5 Years of Perspective

Today is the 5th anniversary of my big sister Heather’s homegoing. When we were kids, she irritated the tar out of me on a regular basis, taught me about beauty products (note: NEVER use Vaseline for a hot-oil treatment for your hair), was bossy, sang with me loudly in public places (to upset our sister Allison), knew EVERYthing (or so she thought), made me laugh, hurt my feelings, and once wrote a spoof-musical with me in the wee hours of the morning.

When we were grown up, we went for long stretches with hardly any communication, brainstormed gift ideas and event-planned for family celebrations, had sometimes-awkward get-togethers (because aren’t we ALL a little awkward, really?), spent hours in deep conversation, and once got so silly in a fancy steakhouse that we couldn’t stop laughing and our husbands were embarrassed to be seated with us.

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When she got sick with pancreatic cancer, we suddenly talked every week even though we lived 1,000 miles apart. We sat and held hands in doctor’s waiting rooms even though when we were little she would shriek if I dared to touch her in public. We made tacky, inappropriate jokes during chemo treatments because it’s better to laugh than cry sometimes. And we reminded each other that God is God, He is good, and He loves us.

Now that she is gone, I realized that she helped me learn some stuff:

* People are often annoying, but they are important.
* Relationships are hard work, but they are of immeasurable value.
* You don’t always like the people you still choose to love, and that’s okay.
* People can be wrong and it not really matter that much.
* Sometimes an inappropriate joke is actually a statement of faith and hope.
* Family is messy and complicated, but it should not be taken for granted.
* Love — no matter exactly what shape it takes at a given time — is always worth it.
* God is God, He is good, and He loves us.

(See you, Heath….and thanks for the opal ring. I smile every time I wear it.)

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Finding God’s Fingerprints As We Are Able

Week Eleven of my Finding Fingerprints adventure. I’m visiting a different church every week to see all the cool things that God is up to in the various gatherings of believers in Jesus in my community. John 17, baby — Let’s find that unity that Jesus wanted for us!

Sunday #11, Nov.16, 2014

“As We Are Able”

a Lutheran congregation of about 150 people at their second service

Finding God's Fingerprints Week 11

Message: The Parable of the Talents – Visiting Minister

Fingerprints:

We received a warm welcome as we entered the beautiful sanctuary. As we waited for the service to begin, we enjoyed the organ prelude. There is something truly majestic about the sound of a pipe organ played by someone who knows how to do it right!

The Lutheran liturgy is similar in many ways to the Roman Catholic mass, but unlike last week when I was in need of a missalette, this time we had been handed a bulletin with the liturgy laid out for us; it is so much easier to participate that way. Oddly, I would have thought that it would also make me feel less “genuine” in my worship, but it doesn’t seem to be having that effect.

The sung Psalm was unfamiliar to me and took a little getting used to. It was printed in the bulletin and I read music, so I figured this would be a piece of cake, but instead it was tricky to get my brain to know when to move to which note and when to stay put and chant on an individual pitch. I got the hang of it about half-way through, but in all honesty I wasn’t thinking much about the words of the Psalm until I figured out how to sing along. The next time I’m in a Lutheran liturgical service, I’ll probably keep my focus a lot better and know how to participate without so much concentration on the music.

Fred and I loved it that the pastor and assisting minister and acolytes bring the Bible down into the aisle to read the Gospel. Jesus came down to dwell among us, so His word is physically carried down among the people as the gospel is read. Really beautiful picture!
The visiting pastor’s message was a different take than I had heard before on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. He framed it against the pressures of the last days in which we live, the godless world that sucks us dry, and the need to remember that ALL that we have was given to us by God in the first place. All came from the Master, all work was done in response to His will, and we only find the stamina to continue in kingdom work when we stay thankfully aware of the Source of all good.

In prayer before Communion, the pastor said something that really “made” the service for me, that “Ah!” moment that I knew I would carry with me specially through the coming week. He said, “We acknowledge that we worship You not as we ought, but as we are able.” The picture of Jesus’ grace making up the difference between my “able” and my “ought” was profound.

Fred found taking communion to be very meaningful this week. The physical process is very similar to the Roman Catholic mass with which he was raised, but here it was clear from the bulletin that we were welcome at the table as baptized Christians – whether we were Lutheran or not – and it was a blessing to take the bread and wine with thanksgiving.

Personal Notes:

I love the heart for service in the community at this church. Everywhere I looked were evidences of concern for the poor and hungry, those serving in the military and their families, and the elderly. Good stuff! Gospel in action, in the name of Jesus.

Finding God’s Fingerprints in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit

Week Ten of my Finding Fingerprints adventure. I’m visiting a different church every week to see all the cool things that God is up to in the various gatherings of believers in Jesus in my community. John 17, baby — Let’s find that unity that Jesus wanted for us!

Sunday #10, Nov. 9, 2014

a large Roman Catholic Church
Message: THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA
Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 / 1 Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17/Jn 2:13-22

Finding God's Fingerprints Week 10

Fingerprints:

Eight years ago, a local Catholic school allowed my homeschooled son to play football on their team. It was a great experience for him, and I was always grateful that they included him as they did. I spent many hours at the football field, but I’d never been inside the church. When I realized I was 10 weeks into my Finding Fingerprints adventure and hadn’t yet worshipped with Catholic believers, I decided that was the parish to visit.

I failed to pick up a missalette on my way into the sanctuary, and because I don’t attend Mass very often, I found it harder to participate without it. For those of you who haven’t attended a Catholic Mass and don’t know what I’m talking about, the service has a many congregational responses throughout it, and the missalette is a little book that allows you to “follow along” so that you can read the responses at the right times in the service.

I loved the procession that begins the service as the congregation sings a hymn. The reverence shown for the cross of Jesus and the written Word of God (lifted high over the head as they enter) is beautiful. It makes me ask myself, “Do I begin my times of worship by respectfully lifting Jesus’ sacrifice, example and word high and bowing down before Him? Do I begin my days this way? My work? My conversation?”

This particular Mass was to be a celebration of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in the early 300’s. Huh? This was all new to me, and as the priest shared the story, the reason for our continued celebration of it these many centuries later, I learned a lot. Church history reminded us of the precious gift of worship without persecution, and challenged us to be living out our faith, boldly identifying as followers of Jesus, because God has allowed us the opportunity to live under a government that does not forbid it. We were also challenged to pray for the persecuted church of Jesus Christ in other countries around the world.
The homily (that’s “sermon,” for Protestants!) encouraged believers to care for themselves and their fellowmen in a way that is respectful of the Holy Spirit of God who dwells in us as His temple. The priest reminded us that we easily remember to treat with respect a facility like the sanctuary in which we were sitting, but slow to respect the true temple of God – US, according to His word.

The pace of Mass is particularly of note. I saw God’s fingerprints so clearly in it. Mass is not rushed. The entry procession is slow and dignified. The priest takes time for silence between the various parts of the Mass, allowing reflection on what has come before, and preparation for what is coming next. I never felt that I was being entertained and the folks on the altar were afraid they might lose the “audience” if they waited too long. Instead, the pauses reminded me without words that I was there to worship God; what happened on the altar was designed to aid ME in the activity for which I was present.

Preparation for Communion includes my favorite moment in the Mass. The priest presents the bread and the cup and the congregation says together, “Lord, I am not worthy…” I will admit that this is where I get a little befuddled, because the wording of the response was changed in 2011 and I still identify most strongly with the original wording from the Centurion’s response to Jesus in Matthew 8:8 –

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

The new response is, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

But either way you say it, for me the ritual is powerful. To acknowledge on a regular basis that I am unworthy to receive the Holy Spirit of God in myself, and to acknowledge that because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus I have been made holy by Him so that we CAN dwell together…ahh! So rich; so beautiful!

Personal Notes:

I was raised in the Protestant tradition. When I was 18 years old, I became interested in the Catholic mass through a friend I’d made at work who was a devoted Catholic. She talked with such joy about her church and the celebration of Mass that I wanted to learn more. She spent a precious afternoon explaining things and answering questions, and then took me to daily Mass for the first time. It’s still such a special memory.

A couple of years later, I found myself needing to find a church body with which to worship corporately for just a couple of months before making a move back to my home state. Rather than “church-shopping,” I began attending Mass at the local Roman Catholic parish with another Catholic friend from the office where I now worked.

There was something beautiful to me in the reverence of the Mass. I had differences of doctrine with the Catholic church on some points that meant I didn’t want to pursue joining the church, but I loved worshiping there.

When I married Fred, I married a man who was raised Catholic, but didn’t find a real, personal saving relationship with God in Jesus Christ until he was in his late 40’s, and that was through friendships with Protestant believers. So he chose to stop identifying as a Catholic after that time. His family is still devoted to the Roman Catholic tradition and finds his choice very odd.

Fred doesn’t understand why I love celebrating Mass the way I do. For him, it feels like mindless ritual; for me, it feels like meaning-filled ritual. We have the most interesting conversations in the car on our way home after the various family events that include our attending Mass together!

Finding God’s Fingerprints with Thankfulness

Week Nine of my Finding Fingerprints adventure. I’m visiting a different church every week to see all the cool things that God is up to in the various gatherings of believers in Jesus in my community. John 17, baby — Let’s find that unity that Jesus wanted for us!

Sunday #9, Nov.2, 2014

an Independent Baptist Church
about 150 people in attendance
Message: Give Thanks in All Things

Finding God's Fingerprints with Thankfulness Week 9

Fingerprints:

This independent Baptist church is very close to our house. Fred had never been to a Baptist church before, but I spent several years worshiping in one as a child. The hymns had a gentle “Gaither” sound to them, and the feel of the service was conservative without being stuffy. I was glad we’d thought to dress a bit more formally than we would for some services; it was a suits and dresses congregation for the most part. It’s kind of nice to purposely put on your Sunday best to go to church!

The pastor greeted us when we arrived and made a dedicated point to be sure we knew we could follow up with him if we needed anything or had any questions about the church. His message was really good; well-planned and easy to understand, but rich with meaning. He admonished us to put the time and effort that often go into complaining or criticizing into, instead, thankfully counting our blessings. Simple? Perhaps in theory…but Fred and I had a good talk about how to put it into practice and hold each other accountable on the drive home!

One thing I’d never seen before: once a month they take a few extra minutes after the sermon to share what is being taught in children’s church for those 4 Sundays of the month so that everyone can be aware of what the kids are learning, and can be a part of talking about it with them. I thought that was a lovely way to allow the kids’ ministry to be in a different place in the building and age-targeted for them, but still encourage unity across generations in the church.

Personal Notes:

This is getting easier and easier each week. I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of how to be a visitor. I am not feeling weird about introducing myself to people. My smile is genuine. I am looking forward to seeing what fingerprints I can find at each church I visit. This adventure is starting to really be fun!