Sunday, December 25, 2011

repeat the sounding joy

“Joy to the world”, the carol goes, and sends us out of here with lifted spirits and momentary warmth, maybe even a renewed hope for a little while. I have to admit, it’s not one of my favourites. But this year one verse in it struck me as I heard it the other day on the radio…that ALL of nature sings: fields, floods, rocks, hills, plains…repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy!

What IS the sounding joy? Is there such a thing? I can’t tell you what it is for you; I only know what it is for me, but hang in there with me and we’ll get to that…

And why is it repeated? That’s the easier question; as a mother, and as a pastor, I have often caught myself thinking, if not actually saying: how many times do I have to repeat myself? And last Christmas Eve a young man came to me and complained that it was just the same old story all over again.

Well, duh. It bears repeating because we haven’t really heard it. We don’t GET the message of Christmas that is transformative. And what is it? What is the sounding joy?

Well, for me it’s also contained in this same unfavourite carol, and it’s two fold: 1. The Lord is come and 2. The savior reigns.

The sounding joy worth repeating for me is that God comes. God is not some distant ethereal being that created us and sits back and watches us mess up, intervening now and then. The message of Christmas we still don’t get is that God comes:

God is here, and there, and there and here.

AND that's not all! God is involved

…in all the smells of stable life: God is there

…involved with the lonely, lowlife characters in the fields tending sheep: God is there

…involved and caring about the young uncertain woman facing shame and rejection: God is there

AND that's not all! God is not just here and involved, but this God of the universes chooses humans as partners in the renewal and transformation of the world…

chooses young people like Mary to carry life forward, to be radical thinkers who’ll challenge what’s normal in favour of what’s life-giving…some of us old folk have really messed up the world, and my sounding joy is that there are some young people willing to bring life out of that mess.

chooses fine moral people like Joseph to take on responsibility for nurturing and teaching the next generation, when culture says it’s not worth the aggravation… chooses lowlifes like the shepherds to be witnesses because they’re the ones who’re desperate enough to be open…. chooses angels to sing God’s repeated song so others can learn it and sing along.

God chooses us too. God comes to and chooses YOU who like Mary, need to ponder all this more seriously

YOU like Joseph who are afraid to step up and stand out

YOU who feel discounted and need to be accepted,

YOU who know that somewhere deep inside you is a song you haven’t yet sung.

Repeat the sounding joy: God comes, God gets involved, God chooses us as partners.

The other sounding joy worth repeating is the savior reigns

One big turning point in my life came when I realized that to say Jesus is Lord means I am not. I am not the center of the universe; I am not the ruler of my life. God is.

To say the savior reigns is to admit that nothing else has complete rule of my life, our community, our nation, the world: not me, not politics or government or institutions like the church, not stuff, not consumerism or capitalism, not corporations and companies. The savior reigns.

This is the song I have found deep in my soul worth repeatedly singing—a new song, as different from the culture that surrounds and enslaves us as the angels’ song was to an occupied poverty-stricken land 2000 years ago.

Let ALL their songs employ, the carol goes: don’t leave it up to fields and rocks and all nature, nobody listens to them….YOU sing it. You repeat the sounding joy.

What is YOUR song? It may be close to the surface, or buried deep in your heart’s desire…listen for it: you may have to sort through all sorts of layered noise first, but when the God of the universes sings a song of love to you, and you say YES, like Mary, Joseph, shepherds and angels and 60 year old pastors, it will bubble up, I promise.

Then let it rip, sing it out for all you’re worth: repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat repeat the sounding joy until others find their own God-song and the world is changed.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

antipodean christmas

A light dusting of snow. orange sunrise lighting the bare trees, a hint of blue sky..remind me of a poem Brenda shared at our Heart Listening group yesterday; her father in law had written it about what you really need to have to make Christmas Christmas....what would be on or off your list?

Snow scenes aren't on the list-we don't need a white Christmas to have Christmas. We then wondered about the southern hemisphere when Christmas is mid summer, not mid winter.....what's on their Christmas cards?

Point is, Jesus comes again, and again, and again as a vulnerable infant, just so he can come to my do you put that on a card? You don't, you put it in your soul.

May this Christmas Eve be full of the day's richest blessings, which are there, slightly hidden only by the busyness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

shepherds and other low life folk

As we count down to Christmas, I am aware of the lowliness of all concerned, much more lowly folk than I'm used to being around....Mary, young single pregnant, Joseph, proper but compassionate, shepherds, the dirty low life types who're left out in the cold......
And what strikes me is that God comes to them where they are.
Still true.
Where we are is where God comes; we just need to be watching....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Scottish wisdom

There's a twisting, mountainous road in northern Scotland which had, almost to the top, a steep sharp curve where there was a slight widening of the road. Many years ago, someone put a park bench there, and it forever became known as the Rest and Be Thankful. Its nickname stuck, long after the road was straightened and widened, once the crooked was made straight and the rough places plain. And it entered into our language as a phrase with much deeper meaning.
So today, my sabbath day, the phrase comes to, and be thankful.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

it's coming, ready or not

Am I ready for Christmas? I can't tell you how many times I'm asked this. No, I say, I am never ready for the ludicrous hilarious ironic entering of my life by God! I get all sorts of prepared, with all the dumb trimmings that really have nothing to do with Christmas. But still God surprises me. The stupid humility, the mess of shepherding, the smell of stable....Luke's very concerned to let us know God comes to the most unlikely people, who're probably the most ready, unlike me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

you're invited

John preaches.......
You are favored.
You are invited into a great project.
You will be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
You may submit yourself to all this to be an entry point for hope, peace, joy, and love in this world.

Mary's song, also used yesterday in worship, comes as a response to her welcome from Elizabeth, but it's also her RSVP to God, who has already begun to do transformational things. Whether we say yes or no, God comes, God acts.

So favored women, you are invited to join us for our Women's Advent Communion service tonight at 7pm, when we will welcome and support one another like Mary and Elizabeth, and move forward together as entry points of Love.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Luke 1:26-38
December 18, 2011
JW McNeill

The angel, Gabriel, is sent to Mary.

This is not the first time the Gospel writer Luke has told us something about Gabriel. A few paragraphs earlier, Gabriel visited Zechariah.

Zechariah was a priest. He and his wife, Elizabeth had a problem. They had no child and they were getting on in years. They had been praying for a child for a long time.

As the story goes, Zechariah was in the sanctuary of the temple offering incense to God. As he was doing so, an angel of the Lord appeared – Gabriel. Zechariah was terrified. Gabriel tells him not to be afraid. Moreover, Gabriel tells him that God has heard the prayers of him and Elizabeth and that Elizabeth would have a son. Not only a son, but a son that “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” That son, of course, would be the one whom we know as John the Baptizer.

Zechariah is dubious. He asks how he can rely on this promise. The angel replies, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”

Angels are spiritual beings that are able to be the bridge between God and the world. As the Bible thinks of angels, by the way, they are not the spirits of human beings who have died. They have their own existence and power and purpose.

 Often in the Bible, when God has an interaction with a person, an angel is the form in which this takes place. When angels visit, it is as if to say that God is visiting. Since God does not have a body with which to interact in the world, it is angels who take a physical form in the world by which God can communicate. Angels are one form of the inbreaking of God into the world. Or, we might say, angels can be a manifestation of God in the world.

In the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Gabriel’s appearance was the answer to prayer. Gabriel came to tell Zechariah something he wanted to hear, but couldn’t believe. It was an announcement that Zechariah could scarcely believe because it was desired so desperately.

Now some of us can think of times when it has seemed that some sign of God’s presence in our lives has come as something welcome and refreshing. Something we had prayed for and a relief.

Some of us can recall a time when our lives seemed empty and without purpose, without meaning that gave them direction and fulfillment. Or we can think of some time of trouble when we were about to give up hope and something happened that restored our confidence that we would be able to see through to healing or even joy.

Some of us can think of a time when we have been burdened by guilt or regret or vindictiveness that has kept us from peace and we have prayed to be restored to the wholeness that set our hearts at rest.

We do at times pray for  this kind of inbreaking of God’s presence. A sign that God is still involved. An indication that we have not been exiled from God’s care and concern. And when those prayers are answered it is as if an angel has visited as a sign that one whose love embraces the world has once again connected with our hearts.

But sometimes, for some of us, we have not asked for anything. We have not been seeking the presence of God in our midst. We have just been minding our own business. Travelling along our own merry way.

This was how it was with Mary. When Gabriel told her of what was to happen in her life, she was perplexed. This was not something that she had anticipated or had asked for. This inbreaking of God’s messenger angel was not an answer to prayer – at least not an answer to her prayer or her desire. She had other plans.

Instead, it was the announcement of her being taken into a story that was beyond her understanding, beyond her experience, and beyond her expectation.

Let’s consider how this sort of divine encounter with an angel went for Mary.

There are four stages to this encounter and these four stages may be a part of our encounter with God as well.

1.     Favored One

Mary is told that she is favored by God. The angel says to her: "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." I invite each one of you to listen for that in your heart this morning. Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.

I especially say that because I suspect that some of you might be sitting here thinking, well this has nothing to do with me. I'm not that religious, or I'm not good enough, or I've done too many bad things in my life, or I'm not disciplined enough.  But God refuses to be bound by our limitations. Instead, God makes our limitations part of the story.

God has this remarkable habit of choosing the most unlikely people and places.  Many times when an angel of God makes an invitation, the person to whom the invitation comes, gives some excuse or reason to doubt the appropriateness of the invitation.  Why did God choose Israel, after all to be the chosen people? Why not a big power like Egypt or Babylon? Why have the Son of God born in a barn? Why to parents who are on the road?

 God isn't limited by our expectations.  Instead God begins with us where we are.  And then God can shape and transform our lives beginning right where we are.  We might not know where God is eventually leading, but we can trust that God's promise of faithfulness and steadfast love will go with us.

Greetings favored one. The Lord is with you. This leads to the second stage.

2.     You are to be part of a great project

In Mary’s case, the message is “You will have a son who will be great.” But for us, more broadly, we are invited in all that we say and do to become entry points for God's love to come into the world. 

I ask you, Can you imagine anything more wonderful than that opportunity? We are invited to bear the Christ into the world.  Each of us is being called to do so according the grace given to us and the situations into which we live each day. We are offered the opportunity to bring forth Christ into the world.

Our lives are not insignificant. What we do does matter. Our actions are being woven into the fabric of God’s tapestry in a way that is magnifying God’s justice and compassion or not.

I sometimes wonder whether (apart from the money) folks who are desperate to go on some reality television show are not thinking that by doing so their lives will gain significance. But the fact of the matter is that what we are about as sons and daughters of the living God is part of God’s wondrous activity. We are each day being called to be a part of the wonders of God’s ongoing blessing of creation – whether or not anyone seems to notice.

This great project moves forward as we show compassion, as we listen to the needs of those around us – even our own family. This great project moves forward as we practice forgiveness and seek reconciliation. It moves forward as we set aside retaliation. As we practice patience and look for ways to love and serve others, we see this project gain increasing traction all around us. It all counts! It all creates the atmosphere in which God’s goodness is revealed in abundance.

This is how Christ enters the world through us.

You are favored. You are invited to a great project. Which leads us to the third stage.

3.     How can this be? The Holy Spirit will come upon you; the power of the most high will overshadow you.

Mary, of course, wonders how this can be. She is aware of how small she is. She has no position in the world from which to do great things. How can she have such an impact? Gabriel tells her that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her. And in that connection, Jesus will be conceived.

Again, this does not depend on her strength, or her talent, or her feeling “religious.”  Instead it depends on her letting go  and opening herself to the power of God.

So for us: this does not depend on our strength, or our talent, or our feeling “religious.”  Instead it depends on our letting go of our need to prove ourselves and instead open ourselves to be proven by the power of God that embedded in all of creation – even us.

It involves risking ourselves in participation, trusting that we will be given what we need, and discovering that God is already at work preparing us and opening the way for grace to shine through.

You are favored. You are invited into a great project. You will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. This brings us to the fourth stage.

4.     Here am I.  Submission.

Once Mary has taken this in she says: Here am I. Let it be with me according to your word.

Mary submits herself, trusting that God is present in this encounter.

Sometimes this passage has been presented as a choice that Mary has as to whether or not she will go ahead with this and be the mother of Jesus, the messiah, the Christ, the son of God. I may have even spoken in this way as well – imagining that Mary somehow was being offered the opportunity to say no.

But as I read the passage again as it is written, I do wonder whether that is the best way to understand it, actually. It is not so much a choice as a surrender: this is how it is to be and I offer myself to it so that I will be fully open to be the vessel of God in this circumstance. I will embrace this offer to be God’s entry point into creation.

I will embrace this encounter with God so that the world will encounter God in human form to share this life together in this time and place so that God’s purpose will take root in this new way to burst the powers of sin and death for love and life.

So we, too, are offered the possibility to embrace our encounter with God – whether in answer to our prayer or out of the blue as an intrusion to a well-planned path of our own – and surrender ourselves to be an entry point for hope, and peace, joy and love in this world. To create that space where the presence and power of God can gestate in our lives, so that our attitudes, our words, our actions can each be a womb in which the presence of Christ grows strong enough to be birthed into reality by our words and deeds.

You are favored. You are invited into a great project. You will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. You may submit yourself to all this to be an entry point for hope, peace, joy, and love in this world.

Gabriel, an angel of God, stands in the presence of God and, at the same time, encounters human beings in the world, telling them what God needs them to hear, so that they may be prepared to join in.

Gabriel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a son. That child will grow up to be John the Baptizer. Gabriel tells Mary that she is to have a child by the power of the Holy Spirit and that child will grow up to be the messiah, the Son of God. Gabriel bridges the realm of God and the realm of earth.

There is a sense in which this is what Jesus does, as well. The Word of God takes on flesh and lives among us in this world as an inbreaking into creation.  In fact, there was some thought that perhaps Jesus was simply an angel, and that was a way to explain his power and his goodness. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews takes some pains to argue that this is not the way to understand Jesus.

[That was the wind up. Now here’s the pitch.]

It is not too much of a stretch to say that we might understand ourselves as angels in this sense: as we offer ourselves to God’s plans and purposes, we can bridge the realm of God and the world. We can be messengers of God’s peace and compassion, God’s love and mercy.

We can approach others as the answer to their prayer or as an invitation that they might grow closer to God.

Over the next week, emotions come nearer to the surface and tenderness in many ways becomes the order of the day. Some of the callouses that build up over the course of life become softened in the holiday sentiment. Over the next week many of us will notice that our hearts are somewhat more open to God’s messages of love: both as receivers and senders.

I invite you to pay attention to those messages as angelic visitations connecting you to God’s call on your life and an opportunity once again find yourself being drawn closer into God’s embrace and more deeply into God’s designs on the world.

Mary and Zechariah are not the only ones to be touched by the power of God. May the Lord also be with you!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

where the christ child comes

Last night I spent some chaotic but fun time with children and youth at a city church's Youth Cafe, making Christmas crafts mostly, but also just listening.....clearly they do not have all that I have materially, and some of them also lack many of the social and familial advantages I have as a privileged white woman. Like those uncertain what tomorrow would bring, they used up every piece of craft supply I brought, ate seconds (and in one case thirds and fourths!) of the taco dinner provided, and devoured many of the sugar cookie someone else brought for decorating fun! And I remember that this is the world into which the Child is born in a refugee, homeless family. And THEY know that in ways I don't.....for in their Bethlehems they have something deep, within them, among them, and most of all for their families, something the Christ child brings, even to those who've never met him, something that church and its faithful volunteers bring to places the rest of us rarely see.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

an incredible gift

here's a wonderful gift to each of us from one of our members who's undergoing chemotherapy:

As I began my morning ritual today with "what to have for breakfast that won't make me nauseous", check my mouth for sore spots, run a comb through my hair to see how much more is gone, weigh myself, get my elastic sleeve and gauntlet on, and slather on a gallon of moisturizer, I realized that I probably won't feel much like writing next week after the second chemo. SO, please hear me out.

Never did I think that I would be a statistic or how I would manage not being in charge of my life. We all know intellectually that we are not in control but I have to tell you, we don't really know it until it happens to us. You are all very special to us and even more so now. Each day different people come to mind whether because of a card, some soup, or just a special memory which crosses our minds.
Don't ever forget how special you are.

And so as this special season of Christmas approaches, be good to each other, enJOY a beautiful season with loved ones and find that Peace which we all so longingly seek. I had hoped to see more of you this fall but we can look forward to spring and new beginnings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

full moon murmurings

A teacher friend was commenting that she could tell it was a full moon, given the behaviour of her children; compounded of course by the anticipation of Hanukah and Christmas! I'd been watching the moon for several nights, thinking it's almost full, anticipating it myself, as I love the sense of cosmic completeness I feel when I meditate on a full moon. She pointed out I'd actually missed the full moon four nights ago, and it was now waning.
How much else do I miss, even when I THINK I'm paying attention? How easily does a special moment slip by when I'm looking at the details and not the whole thing? Do I miss God's advent this way? Sometimes I think "Did I just miss something important?" because it was almost indistinquishable from what was around it?
Maybe it's the process of waxing and waning that's as important as the climax itself....

Monday, December 12, 2011

how can I keep from singing?

Some days the joy just takes over! It began with yesterday's sermon reminder that joy and happiness aren't the same.....then the joy of children sharing a handmade gift with their pastors.... the sound of music and an uncanny vision seen in a stained glass reflection...... a woman's smile as she says "I'm letting myself feel the joy"..... and finally an evening reading from Jan Richardson who quotes the folk song, How Can I Keep from Singing:
My life flows on in endless song, above earth's lamentation;
I hear the real, though far off hymn that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife I hear its music ringing;
it sounds an echo in my soul: how can I keep from singing?

What is your song?
May the joy of the unexpected well up in you, and may your heart sing its unique song for a world gone wild.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

dona nobis pacem

In my younger years as a parent, I'd occasionally sigh, "oh just give me a minute's peace!"--little did I know then that that would become my life's mantra: give us peace. But today at our church's annual cantata, called "Dona nobis pacem-give us peace" I would be profoundly reminded that the demand, "give us" is very childish. A grown people of faith, peace is up to us. One of the quotes (or misquotes-I never get these things right) is from Mother Teresa: Peace isn't something we wish for; it's something we do.
May you BE peace for someone today.


those who actually read this blog noticed my exclusive concept of God! N is for nobody, who God excludes!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

soul spelling

A is for Advent - coming of something I really expect God to come with something new?
D is for house is decorated, the tree, the about my heart?
V is for volumes....volumes of tissue and tape.. volumes of blessings in their midst?
E is for it or not, that's where God comes
N is for it ior not, that's who God comes to, and through
T is for today....God waits while we delay. Be here now.

Friday, December 09, 2011

it's contagious!

This morning as I drove through Dunkin' Donuts for my coffee, the person in the car ahead of me paid for my drink! "She wants to start something" said the woman at the window. And she did - I paid for the one behind me, and said to wish them a merry Christmas! I don't know what it did for them, but it certainly changed my heart and attitude this morning. That old 'random acts of kindness' is well and thriving, thank God.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Christmas lights sparkle everywhere

In this season of increasing darkness, as we approach the shortest day, it is no accident that faith traditions celebrate light in Hanukah, Advent, Kwanza, for it is in our deepest darkness we can learn to trust the Light.
Today I led a funeral service for a 28 year old woman, who had a heart for the unlovely, for she had experienced it in herself in her short life. She carried the Light of God's love through her recovery from addiction, then through her cancer to her death, in ways many older people never manage. "You are the light of the world" says Jesus. As we notice all the lights sparkling in neighborhoods and stores and churches, let's pause each time and give thanks for the gift of Light, and pray for the grace to be Light.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

talking trash

Tomorrow is trash day, which means today's the day I get it ready to put out (so I'm not doing it at 5am tomorrow!). There's more recycling than trash, which I suppose is a good thing, but it's scary how much stuff there is to dispose of every week--newspapers (yes, this is a family that still reads real newsprint!), plastic, glass, excess packaging. At this time of year it strikes me as excessive, and we haven't even hit Christmas yet...then a walk down the street on trash day really makes me realise how MUCH we have, when so many have so little. We have a couple of regular trash trawlers in the neighbourhood, whose income is augmented by my discards. When did I lose the sense of 'enough'?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

this is good news?

I'm not always sure that the "gospel"/good news is good, especially when it challenges me and confronts me with my own need for repentance! John the Baptizer is clear that we need to clean up our act....any slight attention to the human condition tells us that hasn't changed. But do I want to change? Yes, I do. I may not like the confrontation, but it IS good news that God cares enough to call me out, and comes to help me live the good news way. In a world so determined to live parasitically on bad news, it is up to us to believe the good news and live it. God cares. God comes.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Beginning of the Good News

Sunday Morning Message from December 4, 2011
Mark 1:1-8
John W. McNeill

1)    A couple of relatively recent pieces of personal news that had a significant impact on me.
i)       The week before Thanksgiving I had a stress test.
ii)    In September I received news that my father died.
iii)  These pieces of news framed my activities for the next few days.

2)    We all get news: what we did not know before. Predicted, guessed, feared, hoped for, whatever. But we did not know it. News changes things for us. It puts us in a different place. Minor or major impact.
i)       Personal
(a)  Health news
(b) Financial news
(c)  Relationship/emotional news
ii)    Global
(a)  War and peace or terrorism
(b) Economic Crisis
(c)  Disasters

3)    Good news
i)       Births
ii)    Weddings
iii)  Expressions of generosity
iv)  Unexpected blessings

4)    Opening of the Gospel of Mark
i)       Not a complete sentence. Beginning, origin, elementary
ii)    Good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

5)    Good news in and of itself: J the B is the herald who proclaims God is coming so clean up your act. Prepare the way of the Lord! Be ready to welcome God’s entrance into history. Something extraordinary is about to happen and you don’t want to miss it. These are not ordinary times.

6)    Then there is more good news in and of itself: the message of Jesus Christ. God is entering into human history into the world to make things right out of compassion and care for those who suffer and are oppressed, those who are excluded and shunned. God has entered history to begin to set things right.

7)    So this is news in and of itself, but perhaps more important is that this entrance of God into human history becomes the “framing story” by which we understand all other news. Here’s what I mean by a “framing story:”

i)       A framing story shapes/ interprets/forms our understanding of what we hear.
(1) We fit a piece of news into our broader story about how things are and how things ought to be
(2) Into what story do we place the news we receive?
(3) A variety of stories – interesting project to identify some of them. Maybe we’ll do that another day.
ii)    The good news of Jesus that we proclaim is embedded in a larger story that we affirm:
(1) God is the creator – intentionality of love and goodness and justice and beauty
(2) God acts in history – the world is full of the blessedness of God blessing, love, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to feel and hands to cooperate with it.
(3) That God’s goodness in mercy and compassion and forgiveness who is drawing all things in not excluding all things out. In the end, love wins.
(4) The framing story of the world is a (classic sense) comedy: the end is reconciliation.
iii)  Any given piece of news may change our situation in a large or small way - put us in a different place, so to speak - but as we become the people of God, disciples of Jesus Christ, we fit that news into the larger story of God’s grace.
iv)  When our framing story is the good news of Jesus Christ we are able to listen for the way in which any piece of “news” offers the opportunity to be an instrument of the justice, compassion, and mercy of God. Offers us an opportunity to be or become the people of God.
(1) This is not to say that there is might not be sadness, fear, anger – those are real – but they are not the demoralizing powers that would hold us hostage to despair.
(2) News of an accomplishment becomes an awareness of a new position from which to contribute to the good of the community.
(3) News that someone has taken offense and is withdrawing from us becomes an awareness that we must launch an effort toward a deeper understanding of that person’s experience and  renewed effort toward reconciliation.
(4) News that family members are at odds with one another becomes a call to prayer, comfort, and encouragement of those who are experiencing real loss and real sadness.
(5) News of health set-backs can become times to once again open up to God’s healing power, the support of persons around us, and renew our confidence that we are in God’s hands.
(6) News of financial set-backs remind us that this life is not about the accumulation of stuff and our well-being is not secured on our own, but by our cooperation together in an environment of trust.
(7) News of violence and wars and terrorism remind us that Jesus calls on us as his disciples, his student followers, to pray for our enemies and tells us that the peacemakers are blessed and are the ones who will inherit the earth. It is a call to join the psalmist who proclaimed centuries ago: some trust in chariots and horses, but we trust in the Lord, our God.
(a)  We are invited to step out of the retaliatory spiral of threat and violence into the virtuous circle of negotiation and confidence-building.
(8) News of natural disasters makes us once again aware of our human limits and that even the earth and its systems are not ultimately the rock on which we stand.  We are small players in the enormity of the natural world in which we are opened to humility and awe at powers greater than ourselves.
(9) All these kinds of news become meaningful, take their significance from the framing story – the framing good news – that we have heard and believed in Jesus Christ.
(a)  Framed in other stories they could become cues for revenge, despair, panic, retaliation, dishonesty, shaming, or abandonment.
(b) Here’s the punchline: How we frame the news can be much more important than what the news is.

8)    This means thatr for those who are becoming the people of God, for those who are intentionally committed to living as followers of Jesus, news becomes more than simply news. It sets the stage for us as the The Church to be what we have been called to be:
a)     The Church, the people of God, are here to be the bearer and sign and reality of that good news:
i)       To celebrate God’s presence
ii)    To love and serve others
iii)  To seek justice and resist evil
iv)  Proclaim Jesus: crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
b)    Because the Gospel story that Mark shares with us is not the end of the Good News. It is, as he says, the beginning of the good news. We are called to continue to live out that good news so that who we are and what we do continue to frame all the news in God’s world as openings for the good news of God in Jesus Christ to shine through.

9)    We enact that good news in the Eucharist. We enact the good news of the open table to which all are invited to be reconciled with God and one another and anticipate the feast of the Eternal Banquet of Almighty God!

Thanks be to God!

dreary monday thoughts

A dreary day in Rochester, NY, and it's Monday to boot! I'm taking a vacation day, and the hours stretch out before me with little of vital importance on the to-do list! What a treat! I think they call it Sabbath rest.
The weather is sort of Scottish-like...a damp but not really cold day, misty, with uniformly pale grey sky. It gets me thinking about my father, at 100 years old facing his mortality and wondering often why he's still alive....which in turn gets me thinking about purpose and meaning in life, and into my in-box pops the following from Joan Chittister:
Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life ranks high in the cluster of the commonplaces of happiness. No matter where we are on the economic chart, it’s knowing what we exist for that counts. No matter how mundane our gifts may seem to be, even to ourselves, the world will be the poorer without them, and we will be poorer, too, for not having given them as best we can. My life has meaning to every life I touch. It’s knowing that and living accordingly that counts.

Clearly, life does not give us meaning. Life has only the meaning we give it. Without a reason larger than myself for which to get out of bed in the morning, I am losing my life one day at a time, like water drops in an ocean, without so much as a ripple to show for it.
I invite you to take a moment or two this day, to stop what you're busy with, and wonder with me.....what do I/you exist for? And how does it impact 'every life I touch'? Sure, it's a bigger question that a moment or two's reflection might answer, but perhaps the act of stopping long enough to even ask the question might offer you some advent hope, and if we know the answer, stopping momentarily to remind ourselves of it may offer centering peace.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

answering the door

The Rule of Benedict has a whole chapter on how to answer the door. Of course, it has whole chapters on all sorts of actions, because it's a very balanced guide to life, for all it's 15 centuries old! But answering the door?
I've been thinking about hospitality since David posted a comment on a previous blog, and as I watch people - including myself - at church, in the store, on the road, and observe how we greet people, or don't.
When I'm not expecting someone, and my doorbell rings at home, it can seem like an intrusion; but it's Nate and Vi, a couple who work our neighborhood looking for recycling bottles and cans. Can I greet them as Christ, as Benedict instructs?
At work, Kathy might warn me about an incoming phone call, you're not going to like this....and it's sure to be something that disrupts my agenda. Can I welcome that caller as Christ?
At the store, as I hurry through my list, someone tries to help me when I don't need help....can I respond with grace?
Then this morning, I was listening for a word from God as I read and reflected and journaled, and it suddenly came to do I answer the door when God is knocking, wanting my attention, needing my gifts, seeking my help, offering to help me? Ignore it? Put it on the back burner for later? Make a note and take a message to think about it later? Or open the door, no matter what the implication?
How do you answer the door?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Got hope?

As the first week of Advent draws to a close I think about repetitions. This season rolls around year after year, and we hear the same stuff over and over that we heard last year and the year before bears repeating of course, as each new time our needs and desires are different, and iI ask myself: have I moved forward in my spiritual journey from where I was last year?
Clearly, like a parent, God and maybe the church need to repeat themselves over and over till we get it! hope?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Who ARE you?

That's the question in this morning's Bible reading, asked by the religious authorities of John the Baptizer. Clearly he's up to something that has them puzzled...wish we Christians could say the same. And his answer: a voice crying in the wilderness. Ah, now that I understand! As a mother I often feel that way, not to mention as a pastor.
But he goes on, prepare the way! Hmmm. I'm preparing the way for Christ/Christmas, with personal spiritual habits and household stuff, but he's doing it for others. How am I, how are you, how are WE as people of God, inviting others into the journey of preparation?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

God's coming can be most unexpected

A friend sent me this poem by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and it reminds me as the weather changes, yet again, that life is full of surprises....and there is nothing, and no place, and no time, where God cannot be....

"Advent Calendar" by Rowan Williams

He will come like last leaf's fall.

One night when November wind

Has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth

wakes choking on the mould,

the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.

One morning when the shrinking earth

opens on mist, to find itself

arrested in the net

of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.

One evening when the bursting red

December sun draws up the sheet

and penny-masks its eye to yield

the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,

will come like crying in the night,