An Abundance of Blessings (A Sermon of sorts for Thanksgiving Eve)

-thanksgiving-clipart-8Tonight I provided the following reflections as part of the message in my congregation’s Thanksgiving Eve worship service.  As is the custom on this blog, I include my sermons that I share. However, I remove most pieces that are dependent upon the context so what follows is fairly close to what I preached without some of the contextual particulars.  This sermon was crafted based on the readings appointed by the Revised Common Lectionary for Thanksgiving in Year C.  It is based on the Gospel of John 6:25-35; as well as the other appointed lessons:  Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; and Philippians 4:4-9.  Happy Thanksgiving one and all, and take time to give thanks, count your blessings, and share that abundance which you have been entrusted with, with others!  Blessings- TS

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AN ABUNDANCE OF BLESSINGS

In the portion of the gospel we read tonight, we hear about bread, manna, and the claim that Jesus is the bread of life.  Bread and Jesus as bread of life, that is somewhat straight forward.  But what is manna?  When you get right to it, the idea of manna really can mean, “what the heck is that stuff?” [1] That’s exactly our pastor’s definition of it, and honestly I haven’t found a better description of what it is. Manna is provided by God in the answer to the people’s needs for nourishment and their well-being, but by doing so, God is using the natural and ordinary to feed the people.  This connects with the historic practice of our feasting and praising on Thanksgiving- of giving thanks for the land and what the harvest has yielded.

Returning to the gospel and its references to the journey of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness, the children of God do not recognize what will sustain them in their wilderness journeys and wanderings, even when it’s right in front of them.  It’s like being on a trip and not exactly knowing the way or if you will be able to eat and sleep on that trip.  They are hoping and pining for what they remember, they long for the “good old days” or the “way things were.”  They want to go back, even as do the people wandering in the wilderness expressed themselves at different points in their journey about wanting to return to Egypt.[2]  They want to return and go back to doing what they used to do, because it’s something they are familiar with and which they have experienced.  They don’t want something new and different.  This is the same way the people seem to react to the new Manna, Jesus.

Jesus proclaims, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”[3] More or less, I think we get this now.  But sometimes we lose sight of its deeper transformative meaning.

One of the ways that we celebrate, practice, and believe that Jesus is the “bread of life” is through Holy Communion.  But I must admit we acknowledge and remember Jesus as the “bread of life” in other and perhaps equally important ways too.

We are fed when we do what we love- that which God has entrusted us gifts for, our passions, following our hopes and dreams.  We are also fed in this way when we come to God, admit our shortcomings, confess our failings and admit how we are in need of love and grace.  And then we are fed with the gift of forgiveness.  We are forgiven of our sins, and reminded that we are all beautiful and unique people, created in the image of God. Pure and simple, we are all Children of God.  “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,”[4] this is true when you open the Word of God, listen, read, and dwell in it. It’s true when we come in prayer. It’s also true when we come and confess and hear those all meaningful words that we are forgiven.  By believing in God, we are not thirsty.[5]  We trust in God’s promises for us and in God’s love for us and for all creation.  We also believe that we are part of God’s work.

There. Perhaps that’s enough deep theology for tonight.  Pure and simply we gather together this evening to give thanks.  We also gather to reflect, to worship, and to join together in fellowship around some wonderful pie.

So, let us give thanks.  After all, giving thanks is all we can do for what God has done.  We give thanks first of all for life and by doing so, we recognize that it’s a gift that requires a response- the act of living it.[6]  We receive that which God gives and entrusts, and we give thanks for it.  By using what God entrusts then, we are living our lives in response to the good news.  So when we serve God, we aren’t doing so because we have to in order to be saved, but because the joy of the good news compels us to.  There is nothing that we can do but be thankful and share God’s love and goodness with others.

Taking a step back, Thanksgiving is not really a liturgical day on the church calendar.  It’s a national holiday, which can be and has been connected and grounded in religious themes.  I appreciate it though for where it occurs in relation to the church calendar because it allows us to look back over the past year and give thanks.  It also, with the beginning of Advent allows us to look forward in hope and expectation at the time and year ahead. [7]

("Labeled for commercial reuse with modification" in a Google image search for "blessings")
(“Labeled for commercial reuse with modification” in a Google image search for “blessings”)

So in doing this, and at risk of falling for the cliché, admit it, your Grandma was right.  She was right when she said, “count your blessings.”  It’s important to take time to name what we are thankful for, and to reflect on that.  Too often we take for granted what we have.  Too often we dwell on what we don’t have enough of.  Well, we have enough.

When there is conflict, strife, and tension we miss out on the good that is all around us.  When things are good, we are complacent and lose sight of how wonderful things are.  It’s a constant struggle in our lives.

We live abundant life; yet, we always have this human desire for more, or simply a feeling that we don’t have enough.  Sarah Ban Breathnack has a powerful reflection on this.  She writes, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend… when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present- love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure- the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.” [8]

Sometimes, heaven on earth is really experienced when you put aside the worries in life and you allow yourself to enjoy the moment or even a meal.  I don’t know about you but some of my most vivid memories of Thanksgiving naturally involve food.  Think of your mom or grandma’s mashed potatoes, assuming most of you like mashed potatoes?  There is just something about mashed potatoes and gravy for me at least.  If you know what I mean, close your eyes.  Take in that smell of hot and steaming mashed potatoes. Now, imagine you have that big mound of mashed potato goodness on your plate.  It’s time to add the gravy, what do you do?  Do you generously pour it on? Or do you first take the gravy ladle or spoon and make a crater?  I always make a crater first. My wife Allison always makes a crater too.  Maybe it’s because she wants to play a little with the food on her plate and imagine she has a little mini Mt. St. Helens.  Maybe I make the crater because I like to remember all of those volcanoes my friends and I made as science fair projects back in Elementary School.  But what do you do?  Do you have a consistent way you pour the gravy on the potatoes? I would guess you probably do, and that’s in a way a natural ritual of the Thanksgiving meal.

Of course, the wonderful meal can only happen though after we share grace.  I know this congregation seems to always sing the doxology “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” Well, do you know something, that’s actually kind of a strange practice for me?  From my understanding, that’s more of a worship song in response to offering, at least as I envision it.  There are texts for that tune, which is actually called “Old One Hundred,” specifically written for the blessing of a meal.  I am thinking particularly of “Be Present at Our Table Lord.”  Who knows this?  If not, I am going to teach it to you now so we can be ready for the end of tonight’s service.  Okay?

Here it goes… “Be present at our table Lord.  Be here and everywhere adored.  These mercies bless and grant that we.  May strengthen for thy service be.”  This is the main version of the prayer.  But for particular meals and feasts such as Thanksgiving there is an alternate ending which we’ll actually use tonight and its printed on the last page of the bulletin.  Instead of “May strengthen for thy service be,” we will sing, “May feast in paradise with thee” taking it directly from this past Sunday’s gospel reading if you remember it.  Anyway, let’s sing it together once.  “Be present at our table Lord.  Be here and everywhere adored.  These mercies bless and grant that we.  May feast in paradise with thee.”  Maybe I am too attached to these because they are part of my family and congregational traditions?  My guess is that its somewhere combined with that, and with the fact that many Scandinavian Lutheran congregations which I grew up a part of have made use of that version of the table grace for as long as I have been alive anyway.

Now in addition to singing grace before the Thanksgiving meal, there is often time to go around the table and say what we are thankful for.  My family has occasionally done this practice, and I love it. It’s meaningful.  It’s especially meaningful in light of Thanksgiving experiences past.

For those of you who were here on Sunday, let me add a little more to that story about my grandpa.  I remember it vividly.  Six years ago, it was Thanksgiving Eve on a night such as this.  I had gone to church that night, alone really, in order to be a family representative who would let the congregation and church choir know that it was probably going to be the last night with my Grandpa.  The family had wanted the choir to, if possible, be able to share and sing at my Grandpa’s funeral, and if it so happened that Grandpa passed away, the plan was to have the funeral on that coming Sunday afternoon since so many in the family had already arrived to be with Grandpa.  About four or five hours later, we got the news.  Grandpa had passed away peacefully.  Thanksgiving for the second year in a row, would be a time of family togetherness, but also grieving. You see, the year prior my other grandfather had passed away in the weeks before Thanksgiving. And so it’s with this said that you understand where I am coming from in celebrating and worshiping this Thanksgiving Eve.

Thanksgiving is an occasion for us in our own groups of friends, families, but also as a larger body of Christ to remember those in our lives- present, past, and future.  It is a time to give thanks for them, and that which they gave of themselves to help us grow and become who we are.

It’s also a time to give thanks for the present.  We rejoice in the Lord always, as Philippians reminds.[9] We make a joyful noise and give thanks with the Psalmist.[10]  And we remember the tough times in the wilderness which the Israelites, Levites, and strangers did together in celebrating together.[11]  In a lot of ways we have had a tough year this past year. But even so, there is much to be grateful for and to celebrate.

We celebrate this space and we celebrate the future it represents and makes possible.  We use this place, not just for fellowship and gathering but we will use it occasionally for large group worship.  We use this for community and mission work.  We use it as a means to spread God’s love in new and wonderful ways.  We give thanks for the dreamers who made this possible, and we give thanks for the endless possibilities that this represents and provides.  Perhaps even in the years ahead this space will host community meals for those who might need some food and fellowship? Maybe even a community Thanksgiving?

We also give thanks for the light which fills this hall and makes it possible to use.  Especially as the calendar year moves on, and days continue to get shorter this time of year, we give thanks for light.  We give thanks for the light that is Christ that guides our days, deeds, and steps.

We give thanks for our families and friends who have shown us love and how to love.  We give thanks for all those who give faithfully to support your work in the world, to support the building up of the church and future leaders by giving to seminaries and colleges and universities.  We give thanks for all who support and make your work and ministry possible here in gifts of time, talent and treasure.

We give thanks for each other.  We give thanks for our ability to come together and do ministry, even when it’s not easy.  I give thanks for the love each of you has shown in my time here, and continue to show.  I give thanks personally for the worship and music team, the council, and all the ministry teams here and for their leaders who serve faithfully, as well as my fellow staff, and all leaders of this place.

We give thanks for our pastor as he continues to recover from his surgery.  Our pastor is a great blessing to this congregation in its journey of discernment and transition, and I personally see how much he cares and pours into the ministry and future of this place even though it may not always be visible.  He takes a great deal of grief from many of us, including me, but he carries on trusting in you, and for that we give thanks.

Friends, as you can see, we have much to be thankful for.  We are thankful for this new space, and the future possibilities and dreams it allows for us to have.  We are thankful for each other, those whom we worship and will eat pie with tonight and those present in spirit.  The road in the journey to this point in time has not been easy.  But, you have made it this far.  As we hear in Deuteronomy, “the Lord brought us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm.”[12] It’s a passage reflecting on the wilderness experience, and giving thanks for God’s presence and provision in the midst of that time.  Despite what it might seem, God is very much here with us, and at work here among us.  We give thanks for that as well.

We give thanks for all of the wonderful ministry done in participation with us here in the past and the present. And we give thanks for the future of ministry here and in the larger world, doing so with great hope and anticipation.

All of these things which we give thanks for, let us offer up our prayers to God.  These blessings which we have been entrusted with, and taken the last few moments to count and reflect on, really speak to how wonderful God is, and how wonderful and powerful it is to be a part of God’s work in the world of bearing love and peace.

Friends, give thanks.  Be grateful.  And show that love which you have been shown, to others today, tomorrow, and every day.  Amen.


[1] Manna is the food that is miraculously provided, although at the same time perfectly natural, for the Israelites in the wilderness during their flight from Egypt. The “what the heck is this” is a potential basic response to any miracle or confusion that defies normal human understanding, capacity, or expectation. As far as the manna goes, like Fretheim argues, it is a reminder that God is connected with our very daily needs (Exodus, 181-184ff). This then can be linked with the themes presented in “The Lord’s Prayer.”

[2] Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus, (Louisville, KY:  John Knox Press, 1991), 181.

[3] John 6:35, NRSV.

[4] John 6:35, NRSV.

[5] John 6:35, NRSV.

[6] Walter Brueggemann, November 2010, “God’s Reign Cracks into Our World,” in Sojourners. This can be found at:  http://sojo.net/magazine/2010/11/gods-reign-cracks-our-world.

[7] Walter Bruggemann, “God’s Reign.”

[9] Philippians 4:4, NRSV.

[10] Psalm 100, NRSV.

[11] Deuteronomy 26:1-11, NRSV.

[12] Deuteronomy 26:8, NRSV.

This Week’s Links

Internet1Tuesday means its time for the weekly installment on this blog of the links. I share and entrust some of what I have read or seen in the past week with you for your reading and thought-provoking pleasure. This week’s categories are:  Church & Ministry Thought and Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership Thought and Practice; Neighbor Love; Social Media & Blogging; Stewardship; Vocation; Worship; and Miscellaneous. Enjoy!

Church & Ministry Thought and Practice

Apparently my post about Christmas Carols and hymns in worship shares sentiments and thoughts felt among many others.  Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana offered a whole series of posts on this over the past few years on her blog. I especially love her “Reasons to Sing Christmas Carols during Advent.”  Relatedly, I was also pleased to hear yesterday that Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis will be incorporating Christmas Carols into Advent worship this year for precisely some of the reasons I outlined in my post last week.

Last week came news that the Vatican had found and revealed frescoes of Priscilla that some believe show that there were early women priests. Perhaps this will help support the case for equity in worship and church leadership further regardless of gender?  We’ll see how the future unfolds.

Rev. Dr. Martin Marty
Rev. Dr. Martin Marty

Speaking of woman priests, the Church of England approved proposals for women bishops last week.

Martin Marty shares some very helpful perspective on how religious groups can find it difficult to use faith instruments to make political points.  He shares a particular story about recent events in Peoria, Illinois.

Cross-Sector Collaboration

The Harvard Business Review shared something I think very profound yesterday.  They offered a tip about “The Bonus Employees Really Want.”  Apparently more and more employees want the ability to be able to have a more altruistic and/or positive social impact.  What do you think?  Personally, I obviously resonate with you, but I also find it hopeful- a sign of hope in our society and its sectors moving forward into the future but also in working in the here and now.

Leadership Thought and Practice

Richard Branson shares some thoughts about lessons on leadership from Nelson Mandela. Take a look.

Susan Mazza offers a helpful perspective that “Leading can be silent.” As she writes, “Your silence can speak volumes about who you are and what matters to you.”

Tanveer Naseer offers something I find very helpful.  His post “Making Feedback a Gift For Your Employees,” is an important read.  He writes that, “Feedback should be encouraging and supportive; feedback should clarify roles and purpose within the organization; Your feedback should make your employees hungry to achieve more.”  What kind of feedback helps you grow?  What kind of feedback do you offer that hopefully helps others grow?

Organizations every once and awhile have to figure out their next CEO.  Gretchen Gavett asks, “Is Your Next Great CEO a Management Consultant?”

Daniel Goleman writes an extensive article on “The Focused Leader.”

The Economist offers a good reminder and reflection on how “Management thinkers disagree on how to manage complexity.”

Neighbor Love

Rachel Held Evans‘ blog shared a post by Tim Krueger about “Lament for the Philippines.”  It’s an honest and moving reflection.  It’s also a good reminder of our neighbors, their needs, and our call to love and serve them and meet them where they are at.

Friend of this blogger Rev. Ruth Marston offers a wonderful reflection and response to recent strife and decisions within the United Methodist Church.

The Erasmus blog on the website for The Economist offers an important reflection on the relationship and implications of religious difference and war.

Robert Reich has been making waves lately in commenting on America’s growing inequality gaps.  Here is one example.

If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look at this interactive map of Africa. It might give you a new understanding of the world.

Here’s an example of showing neighbor love to/for those of a different faith on an international and global scale.

Here is a good reflection on the importance of human touch, especially in showing love and respect to your neighbor/stranger.

Social Media & Blogging

Belle Beth Cooper provides “10 Surprising Social Media Statistics that will make you rethink your social strategy.” If you haven’t seen this yet, please take a look at it.

Stewardship

Friend of this blogger and this blog, Grace Duddy is back with some very helpful stewardship reflections. She provides, “Frugal Fitness for the Holidays.”  If you are like me, the extra food we sometimes seem to consume around Thanksgiving through Advent and Christmas and New Year’s, often takes a toll on your diet and workout routine.  Grace provides some ideas and tips to afford to try and stay fit while also having fun.

moneysignRachel Marie Stone shares some ideas about how to live lightly and consume less. She suggests to “start by going through what you already have,” “before you buy new, ask around,” and “keep a list,” among other things.

Carey Nieuwhof shares “7 Fresh Ways for Every Church Leader to Think About Money.”  I entrust these good reminders to you.

Vocation

Oumou Dicko, the President’s Office Assistant at Lutheran World Relief, shared her thoughts on why she’s grateful for her vocation.  This is beautiful, and I could only hope that other people would feel the ability to reflect and explain about their vocations.  How would you describe your vocations? Are you grateful for them? Or, would you like to make a change or feel led to make a change?

I believe part of one’s on-going discernment of their vocations is an ability to wrestle with uncertainty.  If we always had certainty, I think we would become bored. Though I know all of us would prefer a little more certainty at times.  Daniela Tempesta writes about “The Grand Delusion of Certainty.”  What do you think?  She argues that one of the keys to a meaningful life is a “willingness to fail.”  I would tend to agree with her. Would you?

Worship

Lucinda S. Holmes shares, “How to Offer Worship for Those Within Your Reach.” Her reflections are very much grounded in a sense of mission, and thus I share them with you for your thoughts.

I shared this on Twitter on Sunday, but I wanted to share it with you in case you didn’t see that Tweet. Here are 10 “worshipish” songs that are done in new ways or by unexpected musicians.

-thanksgiving-clipart-8With Thanksgiving in two days, many congregations may be having worship tomorrow evening or Thursday morning. Friend of this blogger and blog, Dr. Terri Elton shares a few thoughts about this.

Miscellaneous

Being true to the word “miscelleanous” these following links have really nothing to do with this blog or its particular themes. I share these because they might be interesting for you anyway.

First, if you love to travel you might want to check out these ideas on how to do so by cruise for a huge discount. (Ignore all of the obvious commercialism at this site though.)

Second, Alex Wain shared “15 Breathtaking Images of Cities Viewed From High Above.” These are gorgeous pictures that will help brighten your day, and perhaps even give you a little bug to travel more. See especially the pictures of Rio de Janeiro and Seattle.

Finally, I have confessed before on this blog that I am a sports fan originally from the Pacific Northwest.  One of the most prolific of reporters and experts on football is John Clayton.  There was a nice story on him, his work, life, and I would add vocation in the Tacoma News Tribune yesterday.  Check it out, its a good read about passion, hard work, and a desire and emphasis to always get the news right.

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That will end the links for this week.  I hope you enjoyed them and found some that are stimulating for thought and reflection.  If there are other types of stories/articles that you would like me to share, please just let me know as always.  I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Blessings!- TS

What Kind of King? (A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday)

"Christ the King" (Image courtesy of a google search by that title"
“Christ the King”
(Image courtesy of a Google search by that title and “labeled for commercial reuse with modification”)

Yesterday we observed and celebrated “Christ the King Sunday.”  It is the last Sunday of the church year, and the day the church honors Christ who reigns as King from the cross.  The lectionary appointed texts yesterday were Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; and Luke 23:33-43.  As has been a custom on this blog, I include the sermons I preach here as posts.  So I share the following with you, which is a sermon based on the Gospel of Luke 23:33-43.  I entitled the sermon, “What Kind of King?”  For context’s sake, I have removed a few congregational contextual identification pieces, but more or less what follows is what was preached.

What Kind of King?

And so today is Christ the King Sunday.  It marks the end of the church year.  And in some ways, it’s kind of awesome for me because I preached at the opening of this church year too, back last year on the first Sunday in Advent. Because of this I get to provide the book ends for this church year, our year spent largely with the gospel of Luke.  We journeyed together in worship this year hearing the repeated theme that the “last will be first and the first will be last.”  We have also been in the midst of the challenges, emotions, hard work, but also hopeful future of the transition process as a congregation.  All of this is important.  And I think today, perhaps better than any other day of the church year allows us to remember, to name, to grieve and to trust and hope.

Today’s gospel message is in many ways all about death and new life.  This raises a great question. Do you fear death?  I know I fear death, to some extent, but do you?  Ernest Becker, back in the 1970’s wrote a book called The Denial of Death, and we Americans perhaps more than most cultures have built up all of this fantasy around or even ignoring death in order for us to not have to face it.[1]  The problem with not facing it is that by refusing to see it for what it is, we give it power.  Our fear overtakes us, and we lose sight of the hope and healing that can come in spite of death.

About six years ago, this week, my Grandpa Tengesdal passed away.  He passed away the night before Thanksgiving, but he was able to hold on until all of his kids and grand-kids were able to see and talk with him one more time in person.  In his last days, he went in and out of consciousness as he was ending his long chapters of cancer and diabetes.  Grandpa lived 86 years of abundant life.  But the end was certainly not easy.  Here was a child of God, who served faithfully as a pastor for more than 50 years, a beloved husband, father, and grandfather. But he like most everyone else had to endure the trials and tribulations that come with human life.  In his last days though, a few remarkable things happened. The bishop of the synod came and visited with him. Current and retired pastors visited with him.  Longtime friends came and spoke with him.  I think some people thought they were going perhaps to provide some pastoral care to the family, but deep down they all knew they were going to get some last earthly pastoral advice from my grandpa.  He may not have spoken the advice clearly, but the way he lived and the way he died, I would say he did both well.

What gave me the greatest hope is not that he was comfortable and ready to go. I had long known that when death would come for grandpa, all would be well because not only did he believe that, he always lived life like that.  What gave me greatest hope was that in his last few days he was able to provide a measure of comfort and relief to those around him.  He told of a vision he had, that he was late to a party. This was odd given that Grandpa was never late for anything in life.  At that party, he said that he saw my other grandpa who passed away a year earlier. He also saw my Uncle Danny, his son who died far too young in life.  He also saw my first pet, our beloved dog Tasha at the party.  When my mom asked, “did you see Jesus?”  Grandpa was kind of cute about it, preserving the sacred mystery of it, but even though he may not have verbally affirmed it, his face and eyes said, “yes, indeed.”

There is much more to this story, and perhaps I will share some of it on Thanksgiving Eve.  But I wanted to start here, because this story is really only made possible by today’s gospel.

Today’s gospel passage, which is part of the passion narrative that takes place on Good Friday, is really the gospel in a nutshell.  Jesus Christ, proclaimed by the people as, “King of the Jews,” lived and died for us.  In his last moments on the cross, Jesus provides his last words of peace, hope, and trust.[2]

Jesus says, “You will be with me in Paradise.”[3]  He is referring to the man at his one side, also on a cross, but he might as well be referring to us. This is the assurance of the kingdom yet to come.  It is the assurance of being restored and in community with God.  It is the reminder from the Good Shepherd that he will not abandon his sheep, nor has he ever really abandoned his sheep.

A few moments earlier on the cross, Jesus tells God in heaven, “to forgive them.”[4] Again, he is asking for forgiveness for those in the community, but also I would argue based on Luke’s claims about the reversal of the last becoming the first, this is Jesus asking for the forgiveness of the people of all time and places. This is Jesus’ last plea that God hear Jesus’ request to love and redeem the people, us.  For this, Jesus goes to the cross even with his own doubts in the process.

This life of Jesus:  his provocative, social, and counter-cultural ministry; the threat to power and the way things were which led to the cross; his ultimate death on a cross and burial in a tomb; and the resurrection and good news of Easter… all of this is for you, for us.  All that he does, he does because God in Christ chooses to be in relationship with us.

Sometimes I feel like we know this story very well.  But other times I wonder if we are afraid to really admit this.  We live in fear of death.  But Jesus died, and we’ll die.  Death is a part of life.  It’s only through death that we really can have life.  But because of what God has done with the cross and overcoming it, death has lost its sting.  Because of the turning of the most heinous way to die on a tree to a means of hope and salvation, we can find hope even in the darkest moments of seeing someone succumb to cancer and being bed-ridden.  Because of what happened before, on and after the cross, we can trust that God is not done acting for us and for all people.

Death doesn’t have the last say to us or over us.  Put another way, we are an Easter people who live in a Good Friday world.  We live in the hope and promise of the resurrection that comes on Easter, but we also live in a world where there is sin and pain.  The reality is, we can’t have one without the other.  It’s together and in combination with the life and ministry of Jesus that Good Friday and Easter have their power and significance. It’s because of all these combined that we can truly claim Christ as king.

So what does this kingship mean anyway?  Does it mean a monarchy like popular culture loves to embrace?  Do we see Christ as King like we envision that Charles or William will one day be King of England?  No, of course not!

Does it mean a hierarchy of us bowing down before God as lowly people or “stinking maggot fodder” like Luther occasionally calls himself and people in some of his writings?[5] This would be perhaps the most appropriate thing for us to do.  But no, I don’t believe it’s quite this idea either.

Rather, it means that we are in relationship with God.  It means that God has claimed us as God’s people.  It means that through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we are redeemed and reconciled. We are redeemed because we are forgiven through the saving acts of God, and particularly Christ’s saving action for us.  We are redeemed because as Christ is king, he has the ability to pardon.[6]  He pardons our sins, and saves us from them.  As Jeremiah proclaims, “The Lord is our Righteousness!”[7]  We are reconciled because through the redemption of God, we are made right with God and restored not only as God’s people, but as God’s children and heirs.

To be reconciled is really to be made right together and between each other.  It’s like when people who have been fighting or struggling to get along, are brought back together and are now able to not only get along, but who actually might enjoy each other’s company.  (On a side note, this might be something important to remember as many of us with gather with extended family and friends for Thanksgiving this week….)  And maybe that is the key to reconciliation that they can again, simply be in each other’s company.

Colossians reminds “God was pleased to reconcile himself to all things.”[8]  Since God chose to make reconciliation, we are reconciled.  We aren’t reconciled because of ourselves, but because of God.  Because of this reconciliation, we can trust that in death, like my grandpa’s death, God is there both in the process and struggle of the end of life but also as the host who is graciously welcoming the saints home and to the eternal party.

In daily life, it’s this reconciliation piece which really allows us to come together as the Body of Christ.  Without being reconciled to God, we would have no hope of being able to come here weekly and confess together our sins to God and one another.  Without this, we would really have no hope of being able to be together as the people of God, in community with each other and forgiving each other.

This seems like an important reminder for us.  The past year has been a challenge.  The transitions and on-going transitions have not been easy.  With them, have come  fear, anxiety, and stress.  There has been at times a feeling like some things have even died or passed away.  In this process, we haven’t always been kind to one another because our fears and stress have gotten the better of us.  I say this all, because it’s important to name it for what it is.  But also, to allow the message and truth of hope that comes in the gospel to shine through.   It’s important to remember the Psalmist’s call to “be still.”[9]  It’s important to remember that God is our stronghold and refuge[10] at all times in life- especially those difficult times of change and struggle in the wilderness, and when we feel like something might be dying around us.

As we close this church year and move into the next, there will be some more transition.  This means there may be a little more pain to endure- but there is also great hope, and rightfully so.  Through a sort of death, comes new life.  This new life is renewal.  This congregation may look differently when all is said and done, but God is most certainly not done using and calling this congregation.  This congregation is indeed being made new.  And this is what it means that we testify to Christ as King.  Christ is the kind of King who is there in the midst of the pain and uncertainty. He is the kind of leader who rolls up their sleeves when the tough get going.  He does this all for us, because he loves us.  He calls us all by name as God in Christ claimed us when we were in our mother’s wombs and for all time when Christ was raised upon that cross. We are reconciled to one another through Christ so that we can love one another. And our response to all of this gospel news is that we love each other, spread the joy of the good news, and join Christ by rolling up our sleeves in the hard work of ministry.

Christ is the kind of King who calls us to join him.  He isn’t the dictator type king, but a king who chooses to be with us because he loves us.  He is the King who is always there and who calls us to the party, like what Grandpa hinted at when he was spending his last days in hospice care.  And this, my friends is good news indeed.  Amen. Come Lord, Jesus.


[1] Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, (Simon & Schuster, 1973).

[2] Luke 23:37-38, NRSV.

[3] Luke 23:43, NRSV.

[4] Luke 23:34, NRSV.  Admittedly, some ancient authorities lack this sentence about forgiveness in Luke 23:34.  However, a helpful discussion on this can be found at:  http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke23x33.htm. The verse seems consistent with Luke’s general theme throughout the gospel, and so it seems most likely that this was originally included but then removed from some later manuscripts before being returned in the current versions we have today.

[5] Martin Luther, “A Sincere Admonition to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion,” (1522), Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, 70.

[6] Brian Stoffregen, (Yuma, AZ:  Faith Lutheran Church), http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke23x33.htm.

[7] Jeremiah 23:6, NRSV.

[8] Colossians 1:20, NRSV.

[9] Psalm 46:10, NRSV.

[10] This is a repeated theme throughout Psalm 46, NRSV.

Pondering on Christmas Carols and Hymns during Worship

choir-clipart

I have been pondering something lately.  I hesitate to write about it, because I fully expect that many of you will disagree with me and probably want to rake me over the coals.  But, I have to get this off my chest. I think I have changed my mind about Christmas Carols and Hymns during worship, and particularly when they can and should not be used in worship.

Common practice among many mainline Christian traditions is that in Advent (the liturgical season which begins the church year and prepares us both for the coming of the Christ child as well as his return) we defer Christmas hymns and carols until the twelve days of Christmas.  These twelve days are generally December 24th, Christmas Eve, through January 5th, the day before the Epiphany of Our Lord.   The thought of deferring these carols is that by doing so, we have the benefit of preserving the meaning of Advent as preparation, as well as being ready to celebrate the arrival of the Christ child when the day finally arrives. It is also thought that by doing so, we keep “Christmas as Christmas” and “Advent as Advent” in seeming opposition to the expectations and practices of the predominant earthly culture.

Now, I am not opposed to this practice.  I grew up believing soundly in this practice.  But, lately I have been wondering if perhaps it might be time to rethink this. Now before you dismiss me as another apologist or as one who is conceding to culture, please keep reading to hear me out.

I offer this out of my own experience as a congregational worship coordinator, a music leader in another congregation, and as one who has done consulting in yet another congregation.  Pure and simply, I have seen more and more Sunday School aged youth in congregations who simply do not even know or recognize traditional and fundamentally beautiful Christmas carols like “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.”  Now before we bemoan this, let me say, I did actually grow up singing and learning these carols as a young child.  My first solo was in elementary school when I sang “Go Tell it on the Mountain” for special music in the Christmas Day service of my home congregation.  So perhaps I am not one who can accurately speak to this.  But from my perspective it seems that children and young people are increasingly lacking an exposure and understanding of Christmas songs and hymns. If they are exposed to the melodies, they certainly don’t know the deeper stories around them much at all. [1]

What I am saying is this, we are doing a disservice to children and young people by not exposing them to these meaningful carol and hymn tunes in worship more often.  If we honestly believe that just singing them during the twelve days of Christmas is enough, we deceive ourselves.  Why?  Because outside of Christmas Eve most people do not attend church around Christmas.  The Sunday before and Sunday(s) immediately after Christmas are some of the traditionally lowest attendance Sundays of the year.  So, if one doesn’t sing a carol on Christmas Eve, there is a great chance they won’t sing it or be exposed to it at all.

Nativity in Poland

In generations past, children, and those who attended Sunday School were exposed to these Christmas Carols in a number of venues.  They likely prepared them for some sort of Sunday School program (or even perhaps a “Christmas Pageant”).  They may have sung them in school in choir or music classes.  They may have sung them while out caroling in the community or at area nursing homes or care facilities, as classes or in other school related groups. They likely heard them on television in such Christmas specials like the “Charlie Brown Christmas.”  This is all true.

As you can probably see where I am going with this, we no longer find ourselves in that time period.  Today, many congregations have either done away with the Sunday School program, or have greatly reduced the amount of expectations that come with it (perhaps not even having it during worship).  In many schools the thought of singing anything remotely related to being faith based or sacred is simply out of the question.  And, when we look at Christmas specials on TV today, yes, there are reruns of “Charlie Brown Christmas,” but how many new specials actually feature the sorts of carols we might sing out of a hymnal?  How many will feature a child reciting Luke 2  from memory?

We can bemoan this all we want.  But I don’t think that’s the missional approach to take here at all.  Instead, I say let’s roll up our sleeves and get creative. If we really value the future of the church, we can’t keep doing what we have been doing and expect different results.  People and life don’t work like that.  The ways of worshiping and doing the work of the church might change or shift some, but the core, the heart of the good news of the Gospel remains constant. This is what is the mission of the church.  All the other stuff, even the practice of refraining from singing Christmas carols during Advent is adiaphora (extra stuff that really doesn’t matter for salvation).

If singing some Christmas carols, or at least teaching them during Advent is out of the question, what are other ways that we might build these Christmas hymns into worship throughout the year?

If you are a Lutheran and like numbers and graphs, then see the following chart.

Number of Hymns By Liturgical Season  (in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Book of Worship)
Number of Hymns By Liturgical Season
(in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Book of Worship)

As you can see, there are a greater number of hymns that are listed in the Christmas season (covering calendar dates of December 24-January 5).  (Granted, between these two hymnals there were changes into certain categorization of hymns).  But the distribution is similar enough.  Advent (the liturgical season which occurs mostly in December and very late November) has slightly less hymns then Christmas, but Epiphany and the time after Epiphany (a season which is usually longer and sometimes much longer running from January through February or March) then either Christmas or Advent has a much smaller number of hymns.  It’s interesting that so many of the great hymns of the church were written for such a relatively short liturgical season.  Perhaps we could incorporate these somehow into Epiphany?  Obviously, the lectionary or selected readings which are shaping worship dictate song and hymn choice, but I have a guess that with the right imaginative mind, there could be a way to tie a few of these hymns/carols in throughout the church year at different times.  Maybe even tie in some Advent hymns before Advent to teach them ahead of time, particularly in the month of November which often features readings in the lectionary which are about end times. The possibilities are probably endless.

Now returning to the larger point about Christmas carols and the future of the church.  Obviously this is a much deeper discussion then what I am posing here, and it hints at many questions that are being actively pondered within faith formation circles and discussions.  I offer my reflections mainly to spark thought and imagination, but also to ask “why do we do what we do” and is “why we do what we do” still a good reason in spite of a potential loss of exposure of some of the better and more meaningful pieces of Christmas carols and hymnody for a future generation?  I for one, am not so sure anymore.

One final exercise.  Take a hymn or carol, any hymn or carol and read the words.  For the sake of this exercise, I just opened to “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”  Now read the text, and then sing it as best you can.  Doesn’t that message stay with you?  It’s amazing what power these tunes have, and what pictures the text paints if we let it.  When picking hymns, and refraining from picking hymns, think about the children that might be in worship and think what would you like them to learn and hear?  What tune would you like to hear them singing later in the week while they are playing outside or humming while working on homework?

I want to continue this possibility, but especially when it comes to the Christmas songs of the church, we have to give the future of the church opportunities to hear and be exposed to them.  Settling for just the twelve days around Christmas really may not be the best solution anymore.  What do you think?

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Notes, Sources, and References:

[1] I want to clarify something here.  Even though children and young people are often thought of as the future of the church, they are also the past and present of the church, just like we all are.  They are leaders now, and they are capable and their voices count now.  I fundamentally believe this because we affirm that we are all children of God.  As adults we shouldn’t burden them automatically by saying they are the “future of the church.”  We shouldn’t burden them with a responsibility that is say 20 years down the road that:  1) they might not want; 2) as a larger church, we might not have done a great job at nurturing them, mentioning and helping them grow in their understanding of God and of themselves.  We have to admit this, and also view and affirm children as equal participants and members of the body of Christ.

“Away in a Manger,” North American text, James R. Murray, Public Domain.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 2006).

Lutheran Book of Worship, (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Publishing House, 1978).

“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” John Francis Wade, tr. Frederick Oakeley, Public Domain.

“Silent Night, Holy Night,”  Joseph Mohr, tr. John F. Young, Franz Gruber, Public Domain.

This Week’s Links

Internet1It’s Tuesday.  That means its time to share with you a sampling of some of the things I have been reading and thinking about in the past week.  This week’s categories are:  Church & Ministry Thought and Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership; Neighbor Love; Stewardship; Vocation; and Miscellaneous.  I entrust these to you now and hope you find them helpful and thought-provoking.

Church & Ministry Thought and Practice

Carey Nieuwhof offers “7 Signs Your Church is Making Inroads with Unchurched People.”  What do you think?  I am still trying to figure out what I think about this one.

Shane Raynor explains openly and honestly why he’s open to online communion.  What do you think about online communion?????????????????????????

Friend of this blogger and blog, Kaitlyn Ferguson asks I think helpfully, “Do we fear big brother or little brother?”  This is a very valuable reflection for ministry leaders.  As she asks, “How do we keep tabs on the good, the bad, and the ugly that arise from people being able to express any and all opinions?”  What do you think?

Another post that has been shared in ministry circles this past week is this reflection, “Dear Church, 11 Signs You’re Burning Out Your Staff.”  It’s an important read for all church and ministry leaders.  What do you think?

Rev. Tom Ehrich writes that “Business as usual is off the table.”  To this I say a resounding AMEN.  To say otherwise is to ignore the very fact that the world has changed.  We are still to proclaim and share the Good News of the gospel. But the way that message is proclaimed and word and deed may change to better face the new and different contexts.  Would you agree?

Cross-Sector Collaboration

Apparently what I have seen locally is being seen at large- more and more people want to pursue social good through work.  Many people of my generation are being recruited with an added benefit of a job for being socially minded and/or socially involved.  There is a general sense that people, in finding meaningful work are looking for something more than just a paycheck, but also something that is bigger than themselves and which they can see is part of doing something good in the larger community.  In some ways this is also a cross-sector implication, as the lines that have divided the different sectors in society continue to blur and mix.

Leadership

Peter Winick asks, “What Do All Thought Leaders Have in Common?”  He notes that they are smart, very curious, and passionate about what they do.

Tanveer Naseer shares, “3 Leadership Attributes Revealed Through Serving Others.”  The attributes he sees are:  an ability to open yourself up to unconventional thinking; the demonstration of integrity through one’s actions and words; and an undying belief that one can make a difference.

If you are a connector, or connective type leader, these tips could be helpful for networking smarter.networking

Brad Power writes, “If You’re Going to Change Your Culture, Do it Quickly.”  What do you think about the implications of this?

Neighbor Love

I could have placed this under the “Church & Ministry Thought and Practice” section, but decided to put it in the neighbor love section.  Here’s an update on an on-going discussion, discernment, and wrestling within the United Methodist Church.

Friend of this blog and blogger Hannah writes an excellent response to Seth Adam Smith.  She makes a great case and argument for why marriage is for her, and I share her sentiments.  As Hannah concludes, “When you marry someone, at least in the Christian tradition, you’re affirming that this partner of yours is made in the image of God.  That they are good and that you are going to treat them in a way that recognizes that.  And- if we want to love our neighbor (or, in this case, our spouse) as ourselves- that also means that we are affirming that we are made in the image of God, too.”

Friend of this blogger Rev. Eric Hoffer offers a great reflection on “Loving the least of these.” As he concludes, “Our call as Christians is to love- not from a distance, but by breaking down boundaries and walking side-by-side, hand-in-hand, even cheek-to-cheek with our neighbor.”

Stewardship

xmasshoppingFriend of this blog and blogger, Grace Duddy offers a timely reflection on how to save during the season of spending. As she asks, I echo her question, “how are you saving this Holiday season?”  As you begin or continue to do shopping going into Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas keep this in mind not as something to convict, but as something practical and good to reflect upon.

Vocation

Tom Schwolert makes the case to “Do Your Thing.”  He writes very authentically and honestly about where he is in life, and how if you aren’t able to do your thing you are probably restless. This is often a good time to pay attention because its likely an important indication of some vocational discernment or at least the need for some mindfulness there.

Paul Bailey shares, “How Social Sleuthing Can Land You a Dream Job.” If you are in the midst of vocational discernment, this might be a helpful read for you.

Friend of this blog and blogger, Dr. Terri Elton shares some helpful reflections and questions about life changes.  As she asks in the midst of this, “Do we know our role?”  That’s a question I have found myself asking a lot lately.  How about you?

Miscellaneous

When I saw this, I had to share it with you.  “What the Twin Cities Can Teach Us About Living Well.”  What do you think?

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That will conclude our links for this week.  Later in the week you will see the next installment of Emmy Kegler’s and my series “Words in Our Mouth” about mission statements. If you have not yet read the original post in that series, you can find that here.  Additionally, look forward to some more thoughts about discernment, as well as the usual leadership type reflections.  If there are any things you would like to read on this blog, or included in the links please just let me know by commenting here.  Blessings on your week! -TS

Words in Our Mouths- An Introduction

Have you ever thought that there are words that the church and congregations use which aren’t helpful? Perhaps they are misunderstood?  Perhaps over time they have lost their meaning, or their meaning has been drastically altered?

There was a helpful post in the Washington Post last week by Addie Zierman.  She offered, “5 churchy phrases that are scaring off millennials.”  I encourage you to please read and reflect on it. This reflection is a good starting place I believe for pondering about words and phrases that churches and congregations use which either are not helpful, or perhaps need to be reclaimed or recast.

Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis to the Church Door
Martin Luther nailing his 95 Thesis to the Church Door

With this in mind, this post marks the beginning of a new blog post series called “Words in Our Mouths.”  It is a series that emerged out of conversation both in a seminary classroom, and by recent seminary students who are in the midst of seeing the good, bad, and ugly of some words and concepts in the life of a congregation.  This blog series will be fun and unique as it will be mainly co-authored and co-led by my friend and colleague Emmy Kegler and myself.  Posts in this series will appear on one or both of our blogs. So, if for some reason you have not followed the other one of us, Emmy’s blog can be found here, and mine is here.

We have a list of words, phrases and concepts that we are going to start with.  If you have particular words, phrases, concepts, or ideas that you would like to add to our list, please let us know either through commenting here or by tweeting or e-mailing us. The first concept that we will offer reflection on will be “mission statement” in the next post in this series.

Until then, take some time and reflect on this concept.  Ask yourself, what word, concept, or phrases that are used in churches and congregations need to be changed?  What might need to be better educated around?  What might just need to be tossed out altogether (if anything)?  We are looking forward to the ensuing reflection and conversation.

Blessings- Timothy (and Emmy)

This Week’s Links

Internet1It’s Tuesday.  By now you know that Tuesday means links here on this blog.  This week’s categories are:  Church and Ministry Thought and Practice; Cross-Sector Collaboration; Leadership Thought and Practice; Neighbor Love; Social Media and Blogging; Stewardship; Worship; and Miscellaneous.  I entrust these stories and links to you, and hope that they will be interesting topics to read and reflect upon. Enjoy!

Church and Ministry Thought and Practice

If you are active at all in a church setting, then you have probably heard of Hillsong.  Sarah Pulliam Bailey offers a nice reflection about this church and particularly its global influence.  If you are active in or exposed to some more “contemporary” kinds of worship in congregations you probably have even heard or sung some of their music as well.  Perhaps the song “How Great is Our God” rings a bell?

Within the “missional church” community, there has been a big push in recent years for congregations and churches to do things outside of the church walls- either like worship in the community, theological reflection and/or Biblical study and discussion at coffee shops or bars, etc.  Portland, OR has a “Beer ‘n Hymns” group that recently was profiled by NPR.  However, the profile experience seems to have had some controversy as you can read about here.

Dr. Leonard Sweet writes, “A church without imagination is a dead church.”  Indeed.  Read that reflection and more as he writes about “Love as the art of imagination.”

Addie Zierman offers “5 churchy phrases that are scaring off millennials.”  I have a hunch that many non-millennials don’t really like these phrases either.  This is important reflection, especially in light of the recent discussion of all are welcome, sought, and what is accompaniment that was on this blog.  This post by Addie Zierman will also serve as part of a start of a new blog series that I will be co-writing with colleague and friend Emmy Kegler. Look forward to that series which will be starting later this week and will probably feature at least one post weekly on either her’s or my blog.

Have you ever wondered why congregational growth matters?  This is a nice little reflection on that question and particularly for whom it matters.

In a story which has been included in this section before, we have an update about the Methodist pastor who conducted his son’s same-sex marriage.

If you are a part of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) then you may be aware that the church puts a great emphasis on mission development.  Rev. Clint Schnekloth offers this reflection and series of interviews with some of those mission developers.

Cross-Sector Collaboration

I like to link to the Drucker Institute’s blog often.  This week is no exception as I offer this post on the need for having a lot of nerve in order to be a social innovator.

drucker1
Peter Drucker

In order to craft a vision, whether within a large community, an organization, or even a small congregation, you need to be able to relate and tell the stories of that community.  Here’s a good article on this process being done by FutureWalk.  Friend of this blogger Jody Thone is a co-organizer of this effort.

Leadership Thought and Practice

As a millennial, I find this to be an important series of insights about ways to relate and work with more experienced colleagues. Daniel Newman offers these tips:  1) Ask Questions; 2) Listen Carefully; 3) Be Humble; 4) Empower the Team; and 5) Embrace their Knowledge.

Rick Wartzman offers six questions from Peter Drucker that “simplify a complex age.”

Terri Klass asks, “What would you put in your leadership locker?”

Dan Rockwell reminds of the importance of not always focusing on the results, but instead focusing on what matters now.

Randy Gravitt makes the case for being a “pointed leader.”

Patricia Thompson wrote this blog post in September about how a good mood can mean good business.

Have you ever experienced a “useless meeting?”  I know I have.  Dr. Dick Ruhe reminds leaders to “concentrate, collaborate, and initiate” to overcome a “herd mentality.”

To round out the leadership section this week, how about some wise words and reflection from Ronald Heifetz.  As you can probably figure out, I like Heifetz a lot and think he is right on when he remarks, “The dominant view of leadership is that the leader has the vision and the rest is a sales problem.  I think that notion of leadership is bankrupt.”  The vision is something that needs to emerge collaboratively and not be a one person, top-down thing. Because if it is top-down, it doesn’t have the staying power beyond your time as a leader, and it also doesn’t have the resonance with the larger team.  Thanks to Shankar Vedantam for the article.

Neighbor Love

In affirming that all are children of God, its important that you don’t forget who you are in what you are doing and why you are doing it.  Pastor Kae Evensen offers a wonderful reflection about this.

Here is an interesting and I think helpful response and reflection on some recent controversy and thoughts shared by Mark Driscoll.

If we believe that all are welcome, and that we want to accompany people where they are at, we need to first meet them where they are at.  This often means that we need to “come to the margins.”  Rachel Pieh Jones wrote this most beautiful and moving reflection. If you haven’t seen and read it yet, please do read this!  It’s that powerful and important.

William A. Galston offers this defense of food stamps in the Wall Street Journal. Not only is this an important piece to read when thinking about our neighbors, its also an important reflection on what is the common good and the importance of wrestling with that question and taking it seriously.

Friend of this blog and blogger, Rev. Diane Roth offers this authentic and moving reflection about what love looks like.

Here is David Lose sharing a powerful reflection on how one person moved by the death of a friend, was led to reflect more deeply on life.  How does this move you?  How might this inform congregations as vehicles and communities of reflecting on the gift of life and empowering people to live these full and abundant lives showing love to their neighbors and the larger world?

To wrap up the section on what it means to love our neighbor, here is an invitation and announcement to a presentation and discussion at Augsburg College in Minneapolis this Sunday, November 17th, on “What is the Church Called to Say about Money, Jobs, and Politics?” 

Social Media & Blogging

Have you ever wondered how to make the commenting process go deeper on your blog (if you have one)?  I know I have wondered this often.  Here are some tips from Kenna Griffin.  What do you think?

Stewardship

give thanksWith Thanksgiving fast approaching, its always nice to see some others’ thoughts on gratitude.  I entrust these to you for your Thanksgiving meal blessings, your Thanksgiving worship, or even just your casual greeting or Thanksgiving card/letter writing thoughts.

In news that is surprising to probably no one involved heavily in a congregational setting, “church giving is at a record low.”  In some ways, it is as low as it was during the Great Depression.  Here is a report from Katherine Burgess. I believe this speaks to the important need to cultivate new understanding within congregations as to what it means to be a created child of God, steward of God’s resources, and co-participant with God in God’s work in the world.

Speaking of being a steward of God’s resources, here is a great reflection by friend and colleague Grace Duddy about “Who Owns It?”

Worship

Some times with worship, like many things, we forget why we do what we do.  Here is one person’s reflection on why Christians worship.  If you took a step back, why would you say you worship (if you do)? I would say worship is definitely about being affirmed and reminded that you are created Child of God who is loved and giving thanks and praise to God.  The Lutheran in me would like to highlight the piece about confession which wasn’t included in this person’s reflection, but that also speaks to who I am.  For me, its important to be able to confess corporately in community and then hear those words of forgiveness and a reminder that God loves us because we are God’s created children, not because of what we do or in spite of what we do not. God loves us, period.  Of course, this has major implications on faith and theology.  Anyway, if you worship, why do you worship?

Miscellaneous

Some thing not often mentioned much on this blog, is my love for traveling.  The Huffington Post recently listed “20 Awesome U.S. Cities You Need to Visit in Your 20s.” What do you think of this list?

For those of you in the Midwest like me, you might find this list of sayings quite hilarious.  Uff dah, indeed!

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I hope you enjoyed this week’s links. If there are things or topics you would like included going forward here on the links, please let me know. As always, if you have topics that you would like explored on this blog, please let me know as well.  Blessings on your week, and thanks to all of the Veterans who have served and continue to serve! -TS