Category Archives: worship

Why?

 

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? [Isaiah 55]

How much of my money do I spend on things that do not nourish me, or anyone else for that matter? Bread in the literal sense, and in the necessities-of-life figurative sense, is anything that is required to support a healthy and holy life. Those things that sustain body, heart, mind, and soul are bread. A quick review of recent receipts and my finances overall confirms what I don’t like  to admit: I spend quite a bit of money on things that subtract from my life more than they add to it.

How much of my time, talent, and effort do I give over to attaining or experiencing things that do not and cannot satisfy me or anyone else? It’s not just money I’ve spent on things that lessen my life and the life of the world: the time I’ve devoted to meaningless things can’t be retrieved. The energy I’ve given to feeding anger or resentment isn’t recyclable. I’m kidding myself if I think having one more possession or obsession beyond the food/clothing/shelter basics is going to satisfy my longing for a good and holy life.

The bad news: I can’t earn or buy a good and holy life by spending my limited time and money on additional and unnecessary things.

The good news: I don’t need to buy with my money and life’s time a good and holy life. God grants that gift freely.  Once I accept this as the gospel truth, I can devote my inner and outer resources to the bread that feeds this beloved world.

[For more on this series, click Isaiah 55 above.]

 

Come! Everyone’s invited!

“Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Isaiah 55, NRSV

Wareham as a town does a lot of things poorly. But Wareham gets one life-changing thing right: lunch.

When school children line up to pay for their lunches, they punch in a number and take their food. Buying lunch is the same for full price, reduced price, and free lunch. There’s no way to tell who has the means to pay and who doesn’t: the same milk and the same meals are bought by everyone. The same is true for the summer meals program: anyone can take a free lunch at any of the sites. No names are required or requested, and extra meals are offered without regard to how much or little money they have.

For the past four summers, I’ve had the great honor of seeing this practice in action at the local library. I’ve seen strangers share a meal and a picnic table, forming friendships that wouldn’t have happened any other way. But I’m not just witnessing kindness or a social program success: I’m being given a glimpse of God’s kingdom. In my home town, on an ordinary day at the public library, God’s purpose is fulfilled. Without money and without price.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Invitation to Isaiah 55

It’s harvest time around here – the last fruits of summer and the ongoing bounty of early Autumn can be found at the local farmers’ markets: apples, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins. What better time to delve into Isaiah’s invitation to live an abundant life than now, from beginning of Fall to Thanksgiving? I hope you will join me, singing this ancient song to the Lord…

“Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. 

“Why do you spend  your  money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,and delight yourselves in rich food.

“Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

“See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes from my mouth; it shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Isaiah 55, NRSV

Homework Time

Homework is what the teacher assigns to reinforce the learning that happened in the classroom. Originally, it was meant to be enough of a practice that a newly acquired skill wouldn’t be lost. In the right amount, with good classroom instruction, homework enhances the life of the mind.

What about the life of the spirit? What knowledge and skills do we learn in our faith communities, and what do we take home to strengthen them? Reading scripture daily, along with devotional readings, can increase our understanding and appreciation for holy writings. Praying for those in need can broaden our awareness of what is required for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Centering prayer, praying the Jesus prayer or the rosary can quiet our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls. All these things and more can be considered spiritual homework. But none of them will move us into wisdom and compassion if we refuse to learn one fundamental truth:

Without Love, None Of It Is Worth A Damn. (I Cor. 13)

Looking for God in all the wrong places…

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Luke 24:1-5a, NRSV

When you were a child, did you ever run into your teacher somewhere unexpected- the market, a fall fair, gas station, or restaurant? If you are like me, it made you feel really uncomfortable. Teachers are supposed to be in school, not picking out cold medicine and birthday cards at the drugstore in downtown Farmington, New Hampshire. That teachers have a life beyond their roles in the classroom, that they might be living and breathing people just like me – what a strange thought! That they might not live in the limited, school-shaped box I assumed they did was a shocking idea: that meant they were more than what I knew of them and how I experienced them.

The disciples who loved Jesus, who followed him and put their hopes in him, had expected to find Jesus in a tomb-shaped box among the dead. When he wasn’t confined to their limited understanding of him, when he wasn’t where they placed him in the grand scheme of things, it must have been the shock of a lifetime.

I hope I learn this lesson well enough to stop putting God in a box of specific shape and size – no matter how lovely the box, it won’t be big enough to contain the creator of the whole universe. Even church-shaped, denominationally decorated boxes will not contain a living Christ.

[The Deer’s Cry, Rita Connolly, from Shaun Davey, The Pilgrim, released 1983, recorded at Festival Interceltique de Loriant, Glasgow royal concert hall, Tara Music]

Where there is Poverty

Where there is Poverty and Joy,

there is neither Cupidity nor Avarice. St. Francis, The Admonitions XXVII

[For the complete prayer, click “Walking from Easter to Pentecost with St. Francis]

There is a lot packed into these twelve words, so I’m taking my time with this sentence. Today, just the first four are quite enough.

Poverty is the ability to see what is necessary and what is not – and paring life down to avoid confusing the two. For Francis, that meant giving up everything he owned and trusting that God would hold him fast. For such a leap of faith, he gained a life of joy and peace.

Is my life where poverty lives? If I read the lines right, avarice takes up residence wherever poverty doesn’t. Avarice is that awful compulsion to stuff everything possible into my life’s shopping cart, trying to avoid spiritual bankruptcy with cases of ramen noodles, pricey cars, marble countertops and designer fixtures. There’s never enough of anything, so everything must be grasped at and held in clenched fists; nothing can be spared, even for those in true need. Avarice is malnourishment to the point of starvation, because I’ve stuffed myself full of empty things and have no room for the daily bread that sustains. It’s starvation by excessive consumption.

Poverty is choosing daily bread over cotton candy, enough for today over hoarded junk food. When I trust that my life is safe in God’s embrace and in my neighbor’s company, I will rest content with what my labor brings me and I can happily give of what I have to help someone else.

Gracious God, I want to see what is necessary and good. I want to live a generous life. Help me give up everything that keeps me from such a life. Amen.

Where to look…

Where there is Patience and Humility,

there is neither Anger nor Annoyance.

St. Francis, The Admonitions, XXVII 

[for the complete prayer, click “Walking with Francis from Easter to Pentecost” above]

I see anger and annoyance almost daily. Where is patience and humility? Are they hiding somewhere or do I just have to look harder? I certainly don’t see much of them in myself. Then I open A Sense of the Divine: through the Christian Year with St. Francis to the reading for Easter day and read St. Francis:

You are holy, Lord God; you do wonderful things..

You are love, charity; you are wisdom, humility…

You are patience, you are beauty, you are meekness..

I look to God for love and wisdom, patience and humility. As I find it there, I find it here.

Offered by Bill Albritton, seeker of God and prayerful servant to neighbor.

 

Sources Quoted:

Sister Nan and Father Maximilian Mizzi, The Message of St. Francis (New York: Penguin Studios, 1998), p. 9

Brother Tristam, A Sense of the Divine: Through the Christian Year with St. Francis (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2002)

My Mouth Will Proclaim

Readings: Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; 2 Samuel 6:1-11; Hebrews 1:1-4

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;

with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

I declare your steadfast love is established forever;

your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,

I have sworn to my servant David:

I will establish your descendants forever,

and build your throne for all generations.”

Psalm 89:1-4

Offered by Colin Fredrickson, artist, college student, child of God.

Worry, the Vice?

Readings: Psalm 79; Micah 5:1-5a; Luke 21:34-38

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the earth. Luke 21:34-35

Worrying is focusing on all that could possibly go wrong and wasting the precious few days I have on this earth trying to outsmart a reality that isn’t real and most likely never will be. It drains color and harmony from the unique work of art that is this day, as if it were an oily smudge on a dirty canvas. If the worst doesn’t happen, worrying is in vain; if it does happen, worrying robs me of the strength and courage to face hardship. It robs me of hope and trust in God, self, and neighbor; it ruins my present because it’s fearful of my future. No wonder it weighs down the heart like a wasted life or boozy befuddlement.

I trust that God will hold me fast no matter what happens. I trust God’s love for my family, friends, strangers, and this beautiful broken world. What will be will be. I’ll have my share of sorrow and joy in this holy gift that is my life. Worrying can’t turn sorrow into joy, but it’s fully capable of turning joy into despair. If I’m not careful, I just might let it…

Lord, give me strength, courage, and a good sense of humor so I won’t waste my time worrying. Amen.

Love and Cherish

A friend of mine was married for many years before her husband wanted a divorce.

“Don’t you love me?” my friend asked.

“Sure, but I want a do-over before it’s too late,” he said.

Her take on the whole thing: we may take for granted someone we love, but not someone we cherish. Somewhere along the way, her ex forgot the worth of all the qualities that were unique to her and all the shared experiences that made their life together precious.

It’s been years since we spoke of it, but I haven’t forgotten it. Cherishing is remembering the holy and unique characters that make up a person. It is seeing in that familiar face the infinite mystery of life, even after years of living together. It’s recognizing that life didn’t have to bring me this family and these friends, and being thankful that it did.