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Ancient Prayers With Not-So-Ancient People

One the most profound acts I get to perform as a pastor is taking communion to people in their homes. Most of the time these are homebound seniors, people who do not even step outside their house for days on end and rarely having the company of an another human being in their home. These same people also tend to be the saints of the church who have given countless hours to prayer, work, study, and service in the name of Jesus Christ. Now they sit or lay down at home, watch TV, go to doctor’s appointments, and wait.

Once a month an elder from Laurel and I make the rounds doing home communion. Claudia, my volunteer secretary, puts some communion wafers on the small pottery plate and pours grape juice into a glass bottle with stopper. I take a basket with the plate, bottle, a pottery cup in same style as the plate, a Bible, and a Book of Common Worship which contains the liturgy. When the elder and I arrive we enter the person’s house, sit down, and often just talk about their life for a few minutes. Often the person receiving communion asks how the church is going and we’ll discuss that too. Then we’ll begin the service.

Home communions have most of the elements of Sunday worship. We do prayers, Bible readings, partake of the sacrament. I even do a (short) sermon, sometimes a recap of the previous Sunday. Home communions are different, though, in a couple of ways. First, the sermon almost always turns into a discussion. Since the setting is so intimate and the people receiving communion have so little chance to have conversation in their daily lives, often I will find myself interrupted by a story that pertains to the point I’m trying to make. Most of the stories I hear are full of wisdom and give me insight into the Scriptures, some are random tales that I forget even before we move on to the sacrament itself.

Second, while the liturgy on Sunday mornings has a fair bit of call-and-response where the leader says something and the congregation responds in unison the liturgy during home communion is often a monologue. Since many of the people we bring communion to are hard of sight or hearing it makes it hard for them to participate in a call-and-response style.

There is one exception to this rule. During the liturgy there is a point where we speak the Lord’s Prayer together. And without fail, no matter how talkative the person receiving communion might be, I always hear their voice echoing the prayer that so many have prayed throughout the ages. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

And in that moment the body of Christ comes together to be sustained by… the body of Christ. Those who have been separated from worshipping with the body by illness, disease, or age are brought back through the breaking of the bread and the prayers. In this the church is made whole, when all those who are a part of the body of Christ can be take part in the full worship of the church.

Use Your Gifts

I may be going to go out on a limb here, but I think we all know that reading the Bible is important. Whether we actually sit down and read it or not is debatable sometimes, but just a few minutes a day can dig up some valuable treasures.

Consider, if you will, this nugget out of Exodus buried in Chapter 31.

 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3and I have filled him with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, 4to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. 6Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skillful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you: 7the tent of meeting, and the ark of the covenant, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, 8the table and its utensils, and the pure lamp stand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, 9and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin with its stand, 10and the finely worked vestments, the holy vestments for the priest Aaron and the vestments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the holy place. They shall do just as I have commanded you. (New Revised Standard Version)

Did you get through it? Did you read every word? Okay, did you get the general picture? Sometimes we have to sort through the text in order to understand. And sometimes we have to put the Bible in context to understand as well.

In Exodus 31, the Israelites are in the middle of the wilderness. So Bezalel and Oholiab are two artisans walking with everyone in the desert. Specifically, Bezalel is the equivalent of a gemologist, artist, and contractor all rolled into one. But in the middle of the desert, who needs any of those things? God does. As God lines out for Moses how to build the Tent of Meeting that will be the roving sanctuary for the people of Israel for nearly forty years, God points out these two as having the gifts and skills necessary to complete the job.

Everyone has a gift to offer the church, the people of God. What is your gift that God has given you? Can you teach a Sunday School class? Can you mow the lawn some weeks to keep the grounds looking good for God? How about lay reading or ushering during the service? Or serving our community by giving to Lamb’s Basket? Or can you come up with a way to serve others that God has given you that we haven’t even thought up yet? 

God has given you a gift to share, just like Bezalel and Oholiab. And your gift is important to God and to the church. So let’s find out what it is and celebrate all the good gifts God has given us!

Pouring Water

We (and by “we” I really mean “I”) have started a new-to-Laurel tradition. Each Sunday morning as we gather for worship, water is poured into the baptismal font, now centrally located at the foot of the steps leading to the communion table. Why do we pour water into the font before the service?

To remember our baptisms. Baptism is an ancient rite of the Christian church, and in most denominations it is considered a sacrament – a mysterious means of grace from God. What happens on the outside during baptism is pretty straightforward: a person either has water poured over them or is “dunked” into a pool or stream and while this is happening the pastor, priest, or other person-in-charge declares they are baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. That’s basically it.

But it is what happens spiritually and internally during the sacrament of baptism that is mysterious and full of meaning. There are a variety of metaphors used to describe the what happens in baptism. Baptism takes us from death to life, so we die to ourselves to that we might live in Jesus. Baptism also signifies our adoption into the family of God and is a sign that we are in covenant relationship with all those who are baptised into God’s family. Baptism further is described as cleansing us inwardly as well as outwardly, that we are cleansed from sin and made new and whole. All of these things happen during the act of baptism, and we live into these things each day when we remember that we are baptised into the Christian faith.

So each Sunday we remember our baptisms by pouring water into the font. We are reminded that we die and rise with Christ, are adopted into the family of God, are cleansed from sin and made whole. Then we go commissioned to share the good news that in Jesus there is something different and mysterious and wonderful in the kingdom of God.

Knowing the Ending

I was watching the USA World Cup match online at work earlier today, when I had to tear myself away from it to go visit a parishoner. While the US was staring down a 0-0 tie and elimination when I left, I knew that I would not be returning before the game actually ended. So I put my mind to other things, such as my pastoral visit, and off I went not knowing how my national team fared in the rest of the match.

Once I had prayed and said, “Thanks for having me in your home,” to my parishoner, I went out to my car and turned on the radio to the post-match show. I quickly realized that the US had scored just before the game had ended and we were still alive in the tournament. I picked up some lunch at the local supermarket and headed back to the office, where I watched the end of the match via a replay online.

I found myself with different emotions watching the game after the visit than I had while watching the game beforehand. Before I was worried, now I was confident. Before I wondered if the US could pull it off, now I knew the US did pull it off. Before I felt queasy, now I felt joyous watching the ball bound into the net to send the US to the second round.

As Christians, we believe we know the ending. We watch and participate in history believing that we will still be alive when the dust settles and moving on to another day, a better day. We believe that good is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death, and God is stronger than everything else combined.

Our story as Christians doesn’t just focus on the history of what God has done. It also looks forward to what God is doing. God is building something new and better than what we have now. Now we have a world where some prosper greatly while many languish in great poverty. God is building a world where everyone has enough: to eat, to drink, to stay, to wear.

Now we have a world where we are so afraid we have little hope of anything getting better. God is building a world where fear is replaced by hope, not a naive brand of hope and a wise brand that understands that life, while not fair, is good because God is good. God is building a world where there is no longer “us” and “them,” but simply just “us.” Jesus shows us what this world might look like if we are willing to try it.

Christians are in the business of trying to live this new world God is building, and we believe that while we will never get it completely right ourselves that God will come and amazingly make it right, the way it should have always been but is not. This may seem  a pipe dream to you, but sometimes that is what faith is: believing the dream.

Baseball and Mercy

Last night, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers threw a perfect game.


Except the last hitter, the 27th out, was called “safe” at first base. The call was wrong. Replays have shown the call was wrong. The umpire, Jim Joyce, admits he got the call wrong.

What strikes me about last night was not the wrong call. It was how the call was handled after the game. Joyce didn’t have the advantage of replay during the game, but he saw a replay almost immediately after the game was over. He went over to the Tigers’ locker room and personally apologized to Galarraga. Reports indicate Joyce was broken-hearted about taking away a piece of history from the Tigers’ pitcher. (There have only been 20 recorded perfect games in MLB history. Rare doesn’t begin to cover it.)

Then Galarraga forgave Joyce. So did the Tigers’ players. Even manager Jim Leyland, known for his straight-forward and colorful language, backed off on skewering Joyce with his tongue.

We saw something interesting last night. We saw mercy. We saw a man acknowledge his failure, but we also saw men choose not to use that acknowledgment for their own gain. While commissioner Bud Selig continues to determine whether or not to overrule Joyce’s call and award Galarraga a perfect game, the Tigers organization has not filed an appeal. Nor do they intend to. Let me repeat: the Detroit Tigers, representing the aggrieved party, are not filing an appeal. Though it would be just, they have chosen mercy – for an umpire. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.