Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent 1 Hope

"Hope" can be such a light and nice word. Hope can be innocuously thrown into a conversation to stop rigorous doubt (e.g. "Oh well, I hope it turns out OK"). Hope can become the language of unrealistic fantasy and wishing. Hope can be the word qualifies my personal interests and desires.
But when pushed, Hope can be brutal and demanding. Do we hope that the congress can address both the deficit, necessary cuts and increased revenues? Do we hope that politicians can learn to work together with wise compromise and abandon vitriolic sound-bites? Do we hope that our investments will rebound and we can face retirement? Do we hope that love can return to the marriage of friends who are locked in long-term conflict?
Biblical hope goes into the darkest corners of life with one flame. It stands against the cavernous fears, dreads and worries and shines. It believes that no matter what, God will show up...God has shown up....God is showing up. Advent hopes!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Greatful ...Thankful

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Witness

Welcomed into community

It was listed as a wedding shower, to which I was invited. I'm never invited to wedding showers. That's normally something I've seen Martha and women attend, maybe the groom shows up later. But this, Martha said, was a mixed shower and I was invited.

Sunday afternoon events are not high on my list, naps and football are. But dutifully I drove in the rain to this house filled with college and post-college students. A lot knew me from church, Young Life, and officiating at weddings of their friends. They were genuinely glad to see me (us) at this event. Martha drifted off with art students and I bounced among several conversations.

The food came out (piles of tri-tip, chicken, sausages, guacamole and salads. It was a feats! Looking around, one of the hosting young men said "Pastor Don, would you pray for this?" What an honor! I prayed, we ate, we visited and laughed. Then this same young man got our attention and asked the group (maybe 25-30) to bless this couple and share memories. Wow! These people really love each other. Tears were shed. Laughter echoed through the house. They took turns telling stories about the guy, the girl and the couple for well over an hour.

As they shared, I realized I was invited in to something precious, not as an observer but as a friend. This was a good afternoon!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The Burden of Spontaneity"

M-4 had its annual Thanksgiving service last Wednesday night. The four churches (ECC, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian & Episcopal) gathered at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal church for a delightful evening of readings, lessons, anthems from a combined choir and responses. They were all printed out carefully in a beautiful bulletin.
As we debriefed the service the next day, our Associate Pastor Jon Lemmond remarked how much he loved all the rich language we used in worship together. Jon comes from Texas Baptist tradition, earning a PhD at UCSB in medieval German history, adjunct teaching at Westmont and now licensed with the ECC. As we talked he threw out a phrase that I quoted above about how good liturgical language can liberate a person from "the burden of spontaneity." That phrase sang in my heart too.
There is in the air a hubris about the extemporaneous versus the carefully crafted. I know that the danger of the well crafted phrase, sentence or speech can come across as dry and heartless.
My dad was a champion of the well crafted manuscript, whether for a sermon, a prayer or a class lesson. "Why" he rhetorically asked "is the Holy Spirit more active in the pastor in the pulpit before the congregation than with him or her alone in the study?"
Equally liberating is the notion that I do not need to depend upon my own words at the moment, but can draw from the rich heritage of the ages and the saints (with proper attribution of course!).
One of the customs at Montecito Covenant that I am growing to appreciate is the handing off of the congregational prayer each Sunday to someone from the congregation (once a month the staff prays). Some pray without notes, and others pray from prepared and read notes. But others come into the pulpit with a book and share how the prayer today comes from this or that spiritual giant who made a deep impact on them. So in those times we get to pray across time! It's so nice not to bear the burden of spontaneity!

Christ the King: Mark 5:9

A name is a touchy topic. Just try mispronouncing a young person’s name (or an older person). Most of the time there will be an immediate correction. Many of you have had great fun helping me pronounce the many Spanish names in and around Santa Barbara: Salsipuedes, Los Olivos, Arrellaga, Hermosillo, and the list goes on.
I know that some within our congregation have double-names; a nickname from their youth and their legal name today. I love California casual and our disinclination to use titles, but on certain occasions those titles are important to use: Chief, Officer, Your Honor, Doctor, Coach, President.
Then there is the arena of labeling, diagnosing, and understanding. Names are critically important for finding a remedy for an ache or a funny noise under the hood. Naming helps us respond to certain behaviors. In Genesis 2:19 God brought his newly created animals before the man “to see what he would name them.
In this last sermon on the questions of Jesus, he asked: “What is your name?” in Mark 5:9. How would you answer that?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tarte au chevre!

Martha just made this cheese killer for a baby shower!!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Are you still sleeping?

Sacred Space

Saturdays are devoted to devotions, finishing the sermon and altar-piece work with Martha and Jeanne. So my friend's call to join him at the ocean while his boys surfed disrupted my normal pattern. That probably meant it was important to follow. We walked down to the high tide as three boys paddled through nasty surf out to where the big waves were. And the two of us just sat there, talking, observing the boys crash, and listening. Then the light broke out of the clouds into shafts of white on the ocean...epiphany!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Do you do this full time?

Just when I think I've heard it all, I'm surprised. Hospital calls are something I love to do. It's an occasion to bring grace quickly via a Psalm or prayer to people who are vulnerable (especially church members in medical need). So I have a routine established now that I call first and ask if I can come and visit. Then we set a rough time. I prayerfully read Psalms (usually) prior to the visit that would "fit" the person I'm visiting. I check in at the desk asking for permission and direction to the room. I try to stay just a few minutes, sitting down and becoming relaxed and quiet with them and their family members.
Today I did that. But a nurse was present the whole time, taking vitals and attaching wires. I brought a prayer shawl MCC knitters make for just such a purpose. The nurse was impressed and asked about it. Then she asked what I did. I told her I was the pastor and where we are located. Then she asked, "Are you the kind of priest that can get married?" I knew right then that this woman was not a regular church-goer so I explained a little about who we are and what I do. Then came the kicker: "Do you do this full time or do you have a job?"

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Embarrassed to Return

A church member told me a fascinating story this week. While out shopping he ran into a friend he had not seen in church for quite some time. So thinking he was going somewhere else to worship, he told him he missed him and wondered where his new church home was. Then it came out.
He went on a trip for several weeks. After getting home, he used Sundays to catch up on things he was behind on and got out of the habit of going to church. He was not angry or upset, but got into a new habit, a habit of not attending. And now he was embarrassed to come back to church.
My friend assured him that there was nothing to be embarrassed about and he was warmly missed and wanted. But the thought struck me: embarrassed to return. What makes that happen? Is it guilt, awkwardness, maybe a lack of deep relationships that sustained him? Are there others? Are there other people out there whose lives are overwhelmed with deadlines and stressors, who have gotten out of the habit of worship (or prayer, or Bible study or fellowship) and are now embarrassed to return? How can we in the church send the unmistakable signal that you are not just welcome, but wanted...whenever you come back?

Miracles on Facebook!

Confirmation increases as a joy in my life. This year Martha and I are teaching 15 students, ranging from a mother and her son, a college freshman, three high schoolers, the traditional 7th & 8th graders and a 6th grader who is ready. We are a multigenerational confirmation class!

Last night's topic was Jesus' miracles and what they mean. We gave each student a miracle of Jesus to read and digest. Then, on colored strips of paper we asked them to post the miracle on a facebook page. They were priceless, precious and insightful: "Messiah born, angels talk to shepherds" "Jesus Christ, son of God stopped a storm. Everyone on boat saved." "Jesus just did an exorcism and healed man and sent the demons into pigs they ended up jumping off a cliff committing suicide"

Too fun!

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