Stars

I was thinking
that if I lean back
into your arms then
I might have the best view
of the stars in all their brilliance
and glory. By the light of their gaze
I might find peace illuminated…
might and maybe and if.
But I don’t easily lean
or rest, so I miss
the stars.

O God my God,
how I miss the stars.

cleveland-arcade-tile

on Job 9:4 & 9:9-10

Preaching Epiphany

So Christmastide has ended, the Star has been followed, and Lent is bearing down on us in one month.

The richness of the season of Epiphany (from the Twelfth Day of Christmas through Transfiguration Sunday) — also the first days of Ordinary Time in the new liturgical year — can be easily lost in the wake of Advent/Christmas hype and in the sobering preparations for Lent. But there is good news still needed from preachers during Epiphany and beautiful stories to unpack in the pulpit: magi & miracles, water & witness, sacred moments & transformative insights!

For last-minute planners and creatively-exhausted preachers, a few sermon series to suggest in encouragement of your preaching during the Epiphany season. The following outlines assume that Epiphany itself (January 6th) has already been celebrated, but for those who will celebrate Epiphany on January 10th, these series can be adapted & adjusted as needed.

Revelation in Community (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s New Testament readings), calling us to understand & celebrate God through community

star4January 10 (Acts 8:14-17): The gifts of others in multiplying & confirming God’s presence among us. “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

January 17 (1 Corinthians 12:1-11): There is One Source from whom our diversities flow and One Spirit binding us together. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

January 24 (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a): In Christ, all belong to one body and one community, but more than that: all are necessary for the body and the community to reflect Christ. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.'”

January 31 (1 Corinthians 13:1-13): In the context of community, 1 Corinthians 13 becomes less a cliched reading for weddings and more an examination of how we behave together as part of Christ. “Love does not insist on its own way.”

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Hebrews 2:14-18): A certain humility is necessary in & for community, remembering that Christ came not because we are perfect but because we are human. “He did not come to help angels but the descendants of Abraham.”

February 7 Transfiguration (2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2): Those who belong to Christ are audacious & courageous in seeing Christ in one another. “All of us with unveiled faces (unlike Moses) see the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror.”

A Child Shall Lead Them (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings), celebrating Jesus’ youthfulness & imaginationstar2

January 10 (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22): “You are my Son, the Beloved.” We forget sometimes that Jesus was someone’s — and Someone’s — son, a child who was loved and scolded and watched over and nurtured. Most often we think of Jesus as a teacher, as the Word Made Flesh, as our guide, as an authority … in short, as an adult. How might we follow the Child differently than we follow adults?

January 17 (John 2:1-11): Like most children — and many adults — Jesus needed the occasional reminder to take care of his responsibilities. Jesus’ retort to his mother Mary “What does it concern me?” sounds remarkably similar to an eyerolled “That’s not my problem,” when in fact there are very few problems that genuinely are not “ours” in this interconnected world. So with Jesus and with humility, we remember to pay attention to the wisdom of others.

January 24 (Luke 4:14-21): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The maturation of youth includes seasons of certainty and determination, characterized by the conviction that their lives must matter in the scheme of the world and by the boldness to make it so. Jesus lived with a similar decisiveness, unwilling to make compromises and unconvinced by the cynicism that some of us concede to in adulthood.

January 31 (Luke 4:21-30): “Doubtless you will say, ‘Do here in your hometown the things that we heard you did at Capernaum.'” While recognizing the limits on his ministry in Nazareth, Jesus simultaneously tested those limits by naming them aloud in the synagogue, to which the people responded not by saying “Please try to do what you can among us” but by driving Jesus to a cliff. Are we (and how are we) naming and testing the limits of ministry & faith?

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Luke 2:22-40): “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many, and to be a sign that will be opposed.” Childhood — like faith — is full of ups & downs, scrapes & bruises, doubts & thrills. Jesus does not guarantee us an easy life or journey of faith, though with Simeon we hope to glimpse the glory of God’s salvation.

February 7 Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36, 37-43a): “You faithless generation, how much longer must I bear with you?” So often we cannot see what Jesus sees: healing, release, return. So often we cannot see who Jesus is: wholly God, holy Wild, simply Brilliant. On Transfiguration Sunday, we don holy imagination and childlike faith to believe what we have not yet had the courage to believe.

The Wisdom of Praise (on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Psalms), a challenge to sustain a spirit of delight in the glory of God from the first sighting of the star to the mountaintop transfiguration

star1January 10 (Psalm 29): Do not fear what is God’s, but give credit & praise because all is God’s. “The voice of the LORD strips the forest bare, and all in his temple say, ‘Glory!'”

January 17 (Psalm 36:5-10): We are known and held secure within God’s love. “With you is the fountain of life.”

January 24 (Psalm 19): The heavens understand what we cannot fully grasp, yet still we seek it: the knowledge & fear of the LORD. “More to be desired are they than gold and sweeter than honey.”

January 31 (Psalm 71:1-6): God is our confidence and our calling. “Be to me a rock of refuge…for on you I have leaned since birth.”

Optional: Presentation of the Lord (Psalm 84): The lost and the weary are found in God’s presence; those who trust in God find delight and renewal. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”

February 7 Transfiguration (Psalm 99): Rejoice and be in awe to confess the strength and magnitude of God. “Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!”

Practicing Discipleship (on the Narrative Lectionary); the Narrative Lectionary has its own energy as the stories continue to follow Jesus’ ministry, yet a theme of discipleship lessons can be additionally traced during Epiphany

star3January 10 (Mark 2:1-22): LAW & LOVE. “Why does he eat with sinners? And why do his disciples not fast like the disciples of John and of the Pharisees?” In discipleship, we are challenged to hold together law & love, discipline & grace, tradition & creativity, and to keep our understandings of faith in constant conversation with the needs of the world.

January 17 (Mark 4:1-34): DISCERNMENT. “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” Through many parables, Jesus reminds us to live with discerning hearts: for there are seeds that we will have opportunities to plant and seeds that we will have opportunities to harvest; likewise there is wisdom that we may discover and wisdom that will never be revealed to us.

January 24 (Mark 5:21-43): FAITH. “Do not fear, only believe.” Two stories of healing go to unusual length to portray the humanity, the despair and the sorrow, of the woman with hemorrhages and the leader of the synagogue (the former unnamed, the latter named Jairus). Jesus’ words to Jairus in 36b suggest that the opposite of faith is not disbelief but fear.

January 31 (Mark 6:1-29): AUTHORITY. “He called the twelve and sent them out, giving them authority over unclean spirits.” The question of who has the authority to influence whom threads together the dramas of Mark 6 and is a relevant question for our own discipleship. A girl’s dance persuades Herod, the commissioning by Jesus empowers the twelve, and the disbelief of his hometown stymies Jesus’ ability to perform miracles.

February 7 Transfiguration (Mark 8:27-9:8): FOLLOWING. “What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” The fierceness of Jesus’ words in Mark 8 reminds us that following Christ is not a simple work, not a quick path to glory, not a set of easy answers. Even those who walked with Jesus and knew him best were continually surprised and made frequent missteps in their discipleship.

Blessings for the preaching and the living of these days. May the Epiphany season be full of rich insights and beautiful sightings of the Holy!

Sunday Prayer

We dream.
Most Holy Mystery, we dream of a new day,
of a new chance, of a new direction
in which you are glorious and
we are bold; a new season
in which you are not an enigma
and we are finally free from pain or fear;
a brand new year in which the gift of ease is ours.

We yearn.
Most Holy Light, we yearn to behold Something
beautiful and life-changing, to behold
our own gifts with appreciation,
to behold your path
and know the comfort
of your joyous welcome and
the peace in your power to do all things.

We testify.
Most Holy Refugee, we testify to your stories and ours
of life impacted by violence and marked by tears,
of plans made and hastily reconfigured, of
home being an unfamiliar place;
and we testify with deep thanksgiving
that you are also our Refuge — ever present
and ever drawing us together by incarnate revelation.

We worship.
Most Holy God, we worship you in dedicated community
with the weary and with the wandering, with
the moon and sun and mountains,
with Rachel as she rages
and with Mary as she parents,
with one another — knowing that
we cannot make this journey on our own.

By your grace,
guide us.
In your mercy,
be with us.
Amen.

Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

Monday Muse: Thursday is Advent, Friday is Christmas

Yesterday, on June 1, my soul gasped and took a breath of fresh air. On June 1, I remembered that life is full of possibility and hope for renewal. On June 1, I knew that I could revel in joy with every minute of the day.

Why? Because June 1 — and not only June 1, but also May 1 and April 1 and the start of every month — is a resurrection day. It’s pay day!

I love the liturgical year, the cycle of seasons and stories of faith, with each Sunday’s worship marking the progression toward and through the holy days, retelling with each year the plot of God’s love affair with the world. Yet over the past year of my new job, I confess I’ve been paying less attention to the liturgical seasons and more attention to the daily seasons of the American work week: the reluctance of Monday, the almost-there-eagerness of Thursday, the rush of the weekend … and the pure relief of payday.

While the Church marks the liturgical year in fifty-two weeks, the corporate work week gives us its own liturgical cycle in seven days! It’s prompted me to look creatively at how the Christian liturgical year might be expressed within the span of a work week.

Though liturgical purists may decry the following rearrangement of holy seasons and holidays, I wonder how an awareness of the seven-day “liturgical” work cycle might inform and encourage our faith with its new perspective on the seasons of our sacred lives.

  • Monday is Lent, the day when humanity feels hard, the season when we confess what has been done and what has been left undone. Monday reminds us that the world is incessant, that God is demanding, and that we are finite. In Lent as on Mondays, we recommit to the work (or we wrestle with guilt for slacking).
  • Tuesday and Wednesday are Ordinary Time, the longest and frankly least dramatic liturgical season (and days). The Gospel readings in Ordinary Time chart the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry: healing here, teaching there, walking from town to city, doing the dusty everyday work of God, checking emails, writing reports, meeting people, staffing conference calls, chit-chatting in the copier room, and more. Ordinary Time, ordinary days, ordinary work…and the importance of God within it all, no matter how mundane or uneventful.
  • Thursday is Advent. (Stay with me, purists. I know that I’m bucking every fiber of fondness that you hold for these time-honored, sacred rhythms.) Thursday holds all of Advent’s suspense, the anticipation of coming joy, the hope that surges within us while waiting for The Hope, the rekindling of awareness that time is moving toward something promising.

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  • Ah, Friday! Friday is Christmas. Friday is the day when Joy wakes us up in the morning and sustains us even beyond that first cup of coffee. Friday is the day when the flesh feels redeemed and revived, like the beauty of God in the flesh of an infant. Because it is still a work day, Friday is fleeting and like Christmas Day it refuses to linger, yet still it overflows…
  • …into the luxurious surprise of Saturday, the day of Epiphany, the space in the work week when we have the opportunity to be revealed for who we are in God beyond our paychecks: our gifts, our creativities, our passions, our recreations, our families, even our stillness. Every Saturday is an opportunity for new paths of discovery and new stars of revelation that will shape how we live in the work week to come.
  • Sunday is a complicated holy day in the seven-day liturgical cycle, because the usual activity of worship invites us to engage the community spirit of Pentecost … but the impending work week hovers to crush that very spirit. So I would speculate that Sunday is our weekly Ascension Day: that obscure (to some of us Protestants) holiday when we are awed by heaven yet called to tear our eyes away from glory in order to return to work.
  • And as I hinted above, Easter is payday — be it monthly or semi-monthly or weekly. Easter/Payday jumpstarts our weary spirits, inspires a fresh burst of life, and catches our breath with the promise that Life is greater and more powerful than our workweek lives.

Of the major liturgical holidays that I’ve not managed to adapt to this seven-day cycle, Pentecost stands out in its absence: that holy moment of witnessing the Spirit’s whirling rush, of experiencing the unexpected, of participating in community without barriers or fear. It also makes complete sense to me that Pentecost doesn’t fit the schedule: the spiritual experiences of Pentecost are precisely the spiritual needs that lack space in our work weeks. People long for authentic community; we long for a change of pace; we long for inspiration — and we haven’t figured out how to meet those needs within our usual weekly schedules. Thus Pentecost is found in vacation — those days away from work when community and change and inspiration can be experienced fully.

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Blessings to you, as the Church liturgical calendar turns toward Pentecost … and as this weekly liturgical cycle begins again with Lent.

As Epiphany Ends

Before the light of Epiphany fades,
before we don the ashes of Lent,
O Jesus we pray:
light a light for us.
Light a light for us that is brighter
than our vanities and fabricated pleasures.
Light a light that is stronger than our fears and our faith.
Light a light for us, O Jesus, for we are flailing in the dark,
injuring one another as we grope for some
certainty and assurance along our way.
Light a light that blazes in brilliance and proves
the shadows in our lives to be fleeting and insidious.
Light such a light, we pray with longing.
Light a light for us
that leads us to peace.