on with you today?  Are you in the midst of plans or situations that you have anticipated?  Are things moving along according to details you have put in place?  
Or are you on a leg of your journey where all plans are tentative and subject to sudden change?  

Whatever the circumstance how can you lean upon the Holy Spirit to increase your understanding of God's stabilizing presence?  How does leaning upon that Spirit increase your sense of awe or gratitude or serenity?  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On the importance of Prayer

From Pastor Larry Klinker:

"We cannot speak, share, or give voice to our stories of what it means to us to have a relationship with God, without the gift of the Holy spirit, without the power of the Spirit, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.... The Spirit has already been poured into our lives in our baptism, and now we need to nourish our relationship with God in the Spirit by living within a faith community that studies its scriptures and dedicates itself to a life of prayer.  It is through prayer that we make ourselves available to God.  It is in prayer that we seek the Spirit's guidance and leadership.  It is in prayer that openings are created for us to hear God's story and for others to hear our story in God from us."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Get ready for the wind!

We approach the Pentecost readings. Or are they approaching us? Probably both.

Begin by reading Psalm 104, a celebration of the creative force of God's Spirit...

A hand that moves over and within all of creation bestowing all that is essential to sustain us. Creation and critters know that.

I wonder, do I REALLY know that? Or do I strive on my own to acquire extras? Of course, those are rhetorical questions, but I can use them as starting points for prayer.

Can I honestly place my priorities under a God lens and see what is clearly given and desired for me by God? Am I willing to see see what I am either clinging to or striving for that sprouts from self-determination or fear?

Fear Not!  Let it be so. Blow, Spirit, Blow....

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Changing course

As many of you know, I am a sailor.  My ability to reach a destination is dependent upon what the wind is doing.  Direction, velocity and consistency of wind determines how quickly I can reach my goal.

Non-sailors often get frustrated on board a sail boat, especially if they are accustomed to using a powerboat to go directly to their desired destination.  Take a look at the diagram:

Say your goal is to reach a place right where the word "wind" is.   If you try to sail directly into the wind you will be in a situation called "irons".  The sails flap wildly, you stall in the waves and may eventually be driven backwards.  So you need to turn back and forth (tack) sometimes sailing away from the goal.  (This is what frustrates power boaters!)

You will eventually get there but it takes time, patience and depending upon the velocity of the wind, no small amount of skill. In high winds, it is wisest, sometimes, to set aside the goal and wait for another day.


What are some of your goals?  How does the wind of opportunity work with you?  How do you know when you need to change course?  Are there some circumstances where you have resisted changing?  What happened then?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sabbath reflection

Discipleship is all about a balance of action/engagement/leadership and patience/obedience/"followship".  Each of us knows that if we truly accept the call to serve we are also setting aside our desire to be completely in control.  That is easier said than done.

As today's lesson from Acts reminded us (also addressed in Pastor Randy's sermon) life often takes a turn or a twist that is outside of our hopes or expectations.  The two men, Matthias and Justus, were equally qualified to serve in the core "12" of Jesus' disciples.  The lot fell in favor of Matthias, and Justus went on his way.  Yet we never hear another word about either of them.

So from our perspective, Matthias is no more important than Justus, right?  Still, in the moment of choosing, Justus may have felt that his potential was suddenly dramatically less than that of Matthias.

Imagine Matthias being welcomed into the inner circle.  Imagine Justus walking away from the gathering.  One was thinking:  Wow!  now I am on my way!!!!

Or perhaps, just perhaps, BOTH of them were thinking those words.  After all, we will never know how either man's story unfolded.

It is important to remember that God has something for EACH of us to do in God's name.  There is no such thing as an inconsequential act of Christian Service.   Everybody has a "call".  Prestige or status are not the determining factor when it comes to effective discipleship.  It is all about trust that as long as we are showing up each day and saying "Use me, Lord", it will be so!

But we can't decide for ourselves the specific place or  relationship where we are to be utilized. Our plans and hopes need to be open and flexible, specific ONLY in terms of being rooted in Christ.  That hope will most certainly unfold.  All others may be subject to events as random as "casting lots."

Not all of our hopes will be fulfilled.   We won't always be chosen to serve in the place or the role we had anticipated.  If we stay focused upon the hope that DID NOT unfold, we become deaf and blind to the potential that IS in place.

For your reflection.

Have you ever been passed "by" when you have offered to serve the church?

Did you continue to say "yes" to the call to serve?

What opportunities did you discover that were not connected to the position or role that you did NOT get?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thoughts about Ascension Day

Although we will not be focusing upon the lessons for Ascension Day at our Sunday Worship, it is important to think about what this day means to us. 

Throughout the season of Easter, the resurrected Christ walked among the believers.  He spoke with them.  He ate with them.  He continued to reveal himself to the group. 

Then, forty days after Easter Sunday, we are told that he ascended into heaven.   The believers learned quickly that they would not find the Lord by standing still and gazing upwards.  Instead, the Holy Spirit in their midst would guide their eyes and ears toward Christ. 

With the Ascension, God's Love with us (Jesus) thousands of years ago slipped into and through time and space so that we in the 21st century can experience that same presence every moment of every day.  We can try to understand what happened (and continues to happen).  But our human understanding can't adequately grasp what God did.  Perhaps the best we can do is notice indicators of God's action.  A good bit of participating in a mystery involves looking for things that we can see that point to the event long after its occurrence.

Consider this: 

"The feast of the Ascension commemorates that day when the apostles and the entire community of faith was deprived of continued physical contact with the risen Lord. No longer would the Church have the comfort and support of direct association with the Master. Once the risen Lord was taken from their sight, the members of the Body of Christ themselves would have to comfort and support one another in His name. Because they could no longer see His face, they would have to become icons of Christ for each other. Once they were admonished for gazing up into the heavens, they would have to look into the eyes of their brethren to recognize His presence in all its distressing disguises. Once the Master was again seated at the right hand of the Father, they could no longer sit at His feet. Now they would have to listen for the sound of His voice in the teaching of their elders. Since the Lord was no longer physically in their midst, they had to depend on His word that he would be with them whenever two or more gathered in His name."
(from an Ascension Day sermon of Fr. Jerome Merchar, prior at the Abbey of the Genesee. )

As Jesus left the physical presence of the disciples, he had accomplished the mission of warming their hearts, infusing them with peace and opening their minds to Holy Scripture. Their further "progress" as messengers of Christ emerged, then, as they allowed their activities and relationships to point at all times and in all places to the amazing power and love released in the resurrection.  Together they could encourage one another to pay attention to Christ's constant presence (the Holy Spirit).  Together they could see more of God's Love than any one of them could see on their own.  Together they could speak and act in ways that unleash for others an experience of God (even if it was an experience that evaded understanding).

I wonder, how will this day provide opportunities for you to experience Christ's presence as you look into the eyes of another, or hear a word from an elder, or receive comfort and guidance from one God's children?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An echo from Sunday

1.  Now all the vault of heav'n resounds
in praise of love that still abounds:
Christ has triumphed!  He is living!
Sing choirs of angels loud and clear!
Repeat their song of glory here:
Christ has triumphed! He is living!

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! 

3.  Oh, fill us, Lord, with dauntless love;
set heart and will on things above
that we conquer through your triumph;
grant grace sufficient for life's day
that by our lives we truly say: 
Christ has triumphed!  He is living! 

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! 

ELW #367

Take a look at your week so far.  Is your voice part of the chorus of love reverberating in the vault of heaven (or in your workplace)?

The community prayed in this song that we all be filled with DAUNTLESS LOVE.  We also asked God's help in setting our hearts and wills on things above. 

What has claimed your attention so far this week?  (that is, what has been your most consistent focus?) 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Remembering the basics

Welcome to Monday!  What's on your "to do" list? Is it already established?  Are there things on that list you will embrace with joy?  What is there that you see as nothing other than a chore -- something that you will get through and then be glad for its accomplishment.  Our contexts offer a variety of possibilities.  Much of what we have scheduled will actually unfold.  Other things will dissolve -- appointments will be cancelled and plans will be interrupted.

Is there anything on your list that you have planned that you see as essential?  What is there that you are cherishing or anticipating?  Would its disappearance would be a disappointment?

Where does discipleship factor in?  How will your walk this week be a reflection of the power you have as a child of God? In all places you have opportunities to serve or be served as Christ's love is manifest through words, gestures, thoughts and actions.

Take a look at something you are anticipating with joy.  If it occurs, let that be an invitation for prayers of gratitude, praise and appreciation.  Let the experience strengthen you or comfort you or enhance your awareness of God's great goodness.

Take a look at something you are hesitant or unwilling to encounter.  How can that activity or appointment be seen differently if you see it as a sacrifice.  What if you trust that God will be with you and will open your eyes and heart to see an opportunity for Love to break through?

The discipleship function underlies everything else.  It is the basic ingredient of every day.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

This week's scripture continues to invite us to think about what it means to "abide".  Specifically, we are advised to abide in Christ's love.  If the way that others know that we are Christians is by our love, it seems that it is important to express love wherever we go.

Try this prayer exercise:

Envision a dry, brittle sponge.

See it soaking in water, absorbing liquid into every cell.

When it is pressed, it oozes water from every cell.

Envision your heart, mind and body as that sponge.

Soak in God's love.

When people or situations press in upon you, let the love of Christ be what splashes out.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Did you notice how many times the word "abide" appeared in the Gospel reading on Sunday? Eight times.  Sometimes twice in the same sentence.  I suppose that word would be declared archaic by some contemporary texters.  I think it is a beautiful word -- I have always considered it a cousin to linger, languish, soak.  As such, it has a soft connotation, don't you agree?    

However, I consulted the dictionary and found that it is not a passive word -- there is a sense of activated presence about it:  continue, keep on, persevere, persist, remain

Christ said:  Abide in me, as I abide in you.   If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Abiding in Christ is more than stating the Nicene Creed on Sunday.  It is more than occasionally reflecting upon what you heard and said and saw and tasted and touched on Sunday.  

It is about continuing to be "in" Christ.  It is about persevering in faith so that nothing is permitted to draw you aware from the center of your faith -- the Cross.  

So, friend, how are you doing so far this week?  I am doing the best I can.  Yet there are so many other wonderful (or awful) matters that are trying to find time and space in my mental or spiritual space (not to mention their competition for time on my personal hourly calendar).  Perhaps those words about asking for our wishes (for others) to be done are more important than we realize.  

How about if we pray for one another -- all of the others to whom we are connected?  What if we hold one another before Christ in a way that says:  Please, heavenly Father, help ___________  abide in you.  

It seems to me that praying for another's ability to abide in Christ might be a very powerful weapon against our challenges!  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tied to Christ. Connected to Others.

Have you ever prayed while looking at a spider web?  Try this.  Imagine yourself at one of the points on the perimeter of the web.  Move yourself towards the center point (can you see the tiny cross at the center?)  Notice how narrow the space is between the threads in the center, compared to the spaces at the perimeter.  
The closer you are to the center the closer you are to the "others" in the web.  

Yesterday (and every time we gather for worship) we returned to the center, the core of our spiritual life.  Beginning with greeting the hour ("We gather in the name of Christ") we then confessed our shortcomings and received forgiveness.  We heard the living Word in Scripture, pondered the proclamation, prayed together, celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism, and then gathered at table and cross to receive Christ in the Bread and the Wine.  The Cross and the Meal are the center of the faith.  

Remember the words:  Jesus said:  I am the vine, you are the branches.  

So, today is Monday.  You have already begun your walk from worship into the world.  As your steps are taking you into these days between Sunday, what people and situations are you facing?  How is your tie to Christ affecting your connections with others?  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Herding instinct

Yesterday I spoke to my shepherd friend.   She and her husband raise sheep and border collies.  This spring their ewes delivered over 60 lambs.  Right now each lamb follows its mother, as if it is tied by an invisible thread.

As the lambs mature they will develop the herding instinct.  The tie to mom will dissolve, but the connection to the herd will be inscribed.

What ties needed to be dissolved in order for you to participate in the life of Christian Community?

See you in church!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Going through the motions?

On Sunday we were welcomed by the pastoral imagery of Psalm 23:  The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want.  Then in the reading from Gospel of John we were moved into the fold of faith by the promise that the voice of the one who laid down His life for us can not and never will be silenced.  Even now the Good Shepherd seeks each and every one of us who has moved from the safe fold of faith.  
The thing is, we do wander.  Look again at the words Pastor Randy offered about the way we "wander", even in the hour when we are gathered (apparently) for an hour when worship is the highlight of our minds?  
How often does our worship become only repetitive phrases with no meaning, how often does the saying of our Apostles' Creed become simply an exercise in paragraph recital, rather than the confessing of our faith, saying out loud what we believe about our life and our God?  When we come to the Lord's Prayer in our service, do we often catch ourselves uttering sentences we have memorized since a child, and often find our minds drifting to some other matters of the day?
It is hard; it is often difficult to keep our Christianity in focus.  And if we fall short of holding on to the great victory of Easter, if we sometimes let our minds go astray while in church practicing the faith, how often would we guess that our Christian center falls to the wayside during the rest of our week?  It seems our Christian challenge will always draw us back to the basics, to remind ourselves to open our eyes a little wider, to focus our hearts a little stronger, to guide our thoughts a little sharper, so that we may see, be reminded, and be continually strengthened in our Christian walk. On the other side of the coin, it would be easy to become pessimistic as well, for we know that in our own mortality, our own sinfulness, that we simply are not very good at living up to that challenge.  
It is so too easy to simply go through the motions of life, worship, and faith without reminding ourselves of the great promise of the Christian way.  It is very easy to miss the great majestic art scenes of God. But that is where the Spirit can invade our lives; that is where God doesn't give up on us, but instead uses our ordinary experiences of life to draw us back toward our true center.  It is the gift of the Spirit through Christ, which enables us to again encounter the risen Lord and its meaning for us.

 FOR REFLECTION:  Are you aware of sections of the worship service when you slip into "going through the motions?"  When do you notice God invading your life?  How does the voice of the Good Shepherd draw you to a faith fold where you are shaped, nourished and guided in ways that deepen or broaden your love for God and others?