Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Sunday's Wordle

Here is a Wordle of my Sermon from last Sunday. It was that text from Matthew 2 about the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt. I mentioned how Jesus is a refugee, and through this, God Incarnate comes to live in solidarity with all of our human suffering. I also reminded the congregation that our Synod is a Cherish our Children synod, meaning that we have voted to intentionally raise awareness about childhood sexual exploitation. It's a topic we don't talk about very often, because it is so uncomfortable. Yet God enters this broken world and encounters all our pain. In Christian worship, there is just as much room for lament as there is for praise. Rachel's song, weeping for her children because they are no more, is just as much a song of Christmas as Mary's Magnificat or the angel's Gloria. God can handle all of our prayers.

Prayer at the Close of the Year

Our congregation, Amazing Grace, has a longtime tradition of worshipping together on New Year's Eve. Since coming here, I've used the service as a chance to pray Compline. Instead of Prayer at the Close of the Day, we think of it as Prayer at the Close of the Year.

Compline is a quite, meditative service, originating from as early as the fourth century. It doesn't usually have a sermon or fancy processionals. Rather, the silence, the psalms, and the prayers are the main foci.

Tonight’s liturgy, prayers, and readings are full of images of day and night, of time changing, of the Earth moving.

From the opening dialog, "Almighty God, grant us a quiet night and peace at the last."
From Thomas Tallis' lovely hymn, "All praise to thee, my God, this night for all the blessings of the light...."

Every night, the earth will finish one more spin, one more revolution. The sun will set again, just has it has for years before humans can even remember. Tomorrow we will be awakened and welcomed to a new day.

The night of December 31’s spinning of the Earth is the same as all the others, but it is also different. We go from one year in our human markings of time to another. From 2010 to 2011.

We remember the year past: Haitian earthquakes. Health care. Lady Gaga.

Here at Amazing Grace: Construction projects. Trunk or Treat. VBS. Angel Food. Baptisms. Saints departed. New friends. New adventures. Epiphany. Lent. Easter. Pentecost. Advent. Christmas.

A lot has happened in a year. And a lot can happen in the next.

The Earth keeps spinning. Every day is a blessing from God, as is every year. God’s time is not always the same as our time. I love the words from Isaac Watts’ hymn:

A thousand ages in God’s sight
are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun (LBW # 320).

We do not know what will happen once the sun rises tomorrow. We do not know what 2011 will bring in our lives, in our neighborhood, in our congregation, in our country, in our world. Yet, we live with promises of God’s love, with hope for a God who does not forsake us, with peace as God’s parting gift for us.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Advent Wordle

Here is a Wordle of last Sunday's sermon. I had hauled a big tree branch into the front of the chancel area and invited the assembly to choose how they see the tree--as a sign of repentance with shades of John the Baptist, or as a sign of what God is sprouting up, like the righteous branch of which Isaiah speaks.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cross lights

We just lit up the cross. It’s a string of lights around it. There’s precedence for this: I have a 1992 church directory with a photo of a lit cross on the cover. We might keep them up for just Advent. Then again, it is a nice touch and perhaps worth keeping up all year.

I have mixed feelings on lighting up a cross. On the one hand, we Christians have domesticated crosses. We wear crosses as jewelry and put them on our walls. It’s easy to forget that a cross is a tool of execution. People died on crosses. Imagine if you wore a necklace with a noose, an electric chair, or a vial of potassium chloride. It would be shocking and scandalous.

On the other hand, a cross tells people that we are Christians. At Amazing Grace, I think lighting the cross is a good sign. Our buildings are set back quite a distance from the road, and sometimes it’s hard to tell that we are a church. I’ve heard people think that we are a big house, a school, a convent, or some sort of cult compound. Lighting the cross is one way that we can be clearer about our mission. When somebody sees the cross, then they will know who we are.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

2010 Slideshow

Today was our annual congregational meeting. Besides electing leaders and approving a budget, we celebrated life together this year at Amazing Grace. Enjoy the show!