Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sermon - Song of Zechariah

I have not posted a sermon for a while. This begins the season of Advent. The song of Zechariah - Luke 1: 68-79

It is called a canticle - the first of three in Luke The song of Zechariah - Benedictus
This is the context: - Zechariah is a priest who had a visitation from an angel promising him the birth of a child to his wife Elizabeth. That baby is John (the Baptist) Zechariah and Elizabeth are an old and faithful couple who have been childless before now – so this is a miracle.
When he receives this news he is dumbfounded and he is struck dumb - his speech is over until after the baby is born
So this song - which come from the Holy spirit - contains words, ideas and images that have been inside of him. Words to express the wonder of what has happened and is happening
Luke 1:68-79
68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

This has been called a symphony of praise to the God who is, who has been and who always will be working among And you can divide it into two parts – looking back and looking forward –
The first verses are a song of freedom as Zechariah looks back and remembers our God who has a history of rescuing his people. Picture the Red Sea – and we remember Moses who said – Let my people go– and God’s activity bringing them from Egypt to the promised land. Throughout Biblical history God’s hand is present and evident, God speaking through his prophets, guiding his people,
But the key to this freedom is the freedom to worship God “that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days”.
It is not freedom from – but freedom for – freedom to be with God because it is in being with God that we find our life – ourselves, our purpose, our hope. And if you don’t believe me think about a time when you worked too many days and did not have the time for reflection – and what happens to you.
So –Zechariah looks back in awe at the ways that God has redeemed his people over the years – and then he looked forward and saw what God is doing and will do – this is the promise
- God has made a promise to Elizabath and Zechariah, to Mary and to Joseph and to the world. The promise is the light in the darkness – the coming of the long awaited Messiah
And John has a role in this promise - to prepare the way for the Messiah who is to come.God will be incarnate (enfleshed) on earth and Zechariah, his family and his faith are part of the coming of the Lord And as we approach Christmas – let us remember what is the most important part to this celebration – it is that God comes to us as we are in our lowliness
It is not that we are on a ladder – growing better and better every day and as we do we get closer to God It is that God comes in the midst of the muck and mire of life – to some very unlikely people – in an out of the way place – to a stable and in the form of a vulnerable baby. Every one of the elements is an important part of the story
The Song of Zechariah is about God’s freedom in history and God’s promise in the future.and then we ask the question – what does that mean to me? Today November 28. 2010? Three images from this text, three words that speak to me. .
1. claim your freedom. A free God is at the center of our existence and the center of his story is the birth of Jesus – who is the freest person who ever lived. Our Messiah comes to rescue us from our enemies so that we can be free
Biblical history is about God who frees his people from the Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans –but maybe these are metaphors for the kinds of freedom that God wants for us. God want to set us free? And the question is “how free are we?” How free are you?
Eugene Peterson writes – “Our churches are attended regularly by the inhibited, the obsessive compulsive, the fearfully defensive.” He writes that while we in America aspire to freedom that when he looked at the people he was pastoring he say people who were very unfree:. Some examples:
Buying expensive security systems to protect our possessions,;…. Anxious about the future economy….We are bound by family systems, ….. in the grip of technology, … living with secret compulsions and addictions And this Christmas season comes with so many expectations about what we are to do and buy and look like – that they can lead us into joyless busy-ness that does not lead to any kind of freedom
How do we claim our freedom? What does that mean.?
When I live in faith I live freely. When I set God at the center of my life, I realize vast freedoms and surprising spontaneities. When I center life in my own will, my freedom diminishes markedly. I lived constricted and anxious.”(Peterson)
Freedom comes through faith – faith is strengthened through worship – at home and together – we claim our freedom to be the people God created us to be – as we spend time with God
2. Prepare the way for others. Zechariah sings to his son “you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways”: That is what the Zechariah story means to me – it is a man who is part of a plan of God’s life. He has his role and it is what it is. Fathering and raising a child. And that child is going to become the preparer of the Lord. Each of us has a preparation role in the life of another. We each have intersecting roles in each others lives. As we are guided by God, our “preparation” helps others to find their way to the manger or to experience our Lord.
Life in Christ sets us free for grace. Our God is continually giving, and God guides us into giving. In fact we are most like God when we give. There is in the unfolding of our lives a mutuality that develops.
We need to remember 2 things
a. there is no even distribution of burdens in this life
b. there is no even distribution of strengths
We are preparing for the Lord to be experienced in the lives of others as we engage in acts of compassion and caring – guided by our God. We are preparing softening their hearts so to speak so that he can be known. And remember this – acts of giving are not like pebbles dropped in a pool that make a few temporary ripples and then sink to the bottom inert….They are not pebbles – they are seeds planted in the soil of life and they will come up one day.
We are part of the story of the coming of Jesus – and our preparation is through grace filled, God guided giving.
3, Waiting for the dawn.

78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Final Image in this canticle – and the image makes us remember that the darkness – the dark nights, the cold night, the longs nights are part of life but the morn does come.
Or another way to say it is this – anyone who looks for quick results in seed planting is going to be disappointed. If I want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it will do me no good to go out and plant potatoes in my garden tonight. There are long stretches of darkness and invisibility and silence that separate planting and reading.
And so as we begin this holy season of Advent – we may not “feel the Christmas spirit” or be in the mood for any kind of gift giving or receiving. We may feel dry as dust and empty and tired. This is a season for some people of despair, darkness, and depression. The days are getting shorter and darker and colder. And it is so easy to seek a respite in entertainment, or violence or some kind of numbing activity.
The spiritual journey is one that recognizes that there are times of darkness – but in the midst of them God is present and working and YES –preparing us for newness and the inbreaking of the dawn.
And you know what you need to do to make the sun rise – nothing – but wait for it and trust it will come.
Waiting for the dawn is a wonderful metaphor for all of us this season who are waiting… waiting for God to show up in some tangible way, waiting for healing, waiting for hope. The dawn will come, God will come.
Our theme for this season is songs of the season – and I hope that you will spend time with our God every day and listen to the words of some of the familiar songs which may remind you of the words of this canticle – by Zechariah
Our God has freed God’s people from their enemies. May we center ourselves on God first
Our God wants us to work with God to prepare others to receive God’s presence. May we through our own acts of kindness plant seeds of faith all around us
Our God wants us to know that there is waiting and that in the waiting we can trust God’s love, God’s presence, God’s freedom.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This week on Oprah

There is so much I love, admire and respect about Oprah. And I have been trying to watch her regularly since we are on a countdown to her last shows.

However I have to go on record as saying that there is one of her shows that just gets on my nerve - it is the "Favorite Things" show.

I remember watching the first one many years ago and kind of liking it. Because I thought it was about her favorite things - this is the T shirt she likes, the pj's, the slippers, the cup cake. It personalized her and some of those things were affordable and maybe I would like them. In fact, my friend Mary Anne did give me a pair of PJ's that were on her show and I DID find them soft and warm.

BUT Now that it is a yearly institution it has gotten bigger with more screaming and more and more the sense that these are advertisements for the company that is donating the items for publicity. And so when I see that it is this show - this year it was TWO shows I choose not to watch.

And following those two shows she did a show on the Dominican Nuns in Ann Arbor. From the material to the spiritual in 24 hours! Through my Wellstreams program and through spiritual direction itself, I have been blessed to know and be friends with several nuns. There is no question that life is a good one. But it is a life of not dwelling on the kinds of "favorite things" that Oprah is celebrating in the other shows. In fact it is a freedom from the kinds of "favorite things" that make us happy for a while and then.....

Anyway, I am returning from preaching at Oakleaf the sermon that I preached on Sunday - Philippians 4: 4-9. And one of the points was that there is joy in the Lord that the world (the material world) cannot take away. This week on Oprah reminded me of that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I am just returning from a poetry reading.

Every week I go to Oakleaf retirement community next door to the church to preach in a worship service led by our church. I have come to know Yvonne Hardenbrook, a resident there who happens to be a poet. She told me today that she had a reading so I went to it. What a gift to my soul.

Yvonne is in her late 70's I think. She has had significant health issues - most notable back problems that have caused her pain and forced her to be unable to walk easily. She lost her beautiful singing voice some years ago and has many limitations on the life that she used to lead.

She is a poet and has written beautiful, evocative poems about so many of her life experiences. I sat in the activity room with about 15 senior citizens who were all enthralled by her words.
She wrote a poem about the death of her son at 6 years of age
She wrote about being in a psych unit following surgery
She wrote about being on a double ferris wheel and compared it to her first sexual experience
She wrote about playing hide and go seek as a child
She wrote about her mother making her father remove a bathtub full of stagnant water from the front yard.

And I looked at these grey heads and lined faces remembering their own lives and pain and joy and felt blessed to be there.

Yvonne had given me a book of her poems a year ago and so I include one of her poems here. She read this today.

What We Miss Awake
by Yvonne Hardenbrook

What we see
is never all there is.
We drowsily salute the bright-edged
clouds of dawn, in full sun
close our eyes. Again
at sunset we comment on the flame,
say nothing of the subtle
easter sky.

What we miss awake
we see in dreams, distorted
for paid seers to explain
If not drreams then letters,
your words of love I saw and never
recognized. These forty years
the ink has dried on pages folded
tight and ribbon-tied.

They spillinto the fire, the ribbon
last. I tell you, I did not see
till now the face of love.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Rich and Full Life

That is what I often say about my life - it is rich and full.
This weekend is certainly a prime example of that. And the richness had more to do with my being present (but not in leadership) in several worship experiences.
I went to a funeral and wedding and at our church, I did not preach.

The funeral was for a young man who was a great buckeye fan. we were encouraged in the obituary to wear buckeye attire (game against Penn State later that day with OSU won). I wore my red Ohio State sweatshirt. The funeral was different and wonderful. It was not necessarily "Christian" but very spiritual in its own way. It included some scripture but many songs (on CD) to reflect his love of music. It started with the OSU fight song and then we heard "Morning has Broken", "On Eagle's Wings" and "Turn, Turn, Turn." At the end his sister did the Ohio Script. you had to be there because it all worked and was meaningful.

The wedding was for a young couple that met in my home a couple of years ago at a Bible study. They are part of the Advance Conference camping program for young adults. I did not officiate but did a reading from "Tuesdays with Morrie." I loved watching the way that Allen Harris does a rehearsal and a wedding. I am still learning (like to tell the bridal party not to drink until after the wedding!) The wedding was at Northwest Christian Church where I was ordained. Lots of memories for me.

Yesterday at church was "Consecration Sunday" when we invite the congregation to make a financial pledge to the life of the church for the coming year. Charles Montgomery, our pastoral associate preached a tremendous sermon. He ended with a "Youtube video" about a runner (can't remember his name even though I saw it twice!)
who got hurt during a race and limped to the finish line with his father coming out of the stands to help him. Both times I found myself in tears.

The one special thing that I did was a baptism at the 5 PM service of Connie who has just joined our church. It was all about new beginnings. What was most powerful to me was that she is afraid of the water, but she went into the baptismal and trusted me enough to put her under for a second. Words can never express what this feels like and what it means.

I write this on my day off. Today I will see my spiritual director and then Chuck and I are driving to Toledo for calling hours for Harv's sister and then to attend the funeral mass tomorrow.

It is good to have a morning to just be - to ponder and reflect on all of this. What I have learned for all of us with our rich and full lives - we have to have some margins to just be and rest and allow our souls to catch up.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hating Cancer

Today we got word that Harv's sister, Karen, passed away. She discovered that she had cancer right after Easter and now she is gone

And I also got word that a young woman in the church who has stage 4 breast cancer is going back on chemo which is a disappointment because she was hoping to be in a clinical trial. That may yet happen.
She has had cancer for three years - she is 32 years old. She has been in too much pain for too long.

And then I think of my sister - gone now for over a year and a half
and my sister in law Carol
and my mother
and my father

I hate cancer. I hate the pain, the hair loss, the various forms of suffering
I hate way that we move - all of us - between hope and resignation and despair and hope and fear and never stops

I hate cancer

Please pray for Karen's family and they grieve the loss of this woman who died too young
And please pray for Lisa and her family and she suffers and we all hope and pray for miracles
And please pray for whoever in your life has cancer.

Contemplative Living - WW

At the invitation and encouragement of Kim Veatch I started weight watchers about six weeks ago. This is common knowledge because I even used this program as an illustration in a sermon.

What I keep learning about the contemplative life is that it is requires people to be present to themselves. To live mindfully.

Without a doubt I have behind me a lifetime of eating mindlessly. I have a gift for devouring a bag of cheez doodles (my drug of choice) in the shortest time imaginable. The worst times for me are when I get home from work before dinner and after meetings at the end of the evening.

BUT weight watchers has stopped that. I am tracking points and aware of every mouthful. And so, not surprisingly, I have lost weight. (9lbs so far!)

It has been helpful to have companions on this journey and knowing that usually I will see Kim, Lisa, Pat, and Gerrie at the meeting and hear from Marnie immediately after. There is mutual understanding and support. There is also that check that I write every week for $11 that keeps me aware of not wanting to waste my money.

But what strikes me most of all in this process is that it is slow. Sometimes the loss of weight is only 2 oz - and sometimes it is 2 lbs. Slow.The contemplative life is living slower and mindfully and slowly there are changes - not just in weight but in appetite.

I know lots of people who have done weightwatchers and it was successful for them. I also know others who have done this program and 5 years later gained back the weight.

It is all about the daily decision to think long term instead of instant gratification. And to seek to live in the present.

This is not the weight watchers life - this is the spiritual life.

It's not easy - but it is worth it.