Tag Archives: Bible

“The Wonderer” (3rd stanza)

This is the third of a series of posts in response to the poem “The Wonderer” by Robert William Service.  Read the whole poem by clicking hereThe first stanza is in my first post found here; the second is here.

Now, the third stanza of the poem “The Wonderer” by Robert Service:

What of the wonder of my Heart,
That plays so faithfully its part?
I hear it running sound and sweet;
It does not seem to miss a beat;
Between the cradle and the grave
It never falters, stanch and brave.
Alas! I wish I had the art
To tell the wonder of my Heart.

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Hearts at Faith United Church of Christ, February 2013. Photo: TLClark

The wonder of my Heart.  And your heart, too, for that matter.  Working unceasingly.  Beating dozens and dozens of time per minute, every minute of every hour of every day.  Moving blood – nutrients for life – throughout our bodies.

The wonder of big-hearted people.  Loving and generous and kind.  Forgiving and welcoming and encouraging.  Remembering all that is good.  Sharing nutrients for life throughout our communities.

The paper hearts pictured were part of the children’s message one Sunday in early February six years ago.  The scripture for the day was the great love chapter:  1 Corinthians 13.  I invited everyone in the congregation that day – young and old alike – to write something about love on a paper heart.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.  – I Corinthians 13:4-8a  NRSV

img_2601What is written on your heart today?

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Christmas: Home by Another Way

We’re home.  And we came by another way:  Highway 20 instead of Interstates 90 or 80.  As we crossed Iowa, I remembered travelers near the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew.

MagiMagi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”  There may or may not have been three of them.  They may or may not have ridden camels.  They were not exactly welcomed by King Herod – though Herod pretended otherwise.  When they found the newborn they presented three gifts.  Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they headed home another way.

Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath by taking the family to Egypt.  This is the first trip for Joseph and Mary as Matthew tells the story; there is no mention that they had to travel to Bethlehem.  So, I wonder, did they call Bethlehem “home” for awhile?  Eventually Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe there so they settled in Nazareth.  In both instances, they made their way to another home.

Life is like that.  Sometimes it is a journey of going from and returning to the same address.  The house itself remains the same.  The travelers themselves may be changed by the trip – what they saw or who they met or an experience they shared.

Other times life is a matter of leaving – even fleeing – what is no longer healthy, life giving, life affirming.  Sometimes you have to move to a new place, begin again, create a new home.  Like it or not, travelers are changed by this kind of journey.

The good news is that no matter where we are or where we go, we are never alone.

Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.   Psalm 23:6 CEB

Jesus:  “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”  Matthew 28:20b CEB

Childhood Home

My childhood home. Photo taken when I went back there to help my parents pack to move.  Though they lived there for more than 45 years, it is no longer home.  Photo: TLClark, May 2017.

Christmas Countdown: Travelers

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“Wind Gusts 40+ MPH” – The wind did blow and there were 40+ mph gusts.  Thankfully the roads were clear and dry!  (And we drive a low-profile vehicle.)   Photo:  TLClark.

We arrived safely at our Christmas destination.  Wind gusts over 40 mph for the last 250 miles were the only unpleasant surprises along our way.  Upon arrival we were greeted with big smiles and open arms, given a room to call our own while we are here, and invited to help ourselves to whatever we wanted.

As we traveled, my mind wandered to other journeys and other people.

First, travelers from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 and 2:

  • Zechariah went to serve in the temple.  I’m guessing he left his wife at home.  Since they had no children and were in advanced in years, she may have been alone.
  • Mary “hurried” to visit Elizabeth.  It seems she went by herself.  Walking or riding a beast of burden?  Was it far or dangerous?  Why did she go?  How did she expect to be received?  Elizabeth loudly blurted out a blessing as she greeted Mary with open arms; it was indeed an “extravagant welcome” (as noted this morning by the pastor at Mayflower UCC, Billings).
  • Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem, as ordered by Caesar Augustus.  An uncomfortable journey, I imagine, for Mary and her betrothed.  Often pictured today with a donkey, but there is no such creature mentioned in the text.  When they arrived, there was no space for them in the “inn” – probably not so much a place to rent a room (i.e., not a hotel or a B&B) but rather the guestroom in the family home (perhaps occupied by earlier arriving extended family).  They made do in the space – likely attached to the home – where the animals were kept.  Perhaps they were not quite the outcasts that I have often imagined!
  • Shepherds, after hearing astonishing news from an angel, rushed off to visit the newborn child.
  • Mary and Jesus took the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as prescribed in the law of Moses.  They were joyfully greeted by Simeon and then by Anna.

That’s it.  Those are the journeys connected to Jesus’ birth as recorded by Luke.

Next, travelers associated with the birth of Jesus as noted in the Gospel of Matthew:

  • Magi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”
  • Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath and so he took the child and his mother to Egypt – a family fleeing for their child’s safety.
  • Eventually, Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe so they settled in Nazareth.

Finally, I think of travelers today and the people who will greet them along the way and at the end of the journey.  I think of

  • those traveling with happy, hope-filled anticipation – to share a holiday, to meet a new baby, to gather with loved ones, to connect with friends old and new;
  • those who travel with heavy hearts for a final visit with one in Hospice care or for a memorial service to celebrate the life of one who has died;
  • those fleeing because home is no longer is safe – refugees, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, persons who identify as LGBTQ;
  • those working to help travelers long the way – staff at hotels, gas stations, restaurants, airports and train stations including security personnel, maintenance crews, janitors,  highway patrols, pilots, taxi drivers, conductors, stewards, hosts/hostesses, and so many we take for granted;
  • those welcoming the road-weary with a refreshing beverage, a good meal, a shower or bath, and a safe place to sleep.

May all travelers be protected on their journeys and be extravagantly welcomed at each stop along the way.

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Road construction / maintenance safety equipment along I-90 in Wyoming.  Photo: TLClark.

Christmas Countdown: Message

I was so focused on the messengers (aka angels) in my last post, I paid scant attention to their messages.  I know the message in each case was just as surprising as the appearance of the messenger and that there was a subversive tone to the text.  But I can’t recall the details.

This is what I remember:

  • Zechariah was told Elizabeth (his wife) would bear son despite their old age, they would name him John, and he would “prepare the way” of the Lord.
  • Mary was told she would bear a child despite her youth and ‘not quite married’ status.  Was she told they would name him Jesus?
  • The shepherds heard “for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a child who is Christ the Lord.”

Between the Charlie Brown Christmas television special, theological education, dozens of Christmas pageants and who knows how many Christmas Eve services, I should remember more.  But not at the moment.

(Pause here to get a Bible and reread the passages from Luke 1 and 2.)

“Fear not.”

Every time an angel appears we hear “don’t be afraid.”  Of course I knew that; I just didn’t think of it a few minutes ago!

“Fear not” is an oft-repeated phrase throughout scripture.  Yet we fear.  We are afraid for all kinds of reasons – real and imagined, large and small, for ourselves and for others.

Maybe we don’t admit it.  At least I don’t often admit the fear.  But I will worry.  My husband could testify that I am quite good at imaging the worst.  Being anxious is second nature to me.  A daily dose of an anti-anxiety prescription helps.  Remembering the birds and the lilies helps (“so do not worry about tomorrow” – Matthew 6:34).  Having people who love and encourage me helps.  A walk outdoors helps.  Reading the Psalms helps (Psalm 91 is my favorite).  Piecing a quilt helps.  Humming a song helps.

Holy One, sender of messengers and messages, quell today’s fears and tomorrow’s worries that we might know the hope, joy, love and peace of your presence among us.  Amen.

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Christmas Countdown: Angels

Angels are messengers from God.

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They are – or at least one is – busy in the story of Christ’s birth as recorded in the gospel of Luke.

The angel Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah his wife Elizabeth will have a son whom they will name John.  Never mind that they are both “getting on in years.”  After questioning the angel, Zechariah is struck speechless until after the boy is born. (Luke 1:20, 64)  When she determines she is pregnant, Elizabeth seems to simply wonder and be grateful. (Luke 1:25)

God sends Gabriel to visit a rather young woman with the (good) news that she will bear a child who will be called “the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32)  Mary also questions the angel.  Does she ponder Gabriel’s reply at all?  For a moment, an hour, longer?

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Luke 1: 38a NRSV

Nine months later an angel of the Lord visited shepherds to tell of the Messiah’s birth.  The shepherds, with little hesitation, decide to go and see what has taken place. (Luke 2:15)

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Quite honestly, if an angel visited me with that kind of news my first response is likely to be disbelief.  Frankly, if an angel of the sort pictured here visited me I’d probably pass out.

But what of other kinds of angels, the ones with human faces?  Like the pastor who sent me a note wondering if I’d ever consider seminary.  Like the doctor who called a friend to see if they would adopt another child.  Like foster parents who open their home with love and compassion.  Like seniors who spend time at an elementary school listening to children read.  Like the couple who trained their dog to do pet therapy and now all three visit a nursing home every Tuesday afternoon.  Like the harpist who plays at a Hospice home.  Like ….

Tell me of an angel you’ve met!

 

Advent: Zach & Liz

It seems a strange start.  After a few verses of introduction the gospel of Luke launches into the story of Jesus by telling us about Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.  But they had no children … and both were getting on in years.   – Luke 1:6-7 NRSV

Zach is a priest.  As the story begins he is in Jerusalem at the temple offering incense in the “Lord’s sanctuary” (CEB).

Candle

I’m much more likely to light a candle than to burn incense – especially when something beyond a spoken prayer seems appropriate.

The people who have gathered to worship are outside praying.

 

Until a few days ago I’d never noticed the worshipers in this story.  They were outside PRAYING.

No word on the content of their prayers.  But as I read it on Monday I imagined they were praying for the priest.  Priests and pastors and preachers and worship leaders of all kinds appreciate prayers on our behalf.  We may not mention it.  Most of the time we don’t think about it.  But when church life is crazy or busy or both (like before Christmas!), knowing that even one person has offered a prayer to God for you is a precious gift.

While the people are praying, Zach’s public ministry takes a decidedly personal turn.  An angel appears and tells him HIS prayers have been heard.  He and his wife – who are older than old (kind of like Abraham and Sarah of years gone by) – will become parents.

Somehow I don’t think become a parent was Zach’s prayer that day.  Because of their advanced years I suspect both Zach and Liz were no longer petitioning God for a child.  Not that they didn’t continue to long for a son or a daughter.  But no longer believing it might happen.

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and are very old.” Luke 1:18 CEB

Zach’s response rings true with me.  It’s honest.  And it’s the last thing he’ll be able to speak aloud until his son is born.

Once he’s home, Liz becomes pregnant.  Her response:  “This is the Lord’s doing.”

This part of the story causes me to pause.  I think of would-be parents who have been unable to conceive and the parents whose children died at – or before – or shortly after – birth.  So much heart ache.  Lord, in your mercy.

Zach and Liz’s child is, of course, John.  Not Jesus.  It’s John, the one who will prepare the way.  A strange start, I think, to the story of Jesus.

With prayers for Pastor Dave and Pastor Amy (my pastors), for all who lead worship, and for parents and would-be parents, Teressa