Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Let Us Serve the Egyptians

I've been thinking all week about those Israelites at the seashore and their second thoughts about leaving Egypt. Faced with the vast uncertainty of what awaited them on the other side of that frightening sea, they were quick to wax nostalgic about the life they had left behind. Whitewashing the memories of brick-making quotas, the whips of their masters, and the greed of Pharoah, they only remembered the security of sameness.

"Let us serve the Egyptians." How many times have I chosen the predictability of the past rather than risk walking off that set? How often have a taken tentative steps toward freedom only to look over my shoulder and wonder if I could sprint back to where I was? God help us, lest we forget that freedom lies on the other side of the sea change.

Humility Plate

I drove to church this week behind this guy. Kinda turns the whole "vanity plate" idea on its head, doesn't it?

People on a Journey

“Ours the Journey” Sermon Series
Beginning February 15 the congregation at UniPlace was invited into the prayerful discernment process of our Visioning Team as we reflect each week in worship on the theme “Ours the Journey.” The book of Exodus guides us as we consider how God calls us forward to discover our true identity as well as our purpose in the world.

February 15        Exodus 3:1-15                    Journey into God’s Presence
February 22        Exodus 14:10-31               Journey through the Waters
March 1                Exodus 17:1-7                    Journey through Doubt
March 8                Exodus 17:8-13                  Journey with Partners
March 15             Exodus 19:2-8                    Journey with Intention
March 22             Exodus 22:20-27               Journey into Neighborliness

Join us in worship!

Welcome to this Table

Thanks to my wonderful husband, Ed Taylor, for sharing this poem with me today.
A Welcoming Prayer
by The Ponderer

And so we gather at the table.

We come from many places,
differing in age, differing in race,
differing in orientation, politics and even religion.
As we come together around the table
we discover that our differences 
are not something we tolerate
but that our differences are indeed a blessing,
the more difference we bring, the more fully we experience
the presence of the sacred in our midst.
So come, children of God, just as you are.
Wherever you are on this journey of life
you are welcome here,
here in this place, 
here in this community, 
here at this table.
Come, children of God, 
come and remember with us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More than I Can Be

When God tells Moses to head back to Egypt (which he has wisely left after committing murder there) Moses replies, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ It seems a fair question. At the moment, Moses is no more than a fugitive from justice hiding out in the wilderness, pursuing the lowly occupation of shepherd to his father-in-law's sheep. But God sees in Moses what Moses cannot see in himself. Requiring him to remove the sandals from his feet, God grounds this experience of holiness in the very soil from which every human has come. With no barrier between Moses and the earthy reminder of all our beginnings ("from dust you have come and to dust you will return") Moses is simultaneously brought low and lifted up. 

On Ash Wednesday at UniPlace we each received the sign of the cross on our foreheads to these words: From dust you came and to dust you will return. On the journey between, go with God. Standing on holy ground, Moses' call is grounded in God's passion for justice and his identity is lifted high, to be more than he thought he could be.
 Josh Groban
Josh Groban

Turn Aside and Look

When I walk into a restaurant or store, I admit, I am usually focused on my own agenda and may not look side to side. This sometimes results in offending someone two feet away, trying to get my attention.

Today I was reading Exodus 3:1-15 and was struck by the words, Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight." The great sight was a burning bush, ablaze but not consumed. We know the story. The bush was a revelation of God's call for justice and liberation. By choosing a diversion from his own agenda, by turning aside and looking, Moses opened himself to the risky business of answering God's call.  I wonder what it will take for me to interrupt my daily routine and notice what is two feet away, hear the cries of God's people, and receive the summons to action.

Here's another verse from our theme hymn for Lent, Ours the Journey:

Through the flood of starving peoples, warring factions and despair,
who will lift the olive branches? Who will light the flame of care?
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey now and evermore.

Ashes, Ashes

As a child I played the game "ring around the rosies" and delighted in the final twirling of the circle as we sang, "ashes! ashes! we all fall DOWN!" Then we would release our hands and tumble to the ground.

Every Ash Wednesday as I mix the oil and charred leaves from last Holy Week's palm fronds, this chorus fills my mind. I think of the humiliated disciples of Jesus who fled when he was arrested. I think of the fallen preachers and teachers who didn't live up to the expectations others had of them. I think of my own failures and remember, "we all fall down." Tonight as I smudge the foreheads of people in my community, people I love who make my journey more precious, my heart swells with grace knowing we are, every one, twirling in the same circle.

Journey Into God's Presence

For our Ash Wednesday time of worship I have set up guided prayer stations throughout the sanctuary. At this one I set out a rosary, a candle, the cross which usually adorns our communion table, stones, and a cut paper art piece I acquired from a nun/artist at Kentucky's Lorretto Mother House retreat center 32 years ago. While on a spiritual retreat at that Catholic institution I first discovered the gift of centering prayer. Each item on the table reminds me of important markers on my own spiritual journey.

The rosary was a gift from a dear friend and Disciples clergy colleague in Atlanta who knows the deep joy of a disciplined prayer life. When I see the candle I remember the countless youth functions, congregational retreats, Sunday worship, and private devotions when I lit a candle to remember God's presence in that place. The cross from the Lord's table reminds me of the central place of communion in our worship life and the cross' shadow on the wall draws attention to the sacrificial nature of divine love. The stones bring to mind walks on Lake Michigan beaches, picking up stones and fossils, contemplating the vastness of life on this planet and its evolution over millennia. God is there, too. The simple cut paper art is titled Into the Light, reminding me that prayer may call me first into the reverent darkness of a quiet sanctuary only to bring my soul back into the light transformed.

Journey Partners

Our sanctuary at UniPlace

With Lent fast approaching it has been rewarding to prepare our sanctuary for the holy season. Looking through beautiful banners we have used in the past, we found these lovely ones created years ago by Mary Wallace. We were able to modify them for our Journey theme. Don't they look great!?

The first word we added to the banners was "Ours." Notice the plural. In our individualistic society we easily fall into thinking that the spiritual journey is a solo pursuit. Christ calls us into partnership.

As part of our visioning process the whole church is called into discernment together this holy season. We are forming teams of 3-4 folks who covenant to pray together about once a week with and for one another and with and for the rest of the church.

Join us on the journey as we listen for God's call to mission and ministry. Here is another verse from our theme hymn:

Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain,
may your blazing phoenix spirit resurrect the church again
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey now and evermore.

The Journey Is Ours

Do you know where you're going? I've been asked that more than once when I've gotten behind the wheel.

On Sunday, February 15, folks at UniPlace were invited to join the visioning team of our church on a journey toward transformation. We are asking that question of one another, as a church on the journey.

February 15 I began a sermon series titled "Ours the Journey." I took the title from a hymn in the Chalice Hymnal by the same name. As we seek a clearer picture of what God calls us to do and be in the future, the first verse of that hymn speaks volumes:

In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways,
who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering their sep'rate ways?
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey now and evermore.

With God's help, this Lenten season of prayerful discernment will help us determine together where God calls us to go next. Join us on the journey!