Worship for March 29, 2020

Link to audio file for this at home worship

The audio file begins with Larry Anderson’s prelude, to help us prepare for worship.

(Once the audio begins to play, you can click back to this page, and read and listen at the same time, if you like.)

Let’s take a moment for quiet prayer. There is so much happening in the world, and we have so many questions, concerns, and anxieties. There is so much happening that still does not feel quiet real, and yet, here we are. And God is with us in the midst of it all.

I am continuing this week to look at the story of Jesus’ time in the wilderness. I think the desert could have felt to him, absolutely real, and at the same time, like a place outside of regular life and time.

Please listen as Sue Timpson-Mannell reads the story for us:

Matthew 4:1-11 from The Message

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

For the second test the Devil took him to the Holy City. He sat him on top of the Temple and said, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.” The Devil goaded him by quoting Psalm 91: “He has placed you in the care of angels. They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

Jesus countered with another citation from Deuteronomy: “Don’t you dare test the Lord your God.”

For the third test, the Devil took him to the peak of a huge mountain. He gestured expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms, how glorious they all were. Then he said, “They’re yours—lock, stock, and barrel. Just go down on your knees and worship me, and they’re yours.”

Jesus’ refusal was curt: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”

 The Test was over. The Devil left. And in his place, angels! Angels came and took care of Jesus’ needs.

Sue is self-quarantined after visiting her friend in Indiana, but was able to record the scripture lessons for us on her phone, and send them in.

On Friday, I met with Larry Anderson and Jeff Csikasz, at a careful social distance, and we recorded some music. Here is Jeff singing and playing one of his favourites.

I asked for that song because of a line in the chorus that says, “In the desert you can remember your name”.

It seems to me that in his time in the desert, Jesus was called upon to remember who he was, and who he was meant to be. The tempter, or the tester offered him some shortcuts, some diversions from the path Jesus was meant to walk, and from the person he was meant to be- but Jesus resisted, and remembered his name, his identity.

The tempter knew their stuff, and the distractions offered to Jesus were pretty attractive. They are the classics, that people have always faced, and which we face today.

Jesus was offered food, a symbol for all material things. If he’d taken the devil up on the suggestion that he turn stones into bread, maybe he could have had at it, and turned the desert into a bakery warehouse. He could have turned rocks and stones, cliffs and boulders into baked goods.

Anything beyond what Jesus actually needed, to satisfy his physical hunger, would have gone to waste. There is a temptation to find comfort in having more than we need- as if we could make a strong castle out of the stuff in our lives, that would be a defense against the things that scare us.

The second distraction from his true life, from his true self, offered up to Jesus, was protection from pain and death. The devil brings him up to a high place, and says, “Since you are God’s Son, jump.”

The Devil also used scripture to suggest that if he did jump, God would send angels to catch him.

This is a tough one. We’d like to believe we are somehow protected from pain, from death. We might hope and pray the same thing for those we love- especially in these strange times. But Jesus resists the tempter on this one too. Jesus is as vulnerable, mortal, and subject to pain and grief as we are.

Jesus is a model for us, of how to live, and remember how we are meant to live, even in the face of hardship, terrible challenges, things that threaten to overwhelm.

The third challenge the tempter put to Jesus might also work on us, because it was about worldly power. What if the devil could have put Jesus in charge of all the countries of the world? The first problem, I think, is that his offer was a lie.  I don’t believe the devil could sign over all that power, because the devil is not in charge. God made all those people, in all those countries, as individuals with freedom to think, to feel, and make their own choices, for bad and for good.

We might, as we watch the news, and hear about the decisions leaders are having to make these days, wish we could have our say, or maybe take over, and do things better. If the devil appeared to me, and said, just worship me, and you can be in charge of the whole world, I might be sucked in. I might think, for a moment, that I could do better. But the reality is, I am not smart enough, creative enough, wise enough. Even if the devil had the power to put me in charge, which I think is a lie, it would be a terrible idea.

One human should not call all the shots. History is full of the stories of the miserable outcomes that occur when one person, one small group thinks they know what is best for everyone else.

All the minds, all the hearts, all the good will, of all people, are needed- not just the ego-driven desire of one person, who falls for the lie that the devil has put them in charge.

We need each other. We need to work together, in small things, and in big things, to make the world better safer, more habitable for our fellow humans, and all the other life with which the earth is teeming.

Jesus rejected the lies of the tester, and pushed back against the powerful distractions of the tempter. In the desert, Jesus remembered his name, and it gave him the strength and courage to carry on, to tell the devil to take off. And according to the story, the devil did leave, and angels came to take care of Jesus.

Jesus was still in the desert. The high places and tall towers, the piles of stones that could have been bread- all those lies, those illusions were gone. But the angels came to help him.

We are kind of in a desert. There are temptations. There are worries, anxieties, and the overwhelming sense at times, that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, whatever that is.

But we are not alone, and the desert, as strange as it seems, is not all terrible. There is beauty here. There is life. Please click on the audio file for the hymn for today. Larry and Jeff played the instrumental part. The words are below, if you want to sing along.

jeff and larry making music

VU 222 Come, Let Us Sing

1            Come, let us sing to the Lord our song,

we have stood silently too long;

surely the Lord deserves our praise,

so joyfully thank God for our days.

 

2            O thirsty soul, come drink at the well;

God’s living waters will never fail.

Surely the Lord will help you to stand,

strengthened and comforted by God’s hand.

 

3            You dwell among us and cause us to pray,

and walk with each other following your way;

our precious brothers and sisters will grow

in the fulfilling love they know.

 

4            Deserts shall bloom and mountains shall sing

to the desire of all living things.

Come, all you creatures, high and low,

let your praises endlessly flow.

I especially like the line in that hymn that reminds us that deserts shall bloom and mountains shall sing. God is still at work. In that same spirit, Sue Timpson-Mannell has a second reading for us.

Isaiah 35:1-7  from The Message 

Wilderness and desert will sing joyously,
the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom,
a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts.
God’s resplendent glory, fully on display.
God awesome, God majestic.

Energize the limp hands,
strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
“Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

Blind eyes will be opened,
deaf ears unstopped,
Lame men and women will leap like deer,
the voiceless break into song.
Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness,
streams flow in the desert.
Hot sands will become a cool oasis,
thirsty ground a splashing fountain.
Even lowly jackals will have water to drink,
and barren grasslands flourish richly.

One of my favourite spiritual writers, Howard Thurman was a preacher and teacher, and college professor, who inspired many people, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Howard Thurman was an African American, born in rural Florida in 1899. His maternal grandmother had been a slave on Florida plantation. He was born into poverty, and his father died when Howard was 7 years old. He was raised by his grandmother, and his mother, who were women of deep faith.

Thurman wrote:

“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful.”

I have been hearing all week about ways people are being like angels for each other, with words and acts of kindness and generosity. People are baking good things, and dropping them on the porches of neighbours and friends. Others are taking out the garbage, and bringing the cans back in, for those who are housebound, or just need help.

People are phoning, texting, writing letters to each other. Sending love, and showing concern as they can.

People are making extra donations to places like the Downtown Mission, who are on the front line, helping folks who have it much tougher than most of us.

We can each exercise our free will, our creativity, our compassion, to make the world a little more humane, more beautiful, and life that much more possible for others.

When we do what we can, it helps others, and that is good, but I think it also helps us to remember our name, who we are, and who we are meant to be, in these strange times, in this weird desert place where we all now live.

Let’s pray:

God of deserts and blooming flowers, of night skies and bright stars, help us, in these strange times, to remember you, and your presence with us. Help us to slow down, and breathe, and remember again who you have created us to be. May we, with our unspoken prayers, with our acts of compassion and kindness, with our careful, loving words, bring beauty and hope into the lives of others. We pray for those we know who are sick, those who are grieving. We pray for those who feel alone. We pray especially for those who are now behind the locked doors of nursing homes, hospitals, and hospice. We pray for front line workers who are tending to the needs of the sick, and who are leading the fight against COVID-19. We pray for our government leaders and their advisors. We pray for those who continue to work, so that we have what we need to live. We make all our prayers as followers of Jesus, and we ask for your blessing in his name. Amen

Before I finish this recorded worship resource, I want to thank Jeff Csikasz and Larry Anderson for their music, and Sue Timpson Mannell for the scripture readings.

I also want to announce that this coming Friday morning, April 3, from 10 am until noon, Harrow United Church will have a drive-up food and necessities collection for Windsor’s Downtown Mission.

Our goal is to fill the back of a pick-up truck with items that can help folks who face the same challenges as we do, but who may have it much worse than most of us in the county.

Imagine facing the need to self-isolate, and keep clean, and eat healthy, if you were homeless!

If you are currently sick, or under self-quarantine, don’t worry about donating to this food drive. Take care of yourselves.

We will likely do this again, if it is needed, to re-stock the Harrow Food Bank, which our church normally collects for every week.

If your household is running out of food, and you can’t get out to get to a store, please let us know, and we will do our best to help you.

This worship resource comes to you from Harrow United Church. Our building may be closed for now, but our ministry in this community continues. God bless you all.

 

Just 3 good things

graphic-collection-number-3-neon-delightfull

I woke up with an idea, and a song in my head.

The idea is that I want to do three good things today. Not the usual, routine things that are part of most days, but new things. I intend to spend some time thinking about what I can do, planning how to do it, and then doing it.

I figure this 3 step process that leads to doing 3 things, actually adds up to 9 new things for me.

Since we are spending most of our time at home, seeing the same people, in the same space- this might be a bit of challenge. Are you up for it?

I would love to hear what 3 good things you come up with.

Oh, the song in my head is Seventh Wave by Sting.

Colour your Prayers March 26, 2020

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And the One who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV adapted)

I don’t know how it is for you, but there are times when I have the need, the urge to pray, and really don’t have words. I don’t know how to say what I am feeling, and the thoughts have not coalesced, solidified enough that I can attach actual words to them.

These days, there is so much. I am carrying in my heart voices of people I talk with on the phone, pictures of folks in the church directory that I look at, while I ponder who to call next. There are the memories of things I have been told.  I think about people I am used to seeing almost every day. I think about people I have not seen for years.

I wonder about our world, and what will happen this afternoon, next week, and on and on….

That’s how I am today. Full of… prayers, questions, worries, dark thoughts, hopeful glimmers, deep love, compassion. So much. Maybe you have times like this too.

Back when I was studying and teaching contemplative practices, and offering the ministry of spiritual direction (I did that for about a decade before I came to Harrow), I developed a way to pray, when I don’t have all, or any of the words.

It starts with my art box, and a blank page.

I write down names, places, concerns. I paint over them with a colour that feels like God’s love, God’s attention. I used watercolour today, but I’ve done coloured pencils, even crayons in the past. More words, names, places come to mind, so I add them. God’s love is not limited by the size of my heart, so I add more colour. It’s a bit of bright mess- and that’s about right, for today.

 

Look for Beauty, for Grace, for Love

look for beautyIf you look closely at this photo I just took of the garden plot outside our kitchen window, you will see that I have work to do! You may also see the rhubarb poking up, and the chives. Bordering the unkempt plot is green grass, and there is a lovely shaft of sunlight warming the rich black soil. There is beauty there, and the grace of new life. There are living signs of God’s presence, of God’s great big love.

I have been phoning people I have never actually met, as part of the Harrow United Church “Angels” calling effort. Since I have only served this congregation for about 18 months, there are still a lot of folks I have yet to meet.

(If you have not been called yet, we are still working our way through the list. If you would like to help with calls, reach out to me. You can use the same contact form if you just feel like you would like me to call you.  I am happy to call the folks connected with Harrow United Church.

Everyone I have called has been happy to talk. One woman I spoke with yesterday described looking out her window, watching for bursts of spring growth, and new birds. She has the right idea, I think. Look for beauty, for grace, for love.

This wise woman also mentioned that she limits her diet of “news”. As she put it, every time she turns on the tv or radio, all they talk about are scary things.

The scary things are real. We need to take them seriously, and follow the best advice about self-isolation, keeping social distance, being careful.

We also need to look for signs that life is good, love is real, and there is beauty in the world.

This poem by Mary Oliver is a good reminder.

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross
Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

–Mary Oliver

white swan

What is Essential? (Message for March 24)

HUC logo color FINAL@2xaudio version of this message will open in new window/tab

The first definition I found in an online was:

“absolutely necessary; indispensable”

The Province of Ontario has issued a comprehensive list of services and enterprises that are exempt from the order to close, because they are deemed essential- absolutely necessary.  Here is a link to that list:

Essential Services

My first response, as a human, is gratitude, for those who continue to make possible my very comfortable life.  I am spending much more time at home than usual, but it’s a good and safe place to be.

Our house is as warm as we would like it. (We keep the thermostat low, and wear sweaters) There is power to keep our appliances whirring, and our various screens glimmering. We have food enough to eat, and clean water.

How fortunate and I am, and how grateful I feel to all who are hard at work, while facing the heightened mental and emotional and physical stresses that come with doing their jobs under current conditions.

My second response, as a pastor, is to think about what else is “essential”. The second definition I found may speak to that question.

“pertaining to or constituting the essence of a thing”

This strange time in which we now live may offer an unexpected gift, something like Jesus’ time in the wilderness- an extended period unlike our regular lives, in some ways simpler, in some ways more complicated. This time invites us to consider:

What is our “essence”? In other words, who/what are we, or who/what are we meant to be?

This is not idle recreation, like the binge-watching and building of jig-saw puzzles happening at my house.

We will each need to be in touch with our “essence”, if we are to be our best selves. Those who are out there, laboring hard and long to keep us safe and comfortable, are already having to draw on their inner resources. I expect they are also turning to their own sources of hope, strength, courage, and peace.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandments in the Jewish religion, he said,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” (Matthew 22:37-40 The Message)

There are also these words from the Old Testament prophet Micah:

 “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 NIV)

link to video suggested by Lari Sabbe

I like the way it is put in The Message:

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.”

In my learning time for last weekend, I mentioned Julian of Norwich, the medieval anchorite and mystic, who lived prayerfully and with courage during a period in which the Black Plague ravaged Europe five times. Julian wrote about her desire for what she called three “wounds” that she felt were essential: “contrition, compassion, and longing for God”.

Julian’s words cut through any illusions I have about life, and remind me that in order to be my best self, I need to be honest, humble, aware of the needs of others, and looking to God for the strength and love to be of help to them.

Here are some things I want to do what I can to help folks on this strange and unexpected retreat, to tune in to who/what they are meant to be:

I will send out something every day, via Facebook, and HUC News, for folks to read.

I am working out how to move our planned Youth Confirmation class online. I will be in touch this week with the families involved.

I would also like to offer an online discussion group. I have some ideas about how to do that, and what material we could work, with, but would like to hear who would be interested, and what they might want to read and talk about.

Please let me know if you’d like to be part of a group that meets online, using a simple, text-based message board, that would allow us to at least type words at each other.

That’s all for now. God Bless

 

 

God still at work

building closed God still at workIf the selection in the box of letters for our outdoor sign had allowed, I would rather have spelled out “Building closed, but our ministry continues.”

I know our church leaders would have also preferred to put the message out into the community that we are still here, at least in spirit, and that many members are still busy offering love and compassion in God’s name.

Because we are!

Plans are in the works to collect food donations for the Harrow Food Bank, and for the Downtown Mission.

We have a dedicated group of “angels” who are phoning folks connected to our congregation, to check in and see how they are doing.

We have a volunteers who are ready to do grocery runs and other errands for those who can’t get out themselves, especially if they are under self-quarantine.

We are also working out the technical issues related to offering an online confirmation class for a group of young people- I think that will be a great experience for all of us. (Even if all we accomplished was to relieve cabin fever for a few hours, it would be worth it!)

If you, like me, felt strange not being at HUC for worship on Sunday morning, here is a little video I made Sunday afternoon:

Sunday Afternoon at HUC

Worship for Sunday, March 22, 2020

julian of norwich

new link for audio file

This week’s learning time is the last in a series of 3 based on the story of Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness. This story from early in Matthew’s Gospel is traditionally read in church on the first Sunday of Lent. It  is so rich in content that we could easily spend a few months on it.

The link above (the red or pink words) will open an audio file that begins with the Gospel text, continues with the Learning Time, and ends with a following prayer, written by Carol Penner, a professor at Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo, Ontario.

If you would rather read than listen, the text is printed below. (In the second half of the learning time I talk about Julian of Norwich,  whose image is seen in the picture of the stained glass window.) Following the text of the learning time and prayer there is a link to a hymn suggestion.

Take a moment to get comfortable, to breathe, to unclench your hands and heart, and place yourself in God’s hands. Know that you are held by God, loved by God.

My plan for the Sundays in Lent was to look closely each week at the story of Jesus alone, out in the wilderness. It seems now like a totally appropriate text to sit with in Lent, and in this strange season, as we grapple with isolation, social distancing, and things over which we have no power, and about which we know so little. These days we may be even more aware of what has always been true: Our lives have always been in God’s hands.

Matthew 4:1-11 from the New International Version

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Jesus was not alone in the wilderness, when he took that 40 day and night retreat, before he began his public ministry. God was with him.

Last week I spent some time exploring what we mean when we talk about evil, and about the personifications of evil that are well known in our culture- Satan, or the Devil. In the gospel story, this character is also called the Tester, or the Tempter, depending on the translation. I mentioned that we actually get most of our ideas and information about the devil from places other than the Bible.

This is also true when it comes to angels, the holy messengers that are mentioned in this story. Our mental images of what angels look like, and what they do come as much from cartoons and movies as they do the Bible.

Angels are mentioned twice in the story of Jesus in the wilderness, but they are never described.

The first happened when the Devil challenged Jesus to jump from a high tower, with the assurance that, because God would not allow him to be harmed, the angels would catch him before he hit the ground. Jesus rejected that challenge.

The other mention of angels comes at the end of the wilderness story, after Jesus faced the last of the Devil’s three tests, and had successfully told the Devil to leave him alone, the Gospel account says that Jesus was attended to by angels.

It’s a nice ending to a scary story- which is something we may appreciate even more these days, when we are hearing one pretty big scary story every time the news is on, and most times we look at our phone, or computer. There is a big scary thing happening in our world. Where is God in all of this? Where are the angels?

When I read that part of the story in which the devil challenged Jesus, to jump off the tower and just trust that God would save him- the most scared parts of me kind of wish we could call upon God to simply save us, rescue us, or send an angel squad to catch us before we fall too far. But Jesus says no to that, and our experience in life also says no to that.

God does not seem to work that way, for the most part. Our faith, our loyalty, our good works in God’s name, do not seem to earn us protection from pain, or sickness, or tragedy, or even pandemics.

Is there some consolation in knowing that according to this story, Jesus was subject to the same trials and issues as we are?

There was pain, and illness, and tragedy in his world. He was human, like us, and suffered. People he knew and loved, suffered. He healed some, and helped many, and offered words of hope, and taught people to find meaning in their lives- but he did not sell them holy umbrellas under which they could hunker down, safe from all that comes with being human, with being finite, mortal beings.

So if we cannot expect God to send angels down to wave magic angel wands and eliminate the things that currently place us in peril, what can we expect?

Most of the time, when angels appear in scripture, they bring a singular message- be not afraid. God is here.

I have been thinking a lot this week about a woman named Julian of Norwich. She was a woman of prayer, who experienced spiritual visions of God. Her most famous quote is:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

She was often ill in her own life, and even when she was physically well, experienced a life of isolation, and great privation. She lived from around 1342 to 1416. Five times in her lifetime, Europe was ravaged by the Bubonic plague. They called it the Great Pestilence, or the Black Death. Historians think that about a third of the people in England succumbed to the plague, and that in Julian’s area, Norwich, the death toll may have been closer to half the population.

How could she live through such terrible times, and still say, and believe that,

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Julian was a mystic. The gift of such people is the reminder they offer the rest of us, that our true peace, our true solace, our true sense that all can be well, is found, not in what we can do, or even in what is happening in the world around us, but with God.

Mystics invite us to quiet ourselves, to find the slow, unhurried part within us, that connects with the eternal, unchanging presence of God. With love. With our true hope.

It’s a bit like a line from the United Church creed, that says:

In life, in death, in life beyond death,

God is with us.

We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

These words from our creed remind me:

There is more to us than our fear.

There is more to God than solving the problems of the moment.

There is more to our existence than the present.

God is with us in life, in death, and in life beyond death, or as Julian said,

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Julian’s confidence is one that I can trust, because she came to it in prayer, while she lived through immense pain and suffering, but she saw through, and beyond those things to gaze on the compassionate face of God. And she knew that God gazed back, and that the trials of her present time were not the end of the story. Amen

Pandemic Prayer, by Carol Penner of Conrad Grebel College

Great God,
you are an ever-present help in times of trouble,
and that’s why we’re praying now.
We are troubled and we’re worried things
are going to get more troubling.
This virus is spreading around the world:
so many are seriously ill
or will be seriously ill,
so many health care systems are stretched
or will be stretched.
Be with front line medical workers,
give them courage to do their work
and keep them safe.
Be with public health officials
as they make decisions for the common good,
and politicians as they roll those decisions out.
Help us to be kind to one another,
because anxiety can make us snappy.
Help our communities to be resilient
and expansive as we reach out to help
all who are isolated and afraid.
In these times of shutdowns and slowdowns,
when travel is restricted or banned,
as routines are disrupted and we spend
less time together or more time together,
help us zero in on what is essential.
Thank you that love is also contagious
and stronger than any virus.
You will be with us,
and we will be with each other
in sickness and in health.
Amen.

Link to Prof. Penner’s page

A good hymn for today might be “Come and find the quiet centre” which is Voices United 374. Here are the lyrics:

If you click on  this link it will take you to a youtube video that plays the accompaniment, and also shows you the lyrics, so you can sing along. Come and find the quiet centre

Come and find the quiet centre
in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter,
find the frame where we are freed:
clear the chaos and the clutter,
clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter,
be at peace, and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us,
cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us,
knows our being, face to face,
making space within our thinking,
lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we’re shrinking,
finding scope for faith begun.

In the Spirit let us travel,
open to each other’s pain,
let our loves and fears unravel,
celebrate the space we gain:
there’s a place for deepest dreaming,
there’s a time for heart to care,
in the Spirit’s lively scheming
there is always room to spare!

 

Jon Batiste, C.S. Lewis, and Love

 

american-singer-jon-batiste-with-his-keyboard-1530092302Jon Batiste is a musician from Kenner, Lousiana. (You drive by it on the way from Louis Armstrong Airport, if you are headed into New Orleans.) He grew up in a musical family, and also seems to be a deeply spiritual person. It comes through in his music, and even in the name of his band, which is Stay Human- he named it that to remind himself and his bandmates that human interaction during a live musical performance can uplift humanity in the midst of the “plug in/tune out” nature of modern society. He believes in using music to connect people, bring them together. He often organizes free street performances that he calls “love riots”.

He’s become quite famous, largely because of his role as the music director on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. A few years ago, my son and I got to meet him, and his whole band, after a concert. He was quite kind to my son, who at the time was learning to play the melodica, which Jon Batiste also plays. I think it comes through in the video, that Jon Batiste loves what he does, and that he’s pouring love out. His song “Let God Lead” is a great rendering of 1st Corinthians 13.

We begin to succeed
when the cares of our lives
begin and end
with the hurt of others

We begin to breathe
when the wounds of others
become relieved
with the love of others

 He who looks around and finds who’s in need
has made the best investment as a human being

 He who looks around to find who’s in need
has made the best investment in his legacy

 I say that love will never force,
love will never quit,
love ain’t never lose
love ain’t never miss

 Of all things lasting there remains only three
what money can’t buy only these will succeed
faith hope and love,

but the greatest of these
is love

 so here is a formula for a real hard situation,
just let God and let love
lead the way

Let love lead
Let God lead

Can love strut (no way)
can love destroy (no way
can love belittle (no way no)
can love pose
can love be proud
can love rejoice with a mother’s pride
love stands up when other’s won’t
love prevails without want
love puts up with anything
God is love and love is God

Let God Lead video

Love is a word we hear a lot, maybe a little more than usual around Valentine’s Day. I think it’s an important word, that deserves some caring attention.

Christians get a lot of ideas about how to love, from the New Testament. The New Testament we read is a translation, based on earlier texts, the oldest of which were written in an ancient form of Greek called Koine’.

The first translations were from Koine’ into Latin, which became the official language of the Roman Catholic church. Much later on, the Bible began to be translated into languages spoke by ordinary people.

The first English translations appeared early in the 17th century. Translation is far from an exact science. Anyone who speaks more than one language can tell you that it can be challenging to find a word in one language, that is close enough, to the word or idea you were thinking, in another language.

The translators struggled, and did the best they could, and sometimes took shortcuts, and over-simplified things, in their efforts to create a clear, readable English version.

The original versions of the New Testament used at least 4 different words, that were all translated to the English word “Love”.

C.S. Lewis, was a British writer well known for the Chronicles of Narnia. He was a respected academic and lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge, and good friends with JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings.

the four loves bookIn the late 1950’s Lewis wrote a series of lectures for the BBC called The Four Loves. They were popular in Great Britain, but thought of as too risque’ for the United States, because in them he dared to discuss human sexuality.

The four words that were all translated into English as the word “love”, are: Storge, Phileo, Eros, and Agape.

Storge, or Affection, is the most simple of the loves. We can have affection for a thing, or enjoy a particular flavor of ice cream, or get engrossed in a tv show, or take up collecting a certain thing. This kind of love might be the starting place for the other kids of love. At its best, this kind of love awakens us to what we like, what we appreciate in the world, and in people. Taken to an extreme- the love of things for their own sake can be an unhealthy replacement for the deeper kinds of love, and result in hoarding, or obsessive collecting.

Phileo, or friendship is what it sounds like, the love of affiliation. Friendship may arise if we spend time with someone with whom we share similar interests or concerns, passions, or commitments. Friendship can grow into genuine appreciation for, and concern about another person, but it has its roots in what we have in common.

Eros is the kind of love some Americans did not want C.S. Lewis to talk about on the radio. It is love with the added energy of sexual attraction. The positive expression of this is the desire to bring joy and happiness to another person. Erotic attraction can be the gateway that leads to a real partnership between people. The immature expression of this kind of love can result in objectification, in which possessing the person feels like the goal. This unhealthy kind of erotic attraction often has little to do with the actual person, but only an illusion of them, or what fantasy they seem to fulfill.

Agape is considered by Lewis, and many others, to be the highest, most unselfish of the loves. In the King James Version of the passage from 1st Corinthians 13, where we read “Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of these is love”, the text uses the word Charity. Faith, Hope and Charity. Charity in the old-fashioned sense is about giving without expecting reward- not even a tax receipt.

C.S. Lewis thought that of the 4 loves, Agape was the one that went most against human nature. Where Affection, Friendship and Erotic Love all contain a component of there being something in it for me, Agape love is totally about giving. It gives all, and expects nothing, asks for nothing in return.

This is the kind of love considered to be the most like the way God loves us- without condition, and with total generosity. This is a love that risks everything, and does not count the costs. It is also, paradoxically, what makes us the best we can be. It is not about how we feel, but about the kind of person we choose to be. C.S. Lewis said it like this:

The rule for all of us is perfectly simple.  Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking them more.  If you do them a good turn, you will find yourself disliking them less.

Jon Batiste sang it this way:

He who looks around and finds who’s in need
has made the best investment as a human being

 He who looks around to find who’s in need
has made the best investment in his legacy.

 

The Gift of Joy

JOY“There are those that have in themselves the gift of Joy. It has no relation to merit or demerit. It is not a quality they have wrested from the vicissitude of life. Such people have not fought and won a hard battle, they have made no conquest. To them Joy is given as a precious ingredient in life. Wherever they go, they give birth to Joy in others—they are the heavenly troubadours, earthbound, who spread their music all around and who sing their song without words and without sounds. To be touched by them is to blessed of God. They give even as they have been given. Their presence is a benediction and a grace. In them we hear the music in the score and in their faces we sense a glory which is the very light of Heaven.”

-Howard Thurman, From the Inward Journey, p. 252

Who do you know that brings the gift of joy to your life? Take a moment today to appreciate them.

Joy wins out

howard thurman close up“There is earned joy: an impossible job tackled and conquered, leaving no energy for assessing the price or measuring the cost, only for an all-inclusive sense of well-being in the mind, and slowly creeping through all the crevices of the spirt—or it may be some dread has reared its head, gathering into itself all hope that is unassigned, until it become the master of the house., then relief comes through fresh knowledge, new insight, clearer vision. What was dread now proves groundless and the heart takes to wings like an eagle in its flight.”

–Howard Thurman, From the Inward Journey, p. 251

I thought of this after I posted the Thurman quote. Here is a link to a great Bruce Cockburn song about Joy: Joy will find a way