Sunday, May 18, 2014

Feeding the Heart...

     

     
              After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing
                           the inexpressible is MUSIC.
A small plastic sign bearing these words has stood on a shelf in my
living room for a couple of decades. Indeed, the paint is beginning 
to peel, to chip away, showing the wear-and-tear of time. Yet it 
continues to have pride of place because of the truth it expresses 
about my life.

For me, music is and has always been the source of inexpressible 
joy...especially when I am singing. And today...this very afternoon...
I was filled to overflowing with the joy of choral singing, as our High 
Point Community Chorus presented our spring concert. To call the 
afternoon glorious barely scratches the surface of what I was feeling 
as the music transported me to a place I cannot find words to 
describe.

And so it has been since I was a small child, listening to the music 
of the piano in my grandparents' home, hearing the voices of my
Aunt Anna and my Uncle John and my mother singing the popular 
songs of the day...listening to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio
each Saturday...being surrounded by and nurtured by and cradled 
in the voices of the congregation singing hymns in church each 
Sunday. Music filled my life...seeped into my pores...has perhaps 
been part of my very DNA from the beginning of beginning.

But sometimes I forget...letting the routines of everyday life crowd 
out this life-giving force. I forget how energizing and uplifting and 
healing it is to lift my voice in song...whether it is a little ditty like 
"You are My Sunshine" or a favorite hymn like "Beautiful Savior" or 
a Beatles classic like "Let It Be" or the hauntingly lovely "Bring Him 
Home" from Les Miserables or the old Gospel hymn "I'll Fly Away". 
Music heals me...fills me with joy...feeds my soul. 

And so this evening, as I sit here writing, though tired from head 
to toe, every cell of my body is resonating with the melodies of 
today, and my heart is filled with joy. Thanks be to God!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Living at a Gentler Pace...


I enjoy having days which are active and full, days in which I feel I have
accomplished something, done something worthwhile. But the older I
get...though perhaps it is not truly age but wisdom- I can only hope...
the more I enjoy days which unfold at a gentler pace...unhurried and
unscheduled...giving me time to notice and enjoy and appreciate the
world around and within me. 

The last two days have been like that...and I have been savoring them,
like the taste of honey on my tongue...listening to the songs of the
birds, watching the antics of the squirrels, hearing the sweet voices
and laughter of the children passing by. My eyes have been delighted
by the blossoming flowers in my yard and throughout the neighbor-
hood and my nose filled with the many and varied fragrances of spring,
sneezes and all. 

Writing notes and reading, listening to music on the HD radio and CD
player, watching the ever-changing moon...these are the activities
which have filled my days and evenings. Oh, yes,there has also been
laundry and ironing as I prepare to depart tomorrow morning for my
nephew's college graduation, but those things, too, were done at a
leisurely pace...no rush, no hurry, with lots of time for deep
breathing and day dreaming folded in along with the garments.

The several days ahead will be busy ones: driving, visiting, sharing
time with some of those I hold very dear. But right now, I'm sitting on
the screened porch, listening to the rain, and smelling its freshness...
and my heart is overflowing with thankfulness- for life, for those I
love, for my home, for my health, for laughter and tears, for music,
for the ability to wonder and revel in the mystery of it all.
               Thanks be to God.




Monday, May 5, 2014

Speaking the Truth, in Jesus Name...

Yesterday, I preached about the road to Emmaus story from a different
perspective- that of hospitality. And even that, I came at in a way
which is a bit out of the ordinary. My 92-year-old pastor friend, who is
a member of the congregation which I serve, told me afterward that I
had preached prophetically, a great compliment to me, for that means
I was discomforting the comfortable, which I see as my "job", just as
much as comforting those in distress. My love and gratitude to Pastor
Nancy Kraft, my friend and sister in ministry, for her courage and for
the loving presence of her congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church,
in our North Carolina Lutheran Synod.
Today’s Gospel in Luke speaks about the extreme hospitality of Jesus…
his willingness, his eagerness to FEED people, both physically and
spiritually…without asking about their beliefs, their faith, their theology…
simply welcoming, with arms open wide, and accepting, as he did with
those two confused, discouraged, downcast disciples on the road to
Emmaus. Think of the number of times he fed people, or ate with people:
the feeding of the 5000 and the 4000, the meals with tax collectors and
those designated as sinners, going to the house of a Pharisee for dinner
and forgiving a sinful woman who showed up there. There are actually
too many recall, with Jesus caring deeply about feeding both the body
and the spirit, making no distinction between the two but dealing lovingly
with the whole person.

So many things have been turning over in my mind this week, the
thoughts and images tumbling over one another in an attempt to be
recognized and connected. Yesterday’s memorial service for Coty Nelson,
in which two tables of welcome and hospitality were extended to all
those gathered here…the table of Holy Communion- in which all were
invited to partake- and all DID- hands reaching out for the bread and
wine, after hearing the words I had been privileged to utter- “This is the
body…the blood of Christ, given FOR YOU”. And I had no way of knowing
what each one believed, even IF they believed…HOW they believed…
I only knew that the call of the hospitality of Jesus the Christ was to be
extended to one and all- and so it was.

And then there was the fellowship meal…in which people were again
invited to the table, this time one prepared lovingly by members of
Nazareth, the bread symbolically broken by them in welcome…as people
filled their plates and shared conversation and were blessed by the
presence of one another, by the sharing of memories…people from
diverse backgrounds from diverse faith traditions…each and all a part
of the community for this one day, at this one time, and welcomed with
the hospitality of Jesus the Christ.

Have you ever heard of the concept of UBUNTU? In the Xhosa culture of
South Africa, Ubuntu means “I am because we are.” In other words, I
only exist because you exist and we are in community together.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it in this way: A person with Ubuntu
is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel
threatened that others are able and good. It is a self-assurance that
comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is
diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are
tortured or oppressed.

He further says, One of the sayings in our country is that Ubuntu is the
essence of being human, that you can’t exist as a human being in
isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. We think of ourselves
too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas
you are connected and what you do affects the whole world.

Think about it…to be a Christian means to be in relationship with others.
It is so easy for me to be holy or spiritual within the confines of my own
home, where I live alone. I can think nice thoughts and pray nice
prayers…but it is when I walk out my front door that living as a
Christian, following Jesus the Christ, really begins…where the
rubber hits the road for me…when the boy from around the corner rides
his scooter into my newly-planted flower bed…when the man at the
corner stop sign is so busy talking on his cell phone that he isn’t paying
attention to the traffic and I am in a hurry…when the woman at Target
shoves her loaded cart in front of me and my three items at the express
checkout. This is when I am reminded that the call of the one whose
name I am bold to bear calls me to hospitality…to welcome…to love…
to accept. And that IS NOT EASY!


But Jesus offered just such hospitality and acceptance to the two on the
Emmaus’ road...sharing fellowship and acceptance and community with
them, and ultimately, revealing himself to them in the “breaking of the
bread”. It would have been easy for him to write them off as non-
believers, as people not worth his time and attention, when they shared
their dashed hopes and discouragements with him, when they doubted
the reality of the resurrection stories they had heard. It’s easy to write
people off who believe differently than we do, who think differently than
we do or vote differently than we do, those who do not live up to our
standards or share our point of view. But what Jesus shows us here is
the importance of our minds and hearts and arms- yes, our arms- being
open in hospitality and welcome.

Which brings me to another happening this week. On Monday, the United
Church of Christ filed a class-action lawsuit again the State of North
Carolina, challenging the constitutionality of Amendment One- which
many had dubbed the “defense of marriage act”- which had been passed
last fall in our state. In the suit, the UCC states that the amendment is the
abuse of the religious freedom of the clergy, since it means that they
are not able to carry out their duties as ministers of the gospel, thus
violating the principle of the “free exercise of religion”. You see, the UCC
recognized same-sex unions in 2005 and this amendment now assures
that their pastors will be unable to exercise their religious freedom to
marry congregants who want to marry. In fact, what many people who
voted for this amendment- perhaps you were one of them- did not know
is that it carries with it the stipulation that is it a CRIME for a clergy
person to follow both their conscience and church doctrine by performing
a same-sex ceremony, meaning that in this state- and in THIS STATE
ONLY IN THE ENTIRE UNITED STATES- a clergy person could face
up to 120 days in jail for fulfilling his or her God-given call as a minister
of the inclusive, welcoming gospel of Jesus Christ.

The UCC is accompanied as plaintiff by 2 Unitarian pastors, one Baptist
minister, one Lutheran pastor, and one rabbi, as well as 8 same-sex
couples desiring to marry. And the Lutheran minister is a good friend of
mine, Nancy Kraft, who pastors Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte.
Holy Trinity had become known about a decade or so ago as “the gay
church” since many gay men from that ever-changing Charlotte
neighborhood had joined there. But in the years of Nancy’s pastorate,
Holy Trinity has become one of the most diverse congregations in the
North Carolina Synod, with families of every shape part of the family of
faith there: heterosexual couples, like my son and his wife and children;
families with two dads or two moms; single-parent families; and mixed-
race families. The number of children in the congregation has grown by
leaps and bounds as families of all shapes and sizes and configurations
are welcomed by this congregation whose three-word Mission Statement
guides all they do: LOVING, NOT JUDGING. They are a Reconciled in
Christ congregation, welcoming and accepting people from the LGBTQ
community as the brothers and sisters in Christ that they are. For the
people of Holy Trinity, the church doors need to be the widest-open in 
the world and the Lord’s table open to and inclusive of whomever 
comes. And Pastor Nancy longs to be able to unite several of her same-
sex couples in the marriages they so desire; thus her part in the lawsuit. 
She considers it being faithful- to her call, faithful to the gospel of Jesus 
Christ.

And whether or not you agree with all of this, whether or not you think
I am entirely too liberal in my thinking and my speaking…and my living…
I can only say that, for me, today’s gospel is about COMMUNITY and
WELCOME, about extending the hospitality of Jesus the Christ to ALL
PEOPLE…since I exist only because you exist, because WE exist. The call
of Christ that I hear is that the door of the church…THIS church…ANY
church…should be the widest, most welcoming door in the world…that
the communion table should truly be the COMMUNITY TABLE…where
ALL are welcome…without judgment, without question, without
reservation…that place where Jesus, as host AND meal calls upon us
to “Take and eat, take and drink…it is GIVEN FOR YOU…
ALL OF YOU…”
             May this truly be so, today and every day. Amen and amen

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Good Grief?


Funny how it sneaks up on you, grief. You go along just fine for
weeks, months at a time...sometimes even for years, and then,
BAM! out of the blue it hits, knocking the wind right out of you...
hitting you between the eyes...pummeling you relentlessly until
you are against the ropes, begging for mercy.

That's how it felt last evening. It began as I was listening to a
young man on YouTube singing "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis, 
a song which always stirs deep emotions. And then, a little
later at bedtime, at the end of an emotional day in which I had
presided at the memorial service for a young man of twenty-
one who had been part of our congregation...as I turned out the
light and lay down to sleep, I found myself weeping, sobbing in
a way I had not done in a very long time...my body wracked with
the spasms of weeping- for the family today, for my eldest son,
dead now these twenty-one years...feeling once again that deep
bereftness which comes from having a chasm within your heart
which no one or nothing else can ever totally fill. 

Grief, you see, is a deviously cunning entity, fading into the
shadows around the edges of everyday life as time passes...
less and less present, or so it seems...lulling you into a false
sense of security but never actually going away...lurking just far
enough off center stage that when it makes an entrance, you
are caught totally by surprise, knocked for the proverbial loop
by the out-of-the-blue blow to the solar plexus, and suddenly
you are a sobbing, soggy mess, soaking your pillow with an
ocean of tears, the wrenching sobs convulsing your body with a
deep, down-to-the-toes ache which simply won't go away...at
least not until the last tear has been shed, the last sob
wrenched out, leaving you limp and spent, as Grief slinks away,
the victor returning to his corner, only to come back again
another day.