|Words for Meditation|
At almost every service the people are given some "Words of Meditation" as they enter the sanctuary. The words and thoughts are intended to deepen and fill the heart andprepare a person to experience God. The words are often associated with the morning message, but they can be inspirational on their own.
You can access any Sunday's "Words of Meditation" directly from the on-line sermon or access a related sermon from the individual Words.
These inspirational messages are grouped below into the quarters of the year (2013 only).
Life or Death? You Choose
Excerpt from Deuteronomy 30:15-20 "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live."
People of faith and faith communities can play a unique role in addressing the environmental crisis. That does not mean we will, however.
There is a story about a Zen master who is known for his wisdom, for always having the right answer to difficult questions. Then comes a day when one of his prideful disciples decides to chal-lenge the master. He holds a small bird in his closed hand and asks, "Master, is the bird alive or dead?"
The question is intended to be a trap. If the master says that the bird is alive, the disciple can merely crush it in his hand, place the bird at the feet of the master and say, "No, you are wrong. The bird is dead." And if the master says, "The bird is dead," the disciple can then prove the master wrong by opening his hand and letting the bird fly away. The master pauses, and then repeats the question: "Is the bird alive or dead?" And then he adds: "It is as you will."
It seems to me that also is the appropriate answer, and perhaps the only answer, to the question: "Is our earthly home as we know it on its way to extinction or to new life?"
"It is as you will," says our Master. Prayer Creator God, show us ways - real and con-crete ways - we can choose the way of life rather than death, both for ourselves and for your creation.
Author Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.
The journey of faith is a journey through life.
Come Holy Spirit!
Jesus Loves the Little Children
Songwriters: ROOT, GEORGE F./KRIEGER, DONNA J.
Arrangement & Additional lyrics; Bill Deaton & Blair Masters
Jesus Loves the little children
Whether you're rich or whether you're poor
If you're heart is troubled
All around the world tonight
As Close as Breath
The United Methodist Church believes God's love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people's lives to risk interpreting God's love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other "mind-makers-up" that exist in our society. [Excerpt from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church 2012]
"The commandment of love is a gift, a sweet gift. Submit to it. Bind yourself to it. Open your heart to it. Embrace it joyfully as a gift of God." ~Francis Asbury
For Wesley, there was no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness. In other words, faith always includes a social di-mension. One cannot be a solitary Christian. As we grow in faith through our participation in the church community, we are also nour-ished and equipped for mission and service to the world.
Excerpt from Who Are We? Doctrine, Ministry, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church
The Authority of an Open Wound
John 20:20 "...showed his hands and his sides." Donna Schaper Jesus used his wounds as a kind of authority. He showed his disciples and let them touch.
Lots of people try to imitate him. Some succeed and some fail. John McCain, using the authority of his war wound, is in favor of gun control. Valerie Russell once said to me, "Sometimes Donna you just have to walk with an open wound." Father Greg Boyle, who runs an organization of kids in gangs called "Homeboy Industries," has buried 163 kids.
"I welcome my wounds, how can I help the wounded if I don't welcome my own wounds?" An organizer in the Sanctuary Movement recently said to me, upon news that he might have a personal reprieve, that he didn't know if he could keep organizing. How could he organize without his own wound, as a point of identifica-tion?
Jesus used his wounds as a kind of authority, to show people he had "been there, done that." Some of us just nurse our wounds and don't put them to use. Others let wounds so perma-nently wound them that they want more wounding.
To be more Jesus-like, we can drag our wounds into the Easter Story. During Eastertide we have a choice. We can open the graves and rise from them, carrying burdens forward, with each other. Or we can get stuck. Once hurt, we can go on to hurt. The choice is ours. Grave-digging is a low paid occupation. Rising, now that is a job with benefits.
Wounded one, teach us to rise from our wounds, to find each other, to connect and to share bur-dens. Amen.
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City.
John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Donna Schaper I used to call the people who come to services on only the highest of holidays—the ones who get the best music, wear the best clothes, see the best flowers, take up the best seats in the crowded sanctuary, only to abandon the rest of us to pick up the heat bills, custodial service and high comic drama of church administration—the "Easter Only Crowd." I have changed. Even I, who has never missed an Easter Sunday in 65 years, have no way to explain the "resurrection of the body." When the organ pumps out "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," I mostly like the organ and the ascending alleluias. They raise me. If we also do the Palestrina, its paced Alleluia assures me that the strife is over, the battle won. The Passover of gladness has arrived. I don't want to tell you how little I truly believe about the songs that I truly sing. Now with more respect I call the "Easter Only Crowd" the "Easter Maybe Crowd." We sing that death has lost its sting and we support our song with lilies and other props to help ourselves believe what is clearly either not true or only mysteriously so. We imagine that
we are going to be brought safe through Jordan, and in imagination possibility rises. Are we regulars really strangers to the Easter Maybe crowd? No. We are all toe-dippers in a mystery called the sting of death. The true outsider on Easter morn is me. I stand at the stoned-close grave and knock. I stand there with all the others who hope it is true. In our hoping, we make it true. Prayer Ever-rising God, raise our hope in gladness. Let us use props if need be. Amen
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City.
Tomorrow is the first day of Spring, but there's six inches of snow in the yard and it's still coming down. In the woods where days ago there were pools there are now piles of snow. We are ready for spring to come, but it comes in fits and starts. As a little girl once said, "I've figured out the seasons. It goes summer, autumn, winter, spring, winter, spring, winter, spring." Of course all the seasons do that. This is just the Vernal version of Indian Winter. We notice it most in spring be-cause we long so deeply for renewal.
Sunday is Palm Sunday, and as Jesus enters Jerusalem we'll celebrate him as a king, shouting praise. But before the service is over we'll be shouting, "Crucify him!" Winter, spring, winter.... We are saved, but we are still working out our salvation. We are one with God and with all Creation, but we trust our oneness only in fits and starts. We who are made new still long for renewal. We believe; God help our unbelief.
Neither we nor the Church nor society are "getting better every day." Some days we get worse. But Jesus understands. He knows his disciples will deny him, but says, "Listen! Satan has de-manded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your sisters and brothers" (Lk. 22.31-32).
Neither our inner nor our outer lives are one smooth, simple arc like a hit baseball. The path is rough and winding. We rise and fall, dip and swing, lurch and stop and lurch again. Stuff hap-pens. But through it all, Jesus walks with us and prays for us. The Spirit bears us on. Spring is in us still, working its life-giving magic, producing renewal. It just doesn't come all at once, forever. The Beloved breathes in us, and even in our failures and desolations we are becoming more fully the beloved people God creates us to be. Under the snow the crocuses keep pushing up; the buds still swell on the trees.
Even when spring reverts to winter in your soul, shovel the snow, but keep the faith. We are being transformed, from one degree of glory to another. We are being re-created. The world is turning, and our inconsistencies can't stop it. The Spirit is living and growing in you. Wait for the Lord.
Deep Blessings, Pastor Steve
"I know your deeds: you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead."
Upon entering the village, the sojourner asked the gatekeeper for directions to the place of restora-tion.
"My soul is weary," she said, "and I need to find the place where I can divest myself of power strug-gles and find strength in the acknowledgement of my weaknesses. I need to find the place where I can be honest about my need to be forgiven, and my need to forgive others, and my need to for-give myself. I want to find the place that is defined by its compassion for everyone and that genu-inely seeks to include the outcasts."
The gatekeeper responded: "Go down this road two blocks and turn left. The place you're looking for will be right in front of you."
"Thank you," said the sojourner. "Is that the Village Church?"
"No" said the gatekeeper. "That's the Village Bar." "The Village Church is a whole different kind of place from what you just described."
How many misleading signs do we accept every day?
The sign of the cross on the church lawn, behind which there is no community whose main business and central focus is love. "Department of Justice" signs, behind which resources for criminal rehabilitation have been abandoned in favor of feeding the prison industrial complex for profit. "Board of Education" signs, behind which professional job security is often given a greater priority than quality education for students. "Office of Public Safety" signs, behind which criminal behavior is prosecuted but the economic and psychological causes of criminal behavior are never addressed.
The sign that says "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," in a land where deep divides of race, gender, class and sexual orientation are historically and systemically entrenched.
It's really up to each of us to work to ensure that the signs and symbols that announce us truly re-flect the deeds and content that define us. Signs are only significant if they don't mislead us.
Dear God, please give us the impetus and the energy today to make our substance more consistent with our signs. In Your Name, Amen.
-Kenneth L. Samuel
Prayer to Be Freed From Tizzies
you who did not invent tizzies, be with me when I get caught in the wild worrying of my mind, and the needless scurrying around in my fearful heart.
Trip me up when I fret and stew so I can see the trap of tizzies, with their schemes to keep me bunched up in stress and strain.
Let me fall headfirst into the truth of your never-ending presence, and calm my doubts and fears.
Shout loudly in my spiritual ear when my nerves get knotted, my mind feels cramped, and my stomach screams.
It may be difficult, but do try to get my full attention, because tizzies are not healthy, and they definitely chase peace out the front door of my heart.
Dear God, you did not invent tizzies, I did, and only I can send them on their way, and I will, if you strengthen me to let go of my anxious hold on what is nonessential.
"...we do not have any historically reliable stories about Jesus before about age thirty. However, from the gospels a few conclusions may be derived...He had four brothers and an unknown number of sisters, all presumably children of Joseph and Mary. Joseph probably died before Jesus' public activity began. Jesus grew up in
-Marcus J. Borg,
"Irony arises from the mind's keen aware-ess of incongruities in people's lives. Jesus was keenly aware of these spiritual contradictions, particularly in the myopic and serious attitude of the scribes and Pharisees, and was quick to point them out. Presumably not funny to the recalcitrant, those who were able to see the irony of their actions and laugh at them-selves were in a position for new growth."
-Lee van Rensburg
The great third-and fourth-century flight made by thousands of Christians into the Egyptian and Syrian deserts stemmed in part from a similar impulse: to strip, to cull, and to give away or eliminate anything that might tie one to the past. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were on a quest for purity of heart, and they understood that physical items are never just themselves but rather symbols and reminders of the life we are ever to change.
Mary Margaret Funk points out that the narrow way Jesus describes in the gospels involves a fourfold renunciation, the first of which is giving up our former way of life. We must be willing to undergo what she calls conversatio morum, or ongoing conversion. This process necessarily involves breaking our strong emotional ties to the familiar (and comfortable) past and turning our faces, with however much trepidation, toward an unknown future.
A junk drawer is the classic repository for what we are meant to leave behind. Not only does it symbolize our histories, but it also reveals the speed at which we lived through them: how did a sunflower seed wind up among the rubber bands and old corks, and this seventy-five-year-old baptismal gown stuffed into a brown paper sack?
When we clean out a junk drawer for Lent, we are in some small way dealing with the detritus of breathless hurry and our corresponding inability to focus. We are beginning to tear through the sticky web that binds us to our past: not only to the fine and happy times, the poignant seasons of growth and change, but also to the tears we once shed, the idols we once worshipped, the myths we once believed, and the lies we once told our-selves.
Simplifying the Soul
"New Year's Resolution 2.0"
by Dr. Mary M. Maaga
By Ground Hog Day most people have given up on their New Year's Resolutions and gone back to old behaviors they hoped to give up permanently. For a lucky few there has been a new beginning, freedom from the bondage of chronic overeating or the lethargy of a sedentary lifestyle, but for most there is not only the resurgence of old habits, but a deeper sense of helplessness, even hopelessness.
The good news for Christians is that the Lenten Season offers a fresh, more empowering season of renewal and resolve that can help you become the person the Lord Jesus would have you be. But for a Lenten Vow of Renewal (my answer to New Year's Resolutions) to really work you must understand the differences between the two. Here are my thoughts:
Renewal must be soul driven, not ego driven. For example, a person wishing to shed extra pounds can't just go on a diet. Instead, a Lenten Vow means cutting back on calories – perhaps by giving up fast food for the six weeks of Lent – but this must be combined with reaching out to people who do not have enough food to eat. How about putting money in a jar for your local food bank or UNICEF every time you eat healthy instead of junk?
Renewal is between you and God, which means the Holy Spirit is your supporter and helper. Let's say you want to exercise more. Jesus knows you, knows the struggles you have with body image and self-esteem and how hard it is for you to take time for self-care. Therefore, your Lenten Vow for more physical activity is first and foremost an act of prayer, not an exercise commitment alone. How about making your daily walk, stretch, or trip to the gym also your prayer time?
Renewal is a season that culminates at Easter. One of the main problems with New Year's Resolutions is that people get overwhelmed with the prospect of permanent change. Lenten Vows are for six weeks. On Easter you can decide to carry on your commitment further into the year or not.
As a follower of Jesus, transformation is your birth right. As winter gives way to spring and you start feeling better and looking healthier, people will ask you how you're doing it. When you tell themabout your Lenten Vow you will be witnessing to new life in Christ.
Happy New Year, indeed!
What I Learned at the Tattooists Convention
They asked Jesus, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
I once participated in a small gathering of United Church of Christ officers and pastors charged with considering how we can become a more multi-racial and multi-cultural church. Around the table were African Americans, European Americans, a Native American, a Japanese American, Latinos and Latinas, as well as folks of different sexual orientations.
We had wonderfully serious and probing discussions about how we can become a more inclusive church that accepts differences and claims a larger unity.
At the same time and in the same hotel there was a large convention of tattooists. Every corner of the hotel was crammed with tattooists. The men wore cut-off T-shirts and the women wore scanty outfits to show off their tattoos. They had tattoos on every imaginable part of their bodies and I am sure other parts I don't want to imagine. Their bodies were pierced in ways that made even worldly liberals stare.
After we had finished our last discussion, our inclusive UCC group opened the door of the packed hotel lounge and, seeing these tattooists all together - like moving wallpaper - we simply closed the door. One member of our group said with a laugh, "You know, it's one thing to be open to differences, but I'm not sure I'm ready to drink with a crowd of tattooists."
Since then I've wondered if we might have learned more about being an inclusive church if we had abandoned our polite and careful discussions around the conference table and instead had spent the day hanging out in the lounge with the tattooists.
After all, when we opened the door to that lounge we didn't look around long enough to see if Jesus was there. And Je-sus was criticized for eating and drinking in just such a place. Prayer God, open my heart and mind so that I might see who you are calling me to eat and drink with.
Martin B. Copenhaver
Grace and Peace to you. Out running in the cold winter air, most of my body was warm, but my fingers were cold. Riding my bike, it's my forehead that suffers. But they're all a part of me. And while I deal with the winter cold I think of you who are in Australia, who have been living through this awful summer heat. We're at different extremes, but we're all part of the same planet. While we in the US celebrate the inauguration of our elected president, others suffer tyranny and repression. But we're all part of the same humanity. Paul says we're all parts of one body. Somehow, even without our knowing, when one suffers we all suffer. When one rejoices we all rejoice. Our sadness and gladness mingle together into one joy. In prayer we enter a deeper consciousness, even if it's beyond our knowing: the reality that we belong, that we are all one living being. We enter into the suffering, and the joy, of the world. We become one with all our body. Our joy is there for others, and our pain is not ours alone. We receive the gift of their happiness, and help them bear the weight of their sorrows. Our souls are woven with theirs. In this way, even sitting in our room in silence, by the mystery of God's grace in us, we become part of the mending of the world. Receive us, Holy One. Hold us in the mystery of your one love. Your compassion flows through us to all living beings, with whom we share one life. We give thanks.
Wheel of Fortune
Turn, turn, turn,
The eye of God sees what we cannot know or feel,
And so we are cracked, broken down, scattered and
Becoming a piece of God's handiwork is a joy ride,
How little we know, how much we need
Turn, turn, turn
Dearly Beloved, Grace and Peace to you. Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." —Matthew 2.1
What led these mysterious figures, characters from the misty edges of our worlds, descending from towers in our dreams, to travel as they did? To change their lives? What led them to seek and to find, to kneel and to honor, to give gifts and praise? What led them to leave palaces behind, to submit to the pointing of strangers, to change their way and seek new roads? A star, a small light in a great darkness, true enough and sure. A star led them. A Word, a promise from ancient scripture, still alive, and whispered deep within. A Word led them. A dream, a knowing given in darkness and sleep, received, not made. A dream led them. A longing, a desire for wisdom and belonging, rising in the deep sky of their hearts. A longing led them.A willingness, the humility to listen and follow, the confidence, even as kings, to obey. A willingness led them. What led them? You led them. Each step, each error, each turn, you led them. Christ, my child, my star, my dream: lead me. And I shall follow.
Deep Blessings, Pastor Steve
Steve Garnaas-Holmes Unfolding Light www.unfoldinglight.net