11/27/2013

First Sunday of Advent Palimpsest

...God cannot be proved. There are sermons in science that beggar those in stones, but not proofs...but the power in these sermons is remarkable. Because color with all its beauty screens the Pure Light of the Void, Goethe called it “light’s suffering,” which too is arresting. What Christian (or at least Christian with the slightest metaphysical ear) can recite the Nicene Creed -- “God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God” -- without new comprehension after reflecting on the things that this chapter has touched on? What Jew or Christian can read God’s first pronouncement, “Let there be light,” without similar gain? It is not only Muslims who are moved by Rumi’s lovely line, “Wist thou not that the sun thou seest is but the reflection of the Sun behind the veil?” For myself, I add to the above what Reuben Snake once told me. “When we Indians first step out-of-doors in the morning, we raise
both our arms to greet the rising sun. And in an eruption of praise and gratitude, we shout ‘Ho!’” -- Huston Smith, Why Religion Matters



On September 9, 1997, a gigantic crane cut through all of the red tape encircling Judiciary Square and lowered a four-ton sculpture to its permanent cement base.  What made this particular installation remarkable was the biblical symbolism of the sculpture’s design. Titled “Guns into Plowshares,” this 16-foot-high steel plow blade consists of 3,000 handguns welded together to form the distinctive shape of the well-known farm implement. Artist Esther Augsburger and her son worked for two and a half years with the Metro Police Department. They molded handguns that had been surrendered by local residents. This simple plow announces a prophetic hope: the longstanding hope for the day when God will get God’s way...in God’s society, gunpowder will become grain to feed the hungry. -- Peter Marty, The Christian Century, 11.16.04

At St. Louis University is a small Jesuit chapel that is creatively lit. The light fixtures are made of twentieth-century cannon shells, converted. Emptied of their lethal contents, they now hold light for people to pray by. In such light we pray and live. And having laid our own weapons down, we bear witness to the promise of greater transformations in days to come. — Paul Simpson Duke, Feasting on the Word

“I knew this was it,” said Ron. “I grabbed my stuff and packed it, then I put on my rucksack and went out into the garden. The little ball of light was hovering there, waiting for me, and when I came out it bobbed along a bit and I followed it behind the shed and then it...well, it went inside me.”
“Sorry?” said Harry, sure he had not heard correctly.
“It sort of floated toward me,” said Ron, illustrating the movement with his free index finger, “right to my chest, and then — it just went straight through. It was here,” he touched a point close to his heart,” I could feel it, it was hot. And once it was inside me I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew it would take me where I needed to go.”
 — J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Questions:
How do you experience God’s light, the light of Christ, in your life?
In this church? Where do you see God’s light entering the world? What does that light do?

11/22/2013

Christ the King: Necessity of Darkness


Colossians 1:11-20 

Christ the King Statue, Christ the King Retreat Center, Buffalo
Readings:
Getting a good exposure means having the right amount of light on the camera's sensor: too much light and the image will be overexposed and washed out, too little light and it will be dark and murky. Controlling the amount of light to get the right exposure depends on three factors: the lens aperture, the shutter speed, and the sensitivity of the sensor. Because these factors interact to produce the image, different combinations of settings can be used to produce the same exposure.
-- Andy Karr and Michael Wood, The Practice of Contemplative Photography



We lay in our bed as in a tomb
awakened by thunder to the dark
in which our house was one with night,
and then light came as if the black
roof of the world had cracked open,
as if the night of all time had broken,
and out our window we glimpsed the world
birthwet and shining, as even
the sun at noon had never made it shine.
— Wendell Berry, “The Storm”

Sunset over Santa Fe
When chaos strikes, faith-filled people look for ways to quit idolizing their fears. They seek strategies for pulling life back together. The challenge for most of us is to make the priority of Christ more than mere words. Who needs more talk of making Christ first in our lives? The world is full of religious talk. We need instead to act, to live as if Christ were indeed the head of the body, and not some extra equipment we strap on when it’s “third and long.” In Bibles that provide chapter headings, this section of Colossians may be titled “The Supremacy of Christ,” or something similar. This is the Christ in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Nothing of God is held back or left out of the person of Jesus...Christ is the face or image of the invisible God.
— Peter Marty, Christian Century, 11.16.04

Blessed art thou, king of the universe!
We name you king, lord, master, governor
and by such naming we relieve our deep anxieties
in confidence at your rule.
And yet...we notice your stunning irrelevance to the issues of the day
that require hands-on attention.
We name you king and pray daily for your coming kingdom.
And yet...we also notice that you creep over
into violence and oppressive demand.
We name you king and loudly proclaim that your messiah
will come again, come soon, in glory and power.
And yet...all the while, we grow weary
with the brutal powers of the day.
We name you king and wait for your show of
vulnerability and mercy and compassion
that will “new” the world and heal our common life.
We name you, and we wait...but not patiently.
Blessed art thou, king of the universe! Amen.
— Walter Brueggemann

Questions:
· Do we need both light and dark to see? How much of each?
· How is Christ a light, and how does that light interact with dark?
· Why do we think about Jesus as king this week before Advent?
· What does Christ the King mean to you?


11/08/2013

Palimpsest: Living Stones

Living Stones

1 Peter 2:4-7

Readings:
The illustration of the stone is then extended in verse 5a, where it is applied to the Christians. It says that the believers, as living stones, ought to be built up into a spiritual house. The church is not to be made up of individuals who are cold and dead, but who enrich their environment with life-giving love.
The Anchor Bible:
The Epistles of James Peter and Jude
    
The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time.
—Henry David Thoreau

John Burchell discovered living stones in 1810 or 1811 when he picked up a curiously shaped stone in South Africa only to find it to be a plant. Originally classified as Mesembryanthemum turbuniformis, it became Lithops turbuniformis when the Mesembs were reevaluated and classified into different genera. As currently revised by D. T. Cole in Lithops - Flowering Stones, there are over 145 varieties, forms, and cultivars representing 36 species.




 In 1907, a second church home was erected and dedicated on the site of the 1869 church. The building was designed by Albert Schippel. The cost of this church was between $28,000 and $35,000. The main entrance to this building was on Cherry Street. The brick and stone structure, with several remodeling jobs, served as our congregation until it was razed in 1976. The cornerstone is placed near the south entrance to the current building. This (quilt) block (Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church 1907) was completed by Marilyn Birbeck.
Centenary United Methodist Sesquicentennial Quilt Book,
1854-2004

Sons and daughters of the earth, steep yourself in the sea of matter, bathe in its fiery waters, for it is the source of your life and your youthfulness.

You thought you could do without it because the power of thought has been kindled in you? You hoped that the more thoroughly you rejected the tangible, the closer you would be to spirit: that you would be more divine if you lived in the world of pure thought, or at least more angelic if you fled the corporeal? Well, you were like to have perished of hunger.

You must have oil for your limbs, blood for your veins, water for your soul, the world of reality for your intellect: do you not see that the very law of your own nature makes these a necessity for you?
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin




Questions:
· Do you have a favorite stone? Where did you get it from? What does it mean for you, or what does it remind you of?
· How do stone buildings make you feel?
· How can a stone be a “living stone?” How can we, individuals in a church, be a “living stone?”
· How are we built together at Centenary to make a spiritual house?

11/01/2013

Palimpsest: All Saint's

Stone on Stone

Ephesians 2:16-22

Readings:
We must learn how to walk through the stages of dying. We have to grieve over lost friends, relatives, and loves. Death cannot be dealt with through quick answers, religious platitudes, or a stiff upper lip. Dying must be allowed to happen over time, in predictable and necessary stages, both in those who die graciously and in those who love them. Grief, believe it or not, is a liminal space where God can fill the tragic gap with something new and totally unexpected. Yet the process cannot be rushed...It is not only the loss of persons that leads to grief, but also the loss of ideals, visions, plans, places, relationships, and our youth itself. Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross helped us name the necessary stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance (They are the same as the stages of dying itself). Grief work might be one of the most redemptive, and yet still unappreciated, ministries in the church. Some call it bereavement ministry. Thank God, it is being discovered as perhaps the paramount time of both spacious grace and painful gift.—Richard Rohr, from Near Occasions of Grace

because I understand that my faith comes from my grandmothers. It was in moving back to the Plains that I found my old ones,my flesh and blood ancestors as well as the desert monks and mystics of the Christian church. Dakota is where it all comes together, and surely that is one definition of sacred. It came as an unwelcome surprise that my old ones led me back to church. It continues to surprise me that the church is for me both a new and an old frontier. And it astonishes me as much as it delights me that moving to the Dakota grasslands led me to a religious frontier where the new growth is fed by something very old, the 1,500-year tradition of Benedictine monasticism. – Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography

The leaves are falling, falling as from far off,
as though far gardens withered in the skies;
they are falling with denying gestures.
And in the nights the heavy earth is falling
from all the stars down into loneliness.
We are all falling. This hand falls.
And look at others; it is in them all.
And yet there is One who holds this falling 
endlessly gently in his hands. - Rainer Maria Rilke, “Autumn”

How they do live on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they  manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them. Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us. Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. – Frederick Buechner, Listening To Your Life

Questions:
· What did your grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, mentors and neighbors teach you about your faith? Who are the others in your life who have taught you about faith?
· Who do you inspire? For whom might you be a saint of faith?