Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

In a World of Awesome, is there Room for Awe?

February 26, 2019

29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.   -Exodus 34:29-30

32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”   –Luke 9:32-35

When was the last time you felt the kind of amazement or awe that made you terrified? That was so beyond your understanding of the world that you fell to your feet in wonder and humility?

The world we live in, here in the 21st century, is an awesome place, isn’t it? in the last century we have seen wonders that our ancestors couldn’t even imagine. From sending human beings into space and landing on the moon, to having devices that we carry with us through which we can connect with practically everyone on the planet, to modern medicines and surgeries that allow us to live longer and survive diseases that used to mean a death sentence to anyone who was afflicted, we live in a time of scientific, technological, and medical wonders. Sometimes there is so much to be amazed at it’s a little overwhelming!

That sense of being overwhelmed with all of the amazing things, though, can cause us to become numb to things that are truly amazing.  If we happen to lose one of those marvelous tech gadgets we don’t mourn, we just buy another one. New scientific and medical breakthroughs are treated as ordinary. We throw around the word “awesome” to the point that it has become superficial.

So where in all of our modern day awesomeness do we find room for actual awe? And for us church people, when do we feel the awe-inspiring presence of God? Could this be why so many people have given up on church– we’re so steeped in the awesome (some of which is truly amazing, for sure!) that we’ve lost the ability to see and feel the terrifying, awe-inspiring presence of God? When was the last time you went to church expecting to feel God’s awe-inspiring presence?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

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Christmas, Advent or What?

November 29, 2018

Advent 1 Luke 21:25-36

With Thanksgiving safely behind us we can now turn our attention to Christmas (even though stores and radio stations have been putting Christmas in our faces since, I don’t know, maybe late October?) This year Thanksgiving was early so there is an extra week to shop and carol and eat and do all of those holiday things we like to do.

Unless you’re in a church of the Reformed Tradition, like the Presbyterian Church. In the Presbyterian Church, while the rest of the world is partying and shopping and singing Christmas carols, we are observing the season of Advent.

Advent is the season that encompasses the 4 Sundays before Christmas Eve. This year Advent begins Sunday, December 2 and ends Sunday, December 23. As people of the Reformed Protestant tradition, we understand this to be a time in between; while we know that Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected–and we celebrate that–we also wait expectantly for Christ’s return. The word “advent” means coming or arrival and we interpret the season of Advent as a joyous time of waiting for the arrival of Christ– the Christ who was and is and is yet to come.

However, this puts us somewhat at odds with the rest of the culture. At church we sing advent hymns, and we begin the season by reading scripture passages that point to the return of Christ. It’s only when we draw closer to Christmas that we begin to tell the story of the baby Jesus in the manger, only after Advent is over and Christmas–the Nativity– is here that we sing traditional Christmas songs. And so we find ourselves wondering why can’t we just sing Joy to the World now? Would it hurt us to be a little more Christmas-y? 

It is important, though, to take some time to reflect on what we’re celebrating when we celebrate Christmas. We should try to avoid getting so caught up in the revelry that we forget what we’re about. We might ask ourselves,  Why are we so happy that Jesus Christ was born so long ago? What does it mean to us today that Jesus lived, and that as the Messiah he will return at some point and put things right? And how do we live in the already/ not yet– the in-between of time that we find ourselves in?

When we look at the scripture passage for the first Sunday of Advent our first response is whoa Jesus! This is some heavy stuff! The images are of a time or unrest or war, probably reflecting the Jewish uprising against Rome that ended with the temple’s destruction. And yet this was a time of birth for a new church and a new faith; these are the people that this passage and indeed, the whole of the gospels, is intended for. It is intended to give them strength and hope for the future, a reminder that God is with them.

We live in a time nearly 2000 years from when these words were written, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as relevant as they were when they were written. We still face difficult times. We still find ourselves longing for the return of Christ and a righting of the injustices of the world. We still find ourselves afraid– of being hurt, of being found unworthy, of not being able to overcome the fears that the world puts on our plate. How will we ever be able to look God in the face when the time comes?

Jesus tells us to live in hope. Stand up and raise our heads because it is our God who is coming. Don’t get caught up in the worries and fears of the world but be watchful and prepared. The kingdom of God is here– and this is very good news!

A new year is here!

January 8, 2018

Happy New Year everyone!

I’m just a little late with that greeting, I know; here it is January 8 and we’re well into the new year. (Though it may be awhile before we all remember to write 2018 instead of 2017!)

There are two times during the year that I feel that I have a fresh start: in the fall, at the time when I started a new school year for many years; and at the turn of the year, when the Christmas season is over and it feels like a blank slate, a new year full of possibilities and hope. Of course I know it won’t all be great– I have my ups and downs just like everyone else– but just the idea of a new year, a new beginning makes me hopeful for good times to come.

The beginning of the new year is an especially good time to examine our faith and our spiritual connections and rededicate ourselves to our faith. A new Bible study or a new spiritual practice can be helpful in getting us on track. I discovered Art Journaling last year and I hope to find ways to use it to enhance my spiritual life this year. New mission initiatives are also good ways to engage our faith; if you know me you might not be surprised to hear that I have a new idea for mission– watch this space for more information!

However you practice, whether you keep up with something you’re already doing or begin something new, I hope 2018 will be a year of spiritual vitality for you. And if you want to dialogue with me about this, please feel free to comment!

Peace,

Rev. Sharon

Whose is the Church?

May 13, 2014

I read a great blog last week from a Lutheran pastor who was speaking to her denominational body. Her denomination, like the PCUSA, has been losing members for several years, causing leaders within the church and people in the pews to bemoan the “decline” of the denomination. And it’s true that, if you look  at the numbers, the mainline denominations are in decline– all of them, across the board, some more than others, and including the PCUSA. Of course as analytical beings who are also dedicated to keeping our lives as change-free as possible, we have spent lots of time and money over the last several years trying to figure out what’s going wrong, why the new non-denominational church down the street is stealing all of our members, and just generally angst-ing about the whole issue. We wring our hands (and I have done my share of weeping and hand wringing, I’ll admit) and we stay frozen in place because we simply cannot imagine that church can be any other way than what we’ve experienced.

But the message that Nadia Bolz-Weber had for her denomination is a good one for all of us to hear: Stop saying the church is dying!

The church has been around for a long time, people. From shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven until today, the “church” has existed in many different forms and permutations. From house churches who shared all their goods together for the common benefit of all, to the great cathedrals of the middle ages whose imperfect priests led congregations of the poor and wealthy alike; to the small family churches and large mega churches of today, “the church” has always been more about function than about form. Functionally churches began as a way for believers to come together, to share Christ’s love with each other, care for each other, and share the gospel with others (ok, maybe that’s idealized and simplified, but that was the purpose at it’s core.) These early churches seem to have been communities of support and care, of teaching about Jesus and learning to follow his way, of sharing the good news with anyone who would listen.

Now we do hear of unrest in these churches, and we do know that their survival was tenuous at times, for reasons both internal and external (and who knows how many of these worshipping communities disbanded without anyone ever even hearing about them?) But many of them did survive and thrive and on account of this perseverance we today know who Jesus was and what he meant to the people of his day and hat he means to people of our day.

If we look at the big picture, we see that church membership and attendance has waxed and waned many times in the 2000 years since Jesus’ death. There have been times, such as in the mid-20th century, that churches in America were thriving, while in the Soviet Union even attending church could get a person arrested. And yet today Russia has a thriving religious community, while in the US churches seem to be in decline. Christianity in Asia and South America is booming, while in the US it seems to be dwindling. People seem to have so many choices of ways to spend their time– and they’re choosing not to attend church– especially not younger people. And so we wring our hands, fearful that our churches will soon all be silent.

The thing is, what we’re really afraid of is that church as we know it, as we’re used to, is going away. The old familiar hymns aren’t played as much, and in some places the organ has been replaced with a piano or–gasp!– a band with guitars and drums and all sorts of unfamiliar instruments. To those who grew up with organ music, with the great hymns, it seems sacrilegious to play instruments that are usually played in bars and clubs in church.  The rhythms of new songs are different than we’re used to and we might find them hard to sing. And people don’t dress up for church anymore– it all seems so unseemly. We have also put a lot of time and money and energy into our buildings and programs, only to have the next generation seem unappreciative of our efforts. And our churches get emptier and emptier with each passing year.

But so what? Do we really think that this means the church is dying? Are we really so concerned with numbers that we are going to throw up our hands, rend our clothes and hair in despair? Because I have news for you– and it was news that Nadia Bolz-Weber shared as well: this is not our church. Whether the church as we know it lives or dies, it isn’t our church. This Church and all of the churches that make up the larger Church– belong to God– the God who created us and our world, the God who came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ, the God who is among us as our Advocate, the Holy Spirit. And even if we have to give up our buildings and meet in catacombs once again, even if we can’t display our nativity scenes on the public square anymore, even if we don’t understand what is happening and why it is happening, God is with us. Our churches belong to God, Christ, and Spirit– and God has done a pretty good job of keeping things going so far. Maybe not the way we imagine it should be, but let’s not give up. For God’s sake.

So I join Nadia Bolz-Weber in saying this: Stop saying the church is dying! Stop all the hand wringing! Focus on being church– loving one another, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, celebrating the sacraments, studying the word– for that is what a church does, that is it’s function. Form follows function, it doesn’t lead it. And if we have to find new forms to follow those functions in today’s world, why is that a bad thing?

 

 

Walking the Labyrinth in Winter

March 4, 2014

Today’s blog is a video blog, taken as I walked the outdoor labyrinth this morning at Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, KY. A winter labyrinth walk outdoors is somewhat different than a summer one, today especially because of the snow and cold. It was a very enjoyable walk, however, and I invite and encourage anyone in the area to stop by and try it out– don’t let the snowy cold keep you away!

5 Ways to Support Your Congregation (and the Body of Christ!)

January 30, 2014

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I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of “lists,” and right now there seem to be lists for everything from how to be a better parent to how to know what your cat is saying to you. But sometimes a list is a great way to get information across to people– which is, I guess, why so many people use them. Anyway, we often talk about supporting our congregations by being the Body of Christ in the world, and I get a lot of feedback in the form of “Huh? How can one person make a difference in the life of the congregation, or be the Body of Christ in the world?

So, here is my list, in descending order of importance:

5. Give. Give of yourself. Give your money (what you can, of course.) Pledge and meet your pledge, understanding that it is a commitment and a responsibility just like paying your mortgage or rent. Volunteer in your church’s ministries– offer to serve in the nursery or teach a Sunday school class. Clean one room of the church every week. Jesus invited people in, to hear his message and receive his healing. But then he expected his followers to go out and do and give. He sent people, “volunteers” out into the surrounding towns to share his teaching. And he had people supporting him financially, and people gave because they were moved by what he had to say. The church doesn’t run itself, and the pastor can’t make everything happen all by him or herself. If you get anything out of worship on Sunday, give back through tithing and volunteering.

4. Show up. It takes a lot of planning to put on a worship service, a Bible Study, or a fellowship event. It makes a huge difference when everyone shows up. It is understandable that there are days when you just can’t make it, when you’re sick or worried about risking yourself in the weather. However, if you wake up and just don’t feel like going, or if you’re tired at the end of the day, remember the work that has gone into preparing for whatever event is happening, and support that effort by showing up. The energy in the room is different when there’s a large group as opposed to a small group, and most church events need that energy to be successful. 

3. Take Initiative. Be the change. If there isn’t a class for your kids, start one. If the current Bible Study or Sunday School class doesn’t appeal to you, start a new one. If you have the gift of hospitality, offer to plan a fellowship event. When the same group of 10 people are always the ones putting all of the effort into planning and implementing church activities, they will burn out quickly and the activities will become stale. Change takes energy, but an energetic church is an attractive church, and fresh ideas and activities are attractive to newcomers and outsiders. One of the things that made Jesus’ ministry so attractive to people is that it was a fresh way of looking at and being in the world.

2. Be a good neighbor. In your own neighborhood, get to know the people around you– especially if your neighborhood is changing or has changed. Share yourself with the community by volunteering in the schools, by supporting the local police and fire departments, by offering to babysit for the single mom or dad (or couple) who live down the street. These ways are how we can be the Body of Christ in the world– by knowing who is in that world and what their joys and concerns are. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing but the teaching he had given them and the ability to heal and drive out demons, because he wanted them to offer themselves to the communities. He wanted them to be vulnerable. In your church’s neighborhood, be aware of the issues it’s facing– whether its a new housing development that will change the character of the community, or a high crime rate that threatens the people who live in the neighborhood, or whatever is going on around you– be aware and be involved. Make your space available for community groups and meetings– and show up for community meetings whenever possible. “Love your neighbor” is one of the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, and we need to do more of it.

1. Be flexible.  The number one thing I see that hinders a church in it’s ministry are people who aren’t flexible, who can’t or don’t want to deal with change. “We’ve never done it that way before” or “we tried that once and it didn’t work” or “things have been this way since I was a child and I don’t see why they need to change now.”  Never mind that society is changing all around us– not that the church needs to change because society is changing.  However, change happens whether we want it to or not. The world is different than it was 50 years ago, but the church is still trying to operate using that model. For churches to be healthy, congregation members need to be flexible and open to change– any and all change. Change is scary, and our world is a fearful place right now; however, trying to keep the church exactly as it has been since we were children isn’t realistic or healthy. Jesus was constantly on the move; he didn’t stay in one place, he travelled from place to place. The message didn’t change– that’s the important part– but he didn’t stay put, he was flexible, and required the disciples to be flexible as well.

Oh, there is one more thing you can do to support your church, that anyone can do, anywhere, any time: pray. Pray for your pastor, pray for the spiritual health of your congregation, pray for the community around your church and the people in your neighborhood. Prayer really does make a difference– if nothing else, it changes us and  the way we see the world.

So there you have it– my 5 (or 6) favorite ways to support your congregation and be the Body of Christ in the world. I can’t guarantee that if you do these things will change overnight– but what I can guarantee is that you will change and your congregation will feel supported and loved– and your community will too. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?