Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…

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Meditation for Morning Glory

Here is the meditation I gave for my Field Ed placement. It was a morning prayer and Communion service and so I took some time to reflect on my summer thus far and to reflect on why we were there:

“And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”
(Revelation 21:5–7 NRSV)

This week I have been doing a lot of thinking about the book of Revelation. Now, I am not normally a Revelation person. I am not a fan of the Left Behind series, I am not a believer in the rapture or apt to go out on the street corner with a sign that says: “The end is near!” But this week since I am preaching from that book on Sunday I have been thinking a lot about it.

Since it is the last book in the Bible it seemed appropriate for me during the final few weeks of my internship. In many ways it is remarkably similar. Revelation was written on multiple levels. It really tells two stories. On the first level it tells the story of a fantastic battle of good versus evil and of plagues and destruction overtaking the earth as a punishment for those who are wicked. This is the story that everyone knows. This is the story which so often confuses people. It is a story which is centered on the future. But in reality, Revelation tells a much different story, one which has a deeper resonance, and one which was intended to help the audience with their current struggles, and one which still speaks to our problems today. It is the story of salvation. This story is that of a people who are struggling and oppressed, but who are able to stand strong by looking to the future with hope and excitement for what God is going to do. It tells the story of God’s victory over the forces of evil in the world. It is a dual story: present and future.

And now, as I begin to transition from my time here at Birmingham back into my world as a seminary student, I too am finding myself living two stories. There is so much I want to accomplish in my final few weeks, but there are also issues and plans that I need to start making to get ready for my second year. I am living in the present and the future at the same time. This is a confusing place to be. One feels torn between two times. But it is also an interesting place to be because as I begin to reimagine my return to Durham and reuniting with my friends and family I begin to imagine what I will say to them about my summer. I think about the ways in which this summer has shaped my ministry.

This summer I have been able to experience what it is like to actually do ministry, to work through difficult plans, to come up with creative solutions. I have experienced what it is like to plan and preach multiple services back to back with last minute hospital visits and unexpected surprises thrown in there. I have been able to experience the joy of teaching a class and learning as much from my students as I did from my own research. I have built relationships with so many of you and been able to learn from your experience and be a part of your lives, and for that I have been greatly blessed and am immensely grateful. These lessons have helped to shape who I will be as a pastor and the future of my ministry, and I know that God will use this experience in ways I cannot even imagine, to do amazing work through me in the future.

This is where I am right now. I am living in the past, the present and the future. And that is also where we are right now as a worshipping community. Gathered here this morning before this table, before these gifts of bread and juice we are taking part in a ritual that celebrates God’s presence in the past, presence and future. In the liturgy of this meal, we are called to remember the Holy Mystery: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is a simple formula-one many of us have memorized from years of repetition-but it is essential to who we are as Christians.

God calls us to be past, present and future people. We are called to remember God’s past work in our lives-the places where God has shown up for us and brought us through the struggles and uncertainties of life. We remember these moments so that we can know that God is still with us during today’s struggles and uncertainties. And finally, both our past history, and our present choices help to shape the direction we go in the future. That is what our text is saying this morning. God is saying: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the past and the future.’ Everything is within God’s time. And through this reality, God is making everything new today. Things are changing and growing and all of this is being done within God’s context. God was before it, God will be after it, and so God is within it.

So, as we come to this time of communion, we come to practice being people who are in the past, present and future. When we break the bread, we remember the last summer. We recall the words Christ said to his disciples and the sacrifice he made on our behalf. When we receive the elements we are reminded that God’s saving work in done in us now. That in consuming this meal, we invite God into us to consume our lives, and to fill us with grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit. And finally, as we participate in this whole ritual we recognize that we are empowered by this meal and the strength God gives to us to work for God’s will in this world, until Christ comes in final victory and we will all feast at his heavenly banquet.

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Sermon teaser

Two days in a row! Don’t get too excited. This is a sermon week (my first at my field ed), so there will be more activity here.  I wrote an article for their weekly newsletter teasing my sermon as well as giving some of my general thoughts of my summer thus far. I thought you might be interested:

Every time something funny or unexpected happens, my grandfather always smirks and says: “Something different every trip.” I feel like this is a pretty good summation of the first half of my time here in Birmingham. Every day is a new adventure and a new set of experiences and people to meet and get to know. I have been welcomed at worship with your smiles and handshakes, and have learned so much from observing your meetings, hearing your stories, and participating in your ministries.

One of my goals this summer was to get to know the Metro-Detroit area. As I have driven around the city, I am reminded of these opening words to the book of Lamentations: “How lonely sits the city that was once full of people!” In a world where these words are both poetry and reality, this text can be difficult to read. So often we focus on the negative realities which are all too apparent: pain, suffering, poverty, death. However, if you push through the sorrow of Lamentations, you see that underneath the surface of the author’s words lies a deep and abiding trust in a good God. There is a peace which allows for such a deep lament. This faith gives rise to one of my favorite passages in scripture: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23).

One of the benefits of this summer has been that I have been able to step away from the regular cycle of lectures and reading that characterizes seminary life and instead to embrace the realities of the church-work to which I am called. While I love what I am studying, the repetitive routine represents a constant temptation to simply go through the motions without giving thought to what is going on around me. So often life can seem like we are on a conveyor belt with life pulling us along and it is all we can do to keep our gears on track and maintain a sense of control. Just as the darkness of the world can blind us to the ultimate power of God, so too can the quotidian aspects of life dull the beauty of God’s work all around us.

In my six weeks in Birmingham I have been inspired by how this church embodies and enables God’s love and mercy both within the ‘lonely city’ of Detroit and across the world. This is in so many ways an amazing church with a great staff. Everyday their warmth and kindness has enlivened even the most mundane of tasks. Thank you so much for everything thus far and I look forward to the many adventures still in store—they will certainly be “something different.”

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A Forth of July Prayer

Days such as these provide an easy temptation for many in the Church. As Americans we celebrate our national heritage, our independence as a nation, and the essential values on which it was founded. However, as Christians we recognize that our values as followers of Jesus Christ are distinctly different than those of our nation. St. Augustine described two cities. A City of God and a City of Man. We as Christians are dual citizens, but our primary allegiance needs to be to the God who is creator of all and in whom all powers find their source. There are many ways in which American culture arises out of a Judeo-Christian heritage, but there are also many ways in which it arises out of the 18th Century Enlightenment tradition. The Church has always flourished best when it works outside the political order as a prophetic voice for those who are powerless and weak, and those who are forgotten and ignored by the leaders of the City of Man. So, today I celebrate the Forth of July, I light fireworks, and eat barbecue, but I also pray this prayer which I wrote for worship on Sunday:

Sovereign God who created all people on earth and in whom all power is located we are thankful for our country. We are thankful for the ideals this country was founded on: liberty, justice and equality for all. But God, so often our country falls short of these ideals in pursuit of our own selfish ambition. For our complacency, as its citizens, in allowing these things to happen, we humbly repent and ask for your strength and courage to work towards making this country and all the other nations of the world places where justice rolls down like a river and justice like a never ending stream.

God you have given to all people certain inalienable rights including those of life, liberty and the ability to pursue a relationship with you, which is our true happiness. Be with those who, because of political oppression or economic injustice, are denied these rights. Help us work to through or in spite of our government to help all persons to achieve these rights

God, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords be with those who are in leadership of this nation and the other nations of the world. Give them wisdom to govern with integrity and with hearts for those who are weak and powerless. Give them ambitious hearts, not for their own ends, but for a more peaceful and prosperous world for all of your children. Let them rise above the short term needs of their party or their re-election and instead seek to serve you with every thing they do.

God, as we enter into another election cycle free us from the temptation to worship our political process. Remind us that our broken world cannot be fixed by an election or a political office, but that it is in you where we can find a hope for a better future. You are the one in whom our hope can rest assured and in you we find the solutions to our problems.

God, on this weekend where we celebrate our nation’s independence from foreign control, we recognize that we, ourselves, are still in need of freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of sin, addiction, greed, and selfishness which control our lives. God we also recognize that there are those in our lives and the life of the church who are under the controlling power of illness and pain. Free them from their suffering and give to them the life of health and wholeness which you so much desire for each and every one of us. Amen.