Sunday, June 29, 2008

You Are Holy; We Are Not

We sing, “You are Holy.”

We pray, “You are Holy.”

We shout, “You are Holy.”

We whisper, “You are Holy.”

Created in your image, we are enough like you to recognize your wonder—

your extravagant love shown in bottomless generosity and endless compassion.

Created in your image, we are enough like you to realize our own limitations—

our human love doled out unevenly depending upon our moods and attitudes.

Created in your image, we are enough like you to understand that we will never BE you—

All-gracious, all-wise, all-empathetic, all-insightful, all-benevolent.

Created in your image, we are enough like you to know we can’t live apart from you—

Your imagination, your inspiration, your revelation.

You are Holy, we are not.

But we aspire to be more like you each time we turn our attention toward you.

And so we sing, “You are Holy. Help us to be more like you.”

And so we pray, “You are Holy. Help us to be more like you.”

And so we shout, “You are Holy. Help us to be more like you.”

And so we whisper, “You are Holy. Help us to be more like you.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sponge Bob Jesus

Vacation Bible School is underway at church this week, and this song provides a way for all kids to become instantly involved during Praise Time.
I originally penned it for use at 4M Camp (1st and 2nd graders) at Mt. Morris (Wisconsin) Camp and Conference Center five or six years ago. I still receive requests for the lyrics.
Sing this to the tune and in the style of the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song.
If you're not familiar with the song, get help from anyone between the ages of 4 and 17.
Must Be Jesus
Call: Are you ready kids?
Call: I can't hear you!
Oh, who is the Son of God?
Who's slammin' fine?
Who helps out strangers,
turns water to wine?
Who can heal broken hearts,
make 'em okay?
Who is the truth and the life
and the way?
Must be Jesus,
Must be Jesus,
Must be Jesus,
Jesus Savior!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Eastern District Synod Vesper Worship

This devotional material was prepared for the 2008 Synod of the Moravian Church--Eastern District.

Scriptural Inspiration

Matthew 11:28-29 "COME"

[Jesus said,] "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Matthew 28:16-20 "GO"

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Devotion Notion

Not long ago, I visited a major amusement park with my family. While they waited in line to board the kind of spine-tingling roller coaster that would surely cause me to search out a long-term relationship with a chiropractor, I occupied myself by embarking on a milder journey. I hopped on the charming passenger train that circumnavigates the park and makes regularly scheduled stops in various “lands.”

So many of my fellow passengers looked weary: Moms toting squirmy, sticky toddlers; dads wrestling with collapsible strollers; seniors schlepping the accumulated stuffed animal winnings of their teenage grandchildren’s arcade escapades; employees dragging toward the parking lot at the end of their shifts under the Southern sun. Most seemed to be using the train as a place to seek respite—a sort of sanctuary from heat and exertion and the kind of overstimulation caused by the combination of punched up colors, spinning attractions and cotton candy.

Each time the train pulled into a station, riders had the option of disembarking or staying on board. It was surprising to me how many people were content to remain in their seats, looping around the park’s perimeter over and over again. But at one stop I witnessed a heartening scene. A cluster of pre-teens (I suspect cousins) stood behind the safety barrier and waved vigorously to an older couple sitting a few rows ahead of me. “Come on!” they yelled encouragingly. “It’s no fun if you stay on the train all day!”

With that invitation, the grandparents rejoined the young people on the adventure. “Follow me,” one of the ‘tweens said. “There’s something here for everyone to do.”

I so enjoyed watching that scenario play out because it reminded me of what the Church is meant to be, and of what the Church’s people are meant to be about.

Like the train, the Church is where we often come to sit a spell and recuperate. It’s where we come to take a break from the kind of overstimulation caused by living life. It’s where we set aside everything that weighs us down, at least for a little while, and regain strength. It’s one place—though not the only place—where we encounter Jesus who promises to help us out, especially when we’re worn out.

But also like the train, the Church is not a place where we’re meant to stay all day. Once we’ve been renewed, it’s time to GO! It’s time to spill back out of the church doors and DO SOMETHING! It’s time to take that newly reclaimed energy--that freshly found inspiration—and USE IT! It’s time to discover who else out there in the world needs what Jesus has and SHARE IT!

Your preferred method of going into the world to make disciples may be as adventurous as a turn on a steel coaster with a 97 degree plunge, or closer to the intensity of a merry-go-round ride, but as the young man at the train station said, “There truly is something here for everyone to do.”

In Christ’s name, go and come. In Christ’s name, come and go.

Litany of Coming and Going

Dearest Jesus, you have reached out your hand, motioned with your fingers curling inward, and coaxed us to come to you.

You have drawn us close by your promise to gently unburden us when we are overwhelmed.

You have given us permission to set aside stoicism and self-sufficiency. You have offered to partner with us and to shoulder the bulk of the load.

You have saved us! You have rescued us from ourselves by pulling us out of our isolation. You have restored us with your gentle love. We are grateful.

And Dearest Jesus, you have reached out your hand, pointed with your finger toward the distance, and commissioned us to go.

You have prepared us to know what is expected of us through crazy parables offered in teachable moments. You have shown us by stellar example and hands-on training how to emulate you.

You have won us over by loving us with such a pure love that we are we are compelled to pass it along.

You have convinced us to step beyond the safety and comfort of our place at your side, and to extend the same benefits of your compassion to others.

We come in. We go out.

We go out. We come in.

We receive. We give.

We give. We receive.

We rejuvenate. We reciprocate.

We reciprocate. We rejuvenate.

We collect love. We reflect love.

We reflect love. We collect love.

We are blessed. We become a blessing.

We become a blessing. We are blessed.

Amen. We depart.

We depart. Amen.

Eastern District Synod Vesper Worship

This devotional material was prepared for the 2008 Synod of the Moravian Church--Eastern District.

Scriptural Inspiration 2 Corinthians 6: 1-10

As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says,
"In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Devotion Notion

I have a wristwatch that usually works properly. It will go for days or weeks keeping time just as it’s expected to. Only occasionally does it halt, and if I give my wrist a good, firm shake, the watch will miraculously restart. The trouble with this scenario is that I can never be sure what time it is. I can be on time for my dentist appointment on Monday, punctually pick up the kids from school on Thursday, make it to the movies just as the previews are getting underway on Friday, and even arrive at church before the Sacristans get there on Sunday morning. But say the precision instrument just stops ticking at—oh, I don’t know—11:37 on that same Sunday morning, I might just keep on preaching until every worshiper’s stomach rumbles, body squirms and children whine. (This is how I originally discovered the quirkiness of my timepiece.)

Some thirty years ago, the band Chicago popularized the philosophical question, “Does anybody really know what time it is,” and tonight I resurrect a variation of that question with you. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul says, “Now is the time of God’s favor.” But when is now? At the same time Paul was speaking to his contemporaries, he was also referencing a quote from centuries previous (Isaiah 49:8) which noted that then may have been the time of the Lord’s favor. And, of course, as we read the passage tonight, we have to wonder if now might be that time of favor.

Certainly, we want this to be the case. It would be beyond disheartening to put so much effort into discerning and negotiating and crafting and refining plans for our Moravian Church only to learn that God wasn’t paying attention! Still, when we go about this work knowing that our denominational membership has been in decline since the aforementioned band Chicago topped the music rankings, and that our financial resources are stretched as tightly as the top of a drumhead, and that our people are influenced—not always to the good—by the prevailing culture, we might feel that we are out of sync with the Lord.

But it sounds like Paul was up against the same sorts of challenges, doesn’t it? And it sounds as though Paul and the others on his team kept moving forward—intentionally—in spite of hindrances far more daunting than we can begin to number. And they did so presuming that as long as they were about carrying out Christ’s purposes, they could also presume that they were on schedule and fully synchronized with the God who was and is and always will be. Cannot we presume the same?

Though it is late in the evening, let’s depart from this session assured that when we are one in mission and one in call with our Transcendent Timekeeper, our timing is on the dot.

A Timely Litany

Transcendent Timekeeper, the sun has set and the sky has darkened. We look forward to the delightful sensations of head touching pillow, of relaxation overcoming muscles, of drowsiness crossing the threshold of slumber. Sleep is a marvelous gift to all who are your beloved.

Thank you for engineering us to receive the refreshment of sleep.

And yet it seems as though there is hardly time for such pleasure, barely enough hours for such luxury.

How will we do the work of your church in such a compressed framework, and one which is already half over?

Remind us that as the Architect of All Time, there is an appropriate period for all things to be accomplished. As surely as there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

There is a time to labor and a time to rest.

As surely as there is a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

There is a time to press forward, and a time to recuperate.

Like there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

There is a time to drink coffee, and a time to play basketball.

There is a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

There is a time to debate, and a time to mull things over.

As you give us a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

You give us a time to brainstorm, and a time to polish.

Because there is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

There is a time to pray, and a time to decide.

If there is a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace,

There must also be a time to remember, and a time to dream dreams.

Release us to dream those dreams in full color as we are regenerated in these coming hours.

Bring us together again once the clock has advanced to a new day, and give us revitalized imaginations to make the most of your favor. Amen and good night.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eastern District Synod Evening Vesper Worship

This devotional material was prepared for the
2008 Synod of the Moravian Church--Eastern District.

Scriptural Inspiration

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Philippians 2: 1-2

Devotion Notion

Can you think of a time when you have been especially purposeful? A time when you knew exactly what outcome you needed to achieve and felt compelled to push onward until you completed the task? This slice-of-life story is about such a pursuit.

All he wanted to do was plant a little garden to see what would become of the 3 inch tall bean seedling his pre-school teacher had helped him start in a Dixie cup. The only trouble with my son’s simple request was that our yard was populated with an assortment of maple, birch and crab apple trees. Under such a canopy of lovely shade, we were hard pressed to find any one patch of ground kissed with enough daily sunlight to cultivate a crop.

“But I see a sunny spot,” my four-year-old pointed out with enthusiasm. A tiny square of brightness lit up the fence line in the very back corner of the yard.

“You’re right!” I exclaimed. “Let’s keep an eye on that spot and see if it stays that way.” We went about our chores and playtime. After lunch, we checked on the sunny spot.

“It moved!” Daniel observed. The sunlight now came down in a wide swath in the exact middle of the backyard, right beneath the clothesline.

Periodically throughout the rest of the day Daniel checked on the progress of the traveling luminosity. And that’s when it hit me. If the available sunlight in our yard was going to shift, then any garden plot would need to shift with it.

The next morning, Daniel and I headed for the garden center where we picked out 3 patio containers, potting mix, kid-friendly dirt-digging tools, a cucumber vine and a cherry tomato plant. Eagerly, we potted up the new greenery along with the baby bean stalk. . . and loaded our terra cotta collection onto Daniel’s little red wagon.

From that moment, our summer agenda was set. We became devoted to moving our wheeled garden 4 or 5 times a day, forever seeking the sunlight. Sometimes we’d anticipate it, sometimes we’d chase it, but we always pursued it with devotion. Sometimes we’d approach the task with gleeful giggles, sometimes we’d be cranky and bored of making the effort, but we remained dedicated.

And what was the outcome? Together we experienced the joy of discovery as we watched the plants grow and blossom and develop fruits which we were eventually able to harvest and devour! We realized that wanting to achieve our goal meant that we had to be observant, think creatively, work diligently, keep each other encouraged and stay focused. We learned that no other beans, tomatoes or cucumbers on the planet could possibly taste as delicious as ours!

And then there was the lesson about purposefully following the Light.

But I’ve no doubt you’ve already picked up on that.

A Purposeful Litany

Holy One, our day started with purpose. With one goal in mind, we packed suitcases and laptop cases and briefcases; we filled our vehicles with bags and bodies and Books of Order; we followed our maps and our GPS devices and our homing instincts; we arrived and unloaded and embraced; we assembled, we convened. . .

We began this Synod.

We began to build a temporary community upon the solidly permanent foundation of your love—a community which would be Church and represent Church, a community which would define Church and celebrate Church.

Thank you, God, for the Church which we treasure, and for Jesus Christ whom we adore.

Jesus Christ whom This configuration in which we gather tonight is new to us. We have never before been with this exact group of people in this exact place. As we make connections and establish relationships make us mindful of those in our midst who may be anxious in an unfamiliar setting among unknown faces.

Calm our apprehension and remind us that in this room there are no strangers—only Brothers and Sisters with whom we are not yet acquainted.

Make us mindful of those in our midst who have a history of involvement in denominational assemblies such as this.

Inspire us to share any wisdom our experience has caused us to acquire while keeping any shreds of cynicism at bay. Prevent us from being burdened by preconceived notions and open our minds and hearts to your creative visions.

Make us mindful of those in our midst who have passion and energy for achieving particular solutions to particular issues.

Help us to listen well to all who are called to be here and to respect the views of our fellow Moravian Christians who also trust you passionately and energetically.

Make us mindful of one another’s cares—both the dreadfully heavy worries and the winsomely light joys that tip the scales of our hearts. In this protected space and time, hear the petitions we offer silently or aloud:

(Anyone may offer a sentence prayer.)

We will continue to build this community over several days, and as we do, let us be aware that we are also uniting to build the Realm of God.

This is our purpose! This is our task! This is what draws us together and motivates us! We are one in mission and one in call. Amen.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Statement of Faith for a Mile Marker on Life's Journey

We held a Service of Blessing for our graduating high school seniors today.
This is the Faith Statement we spoke in unison.

We journey together as people of faith who seek to step firmly and confidently upon the path God has created for us, the trail mapped and marked for us by Jesus himself. Inspired by God’s Spirit, we move gracefully and yet with purpose on this excursion through life.

We rely on the directions we have received, the maps we have been learning to interpret. Scripture guides us with this clear starting point: God loves us. To navigate our way, we love God in return, and we demonstrate that by loving others without reservation.

We understand that some parts of our journey will be challenging, sometimes seemingly impossible. We remain encouraged to move forward in hope, trusting that with God, all things are possible. Amen.