Year of Gratitude, January: Week 3

Like last week, I was out of town again this week. The first two full weeks of January tend to be like that on my schedule. This week was the Great Plains Conference annual meeting of Orders and Fellowship. For those “non United Methodist” people it is a meeting of the clergy with several goals in mind: continuing education, orders meetings (which is usually split into Elders, Deacons and Local Pastors, but not always) and fellowship. This meeting moves around but this year it was held at the Church of the Resurrection the largest United Methodist Church in our annual conference and the United States.

It is a beautiful facility and huge, literally huge. Recently it has become well known for having created the largest stained glass window in the world in the new sanctuary that seats 3500.

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There are certainly better pictures, but you can find those by searching in your favorite search engine. The sanctuary is well thought out, deeply theological and purposeful. The design makes it feel more intimate that you might image. I was most impressed as Adam Hamilton, founding pastor and senior pastor explained the concepts not only of this window, but of the entire sanctuary.

It was good to be there for many reasons. I am grateful for my clergy colleagues, the presenters, and the time just to be with these people that have this most particular calling. Part of the focus of the week was to look at self care and mental health issues. It was pointed out in a sermon and in presentations that gratitude was one of those things that helped people feel better about their lives. Gratitude isn’t a self help cure for depression or mental illness, but it is a vehicle that can help.

Last week I invited you to write a thank you note to someone whose vision and faith made it possible for you to be part of the community of faith.This week, I want you to challenge you to write a thank you note to someone who helps you be your best self. Is there a colleague that you seek out when you need advise or help thinking through a work problem? Is there a friend, that no matter how long it has been since you have seen them, your time together is a gift. Is there someone who blesses you, by their laughter, their love and their unique self? This week, write a thank you note to that friend or colleague or acquaintance that helps your be your most authentic self. Add a prayer of gratitude for that relationship and ask God to help you be that kind of person for someone else.

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Courageous Faith: Baptism of Jesus

We began a new sermon series focusing on the Lord’s Prayer. Sunday School Classes and small groups will be reading and studying Adam Hamilitons Unafraid, Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain TimesOver the next few weeks we will be looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a statement and prayer of confidence, courage and faith for us to utilize in the midst of a changing and uncertain world.

Today in worship we focused on baptism as well as the Lord’s Prayer. At the Heritage service in our chapel, Pastor Rebecca had a wonderful sermon on baptism and the power of water and being unfraid. I didn’t get a picture of the chapel that she had so beautifully decorated with the colors of greens and blues. At the renewal of our baptismal vows, one person came up and asked to be baptized. She had never been baptized and after everyone was finished with their renewals, we had a baptism. The moment was beautiful, sacred and holy.

In the sanctuary the altar was decorated to look like flowing water with pitchers of water which were used for the renewal of our baptismal vows. The sanctuary looked like this:

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Every year I am grateful for this service. In baptism each one of us is claimed and named as beloved children. Renewing our baptismal vows is a reminder of the One to whom we belong. You can find the whole service here.

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Year of Gratitude, January: Week 2

At the end last week, I wrote a slew of Thank you Notes for Christmas gifts received. I have 3 left to write.

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How about you? How are you doing writing thank you notes?

I am attending an annual meeting of “Large Church Pastors.” It began forty years ago among pastors in the United Methodist Church who served traditionally “big” pulpits. By big, I mean those pulpits that people grew to believe and know would be filled by the best of the best. Traditionally they were downtown churches and often named First but not always. The list of people who have attended this 24 hour meeting are filled with legends in terms of preaching and leadership in the United Methodist Church: James Moore, Charles Allen, Mouzan Biggs, Gene Craig, Bill Hinson, Dick Wilke, Kent Millard, to name just a few.

Currently the preachers in this group include many who I have known “about” for years because of their leadership and who they are in the United Methodist Church. First UMC of Wichita has never ever been as large in membership as some the churches represented. I jokingly call myself the little yappy dog in the midst of the big dogs.

The meeting moves around and includes churches from several states and jurisdictions. Mostly in what we would call the midwest. This time we met in Oklahoma City and I was able to see the sanctuary that was used as the model for the church I currently serve in downtown Wichita. St. Luke’s was built in 1957 and the same turquoise blue that is seen around First Church and domed ceiling in the sanctuary can be seen at St. Lukes.

When I peeked in the sanctuary I thought this looks familiar. What a gift it was to walk in and see the sanctuary and the upgrades they have done over the years. I took some pictures, but these from the internet are much better:

 

The black and white picture is the sanctuary as it was originally, it hasn’t changed too much but the fish netting has come down and that opens up the chancel.

Fifty plus years ago, people from First in downtown Wichita came to St Luke’s and other sanctuaries in Oklahoma to design a new sanctuary. They had vision and purpose and wanted to created a space for people to encounter a living and love God. Every Sunday I am grateful for that vision and faithfulness, commitment and determination to see that vision through. Each Sunday and almost every day I am in the building I see this window and am grateful to be one among the many who have been pastors at First.

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I don’t deserve it, but I am so deeply grateful. I am thankful to be at the table this week, among such amazing leaders and preachers. I don’t really belong, but I am glad to have a seat there anyway. It is good for my soul to be among these good and faithful servants. I will be writing at least “one” thank you for hospitality given and space for sharing.

This week, whose vision and faith has touched your life and made it possible for you to be part of the community of faith. Might you write them a thank you note and add that to your prayers of gratitude?

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Feast of Epiphany

Christmas if officially over. Yesterday was the twelfth day of Christmas which means today is Epiphany. We celebrate the visitation of the magi or wise men from the East. I have several nativity sets and not all of them have the magi, but many do. Traditionally they wouldn’t appear in the nativity until today, but I always put them in early because I am afraid I would forget other wise.

Often, Epiphany, January 6, does not actually fall on Sunday. We celebrate Epiphany the first Sunday in January regardless of when the actual day falls in the week. It is a joy to actually be able to celebrate on the actual day. The story of Jesus’ birth from Matthew is quite different from Luke. Instead of angels we have a star and instead of shepherds we have travelers, outsiders, foreigners from the East seeking the Christ Child.

Matthew allows us a peek into a more violent world than Luke’s. Herod and his vengeful leadership is an intregal part of the story. After today, the stars come down, the nativity put up for another and all the trees and garlands and lights are turned off. I am always a little bit sad when that happens. I will miss the lights particularly. I also know that we are called to be the light and to share that light with others. Epiphany is the sharing of that light with everyone.

In worship, we reclaimed an old tradition to announce the high holy days of the Christian year in worship. Seeking Christ means to be intentional about committing to worship and each other as Christians. You can find the whole worship service here.

As Christmas ends and Epiphany begins, I am reminded of Howard Thurman’s poem, When the Song of Angels is Stilled:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

May it be so in all of our lives.

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

I always wonder where Christmas goes! Here I am once again on the twelfth day of Christmas and tomorrow we celebrate Epiphany. Last year I wrote this about the last day of Christmas. I could write some very similar things this year.

This year, Andrew’s mother died and we celebrated her life in Advent. She died in November, but it was easier for the family to gather after Thanksgiving. The time we had together was wonderful. Family came to our home following December 25 and as usual we had our Boxing Day Open House. This next week, all the food items will be deliver to Open Door to help stock the pantry for those who need it.

The outside lights are lit for the last time. Tomorrow the Grinch will be dark as will all the other lights that brighten the night.

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Tomorrow afternoon if we are not too tired, we will begin the process of taking down the decoration from a dozen or so trees, the garland and switching out the dishes. It will take a week or so. I will miss the lights the most.

The celebration of Epiphany begins the journey of seeking Christ as the magi did long ago. I have several nativity sets, most are gifts from other. This one, was my grandmother’s and I remember her putting it out every year.

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It’s only value is sentimental, but the magi are there, still seeking the Christ Child. I long to be that determined, that faithful, that hopeful. This year, I want to seek Christ all long year. I want to look for Christ wherever I am, with whomever I am with. Like the magi, I want to intentionally be seeking Christ and following the light of Christ. May it be so.

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2019, New Year, New Possibilities

Today is January 1, 2019. Each year on the first of January, thousands of people make New Year’s Resolutions. Some people are very intentional and there are all kinds of online helps and prompts to support those who want to make changes: dietary, lifestyle, overcoming bad habits, new or increased exercise, read more, do more, do less, practice a deeper spirituality, reduce stress or whatever a person wants to make a difference in his or her life. Others mock the whole “New Year’s Resolution” as an exercise in futility.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to do better, be better or change things about one’s life that are unhealthy or unhelpful. I will never mock or put down any one who is trying to live a better or more healthy life. So what if some one doesn’t get it “right” the first time or tenth time. Choosing to be intentional about life, is a spiritual practice. For me, it means to not sleep walk through my days and nights, but to open our eyes, my heart, my mind and my spirit to the newness each day bring, let along alone each year.

At the end of November, I challenged my congregation at First United Methodist Church  to a Year of Gratitude. This is not my own unique idea, I had seen it posted in blogs and through churches over the last few years. We began in December, because in the life of the church Advent is the beginning of the new year. My challenge was a personal challenge for me as well. I want to live my life as one continual thanksgiving to the God who creates and loves and calls us all. The challenge includes writing one thank you note each week. Here is this months focus:

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Good things: This is a month often used for “new life.” Resolutions, life changes. Find a jar and each week write down one good thing that happened. At the end of this year you will be able to empty the jar and read about the amazing year you have had.

So today my hope is that you will find a jar, a basket, a container of some sort of another to begin writing down one good thing that happens each week. Here is what mine looks like: it’s not particularly pretty or well done, but it will be the place where I will be putting my good things that are happening each week.

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So a new year in the western culture has begun. A clean slate is available for you and I to begin anew. I plan to be intentionally thankful. Today, I will be writing thank you notes for the gifts received this Christmas. What thank you note or thank you notes will you be writing this week? Then I will be looking for that one good thing to write down and put in my jar so that by December 31st, I will have a jar full of good things to be grateful for and remember.

I saw this quote on a friends Facebook page this morning:

“Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” John Henry Jowett (1864–1923) PRESBYTERIAN PREACHER AND WRITER

I believe gratitude and being thankful is all of those things and more. I am grateful for another day and new year. Happy New Year!

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Year of Gratitude: December, Week 4

On this third day of Christmas, I find myself deeply grateful for many things. However, I have been in several conversations where people are tired, overwhelmed and just want to close the book on 2018.

Some periods of time are like that. Sometimes it feels like one damn thing after another and the desire is to be “over it!” Our challenge, is a year of gratitude. Certainly, a new year, with all the blank spaces on the calendar can give a visualization of hope, promise, opportunity and newness of life.

I don’t think that we should actually just try to erase the past, particularly not the painful past. I know I hate when I hear what have I learned from my difficulties or pain or grief. The challenge is what have I learned?

I can be grateful, even when my life is not all I would hope it would be. I can be grateful when nothing is going right. How? I am grateful by choosing to find those moments when I have been loved, cared for and affirmed. I can search my memories and experiences to find those people who have most embodied God’s presence with their love, their laughter and their grace.

In the Christian tradition we are in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas which begins on December 25 and ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. We celebrate Emmanuel, God-with-us. We give thanks for God who is embodied in humanity and we see this embodiment in Jesus. Through Jesus, we too, are called to embody God, to be the incarnation of the God in the world.

The challenge for this week, is to take some time and think about 2018. Where have you seen God at work in your life and in the lives of others? In the gospel of Luke, at the end of the story of the birth of Jesus, it says that “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What will treasure from this year? What things will you continue to ponder?

Anytime someone lives out the “incarnation” of God, it is a gift without measure. In our faith, God puts on skin and shares life with us. We, in our faith, then allow God to be at work in us and through us. The greatest gift of Christmas is seeing God in Christ and then seeing God in others. Share this week, how you have seen that gift in another.

The December challenge is to be grateful for gifts. Write one thank you note to someone you have seen living out the grace of God. Perhaps it was seeing someone help someone else, perhaps they were embodying the love and grace of Jesus in a conversation, or in a visit or a call. Surely there is one person in whom you have seen the living expression of God’s love and grace. Thank them as part of this year of gratitude.

 

 

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