Archive for January, 2013

'Ringing in 2nd Sunday of Advent with some Hyfrydol' photo (c) 2009, Paulo Ordoveza - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I am always on the lookout for good music resources for congregations who don’t have any instrumentalists.  Recently as I was searching for recorded music to use at a funeral, I discovered yet another source of good quality piano accompaniments for congregational singing.  It’s a series of collections available in CD or downloadable mp3 files.  The series is called Worship Service Resources. Lamon Records, Nashville, TN,  is the publisher.  The CDs are available from the publisher, from Amazon.com and other outlets, and you can download the mp3s from Amazon or iTunes.  The CDs run about $16-$20 new, and I noticed that there are some used copies available on Amazon.  Mp3 albums run $8.99 to $9.99, with individual tracks costing .99 each.  There are ten collections, and each collection contains 25 hymns.

I surveyed the entire hymn list on iTunes.  Included are many traditional hymns, such as “A Mighty Fortress,” more recent hymns, such as “How Great Thou Art,” and gospel hymns, such as “He Touched Me.”  There is a Christmas collection that includes all the classics like “Silent Night,” along with “O Holy Night” and “The Birthday of a King” that might appeal to soloists and choirs.

Here is the entire playlist from the collection “Majestic Hymns:”

1. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
2. A Mighty Fortress is Our God
3. And Can It Be
4. Come Christians Join to Sing
5. Come Thou Almighty King
6. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
7. Doxology
8. God of Our Fathers
9. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
10. Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
11. Holy, Holy, Holy
12. How Firm a Foundation
13. How Great Thou Art
14. Immortal, Invisible
15. I Sing the Mighty Power of God
16. Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
17. Like a River Glorious
18. Love Divine All Loves Excelling
19. My Faith Has Found a Resting Place
20. O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing
21. O God, Our Help in Ages Past
22. O Worship the King
23. Praise To the Lord the Almighty
24. The Church’s One Foundation
25. This Is My Father’s World

View my post reviewing other available CDs here.

For other links to sources of instrumental music for hymn singing, see below:



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Childbirth (Photo credit: popularpatty)

The recent hit British TV series Call the Midwife shows the struggle that the birthing process is for the attendant who is trying to help as well as for the mother.

I believe that much of the pain that  the church in general is in, and that so many congregations are in, is labor pain.  Something new is being born, and there is going to be a lot of struggle until delivery.

Others are thinking along the same lines.  In response to the diagnosis of some that our church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), is “deathly ill,”  Presbyterian pastor MaryAnn McKibben Dana posted a video with a different diagnosis: the PC(USA) is pregnant.  It’s a biblical metaphor, and it is a hopeful metaphor that in no way minimizes the mess and stress of the process of birthing new life.

Here is a link to MaryAnn’s post “What to Expect When Your Church is Expecting” where you can view the video and read a condensed version of what she says in the video.

For more reflections on the theme, here is a link to Presbyterian pastor Jan Edmiston’s post “What to Expect When the Church is Expecting: Grandparents’ Edition” which builds on MaryAnn’s thoughts.  Jan points out that “the Next Church” will not be the baby of those of us who are over 40.  Younger adults ages 20-40 have a role akin to parenting, while we older folk have a role akin to grandparenting.  This role is also important, but it can have its pitfalls as well if we overstep our bounds.

The midwife’s role interests me.  It’s not the midwife’s baby, either, but the midwife helps and encourages and facilitates.  Midwifery calls for skill, patience, alertness, calm, steadiness, resourcefulness and more.  In one memorable scene in the TV series, a woman unexpectedly gives birth to triplets in very spare circumstances.  Midwife Camilla (“Chummy”) Browne has to be very creative due to the lack of resources in the tenement where the birth takes place, and due to the accidental loss en route of her delivery pack of supplies.  She ends up using some of her own clothing to wrap the newborns and keep them warm.

What do church midwifery skills look like?  I can’t help thinking of
Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1:15-22.  The Egyptian Pharaoh ordered them to kill all male newborns of the Hebrews.  The midwives, however, “feared God” and did not obey the king.  That phrase is also translated as “respected God, ” and “were faithful to God .  Church midwives definitely need awe and respect for the wondrous God who gives life to creation and to the church.   The God of the resurrection is behind  this new birth.  This God is present and laboring in the midst of the struggle.

Persistence and perseverance are essential.  We can see these qualities in the early church midwives in Acts who did not let suffering and outright failure stop them.  In Acts 16, for example, we see them expecting God to open other doors when the first doors they tried refused to open.

Another essential is constant prayer for courage and for wisdom to know how to encourage, when to intervene, when to push, when to relax and let things take their course, and how to protect what is newly-born.  Along the way everyone needs to keep breathing the breath of God.

Those are some of my thoughts about church midwifery.  What reflections and practical resources would you add?  Please post them.  And may the Lord be with you wherever you labor!

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'today is the best day of your life' photo (c) 2011, Asja Boroš - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/It’s tempting to look past these verses to Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth.  This sermon from my archives tries to stay within the prescribed lectionary text and focuses on the word…

A Sermon on Luke 4:14-21

News about Jesus came back to his hometown, Nazareth.  He was traveling around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues.  His popularity grew quickly.  Everybody in the surrounding country was talking about the new rabbi.

One Sabbath day, Jesus was home in Nazareth, and he went to the synagogue for worship as he did every Sabbath, wherever he happened to be.  But it was special to visit his home synagogue.  This place held a lot of memories.  It was the local school and community center as well as the worship place.  Jesus had spent many hours here, bent over his studies, discussing scripture with the men of the congregation, and worshiping in the company of family and friends.

They couldn’t keep their eyes off Jesus that day.  What would he say to them?  Surely he was going to make them very, very proud.  Jesus’ sermon that day is the very first one Luke records, and it is very much like a presidential inaugural address.  Just as a new president sets the tone for his administration in his address, Jesus told his hometown what he and his ministry were all about.

Luke allows us to watch every movement along with the congregation.  Jesus stood up to read from the scriptures, and the clerk handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus unrolled the scroll to the lesson he had chosen, and he read as follows:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As Jesus read, some of the poor were among the congregation, and surely also people needing healing.  And speaking of the oppressed going free, the whole nation was oppressed.  Everybody’s mind automatically went to Rome.  And taxes.  And terror.

“If only things really were this way,” people sighed in their hearts as Jesus read.  When was God ever going to bring in the year of Jubilee, the year of his favor, and set things right?  Well, maybe someday.  And surely at the end of time.

You could hear a pin drop when Jesus finished reading.  He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the clerk, and sat down.  In those days people sat down to preach.  Now the congregation’s eyes were riveted on Jesus.  What kind of sermon would he draw out of the text?

Without hurry, deliberately, Jesus began to speak.  But what he said was not, “Persevere, people of God, these promises will come true someday.”  What he said was, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” and he fell silent.

The people murmured.  Did he mean, “Today the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me, and today, I proclaim good news to the poor, and recovery of sight to the blind, and release to the captives”?  “Is this not Joseph’s son?” they murmured.

That is just what Jesus meant.  A new day is dawning—today!  Salvation is dawning—today!  The Jubilee starts—today!  Jesus fulfills God’s promises—today!  Today is not a hazy someday far off in the future.  Today means now, and from now on. (more…)

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'[ F ] Juan de Flandes - The Marriage Feast at Cana (1496) - from the Polyptych of Isabella the Catholic' photo (c) 2012, Playing Futures:  Applied Nomadology - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Juan de Flandes – The Marriage Feast at Cana (1496) – from the Polyptych of Isabella the Catholic’ photo (c) 2012, Playing Futures:

Here is a sermon from my archives for the second Sunday after Epiphany that pairs the wine of John 2 with the bread of John 6.

A Stunning Abundance
A Sermon on John 2:1-12 and John 6:1-15, 48-59

When Jesus responded, “Ma’am, is this really our business?  My hour hasn’t come yet,” his mind was on the hour and the wedding feast that was yet to come.   But Mary his mother was not in the least put off by Jesus’ comment. She saw a need: the wedding wine ran out.  Whether it was a major or minor problem was beside the point.  Mary was sure Jesus could do something about it, and she was sure Jesus would do something about it.  Straightaway she turned to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.”

For the people of the little village of Cana, wedding feasts were a joyful respite from the daily grind of hardship.  Wedding celebrations took place at the home of the bridegroom.  The partying lasted an entire week.  Wine was the beverage of choice because it symbolized joy, blessing, and even life itself.  It was also used for medicine, for healing and restoring life.  Indeed, the Old Testament prophets said that when the Messiah comes, the mountains are going to drip with wine!  Wine is going to flow like a river!

The groom’s family planned carefully and purchased the best wine they could afford.  To run out in the middle of the festivities was a painful embarrassment.  Mary and Jesus and their family may have been related to this particular groom.  In any event, she was close enough to the family and to the servants to see what had gone wrong, and to want to help.  Surely Jesus and his disciples could at least pool their resources and discreetly purchase enough wine to tide this family over.  “They have no wine,” she told him.  Matter of fact.

Some time later, Jesus saw a huge, hungry crowd approaching.  This time, Jesus pointed out the need.  “Where are we going to buy bread for all these people to eat?” he remarked to his disciple Philip.  Immediately Philip went to calculating the costs and considering the logistics.  It would cost more than six months’ wages to buy enough to give everyone even a tiny piece of bread.  Andrew added, “There’s a boy here who has five loaves of bread and two fish, but that’s nothing among so many.”  That’s not enough to even begin to go around.  It would feed one or two.  Now only 4998 or 9 to go.

Not enough wine.  Not enough bread.  It sounds familiar.  Who doesn’t know what it’s like not to have enough of something needed?  Not enough time.  Not enough energy.  Not enough money.  Running out of patience, running out of strength, running out of hope.

And even if there is enough for the moment, people are often afraid that there might not be enough later.  What if I lose my job, and especially what if I lose my job before all the children are through college?  What if my money runs out before my life runs out?  What if the church can’t come up with enough money to do all that needs to be done around here?  What if we run out? (more…)

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Scripture on Wall

Scripture on Wall (Photo credit: paul.orear)

Psalm 46 is much on my mind, and especially the line, “Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change.”   As I read it recently, it went through my mind in this form: “Therefore, we will not fear, though the church should change.”

This is a time of great shaking for Christ’s church, an anxious time for many.  It doesn’t hurt to hear again and again that “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.”  And it doesn’t hurt to remember that in Matthew 28, Easter dawns with an earthquake.

The living Lord of hosts is indeed with us in the church, and the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Click here for a sermon about the Easter earthquake.

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'Pen and paper' photo (c) 2011, francois - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

‘Tis the season of New Year’s Resolutions, and I’ve been thinking about what congregational New Year’s Resolutions might look like.

Here’s one from Jan Edmiston’s post on the subject called New Year’s Resolutions: Church Edition:  “Remember that Jesus did not come to establish a a self-serving Christianity (e.g. I don’t like drums in church.  The color of the sanctuary carpet annoys me.  The church doesn’t have as many potlucks anymore and I love potlucks.)  Jesus established a movement so profound that it’s supposed to reflect heaven on earth. (e.g. Love your enemy.  Pray for those who persecute you.  Return violence with healing.  Share your stuff.)”

Here are some other possibilities, in no particular order:

  • Long-time members might resolve to spend time with one new person or new family and form a more-than-superficial friendship.  For example, couples that enjoy going out to eat together might invite a newer couple to join them.
  • Resolve to pray for the people and neighborhood around the church in a sustained way through the year.  Who knows what kind of community engagement this might lead to?
  • Go out in the neighborhood and do a random act of kindness as a group.
  • Resist the temptation to say, “This is how we’ve always done it.”  Resolve to try something new this year and not be afraid to fail.  God can used closed doors as well as open ones to guide us into the future.
  • Practice imagining how some aspect of your church’s life and practice comes across to a newcomer or a guest.
  • Think of the church building as a tool for ministry and find one new way to use it to bless others in the community.
  • Like Jesus talking with the woman at the well, take time to hang out with people who do not know Jesus, or who are unchurched.  Do something away from the building out in the community.
  • Take time to learn and sing at least one song or hymn that is cherished by a different generation in the church from your own, even if it isn’t your personal favorite.

What are some more possibilities?

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