Sunday Evening

Easter.Worship.Carl.img_5859Church was nice, today. There was a nice crowd. They hymns were good. The singing was good. The organ was very nice. There was the right balance of laughter and prayer, the right mix of the personable and the transcendent.

I have been thinking about the importance of worship, what it means to us and to the world that there are these small clutches of people who gather each week to listen to God’s word and sing his praise. Even those who do not believe in God or religion ought to be able to recognize the value of a community singing together. In a world where people are throwing bombs and bottles, where store windows are being smashed and ancient relics destroyed, where the biggest event of the weekend and leading story on the news is a three-hundred million dollar fist fight – it is good that some people get up and come together to sing. Not to shout. Not to protest. Not to rant. Nor to post selfies, but to sing together.

This simple act declares that that we were made for harmony. We were made for praise. We were made for joy. And even those who don’t want to admit that “we were made” must recognize the value of remembering that human beings are capable of harmony. The worshiping community, for all its weaknesses and faults, bears witness to the possibility of harmony.

All the component parts of a traditional worship service – confession and forgiveness, prayer, the telling of the story, the sharing of the peace, the sharing of a table, the giving of a blessing – all these traditional elements are not archaic remnants of a primitive superstition, they area a persistent witness to what human beings could and ought be.

Despite our experience of divorce and troubled families, we continue to get married. We can’t let go of the notion that we were meant to live together in love. And despite the failures of religious communities of all kinds, we continue to come together for worship. We can’t let go of the notion that we should live in communities of mutual care.

In a world of great violence, some come together not because they are friends or an interest group or an advocacy group, but because we can live differently than the constant shouting of our world. We can sing. We can sing together. We can sing in harmony – or at least towards harmony.

Christians are the bearer of a story that we were created in harmony and destined for harmony. It is important for us all that they continue to sing that song.


Photo: Carl Gutekunst

Sabbath rest

Sunday Evening

Isaiah 58

13 if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable…
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;

We don’t worship God on the Sabbath, we worship God for his Sabbath.  The Sabbath is not a day; it’s a time.  It’s not an item on the calendar; it is a reality to be lived and enjoyed.  Christmas is not just a day; it is a state of mind and heart.  Thanksgiving is not just a date; it is – at its best – a time of family and goodness, of bounty and welcome strangers.  Sabbath is not Saturday or Sunday; it is our participation in the peace of God.  It is rest, and joy, and the treasure of God’s word of peace.

Yes, there is the commandment to observe Sabbath each week.  Yes, there is the command to rest and give rest.  But Christians gather on Sunday because it is the day of resurrection.  It is the eighth day, the day of new creation.  We come to hear the voice from heaven that does not shake the mountain but opens the grave.

We come to break the bread and sing the songs of heaven.  We come to lay our burdens down for a time, to leave the struggle of life aside for a morning, to step away from our rush.  We come to bless the LORD and forget not his benefits.

All this is lost when Sabbath is regarded as a rule rather than a gift: what must be done rather than what has been given.  Christmas can become this – the obligation of purchasing presents rather than the joy of giving.  This is why Christians center Christmas around the gift of the child rather than the paper and bows.  The presents and the tree and the meal take their spirit from the child; they are not an end in themselves.  Just so, Sabbath takes its spirit from the God who creates and redeems in love and speaks to his troubled, rebellious world a word of grace and peace.

Who would not come to Christmas dinner?  And what could keep us from this our Sunday dinner?  It is the long table set on the lawn beneath the shade with fresh corn and apple pie and children giggling as they run with cousins.  It is a remembrance of all God has given and all that is yet to come.  It is a time when God’s Sabbath draws near and burdens are lifted, the stranger welcomed, the broken embraced, the bent stand upright, and our hearts and lives are refreshed.

18You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20(For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12).

Watching for the Morning of June 9

Year C

The Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 5 / Lectionary 10

Death and life weave through the texts for this week.  Through Elijah, God raises the son of the widow of Zarephath.  Through Jesus, God raises the son of the widow of Nain.  The psalmist rejoices that God has delivered him from death.  Only Galatians stands outside this theme, telling of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus and after – making clear that his message did not come from any human authority but from the risen Christ Jesus.

We struggle in ways the ancients did not with the idea that someone could be raised from death.  Our task, however, is not to get sidetracked looking for explanations, but to hear the witness of these texts that God is a god who brings life.  God is in the business of resurrection, of renewing and restoring life.  This is God’s mission and purpose in the world – to free us from death’s power and restore all creation to the life God intended.

And though it’s not the central point Paul is making, what happened to him on that Damascus road was also a deliverance from the realm of death into the realm of life.

Prayer for June 9, 2013

Gracious God,
you have not dealt with us according to our sin and brokenness
but out of your great compassion.
As you restored the life of the widow and her son,
be at work within and among us
to restore us to the fullness of life in you

The Texts for June 9, 2013

First Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24  (God answers Elijah’s prayer for the life of the son of the widow of Zarephath to be restored.)
Psalmody: Psalm 30  (A prayer of thanksgiving from a person who was brought back from death’s door.)
Second Reading
: Galatians 1:11-24 (Paul did not get his message from any human authority but from Christ)
: Luke 7:11-17 (The raising of the son of the Widow of Nain.)