Sundays are for worship and napping. And taking a little tour of our herb garden where Miska guides me (again, because I always forget the particulars) through the holy basil, the mullein, the daffodils, the lavender, the oregano. She shakes the poppy plants, and we grin at the sound of rattling seeds, nature’s maracas. She coaxes me to touch the velvety carpet of the roman camomile, a bed fit for a queen.
Juno, our black mouser, flops over at Miska’s feet, insisting Miska scratch him while he purrs, swatting at Miska if she stops before Juno deems appropriate. Miska does as Juno demands; then she reaches her fingers into the rich soil, a gesture of wonder and delight and prayer.
Watching her, I envision the Great Creator, at the beginning of human time – and still now – reaching hands down into the soil of this world and taking great, great joy in all the beauty. Our worship with the gathered community, with the liturgy and the Scriptures and the Eucharist, centers us, and having done its work, it sends us, dispersed into our scattered, holy places. And in a hundred ordinary corners, the worship and the liturgy continues. For us, it carries us into gardens and naps and later into an evening with friends. We must worship, and we must indulge in God’s good earth, and we must rest. This is a feast. These are our liturgies. It is all of a whole: one life, one God, one grand and beautiful day.
Just down Ridge Street, only a couple blocks from my house, a trio in neon orange vests semi-circled near heavy machinery. An orange sign propped atop the sidewalk informed me that road work was ahead. A line of orange cones cut into the paved lane, requiring drivers to creep through the tight squeeze. The youngest of the three gripped the T-handle of a jackhammer, steel driver resting ready on asphalt marked with blue spray-paint lines where the steel would bust the ground to smithereens. He clutched tight, but too tense, like a little-leaguer with his bat before the first pitch on his very first opening day.
The other two encouraged him, “Hold that big button now. Be ready.” One of them fired a growling generator, and the man clinching the steel watched me out of the corner of his eye, not wanting any strange faces to interrupt this moment he’d probably been dreaming of for years. I’m familiar with this fantasy, steering a wild jackhammer, blasting concrete and rock until nothing’s left but rubble and exhausted energy. I know what it is to be on the verge of sheer joy, sweaty palms and excited, taut muscles, ready.
Is it blasphemy to say The Band did “Atlantic City” better than The Boss himself? A strong mandolin makes everything better.
Passing the Peace
The one fellow who refuses to look me in the eye continues his bulldogged persistence. Several weeks ago I thought we had a breakthrough, but apparently I only caught him when he let his guard down and allowed his eyes an inadvertent glance as I brushed past. In this sacred environ, he is the equivalent of the bookish man who refuses to surrender his one spot on the pew and who will walk out at 12:01 if the service has not concluded. Thankfully, there’s also a young newcomer who walks peppy and every single day tips his baseball hat at me when he says hello, like he’s the sheriff and I’m one of his townfolk.
Some mornings, I listen to one of Krista Tippett’s interviews. She always posts the edited version (the one produced for broadcast) and the unedited version (the complete feed, without any doctoring, thus including hiccups and technical snafus and rabbit trails that will surely never see the light of day). Perhaps my favorite part of the unedited track is the long pauses, the silences that make their way into a conversation that is real, not scripted. These silences come when you are not trying so hard to sound smart but rather to listen well, to be present with the one sharing your conversation. If there is a word I think we need to use more, it’s pause.
Me to Wyatt and Seth: I love you. Have a great day. I’ll miss you.
Our church has a prayer we pray over one another every other Sunday. We pray this prayer just before the closing blessing, just before we walk out into God’s bright world to be God’s bright people. I’m not sure we know the power of what we’re praying, the hope in what we’re asking. But then, I think that’s the truth for most good prayers.
God, make your kingdom come in us, for the sake of your world. May we love you with our whole heart and love our neighbors as ourselves. May your cross carry us to die to selfish pursuits, and may your resurrection raise us to new life and radical love. Send us into your world in the name of the Father who created us, the Son who loves us and the Spirit who guides us. Amen.
I woke this morning, as I do many mornings, to my alarm cranking out “Desperado.” It seems appropriate (for numerous reasons) to be asked at the moment of waking whether I intend to come to my senses. It was too early for my taste; it’s almost always too early for my taste. It’s a second Monday, so I dressed and joined a few friends downtown at The Haven where we dished out a hot breakfast of coffee, cream of wheat, cinnamon apples and fried eggs.
Most mornings, I’m dishing breakfast at home to two boys and a wife. Boiled eggs, oatmeal, grapefruit – we don’t vary much. We eat at 7:30. We read a bit of Scripture around the table. After a few frantic rounds of hunting misplaced socks and signing homework and dashing up and down the stairs for sundry forgotten items, we pack the boys off to school. After, I’ll usually take a run, with a few prayers offered along the way. Then, like most every adult on the planet, it’s to the grind. There may be writing or meetings, study or planning. There’s always a list to be tended to, that list scribbled somewhere on this cluttered desk of mine. Fridays offer sweet Sabbath, followed by Saturdays with family chores and grocery shopping and sometimes an attempt at a family adventure. Sunday brings Bodo’s bagels at our kitchen table followed by worship around Jesus’ Table, with an evening nightcap of egg sandwiches, tea and Downton Abbey. Mondays, we begin again.
This rhythm provides a mundane beauty. It’s beauty – a firm beauty that bears up under the years. But it’s also mundane. It’s rhythmic. It’s love that proves itself by the unwavering decision to love well and love steady, over and over. It’s a love that lets a boy know that what he needs will always be here, sure and regular as the sun rising. Perhaps he won’t notice it for years, but the day will come – I promise you the day will come – when that gracious rhythm will give him a lifeline. It’s a love that a wife offers her husband and a husband his wife, a love that says I’m right here, right by your side. We’ll steal a kiss every chance we get; but between those toying moments, my love will be present, my love will show up. And keep showing up.
These mundane rhythms, as much as the brilliant flashes, form the person we are. These mundane rhythms are our quotidian liturgy.
This is true in every family, even the family nurtured in faith. We’re eager to latch on to some new-fangled way of being Christian. Disappointed with our slow progress or restless with the boredom that inevitably sets in whenever you are participating in things that are beautifully mundane, we think there must be some quick way, some non-mundane way. There isn’t.
Because I’m a pastor, I’m often asked our strategy for helping people obey and follow Jesus. There’s lots of things we will do along the way, as we pay attention to our family and to the particular needs of the particular people in our midst. However, if you want to know our plan, it’s about as quotidian as it gets: Gather with your community and worship your God on Sunday. Pray prayers and sing prayers. Receive and give the peace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Hear and believe the Scriptures. Confess your Sins. Receive the Eucharist, drinking deep draughts of grace. Receive a blessing. And then go out into your mundane, beautiful world and love your God and love your neighbors.
If we do those things, over and over, we will find ourselves following Jesus. We will find ourselves receiving and giving love.
The lawyer raises the question for us: What must we do to truly live with God? The Scriptures tell us to love God with all our heart But my heart loves so many other things Love God with all our soul But I have so many competing desires Love God with all our strength But my energy and my passion is divided Love God with all our mind But my mind feels too powerful or too broken to be a place of love Love, not only God – but also our neighbor, even as we love ourselves But who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is whoever God has brought near to us. Then we will love our God who has come near to us and our neighbor God has brought near to us In this way, we will love our God With all of our heart, our soul, our strength and our mind. And then, people of God, we will truly live.
And a blessing in response to Ephesians 2:11-12
To all who have known what is to be far Far from love Far from hope Far from life Far from God Jesus has come near to you Jesus has brought you near to him So live near. And free. And alive. And go the far places in your world. And witness that Jesus is near. Amen.
Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to save us from our sins? I believe
Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to bring you life and to bring you home into his kingdom? I believe
Do you renounce Satan and his kingdom and all his evil works? I do
And will you turn from your sins and obey Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit? I will
Will you now lay your life down and be buried in God’s love? I will
Last Sunday, Wyatt received baptism. One of the perks of being your boy’s pastor is that you get to participate front and center in these sacred moments. I was knee deep in the baptismal waters, my arm around his shoulders (and that’s where I hope to always be, wading into his water, standing next to him). With joy, I laid priestly hands on my son and said holy words, In the name of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, be buried in Jesus’ death…
Baptism is many things, but three things at least – and all three are about belonging. In our baptism, we declare that we belong to Jesus and to Jesus’ kingdom. In baptism, the church declares that we belong to the community, this family of faithful storytellers. And, most importantly, in baptism the Spirit declares that we belong to the Triune God. Baptism is really more about what God is doing than about what we are doing. God has marked us, come after us, loved us to death. And life.
Because this whole thing is a communal affair, the entire community renews our baptismal vows before the new vows are taken. In a way then, with each new baptism, it is as though we are being baptized anew. The last question of the vows, the words that are spoken just before we put a body under the waters, echoes for me today.
Will you now lay your life down and be buried in God’s love?
The verbs in this question are passive. Will I lay down? Will I be buried? Will I surrender the illusion that I can pull my life together? Baptism is something I receive, not something I do. I don’t baptize myself; another baptizes me. I don’t finagle my way into the church; the community simply gives me a wide welcome. I didn’t snag a ticket into God’s kingdom with my spit-n-shine resume. God isn’t lucky to have me. God came and got me because God is kind and because this is what God does – God comes and rescues.
So this is the question my baptism asks me: Will I lay down and drown in love? Will I drown?
Will I hold my ground and guard my self-interests in my marriage – or will I drown?
Will I wallow in selfish guilt about what my poor fathering choices say about me, or will I surrender every shred of image and reputation and just love my boys, now, today? Will I protect myself – or will I drown?
Will I keep distance from those I’m sure to disappoint or those who I think will leave me lonely – or will I drown?
I choose to drown.
I surrender the image of the put together husband, father, writer, pastor, friend. I choose to drown.
I am probably not as smart or brilliant or witty or insightful or artful as you are. I choose to drown.
I will probably never write a bestseller. I choose to drown.
This week… May you gather up everything that you cling to as if your life depends on it…
Your reputation, your energy, your creativity, Your business skills, your beauty, your contrary nature. Your fear and your skepticism and your greed. Your story. Your hurts. Your hopes. Your desires that have turned into demands. Those things you hide from others, And those things you judge others by.
May you gather up these things – and everything that holds you back from being free… Your caution that someone may do you wrong. Your concern that you may get it wrong. Your haunting fear that God may be wrong. And in a defiant, courageous, child-like act, May you fling them all aside – And run to Jesus And walk with Jesus to the Cross. And die. And then wait in death’s dark tomb. Wait in death’s dark tomb. Wait…for Resurrection to break in.
At All Souls, the community where our family lives and loves, we have a shared liturgy each week. Liturgy is “the work of the people,” and we believe that encountering God is something we do together. We all pray. We all question. Together, we all sit listening to the cues of grace. A good bit of what we do comes from the Book of Common Prayer and the Lectionary – we join the chorus of God’s people in other places and in other generations.
However, we also create our own movements. Somewhat regularly, I’m going to post one of our original pieces. Use it for your own reflection and pondering.
This week, I share our litany (where a leader reads the first lines and all the people respond) from the Old Testament reading. One of our tasks as a Christian community is to learn how to hear the Bible, how to allow the text to submerge us in its narrative. We have no desire to blandly take in the words. We want to wrestle and wrangle. We want to awaken our curiosity, bring our questions. We want to see where the text will take us.
OT Reading | Judges 6:11-24
Is the Lord with us?
The Lord is with you
Is the Lord with us? Is the Lord with Haiti, with the forgotten or the shattered?
The Lord is with you
But I am so full of fear. My soul has shrunk. I am empty, no courage.
The Lord is with you, mighty warrior
I cannot do what is before me. I am empty, no faith.
The Lord is with you, woman of strength
Rise up, people of God.
The Lord is with you. Today. Tomorrow. Forever, unto the end of the age.