Weekly Worship Thought – The Elusive Sabbath

as1w2qxjrie-felix-russell-sawWhy is it so hard to take a break? Even as I type this, it is early in the evening on one of my days off. What is it that made me open the laptop and start typing this article on a Saturday evening? I could postpone it. I have time to finish this article during the week ahead. I could be doing any number of other things right now. I could read a book. I could play a board game with my kids. I could make a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the break. Instead I’m typing this article.

Sabbath is a concept that you already know. It is a spiritual practice. There is something inherently spiritual about our ceasing to work. God could have created the world and the story could have moved on. But the rest is there for a reason. Not so much because God was weary from the heavy lifting of creation, but because we get weary. We are the ones who need to cease working. And God, who always does what is good and best for us, models the best practices for life.

It is the same with music. Music is not just continuous sound. Music is the dialogue of sound and silence. One of the most common mistakes that ensembles make is playing or singing during the rests. The squiggly lines are there for a reason. Music is not music without the rests. Great music draws you into its silence. What musicians don’t play or sing between the notes is just as important as the notes. For music to work, there must be rests.

I know why I am typing on my day off. It is productivity. My self-worth is conjoined to my ability to get stuff done. My identity is wrapped up in what I am able to produce. If I’m not producing something, then I’m not being who I am meant to be. And that is a lie. God did not make me to be a cog on a wheel or a machine in an assembly line. I am God’s child. My self-worth is dependent on who loves me, not what I get done. My identity is claimed in the waters of baptism, not my output.

If you struggle with Sabbath, don’t feel bad. I do too. As the year winds down and the holidays approach, I hope you will not skip over the rests. The notes don’t sustain forever. You have to take a breath to keep the music going.

Weekly Worship Thought – Kingdom Time

tereuy1vsfusu8lztop3_img_2538The ways of the kingdom of God, brought to fullness in Jesus Christ, are upside down when compared to the ways of the world. The last are first. The poor and hungry are blessed. When Jesus appears to be at his weakest, most vulnerable point, he is actually performing his most powerful action. As a reflection of the upside down nature of the kingdom of God, brought to fullness in Jesus Christ, the church marks its time in an upside down way. We count time in a different way than the world. We have reached the end of the church’s calendar. November 20 is Christ the King Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ eternal reign. November 27 is the first Sunday of Advent, similar to New Year’s Day for the church’s calendar. While the world may already be putting up their Christmas trees and decorations, the church is marking time in a different way. We still have some waiting to do.

Prayers of Intercession after the Election

photo-1428515634197-76c85896cf1f

It is a humbling honor to craft the prayers of intercession for an assembly gathered to worship. I took extra care this week in writing the prayers on the Sunday after such an eventful week. 

A: With the people of God gathered here and throughout the world, we offer our prayers for our nation and those in need of peace during this time.

A brief silence.

A: We pray for the health, well-being, wisdom, and judgment of President-Elect Trump and all who were elected to office this week. Grant our government an orderly and peaceful transition in the months to come, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those who feel like their deepest hopes were dashed and greatest fears were preyed upon in this election. Grant comfort and courage to our Muslim and LGBTQ sisters and brothers during their time of distress, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A:  We pray for peace among the nations. Make our elected leaders quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A: We pray for those who hunger or thirst, for those who doubt or are terrified, for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, for our (specific needs), that all experience the healing and comfort given through Christ, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those gathered in this place to hear the gospel and receive the good gifts of God through Christ Jesus, that guided by the Holy Spirit, we will serve our neighbor and stand against the injustices we might face, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

A:  We give thanks for men and women of every time and place who have died in Christ, and we follow their examples of faithful living, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Weekly Worship Thought – What is the primary symbol of worship?

What would you say is the primary symbol of Christian worship?

Have you ever thought about this question? Let me suggest another way to think about this question. If you walk into a room of people engaged in Christian worship, what is the symbol in the room that gives it away? I believe most people would agree that a cross or crucifix would be the main symbol that is a dead giveaway that a room is used for Christian worship. However, that is not always the case.

Last month I traveled to Rochester, MN for a continuing education event. We gathered at Zumbro Lutheran Church to learn more about our Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) hymnal on the 10th anniversary of its publication. I was struck by the space for worship at Zumbro Lutheran. What stands out to you in their space?

2016-10-14-15-30-00

The first thing that stood out to me was the bold, red letters quoting a passage form 2 Corinthians. This text hovers on the back wall of the chancel, just above the table, and constantly reminds those gathered of God’s mission in Christ.

Next I noticed the object suspended in the air. What does this object represent to you? I can see several things. I could interpret this object as a crown of thorns, a circle of connecting crosses, or the wings of doves. Perhaps you see something different. Then I realized it. There was no cross in this room. At least there was no central, direct, grab-your-attention cross to tell you that this room was used for Christian worship.

Back to my question: what is the symbol in the room that gives Christian worship away? Actually, sorry, that was a trick question. It is a trick question because you may not consider the answer to be a symbol. The answer is people. The assembly gathered is the primary symbol in Christian worship. “Church” first and foremost is a people, not a building. The place in which we gather, the things we do – none of these would occur if not for the gathering of God’s people.

Weekly Worship Thought – Counter-Cultural Baptism

river“Baptismal unity will never be that of an “insider” group. Baptism, which constitutes the Church, also calls Christians to identify in solidarity with all people. Its celebration will therefore have certain counter-cultural elements as well. The poor will be baptized with a least as great a dignity as the rich. Women and men, children and adults, and people from all ethnic/class/caste backgrounds will stand here on equal footing, equally in need of God’s mercy, equally gifted with the outpoured Spirit. Baptism, which creates members of the local community, also at the same time creates these people as member of the one universal Body of Christ. Baptism calls us to unity, not to division.” Chicago Statement on Worship and Culture, Lutheran World Federation, 2.3.

Weekly Worship Thought – Into the World

mutter_teresa_von_kalkuttaRiffing on an idea from Pastor Kerry’s sermon on Sunday: Mother Teresa (canonized as a saint on September 6) offers us a model of how faithful, Christ-centered spirituality does not primarily lead to mountain-top experiences of private “me and God” time. The call to give our lives away for the life of the world begins at our baptism. Jesus’ own baptism is our model. Jesus’ baptism marked his ministry and propelled him deeper into the world, not away from the world. If anything, Jesus’ own baptism wasn’t a cleansing of sin but an identification with the rejected and outcast. Jesus was baptized as a sign of solidarity with the marginalized of the world, even unto death. Our baptism, our continual dying to sin and rising to new life, is our call deeper into the world, not away from it.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” ~Mother Teresa

Weekly Worship Thought – Whole Heart

photo-1469571486292-0ba58a3f068bPsalm 111:1 says, “Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.” At the very center of all true worship is an attitude of thankfulness. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” We call communion “thanksgiving” because the scripture tells us that when Jesus was eating with his disciples “he gave thanks, broke it, and said, this is my body….” Following Jesus’ lead, our worship at God’s table is centered in an attitude of thankfulness. Back to Psalm 111. It says “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” I’m interested in the idea of whole-heartedness. What does it look like to give thanks with a whole heart? What are the things that divide our heart and keep us from wholly giving ourselves in thanks to God?

Weekly Worship Thought – Vigil Against Violence

vigil-against-violenceLast week we held the Vigil Against Violence on Thursday evening. This event was in response to the shooting in West University Place on Monday, September 26, 2016, which is only a few blocks away from the church. We felt that the best way to respond as a church was to offer a place of peace and reflection, as well as lift up the idea of non-violence. Our culture has turned increasingly more violent. As followers of Jesus, we walk in the path of a Savior who willingly allowed his own execution in order to tear down systems that violently oppressed the weak and vulnerable.

If you didn’t catch the news interview you can see it here:

You can also take a look at the readings and prayers from the vigil as well.

Vigil Against Violence

September 29, 2016 / 7:00 PM

Welcome

****************************************************************************

Song – ELW 721 Goodness Is Stronger than Evil

Reading – Psalm 37:1-9

Do not fret because of the wicked;

do not be envious of wrongdoers,

for they will soon fade like the grass,

and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the LORD, and do good;

so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

Take delight in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will make your vindication shine like the light,

and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him;

do not fret over those who prosper in their way,

over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.

Do not fret — it leads only to evil.

For the wicked shall be cut off,

but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

Prayer

Let us pray: God of peace, we come to you on behalf of our community. We are in need of healing. We grieve for those are killed and those whose lives are forever changed by violence. We ask for comfort for those who have lost loved ones. We pray for a change of heart for those who resort to violence. You desire peace in our world. Let it begin with me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

****************************************************************************

 

Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 1

God of mercy, you have shown us ways of living that are good:

Work for justice, treasure kindness, humbly journey with the Lord.

Yet your people here are grieving, hurt by weapons that destroy.

Help us turn to you, believing in your way that brings us joy.

Reading – Studs Turkel

“Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better.   Interweave all these communities and you really have an America that is back on its feet again. I really think we are going to have to reassess what constitutes a ‘hero.'”

Prayer

Let us pray: O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your church, peace among our neighbors, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

****************************************************************************

 

Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 2

On a street where neighbors gather, shots are heard; a young girl dies.
On a campus, students scatter as the violence claims more lives.
In a family filled with anger, tempers flare and shots resound.
God of love, we weep and wonder at the violence all around.

Reading – Kofi Annan

“It may seem sometimes as if a culture of peace does not stand a chance against the culture of war, the culture of violence and the cultures of impunity and intolerance. Peace may indeed be a complex challenge, dependent on action in many fields and even a bit of luck from time to time. It may be a painfully slow process, and fragile and imperfect when it is achieved. But peace is in our hands. We can do it.”

Prayer

Let us pray: Gracious and holy God, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 

****************************************************************************

 

Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 3

God, we pray for those who suffer when this world seems so unfair;
May your church be quick to offer loving comfort, gentle care.
And we pray: Amid the violence, may we speak your truth, O Lord!
Give us strength to break the silence, saying, “This can be no more!”

Reading – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral; begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” (1967, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. p. 67.)

Prayer

Let us pray: Gracious God, bless our cities, Bellaire, West University, and all of Houston, and make them places of safety for all people, rich and poor. Give us grace to work for cities where neighborhoods remain vibrant and whole, where the lost and forgotten in society are supported, and where the arts flourish. Make the diverse fabric of the city a delight to all who live and visit there and a strong bond uniting people around common goals for the good of all; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 

****************************************************************************

 

Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 4

God, renew our faith and vision; make us those who boldly lead!

May we work for just decisions that bring true security.

Help us change this violent culture based on idols, built on fear.

Help us build a peaceful future with your world of people here.

Reading – Matthew 5:1-16

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Prayer

Let us pray: God, our creator, by your holy prophet Jeremiah you taught your ancient people to seek the welfare of the cities in which they lived. We commend our neighborhood to your care, that it might be kept free from social strife and decay. We pray for our elected leaders and law enforcement, that they may be kept safe and allowed to serve and protect all people. Help us to be advocates for peace in our neighborhoods, working for that day when guns and weapons of destruction are transformed into instruments of healing. Give us strength of purpose and concern for others, that we may create here a community of justice and peace where your will may be done; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

****************************************************************************

 

Dismissal

(God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, Tune: The Sacred Harp, 1844; attributed to Benjamin Franklin White (“God Whose Giving Knows No Ending”) Text: © 2009 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Prayers adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, © 2006 Augsburg Fortress.)

Weekly Worship Thought – Spiritual Content

A photo by Jezael Melgoza. unsplash.com/photos/2ktKz6CnNk0When we gather together for corporate worship, the people assembled are engaging with the music at a variety of levels. I like to simplify this into three layers, or sections of a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, the outermost layer, is the musical content. Some people engage and respond to the music used in worship purely at the musical level: melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and dynamics. The next layer down in the middle is the lyrical content. Some people engage and respond to the music and also recognize that there are lyrics and the lyrics have a quality. They are poetic and have rhyme, meter, and beauty. The bottom layer is the foundation that we want all people to get to. It is the spiritual content. All of the musical and lyrical content being presented is prompting us to recognize the spiritual reality of who God is and what God has done. Our songs in worship are there to move us into participation with God in the work of recreating and renewing the whole world.