Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Means

Christmas means that we believe the Kingdom is coming and is to come.

Christmas means that Christ is True God, "begotten not made, of one being with the Father."

Christmas means atonement, that is, at one ment: God with us, "pleased as man with men to dwell."

Christmas means that the words of the prophets are fulfilled in our hearing.

Christmas means that God loves us, comes to us, and invites us into relationship. Christmas means that God offers us prevenient grace in the form of God as man.

Christmas means that the True Light is already shining, and we are called to live as children of light.

Christmas means that God fulfills promises; we are still a waiting world, and Christmas is the hope that someday, our waiting will forever cease.

Christmas means lighting the Christ candle, the fulfillment of the candles for hope, peace, joy, and love.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


This past Sunday was Gaudete Sunday, the Advent Sunday focused on joy. This is also often a Sunday for the Magnificat. Because of some services I've been to in Budapest, I have a new favorite Magnificat arrangement. This isn't the choir I've seen sing it, but here's a link to a video. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Before Him Shall Peace, The Herald, Go

"Hail to the Lord's Anointed" by James Montgomery is more upbeat and joyful than a lot of Advent hymns. Advent may be a traditionally penitential season (even if we don't always consider it that way), but there is great joy in what we await.

Hail to the Lord's Anointed, 
great David's greater Son!  
Hail in the time appointed, 
his reign on earth begun!  
He comes to break oppression, 
to set the captive free; 
to take away transgression, 
and rule in equity.

We are not waiting just to wait. Christ does not come simply to come. Christ comes as the Promised One, the One who sets free, the King.  We look around and see oppression, wrong, and inequality, but because we await the One who sets all things right, we do not lose hope. We believe that the Lord's Anointed comes in the time appointed and reigns on earth and in heaven forevermore.

We light a candle for hope, and we hail the One who was and is and is to come.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Now The World Is Waiting

One of my favorite GLAD Christmas songs (on "Voices of Christmas") is really an Advent song: Bob Kauflin's "All the World was Waiting."

All the world was waiting for the promised One.
Prophets through the ages claimed that He would come.
Would He be a warrior, or a conquering king?
Could he be the one who’d save us from our sin and suffering?

During Advent, the first Lectionary readings (the Old Testament readings) are almost all from the prophets. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Malachi. We hear the despair of a people, even they are just a remnant, and we hear the Lord's promises. God has not forsaken the people. The promised One will come and save.

All the world was waiting the night that you were born.
God of life eternal, in a fragile form.
Shepherds gathered closer, gazing at your face;
Wondering how this helpless child could save a fallen human race.

So often we think we know what will save us. But throughout scripture we see God calling out to the least and the lost, working in ways we wouldn't expect, appearing in places and ways that surprise us. It was the shepherds who gathered around, and a newborn was proclaimed as Savior and Messiah.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

If God Can Find a Corner Small

The URL for this blog comes from a hymn by Martha Spong, written a couple of years ago. It happens to be an Advent hymn, so I thought I'd post about it on this first Sunday of Advent.

If God can find a corner small,
a town constricted as a tomb,
to house the sweeping Life of all,
we too can find a little room.

I have two weeks until finals and, if I'm counting right, six assignments due by Wednesday. The past few days I've been on Thanksgiving break, so I took the opportunity to travel, especially since Hungary's Christmas markets have just opened. When I've been home, I've been pretty worn out. Despite that, I spent several hours yesterday and today cleaning.

I don't generally enjoy cleaning. I'm usually comfortable with some level of mess, and I don't like that things tend to get messier before they get cleaner. But Advent is about preparing the way, about every heart preparing Him room, about finding a little room. Yes, that room is primarily spiritual, but our faith is inherently active and physical, not solely spiritual. We think of Lent as the cleaning season, but preparing a way is more than pushing everything else out of the way. That always causes problems later. So I cleaned. I knew that in order to find and prepare proper room in my heart, I needed to make physical room. I needed to sweep and do dishes and sort through the huge piles of paper that always manage to accumulate when I'm not looking.

Christ is "the sweeping Life of all." Christ is Emmanuel, God with us. God found a corner small, a cave in a crowded town, to come to us. We too can "clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we may see all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be" ("Come and Find the Quiet Center"). We can find a little room for God to truly be with us.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Raise the Song of Harvest Home

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Come, Ye Thankful People Come," is  a traditional Thanksgiving hymn, and its first verse is directly related to the harvest and being thankful. After that, though, it keeps the harvest language but turns eschatological.

Come, ye thankful people, come, 
raise the song of harvest home; 
all is safely gathered in, 
ere the winter storms begin. 
God our Maker doth provide 
for our wants to be supplied; 
come to God's own temple, come, 
raise the song of harvest home.

We move from fall into winter. The weather grows colder, the colors fade from the trees, and it grows darker. Everything seems a little greyer, a little bleaker. So we sing. We sing to our God who is Light, in whom we are children of Light.

Our call as thankful people is to come and sing to God, God who is not only our Maker but the Maker of all creation and the One who provides for us. We sing because God creates. We sing because God provides. We sing in praise of our Lord. We sing in gratefulness to the One who watches over us. We sing to a God of seasons, a God who helps us weather the storms, a God who welcomes us into God's own temple, where we can dwell forever in the presence of the Lord.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Links from the Past Couple of Weeks

Some of these posts are older, but here are a few things I've read over the past two or so weeks:

April Fiet's sermon on Christ the King Sunday and Psalm 95:
All about Christ the King Sunday as New Year's Eve, God extending love, grace, and invitation to us before any action of our own, and how to live as a response in gratitude. Also, the sermon ends with quotes from "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling." (The whole sermon actually reminded me a lot of some of the Wesley I've been reading recently.) Some quotes:
  • "Today, as we are on the cusp of a new year, we are invited to come and worship. We are invited to come and humble ourselves before our God and King. And, in so doing, we are invited to be more like the One we worship. We are invited twice before we’ve had the opportunity to do anything else."
  • "We are being re-membered by God, and we are called to be agents of re-membering here on earth."
  • "If we were to dream big dreams and believe that where God calls God equips, what risks might we take as we live as children of the King?"

Steven D. Bruns on Scripture reading in the early Church
"For the early Christians, Scriptures were read at length in the context of worship, they were seen as a unified voice spanning God’s work in Israel through the life of the Church, and they were interpreted together, always pointing to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of every passage."
I have mixed feelings on the Lectionary, but the fact that each week it includes an OT reading, a Psalm, an Epistle passage, and a Gospel passage to be read together is one of the things I like most about it. What Bruns talks about here is part of why that's valuable. My favorite line from this post is this: "The early Church completely integrated the Old and New Testaments and created a poetry to the faith."

Alastair Roberts tweeted about liturgy
Liturgy is about practicing and living our theology; it is the "work of the people." This was in the context of liturgical theology vs systematic and biblical theology, but it's good commentary on what liturgy actually is and why it matters. The best quote from this series of tweets: "All the streams of theology converge at and flow from the font."

Drew McIntyre on Advent outreach
This starts off as a response to the Greater New Jersey Conference's announcement about commuter train communion, but then there are ten ideas for Advent outreach, ranging in originality, audience, and scope. Also, Drew quotes "I Come With Joy," which is appropriate both to discussions of communion and outreach.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Crown Him Lord of All

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church year! It's a fairly new feast day, but there are a lot of fantastic and appropriate hymns. (My Christ the King playlist is about two hours long.) So here's "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," by Edward Perronet (mostly, at least).

(The lyrics I use here are not actually how the hymn would be sung in any version, but I like both Coronation and Diadem, and different parts of the lyrics repeat in the two versions, so I just used the lyrics without any repetition.)

All hail the power of Jesus' name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown him Lord of all.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Link Dump: Recent Reading (and Listening!)

Here are a few of the things I've been reading online, as well as something to which I've been listening! All the links are below the fold with a little (okay, a fair bit) of commentary.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


I stood in a field full of red poppies – coquelicots, I told myself, you're here to speak French! -- and there, I didn't feel anything.

But then I stared across a field of tall greenness, right next to a forest, and there I felt it. It looked like peace. It looked like growth. Blue skies, green plants, bright sun, a little shadow from the forest trees. It was a beautiful countryside in summer.

We walked into the forest, and there we found a different truth, one where, more than 90 years later, we could still crouch in trenches from La Grande Guerre.

From the field you would never know.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Communion of Saints

In memory of Lindsey

I started going to worship service with my parents when I was four or so, and we always went to early service. I was one of the only children in early service, which meant that, when I was a little older, I did a lot of helping in service - reading, praying, helping with communion, even a little ushering.

I also grew up sitting in front of an older couple who had been members of the congregation for a long time. They always said hello to my family and always said hello to me, and they also always noticed if I had a new dress. It was a small thing, but it meant a lot. They were part of church for me. For a long time, though, I didn't know their names.

At some point, they changed seats to sit at a particular angle to the lights because it helped the man see better; his eyesight had been getting worse. We still always said hello, though.

Every year, the church gave Bibles to the third graders on a Sunday in September, and on the same Sunday, the church honored those who had been members of the congregation for at least fifty years. Each third-grade Bible had the third-grader's name on the front, and then inside the front cover there was a note from one of the 50+ year members.

I Sing a Song of the Saints of God

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green;
They were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one, too.

Today is All Saints Sunday. We remember all of those who have died in the faith of Christ, celebrate their lives, and recognize that there is one communion of saints. The Lord calls people from all walks of life to be the Chrch and serve God in everything they do. They toiled and fought and lived and died, all in fairh, all in the love of God, and throughout their journeys God was with them. They are the ones on whose shoulders we stand. They taught us about God, they loved us, and they showed us how to live our faith. They encouraged us, mourned with us, and rejoiced with us. Without them, we would not be the people we are; without them, the Body would be weaker.

They were not perfect, but they are the saints of God by the grace of God, and by that same grace we can join them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Link Dump: What I've Been Reading

Some things I've been reading and considering:

-- Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. on UMC unity (page 3):
"But it is not a form of unity that declares everyone must think alike. Rather, it is the unity demonstrated in the virtues befitting a person who follows Christ: humility, gentleness, and patience."
"We must find the path that leads us to the unity that was present in the early church. We owe it to the Church we love to do this."
I love the phrasing about what we owe the Church. Bishop Hayes is one of my favorite speakers and writers, and while I don't think there is much new here, I appreciate his tone and that he addressed this topic. He also ends with a note about what his role - his calling - as bishop is, which is important.

--Steven D. Bruns on "How the Early Church Engaged With Culture"
"They were expatriates of the Kingdom of God in the Empire of Rome." By the end of this year, I'll have spent about 45% of the last year and half outside of the US, so the expat image really resonated for me.
"It was this kind of group identification that held the early Christians together and encouraged them to continue in the faith... No one was ever alone in the faith. No one was on an exclusively personal journey." This is something I will hold to forever. Yes, faith is personal, but this is also a corporate journey. We need each other.

-- Derek Z. Rishmawy on Penal Substitutionary Atonement
Theories of atonement were one of the things I discovered this summer, and I find this really helpful. I also appreciate that Rishmawy emphasizes that one can work with multiple models for atonement at the same time. He mentions both Christus Victor and moral influence (though Christus Victor more),  though not ransom or governmental, but the focus isn't really on comparison to other atonement models but more a defense of PSA against common criticisms.
Reading through as a sort-of-outsider, it seems like there's a problem with PSA being presented in a way that so lacks nuance as to dangerously distort the theory, but I'm not sure.

-- From the United Methodist Committee on Relief Newsletter:
On the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy:
"We offer prayers of thanksgiving for those whose lives have been restored and we pray for those who continue to struggle for light, for order, for healing, in their lives.
But Lord, let us do more than pray. Let us offer ourselves in service. Guide us to the people and places you would have us serve in your name."

-- Jonathan Aigner on not offering different worship styles:
I agree with a lot of what he has to say, especially about historical elements and the purpose of worship, and I love that he does not equate traditional with old. There are also some things - like the part about falsely equating music with worship - that I think he states better in the comments than in the original post.
On the other hand, for four years I attended a church that offered three services, two traditional (early and late) and one contemporary (same time as late service). The church was large enough that it needed three services -- yes, even early was well attended! -- and having the contemporary and late traditional at the same time meant that everyone had Sunday School at the same time. I think the mixing in SS classes was more important to congregational connection than a single type of service style would have been. But I was also surprised by how many people sometimes went to one service and sometimes went to another, which isn't normal at other churches I've attended.
As someone who almost always goes to early service if a church has multiple services, I also wonder about early vs. late service, even of the same style, in terms of congregational unity. The church I attended for a decade growing up definitely neglected its early service musically compared to the later traditional service, for example.

--If you haven't heard, Frank Schaefer was reinstated. Really this time. Here's the comment I made on Facebook because I've seen people of all opinions misunderstanding this decision:
"It's tempting, I think, to try to see this decision as a statement about the church's position on marriage, but it's not. From the beginning, this has been about upholding the Book of Discipline. Schaefer was reinstated not because the trial court was wrong in finding him guilty, but rather because the trial court's penalties themselves violated the Discipline. This is not a step towards changing the Discipline; it is an affirmation of it."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Bulwark Never Failing

Happy Reformation Sunday! In honor of Martin Luther, here are some thoughts on his most famous hymn, as translated by Frederick Hedge:

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood 
of mortal ills prevaling. 
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

We need God. We need God's love, we need God's grace, and we need God's protection. On our own we are not enough. We cannot walk on this path around which "the world, the flesh, and Satan dwell" ("Be Thou My Guardian and My Guide," Isaac Williams) without God's guidance and help. God is our high ground that does not wash away. God is our fortress that will never fail, for the darkness has never overcome the light.

Friday, October 10, 2014

One Church, One Faith, One Lord

Something I didn't quote in my Evensong post last month was the closing hymn, which was "Thy Hand, O God, Has Guided" by Edward H. Plumptre. Before service started, I had a long conversation with the lady sitting next to me about ecumenism, to what extent it's valuable, and what unity in the Body really looks like. Between the discussions we had around the college Christian Fellowship last spring and all the discussion about the United Methodist Church right now, I've been thinking about unity a lot, so this really felt like God speaking.

Thy hand, O God, has guided
Thy flock, from age to age;
The wondrous tale is written,
Full clear, on every page;
Our fathers owned thy goodness,
And we their deeds record;
And both of this bear witness:
One Church, one faith, one Lord.

The Church is not just today. The Church is through all time, those who have had faith in the one Lord. God has been present, guiding God's followers through all time and in all contexts, and we have so much evidence of this - in the Bible, of course, but throughout theological writing, throughout the stories we've heard in and about the church - God is present. There is one God who is everlasting and omnipresent.

When we look around and look at the church, we may see that details have changed. It may seem like everything changes. But there is one Lord, and so there is one Church united by faith in God.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Just a quick post to recommend this two part article by Martyn Wendell Jones:
Holy Relics: The Hymnal, Part 1
Holy Relics: The Hymnal, Part 2

It's beautiful, and it's true, and it's everything I love about hymnody.

Some excerpts:
"The Church's songs convey its beliefs about God, but they also convey its beliefs about God's world.... Our hymnody is an ongoing act of co-creation. The world to come is made manifest through an anointing in language and music."

"To sing is also to fight. The song of the Church is a song of resistance. To open the faded red book and sing is to see otherwise, by the paradoxical light of a sound."

"To sing is to take these two bodies and make them as weightless as words, given without measure to the invisible, inaudible God."

"They sing with millions; they are alone in the dust and cold and darkness of this arid room, and my God, my God, how many are joining them."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

One in Ministry to All the World

World Communion Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the year, and this year especially it means a lot. Over the course of 2014, I've worshipped in the UMC in Massachusetts where I'm a a member, nearby Episcopal and Catholic churches, the UMC in the southern plains that I attended in high school, Aldersgate Methodist Church in Singapore, St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Budapest, and a UMC in Budapest. And tomorrow, on World Communion Sunday, I'll be at a church in Bratislava, Slovakia.

World Communion Sunday is a day for us to remember that all around the world, we are one Body of Christ, united around the table despite our differences (even our differences in beliefs about communion!). 

One bread, one Body,
One Lord of all, 
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many 
Throughout the earth
We are one Body in this one Lord.

We partake of one loaf and one cup as ordained by the one Lord. We are united by the grace of this meal, by our proclamation of Christ's death.

Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup,
We proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

This meal goes by many names: the Lord's Supper, reminding us whose table this is, or Eucharist, reminding us that this is a meal of thanksgiving. But for this Sunday, it is most appropriately communion. We do not come to the table alone; we do not take this journey of faith alone. We are part of a global community of faith. We are all the Church.

I am the Church,

You are the Church,
We are the Church together!
All who follow Jesus,
All around the world,
Yes, we're the Church together!

No matter what we believe about this meal, we go forth from the table changed, united, and commissioned to go into all the world and proclaim the good news.

"Lelked által tégy minket eggyé Krisztussal, eggyé egymással és eggyé az egész világ felé való szolgálatban."
("By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.")

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Assorted Thoughts and Questions on the UMC

In which I mostly question why UMCs don't do various things more often/at all.

-- Methodist Crossroads is encouraging people to be in prayer for 90 days for the United Methodist Church and its leaders, and even though I don't completely agree with their position, I think this is a very good idea. In the prayers of the people at the Anglican Church I've been attending in Budapest, every week we pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the local bishops by name ("Strengthen Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury, and our bishops, Robert and David"), as well as praying for a couple of diocese around the world, based on set cycles of prayer. I've never been in a Methodist church that so publicly and regularly prayed for its leaders and global body. (The exception is with missionaries - I was a member of a church that prayed for the UM missionaries who'd had birthdays that week.) Making a habit of praying for our leaders and praying for our church - our global church - is an important part of being in connection, and as a denomination we claim to value connectionalism. Praying for our leaders and church also helps us truly give these issues over to God. The problems the UMC is having are not problems we should be solving on our own.

-- In Wesley's sermon 7 (The Way to the Kingdom), he mentions the Athanasian creed along with the Apostles' and the Nicene. The Athanasian creed isn't even in the UM hymnal, though. Why not? Why don't we use it? The Anglican Church doesn't seem to, either, at least not much. Did they at the time that Wesley wrote the sermon? It's a very trinitarian creed. Is there something objectionable that I've missed in it?

-- Once a month, the Anglican church I've been attending does a healing anointing. This reminded me of the fact that earlier this week I read some articles and tweets about how a lot of UMs and UMCs seem to not expect - or necessarily want, sometimes - transformation and about how it seems like we don't really believe that God is actively working in miraculous ways. (The specific example was with healing. When we pray for healing, do we really believe that God will do it?) The healing anointing in the service is simple, and it's quick, but its practice and the prayers that are said imply and encourage a belief in a living, working, healing God. Is there a reason this isn't a common practice in the UMC? I know there's a service of healing in the Book of Worship, but this is much less involved than that.

Then again, most UMCs only offer communion once a month and often say they don't do it more often because of the length, so asking for something else to be added to service, even occasionally, is a stretch. (The communion thing is ridiculous, by the way. It's a means of grace, for heaven's sake. Weekly communion, please. And no, offering the elements to people individually in a chapel afterwards is not the same.)

Friday, September 19, 2014


Be still
for in the stillness you will begin to hear
and every dance begins with stillness
and dance is obéissance 
Be still
so that you may be surrounded and enveloped
the warmth will come when you are called
when you will know
Be still
pull up and lift as you step because
some movement is always stillness
the wind blows you home
Be still

Saturday, September 13, 2014

He That Abideth in Love Abideth in God

The Conference of the Anglican-Lutheran Society is in Hungary this week, and it opened with a Choral Evensong in Budapest this week. I had never been to Evensong before, but I loved the service, and it felt like it was exactly what I needed to hear and experience this week.

The choir sang an Introit based on Isaiah 42, Revelation 22, and Colossians 4 as well as Psalms 59, 60, and 61 and the Magnificat and the Song of Simeon. There was also an anthem based on Psalm 89, and the lessons were from Habakkuk 1 and Mark 7. Here are some excerpts from the rest of the service - little bits of liturgy, prayers, and the collects.

God is love;
And he that abideth in love
Abideth in God
And God in him.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire, or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Peace
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Collect For Aid Against All Perils
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of they only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Excerpt from the General Thanksgiving
Give me that due sense of all thy mercies, that my heart may be unfeignedly thankful; and that I show forth thy praise, not only with my lips, but in my life, by giving up myself to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all my days; through Jesus Christ our LORD, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

The Gloria
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be: World without end. Amen.

The Grace
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
And the love of God,
And the fellowship of the Holy Ghost,
Be with us all evermore.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Youth in the Church

I was prepared to dislike this post about youth in the church based on the preview I saw ("There is no Christian youth"), but instead it's one of the best things I've read on the subject.

From one of my Annual Conference posts in June, it's pretty obvious I care a lot about young people being active in the church and having both the privileges and the responsibilities of members of the church (because they are members). The article is about Bonhoeffer's argument that creating a place of privilege in the church for youth is actually a bad idea, not a good one, because it separates them from the life of the congregation.

This is not an argument against youth ministry or children's ministry or college ministry. Instead, as Root write in the article, "Bonhoeffer believes that we should continue to do youth ministry. But we should do it by undercutting youth ministry as a privileged space. We should do youth ministry as way of moving the young into the center of the church community."

A youth ministry should certainly connect youth with each other, but it should also connect youth with the rest of the church.

Root mentions "special youth rooms and youth ministries." I think there is a place for these things. I grew up in churches where a lot of Sunday school classes were made up of people of roughly similar ages, so with that setting youth rooms and Sunday school classes are consistent with the rest of the community. Just as having United Methodist Women's circles doesn't separate women off from the church or having a Sunday school class intended for couples with young children doesn't keep those couples to the edge of the church community, places and activities for youth don't in and of themselves cut youth off from the rest of the body.

But too often, youth are only active in youth programs, and those programs aren't well integrated with the rest of the church.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Few Confused Thoughts on UMC Schism

I've been reading a lot of discussions about the United Methodist Church, sexuality, and schism recently, and to help me sort through some of my thoughts, I'm going to write out what I've been thinking and where I've been confused.

I used to be absolutely, without a doubt, in favor of changing the Book of Discipline to allow United Methodist ministers to perform same-sex marriages and to remove the language about not ordaining "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." I doubted whether such a change would actually have a hope of going through anytime soon, but that was my hope.

My interest in the church as an institution has been growing, so I watched a lot of the live feed of Annual Conference this year. When I realized people were livetweeting it, I started following them. I was pleased when the aspirational motions related to sexuality passed at NEAC. (Here's one of them.) A little while after conference, though, I realized that I had created a bit of an echo chamber in my Twitter feed; the UMs I followed tended to agree with each other. So, I sought out others.

I'll admit that I haven't ended up following many people who are as conservative as the progressives I follow are progressive, but I do read a number of traditionalists. I also happened upon the group of people from Via Media Methodists, and they in particular have made me think a lot over the past six or seven weeks.

I think trust is really important in the church. I've come to deeply value corporate faith and United Methodist connectionalism. As I considered that more, I started to think that upholding the Discipline is really important because it allows us to trust each other. But I read a book by Ursula K. Le Guin yesterday called Powers, and then I read the #NotMyChristianLeader tweets, and I started thinking about power and trust.

It seems like there are two issues of trust here. Some people are calling for the UMC to uphold the trust we have in each other as a single institution by following and enforcing the Discipline. Another (though not entirely disjoint) set of people sees a marginalized group that can't fully trust the church while the Discipline states that "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

(I'm not sure this is really representative, but I think it's closer than I was. I'd love thoughts on any of this post, but especially that last paragraph.)

I had only been considering the first kind of trust, and I still think it's important. I also think it's important to hear the second group of people and recognize that there is a feeling of a betrayed trust. There is a difference in the two, I think, because the default assumption of the UMC is - and should be - that the Discipline will be upheld, whereas in the second case the thing causing the lack of trust is part of the institution and clearly stated. I'm not sure how that should change how we approach the two different issues.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughts on Biblical Infallibility

Article V ("On the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation") of the Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church says this:

The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

I affirm this while also recognizing the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which aligns with prima scriptura, not sola scriptura:

"Scripture is considered the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine. Tradition is experience and the witness of development and growth of the faith through the past centuries and in many nations and cultures. Experience is the individual's understanding and appropriating of the faith in the light of his or her own life. Through reason the individual Christian brings to bear on the Christian faith discerning and cogent thought. These four elements taken together bring the individual Christian to a mature and fulfilling understanding of the Christian faith and the required response of worship and service." (from the UMC website, emphasis mine)

However, while both of these are related to the role scripture should have in our lives, neither one directly touches on the idea of infallibility. For scripture to be "the primary source and standard for Christian doctrine," it must be God-inspired; the Spirit must be able to work in us through scripture.

Moving from there to the word "infallible" sometimes makes me uncomfortable, though, because it has been used with a variety of meanings - sometimes equated with "inerrancy," sometimes stronger than it, sometimes weaker, sometimes used to say that the Bible should be taken literally. Wesley describes Scripture as infallible in his 16th sermon:

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ecumenism and Esther People

I've alluded several times to major changes in my college Christian Fellowship and the fact that I'm now part of the leadership. I wanted to write in a bit more detail about all of that because, for me at least, it brought up a lot of interesting issues and thoughts.

The fellowship, OCF, is one of only two Christian groups on campus, as my college is very small. The other group is a Catholic association, which is a joint group with the college next door. All the OCF leadership (and honestly, most of the active members) were seniors. The non-seniors who had been deeply involved this year were two first years, and me (a sophomore). Michel and Sonia, the two first years, will be co-presidents. I'll be abroad in the fall but back in the spring.

So far, pretty normal. It's a smaller group than we'd like, but other than that, it seems like this should just be a passing of the torch, right?

In early or mid March, Sonia, Michel, and I started meeting for about an hour a week to figure out that passing of the torch with some of the graduating seniors as well as two adults. The two adults were the Cru staff members who had been assigned to OCF since it affiliated with Cru a couple of years before. At the first meeting, we mostly talked about what these meetings would be like and some logistics, then prayed. It was the second meeting when we really started talking. The president, Sara, asked each of us (seniors and underclassmen) to talk about what we would like to see in OCF.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Never Forsake

So I wrote about what ended up being my theme verse from this past year, but I wanted to also write about my theme hymn: "How Firm a Foundation."

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the LORD
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said
To you, who for refuge to Jesus hath fled?

At the beginning of this year, I wrote in my Disciple Bible Study guide, "I've been struggling with what's special about the Bible and want to explore that." I believed - and still believe - that the books in the Bible are not the only God-inspired texts. Liturgy and hymnody have strongly influenced my faith, and my faith has been shaped by the sermons I've been hearing since I was four years old. To me, it's always seemed evident that there was God-inspiration in these, or at least that there was potential for these kinds of texts to be God-inspired. So what made the Bible special above all of these?

Well, I had part of the answer, but I wasn't all that convinced yet: "Just that it is the oldest? Or helped inspire the other texts?" Mostly that second bit, but I wasn't thinking broadly enough yet. The words we sang or sing are not all verses from the Bible, but they are all inspired by what is contained in the scriptures. The Word is the story of our faith. Without that story, we have nowhere to begin. We have no foundation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thoughts from Annual Conferences, Part 3

Here's the third and final part of my thoughts based on quotes from Annual Conferences over the past few weeks. This post focuses a lot on community, diversity, and inclusivity. And with that, here are the guiding questions I've been considering:

"4 questions to cultivate dreaming: What is our purpose? Who do we serve? What are our core values? Who is good at what? #impact2014 #ntc2014" (tweeted by Adam Young)

I'm going to start this with something about which my mother feels very strongly because on this, she has passed her conviction onto me:

Youth and young persons are not the future of the church! We are the church, we are here now! #gpumc - Wesley Gately
The youth is not the future, we are the church of now! #AC2014 #Okumc (tweeted by Ismael Carrillo)
I'm so proud of the youth delegates you all worked hard all night! #KingdomBuilding #okumc #ac2014 (tweeted by Jimmie Brandon)
Rev LD: Youth are not the future of the church - they are the present. #neumc14 (tweeted by John Chickering)
"Friendly reminder to #neumc14 that younger delegates are delegates too. Even if they look very young. Don't tell them they're not adults." - Patsy Frey-Davis

Those five tweets came from three different conferences. This is not a problem at a single church or in a single place; it's a global issue. Youth and young adults above confirmation age are full members of the church and must be treated as such. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" (1 Cor. 12:21, NIV) Youth and young adults are part of the church, and there are privileges and responsibilities that come along with that. When the church gives them privileges and no responsibilities, responsibilities and no privileges, or just ignores them altogether, the church is cutting off parts of its body. Young people have a lot to contribute; let us be involved.  We are part of the future, but calling us the future of the church limits the expectations for us and the opportunities given to us. Don't relegate us to the future. We are here now, we are members now, and we are the church now.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thoughts from Annual Conferences, Part 2

More thoughts from Annual Conferences all over the country, as well as similar gatherings of other denominations. Here are the questions I said I'd use to start each of these posts:

"4 questions to cultivate dreaming: What is our purpose? Who do we serve? What are our core values? Who is good at what? #impact2014 #ntc2014" (tweeted by Adam Young)

First off, thoughts from Rev. Lillian Daniel's sermon at the New England Annual Conference remembrance and memorial service, and then some related notes from other parts of NEAC, from the conference of the Massachusetts United Church of Christ, and from Bishop Hayes at the Oklahoma AC.

"Memorial and one of the things the church does well." - Rev. Lillian Daniel #neumc14 (tweeted by Anne Hillman)
"It's the fallacy of the world that teaches that we do it [discernment] all by yourself." -Rev Lillian Daniel (tweeted by Becca Girrell)
"You don't have to do it all...and love covers a multitude of things." - Lillian Daniel #neumc14 (tweeted by Melissa Yosua-Davis)
"Grief is the cost of loving well. And love makes up for almost anything." Rev. Daniel (modified tweet from Laura Everett)

These four quotes together are a decent summary of Rev. Daniel's sermon, and there's a certain beauty about them that I love. I agree that memorial is something the church does well; in a way, it is one of the things on which the church is built. Think of communion. As a Methodist, I don't believe that communion is only a memorial because I do believe in the presence of Christ in the elements, but that doesn't discount the extent to which it is a memorial act. "Do this in remembrance of me." And communion is a sacrament. It unites us as a global body of Christ, and it is our sustenance as the body. With communion as a central practice, the church needs to do memorial well, and it succeeds. Thanks be to God.

But that doesn't mean we like to grieve. As individuals - sometimes even as the church - it is too easy to try to lock grief away. But grief results from love, and love is the greatest and most important commandment.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thoughts from Annual Conferences, Part I

I follow a lot of feeds related to the United Methodist church on Twitter, so I've seen tweets from a variety of Annual Conferences. The Northeast Annual Conference - my conference for the past fourteen months - is this weekend, and I've been watching the live feed. I've also been watching videos from the Oklahoma Annual Conference (my conference for over fifteen years).

Through all of this, I've gathered a bunch of quotes on which I want to comment, and this will probably take multiple posts. I'm going to start off every post with this, which I love:

"4 questions to cultivate dreaming: What is our purpose? Who do we serve? What are our core values? Who is good at what? #impact2014 #ntc2014" - Adam Young

Sunday, June 8, 2014

All of Them Were Filled with the Holy Spirit

"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."
Acts 2:4 

Acts of the Apostles 2

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Und es geschah schnell ein Brausen vom Himmel wie eines gewaltigen Windes und erfüllte das ganze Haus, da sie saßen; y se les aparecieron lenguas repartidas, como de fuego, asentándose sobre cada uno de ellos. 4 Et ils furent tous remplis du Saint Esprit, et se mirent à parler en d'autres langues, selon que l'Esprit leur donnait de s'exprimer.

Lakoznak vala pedig Jeruzsálemben zsidók, istenfélõ férfiak, minden nép közül, melyek az ég alatt vannak. Na i te wa i rangona ai taua haruru, ka whakarapopoto te mano, ka pororaru, no te mea ka rangona e tera, e tera, tona reo e korerotia ana e ratou. E todos pasmavam e se admiravam, dizendo uns aos outros: Pois quê! não são galileus todos esses que estão falando? Mailla llajtapi huacharishca, ñucanchij quiquin llajta rimaipimari rimacuncuna. ¿Ima shinataj caicunaca, chashna rimai tucunchu, imamí? Среди нас есть парфяне, мидяне, еламиты, жители Месопотамии, Иудеи и Каппадокии, Понта и провинции Азия, 10 ฟรีเจียและปัมฟีเลีย อียิปต์และส่วนต่างๆ ของลิเบียแถวไซรีน ผู้มาเยือนจากกรุงโรม 11 May mga taga-Creta at taga-Arabya. Sa sarili nating mga wika ay naririnig natin silang nagsasalita ng mga dakilang bagay ng Diyos. 12 Mọi người đều sửng sốt và hoang mang nói với nhau, “Việc nầy có nghĩa gì?” 13 Nhưng mấy người khác chế nhạo và nói, “Họ say rượu mới đó mà.” 13 可是另有些人嘲笑說:「他們被新酒灌醉了!」

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Voice Behind You

(Modified from a devotional for the college Christian Fellowship mailing list)
"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."
-- Isaiah 30:21

At the beginning of the school year, I had never heard or read this verse before, or if I had, I didn't remember it. Somehow, though, it became one of my theme verses for the year, simply because it kept showing up. At some point, I decided that maybe I needed these words, so I'd better listen.

Sometimes it's pretty hard to trust that God has a plan for our lives. Personally, I like having a plan for the future, and relinquishing that control to God isn't something that comes easily.  Over the course of this year I've questioned the extent to which I'm an engineer versus a mathematician, gone from swearing up and down that I wouldn't go to grad school to researching grad programs, applied to a lot of internships without much success, was on a committee at my church that led the discussion on selling our building, and am part of the new leadership looking to make significant change in my college's Christian fellowship. At times of uncertainty, it was really hard to believe that God had a plan for me, for the church, and for the club.

Even harder than trusting that God has a plan, though, is trusting in that plan.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Such a Time as This

(Written as a daily devotion for my college Christian fellowship's mailing list)

"For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
-- Esther 4:14, NKJV

Esther is one of the two books of the Bible that don't explicitly mention God, and yet God's work is apparent throughout the story of Esther. In this passage, Esther had told her cousin Mordecai that she risks dying if she approaches the king without being summoned, even though she's queen, and this is part of Mordecai's response. 

Mordecai doesn't doubt that God will come to the aid of the Jewish people. What he does question is Esther's belief that she is powerless. From Mordecai's view, Esther is in a perfect position for God to use her to help her people. "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

Sunday, April 27, 2014

To Know, To Prove, To Sing, To Love

Happy Second Easter! Here's the sixth verse (the last in the United Methodist Hymnal) of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today:"

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

This is everlasting life.

When Jesus rose again, conquering the grave, we were indeed promised a future. Just as importantly, though, we were promised a present. We have life now. That life is everlasting, but eternal life isn't something we have to look forward to -- it is something we have now, if we have faith. So what is this life that is given to us?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hail the Resurrection

Happy sixth day of the Easter season! Here's the fifth verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today:"

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

In John 11:25-26, Jesus has met Martha on the road after Lazarus' death. Martha has told Jesus that had He been there, Lazarus would not have died. This is how Jesus replies:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Some older sources even just say, "I am the resurrection." That's the key part here. Jesus is the Resurrection; Jesus is the One who rises again and in doing so allows us to rise again. We were dead; in Christ, we are alive.

In the synoptics, when the Sadducees question Jesus about resurrection, He gives a long response, but it ends with something like this: "God isn't the God of dead men, but of the living." In heaven and earth, we are alive because of Christ, and in that life we are God's. Spiritual death and sin separate us from God, but God reaches out to us and brings us back into the fold through Christ's death and resurrection. 

Our death is not permanent. We rise again with faith in the Lord, and we meet God -- Father, Son, and Spirit -- with praise. Hallelujah to the Lord of earth and heaven, hallelujah to our King, hallelujah to the Way, the Truth, the Life, and hallelujah to the Resurrection!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ours the Cross, the Grave, the Skies

Happy fifth day of Easter!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

It's easy to forget that Easter is a season, not just one Sunday. We spend fifty days in the white and joy of the Paschal season (not to mention that every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection and thus a mini-Easter). So last year, I decided to do something for Easter just like I do something for Lent. I challenged myself to take a picture of the sky for every day of the Easter season.

Why the sky? The main reason was actually the fourth line of this fourth verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." This is my favorite verse for sure, and I love that last line. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies! Yes, 'skies' can refer to the heavens and so to eternal life, but the literal sky is one of the places where we can see God's new creation everyday, and that's what Easter is all about. It's not the best picture of new life, since the sky isn't alive, but aren't sunsets and stars and patterns of clouds breath-taking when you stop and look at them? The skies show God's creation, power, and majesty everyday. I wanted to stop and remember that God is present in the world just as much now as God was when Jesus rose from the dead.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Where's Thy Victory, Boasting Grave?

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

This is the third verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," and the second and fourth lines are some of my favorites in the entire hymn. They're inspired by 1 Corinthians 15:55, which in turn references Hosea 13:14. Here's the Hosea verse:

I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
O Death, I will be your plagues!
O Grave, I will be your destruction!
Pity is hidden from My eyes.

This was God's promise to the people long before Jesus was born, and in Jesus' death and resurrection God fulfills that promise. Christ has died, and Christ is risen. Death can no longer hold us. We are ransomed; we are redeemed. All that power that death and the grave had over us is turned on them by God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christ Has Opened Paradise

Note: This is the second post in a series on "Christ the Lord is Risen Today." The first post is here.  
Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

This verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" is, in some ways, a lot more dense than the first. There are a lot of ideas here: love, redemption, death, triumph, and paradise.

First, love and redemption. Love's redeeming work is done. God came to us in human form as Jesus out of love. Jesus loved God's children, his sheep, to the very end, which was death and beyond. A Service of Word and Table paraphrases Romans when it says "Christ died while we were yet sinners. This proves God's love for us," and that's probably my favorite statement of this idea ever. God loves us enough that the part of God that took human form died so that we, who had gone astray, could be redeemed. When Jesus rose, conquering sin and death and freeing us, love's redeeming work was done. We still sin, and God still forgives and grants us grace upon grace, but that grace was secured for us in Christ's death and resurrection. We just have to accept it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

You Ask Me How I Know He Lives?

(Written as a daily devotional for my college's Christian Fellowship email list)
I serve a risen Savior, he's in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever foes may say.
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him, He's always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I knew He lives? He lives within my heart.
- "He Lives," words and music by Alfred Ackley
"He Lives" is one of the hymns I associate most with the idea of being an Easter people. Christ is risen, and God is with us.

On the day of his resurrection, Jesus met two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, and He walked and talked with them. They didn't recognize him, though, until He blessed and broke bread (Luke 24:13-35). Similarly, Mary Magdalene was in the garden and spoke to Jesus but thought He was the gardener until He called her by name (John 20:11-18).

Mary Magdalene and the disciples thought their Lord was dead and so weren't looking for him in the world around them. But if we know that Christ is alive, then we can see him around us and, more importantly, within us. The Spirit guides us, teaches us, and helps us. Our failings are ever before us, and yet God pours out mercy on us again and again because through Christ's life and death we have received God's grace. We break bread with each other, and whenever we gather in Christ's name, the Lord is with us. Christ calls us by name to do God's work.

We are not alone. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Each day this week I'm going to write a post inspired by a verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," the best known Easter hymn!

I truly can't imagine an Easter morning without this song as the opening hymn. "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" means Easter to me. Because I've grown up in Methodist churches, the version I know is the one in the United Methodist Hymnal, so I'll use those lyrics. So, here's the first verse:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

This is a verse full of joy. First of all, it gets right to the point: Christ the Lord is risen today. And while this is definitely a traditional hymn, it is true *anytime*. Christ the Lord is risen *today*. If we are Easter people, then that means we experience and rejoice in the resurrection daily. God is always renewing us, filling us with joy, and reminding us that we have abundant life in Christ now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Happy Easter!

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

May you find peace and joy in the empty tomb and our risen Lord.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

 Jesus is our Rock, the basis of our faith, and not just our faith, but the faith of many throughout centuries. He is Rock of Ages, and Christ died for each and every one of us, redeeming us, freeing us of sin and death. We no longer needed to endure God's wrath. We were now pure. It was as written in Isaiah: But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises are we healed. Christ bore all of our sin, though he himself was sinless, and he died on the cross to pay our debts.

He rose to forever free us from those debts, to declare that sin would never have power over those who believed.

All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

The second verse of Augustus M. Toplady's "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" ends with those two lines. No matter what work we do, no matter how much we follow God's law, no matter how much faith and zeal we have, we still sin, and our remorse and good works can't save us. We need grace and mercy from God, which is granted to us not for our works but by Christ's death. Only Christ can save.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

This is the sound and story of Good Friday.

Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?

Our Lord died not on steel, but on wood. Christ was humble in birth and in death.  The hammer pounds; the crowd jeers. "Come down from the cross!" they call. But Christ was obedient unto death, even death on a tree.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let Us Keep The Feast

I went to an Episcopal school for four years, and though it's been a while, when you go to chapel twice a week for that long, some things become ingrained. For me, one of those things was Rite II Eucharist, which includes the line:

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore, let us keep the feast.

That, for me, is Maundy Thursday.

I love Holy Week services and especially Holy Week music, and Maundy Thursday is no exception. I'll start off with the name: Maundy Thursday. Some people call it Holy Thursday, which is true, but much less evocative. Maundy comes from a root meaning commandment:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, NKJV)

In John, the Last Supper isn't the night of Passover. Instead, Christ himself is the Paschal lamb (Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us), and the Last Supper is really all about the instruction Jesus gives the disciples. He prepares them for the future, telling them that God will send the Spirit, that their joy will be complete, that he is leaving them his peace, and to take heart, for he has overcome the world.

But first, Jesus washes his disciples' feet, and then he commands them to love each other as he has loved them. The beginning of John 13 says: having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the very end. I've always liked the idea of loving to the very end. Jesus, knowing that among the disciples was one who would betray him, another who would deny him, and nine more who would run away, nevertheless loved them fully and completely to the end. That's the kind of love God gives us, and that's the kind of love I want to emulate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Though Empires Rise and Fall

Note: I unabashedly adore Good Friday music, so even though today is only Spy Wednesday, I'm going to start on a series of posts about Good Friday hymns.

Fred Pratt Green is one of my father's favorite hymn writers, and there's a Fred Pratt Green hymn to a tune called Kingsfold that I really like: "To Mock Your Reign, O Dearest Lord." Let's take this verse by verse:

To mock your reign, O dearest Lord
They made a crown of thorns
Set you with taunts along that road
From which no one returns.
They could not know, as we do now
How glorious is that crown;
That thorns would flower upon your brow,
Your sorrows heal our own.

The first bit of this that particularly sticks out to me is "that road from which no one returns." Death wasn't something from which people returned. Crucifixion was painful punishment, and it was final. But Christ did return. We need no longer fear that road because in Christ, it's not an ending.

The other part I really like is this: "They could not know, as we do now, how glorious is that crown." Going through the next few verses we'll see that the beginning part of that line is repeated, but this is my favorite time it's used. A crown is normally a thing of glory, but this was a crown of thorns, used to mock, to make humble, to bring low -- and yet, Jesus is King of Kings. That crown was the most glorious of all, not the least.

Here's the second verse:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

By Your Holy Cross

I went to a Stations of the Cross service at a local Episcopal church tonight. While I've grown up Methodist, I went to 3rd-6th grades at a school associated with an Episcopal church, so I grew rather fond of the stations.
The service tonight went through eight stations, and each one started with this:
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world

And then each station ended with this, followed by the ringing of a gong:
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.

It was a short service -- only about thirty minutes -- but it presented the Passion in a very visual and physical way. There was a candle and an image or object at most stations, and we walked as a group from station to station. At the fourth station, "Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem," we even all tore off a piece of herb, dipped it in a dish, and ate it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Look Around: In the Service of Love

Written as a devotion for my college Christian fellowship's mailing list

"Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."
-- Luke 7:22 (NIV)

When John's disciples approached Jesus, saying John had said to ask if Jesus was the one who was to come, this is the reply the Lord gives. It comes down to this: look around and consider what you see. Jesus doesn't give them an answer directly, leaving it to John's disciples to interpret what is occurring.

How do we know that God is acting in our lives? How do we know that God is answering prayers? Look around. Maybe what you see isn't what you expected -- did John's disciples expect someone who came for the least and the lost? -- but we're surrounded by God all the same. It could be in little places, when we have to listen hard to hear the still, small voice. Maybe it's much more dramatic, like what Jesus pointed out to John's disciples. Either way, in our lives, God is present; thanks be to God.

How do we reflect God's presence in our lives? The list Jesus gives here is really focused on action and service. It's all about how our faith expresses itself. One of my favorite statements of faith says this:

"We believe that this faith should manifest itself 
in the service of love
as set forth in the example of our blessed Lord,
to the end that the kingdom of God may come upon the earth."

Jesus showed love in a lot of ways, but there was always action. Love is the greatest commandment. It's the commandment that defines the Lord's Supper as told in John:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
-- John 13:34-35

Jesus calls us to love, and in calling us to love as He loved us, He calls us to love actively. We look around and see God's love for us. Jesus didn't have to say that He was the one who was to come; John's disciples could see. That's the way and extent to which we're called to love.

(There's a hymn I love that's related to this: Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hosanna in the Highest!

It's always been tempting for me to think of Palm Sunday as just a triumphant entry or the beginning of Holy Week. In recent years, I've also too often simplified Palm Sunday to the observation that the people thought Jesus was one kind of king, and while Jesus is certainly King, He's not the king the people thought He was. From that point of view, Palm Sunday seems like the celebration of a mistake.

There's something right in each of those, but they're only the full story together, and that's framed really well in the hymns. Palm Sunday is worth celebrating because Jesus is King, because Christ did come to save, because Jesus is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Yes, people were wrong about what kind of king Jesus would be, but we know, and we have something to learn about celebration and praise from the people who lined the path with cloaks and waved palm branches.

I've found that I understand Palm Sunday best through the two hymns which I associate with this day: "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" and "All Glory, Laud, and Honor." Here's "Hosanna, Loud Hosanna."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gratitude, Praise, Transformation

Gratitude, praise, hearts lifted high, voices full and joyful, these You deserve.

My Church uses a couple of different rites for communion. One of them is the Great Thanksgiving in the United Methodist Hymnal. The other is from A Wee Worship Book. It begins as does the Great Thanksgiving: The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.

But then, it goes on to the line I quoted at the top. Gratitude, praise, hearts lifted high, voices full and joyful. This is how we should come to the table: praising God. It is right to give our thanks and praise; we've already said that. The shift is in address, from addressing each other to addressing God. These You deserve. God deserves all our thanks and all our praise, and as we come to the table of communion, these are essential. (However, it's worth noting that what comes first is not thanksgiving and praise but rather the notion of God's presence. The Lord be with you.)

The service goes on like this (below the fold!):

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

All the Fitness He Requireth

This past Sunday's Lectionary readings included Psalm 130 and John 11: 1-45 (raising of Lazarus). In my personal reading last night, I read Jesus calling Peter, James, and John in Luke 5, and I noticed a common theme that, for me, is best expressed around the hymn "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy." The lines of which I've been particularly reminded are in the fourth verse:

Let not conscience make you linger
Nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him. 

I referred to the story in John as the raising of Lazarus, but verses 17-27 are really a story about Martha. Martha expresses belief that had Jesus been there, he would have been able to prevent Lazarus' death, and then she says (NIV): "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." Jesus tells her Lazarus will rise again, and Martha says that she knows there will be resurrection on the last day.
To that, Jesus says: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
"Yes, Lord," Martha replies, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. If we live and believe in Jesus, we will never die. Jesus doesn't call us to someday; Jesus calls us to here and now. We have new life in Him now. We don't have to wait. Martha confesses Christ, and she has life. So too can we.

The Many Arrangements of Beach Spring

About two and a half years ago, a friend and I started talking about Be Thou My Vision, and she proceeded to post about three dozen versions of the song to my Facebook wall

As I mentioned in the last post, Beach Spring is one of my favorite tunes ever, and it's the tune to a lot of hymns. Off the top of my head: "Lord Whose Love Through Humble Service," "Sunday's Palms are Wednesday's Ashes," "Come and Find the Quiet Center," "As a Fire Is Meant for Burning," "God of Day and God of Darkness," and "Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters."

This weekend I went through all those Be Thou My Vision links and listened to them again, and I was inspired. So, you get many versions of Beach Spring and the various hymns to which it is a tune. They're below the fold!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Finding Scope for Faith Begun

Come and find the quiet center
In the crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter,
Find the frame where we are freed;
Clear the chaos and the clutter,
Clear our eyes that we can see
All the things that really matter,
Be at peace, and simply be.

This hymn by Shirley Erena Murray is in the Invitation section of The Faith We Sing, a supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal. It's to one of my favorite tunes, Beach Spring, but I also love the lyrics and their expression of God's grace.

In The Faith We Sing, Invitation is a subsection within Grace, but in the United Methodist Hymnal, it's more specific: Invitation is a subsection within Prevenient Grace. What I love about "Come and Find the Quiet Center,' though, is that I can also read it as a hymn of justifying or sanctifying grace, not just prevenient grace. The first verse, which I quoted above, is more on the prevenient side, with the call to come and find, but the last line is very lasting. Be at peace, and simply be.