Next Sunday (Sept. 24) I will have the opportunity to preach at church. This is something I have done before, although not very often. As a seminary student working toward being a pastor, these are opportunities that I really look forward to. Preaching a sermon is like exploring an undiscovered territory. There is so much to learn, try, and experience.
The first lesson for 16 Pentecost A is the end of the book of Jonah (3:10-4:11). Since I’m planning on spending some time there, here are some of my first thoughts on this well-known story:
Jonah is a whiny brat. His behavior reminds me of my children when they are at their most unpleasant.
Do I think that there was a real person named Jonah who was swallowed by a fish for 3 days? No. This story is more of a prophetic parable. Besides, it doesn’t matter if it really happened or not, because the story contains truth.
Everyone knows that Jonah fled from God’s plan. But the truth behind Jonah’s 180° turn is less obvious: he hated the Assyrians. His prejudice against them ran deep. Jonah’s preference would be for the whole city of Nineveh to be damned. And it makes sense. Assyria had invaded and defeated Israel.
Jonah fled from God’s plan because he knew that God was too gracious. Jonah knew God’s love was bigger than Israel and he didn’t want Nineveh to know it.
I love how the book ends, “and also many animals?” Whereas Jonah’s prejudice against Assyria won’t even allow him to acknowledge they are worthy to receive God’s mercy, God’s concern is so profound that it reaches past the Assyrians all the way down to the animals. It’s that deep.
The lesson picks up with God changing God’s mind. It reminds me of another time when God changed God’s mind. Moses was receiving the 10 commandments on the mountain and the people were at the bottom making idols. God, insulted by the idolatry, tears down the mountain after them, ready to teach them a lesson. But Moses stops God, and intercedes for Israel. And it says that God changed God’s mind. Maybe Jonah had that merciful episode in mind when he decided to go the other way?
I am returning home from a week spent at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. I am beginning the work of my Master of Divinity degree and the road to Word and Sacrament pastoral ministry in the ELCA. The week was beautiful, thoughtful, and helped me feel hopeful about the journey ahead.
One of the courses gave us a question to chew on: “If someone were to ask you to tell them about Jesus, what would you say?” The tricky part – you can only use 50 words to answer the question. Here was my response:
“I would say that Jesus was a man that lived in the ancient Near East approximately 2000 years ago and I believe that he lived, died, rose again, ascended to God, and is reconciling all things to God through the incarnational work of his body, the church, in the Spirit.”
As a resident of the Houston area, Hurricane Harvey has made an impression on me. We take storms of this caliber very seriously. So seriously that schools close for multiple days and churches cancel Sunday worship services. We are better safe than sorry. Flooding and dangerous roadways are the biggest concern.
With so many churches canceling worship services on Sunday, there have been several devotions made available for home use. Here is a list of litanies, prayers, and devotions I found for use in times of inclement weather. Feel free to share others that you may know.
Pray: O God, with all your faithful followers of every age, we praise you, the rock of our life. Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son, that we may gladly minister to all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Look up these texts, read and discuss:
The coastlands look for deliverance…
If God had not been on our side, the raging waters would have overwhelmed us…
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…
You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it…
Pray for the church, the world, your family, your congregation, the needy, the dearly departed.
Thank you to everyone who attended the TUNE UP gathering on Saturday, August 5, 2017. Thank you to the volunteers and Messiah Lutheran Church for hosting us. Thank you to Larry Bose for capturing our day together with photos. This was our fifth year of TUNE UP and we are so blessed that you came and learned with us.
We had over 70 participants from 19 different churches all around the Houston area join us for this day of training and networking. The gathering began with opening worship and presentations from Brian Hehn, Clayton Faulkner, and Richard Birk. They covered the subject of diversity in church music with each presenting on genre, selecting songs pastorally, and why we should incorporate hymns into band-led worship. Then everyone divided into instrumental/vocal/tech tracks, and conceptual tracks. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific area (worship leader, acoustic/electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, and sound tech). Conceptual track offerings included sessions on improving your worship band, running an effective rehearsal, increasing congregational singing, and using video technology. During the “Coaching for Bands” session a volunteer church band from Autumn Creek Baptist Church in Houston received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.
We want you to know about these helpful resources from some of our track leaders:
Richard Birk has an ensemble called “Jazz Sunday” that provides music for churches on Sunday mornings.
Michael Brady has a podcast called “The Worship Lab Podcast” that has great info for worship leaders and church musicians.
I’m finding myself in the middle of one of the busiest seasons of my year. Probably even the last decade. I knew this time was approaching, as all of these events were on my calendar for months in advance. Sometimes the deluge of stuff arriving at the same time sneaks up on you.
I am preparing for our fifth annual TUNE UP worship gathering this Saturday. Around 75 church musicians are coming together for training and networking. I am also preparing video content and workshops for the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering that starts next week. And I’m in the middle of an online Greek course at Wartburg. And I’m trying to work ahead at church so I’m not too far behind when I get back late next week.
It is hard to sustain focus with so many things needing attention. It feels like there are lots of little fires burning – and it is hard to remember which ones I need to fan and which ones I need to put out. The most helpful thing for me in a time like this is lists. I have a weekly task list for church that helps me prepare everything needed for a Sunday morning. And I have a punch list for the TUNE UP gathering that I rolled over from the previous year to help me remember all the details that lead to a solid event.
In the midst of working ahead at church I peeked at the first reading for next Sunday (tenth Sunday after Pentecost). It is the story of Elijah seeing God on the mountain. Not the wind. Not the earthquake. Not the fire. It was the silence. God was made known to Elijah in the silence. Not the power and the activity, but the stillness. That is a hopeful story for me this week.
Why do you like to sing? There is something transformative that happens when our soul and body connect to the melody and text of a song. Here are what I consider to be the top 5 reasons why we should be singing in church. These ideas are adapted from Dennis L. Bushkofsky and Craig A. Satterlee, The Christian Life: Baptism and Life Passages. Augsburg Fortress, 2008. p. 55.
Singing is communal. Singing in church is meant to be more than a bunch of solo voices forming notes at the same time in one space. When an assembly breathes together at the same time, creating the same pitches and harmonies, something unites all our solo voices into one. We become connected to everyone in the space. This connection seeps out of the current time and place and touches all believers from past and future and across the world.
Singing nurtures faith. You are what you eat. In the same fashion, you believe what you sing. The story of God’s creation, reconciliation, and new creation is best learned in the psalms, songs, and hymns that have sustained generations before as well as those yet to come.
Singing shapes memory. The songs that nurture our faith also give us the handlebars to hold onto our faith when crisis and frailty arrives. The songs of our brothers and sisters can lift us up and remind us of God’s faithfulness when we need it. Sometimes we need to sing for others. There will be times when others need to sing for us.
Singing opens us to the Spirit. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation, God makes a home amidst our praises. When we sing in community the hardened parts of our heart are broken open. We become open and receptive to how God is moving around us.
Singing builds trust. When I open my mouth and sing in church I am instantly vulnerable. What if I stick out? What if I sing out of tune? What if I sing the wrong word? What if people think my voice is ugly? There is nothing like vulnerability that provides a place for trust to grow. And church is the one place where we should be able to trust that we are loved.
Earlier in the week I scrolled across a video on Facebook. It was a recording of a pastor leading his Sunday assembly in the singing of a song from a popular Disney movie.
This is a big no-no. Here are a couple of reasons why:
Legality – Disney songs are not covered by your standard church music licenses. You need special permission to use their songs in a live performance. To publish a video of you using their song you would also need a mechanical license. Disney is very protective of their content. Our church made the mistake of publishing the title of one of their movies in an announcement. They quickly let us know about what licensing was needed to host a public gathering that featured one of their films. Don’t steal their content. You can’t afford the legal consequences.
Assembly song – Disney songs are not written to be sung by a worshiping assembly. As sentimental and charming as they are, their music wasn’t designed to be sung by average Joe parishioner. The range of notes and rhythmic complexity don’t translate to a large group of non-musically trained singers. They are meant for soloists and small ensembles.
So my advice – leave the Disney songs for the movies. There is plenty of good stuff to sing!
This has been an upside down week! Our air conditioner quit working in our house almost a week ago. In Houston, in July, that is a big problem. Our thermostat has been reporting 96 degree temps inside the house at 10:00 PM. To escape the heat we stayed in a local hotel for a few days. After that we have been graciously hosted by some of our sweet family nearby for another few days.
Despite the inconsistent schedule, frustration with the repair moving slowly, missing our comfortable home, and living out of suit cases, we are finding the silver lining. In all of the challenges and changes, God is faithful. We observe that we are provided for and loved despite not knowing exactly where we will sleep or when we will get back home.
It reminded me of the Psalm from last Sunday, and specifically the first verse. Psalm 89:1 says,
Summer is here! Hopefully you are enjoying a slower pace and taking time to relax. It really is essential, I have found, to find seasons when you can deviate from the daily grind. Maybe you are able to take a nice vacation. For others it may mean an entirely different schedule than the school year that allows you to enjoy different things. My family will be headed to Galveston a couple of times to see friends, go to the beach, and maybe a little fishing.
Here is my vacation tip (one that I need to practice as well). If you are truly trying to have a vacation, leave the work behind, all of it. That may mean leaving a laptop at home, disconnecting your email app, or turning your phone off completely. The first day is weird. It feels like you left the oven on or forgot to close the garage. Once you get over that nagging feeling, it is freeing to feel undivided. You can fully be where you are and present to whom you’re with.
For me, and perhaps for you too, this is all about control. I like to live under the illusion that I’m in control of things. I am on top of what is happening and I know what needs to be done. I sense that things are going well when I’m in control. Staying connected to my work and people who might need me gives me control. And a vacation might be the most opportune time to let go of control and join God in a Sabbath.
Summer has become a busy time for me over the last several years – go figure. This summer is no different. In July I am headed to Toronto for a week to attend the annual conference of The Hymn Society. I’ll be presenting a workshop called, “Engaging Worship and Culture: (Re)Discovering the Nairobi Statement” and talking about the work I participated in creating a resource for the ELCA. In August I will host our fifth annual Tune Up Worship Band Gathering. This year it is being held at Messiah Lutheran Church in Cypress. Tune Up is a worthwhile event where church musicians from all over the area gather for training. The week after that I will be in Atlanta for the ELCA’s first Rostered Ministers Gathering. I will be presenting two workshops: “10 Ways to Use Video Technology in Worship” and “Curating Worship for a Cross-Cultural Context.” I will also be coordinating video technology for the event.
In September I will be headed to Dubuque, Iowa for my first weeklong intensive at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I am beginning my journey toward rostered Word and Sacrament ministry in the ELCA. I am very happy about these next steps in my calling to serve the church. Fortunately the Collaborative Learning program through Wartburg will allow me to stay at Faith Lutheran and complete my degree and internship without having to leave. I am currently enrolled in a Biblical Greek course over the summer! I am eager to learn and looking forward to more school!