We are deep into autumn, arguably my favorite time of year. Technically, Christmas happens in winter, but Advent is really a fall season that ends about the time that winter arrives. Doesn't matter to me: once the Halloween decorations hit the yards, I'm ready for lights, cold temps, and Christmas carols starting two months out! For those of you who will tire of Christmas quickly, I understand. Sometimes, it's too much.
But when I combine the sacred and the secular things that go with the season, I'm a junkie: there's never enough for me. It's not Christmas presents that get me going. It's the challenge of discovering again the meanings of all these special times that hit us from mid-October until Epiphany in early January.
The liturgical year winds down with what some call "Christ the King Sunday" just before Thanksgiving, then revs up with Advent the Sunday after Thanksgiving. "Happy New (liturgical) Year" will be on my lips on Advent One, causing some people to grab their phones to see if by some chance they slept through December. Luckily, my reputation as a weird person allows me a certain amount of leeway when it comes to the strange things I bring to faith. I like marching to a different drummer, though: it challenges me to try to figure out how to be taken seriously while offering to people, those who also hear their own drum, a kindred spirit, one who won't always understand them but will accept them, no matter what, because we know, don't we?
Christians are all supposed to be oddballs.
We don't march to anyone's tune but God's.
We listen for that tune, we hope to get our marching orders from it.
Our "orders" are simply to love God, to love each other, and to love the people and the world that is all around us: NO EXCEPTIONS! In a time and in a nation that is full of people trying to separate "us" from "them," Christians have a message: THERE IS NO "THEM!" Shout it from the mountaintops and from the shorelines, in the stadiums and at the voting places: we are Christians, and we are, like God, in love with everyone.
The Prince of Peace is coming, and at the end of this coming month, we will begin to get ready. November worship begins with All Saints Day, when we will remember our congregational brothers and sisters who entered their eternal rest this past year and joined all the saints of all time. We will be inspired to think about and share our Thanksgiving Offering for support of Disciples Higher Education ministries.
Some of us will donate food for those who won't have a Thanksgiving meal without us. We will give thanks by sharing our blood at the next Red Cross Blood Drive. The church will be decorated for Advent. Youth and Adults will continue with fellowship groups and Christian education. And we will begin planning for the Great Feast which we will serve to the community on Christmas Day.
Why wouldn't I be as excited as a child?
This is our faith, this is who we are:
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Wilson, North Carolina!
Our Season of Faith is well under way now, and we are moving through our Age of Aquarius theme, which may seem a little at odds with Christian faith. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. One of the things people struggle with in a pluralistic society such as ours is how much do we take from the culture at large and how much do we leave alone?
George Washington Carver says this: "If you love it enough, anything will talk with you." In our faith, I paraphrase it this way: If you love God enough, everything will speak to you."
What I mean by that is, God is not limited to just the Bible, or just to a church building, or to just our own narrow ways of looking at anything. The most open-minded of us are still narrow in our views when we compare ourselves to God!
I believe, with all my heart, mind, and strength, that God will stop at nothing to get our attention and to draw us closer. Beautiful nature speaks to most of us, yet very rarely do cross-shaped things show up to us on most days. A flower fairly screams at us that God is trying to get our attention, but flowers never say, "I believe in Jesus." Lots of us like to go to the beach, or to a river or stream, or to the mountains; others love to look at the night sky; still others look at moving clouds and see all kinds of messages there.
God hasn't called us to agree with each other: Disciples of Christ are notorious in our varied ways of interpreting scripture. What we ARE called to do is love one another. And God. And the world.
Our Season of Faith challenges us to go deeper. It is being presented to us in songs that sometimes disturb us, in images that don't contain an ounce of a picture of Jesus in them, in sermons and prayers that don't seem quite to fit in to our usual mode, and even the way we dress (well, the way I dress!) may be a little out of sync with "normal."
God loves us, and nothing can separate us from that love! Never fear: God is walking through this season of faith with us!
A word from the interim minister 50 years ago this third week in August (when I am writing this), I moved to Wilson to begin my college career a few blocks from here at Atlantic Christian College (I'm not one of the alumni who still don't accept the change: “a rose by any other name”. I tell you this only because it was the beginning of my relationship with this city which has played such an important part in my life.
This place saw some of the biggest changes in my attitudes and practices that have ever happened, and planted seeds that are still producing. I drive around the neighborhood sometimes and think, "Didn't so-and-so live there?" or "I remember a party we went to there!" and "I helped move a fridge, stove, washer, and dryer up those stairs."
And so on.
Houses have changed, as has the person having these memories. Everything changes. Some things appear to stay the same. Whether we like change or not, change is the way that we stay alive. Refusing to change things in our lives can literally kill us. We can fuss about change all we want, but the truth is this, as my great-grandmother used to say: "If you're not changing and growing, you're either dead or dying!"
Churches are like big ships: it's difficult to get them turned to go in another direction! Some changes we make are superficial, like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. There are times when we need to slow the ship down a bit so we can figure out which direction we need to go.
At other times we have to flip a coin and pray for God's protection as we venture into a dark and foreboding sea. At still other times, we have to make immediate changes just because there is danger ahead.
There are some approaches I want to suggest for weathering these changes. They won't only help us in our church life, but may even effect our daily living in good ways.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Pray daily.
You don't have to be a saint or a mystic, just be totally honest as you talk to God or sit in silence with God.
2. When anger and frustration strike wherever you are, take a deep breath (maybe your mom or dad or teacher told you to count to 10 before acting in anger?). Put a picture in your mind of Jesus loving you. Say a faith word: love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, etc.
3. Talk calmly with people you trust. Actually saying some of the things that bother you out loud, and having a trusted friend or relative nod and say, "I understand, but also consider..." can help you work it out. It's okay to reply, "I know that, but still..." and so on! It might even turn humorous, like every time Renae reminds me to be a Christian, and I pout, which can be a funny sight!
4. Pray again.
It's okay to say to God, "HELP!" But listen and watch and feel for God's reply.
5. Pray again.
Nothing's so small that you should leave God out of it. No, this will not solve all your problems or frustrations. However, I believe that when we try to approach life in a Christian manner, we begin to practice in our daily life real Christianity.
If we stand on faith that God lives with us, we discover that God really does! It's an amazing and wonderful and scary thing to encounter the living God; after the shock wears off, we find always that God was there all along.
That's a change we can, literally, live with!
With the heat usually comes a need for more rest, for a slower pace, perhaps a sense of idleness; yet here at First Christian, very little of that is happening!
Still, there is a need for a slower pace. I recommend to everyone, "Go slower."
Years ago, my kid brother, Joel, taught at the Eastern NC School for the Deaf. I worked at the Wilson Mall, at B. Dalton, Booksellers. Perhaps you and I passed each other in the store! Joel was close to a group of young high school students at the school who seemed, almost weekly, to show up at the bookstore, signing to each other the sign for "Joel's brother," which I seem to recall was a combination of sign's meaning, "Joel - boy - same." They would run to me excitedly at the cash register and begin talking to me in signs, and I would hold my palms out to them, shaking my head "no" and saying that I did sign. They were kind, laughing hysterically and continuing to sign to me, as though I would somehow, miraculously, be able to understand them.
So, I asked Joel to teach me to sign some basic things, and to try to understand when someone signed an answer or a statement back at me. "How are you?" What are you doing?" "Are you all having fun?" "Do you want to buy a book?" All of which were seldom answered with anything but more hysterical laughter at my attempts to communicate, which usually came out to a sentence like, "How are you having a book?"
So, I asked Joel to teach me how to say, "Go slower." It is, perhaps, besides "good," the only phrase I remember.
As I've gotten older, the phrase is more important to me. It's something I want to try to do. It's something we all need to try to do. Our culture wants us to cram more and more "experiences" into our lives, so we drive to a waterfall in the mountains, jump out, take selfies or family photos, thus recording our experience at the water fall, then jump back into our cars to drive quickly to the next scenic view. We fill our time with being present for a few minutes, then are off to be present somewhere else; but we are never really present.
So, go outdoors for a few minutes. Feel the heat. Maybe there's a breeze: feel that, too. Breathe. Bask in the warmth, in the air moving around you. Look at grass, trees, flowers, stars, clouds, birds. Listen. I think God lives in those spaces "between."
Remember the scripture: "Be still, and know that I am God."
These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.