We have been working our way through the senses this Lenten season. Two weeks ago, we began with taste. Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. He was so hungry he could almost taste it. Last week, we met Nicodemus in the middle of the night. He struggled with wanting to see Jesus without being noticed himself. He was still shortsighted. Today, we meet a woman, who after meeting Jesus, shared her story with all those who had ears to hear.
The writer of John is often referred to as the Evangelist. He writes his gospel in such a way as to share the Christian message that his readers would become believers and doers of the Word. He was a gifted storyteller, and he knew what he was doing when he put today’s passage right after Nicodemus. The situation and the Samaritan woman couldn’t be much more different.
She was crying silently. Lighting candle after candle, and sobbing. But without really knowing it, she had come to the right place.
The big church was lit sparingly. The side chapel glowed in the dusk, the glorious stained glass windows gleaming like jewels. On the altar the silver candlesticks reflected the flames, on the chalice danced flecks of colored light.
This past Christmas was my first in a new congregation. I inherited the early worship service on Christmas Eve. This service is intended to be family focused, and comes with the long standing tradition of having ALL children in attendance dress up and participate in the service in some way, usually in an adaptation of a pageant.
I was torn. More than once, I have learned the important lesson of honoring tradition in a congregation. However, I also had no idea of what this particular tradition looked like, nor did I know what to expect on Christmas Eve. How many kids would be there? How many would be the children I knew from Sunday morning worship and how many would be new to our congregation? With so many unknowns, how would I coordinate the children’s participation in our worship service in a way that was meaningful for everyone in attendance? I was incredibly tempted to abandon the whole thing but was not particularly interested in learning that lesson again.
One of my favorite traditions over the past few years has occurred during the children's messages in worship during the Sundays of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. I don't remember where the idea originally came from, but I have taken it and made it my own, and I don't know who looks forward to it more--the children or me.
As a Moravian I was raised with the tradition of the Putz (from the old German "to decorate" pronounced "Put-s") or as they are better known, the Nativity, Manger Scene, or Crèche. Putz often differ from the traditional manger scene because they typically contain multiple scenes from the Christmas story laid out in such a way for the viewer to journey with Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then follow the Shepherds' and Magi journeys as well. Sometimes the Putz begins with a prophet announcing the coming Christ child. Elaborate or simple, in churches or homes--each one varies, and each is special in its own way. I love how they give us visual glimpses into Scripture, and allow us to experience the story of Christ's birth in ways that help us integrate our own story into Christ's story.
Editor's Note: This article is one in an occasional series called "All About the Benjamins," running this fall on Fidelia's Sisters. As many congregations and organizations are running stewardship campaigns and lining up budgets for 2012, we'll be taking a look at the sometimes-taboo topic of money, and the role it plays in our ministries.
First, I have a confession to make - I am uncomfortable talking about money. One of the things that I dreaded about going into the ministry was knowing that one day I would have to preach on stewardship. Those Sundays always come around once a year and there is hardly any way to get out of it.
I know the importance of ministers challenging their congregations and I know how vital stewardship campaigns are. While money is just “paper”, it has theological implications and it impacts our faith life in more ways than I think we will ever understand.
I had never been able to talk about the events of September 11, 2001 in a sermon, and whenever I heard anyone else do so, I would inwardly cringe. My mind would wander, my ears shut down. I might even try on a little righteous indignation: how dare the preacher use such a significant, searing event as a sentimental sermon illustration, almost guaranteed to elicit an emotional response.
Until one day, right around the time of controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” I overheard a conversation between several folks while at my local YMCA in North Carolina. I listened to them, presuming to know what New Yorkers were like, and how New Yorkers thought about the events of September 11. I realized that I did know what it was like, I could share that with them, and I would preach about it.
Today marks the anniversary of September 11, 2001. And, just so we’re all kind of on the same page, I thought I’d very briefly recap what happened. On that Tuesday morning, two planes flew into the World Trade Center, which was basically several really tall office buildings in New York City. Another plane flew into the Pentagon, which is where the US Department of Defense has their offices, in Washington, DC. A fourth flight, thought to have been meant for the Capitol building, where the US Congress meets, was taken over by the passengers and in the scuffle they crashed in rural Pennsylvania. All told, about 3000 people died that day, including the terrorists.
Many pastors and congregations use the comparatively slower summer to plan the upcoming programmatic year. I've been slowly introducing the idea of the using Narrative Lectionary (NL) to my congregation. The NL, an initiative being put together by several professors at Luther Seminary and some pastors in the Minnesota ELCA synod, is a fairly quickly paced romp through the arc of Scripture from Abraham and Sarah to Acts (September to late May). Each Sunday, the congregation focuses on one scripture passage that reveals the work God has done. Through the lens of that story, in its Scriptural setting, we move to more fully comprehend the work God is doing now. It is my hope that during this time our congregation will labor together and come to a better understanding of the narrative thread of what we believe. How are the Hebrew Scriptures connected to our understanding of Jesus? How do we see ourselves as children of Abraham? What are the lessons of the Exile?
In order to use the NL, we will have to drop out of formal use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for about nine months. These are important themes and stories that don't quite make into the heart of the RCL. Arguably, they could be covered through Faith Formation activities, like Christian Education, Confirmation, Bible study... etc. However, I have to be realistic about the habits of my congregation. The majority of people are here on Sunday morning. Some can't, some don't and some won't come to other things during the week. So I have to take seriously the teaching portion of my call and bring the mountain to Mohammed, or something like that.
Ah, Holy Week. Slightly odd worship services most churches only do once a year, complete with lots of minuatie and logistical details that easily lead to long "notes for next year." There's trying to say something novel, or, if not novel, at least somewhat profound and maybe even somewhat memorable, about something that has been talked about for centuries.Then there's the endless cajoling, asking people to come to these services into which so much effort is going. Holy Week even includes talk about sin in denominations that try desperately to tend to shy away from fire and brimstone.
If Holy Week can be so hellacious, why do I miss it?