Something to behold
In the August 11, 2001, issue of Christian Century writer Katherine Willis Pershey writes, “If worship is a form of attention, it sure seems like many of us are actually worshiping our phones (tablets, devices). Later in the same article she writes, “We need to relearn a capacity to dwell in God’s presence. We need to cultivate the sort of resilient solitude immune to the temptation to check for notifications. We need to be neighbors before we are consumers. We need to immerse ourselves in holy scripture, even if it seems a bit boring compared to whatever is trending on Twitter (or Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok). If…”to behold is to become beholden to,“ Christians must behold Christ. Again and again, until we are beholden. And even still again.” I copied and kept this article as a challenge to myself, warning of the frequency with which I look at my phone.
Rather than self-berating or guilting, or devolving into shaming myself, I took from this article the statement about worship as a form of attention, hence many of us are worshiping our phones, as a challenge to become aware of what I “behold” in a day’s time on my phone, what I read, what I watch. With no effort on my part, I behold thousands of images, experiences, sounds, activities. If I were to add them all up, what would the image look like? I daresay an objective observer would not only NOT recognize that image as Christ, but probably not even note any semblance of a faith-guiding, heart-strengthening, life-affirming, or positive image to put inside my head, heart, or life.
According to Pershey, “We need to immerse ourselves in holy scripture, even if it seems a bit boring compared to whatever is trending on Twitter (or Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok).” And that is what I am inviting all of Hope’s congregation and friends to do, is to begin to build in a daily interaction with Scripture. Prayerfully approach God in a set aside time of quiet, and challenge yourself to read one Psalm a day, and ponder it for several minutes. When you have your Bible on your phone or a divide, pull up BibleGateway.com and search there for a Psalm from 1-150. Flip over in your Bible to Luke’s gospel or one of the other gospels and just read a few verses, then be aware of what you are beholding. What does it say about who God is? Who Jesus is? Who the Holy Spirit is? Who does it say you are, we are in the sight of God? When you are finished spending time beholding Scripture, sit in silence to recollect what image, word, phrase, idea you want to hold onto?
If you are already in the habit or routine of quiet time or devotional time with the Lord, read a little further, write down your thoughts, paint, draw, or record your reactions. It will surely mean less time with a device (unless you are looking things up on your phone during this time. You know that the challenge is to just alter what you look at and behold as a conscious move toward worship and the Holy.
Stay safe, mask up, avoid crowds a bit longer. Hold on, pray BIG, stay connected in safe ways (telephone, text, email, cards). Reach out when the Spirit nudges, know you are loved and share all the love you can, however you can.
With love and hope in Christ,
A Song of thanksgiving
“Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
to God our Creator triumphantly raise;
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
by guiding us on to the end of our days.
God’s banners are o’er us; pure light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night:
Till shadows have vanished, all fearfulness banished,
as forward we travel from light into light.”
The text of the hymn “Let All Things Now Living” was written in 1939 by Katherine Kennicott Davis. She was a composer from the age of 15 and the author of the Christmas tune “The Little Drummer Boy” among other songs and hymns. This hymn has been one of my very favorites and I find myself singing it not just at Thanksgiving, but throughout the year. The first verse of “Let All Things Now Living” is quoted above as a reminder of the One to Whom we owe our gratitude and praise. It invites us to expand beyond national boundaries or holidays to join with all creation in giving thanks to God. I thought it a particularly beautiful and stirring way to remind us about the habit of being grateful.
An attitude of gratitude is something I am slowly coming to cultivate as one tool in my arsenal against internal unrest, both personally and in what we all face nationally. Gratitude is a decision we make over and over when our preference would be to complain or let our thoughts remain in the negative. Gratitude requires a shift in perception from seeing everything as a problem to looking intently at things until a reason to give thanks arises. We learn to be grateful best when shared with others. It can be somewhat contagious if caught and passed on.
One way to begin may be at Thanksgiving gatherings this week: Ask those around you to recall something they enjoyed over the last few days or weeks. In addition to naming it, ask them to tell you more about their experience, and listen for expressions of gratitude. Listening to others describe moments for which they are grateful helps us see beyond our own limited viewpoints, and perhaps find common ground in being thankful. May your gatherings be filled with gratitude to share!
The scripture reading for this Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, is Matthew 23:36-44. We begin Advent very simply in the sanctuary with lighting Advent candles, singing Advent hymns and focusing our attention on the word for the day, “Watch.” We will celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and enjoy special music throughout this new Season of Advent. Let us rejoice in the promises, love and grace of our God, as the Holy Spirit leads us in worship and celebration.
Claiming Christ as King
This Sunday we will celebrate Christ the King. It is the last Sunday in the church’s liturgical calendar before the new year begins next Sunday with Advent. As the final Sunday of the church year, we are called upon to recognize Jesus as our Savior and Messiah, and the ultimate King of all creation. It focuses the church on the belief in and hope of Christ’s return to establish fully the Reign of God, while recognizing God’s claim on our daily lives as well. We may struggle a bit to understand the meaning of claiming Christ as our king, because it doesn’t fit our governmental structure as Americans, but we know and rely upon what it means to be held by God’s grace and to live within the realm of God’s love as demonstrated through the life death, resurrection, teachings and very real presence of Jesus Christ. It is a hopeful celebration in which we gather at the Lord’s Supper to recommit ourselves to the one who is sovereign overall. In times of insecurity, knowing God loves us and promises to be with us always is some of what it means to claim Christ as King.
The scripture readings for this Sunday are Psalm 46 and Luke 23:33-43. The Psalm is one of my favorites, calling upon God as our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Gospel reading is part of Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion and his words of assurance from the cross. Please read them prayerfully to prepare your heart and mind for what the Spirit has in store for our worship. Let us rejoice in the love and grace of our God, as the Holy Spirit leads us in worship and celebration.
Goodbye, summer; hello, fall!
Labor Day weekend ALREADY?!
I feel like I am just about ready to enjoy the month of August, and it is over with in a few more days. As we gear up for the fall, look for the new things God is doing among us. When days fly by as they have this summer, it’s easy to think that we haven’t had any time to do much. Take a little quiet time and reach back to the end of May and recover the memories of June, July and, soon enough, August. Comb through the months for highlights like moments when you experienced joy. Let your mind and heart recall a few things you learned since June began. Remember the people with whom you have spent time in long stretches or just short bursts. As you recall the days and moments, offer up a word of thanks to God for the richness of life.
In reviewing the days, and reminding yourself of struggles you faced, you could offer thanks that you are here, and still you, while God has continued to be God, strengthening you, upholding you, bringing you through difficulties as well as joyful times. May such recollections help us to slow down as we move into September this Sunday and may part of your Labor Day weekend be spent reflecting and rejoicing in the blessings of the summer.
The scripture readings for this Sunday are Psalm 112 and Luke 14:1-14. The 112th Psalm is the second of two psalms that go together and, in Hebrew, are recorded as acrostics. Psalm 111 offers praise to God for all God’s wonderful works, while this Sunday’s Psalm extols the great blessing of those who revere God. The Gospel of Luke reading is bit of teaching Jesus does as he is invited to the home of a prominent leader of the synagogue, and it focuses on both humility and hospitality. It pairs beautifully with the Psalm as we prepare to approach the table of God for the Lord’s Supper this week.
I hope this writing is helpful in preparing hearts and minds for our worship, so richly blessed by God’s Holy Spirit. I look forward to being with each one of you as we gather to sing, laugh, share stories, move, pray and express thanks to the God of all creation who meets us there and sends us out into the world to proclaim the good news of the Gospel! Remember to pray with and for each other and bring a friend or two to experience the richness of the community of faith called Hope!
The scripture reading for the Sermon this Sunday is Psalm 8. It is the first Psalm of praise in the book of Psalms. The focus of the day is on the Holy Trinity. This is the only day of the liturgical calendar centered upon a doctrine of the church. The word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture, but each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in various texts in the Bible. We know, claim and proclaim One God but have come to experience God in three attributes or divine actions: Creator, Redeemer (Christ), and Sustainer (Advocate). Furthermore, we acknowledge The Trinity as One-in-Three and Three-in-One as we become the beloved Community of our awesome God. Ultimately, God is a mystery, and our limited words cannot express the fullness of who God is or what God does. This Sunday we will celebrate the mystery of our faith in familiar words and hymns, relying on the community to praise God together in word and in deed, including celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in Holy Communion.
Let us be in prayer for one another and the church here and throughout the world.
First week Lenten check in
How is your relationship with God growing these Lenten days? I hope you are finding it helpful and renewing to take time each day for doing something positive and finding ways of reconnecting with God through taking a few moments for a prayer break throughout your day.
I am finding renewal through praying three times a day. I read aloud a Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer in the morning, again at noon, and in the evening; either at sunset or right before going to bed. Reading aloud is a key ingredient as it helps me pay attention to the words both as I read them and as I hear them. This practice for a little less than a week has already begun to open me to the needs of others. After I pause to pray and read aloud, my heart recalls others I want to pray for, so the “pump is already primed” for further prayers as I have time. As I start my day, pause at noon and before ending my day, I feel more connected to God and to others for whom I pray, as well.
When I first started praying at set times I would forget or get busy and flow past the time, but very soon I realized that setting an alarm on my watch or my phone to remind that it’s time to pray helped a great deal. Now when the alarm gently sounds, I remember and look forward to time to pray. In the middle of the day, I can stop wherever I am and at least pray the Lord’s Prayer, if I don’t have time or a Bible handy in order to read a Psalm, too. I have come to look forward to that time, and it helps me make it through my day feeling more at ease. At night I have noticed that I also have an easier time falling asleep.
How have you been noticing joy through your Lenten days? How have you given yourself a few moments daily to recognize God’s presence, or to just breathe and be thankful? I hope your time of taking a Lenten break each day is helping you feel connected, loved and encouraged. I believe it is God’s desire to be with us and be known throughout our days. Please share your experiences with others. Sometimes hearing another’s experience draws us into trying some new ways of experiencing God’s Spirit.
I lift you all in my prayers asking God’s blessings as we journey together seeking the renewal and refreshment with which our God longs to gift us.
Take Something Up for Lent
Entering my office, I went right to the calendar hanging on my wall and gave February a good tug and tossed it into the same recycling bin that received January 27 days ago. Calendars are an important way of marking the passing of time. The liturgical calendar is a way the church has marked time for hundreds of years. This Sunday, the church sets aside time to follow Jesus, Peter, James and John to the mountaintop where Jesus will be changed before their eyes, surrounded in a cloud of glory, marking for us the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten Season.
Lent as a Time of Rest and Renewal
The season of Lent is a time of renewal in spiritual disciplines, and often our worship takes on the character of being somber, the music often filled with slow tempo, minor keys that to some sound like dirges. This year, worship planners noted that there is plenty of doom and gloom surrounding us in everyday living, so we planned for worship to be like an oasis in dry, desert times. As people of Hope, we are planning for worship to be meditative, refreshing, deeply engaging, and steeped in opportunities for resting in the presence of God and receiving life-giving water for our souls. This will take some real effort on our part, and some may miss the traditional ways of worshiping during Lent, but I feel certain we can and will grow in spirit and in being the body of Christ at worship with time for preparation during the week, and an openness of spirit as we gather in worship each Sunday and in our various activities throughout the season of Lent, leading us to the glorious celebration of Resurrection on Easter Sunday in April.
Take Something up this Lent
Throughout the season of Lent, I ask that everyone participate in some spiritual growth exercise. Some find it helpful to “give up something” for Lent. I invite you to “TAKE UP SOMETHING” during Lent. By this, I mean pick one activity that feeds your soul and lifts your spirit. Think of it as dedicating yourself to once each day to be intentional, to act simply, to step out of the usual. Here are some things you can do:
Of course, this list is endless, so choose something that gives you pause and in doing so moves your focus away from the routine and focuses upon the joy of the Lord, which is our strength. The point is to take time during the 40 days of Lent to spend a few moments dedicated to feeding your spirit and nurturing your soul, which is another way of saying spending time with God. As we take a few moments out of our routine, I believe it puts us in touch with God, and feeds our spirits, and renews our souls. Lenten discipline doesn’t have to be solemn, dirge-like drudgery, but opens us to moments of rest and renewal.
Bless you BIG TIME as you remember to BE the church!
Waiting for Strength
I don’t have a thing to say this day that can be scribbled down in a few moments. I am going through a dry spell as far as creativity is concerned. It may be the gray days and being cooped up inside while recuperating from surgery. I overheard a conversation recently in which one person told another, “You know, even if the (Christmas) holidays weren’t particularly busy, the beginning of a new year wears me out! I feel like I’m at the starting line of a marathon, but I’m still sweating and breathing hard, looking for the finish line of the one I’m still running!” That about captures how it feels at least some of these days. What can be done, I wonder?
I know that just buckling down and trying harder has not been the answer in the past. In my coming and going recently, I came across a plaque that says, “When I wait, You strengthen my heart.” It’s a paraphrase of Psalm 27:14, and it is like medicine for my soul. Reading it again helps me in between marathons. I bought the plaque and it hangs above the candy jar outside my office, because I need reminding that waiting upon God is a source of strength. It helps me clarify what is important and necessary, because I’ve never been very good at waiting. What scripture verses or hymns are like medicine to YOUR soul? I think it is important to share this good news that helps us in times of waiting.
This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday in Epiphany, and the gospel lesson I will be preaching on is Luke 5:1-11. It’s the story of Jesus meeting the disciples before they became his disciples. And it is story about trusting God between times of want and plenty. He reorients them to waiting upon God, and what a miraculous outcome!
Bless you BIG TIME as you remember to BE the church!
Last Sunday I shared a story from a news video of a Milwaukee bus driver stopping to save a toddler on a freezing overpass, which I saw as a parable of how God sometimes works in the world through those who are paying attention to the needs of the world around them.
At the end of sharing this story, I noted that this was the ninth such incident in Milwaukee in which a child was saved by Milwaukee city employees. It got me thinking about ways of being the church in the world. I used to think of the church as the bus and the pastor as the bus driver. As bus driver, my job is to get everybody on board our bus and make sure they get to where we are going. Because it is on our route, and we are only responsible for the people who get on our bus, no need to worry about others because there are plenty of other buses and modes of transportation.
But after this video, I’m thinking about the church NOT as the bus and me as the bus driver. I think of the church as being the bus driver, focusing our attention on where Jesus is leading us into the world, and our job as the bus driver is to PAY ATTENTION. Not only to those on our bus, but to those in need outside of our daily routine and usual route. And, like the Milwaukee bus driver, be ready to step outside the bus, face oncoming traffic and reach those in need and help them.
I’ve been reading 1 Corinthians this week, and as part of worship, we’ll be reading 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, in which Paul writes about the gifts given by the Holy Spirit. He finishes in verse 11 by saying that the gifts are given by the Spirit to be used for the common good…the good of all, not just for some, but for all. The church is called, equipped, and sent out by God to be attentive like the Milwaukee bus driver was, to pay attention to everybody: those outside as well as inside. Not just US.
Come to worship this Sunday and let’s see where the Spirit leads us to steer the bus next. Thanks for entertaining some new ways of being the church!
Wherever God leads you, I hope you remember how very much you are loved and that you are able to see glimpses of God’s presence in the least expected circumstances.
The Christmas season recap
Monday night the Worship Team spent time evaluating our worshipful experiences through Advent and Christmas, including Sunday’s Epiphany celebration. Among the critiques, evaluations, reflections and suggestions we were able to affirm that God is truly faithful to us as we gathered to worship!
Highlights included: all the amazing music from the choir, member and guest musicians, and the Band; the still-inspiring children’s Christmas pageant with all of the energy and creativity of adults, families and children alike (who want to not be named, but who need to know our gratitude for their gifts!), the beautiful Cantata, candlelight and Silent Night, fellowship and Advent activities, and many opportunities for reaching out with food, gifts of food, time, service, sharing, yummy treats and beautiful decorations and heartfelt praise. Each highlight reminded us and teaches us still that we are blessed and loved by God who is faithful in all things, especially the holy chaos that is the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons!
As we continue in the season of Epiphany, which focuses on the light of God that entered the world in the person of Jesus Christ, our eyes are still drawn to that light, and it is the light of Christ’s love that enables us to see hope and possibilities that God places before, around and among us.
This week in worship, we will celebrate the Baptism of The Lord with a renewal of Baptism and the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper. The lessons of Scripture for this Sunday are: Isaiah 43:1-7, containing words of promise and assurance from God through the writings of Isaiah; and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22, in which Luke gives an account of John’s ministry of baptism, and the extraordinary circumstances at Jesus’ baptism.
Wherever God leads you, I hope you remember how very much you are loved, and that you are able to see glimpses of God’s presence in the least expected circumstances. Continue to be the church!
Pastor Chuck Goodman has been pastor at Hope for nearly ten years. He writes each week about what's on his mind, giving readers something to meditate on until and beyond Sunday.