Why should I go to church?

I was sitting in the park knitting yesterday evening and having an imaginary conversation with a friend of mine.  I do this a lot, actually.  I’m not crazy or anything, but the conversations help me to sort of process my thoughts, and this conversation in particular is one I’ve more or less had — in reality — with a number of different people.

Anyhoo, this conversation was with a certain friend of mine — let’s call her… Cordelia?  Cordelia.  Like many of my friends and acquaintances, Cordelia isn’t a very religious person.  She may believe in something beyond the tangible world, but doesn’t necessarily buy into the organized religious aspect of spirituality.  In our conversation, she was a little uncomfortable and even semi-apologetic to me for this, knowing that I am very religious and somehow expecting that I would judge her or think less of her for not being “churched.”  I assured her that nothing could be further from the truth, and went on to observe that, in his letters, Paul lists faith among the different gifts of the Spirit, leaving open the suggestion that some (or many) people won’t have faith.  But we all have gifts and we are all moved by the same Spirit and I told Cordelia that I knew she had wonderful gifts, gifts I have personally seen her share with others to teach and nurture them and help them grow.  I told her that I believed that God created all of us and loves all of us no matter what we believe, and that nothing could be more pleasing to God than that God’s gifts be used for the good of others.  Then she asked me a question I didn’t know how to answer.  “Why should I go to church, then?”  Well… why should she go to church? Continue reading

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If Captain Planet wrote praise songs…

They might sound kind of like the one I just wrote.  Haha.  All through the Easter season, there’s been one piece of the communion liturgy at church that really stirs me up whenever I hear it:

“O God, you are Breath: send your Spirit on this meal. O God, you are Bread: feed us with yourself. O God, you are Wine: warm our hearts and make us one. O God, you are Fire: transform us with hope. O God most majestic, O God most motherly, O God our strength and our song, you show us a vision of a tree of life with fruits for all and leaves that heal the nations. Grant us such life, the life of the Father to the Son, the life of the Spirit of our risen Savior, life in you, now and forever. Amen.”

I think it’s such beautiful and moving imagery.  It’s a great reminder to always be on the lookout for God in all things, to catch glimpses of God’s spirit as it moves through the world with an infectious and mischievous delight, stirring our hearts up to love.  Anyhoo, once again, I found myself on a test day in class with a pen and a scrap of paper and words that began to flow through my brain.  This is what came out.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a great songwriter, but hope you enjoy it anyway.  The lyrics are also posted below.


Continue reading

Fear? Not!

Alleluia!  Sing to Jesus; his the scepter, his the throne; Alleluia!  his the triumph, his the victory alone. Hark!  The songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood: “Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by his blood.”

This is the first and last verse of hymn #392 in the ELW (Evangelical Lutheran Worship), which we sang last night at the observation of Christ’s ascension into heaven.  I like hymns that use this convention of repetition; the text strikes you a certain way when you sing it the first time, then the two or three verses in between expand and explore the theme and give the text a greater depth when you repeat it in the final verse.  More than anything, though, with this particular hymn, I was captivated by the last line:  “Jesus out of every nation has redeemed us by his blood.”  What a beautifully inclusive vision!  It speaks of grace that transcends the artificial boundaries of nations, politics, denominations, etc.  We are all one to Christ.  We are all one in Christ.  This is our calling as a church. Even our Gospel reading for this Sunday, John 17:20-26, reflects this call to universal oneness and love:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me…”

Following worship last night, I hung around in the atrium for a little while and found myself reading the bios of our 11 new members, posted on the bulletin board.  I was gratified and a little taken by surprise to see that over half of them specifically mentioned our refugee resettlement project as something they wanted to be involved with.  In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, since I’ve been working with these folks on the refugee resettlement committee, but it had never dawned on me that the committee is made up of new members, attracted to Grace by our sense of mission. This, to me, is an example of the very best kind of evangelism — in truth, the only kind of evangelism — the spreading of good news about something you truly believe in.  It goes much deeper than just trying to convince people that they should come to your church.  It’s inviting people to be a part of something that really matters, inviting them into works that reflect Christ’s glory and victory, like in the words of the hymn.   Continue reading

Prayer 101

This is one of a couple of forthcoming posts inspired by the conversations at the candidacy retreat last weekend — it’s been a good week of rumination and contemplation.  One comment that particularly sparked my interest was about prayer — the speaker (I think it was Bishop Maas) said that he’d never really been taught how to pray.  It made me pause and consider my own prayer life, how I learned to pray.  I remember reading prayers in the bulletin growing up and memorizing table and bedtime prayers and the Lord’s Prayer, and struggling to master the Apostle’s Creed.  But I don’t remember anyone sitting down with me and saying, “Okay, this is how you pray.”  It was just words.

It’s a question my confirmation students have been raising a lot in the past few weeks as we’ve been exploring the Lord’s Prayer: “How do you pray?”  It’s a good question to ask.  We always end our confirmation lessons with a prayer; however, aside from one very vocal student who, sadly, no longer attends confirmation, none of the students has ever voluntarily (and barely involuntarily) prayed at the end of class.  I asked them one day how they could be so outspoken with questions and discussion during class, but then instantly clam up when it came time to pray.  They replied honestly, “we don’t know how to pray.”

Well, how do you pray?  Continue reading