So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. …. in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ~Philippians 2: 1-4
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4: 1-3
Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25
By my wearing a mask during these difficult times, it conveys the message that your well-being matters to me; it tells our children and grandchildren they must look out for others even when it is uncomfortable, teaching the next generation following rules and regulations matters as everyone doing what is right in their own eyes never turns out well as we become blind to others.
If I can stop one person from being infected, I shall not have lived in vain~ If I can ease another’s risk, though masking goes against the grain~ If I can help a divided church suffering from resistance, judgment and shaming be restored to spiritual health again~
Unexpected God, your coming advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary
Sometimes the very walls of our churches separate us from God and each other. In our various naves and sanctuaries we are safely separated from those outside, from other denominations, other religions, separated from the poor, the ugly, the dying.… The house of God is not a safe place. It is a cross where time and eternity meet, and where we are – or should be – challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently. ~Madeleine L’Engle, from A Stone for a Pillow
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Today, after weeks of worshipping outdoors, we move back inside for fall and winter, all wearing masks while separated into four different spaces with social distancing. It may be this way well into next year: nobody knows.
No one is happy that the singing will be limited, there will be no handshakes or hugs and some of us will be watching a live feed on a screen. Some are flat out angry at having to worship this way and will opt to stay away. Yet we are called to come together, to raise our voices corporately in praise, prayer and thanksgiving, despite the risks and unfamiliarity of how these changes look and feel while we try to protect one another from infection.
We tend to forget that walking into church on any Sabbath, not just during a pandemic, takes courage and commitment as we automatically become vulnerable to one another. What one of us says and does can bless or hurt us all. This can be no drowsy worship: we are the poor, the ugly and the dying.
When I hear the secular folks in society scoff at attending church as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate what it means to admit a desperate need for salvation and grace that can only be found inside those doors. We who sit in a pew in the sanctuary cling to the life preserver found in the Word. We are lashed to our seats and must hang on. It is only because of God’s grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt in order to let go of our own anger at the state of the world and the state of our own souls.
Exposing ourselves to the radical mystery and immense power of the living God is not for the faint of heart, yet all of us on the verge of heart failure need God’s deep roots to thrive and grow in our rocky soul soil.
So today, and every day, we must not forget our crash helmets… or our masks.
I go my way, and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
This fevers me, this sun on green, On grass glowing, this young spring. The secret hallowing is come, Regenerate sudden incarnation, Mystery made visible In growth, yet subtly veiled in all, Ununderstandable in grass, In flowers, and in the human heart, This lyric mortal loveliness, The earth breathing, and the sun… ~Richard Eberhart from “This Fevers Me”
Every day should be a day of dancing and loveliness and breathing deeply, of celebrating the fact we woke afresh, a new start.
If I’m honest, I don’t always feel like dancing, my feet each going their own way and my head barely attached to my neck.
As I stumble about in my morning daze, readying myself for the onslaught to come, I step out and mumble “Glory” and then blink a few times and murmur “Amen” and breathe it out again a little louder until I really feel it and believe the ununderstandable and know it in my bones.
A little praise never hurt anyone. A little worship goes a long way. It’s the only way mystery becomes visible, tangible, touchable and tastable.
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 3:6
The journey begins when Christians leave their homes and beds. They leave, indeed, their life in this present and concrete world, and whether they have to drive 15 miles or walk a few blocks, a sacramental act is already taking place…
For they are now on their way to constitute the Church, or to be more exact, to be transformed into the Church of God. They have been individuals, some white, some black, some poor, some rich, they have been the ‘natural’ world and a natural community. And now they have been called to “come together in one place,” to bring their lives, their very world with them and to be more than what they were: a new community with a new life.
We are already far beyond the categories of common worship and prayer. The purpose of this ‘coming together’ is not simply to add a religious dimension to the natural community, to make it ‘better’ – more responsible, more Christian. The purpose is to fulfill the Church, and that means to make present the One in whom all things are at their end, and all things are at their beginning. ~ Father Alexander Schmemann from For the Life of the World
Human beings by their very nature are worshipers. Worship is not something we do; it defines who we are. You cannot divide human beings into those who worship and those who don’t. Everybody worships; it’s just a matter of what, or whom, we serve. ~Paul Tripp
Back in the early days of Whatcom County, the little church on Wiser Lake had been constructed through “contributions of the people” in a rural neighborhood only a few miles from where we now live. $600 in lumber was provided by a local farmer whose trees were cut and milled and brought by horse drawn wagon to a building site adjacent to a one room school house along a corrugated plank road. The total property was “valued at $1800, but of even more value to the community.” The dedication ceremony was held on Sunday, August 27, 1916 followed by “a basket dinner—come with well filled baskets for a common table, under the direction of the Ladies Aid”. This was to be followed by a “Fellowship Meeting, special music and fraternal addresses” and the day ended at 8 PM with a Young People’s Meeting. So began the long history of the “Wiser Lake Church”.
For reasons unrecorded in the history of the church, the original denomination closed its doors thirty years later, and for awhile the building was empty and in need of a congregation. By the fifties, it became a mission church of the local Christian Reformed Churches and launched a Sunday School program for migrant farm and Native American children in the surrounding rural neighborhood. No formal church services started until the sixties. By the time the building was sixty years old, so many children were arriving for Sunday School, there was not enough room so the building was hoisted up on jacks to allow a hole to be dug underneath for a basement full of classrooms. Over the course of a summer, the floor space doubled, and the church settled back into place, allowed to rest again on its foundation.
Over seventy years after its dedication ceremony, our family drove past the boxy building countless times hurrying on our way to other places, barely giving it a second glance. It had a classic design, but showed its age with peeling paint, a few missing shingles, an old fashioned square flat roofed belfry, and arched windows. The hand lettered sign spelling out “Wiser Lake Chapel” by the road constituted a humble invitation of sorts, simply by listing the times of the services.
It felt like home. We had found our church. We’ve never left. Over 30 years it has had peeling paint and missing shingles, a basement that floods when the rain comes down hard, toilets that don’t always flush, and though it smells heavenly on potluck days, there are times when it can be just a bit out of sorts and musty. It also has a warmth and character and uniqueness that is unforgettable.
It’s really not so different from the folks who gather there. We know we belong there, even if we too are musty, a bit out of sorts, yet still warm and loving and welcoming — no matter what, every Sabbath we are called to come together to be very clear about Who we worship.
This year’s Lenten theme on Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, gives him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins – Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins
Thanks in large part to how messily we humans live, this world is a grimy place.
As an act of worship, we work at cleaning up after ourselves. Hands that clean toilets, scrub floors, carry bedpans, pick up garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.
I spend time every day carrying buckets and wielding a pitchfork because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life. It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes and in so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.
I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am. I never want to forget to clean up after myself. I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship with dungfork and slop pail.
It is my privilege. It is His gift to me. It is Grace that comes alongside me, to keep pitching the muck and carrying the slop when I am too weary to do it myself.
The church, I think, is God’s way of saying, “What I have in the pot is yours, and what I have is a group of misfits whom you need more than you know and who need you more than they know.”
“Take, and eat,” he says, “and take, and eat, until the day, and it is coming, that you knock on my door. I will open it, and you will see me face to face.”
He is preparing a table. He will welcome us in. Jesus will be there, smiling and holy, holding out a green bean casserole. And at that moment, what we say, what we think, and what we believe will be the same: “I didn’t know how badly I needed this.” ~Jeremy Clive Huggins from “The Church Potluck”
Perhaps a celebration at the end of a long cold winter month Possibly a need of respite from a month of dieting Likely a response to bad headline news day after day: A potlatch, a potluck, a communion of comfort food.
What to bring? What soothes stomach and heart?
Macaroni and cheese, with drizzled bread cubes on top Beef stew chuck-a-block with vegetables and potatoes Buckets of fried chicken Greenbean casserole Meat loaf topped with ketchup Tossed Caesar salad Tator tots drizzled with cheese Jello and ham buns
Home made bread, steaming, soft Whole chocolate milk And ice cream sundaes
Nothing expensive Or extravagant Or requiring going into debt to pay.
A fitting ending to a Sabbath of worship, After meeting for prayer and hymns and the Word; When times get tough, when we feel all alone, When we drown in discouragement.
This is time for connecting congregation and community, For huddling against life’s storm Forgetting our worries for a time And sharing God’s comfort food, all together, misfits that we are, Smiling to know — we all badly needed this.
It hovers in dark corners before the lights are turned on, it shakes sleep from its eyes and drops from mushroom gills, it explodes in the starry heads of dandelions turned sages, it sticks to the wings of green angels that sail from the tops of maples. It sprouts in each occluded eye of the many-eyed potato, it lives in each earthworm segment surviving cruelty, it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog, it is the mouth that inflates the lungs of the child that has just been born. It is the singular gift we cannot destroy in ourselves, the argument that refutes death, the genius that invents the future, all we know of God. It is the serum which makes us swear not to betray one another; it is in this poem, trying to speak ~ Lisel Mueller “Hope” from Alive Together
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
We can’t claw our way out of the mess we’ve made of things; it takes Someone to dig us out of the hole, brush us off, clean us up, and breathe fresh breath into our nostrils. We can only hope hope will be more contagious than any pandemic virus. We can only hope and grab hold and put down roots when His hand reaches down to plant us firmly the dirt.
The old church leans awry and looks quite odd, But it is beautiful to us, and God. ~Stephen Paulus “The Old Church”
The church knelt heavy above us as we attended Sunday School, circled by age group and hunkered on little wood folding chairs where we gave our nickels, said our verses, heard the stories, sang the solid, swinging songs.
It could have been God above in the pews, His restless love sifting with dust from the joists. We little seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting to grow toward the light.
Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside, an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp- edged shadows back to their buildings, or how the winter air knifed after the dreamy basement.
Maybe the day we learned whatever would have kept me believing I was just watching light poke from the high, small window and tilt to the floor where I could make it a gold strap on my shoe, wrap my ankle, embrace any part of me. ~Maureen Ash “Church Basement”
There could be so much wrong with the church overall, comprised as it is with fallen people with broken wings, looking odd and leaning awry, determined to find flaws in each other’s doctrine, rituals, tradition, beliefs.
What is right with the church: who we pray to, why we sing, whose body we comprise so bloodied, fractured, yet healed despite our thoroughly motley messiness~ Our Lord of Heaven and Earth rains down His restless love upon our heads.