April 29, 2012

Know that the Lord is God

We are exploring what Psalm 100 can teach us about living a life of joy that enables us to share the love of God in what we do and say, in all the ways we live. The first part of verse 3 says that we must “know that the Lord is God.” We cannot worship or share the love of a deity that we don’t really know.
This butterfly in the flowers reminds us God is the One whom all creation worships with a ‘joyful noise.’ Our worship needs to be filled with gladness and joy and even a song. We can be joyful because we know WHO our God IS. Romans 8:28, 38-39 assures us, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
We each have a different answer to Who God is, though, because we each have a unique experience of the Love of God to us. How would you respond if someone asked “who is this God you believe in?” The Apostle’s Creeds gives us one answer and many of us say it every week:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,  creator of heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen
Every part of the creed is true. However, it may not fully capture all of Who God is in your life.
Ask yourself Who is God in my life?
Is Christ my friend, helper, lover, guide…?
What words would I use to describe the Lord?
Take a few minutes to make a list of your own synonyms for God.  You might even want to make 3 lists: one for God as Father, one for God as Son, one for God as Holy Spirit.
Knowing Who God is and that "nothing can separate us from the love of God" will more than likely give you a new appreciation for God and enliven your worship. Knowing Who God is in your life will enable you to share your personal story of your relationship with God, too.
“The Lord is God” says the Psalmist. That is true.
“So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them,” says 1 John 4:16. That is true.
God is in loving relationship with each of us. That is also true.
"We are more than conquerors through him who loved us," is a true statement as well. 
The Lord our God desires our joyful, glad, worship. That is true, as well.

How will you respond to the Lord our God? Next time we will look at the second half of verse 3, which gives us another answer to the question of how to live joyfully in the Lord.

April 22, 2012

Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing

Last week we started our exploration of what Psalm 100 can teach us about living a ‘holy life’-a life of sharing the Good News of our faith. We start with making a “joyful noise to the Lord” along with all of creation.
Verse 2 of the Psalm says we are to “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” “But I can’t sing,” some people complain. I’m pretty sure that God knows perfectly well if you are gifted with a beautiful voice or not. It is not about waiting until you are professionally trained to sing praises to God-it is about a heart for worship. When you are offering God your heart via singing, I think the angels rejoice at the beauty of the sound.
Matt Redman, a contemporary Christian musician, sings about this in his song The Heart of Worship. He says, “I'll bring You more than a song For a song in itself Is not what You have required You search much deeper within Through the ways things appear You're looking into my heart.” (The words are below and you can watch a video of this song here)
 Worship is about the offering of our whole self to God, where, as Redman says “And it's all about You All about You, Jesus.” The Psalmist says ‘worship the Lord with gladness’! Sometimes I like to look up the actual definition of words, even when they are used regularly. There are 5 definitions of the word ‘gladness,’ all of which could apply to how we worship our Lord.
Gladness can be experiencing or exhibiting joy and pleasure. It can be a sense of being appreciative or providing joy and pleasure. Gladness can mean we are very willing or pleased as well as that we are bright and cheerful. It seems to me that worship should involve all of those attributes. When we come to the Lord in worship, we ought to be joyful and appreciative. We should find pleasure in our time with God. Worship, at its best, sends us forth willing to serve in a cheerful way.
The Psalmist started by calling us to join with all creation in “making a joyful noise,” then we draw close to God in worship and offer ourselves. In coming close to God and finding that nothing matters except that relationship is where we learn to share our good news with others. Then we are empowered like the Samaritan woman who invited her friends and neighbors, “Come and see.” (John 4:29)
Can you worship the Lord this week in all that you say and do, and maybe even with a song that is “more than a song”? When we really share our heart with God, we are able to share ourselves with one another ‘with gladness’ and tell out the Good News of God’s love. That’s worth singing about, isn’t it?

“The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman
When the music fades
And all is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart

I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
It's all about You Jesus

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much You deserve
Though I'm weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath

I'll bring You more than just a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
It's all about You Jesus

Its all about you

April 15, 2012

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth

This year I’ve been meditating in this blog about ways to live into the Call of God on each of us. During Epiphany we looked at the lessons of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 and Philippians 4:4-9 beginning with ‘Rejoice Always’. Lent was a time of looking at our journey in light of the Dorothy’s travels in Oz, the disciples’ road to Jerusalem, and at the path Naomi of Bethlehem traveled from despair to faith. For Eastertide (the weeks between Easter and Pentecost) join me on an exploration of what Psalm 100 can teach us about living a ‘holy life’-a life of sharing the Good News of our faith.

The first line of the psalm calls us to "make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth." Just as our Epiphany study urged us to “Rejoice Always," the psalmist says that the most important thing we can do is to make a joyful noise. Some translations say “Shout with joy [to the Lord], all the earth”, which is even more emphatic than ‘make a joyful noise’. I am reminded of Jesus telling the Pharisees on the first Palm Sunday that if his disciples were silent, “the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) We have plenty of reason, as children of God, to shout with joy!
Spring is a perfect time of year to hear the world making ‘joyful noise’. This year I have been very aware of the bird twittering that has been largely absent during the winter. It seems like they are singing extra loud this spring, so that I hear them even through the closed door. The breeze rustling through the ever more abundant leaves on the trees, the splashing of feet in puddles, and the barking of neighborhood dogs all seem to be shouting in their own voice of the new life bursting out this spring. Each part of the world has its own joyful noise. Farms have the sound of chicks and other baby animals. If you live near frozen ponds, the ice makes cracking sounds as it melts and in other areas, the melting snow makes the rivers and streams rush more loudly.
I know it is easy to be oblivious to all this joyful cacophony. It is equally easy to be oblivious to reasons for making our own ‘joyful noise’. It’s not really about being ‘happy’, but more about being aware of blessings. What blessings, you might argue—I’m sick, I’m broke, I’m out of a job, I’m alone… We could all come up with a reason for not joining the chorus of joyful noise. Yet, don’t we all have blessings, if we just stop and think about it? The fact of John 3:16 should remind us to make a joyful noise.
Making a joyful noise is a wonderful way to begin the Resurrection season. Now in Eastertide we joyfully say “Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!” Some churches, including the Cathedral of St. John, have a tradition of ‘burying the Alleluia’ during Lent. No songs with ‘alleluia’ are sung and the alleluia is left off the antiphons. On Easter morning the children are invited forward (see photo) to open the “Alleluia tomb” and lead the congregation in a grand “Alleluia” shout!
How can we make a ‘joyful noise’ along with the stones, heavens, and mountains? As the cartoon (from reverendfun.com) at the beginning suggests, we don’t have to do it with hymns and prayers, which are good, but we can also just ‘say yippee!’ sometimes! Think of at least one thing to make you shout for joy today, then share that with someone else. We can all use a bit more joyful noise in the world.  

April 8, 2012

Easter Day

Happy Easter. Here is a prayer from Brigid of Kildare that may give you food for thought on this joyous day. Next week we’ll start on a new adventure for the Easter season.

I should like a great lake of finest ale
For the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
For the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made of the fruits of faith,
And the food be forgiving love.
I should welcome the poor to my feast,
For they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast,
For they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
And the sick dance with the angels.
God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
And bless our human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink,
All homes, O God, embrace.
Brigid of Kildare

Next week we'll start a new series "Psalm 100 Living"-what would it mean to live into the promises and joy of Psalm 100? 

April 1, 2012

New Beginnings

Today is Palm Sunday. In many churches we’ll hear 2 Gospel readings. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem will be read at the beginning and then the story of Good Friday later in the service. In the short space of an hour we will walk with Jesus from the height of acclamation to the depths of rejection and death.
Throughout this coming week, many of us will attend special services so that we can enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus’ final week. With the disciples, we will share in the celebration of the institution of Communion on Maundy Thursday with the commemoration of the Last Supper and on Good Friday they may be Stations of the Cross or a time of meditation and quiet to draw near the Cross and marvel at the lengths God’s love takes. Then on Sunday we will all celebrate the New Beginning of the Resurrection.
For Jesus’ disciples the first Holy Week must have been very emotional and confusing. Jesus enters Jerusalem to the shouts of ‘Hosanna’ and all looks wonderful. But then…He gathers them for a Passover meal, which he transforms with new words. “This is my body…This is my blood of the new covenant” He tells them. They must have been confused. Even more shocking to them is his arrest. They are afraid and flee into hiding.  Even though Peter bravely follows the crowd to the courtyard, he cannot acknowledge that he knows Jesus. Instead he denies the relationship and “goes out and weeps bitterly”. We’ve seen that when Naomi returned to Bethlehem she was convinced that she was useless and that God hates her. “Call me Mara,” she says, thinking she has come back home to die.
For Dorothy and her friends there is a similar journey of rejoicing and let down. They return to the Emerald City after obtaining the witch’s broomstick as demanded by the “Great and Powerful Oz” only to discover that he is just a country fair huckster whose balloon was blown off course to Oz. Then he sneaks away in the balloon, leaving Dorothy behind. Dorothy’s despair is overwhelming. After Glinda appoints the Scarecrow to rule the Emerald City, the Tin Woodman as king of the Winkies and the Lion to the Forest as King of the Beasts, Dorothy asks, “How will I get home to Kansas?”
None of these people knew that just around the corner was a new beginning. The disciples in hiding with their Master arrested, Dorothy left behind by a charlatan, and Naomi welcomed by her old friends all thought that their dream was over. They all thought that they were stuck forever in the nightmare of betrayal, lies, and death that they saw in front of them.
However, God never ceases to act. In Isaiah 57:14, he commands, “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people." A new beginning was actually just around the corner for each of these characters.
For the disciples the Resurrection was only 3 days away. “Didn’t you know your Silver Shoes* have magic power? They will take you anywhere,” Glinda tells Dorothy. “Just knock the heels together three times and say where you wish to go.” Naomi did not know that she would be the great-great grandmother of the King of Israel, even as she rejoiced in the birth of a grandson. “They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:17-18)
A new beginning is also just around the corner for you and me, even when we feel like we’ve reached the end of our rope or find ourselves at a dead end. Has this Lent been a time of discovering bumps in your journey? Then there is probably a new beginning in the future-a resurrection coming. There is a sort of joke about the man walking along the edge of a cliff. He slips and falls, but manages to catch hold of a branch anchored in the side of the hill. He starts calling for help and finally hears a voice saying. “Let go, I’ll catch you.” “Who are you?” “God,” comes the answer. After thinking about it, he calls out, “Is anyone else out there.” Often we’d rather not let go and fall into the arms of God, but like for Naomi, Dorothy and the disciples, a new beginning can come when we reach the end of the rope and then let go.
I hope you will have the chance to take advantage of some time with God this Holy Week so that you’ll find a new beginning in the Easter season. We'll start a new adventure together after Easter.
(This cake picture was too great not to share-it shows the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and each layer represents a character! Besides, it shows that everything can have a sweet ending.)
*Frank L. Baum's actual book has  Dorothy wearing Silver Shoes. Hollywood changed them to Ruby Slippers.