Monday, December 24, 2007

light and darkness and christmas eve sermon

Moon Set 12-23

I began the day watching the moon set - had a full day with a wonderful Christmas pageant, greening the church in preparation for the Christ child, visiting a sick parishioner in the Vallejo hospital, two other parishioners in their homes on the opposite ends of the hills of Green Valley. Then a bit of shopping, a training session with my new thurifer, and off to my daughter's house to get some last minute Christmas preparations. On the way to my daughter's I saw that the moon had come up again- and my day was only about 2/3 over. You know it's a long day when it begins with a moon set and the next day's moon hangs in the sky and you're still moving fast.

Moon Rise for the next night, although it's still 12-23

Christmas Eve Sermon

Resources: Home By Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor,

Cloth for the Cradle, Iona and Rev Gal comments

Please close your eyes just for a moment and let go of all those things you have been busy with; the shopping, baking, cleaning, wrapping … let them all go and just and breathe.

God of the Manger, God of us all, we gather tonight in this holy place where hope is born to welcome you into our very souls once again.

Can you feel a hum in the air – The time of frenzy preparations is over. The stores are closed, the gifts are wrapped, - and the celebration begins. That membrane that separates heaven and earth is thinner – Everything that happened yesterday is before Christ and everything that happens tomorrow is after Christ – which leaves us right now, that eternal NOW – when God comes among us and is made out of the same stuff we are all made.

That’s the main thing we are waiting for tonight – but it’s not the only thing is it? I imagine that there is at least one person here who is waiting to find out what’s in that box propped against the Christmas tree. And someone else who is looking forward to waking up in a house filled once again with children and grandchildren who have come home for the holidays. There are families part of Grace church who have had new babies this year – which means that they will be waiting for the first Christmas morning when they wake up to their own nativity scene.

There are those for whom this is a hard time- and no matter how much they try to muster up a feeling of joy, there is still the empty chair to deal with, the stocking that stays folded up in the box this year and is not hung. All those rituals that were designed to share and do with others is now done alone. Christmas is the season when you want to see if the hurt has let up any since last year. On one hand you want to let go so you can go on with your life, but are afraid that letting go might mean you stopped caring and so you hang on.

For better or worse Christmas Eve acts as a time machine that takes us back to every other Christmas Eve. Right? We remember those times when we were in the front row of the holiday show and not the stage manager of it; the smell of pine boughs and cloves stuck in oranges, turkey roasting. We carry an image of mom and dad sitting around in their bathrobes sipping coffee while kids chase the new puppy through the sea of wrapping paper. And even though we are now the mom and dads, we still carry those memories of when we were the children – for me as a child growing up in Michigan I loved those times when the snow would softly blanket the trees behind our house. I would go stand outside at night and watch the snowflakes fall, as if in slow motion, reflecting the street light as they fell – it was like watching diamonds falling in the night air. The snow blanketed the noise and there was a silence that you don’t often hear.

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend of a friend who wrote: this is the time of year when we all think of our friends and our families - when we think of the people we love - and try to tell them how we feel. And this year, like everybody else, we have been thinking hard about how to reach out to the people we hold in our hearts - About a week ago, my daughter solved the problem when she emailed a link to NPR's This I Believe website. She pretty much said what the season's all about.

If you have never heard the This I Believe series on NPR you should check it out. Anyone can send in their stories and they are truly amazing reflections on life. This woman’s daughter sent in her story –– she wrote that she was the kid who took everything for granted and rebelled – she scoffed at religion and its threats of damnation. She ran away from home, got a tattoo, shaved half of her head, became a truant and barely graduated high school.

Bu then her father died when she was 19 and she wrote “I realized that that all of life’s lessons I had so adamantly rejected were meant to be taken seriously. .. I now have a new belief. .. I believe that I would never have learned how precious life is unless I lost someone irreplaceable, I stay healthy because I appreciate my body’s fragility, I enrolled in and graduated from college to gain knowledge previously ignored. I teach individuals with Autism to give people opportunities to live better lives. I’m getting married because I have found my life partner. I love being alive!

My father never got to experience the new me who was molded from his death. I am the product of his passing. I am a living painting, drawn by an artist whose work may not have been complete if he was still alive.”

No wonder the place is humming .. we bring to the manger all the losses as we gather around the manger looking for a glimpse of new life – and fresh dreams.

Because we come to God in Christ, not with a childishness, but with child like wonder. Sometimes we find those experiences of new life by listening to the child like parts in ourselves or, if not, in the children around us - I am blessed to still have young children living with me. And if I make time to listen to them I remember the child like sense of wonder.

A few nights ago I was waking past my 10 year old daughter Maria’s room at night and saw her sitting in bed praying – very seriously –

I sat down next to her – and asked what did she say when she prayed?

Well, tonight I was just asking God what his favorite color was. And? “It’s purple, she replied matter of factly, God said that purple is the color of royalty and God is a king after all. Right now God is wearing purple pajamas with angels on them!-

It began over 2000 years ago when on that first Christmas - God in Jesus, crept in beside us - a vulnerable human child, trusting human hands to hold him, trusting human hearts to love him.

Whatever the circumstances of our lives just now, in all of our mixed experience of being human,– the ones who walk past the empty chair, and the ones who simply take the time to ask God what his favorite color is – and get an answer – that the God of creation comes.

I close with some words from a reflection from a book called Cloth for the Cradle …

'When the world was dark and the city was quiet, you came. You crept in beside us. And no-one knew. Only the few who dared to believe that God might do something different. Will you do the same this Christmas?

We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden or want to be, but because the fullness our lives long for, depends on us being as open and vulnerable to you, as you were to us, when you came, wearing no more than nappies, and trusting human hands to hold their maker.

Will you come into our lives, if we open them to you - and do something different?

When the world was dark and the city was quiet you came. You crept in beside us. Do the same this Christmas, God Do the same this Christmas.'

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

God's favorite color

Painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner ...Angels appearing to the shepherds

God appears to Maria quite often. Last night she had a conversation with God. It had been a good 15 minutes since I had tucked her into bed when I walked by her room and saw her with her hands together, sitting up in prayer in her bed. I went in and asked her what she says when she prays. She said that tonight she was just asking God was his favorite color was. It turns out that God's favorite color is purple because that is the color of royalty and God is a great king. At that moment, in fact, God was wearing purple pajamas with angels on them.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

the light of Christ through the eyes of a 6 year old

Thanks to my Rev Gal pals for introducing me to this poem:

After Annunciation

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.
- Madeleine L'Engle

I began to grasp some of the mystery Christ's light on one of those pitch black, moon-less nights. I was in a deep sleep when I was awakened by a tug on my sleeve. I opened one eye and saw little Maria standing there. She was 6 years old at the time and asked if we could go sit in the hot tub. It was 3 am and a school night, but for some reason I resisted my initial reaction to her request and said ‘yes.’ It happened to be one of those nights when the dark sky was filled with shooting stars, one right after the other. She listened very attentively while I explained what a shooting star was. She was silent for a long time and then quietly said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but you’re wrong.’ She went on to tell me that when a star falls out of the sky at night, it really is the light of God coming from heaven and being born in someone’s heart!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

John the Baptizer in 2007

I haven't posted in a while, due to a case of carpal tunnel - ouch - but this is the latter part of a sermon I'm preaching tomorrow - a great story from a new young pastor who took his youth group to Uganda -

Modern Day John the Baptist

Robert and Maria’s godparents are missionaries in Uganda. They heard about a group pf pygmies called the Batwa pygmies who had been ordered to leave their home in a particular forest, called the Deep Impenetrable Forest, so that the country could better service tourists who were coming to look at a certain type of gorilla.

The pygmies presence interfered with tourist trade. This had ben their home ever since they appeared on this planet and when they left, and scattered to various places, they were dying of things like the common cold. They had no resistance to diseases that others had built up immunities to. So Dr. Scott Kellerman and his wife Carol set off to build communities for pygmies to live in together, and began bringing in vaccinations, refrigeration for medicine, etc.

This is an email I got from Scott a few months ago -

Dear Rob and Debra, Greetings from the Bwindi.

We recently had a visit from Seth, (their son) who is now an Episcopal pastor in Dallas. He brought a youth team of 14 with him. They built two houses for the Batwa, participated at a mobile medical clinic, played with the kids at the schools and did dramatizations of the parable "the Good Samaritan".

Saturday we worked at a Batwa settlement atop a steep hill. All were exhausted after the climb and weather threatened to terminate the home building efforts early. Little progress was being made, the mobile clinic proceeded slowly and the clouds continued to gather. The kids volunteered that they needed to do some ministry before the rain chased us off the mountain. After several worship songs they performed the "Good Samaritan", they substituted a Mutwa (pygmy) for the Samaritan and then asked for questions. The Batwa became very animated and vocal and talked about the demons that they worshiped when they lived in the forest but over the last few years they had found out about a Ruhanga (God) who loved them.

Seth told them that Ruhanga loved them so much that He sent His Son to die for them. This produced another series of questions and then one Mutwa asked what was necessary to accept Jesus Christ. Seth told him that it was a free gift and he just needed to open his heart in prayer. The man immediately ran off and Seth was a bit chagrined… but… he shortly retuned with his son so that he also could have Jesus. A large portion of the village of Mpungu became Christians that day and after the last person was prayed for, rolling thunder began, and everyone praised God as all descended from the mountain top.

The following day I had arranged for Seth to preach in church. The local pastor was unavailable but I assured Seth that they could communicate prior to the service. The usual crowd of around 500 turned up but the pastor was strangely absent. The choir began lively worship songs and after a half hour the pastor appeared, gave a hand shake to Seth and sat down a distance away. Seth felt a bit nervous as the youth group introduced themselves in the local language and then several gave testimonies about their lives. They then performed a dramatization of the Good Samaritan which was very well received. Seth did have a brief discussion with the pastor during the singing prior to his sermon and mentioned that he might ask for folks to come forward, the pastor seemed confused but agreed. Seth gave an inspired sermon focusing on how we are all called to be like the Good Samaritan but in reality the Good Samaritan is Jesus bidding us to physical and spiritual health. Seth then asked if there was anyone in the congregation who wanted to give their life to Jesus or needed to be healed of spiritual or physical afflictions. There was a long pause after the request was translated but eventually a few folks stood up. Suddenly there was an explosive response as a crowd of 200+ surged to the altar. The pastor asked Seth what they were to do next. Seth said he wasn’t sure as he had never done this before but that these people needed to be prayed for. The pastor suggested that perhaps a group prayer would be expeditious but Seth thought that individual prayer would be more appropriate. “That would take a long time” responded the pastor but he agreed. There ensued over two hours of prayers with three teams praying with individuals for physical or spiritual healing while the congregation sang worship songs. The service continued for almost 5 hours eventuating with multiple offertories and a lively auction where the youth group bought a goat and many other items. The youth group agreed that it was the most inspirational service that they had ever attended and suggested that the US Episcopal churches should replicate it but considered that it would take the average pew sitter a while to get used to.

Wish that you were here!!

Love, Scott