Winter into Spring: A Sense of Wonder

IMG_0402It’s another wintry day here in Shreveport, LA. I woke up early and spent some time in silence, reflecting, journaling. I was supposed to fly to Atlanta early this morning but do to the weather the flight was cancelled. At the time it was just rainy and wet, I thought “what a waste, I could have made it to Houston by now.”

“Spring cannot get here fast enough”, I thought.

Then the kids wake up . . . soon the rain turns to snow!

Now, I am not a fan of snow. I had enough of it from my 18 months in the beautiful Village of Saranac Lake, New York. I lived there in high school and remember well the daily grind of winter life. So I welcomed the snow with boredom and apprehension. My previous experience weighs heavy on my present one.

Soon as the snowflakes turn larger I see a little boy across the street all bundled up with wide eyes looking at the sky. He could not believe his eyes . . . snow!! He was filled with awe, wonder, and a sense of joy.

So often our previous experiences of life and faith keep us from experiencing wonder at the ways that God is present in our lives. We become hardened, set in our ways, fearful of anything that is not familiar or that we have not connected with before. Our experience becoming normative, the past keeping us hostage from experiencing God in new and renewed ways.

This week we’ll gather around Psalm 147. The people exclaim praise at the freedom of being home again. Their history of exile no longer defining them, no longer keeping them from seeing God anew, from being awed at God’s deeds, and from experiencing wonder again in the everyday of life.

Today I pray that you spend time looking out your window. Pay attention to your sense of wonder . . . let God speak to you and renew your desolate and wintry soul. Know that God is still at work, still calling, still creating, still speaking. Spring is coming yet God is to be found where awe, wonder, and joy meet.

May we as a faith community continue to find wonder in our shared life, continue to nurture awe, and continue to invite others to come out of their “safe places” to see what God is doing! We would not want to miss it, as we continue becoming a generation of missionaries.

Winter into Spring: Psalm 147

IMG_0395Today we are getting a winter blast here in Shreveport. The streets are slushy, slick, and dirty; the sidewalks and roofs are white. Just a week or so ago it seemed like spring was here, like soon all of our surroundings would burst into new life.

The same happens in our life of faith. Just when we seem to be moving forward, when we seem to “get it,” and when we seem to finally be getting ahead, the winter returns with a vengeance. It would be easy to get discouraged, to not even try to connect anymore to stick to the postures that we know will bring renewed life, to no longer stick to our lenten disciplines.

The Psalm for this coming weekend might help us here:

He throws down hail like stones falling from a mountain.
    Can any withstand His wintry blast?
But He dispatches His word, and the thaw begins;
    at His command, the spring winds blow, gently stirring the waters back to life.

Psalm 147:17-18 (The Voice Bible)

It turns our that the psalmist knows all too well our struggle. In the midst of praise the winter returns and there is the temptation to give up, to walk away, to convince ourselves that new life is impossible to attain.

I invite you on this wintry day to spend some time looking out your window and meditating on Psalm 147. Take it all in, pause as words, phrases, and something in the view get your attention. Ask God to help you become aware of the places in your soul that are filling up with hail, icing up, and becoming desolate again.

Lift those places up to God and let the “thawing” of our souls begin . . .

Today I lift the people called Grace Community in my prayers. May God help us pay attention to the thawing happening around us, may we not get distracted by the blast of winter nor be discouraged, for the promise of new life is coming!

Cannot wait to gather with all of you this weekend!!

Being Christian: Prayer

“Prayer, more and more, is not something we do, but what we are letting God do in us.”
Rowan Williams in Being Christian

I am often surprised at how prayer unfolds in my life. Yes, unfolds, because it seems that often prayer happens, appears, or comes visiting. It seems like God places me on the calendar and makes sure that the appointment is kept!

IMG_0342For a time in my life it would happen at two in the morning. I would just wake up, fully awake, would look at the clock and sigh at the early hour. I would make my way to the living room and bring my journal and before I knew it, there was God! This happened on and off for years. To this day if I wake up in the middle of the night and it’s two in the morning I know, God wants to meet with me.

Now I am not suggesting that this is the only way that God meets us. It just happens to be a primary way in my life of faith. What I am suggesting is that we must pay attention and know that God goes ahead of us, prepares the way, and looks forward to meeting us. Yet again and again we find ourselves busy, distracted, and in a hurry. No wonder we often miss our appointment with God.

The appointments are important because God wants to “pray” us. The more we are prayed the more like Christ we become. The more we are prayed the more that we walk away from sin and death. The more we are prayed the more that love’s fruit begins to come from us. The more we are prayed the more that we are able to see a hopeful future, a reconciled community, and a just world.

God wants to pray us but I wonder if we are open to it? What would it be like in our lives if we paid attention and opened the lines of communication with God? What would it look like if we allowed God to “do” something in us? To “pray” us?

God does not force us into being prayed. The invitation is there, God prepares the way but it is up to us to allow God’s movement in our lives and hearts. It is my prayer that this week we hear the invitation, we sense God’s presence and we allow God’s Spirit to pray us into the renewal of God’s image in us!

Being Christian: Eucharist As Liturgical Center

In worship God shapes our lives and transforms us “from one degree of glory to another”as we behold God (2 Cor. 3:18), source of all, eternal Word, and Holy Spirit. In worship our visions, desires, attitudes, yearnings, wills, and lives are recast, molded, and shaped to conform to the dying and rising of Christ for the life of the world.

The Rev. Daniel Benedict in Patterned by Grace: How Liturgy Shapes Us (13)

One of the challenges of today’s church centers around formation. How do we make space for the Holy Spirit to shape us into Christ-likeness in our personal lives but more importantly in our communal life.

10915160_10153130949539050_1281121266073397449_nIn the next few weeks we will talk about Baptism as the movement of God that initiates us into communal life. The Eucharist is God’s movement that helps us sustain our communal life in a world that idolizes individualism, personal preference, and a consumer mindset.

In John 6:35-40 Jesus tells us not just that he is the “bread of life” but that being that bread is a key aspect of his identity as savior and Lord. It is this “bread of life” that we center around at table and that then transforms us into a people who become bearers of eternal life.

So, I’ve been thinking, what centers our life of worship? How does our worship shapes us “to conform to the dying and rising of Christ for the life of the world?”

Liturgy is not a worship style but a way to center our worship life. In other words, liturgical worship means that God’s people gather and are the key active agents in the life of worship. A liturgical people are engaged, centered by the hungers of the community (not of particular individuals), and convicted by their engagement in worship to be “salt of the earth” in their communities.

When the Eucharist becomes our center we place our encounter with the Risen Lord in bread and wine as the pinnacle of our common life. This gathering to encounter the Risen Lord is the obvious next step after we have gathered around the story of faith and around the proclamation of that story as it relates to our life today. Both elements, the encounter with the word and the Word, are needed as we are shaped into Christ as a community.

The common life that the Eucharist fosters is pivotal to help seekers be transformed into servants. It does this by our repetition of salvation history in the prayer around table, by our kinetic movement as we come forth and receive grace, and by the growing recognition of our human condition and our being healed over time within community. It is also my prayer that our encounter with Christ at table calls us to find discipling communities outside of our worship life so that we can grow deeper in our life with Christ.

When the Eucharist becomes our liturgical center it forces us to be about the salvation (the healing, redemption, and restoration) of all people and all of creation. This means that we are driven by our encounter at table to be engaged in the work of justice. We must engage our communities whose hands have made our common life possible, whose stories have made us who we are, and whose struggles are our struggles. A Eucharistic ethic forces us to live into love of neighbor, even those who are our enemies, and to be agents of systemic change in our communities that pave the way for all people to experience the “salvation of our God.”

A Eucharistic life is a rehearsal of kingdom life. A life that makes present the work of Christ . . . are we ready?

And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. Luke 7:22 (NRSV)

Being Christian: Eucharist as Call to the Common Good

IMG_0315This past week we were challenged to recognize that it is Christ who makes the guest list. We said that this could be a key struggle for most of us since we tend to want to have people around us that are like us. It also means that we must begin to deal with the log in our own eye as we gather, instead of focusing our attention on our dinner partners’ speck.

I said to you at the 11 am service that it was tempting to speak of the long list of people that the church has turned away from the table. I even said that it would take me a lot longer than 30 minutes to name all of those on the list. When I mentioned this I could sense the anxiety rising, this was a sign to me that I did not have to name it. In fact we know, we ourselves have our list of people that we rather God not invite. We have our own list of people that we deem as unworthy, sinners, in need of conversion before eating with us.

This is fascinating since the ministry of Jesus was centered on eating with the wrong people. Again and again the king invites the un worthy to come to the feast, the ones that society rather ignore. Table fellowship with sinners was a mark of God’s Kingdom as made known in Jesus.

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12b-14

In fact in Luke 14:15-24 those originally invited, the people of power and prestige, are too busy and instead it is those who are rejected that are invited, who respond, and who experience the hospitality and feasting of the kingdom.

If we are going to be a Eucharistic Community, a community that centers its hospitality around table, we must be a people who invite others to the feast. In fact I would say that we must be a people who create opportunities for meal fellowship around our city. Imagine the sign of the kingdom as we live out table fellowship in ways that express the abundant grace of God for all people.

In a meeting recently we were discussing the church as a doer of public theology. As a people that engage the Good News of Jesus in ways that transform our neighborhood and our cities. This means that we must bring people to the table that normally would not come together. It also means that in our hospitality we challenge the powerful, the leaders, the people with means to see our city in a new way. It also means that we gather those who are rejected, forgotten, abused, neglected, and marginalized to find empowerment, to find a voice, to find agency through the power of the Spirit.

This is indeed difficult work. It requires a willingness to examine our own hearts and lives, to confess and to repent. It also requires an acknowledgement of our own limits and our own brokenness. It also requires us to risk being liked, go along with the prejudices that we have become accustomed to, and making space for careful listening and courageous conversations.

Living into this difficulty (“work[ing] out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12b) makes present our commitment to the new covenant that we renew at table. It also models for the world Eucharistic hospitality, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Living in this way transforms us, our relationships, and it also transforms our communities.

My question today is our we ready for the challenge? Are we prepared for the difficult work of the kingdom? Are we willing to make spaces in our city for meal fellowship? Do we understand ourselves to be a Eucharistic Community, a community committed to the common good? A commitment to make salvation known in real ways to our city?

“When the crack-house opens it changes the face of the community, when the business closes it changes the face of the community . . . is the church’s presence of absence changing the face of our communities?” The Rev. Dr. Asa J. Lee