Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Shine: A Written Christmas Sermon

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

One of the most beautiful blessings in the Bible runs thousands of years old.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious until you.  May the Lord life up his countenance upon you and bring you peace.

Called the “Levitical Blessing”, I love this blessing for many reasons.  Its rhythm. Its cadence.  And the word “shine.”

The blessing fits well with Christmas.

I imagine my personal favorites of the Advent story – the shepherds – knowing, deeply what “shine” means.

There was a great deal “shining” that night.  A star. An angel.  A “heavenly host.”

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them

And there was this… two parents. A manger. An infant.

Did the baby Lord “shine”?  Yes.  All babies do.  The experience of those shepherds, catching just a glimpse of that baby … holding the prophecy in their hearts … maybe hearing that ancient blessing … maybe hearing the words again anew “May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you.”  Brings tears if we ease ourselves into that place and that time.

From a New Church perspective, life and its greatest perfection is, surprisingly, not thinking. It is perceiving truth in the light of truth.  Hard to imagine a more wondrous light than that night, Christmas Eve.  That light, that night, was not then a thought per se, or an argument, or a proposal of some sort.  It was an infant.  A shining face.  Somehow the truth more perceived than understood.

And how must the shepherds have left that place? That manager in Bethlehem?

Maybe with an acknowledgement of God written on their hearts, now inside of everything they did and said.  The amulet, the Levitical blessing, figuratively no longer on the outside but forged as one with  the best God-given intentions of their hearts. Shining.

And maybe they came to know what it was like to “shine.”

Imagine how the story grows from that point in time on.  Not just Christmas but THE STORY.

A simple example.  An ancient story of God giving his people “manna” in the wilderness to feed them in a time of desperation and despair.   And then Jesus, in a story cast thousands of years later, giving his people “bread and fish” in the wilderness … a never ending abundance.  Christmas is that bridge as it were between the two stories, a bridge between a detached, caring, and apparently often angry God to a Light, God incarnate, God with us, God for us, in flesh and blood, offering very real gifts.  And a model: “…this is the way. Walk in it.

So the story no doubt grew for these shepherds as well.

The Lord enlivens what we know by bringing Goodwill into it. True Christianity 249

Goodwill.  The angels proclamation that night, “Peace on Earth.  Good will to humanity” no doubt became ever more true.

A goodwill growing in their hearts.

  1. Goodwill as a “loving desire to ACT”
  2. Goodwill that passionately wants only “what is best for others.”
  3. Goodwill working itself into all the varied forms of how we serve God and others. (TCR, 388, 408 392)
A goodwill that drives faith.
And where does this all end up?  Well, we shine.
Not a light of our ego or our ideas or our plans. But a light born of Christ.  Shining through us.  A light falling on us and others, gentle and generous.


The Difference Between Sports and Church

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

I love sports.  Plain and simple.  Love them. Love them. Love them.

And in this day and age, sports have slowly overtaken church as maybe the primary “third place” experience for families. (The other two places being “home” and “school.”)

Is that good or bad … I am not sure.  Certainly a good athletic experience teaches in ways church can’t.  But maybe the reverse is true as well.

One paradigm  goes back to the concept we can form two types of communities … a community of interests or a community of commitments.

A Community of Interests

  1. Formed largely around a desire for success and winning (For a team that never wins it is hard to have a “good” experience)
  2. Includes two parties (Me/ You or Us/ Them)
  3. Requires a connection with like motivated/ minded/ skilled individuals
  4. Requires an evolving mastery of a certain skill
  5. Requires sacrifice on many levels, in which “liking it” ties ultimately to a desired level of success

A Community of Commitments

  1. Formed largely around a desire for meaning and service (For a church that never conveys deeper meaning to life or service, it is hard to have a good experience)
  2. Includes three parties that eventually yield to ONE (Me/ You/ God or Us/ Them/ God which eventually yields ONE)
  3. Requires a connection with similarly committed individuals
  4. Requires a sharing of skills
  5. Requires sacrifice on many levels, in which “liking it” takes a second seat to a core commitment to “just do it.”

Both types of communities are incredibly valuable.  And it is not a binary choice where we must pick either a community of interest or a community of commitments.  Both dovetail in many wonderful ways.

The worry for me is that with social media, youth sports etc… the draw of impassioned communities of interest far outweighs, in this cultural era we live in, the sacrificial beauty of communities of commitment.

Maybe there is more space for “both-and.”

As a Pastor some days it is hard to move a conversation with myself and with others from “What are you interested in?” to “What are you willing to commit to?”

With a big smile, before I turn on ESPN, maybe we can find more interest in commitment.


Failure Matters

Friday, December 8th, 2017

In a challenging era of adaptive change, where the future of churches arguably relies on the increased growth of a service-oriented centeredness, community, curiosity, and experimentation as opposed to a solely Sunday-oriented theology, congregation, certainty, and tradition, we need to comfortably sit with this … that failure matters.

Working hard enough, embracing change, calling us all back both to the center of our faith and at the same time calling us out into the world … all this means we will fail.

Hopefully failing forward, and hopefully coming to embrace that “failure matters” because the mission matters enough for us to try hard enough that we will be met with failure time and time again.

Failure (and the fear of failure) gives you a chance to have a voice….

Because failure frightens people who care less than you do.

Seth Godin

On the other side of failures lies resilience and discovery.  A “stilling of the waters.”   A peace-filled voice saying in one of my favorite passages of scripture, “This is the Way.  Walk in it.”

Sometimes a Picture is Worth 1000 Words

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Sometimes a picture is actually worth a 1000 words.  This picture is…

This is Bill and Carol.  Married 50 years. Celebrating that threshold with friends and family at a church service in Sarver, Pennsylvania, my hometown.

I know this … that at the end of work done well, there is this preciousness, this realization of the very deep goodness of life.   And that “end of the work” circles right back into what is new and alive.

So we gathered that day.  We heard from Billy, from Hank, from Kate.  There was laughter and tears.  Cherished memories. A group blessing.  “All joy is a remembering.” And this sure was that.

How did Christianity Outlast the Roman Empire?

Friday, December 1st, 2017

A big question.

By the time of Christ’s death, his followers had been winnowed down, by some estimates, to around 125.

Yet that group grew.  Flourished. Not as revolutionaries and rebels in a military sense but as ambassadors.  Ambassadors to a new way of being.

How did Christianity Outlast the Roman Empire?

  1. Christians just kept telling a better story
  2. Christians just kept living a better story
That story starts at Christmas.

What does gratitude actually DO?

Monday, November 20th, 2017

What Gratitude DOES….

As Thanksgiving approaches with all it deep feelings around gratitude, I have been thinking a great deal about two things.

First, how do we continue to speak to gratitude, to list our blessings, even the one’s that come in broken circumstances?

And second, if we can somehow attach our souls, open our souls to gratitude, how would we then live? In other words what does gratitude DO in our lives?

Imagine a Thanksgiving table…

  • Round I … what are you thankful for?
  • Round II … and what are going to do with that?

Gratitude is an emotion, true. But it is also an action. Powerful to witness those who feel that deep gratitude for the gifts life has to offer, and then in turn move that gratitude out there into the world in all kinds of life giving ways.

If I believe life is fundamentally good … even in the broken places.  If I notice the gifts … even when times appear dark.  Then maybe it is time, with a smile, and with my beloved, to ask what is it that gratitude DOES?

A thankful soul is a giving soul.

Caring vs. Outrage

Friday, November 10th, 2017

We are clearly called to care.   As Emanuel Swedenborg noted…

“All spiritual truths focus on caring as their fundamental principle and their aim. The teachings of the church are pointless unless they have caring as their goal…. Worshipping God means living a life of caring.”

And a fine point, a fine line exists between caring and outrage.

Outrage may move us to care.  But outrage is never an end in itself.

Outrage can never take the place of care and the healing actions we are called to take, actions that are the point of it all.

A long, angry tome of outrage on Facebook does little to move the world.  Love in action, however, does.


Faith separated from goodwill kills

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

A simple formulation…

Faith separated from goodwill kills everything. Faith united to goodwill brings everything to life. (True Christianity 365)

Goodwill is magic.  Goodwill enlivens the faith that heals.

Goodwill is not merely a nice add-on but a critical driver in the spiritual journey.

“Faith separated from goodwill kills” … we saw those words made true in yesterday’s terrorist attack in New York City.

We see those words true in our own lives anytime we give into a more figurative homicidal impulse to “kill” another.

And the solution is right there… Faith united to goodwill brings everything to life.

Courage.  May faith communities embody goodwill so deeply and courageously that healing comes.


The Quietness of Faith

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Faith is a quiet, important endeavor.

It matters in this slow, deep way of a silent companion… a choice to do important work.

Important work is easily dismissed by the audience. It involves change and risk and thought.

Popular work resonates with the people who already like what you do.

Viral work is what happens when the audience can’t stop talking about what you did.

Every once in awhile, all three things will co-exist, but odds are, you’re going to need to choose.

Seth Godin

Solving Problems vs. the Search for Scapegoats

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

I loved a recent article by Kelly Oliver. In that article she shared a significant point…

… outrage, censoring and public shaming has begun to replace critique, disagreement and debate.

Much of that outrage, censoring and public shaming stems from a human propensity to scapegoat vs. a disciplined dedication to solving problems.  I might capture the scapegoating view this way, “If the problem is “out there”, my only option, given I can do nothing about it, is outrage.”

And yet, as Christians, we are asked to engage.  The whole concept of “incarnation” is based on engagement, on the spiritual joined to the natural, realized in the here and now, “As in heaven, so upon the earth.”

For those in the New Church, that embodiment runs from the high and mighty endeavors of our lives to the mundane and simple.  Integrity.

Maybe this… maybe we are here, as a church, to be a place where we can recapture a sober yet powerful approach to solving problems.  Doing so of course means embracing the discomfort of “critique, disagreement, and debate.”  And it means also embracing this simple Swedenborgian concept … that love in action is what remains.  Somehow those two combine … the work AND the hope.

Nothing easy there.  But it sure beats scapegoating where nothing happens because the fault always outside our power to be agents of change as God gives us to see it.

What can you do?  Join us.  That simple.