Archive for August, 2012

My keyboard

My keyboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lay pastor colleague of mine called my attention to hymnpod.com, a free source of traditional hymn accompaniments online.  Christopher Tan, a pianist from Singapore, has recorded  many, many tunes using an electronic piano, and they are exceptionally clear and singable, and they are lovely to listen to.

The tunes are all in the public domain.  Here is a sample, the Swedish tune to which we sing the hymn “How Great Thou Art.”

You can download these tunes to your computer by right clicking on the play button and then select “save audio as.”   On iTunes you can download a number of them for free and also subscribe to podcasts of more tunes as Christopher Tan makes them available.   Then you can make audio CDs to use in worship, or you can sync them to your iPod and play them back through a compatible player.

For more music resources, see this post reviewing CDs for worship use, and this post about smallchurchmusic.com, a site that offers free downloads of hymn accompaniments in multiple formats.  You can also click the resources tab above and scroll down to the music section for more help.


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'Trainers - Practicing Tai Chi 6-6-09 2' photo (c) 2009, Steven Depolo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The Revised Common Lectionary is moving into a series of lessons from James.  Here is a sermon from my 2006 archives on James’ theme that faith must be lived out in action.

Practicing Our Faith

A Sermon on James 1:17-27, 2:14-26

With Allusions to Genesis 12 1-5a and Matthew 7:24-29

Although Jesus often had crowds around him, as Matthew 7:28 reports, not everyone was a true disciple, a true follower.  Some just liked to listen.  Some were curious about him.  Some wanted healing, and indeed, they came to the right place, and Jesus did help.  Some came to Jesus because they wanted to argue with him.  A few, like certain religious professionals, were out to catch him doing or saying something wrong.

Not everybody was there to actually be a follower of Jesus, and he knew it.  Some would put his teaching into practice, and many wouldn’t.  Nevertheless, Jesus was clear: he expected people to do what he said.  He ended the Sermon on the Mount with a bang, a parable of two builders.  People who hear my word and do it, he said, are like a wise builder who builds on a rock foundation.  Then when rain, and floods and wind batter the house, it doesn’t fall, because he built it on rock.

Those who hear my word, and don’t put it into practice are like a foolish builder, who set his house on sand.  Disaster strikes, and that house falls, and great is its fall!  The wise hear and do.  The foolish merely hear.

This is what integrity is: what you do matches what you think and say.  You walk the Christian walk and well as talk the Christian talk.  Christian integrity means being doers of the word, and not hearers only.

That’s how James puts it.  Yes, he later saw the need to make Jesus’ point yet again.  Even in the early church—which we often think of as a golden age—not everybody who called him-or-herself a Christian actually practiced discipleship.  Some thought it was enough to subscribe to the right beliefs and adhere to the right doctrines.  It’s enough to have the right knowledge.  Some thought that was faith.

Not James.  Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves, he warns.  And here’s how he reinforces his point: Those who don’t act on the word are like a person who looks in a mirror, and then doesn’t do anything about what he sees there.  Indeed, he walks away and forgets.

How you speak and act matters, James says.  Genuine religion is about compassionate care for widows and orphans.  It’s about being different from the world.

What’s more, James declares in chapter 2, faith without action isn’t genuine faith at all.  Faith must be lived out in action.  No, it’s not enough to think right thoughts and say the right words.  Faith without works is dead! (more…)

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'Dean Andy Andrews and family' photo (c) 2007, Mary Constance - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/At a recent Presbyterian conference on evangelism, campus minister Thomas Brown spoke about what congregations can mean in the lives of young adults.  He notes that “relationships with people who are not their peers or parents can be very significant for young adults,” Brown said. “God works through relationships, not programs.”

Brown and conference participants shared ideas for reaching young adults.  You can read an article about it here.

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Here is an excellent telling of the story of Jonah.

The story of Jonah from Corinth Baptist Church on Vimeo.

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'mema papa kids 2' photo (c) 2007, kindergentler2001 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/My small church pastor colleague Steve Willis recently published a piece in The Presbyterian Outlook in which he questions the wisdom and sensitivity of the line, “This is not your grandfather’s church.”  You can read it here.  He writes, “isn’t the whole point of those witnessing to the grace of Jesus Christ to emphasize and make clear that all people are welcome and all people have a place and all people belong to God?  Surely there is a better way to name the changing realities of our world and church than by making grandpa wonder if he is really included.”

As one who dreams of a multigenerational church, and as one whose peers are becoming grandparents, and as one who hopes to be a grandma someday, I add my hearty “Amen!”

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Publicity photo from the television program Th...

Publicity photo from the television program The Andy Griffith Show. Pictured are Don Knotts (Barney Fife) and Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Andy Griffith Show is a favorite of many in our small congregation.  Recently some of us watched an episode of the show entitled “A Date for Gomer.”  Thelma Lou’s cousin Mary Grace unexpectedly comes for a visit.  The problem is that the Chamber of Commerce Dance is set for Saturday night, and even though she and Barney already have a date to go together, Thelma Lou won’t think of leaving Mary Grace home alone.  She insists that Barney find a date for Mary Grace.  Barney balks.  In appearance, Mary Grace is what many would consider “homely.”  Barney exclaims, “She’s a dog!”

Because Thelma Lou won’t go to the dance without Mary Grace, Barney seeks assistance from Andy, who is already set to go to the dance with Helen.  They decide to ask Gomer to be Mary Grace’s date.  Gomer keeps asking, “What’s she like? Is she pretty?” and they keep insisting, “She’s sweet.  She’s nice.  Real nice.”  Gomer agrees to go.

Our plain, simple small church is homely in the eyes of some.  Second rate.  They seem focused more on what we are not, and what we lack, and it feels as if they don’t appreciate the grace and beauty and blessings hidden in our quiet, humble package.  Sometimes people say the same thing about us that Barney and Andy said about Mary Grace: “The people are sweet.  The people are nice.  They’re real nice.  But…”

I understand younger people’s desire to go where there are larger numbers of young adults and children, and where it is possible to offer more age-specific programs for them.  I understand that they want to be with people their own age.  I understand that they are looking for a place they can enjoy.  But there’s something to be said for the blessings that come when multiple generations worship and live closely as the family of God together.  There is something to be said for making a commitment to understand one another across generations and for struggling to work together as a company of disciples, that spans the ages from cradle to grave–and beyond!   Yes, it takes special effort to work together in this way.  This is definitely the narrower, less popular road.

In the TV episode, Gomer goes into the date with Mary Grace with open eyes.  When the guys arrive at Thelma Lou’s house to pick up the gals, Gomer’s “Hey, Mary Grace!” is warm and sincere.  He smiles and chunks Andy on the arm.  But then Gomer realizes that there is something he’s “got to do,” so he abruptly hurries out.   It later becomes clear what Gomer is up to.  He believes Mary Grace deserves to be “adorned” just like Helen and Thelma Lou, so he searches high and low to find a corsage –he pronounces it “cor-say-ge”–for her.  Adorned with this token of grace, Mary Grace shines.  In Gomer’s eyes, plain, simply-dressed Mary Grace is pretty, and she is definitely someone worth spending time with.  He sees the grace in her, looks on her through gracious eyes, and treats her with grace in his own Gomer Pyle way.

May the Lord raise up Christians of all ages who see deeply through God’s gracious eyes.  May he raise up people of all ages to answer the call to live as intentional, covenant communities together, where Christian nurture flows from one generation to another and back again. May the Lord raise up Christians of all ages who want to follow Jesus and serve him, each other, and a hurting world together, side by side.

I admit it.  This is my prayer. I hope God brings somebody to Morton who hears the call to be an anchor for a young adult generation, someone who envisions a multigenerational family of God, someone who wants to be in the company of us who are older, and someone who wants their children to grow up knowing us older saints well.  Our hearts and our arms long for these young adults and their children.  May God help us who are older to listen to, respect and make room for them.

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'Storm hits Coast Guard Cutter Eagle' photo (c) 2012, Charles McCain - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Lately the story of the storm at sea in Acts 27 has been much on my mind.  Paul and his shipmates were caught in a violent storm that just went on and on and on, tossing the ship up and down.   The text says that they didn’t eat for fourteen days.  My hunch is that everybody was having to stick close to the rail.  Even pastor Paul was dreadfully seasick.  Perhaps that’s why he couldn’t resist reminding the crew that they should have listened when he told them much earlier that they needed to do something different.  Moreover, the passengers and crew were disoriented.  Verse 20 reads, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”

Our congregation is traveling through a stormy time of grief and loss and uncertainty and fear, plus we are downright bewildered about how to reach people beyond our current boundaries and incorporate them into the life of the family of faith. We have experienced up-and-down attendance, and recently a very painful and steep drop.  One of our elders reports feeling literally nauseated on a recent painfully low Sunday.

Yet there are also hopeful signs to give thanks for.  God is bringing us into contact with new people, including a flock of children and their families.  It has been a joy to spend Tuesday afternoons this summer with some of them in a VBS-like experience in one of the children’s homes.  At a recent wiener roast/ice cream social, a six-year-old boy who has visited our church in worship two or three times went up to one of the women who was cleaning up in the kitchen, tugged at her, and said, “I like coming to this church.”

Wow!  Talk about going up and down with the waves!

After Paul got the urge to say, “I told you so” out of his system, he went on to tell his shipmates, “Keep up your courage!  There will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  The ship is going to be wrecked, but we are all going to be safe.”   Then later, when some of the sailors were tempted to abandon the ship and sail away in a lifeboat, Paul called out, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”  The soldiers on board then cut away the lifeboat and set it adrift.  Everybody ended up staying on board.

Then, just before daybreak on the day of the shipwreck, Paul urged everybody to take food.  He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, ate, and gave it to others.  Holy communion!

Hours later, the ship ran aground and began to break up.  Everyone headed for shore.  Some swam, while others floated on pieces of the ship.  In the end, all reached shore safely.  Not one person was lost.

There’s a word from the Lord here for the storm-tossed, seasick church.  While the institutional vessel may be wrecked and broken, God is going to get us safely to the shore.  And while we mourn the loss of the vessel as we knew it, the Church of Jesus Christ lives.  Even now, God is inspiring designs for new vessels, and building is underway.   Not one to waste anything, God may well be reclaiming strong, seasoned lumber from the wreckage and repurposing it.  In fact, I’m sure of it.

Take heart, seasick church!  Over the sound of the storm, above the waves of queasiness and waves of exhilaration, a voice calls, “Take.  Eat.  This is my body, broken for you.”

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