Monday, November 25, 2013

Looking Forward to December 1, 2013 -- First Sunday of Advent

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating Communion.

This being the first Sunday of Advent, it will also mark the beginning of our annual Advent/Christmas Outreach campaign.

This year our Advent Candle liturgies will call us to consider the various parts of the Advent wreath.  This week we are called to consider the circle.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
  • Luke 1:46-55
The Sermon title is Round and Round

Early Thoughts: One of the more common symbols in a wide range of spiritual systems is the circle. Cultures around the globe and throughout history have noticed the rhythms of life: the hours of the day, the seasons of the year; the cycle of life and death and life.

The circle is also used as a sign of the eternal.  In wedding services the line I often use before the exchange of rings includes these words:
The most familiar of these symbols is the exchange of rings, made in the shape of a circle without beginning or end; made of gold, a metal which does not tarnish or corrode, but which, like love sustained by God, grows in beauty through the years.
A circle is a sign of the unending love of God.  The ancient Celtic Christians incorporated this in their great stone crosses which had a circle joining the arms of the cross (coincidentally this also had a practical value as it added stability to the stone).  And much Celtic tracery includes intricate weavings which are circular in form, no beginning, no end, or at least where the beginning and end are impossible to locate.

And a third image that comes to mind is the wheel, the wheel of fate that turns over, upending the world, putting what was on top on the bottom and vice versa.  Part of our Christmas story is the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, where she sings of the child who will come to turn the world on its head, to toss the proud and mighty from their thrones.  At Christmas we remember the wheel turning and the world being changed.

SO this week we pause to think about circles: the cycles of life, the eternal love of God, and teh turning wheel of fate.

Wonder how all three of those will mesh into one sermon?????

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

December Newsletter

As we head into the season of Advent, the time of preparing for Christmas, I thought I would share this piece I wrote some years ago about some of the meanings of Christmas...

Christmas Is…

Christmas is carols and children. At Christmas time the child-like senses of wonder and acceptance are awakened in us. As we sing the carols and tell the story we are reminded of our childhood memories. The gifts and the foods bring out the child in all of us. The mystery of the stories (either Jesus or Santa) challenges us to move past adult rationalism. Christmas calls us to be child-like once again.

Christmas is waiting and hoping. When will Santa come? When can I open my presents? When will the baby be born? When will the world be better? When will things be right again? We wait and we wait. But we wait with hope. Christmas reminds us to be people of hopeful expectation. Christmas reminds us to hope for the future. Hope is born at Christmas, and so we wait for birth.

Christmas is chaos and calm. There is so much to fit into the month. Parties and concerts and shopping and baking and special church services. Oh my! Chaos is part of Christmas. But there is calm too. There is the peace of the Christmas snow sifting down. There is the silence of the frosty nights. There are both in our story too. The calm of the traditional vision of the manger is shattered by the chaos of a newborn’s cries and the violence of an oppressive world. Christmas comes in the midst of our lives with chaos and calmness.

Christmas is life changing. Some of the chaos of Christmas is because if we take Christmas and the story of the baby in the manger seriously Christmas is life-changing. Birth means that the life beforehand will die. Life will never be the same again, for parent, for child, for everybody associated with the child. At Christmas we mark not just the birth of a child but of a whole new world. And while we wait with hopeful expectation for that birth, we also wonder what will need to die so that the birthing process comes to full potential. Christmas is life and world changing.

Christmas is light in the darkness. Even in the chaos there is calm. Even in the fear of change there is hope. There is hope because Christmas reminds us of light in the darkest times. It is Christmas. The nights are long and cold in midwinter. But then we hear a tale of light, we hear that those who walk in times of darkness will have light shined on them. The world will be changed. New life will be born. There is light and there is hope.

That’s what Christmas is Charlie Brown.

From the Waldie household to all of yours, a Merry Christmas.

And God Bless Us, Every One!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Looking Forward to November 24

This Sunday we will celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism.

The Scripture Readings this Sunday are:
  • Luke 9:53-62
  • Mark 1:32-39
  • Ephesians 5:15-17
The Sermon title is Procrastination, Self Care, Prioritization

Early Thoughts:  In a busy world with so many demands on our time, how do we take care of ourselves?  In a world of instant communication through texting and social media; in a world with a 24 hour news cycle, where we want to know all the details moments after it happened; in a world where people want answers not now but two minutes ago; is it allowable to put things off for a bit?

In the end it is all about priorities.  Caring for ourselves, getting what needs to be done, meeting the needs around us all depend on priorities.  As one colleague of mine used to be fond of saying (often after a meeting where everything was described as being a "high priority" item): "If everything is the top priority than nothing is the top priority".  If we fail at the setting of priorities then we have set ourselves up for burn-out, and/or misplaced resources, and/or missed opportunities, and/or a whole other range of negative results.

As people who strive to follow Jesus, it is sometimes helpful to look there for a model.  In our readings for this week Jesus is fairly clear about priorities.  He challenges those who wish to follow him on what is important, he sets a priority to go and find time alone (self-care), he goes somewhere new even though there still appears to be work to do where he is. 

As for procrastination, that too is a question about priorities.  What looks like procrastination to one person may be taking time for self-care, or may be time for the brain to digest/mull over a topic to someone else.  In the end it is about what gets accomplished (and on what timeline), less than how it gets accomplished.  Procrastination can lead to difficulty of course, but sometimes it is needed if we are to do our best work.

And now, if you will excuse me, I need to go check Facebook, scroll through my Twitter feed, and maybe play a game or two...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Looking Forward to November 17, 2013

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Romans 8:28-31
  • Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
The Sermon title is:Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Early Thoughts:  There are certain phrases that probably should be stricken from our repetoire.  And the irony is that many people use them in a desire/attempt to be comforting.

"God must have needed another angel"
"God never closes a door without opening a window"
"God never gives us more than we can handle"
"Time heals all wounds"
"It must be God's will"
 "Everything happens for a reason"

To be frank most people find these statements, when offered in the face of tragedy, generally unhelpful and sometimes downright infuriating. 

One of the most perplexing questions in Christian theology is "Why do bad things happen?" [often with the add-on "to good people" and the corresponding "why do good things happen to bad people?"]

If God is in control then why do young children die of illness or accident or willful action?  Why do people get cancer?  Why does a person have to watch his/her life partner descend into dementia?  Why do we see (over and over again) reports of "ethnic cleansing" and genocide?  If God is in control, if God is all-loving and all-knowing and all-powerful why do terrible things happen?  Is it all part of a grand plan?  Does everything happen for a reason?

To make it a more difficult discussion, it is fairly clear that much of the Scripture witness supports the idea that God is in control, that there is a plan, that things do happen for a reason.  And the only appropriate response in the minds of some people of faith is to say "it is all a mystery".

But what if God is not in control?  What if God is not in fact all-powerful? Then what?

That is where I have come to.  I don't think everything happens for some deep philosophical reason.  I think life is just like that.  This I think is what the writer of Ecclesiastes is referring to.   (As it happens, my Hebrew Scripture professor once suggested that this passage is a little bit depressing and fatalistic.) 

SO then what do we make of Romans 8:28 "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."?

That verse could easily support the idea that everything happens for a reason, that there is a plan, that "it will all turn out for the best".  OR.  Or it could mean that the same God who turned the tragedy of the cross into the victory of Easter is willing to transform things.  Not to take away the pain, or the tragedy, or the rampant unfairness of life.  Just to, as the saying goes, make the best of a bad situation.  So things don't happen according to the plan, they happen and we adjust the plan in light of new information...

It isn't as neat as saying that  there is a reason, that this is part of a big plan but to me it is more honest.  It pushes us to wrestle with hard questions and in the end it is only in the wrestling that we find whatever hints of meaning, or learning from the events of our lives...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Looking Forward to November 10, 2013

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Psalm 46 
  • Philippians 4:4-7 

We will also have a reading from the AA Big Book.

The Sermon title is Key to Serenity

 Early Thoughts: It is a prayer well used within the 12 step movement (although popular usage changes the wording a bit from the original we will use on Sunday and posted here):
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. 
But what is serenity? Where do we find it?

The 12 step folks will maintain, and I tend to agree with them, that serenity comes with acceptance, with balance, with a realistic look on life. At the same time I think there is more.

Another source of Serenity is to follow the wisdom found in verse 10 of our Psalm reading this week.  Be still and know that I am God.  Serenity comes, not from chanting/yelling/grunting "Serenity NOW!!!!!" (for those Seinfeld fans out there), but from remembering that God is present, God is in charge (if not always in control--we will talk about that difference next week) and God is constant.

Our peace and serenity don't come from us.  We can make choices that allow us to embrace it but we don't create it.  Our serenity comes from God and when we embrace it we are putting ourselves in God's care.  May God help us find the path to serenity, acceptance, wisdom, and peace.