Advent, Hymns

Advent Carol – Now It’s Time to Light the Candle

(PDF with music available here)

Now it’s time to light the candle,
Soon God’s promise will be here.
Young and old we wait together
For the Savior drawing near.

Light will overcome the darkness:
See the hope the Christ Child brings.

Now it’s time to light the candle,
Messengers prepare the way.
Wolf and lamb lie down together;
Righteousness marks God’s new day.

Light will overcome the darkness:
Live the peace the Christ Child brings.

Now it’s time to light the candle,
In God’s name we will rejoice.
Bells and organ play together,
We will shout in one loud voice!

Light will overcome the darkness:
Sing the joy the Christ Child brings.

Now it’s time to light the candle,
Shining love in Jesus’ name.
When all people join together
Earth will never be the same.

Light will overcome the darkness:
Be the love the Christ Child brings.

~Martha Spong, 2015 – try REGENT SQUARE for a bright tune (PDF at link), PICARDY for a more contemplative option

Permission is given to use in worship; please leave a comment saying where you are.

Love, reverb10

Appreciate — #reverb10 day 14

002 December 14 – Appreciate

What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it?

(Author: Victoria Klein)

What I came to appreciate most this year is mutual love. You can have it with friends or your children or a dog or a congregation or even, if a bird or other creature is very fortunate, with one special person (just so you'll know I haven't give up on that idea completely).

When love flows freely back and forth, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. 

I express gratitude for mutual love by affirming it in words (both aloud and in writing) and by thanking God for it and by doing my part to keep it flowing. I believe that last [art requires equal parts of activity and attention and awareness and awe. 

In the end, though this was a hard, hard year, I've never been so aware of being loved in my whole life. And I truly appreciate it.


LGBT, Living in This World, Love


"But the word of God is not chained." (2 Timothy 2:9b) 

Devil_mythic_thumb4 Not too long ago I had my hands on the Devil card from a Tarot deck based on the Greek Myths. Pan gambols, if statically, holding the chains of an unhappy-looking, naked couple. The key to the image is that the man and the woman are actually quite free to walk away. Interpretively it's a card about addictions or habits or ways of being we feel have us trapped, imprisoned, held in chains, and although it's sort of a shocking card to turn over and hold in your hand, it holds the promise of freedom.

I looked it up, because before I was a pastor, and even before I was a seminarian, I was a library reference assistant, and I always look things up. 

Sometimes the chains we let bind us are on the inside, and sometimes they are held by other people, but as the card suggests, usually — usually — we're letting them. 

But, not always.

Either way, it's hard to get out of the chained-up position. It's the hardest kind of work to admit your situation and to look at what needs to happen to extricate yourself and to take the first step in that direction, and then another, and then another. 

Sometimes all you can do is breathe, and then breathe again, looking vaguely in the direction of your goal.

Even though the epistle tells us the word of God is not chained, I'm afraid there are people who use that same word to chain others, or try to, to create a prison of words of shame and derision and hate, all in the name of God. People, in the name of Jesus, hurt others who are different just because they can. And that's the Devil card, a part of our human nature to take power over others just to make ourselves feel more secure. It's a despicable part of our human nature, especially when it leads to the kind of bullying that drove Tyler Clementi to kill himself. 

The Devil card reminds me of the line in the Apostle's Creed that I like the least, the one that tells us Jesus descended into Hell. 

I live in a house where 15-year-olds ask questions such as, "Is it okay for me to be confirmed when I have such a low Christology?" Our view of Jesus, his humanity and his divinity, is a not infrequent topic of conversation. That descent into Hell supports LP's low Christology, doesn't it? It's a human thing to do, to go down into the darkest places, to the cave where the chains bind us, the chains of disappointment and low expectations and past suffering and even other people's authentic cruelty. Even Jesus, according to our faith ancestors, had to go there, for a full human experience. 

But the Word of God is not chained. It is not. And I believe that Word is Love. So even though I'm having a hard day — a very hard day — and even though I hurt — I really do — I do not despair. The chains are temporal and temporary, mine. And out in the world, the chains that can hurt people are removable, if people who understand God's Word to be Love will say it out loud. 

Love, Philemon

On the Basis of Love

I'm thinking about Philemon, which is almost a first, though maybe actually a second, since I must have studied it in that class I took about the epistles long ago at a theological school not so far, far away. 

It's a letter, a short one, and it tells the story of a slave who has run away and the efforts being made by Paul to have the slave taken in again, sort of like the hired man in Robert Frost's poem, home being the place where when you have to go there they have to take you in, except it isn't as simple as that. And it's hard for us to read it without thinking about slavery in the United States, which is certainly understandable, and the interesting figure in that discussion for we 21st century progressives may just be how messed up Paul was, because he never condemned slavery, but if we've done our homework we've also learned the justification that since he thought Jesus was coming back in a hot minute, it didn't matter so much, anyway, whether we were slave or free, or etc., because as long as we believed in him, we were going straight on the 1st century equivalent of a rocket ship to heaven, a sort of elevator banked by clouds. 

But I want something else from Philemon tonight, so I'm looking hard at it. I'm thinking about the things that feel like slavery to me, the things I've tried to run away from, or the places I've felt caught or captive. I'm thinking about the people I've wronged when I haven't fulfilled my responsibilities in life (yes, it happens to all of us, doesn't it?), and even a slave had a responsibility in a skewed sort of way.

This is what happens when you let English majors loose on the Bible. We're looking for a glimpse in a word or a phrase we can examine, not a political point to be made. 

Pay attention to Paul, like him or not, accused so many years after his death and outside of his time of not knowing anything about real equality or acceptance, and that's probably true, but listen to him. Try to hear him in these words:

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love–and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.

I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 

I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. (Philemon 1:8-12, NRSV)

It's practically poetry. 

Rembrandt-apostle_paul A slave is a prisoner of sorts, and Paul is all kinds of prisoner at this point in his life, locked up and still working hard for his Christ Jesus. He is a prisoner for Jesus, yes, but he tells us he is a prisoner *of* Christ Jesus. This old man, he calls himself that, is a prisoner of Christ Jesus, given over to him entirely. 

I want that, but I am enslaved by my life, the need to earn a living, keep a roof over the head, you know the things that limit our capacity to be faithful, especially after we start having children who need shoes and clothes and backpacks and baseball gloves (not mine, but maybe yours) and music lessons to fulfill their dreams and live their passions and be faithful to God through living their own lives authentically.

Paul would rather appeal to Philemon on the basis of love. He offers to pay the debts of Onesimus, asks Philemon to receive him back as more than a slave, to receive him as a brother, as he would receive Paul.

He asks for a lot.

I wonder what it was like for Onesimus to go back? Was he afraid, or did he believe in the ability of Paul to win Philemon's heart? 

There are so many different kinds of love. I love ice cream. I love my children. I love my friends. I've been in love more than once at different levels of intensity and been loved in return, sometimes, too. Paul is asking Philemon to upend his ideas of authority and ownership, to let love break through and around and over him, to see the value of a person who has been a possession and to let him be a new creation. 

"Please read Paul's letter first," he must have been thinking as he approached Philemon. "Please read the letter first before you lash out at me or have me punished. Please understand that we are brothers, in Christ."

We don't know the end of the story. We only have the letter. But I would like to think, because it survives, that it worked when Paul appealed on the basis of love.

(The painting is Harmensz van Rijn Rembrandt's "The Apostle Paul in Prison", 1627, oil on panel.)

Love, Marriage, Weddings

Things Go Awry

UnionChurch_wedding  (My last act as Interim Associate Pastor at Y1P is to officiate at a wedding, off-campus, this afternoon. I must admit that I usually lean heavily on old homilies…but this time I wrote something from scratch.)

Things go awry.

You can almost rely on it. Life is going along smoothly, as
beautiful as this gorgeous day, this lovely bride, this kind-hearted groom.
That’s what we want for you, the smooth ride, the good weather, the supportive
friends, the expansive blessings of providence showered upon you.

But the vows you will make to one another are for other

They are moments away, these holy and heavy words that will
bind you, making two people into one marriage.

The apostle Paul wrote to young communities of faith, not to
young couples, but he expressed himself in ways that we bring to weddings
because the words are not romantic but holistic. They prepare us for the times
when things are less fabulous, more earthly, not-so-divine and fully human.

River We read the words from scripture and exchange the historic
vows knowing that we are not alone in finding commitment challenging, knowing
that like so many other people all we can do is the best we can do, knowing
that we are standing on the shore of the great, glad river of God’s Love, a
river we will need to visit to draw a cup of kindness, a bucket of compassion,
a pool full of forgiveness when the moment calls for it.

You’ll need them when things go awry, these thoughtfully
crafted and poetically expressed promises, more grittily summed up this way.
You promise to be there for each other not just through highs, but through
lows, not only when it’s easy, but when it’s hard. You promise to forgive each
other not just for locking the keys in the car or forgetting an anniversary,
but for being fallible and broken human beings who will surely make worse
mistakes and say the wrong things and turn out to be somewhat different from the
people you believe yourselves to be today.

Wedding-gift You will receive many gifts, beautiful things you will appreciate and for which you will write many thank you notes, no doubt! But the real treasures are the promises you give each other today, word gems
that give you a place to look for help and encouragement no matter what the
future brings. It’s my prayer that you will remember these things when you need
them, and be blessed by having said them to each other.


I am there for you

I'll be preaching tomorrow at an interfaith service during the Clam Festival and along with Luke 10:38-42 (Mary and Martha), we'll be reading what follows.

I AM THERE FOR YOU – Thich Nhat Hanh,
“Living Buddha, Living Christ”

The most
precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When our mindfulness
embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. If you love someone but
you rarely make yourself available to him or her, that is not true love. When
your beloved is suffering, you need to recognize her suffering, anxiety, and
worries, and just by doing that, you already offer some relief. Mindfulness
relieves suffering because it is filled with understanding and compassion. When
you are really there, showing your loving-kindness and understanding, the
energy of the Holy Spirit is in you. That is why I told the priest in Florence
that mindfulness is very much like the Holy Spirit. Both of them help us touch
the ultimate dimension of reality. 
Mindfulness helps us touch nirvana, and the Holy Spirit offers us to the
door of the Trinity.