Wednesday, October 11, 2017

IN TIMES SUCH AS THESE...

The following is my sermon from Sunday, October 8, in which I spoke of the power of the lament.  The text was Psalm 80, a Lament in Time of National Crisis.  Included in the sermon is encouragement for people to give voice to their own laments, not as a form of grievance for the sake of grievance.  Rather the encouragement is to voice our own laments as a way to reach out to God in our despair.

Also included in the sermon is a poem I wrote - A Lament for Our Times.

The sermon title I chose at the beginning of the week is a little like that song “I never promised you a rose garden”!  O, the portion of the psalm we heard does speak of God planting the vineyard that was to be Israel – with all the lushness and promise of newly sown fields.  Surely the plants would grow full and bear much fruit.  At least that appeared to be the promise.  Yet Israel’s experience as a nation seemed a little different – more raisins than grapes – more withered than flourishing.

The Old Testament suggested reading is from Isaiah and it too speaks of God planting a vineyard – tending it carefully, lovingly meeting its every needs, expecting the fruit of the vine to nourish the world in the form of Israel.  Yet when the fruit matured God got wild grapes.

The Gospel reading for today is also about a vineyard – the parable of the Wicked Tenants.  You remember.  The landowner plants a vineyard and leases it to tenants to manage the field.  When the time comes to collect his fees he sends out slaves to do the job.  They are killed.  Another set goes out and they also are killed.  Then the landowner sends out his only son and he too is killed.  It is a parable that reminds its hearers that the prophets of justice in the Hebrew testament were rejected, one after another.  People had opportunities to face their destructive behaviors and ideas and people chose to keep on doing as they had always done – until at last Jesus was sent into the world – and then even he was killed because we humans valued our own ideas more than God’s ways.

Psalm 80 in its entirety is a communal psalm of lament for the nation Israel.  Things hadn’t worked out as they thought they should, given that they were God’s chosen people.  The first part of the Psalm has the people blaming God for being a poor shepherd.  They were not feeling well cared for!  Our part of the Psalm today has the people blaming God for failed vineyard practices.  They were not flourishing.  In fact they had become a barren field.  Psalm 80 is a lament in times of a national calamity.

As I was thinking about the passage for today, I wondered what kind of words we might utter this fall if we were to write a lament for a time of great calamity and uncertainty.  I have long encouraged people to pray the Psalms, particularly during periods of personal trials and tribulations – because the Psalms offer us a way to speak the unspeakable.  The Psalms remind us that we can raise our voices and our fists to God in anger and despair and God will listen.  There are some rather heated Psalms in that collection!

The Psalms remind us that we can read them and pray them in times of great joy and gratitude.  They provide words when words seem inadequate.  “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”; “Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name”;  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  The Psalms are a rich resource in joy and in sorrow.

So in preparation for putting fingers to keyboard, I gave some thought to the times we live in – and what might be our lament at a time of our national pain.



                                                      A Lament For Our Times

Give ear, O God of Pentecost
Whose Spirit descended on a bewildered crowd,
making  all nations one in hearing and       understanding…
Towers rise out of the desert with a language that scatters your people
The language of the streets – the dialect of destruction
Staccato punctuated by silence voicing fear
Where were You in the silence?
Where were  You in the thundering clamor?

We, Your people, cry out to you.
Restore to us Your Pentecostal Spirit.

Give aid, O Creator God
Who birthed the mighty oceans and swirling winds
Structures have no power over the fury of the storm.
Connections broken
Meaning blown away
Why?  Why?   cry out the broken spirits
When?  When? ask the anguished.

We, Your people, speak of our despair
Mend the broken pottery of our lives.

Give wisdom, O God of all peoples
Whose love for us is so great You gave Your all, Your   Son
Implements of war brought out of careful concealment threaten  present and future generations
Us against Them  - the common mantra
“My Life Matters”  pride of place
Who do You say we are?
Who do You say we can be?

We, Your People,  whisper our remorse
Forgive us as we forgive

For the Lord our God speaks to us still in the dissonance of our times.
For the Lord our God heals our brokenness and restores us
For the Lord our God blesses the peacemakers and grants us courage

God of Pentecost
God of all creation
God of all peoples

Hear us as we cry out to You and restore us to righteousness with You and with each other.



Clara Young
October 5, 2017

The lament serves to place us in a situation and at the same time allows for the possibility of solutions.  When we narrow down that which is holding us hostage to fear and destructive behavior AND keep alive the hope of our faith, we can begin to see the potential for new life and rebirth.

Yes we cry out in grief at the language of gunfire punctuating a concert and bringing death and woundedness.  We cry out in grief with all the friends and families that wail in sorrow as their sons and daughters, husbands and wives are killed in acts of violence.  We cry out in grief as neighbor shouts obscenities against neighbor – back and forth.  But when we cry out in grief looking for God in all this carnage, we find God – right there beside us, weeping with us, and showing us how to witness to love in such times as these.
God speaks to us still, even amidst the sounds of destruction.

Yes we speak of our despair when we see the destruction of homes and families, power grids, roads, bridges, all the things that connect us with one another and give life meaning.  We question the power of the hurricane, the wind, the water, the fire, the earthquake, the volcano.
We question our ability to overcome such power.  But when we cry out in despair we begin to see the small steps we can take – the Church World Service cleaning bucket or the hygiene kits, the consciousness of our personal impact on the environment and global warming, the need we share to help one another and be helped.  We find God rescuing the wounded, sharing the ice for medicines, picking up debris, comforting the children, and we know that our brokenness is being mended and we are being restored to wholeness.

Yes as tensions between nations increase, as tensions between races increase, as tensions between how we were formed as human beings increase – we whisper our remorse that we have failed to see one another as God’s beloved children.  We have failed to our children as they become fully adult, a gift of God.  We have failed to live up to baptismal promises we made that welcomed infants and children and youth into the body of Christ fully and completely, loved and beloved.  We have failed to see the fullness of creation in the diversity of humankind.  We whisper our remorse.

And as we do – we recognize God of All Peoples among us welcoming the children, inviting us to the Great Feast, forgiving us and welcoming us home.  We see God of All Peoples blessing those who would risk being peacemakers and reconcilers.  We see God present among us calling us to love one another.

In the words of the Psalmist:  Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Amen and Amen.



Monday, August 14, 2017

A Letter. . .

            I have been thinking about how I would like to respond to the events of August 11-12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.                 

            First of all I want to express my appreciation for my clergy colleagues who gave up a significant piece of their busy schedules in order to be a physical witness to the Gospel.  They participated in the emergency response training.  They were as prepared as anyone ever could be for the possibility of violence or arrest.  They wore their robes and clergy stoles as clear identifiers that this was the cost of discipleship and vocation.  They stood in silent witness between the two competing worldviews.  Their witness was powerful.

            Secondly I want to say that so many have spoken eloquent words about how you navigate through such events as we saw this past weekend.  One person reminded us to recall Fred Rodgers words “Look for the helpers.”  Others have initiated candlelight vigils throughout our country as public witness.  Many have expressed condolences for the loss of life:  Heather Heyer, Lieutenant Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Bates.

            As I have reflected over the events and the responses of this weekend, I think we also need some suggestions to ourselves about how we move forward – especially how we can speak to our children and youth.  There are a variety of opportunities being offered and to be offered to continue the dialogue of race in America.  Those are all good ways to engage in thoughtful reflection and I encourage anyone to do so.  The following ideas  are some additional things we can do.

             
LEARN SOME STORIES

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, a theologian, a writer, and a member of the resistance movement and he died in a German Concentration Camp.  Google his name and you can find a variety of sources to tell you about his life.  His writings are also in print.   This is only one of many books to introduce this courageous pastor to you. 
            Wonder of Wonders:  Christmas with Dietrich Bonhoeffer written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

            Anne Frank was a young German Jew who was sheltered in the attic of a Christian home.  She kept a journal of her life which has had a profound affect on countless people as they learned through her the horrors of Nazi rule.  She and her family were eventually found and removed to the Bergen-Belson concentration camp where she died in 1945. 

            Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank has been translated into English and is widely available.

         Although I do not know this book, it does appear to be a resource that is helpful to discuss racism and that horrific practice once used by such organizations as the KKK.  I  included in the “cut and paste” the information of the various awards this book received.

            The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart. 

Notable Books for a Global Society White Ravens Collection,
International Youth Library,
Munich Skipping Stones Honor Book Best Books for Kids & Teens,
Canadian Children’s Book Centre 
Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction 
John Spray Mystery Award Libbylit Prize (Belgium),
French edition Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award finalist Snow Willow Young Reader’s Choice Award nomination Arthur Ellis Award finalist,
Crime Writers of Canada 


            Another book that I can not personally vouch for but which seems to be written so that it is accessible to a wide variety of readers is the book.  Again, I am doing a “cut and paste” from her website to show the recognition this book has received.


They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
Released August 2010:
Houghton Mifflin

Junior Library Guild Selection
Richie’s Pick “It is, of course, through reading a book like this — and understanding the “Why?” — that we gain the insight necessary to help stop the flames of hatred and fear from spreading in whatever direction they next travel.”
Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year 2010
School Library Journal Best Children’s Book of the Year 2010
Kirkus Best Books for Teens 2010
Horn Book Magazine 2010 Fanfare List
Booklist Top of the List Winner for 2010 and Editor’s Choice for 2010
Washington Post Best Children’s Book of 2010
a Chicago Public Library Best of the Best
an ALA Notable title
CCBC Choices 2011 title


DON’T BE AFRAID TO TALK

         The pictures that appear on our televisions and social media are disturbing.  Nevertheless it is important to talk with our children in an age appropriate manner.  “We are going to change the channel (or turn the TV off) because the news right now is showing people doing hateful things.  It’s not OK to treat one another like that.”  By the time children are elementary and pre-teen those conversations will get longer and more specific.  The books just mentioned may be  helpful to you. 
            Failing to talk about this subject though tells our children a message we don’t want to communicate.  This evil is to be named not ignored.  And why this is evil is to be named so that our children are equipped when they are confronted by the language of hate.

TELL OUR OWN STORIES
        
         For people of faith, we have a lot of stories to tell our children.  Let them hear by our words and see by our actions that we have heard Jesus say:  I command you to love one another.

            For people of our nation, let our children and youth hear from us as adults those words and ideas from the “Pledge of Allegiance”.  We pledge allegiance to the flag of The United States of America, not a Nazi flag, or a Confederate flag, or a Don’t Tread on Me flag.  Those all represent other times and other meanings – but our allegiance is to the flag that represents this great nation.  That clarification to the Pledge was made in 1923 and it seems to me to continue to be appropriate.  The concluding words of the Pledge have stood since its introduction in 1892 – one nation, with liberty and justice for all.         
These are the values that bind us together as a nation.  These are the values we are to teach our children.  These are the values that endure in the midst of events such as occurred in Charlottesville.

LEARN SOME STORIES
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TALK
TELL OUR OWN STORIES

Grace and Peace

Rev. Clara

Friday, July 28, 2017

In Appreciation Of. . .

            As I have been reviewing some of the founding documents of the United Church of Christ, particularly the Congregationalist strain, in preparation for a presentation on History for the Shenandoah Association Institutes, I have been particularly appreciative of the insights of our ancestors in faith.  In particular, I am thankful of the polity of our church.

            One month ago the United Church of Christ met in Baltimore in General Synod 17.  Delegates – some men, some women, some clergy, some lay, some youth – all selected and elected by their respective Conferences back home, gathered as church to consider the issues of the day and the direction of the UCC for the next two years.  Approximately 3,000 delegates acted on behalf of 914,871 (as of fall 2017) members representing 5,032 (as of fall 2017) churches.  There business ranged from hot topic justice concerns to the nitty-gritty of how and who will govern the denomination.

            Back in the late sixteenth century Robert Browne began writing and putting his writing into practice as he gathered a church in Norwich, England.  His writings went against all the acceptable ways churches were organized and governed.  His thoughts became known as the “Congregational Way.”  First and foremost he reminded all who would hear him that Christ was the Head of the Church – not a king, or queen, or bishop, or pope, or patriarch.  He also spoke about equality between “regular church folk” and their pastors.  No one was above anyone else. 

            These ideas took hold and expressed themselves in those Pilgrims and Puritans that settled the Colonies and who are our ancestors in faith.  Congregational framework meant both a freedom from imposition of will from a higher authority, and living together in a covenant relationship one with another.  These fundamental ideas took shape in the founding of our nation and the relationship of the three branches of government one with another.

            From the very beginning the governing body of the church designated those among themselves to make decisions and act on their behalf.  In the beginning those people were only men, only full communicative members of the church, and only men of high integrity and morals.  They were given the historic, biblical, names of officers of the church – elders and deacons.  They were subject to the will of the people because they were voted in and could be voted out.  While holding office it was their responsibility to make responsible decisions based on the best facts they could get.  But also, in addition, they were to make decisions prayerfully, paying attention to the qualities and teachings of Jesus as Head of the Church.  In those meetings, they were the church gathered.

            Every once in awhile, it is good to remember that the church is not a business.  The church is not a civic organization.  The church is not political party.  The church is God’s people gathered.  The church is God’s people choosing to bind themselves together in a relationship of trust and faith.  The church is the Body of Christ to do what Jesus did when he walked the shores of Galilee – proclaim the Love of God, usher in the Realm of God on earth as it is in heaven, focus always and forever on the sacredness of life – each person and all the world(s) around us.  Our meetings, our classrooms, our worship services, our fellowship time together are to be formed by Jesus.  We forget that sometimes.  Today I am thankful for the witness of our ancestors to remind us of the responsibilities of living in covenant with one another, the people gathered as church.

Grace and Peace

Rev. Clara

Monday, July 17, 2017

SABBATH – TOUCHED BY GOD

Antonym of stress-filled schedules
       Sabbath interrupts
       Re-creating present and past
       Future possibilities
       imagery of the Divine

Droplets falling out of summer thunderstorms
       Joining water flowing ever onward
       Skipping over exposed memories of times long past
       Filling the void on the way to the sea
       Trickle to crescendo
       Taking stresses beyond the danger zones
       To calm waters flowing, curving, cutting new paths.

Chirping sounds, rushing water, musical notes, Word proclaimed
       Sabbath whispers to our souls
       “Be still”
       “Be still and know”
       “Be still and know that I am God”
       “Be still”

Morning yellow light illuminating forest floors
Evening golden light bidding quiet rest
       Holy Presence
       Holy Nourisher
       Holy Protector


Restlessness finding rest
Sabbath taking – Holy finding


Monday, June 12, 2017

Gratitude – Or Psalm 8 Part Deux -  Windowpanes

            It is a hot summer day – the kind that fills a room with bright sunshine and highlights the verdant greens outside the window.  It is one of those kinds of days when the heart is full of gratitude.  The creation spills over into all parts of life.  For a moment in time the political dialogue is on mute.  The “to do” list is on hold.  The gift that is our planet, the creation that is around us and includes us, holds sway.

            Yesterday I chose Psalm 8 as my text for preaching on Trinity Sunday.  This morning I am still held by the attention we gave to the Mystery of God in all creation.  The Literary Bible, An Original Translation, David Rosenberg (Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2009) provides a contemporary translation from Hebrew of Psalm 8.  The verses italicized are from this translation.

My Lord Most High
your name shines
on the page of the world

from behind the lights
covering the heavens –

            My musings for the day include window views – and the practice of gratitude for those glimpses of the world we get beyond our shielded panes of glass.  What follows is a Litany of Joy and Gratitude expressed through window moments from my photo collection and David Rosenberg’s translation of the Psalm 8.


My Lord Most High
your names shines
on the page of the world

from behind the lights
covering the heavens-


my lips like infants

held to the breast
grow
to stun the darkest thoughts

when I look up
from the work of my fingers
I see the moon and stars

your hand set there

The sunsets and sunrises,

                                       

the flowers and the changing seasons enter into my busy life and tell me to “Be Still”.

                                                       

                                                                 

and I can barely think
what is a man

how did you spare a thought for him
care to remember
his line

descending through death
yet you let him rise
above himself, toward you


The windows pointing to the Christ Story remind me always of how God cares for us…

From the birth of Jesus…

                                                              

Though the sacrament of baptism….

                                                       

And the Sacrament of Holy Communion where we remember with thanksgiving the sacrifice of the cross and the reality of the Resurrection.

                                    
                                                              


held by music of words…
you set his mind in power
to follow the work of your hand

laying the world at his  feet
all that is nameable
all that changes through time

Stained glass windows tell the story of Jesus for all to see and read and show me the work of God’s hand, the vision of God’s kin-dom.

                                                                 

[St. Stephen’s UCC, Harrisonburg, VA]


[St. Paul’s UCC, Woodstock, VA]

[Mt. Calvary UCC, Woodstock, VA]

from canyons to the stars
to starfish
at bottom of the sea

all that moves blazing a path
in air or water
or deep space of imagination on paper








My Lord Most High
your name shines
on the pages of the world.


How might you illustrate a Psalm of Gratitude?

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Clara