Saturday, July 23, 2016

"Everything That Has Breath"

My week ended talking to the horses.  To be clear on this, let me state up front, they did not talk back, at least not in a way I could comprehend.  My week began with a video of our grand-dog howling away as he listened to a goose call.  My daughter's laugh, heard on the video, as she was watching her big puppy "sing", was the sound of love mixed with joy.

Later I toured the wooded lot of a friend, which comes complete with a large pond, paths that lead to a river, and quiet spots next to a bubbling brook for meditation.  During the course of our tour we saw frogs who seemed to welcome us to their pond as old friends. We saw toads engaged in the spring ritual of creating new life, although our host did admonish them for their lack of discretion in choosing to mate in public.  Of course, the toads may have been wondering about why we were staring at them...this was their yard after all.  One certainly had a great sense of the rhythm of life wandering past bird's nest and rushing water.

My week was capped with an invitation to bless a horse cared for and ridden by the daughter of a some friends of ours.  When I said "yes" to the invitation the word spread throughout the barn and by the time our blessing service was set to occur there was a parade of about ten horses and their riders waiting to be blessed.  I was introduced to them all by name: Maxx, and his friends.  They were beautiful animals.  The caretaker of one told me that her horse was crabby that day.  When I asked how she knew, she made a face that somehow managed to perfectly capture the look on her horse's face, and it did indeed look crabby.

I offered a prayer written by an archbishop of Canterbury which begins, "O Lord, give us humility to thank You for the creation of animals, who can show affection which sometimes puts us to shame. Enlarge our respect for these your creatures, of who we are the guardians."  That line captures an idea that is as old as God’s promise to Noah that God loves all of his creation and the creatures in it, and he appoints human beings as the caretakers, or guardians of God's creatures. So, the blessing I offered properly states of the animals, "May we respect them and cherish them for they are Your gift to us; through them may we come to know You better and praise you, their Creator."

I grew up singing a hymn, now a favorite, that he wrote, "All creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voice and with us sing, "Alleluia!"  A more current take on that idea is in the song which declares "Let Everything that has Breath Praise the Lord,"  That is our privilege as the guardians of God's creatures, to nourish and protect them so that they can sing Alleluia. I can't be sure if our grand-dog was singing "Alleluia" or crying "please stop!"  I don't know if the horses could sense that I was trying to bring God's blessing into their barn and over their pasture.  I wonder whether the frogs were welcoming to their pond or wishing I would go away.  But, the week was a blessing for me because I was reminded that we do not walk this earth alone.  I was reminded, as Paul tells us, that "all creation" waits for the restoration of the new Kingdom.  So, this week, as you feed your birds, as you play with your pets, as you search for creatures along rivers and wooded paths, remember to invite them to sing "Alleluia!"  And don't forget to sing with them.

(This entry is from 2010, but offered anew in honor of a friend’s dog who died this week. As we mourned together, I was reminded how dear are all God’s creatures.)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"Woes and Visions"

The voice of the Church in the World should speak the Word and the words of God.

The voice of the Church speaks Judgment upon evil; Forgiveness of Sin and sins; and Love which covers a multitude of wrongs.

The voice of the Church speaks its unique comfort of Hope into hopeless times; its piercing yet warm Light into the darkest corners; its vision of the new Jerusalem where God dwells with mortals.

When people defy authority with violent means it is then the duty of the Church to say that “Blue Lives Matter.”  God has ordered society and the Church is called to be a voice for orderly peace, seeking to ensure that the police who act within the law and their authority are respected and protected. 

Yet the Church speaks for justice for those who are persecuted wrongly, who are judged because of the color of their skin or the zip code of their home.  So the Church says that “Black Lives Matter.”  The work of the Church is to encourage the non-violent, peaceful “speech” which can be effective in rendering just change without invoking civil unrest, so far as it depends on them.

To those who plot evil, the Church’s voice speaks: “Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! ...The LORD says: “I am planning disaster against this people.” (Micah 2:1,3)

To those who seek to bring a Word of Salvation into a desperate, dying world, the Church’s voice speaks: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Judgment rests with God. May the Church speak Love, through its thousands of churches speaking into their communities demands for justice and cries for mercy. May the Church’s Pilgrims of Hope walk with the humility which comes from knowing that they walk with God and that they are not gods. May God grant the Church the platform and the courage to speak the Word of Life today.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

When Silence is A Sin

It’s another beautiful Saturday morning, a perfect summer day in Wisconsin, the sort of day to write about something lighthearted and fun.  In Dallas and Baton Rouge and suburban St. Paul the weather conditions are meaningless. They are engaging in or planning funerals for people who were killed this week: men shot and killed by police and police killed by a lone sniper/murderer. “For whom does the bell toll?”

At dinner last night one of my companions asked, “What is going to have to happen before we all just go to Washington and march until something gets done?”  None of us had an answer. I didn’t have an answer because, first, I don’t know what will change the pattern of violence which leads to new horrors each week, from Orlando to Dallas and who knows where next.  Second, I don’t know that I have the motivation to march, to speak up.   It is too easy, sitting here in the upper Midwest on a spectacular sunny Saturday to just try to forget about it, to say, “what difference could I really make?” Third, I don’t know if I have the courage to speak. This is the part which troubles me the most. Have I lost my voice?

The problem I have in my role as pastor of a church is that the “church” doesn’t have a “position.”  It would be my role to help the “church” find a message and a voice, but if I do that I risk “blowing up” the church.  Our nation is so divided that there is no one “position” that represents a consensus view of what God would have to say about this pattern of violence. Am I willing to risk my job and to risk the cohesiveness of the community I serve over a problem that has (not yet) affected our city directly?  Am I willing to march, to speak up, when the people who have called me to speak may not follow?

Elie Wiesel, in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech said this, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”  Sometimes, I conclude, silence is a sin. “God, forgive me.  Help me to find my voice.  Fill the silence with your Word. Amen.”

Saturday, July 2, 2016

"My Heart Leaped for Joy"

I would like to argue with her, but how do you take issue with a world-class poet? And anyway, her practice is not far from what I preach.

I have concluded that, just like God loves a cheerful, not a grumpy giver, so God’s invitation to worship is meant to stir joy, not a bad case of the “grumpies”.  I could try to  “guilt-trip” folks into worship, but it makes me feel like a grumpy-old minister who needs validation by their attendance.  Instead I always tell people, you should come to church when you are able and when the idea of joining together with your worshipping community makes you happy, or, as Eugene Peterson puts it, when your hearts leaps for joy at hearing the invitation. (Psalm 122:1, The Message) So, what should I encourage people to do when their hearts don’t leap at the thought of coming together to worship the LORD in community, when they would rather be outdoors enjoying these rare blessed days of summer? 

A Service of Song

Some keep the Sabbath going to church;
I keep it staying at home,
With a bobolink for a chorister,
And an orchard for a dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in surplice;
I just wear my wings,
And instead of tolling the bell for church,
Our little sexton sings.

God preaches,—a noted clergyman,—
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I’m going all along!                                Emily Dickinson (Source: Emily Dickinson Poems, discovered at Inward/Outward)

I still would like to make a few good points in response, about the values of regular worship in community, but the birds beckon. God is preaching!