Well the inauguration might be over but there is still a lot being reported about it. Here are some of my favourites:
First a neat photo of the inauguration from space
And this one is, believe it or not the inauguration in Lego
And then of course the comments on Michelle Obama’s fashions
Certainly a lot to keep us going and hopefully keep us smiling for a long time
This morning President Obama began his first official day in office by attending the national prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral. While the event had a larger than usual interfaith contingent it was still at its core a Christian service drawn from the Book of Common Prayer. Read more
I do not think it is by accident that this event falls in the middle of a week of prayer for Christian unity. There has never been a better time for all of us to seek to set aside our differences and work together for understanding, acceptance and mutual concern. Listen to the words of Richard Twiss, Native American leader who will be in Washington DC at the beginning of February for the National Prayer Breakfast. I was inspired as I read his words, knowing that First Nations people are still the least respected and appreciated within our society.
Regardless of who you voted for, our president, Barak Obama, is the man God has put his hand on to serve us as President of the United States. His presidency represents an opportunity for ALL Americans and people globally to seek a future filled with hope for a better tomorrow. It is truly a remarkable moment in the history of America, a country known as much for its “American Revolution” as for the genocide of our Native American people and the enslavement of African people.
An African-American serving as president of the most powerful country in the world, in light of our history, is an inspiration to people all over the world that “with God, ALL things are possible!!!”
In the parable of the two lost sons or “the prodigal son” the older son refuses to come in and celebrate the return of his brother because he disagrees with his fathers handling of the situation. If he was his dad, he would have judged and rejected his son for squandering his inheritance.
Let’s pray, walk in faith and trust in Jesus with all we got as we seek to walk in the light even as He is in the light!
The day is almost over, the crowds have dispersed from the Mall and all of us are grateful for the opportunity we have had to watch the happenings on this historic day. Even my friends and family in Australia have had their eyes glued to the TV screen for hours watching the parade and listening to Obama’s inaugural speech. There is such a sense of anticipation and expectation that Obama’s election has ushered in changed world that it is probably impossible for him to live up to the expectations but above all there is hope and without hope life is very bleak indeed.
So what are we hoping for? As followers of Christ we are probably very well aware that God is the only one who can usher in the kind of hope that we would like but unless we beleive that change is possible and that God’s desire is to see the world transformed than we will never see things change at all. Because of that I think we do have an obligation to pray for Obama and all those who are now in government. And above all I pray that they might be touched by God’s vision for a transformed world and that in his policies and presidency we might at least see glimpses of God’s world of righteousness and justice and freedom.
Today is Martin Luther King Day and tomorrow the inauguration of Barack Obama – both celebrations of extraordinary events that have already and will continue to change the world in which we live. The blogosphere is alive with commentary and analysis of what is happening. But there is another historic event occurring this week that most of us are not even aware of. This week is also a week of prayer for unity within the church and I suspect that in God’s economy it is the prayers that we offer up for love and unity and respect, this week that really hold the keys to how much will be accomplished in other realms. As I read the discourse flying around the internet I realize how much we need unity within the church and amongst all who call themselves followers of Christ.
Some Christians see the events of these days as a wonderful celebration of God’s ongoing work in our world. Others are more inclined to view the events as a sign of the evil of the times in which we live. Everyone thinks that their viewpoint is the only right way to interpret these events.
The question that comes to my mind was one posed by Nadia Bolz-Weber author of Salvtion on the Small Screen, at a small gathering we held last Friday evening at which Nadia shared about her experiences watching Christian television for 24 hours straight. People’s reactions to Christian television are as diverse as their reactions to what is going on in the world over these important days. Some see the televangelists as God’s tools for the proclamation of the gospel. Others see them as presenting a travesty of the gospel that ridicules and belittles the good news of Christ.
The question Nadia posed that brought me up short however was “Do we need each other?” Do liberals need conservatives and vice versa? Does God intentionally allow us to view life from opposite perspectives so that all that holds us together is the love of God and our respect for others that are made in God’s image?
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34) and “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22, 23)
There has never been a time in which we have needed more for Christians to model the love of God and the unity of the body of Christ – unity that does not come from uniformity of belief but that comes from acceptance of the rich diversity that exists within Christ’s body. God did not make us all to look alike, to think alike or to act alike, but God does ask us to respond to each other in love – not necessarily to agree but to accept, not working for uniformity but for unity in the midst of our diversity.
I think that we do live in historic times. God wants to change the world into a place of mutual love and care where the hungry are fed, the oppressed are set free and justice comes for the poor. The biggest challenge we face this week is not how we respond to the inauguration of Barack Obama but rather how we respond to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Our biggest challenge is our willingness to open our hearts and our minds to look to listen and to learn rather than expecting to tell, to teach and to take over. If we really want others to know we are Christians by our love then we need to stop criticizing, dividing and seeking to conquer those who have different viewpoints about what it means to be a follower of Christ.
God may we see in your Oneness our need for unity,
God may we see in your Threeness our need for community
God may we see in your creativity our need for diversity,
God may we see in you our need to love each other
Easter Sunday is a totally different experience from the agony of Good Friday. For some, the festivities begin with a Saturday night vigil and a midnight feast. For others a sunrise service, a reminder of the women who came to the tomb at dawn, and a breakfast celebration herald this important day. Traditionally, Easter Sunday is also a time for the baptism of new believers who symbolically take on the story of Christ as they die to their sins and are raised to new life. At Tom Balke’s Mennonite Brethren church in British Columbia, Easter Sunday and Good Friday services are an integrated whole. On Good Friday, each member is given a nail to hold throughout the service. At the appropriate moment they come forward and nail it into a life-sized cross. On Easter Sunday chicken wire covers the cross over the nails and people come forward to insert flowers into the cross. Tom told us “It is important that our nails are still there- the cross has not been sanitized.”
The Easter season does not end with Easter Sunday however. It extends until Pentecost and celebrates both the resurrection of Christ and also the many ways the resurrected Christ comes to meet us.
My most vivid memories of Easter date back to my first year on board the M/V Anastasis. The fragrant aroma of lamb impregnated with rosemary and garlic wafted towards me as I walked along the dusty street in Elevesis, Greece. Everywhere I looked men squatted over BBQ pits erected in backyards and along the footpaths, laughing and joking together. They patiently turned the homemade spits, basting the lamb trussed firmly in place over the fire. They were preparing for the most important feast of the year, the celebration of Easter and the resurrection of Christ. The crowded little blue and white houses bulged at the seams as family members gathered from all over the country to join the festivities. Inside the women bustled around preparing mountains of Greek salad with fresh feta cheese, sun-ripened tomatoes, and black kalamata olives. Delicious herb covered potatoes roasted in the ovens and sweet Greek pastries dripping with honey adorned enormous platters.
Ella, ella! (Come, come) people called as we stopped to savor the smells, and beckoned us in to join them with wide welcoming smiles. This was a time of open hospitality, a reminder that Christ welcomes all of us into God’s family. Soon we too were sitting around the magnificent feast enthusiastically participating in the joyous celebration. Shouts of Christo anasti (Christ is risen) brought from us the response Allythos anasti (He is risen indeed) as we all rejoiced together in the memory of our risen Saviour. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I wasn’t just reading the Easter story, I was living it as well.
Whatever your tradition, Easter should be a time to celebrate with open arms and open hearts, as we rejoice in the wonder of the risen Christ and all that his sacrifice means to us and our world. This is a time for hospitality. In some traditions the Easter table is left laden with food from Easter breakfast throughout the holiday season to welcome any guests who come. One of my dreams for the future is to have a huge Easter BBQ when we roast a whole lamb, Greek style, over an open spit in the backyard and invite a crowd of people over for a huge celebration. .
 Adapted from Sacred Rhythms: Finding a Peaceful Pace in a Hectic World, Christine Sine, (Baker Books 2003
I am a little late with this post that gives a brief explanation of the season of Easter as it celebrated in the church calendar because I got diverted by the sunny day and the Mustard Seed House garden work day this morning. I also know that Easter is still a long way off but I wanted to give us plenty of time to think about how we intend to enter into this celebration and why it is so important. So it seems very appropriate to write this while enjoying the sunshine that is very much a promise of spring to come.
I have decided too to break the post into 2 – one focused on Good Friday and the other on Easter Sunday and the Easter season so that we don’t lose the full impact of this season. Easter is the central celebration of our faith and yet in some ways it is also the most neglected. Many emerging churches that put huge effort into celebrations of the Stations of the Cross seem to let Easter Sunday pass with hardly a mention. For some reason we are more consumed with Jesus walk toward the Cross than we are with the wonder of the resurrection life he brings us.
No festival in the Christian calendar is more dramatic than Easter with its incredible contrast between the pain and agony of Easter Friday and the joy and celebration of resurrection Sunday. You may wonder why Easter Friday is called “good” when it is obviously a day of mourning. The good refers to the benefit that this day provided to all humankind through the death of Christ on the Cross.
I love the Good Friday service in our Episcopal church with the sanctuary somber and quiet, the altar stripped of its vestments and the cross shrouded in black. We leave the church in silence with the coldness of death echoing through our thoughts. The horror of Christ’s crucifixion reaches deep into my soul and as we read the verse “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me,” I am often overwhelmed by memories of times when I too have felt abandoned and alone. Knowing in that moment that Christ endured more pain and suffering than I can ever imagine has the power to open a door for my own emergence out of darkness into new life.
Growing up in Australia where Good Friday was a public holiday and attendance at church an expected tradition for most Christians, following Christ through this journey was never difficult. In the United States where most people work on Good Friday I found it to be a little more challenging – and my willingness to enter into Christ’s suffering took more discipline and suffering on my part too. However there are creative ways we can become part of this somber event and enter into some of the agony that Christ must have suffered as he endured the horrors of this last day of his life.
These days churches of all traditions set up exhibits to commemorate the stages of Jesus walk towards his crucifixion called Stations of the Cross. Some like Cityside Baptist in Auckland New Zealand invite people from their community to participate in this walk with Jesus towards the cross. If this is not part of your church’s tradition, you might like to do some research on Stations of the Cross and consider ways to bring this important tradition into your congregational worship.
Think of ways to celebrate this important day with your family too. If possible take the day off work and keep your kids home from school. Set up a home made cross on your dining table or mantel. On Good Friday morning shroud the cross with black cloth. In the evening read through the gospel passages about the crucifixion. If there is time get each family member to write a poem or draw a picture that expresses their own experience of grief and sorrow over the last year. Place these at the foot of the cross. Leave the cross shrouded until Easter Sunday morning when it can be decorated with flowers. In the evening attend a Good Friday service as a family.
The following prayer is one that I wrote one Easter Friday while reflecting on my own sense of abandonment as a premature infant who spent the first month of my life in hospital. First I read Psalm 22 which not only speaks of Christ’s sense of rejection but also connected very intimately to my own feelings of alienation. Connecting the sense of desertion that an infant must feel when alone and isolated in a baby incubator to the agony of Christ’s abandonment was a therapeutic and healing experience for me
God why did you abandon me
A tiny infant born before my time
Alone and afraid caught in a web of machines
Why this pain of isolation
Deprived of a mother’s love,
Why did you leave me with no one to care
Yet I know you brought me out of the womb
Your love whispered in my mind
Soothing, comforting, embracing
You taught me to trust in you and held me in your arms
O Lord, you were never far off
My strength and my refuge, my salvation from my birth
We already have 12 people signed up to join us for the journey through Lent and Easter, many from non liturgical backgrounds that have not taken the seasons of the church calendar seriously before. Some are asking What is Lent anyway? Consequently I thought that it would be good to give a quick walk through the seasons for the uninitiated. Today we will look at Lent and tomorrow I will post on Easter
Lent is a 40 day period before Easter that commemorates the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. In the early church this was a time of preparation for those about to be baptized. Today it is more often regarded as a season of soul searching and repentance for all Christians when we prepare for the joy and celebration of Easter by giving ourselves an annual spiritual check up. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. (The Thursday before Easter) If you are a good mathematician you probably realize that there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday. That is because early Christians never fasted on Sundays. They are are excluded from the days of Lent because they are always celebrations of Christ’s resurrection.
The temptations of Christ parallel those of the children of Israel in the wilderness but how different are his responses. The children of Israel were dissatisfied with God’s provision of manna. They remembered the rich foods from their captivity in Egypt and greedily hungered for more so that their physical cravings could be satisfied. (Num 11:4-36) Christ saw his physical hunger as unimportant and trusted in God to provide for all his needs. At Massah the Israelites demanded miraculous signs that revealed God’s presence, totally ignoring God’s constant and miraculous care for them.(Ex 17:1-7). Jesus refused to test God by the use of miraculous signs. The Israelites fashioned a golden calf to worship but Christ turned his back on temptations of worldly wealth and power. Each time he is tempted by Satan, Christ deliberately turned away from the attractions of a self centered and self serving world in order to place God’s purposes and the outwardly focused values of God’s kingdom at the center of all he was and did.
Lent is a time for “confrontation with the false self” (Thomas Keating) when we reflect on the responses and behaviours we exhibit that are least Christ like and seek God’s help in rededicating ourselves to God and God’s purposes. This is a time for self-denial and fasting when we give up some of the comforts of our lives in order to make ourselves more available to God.
Traditionally, Lent is marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Some churches especially in the Orthodox tradition, still observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of food. Other traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in physical need with food and clothing, or simply the giving of money to charities. Most Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.
Interestingly the concept of spring-cleaning emerged from the practice of Lent. This was the time of year in Europe when one cleaned house – first physically and then spiritually. I love this idea of connecting our daily lives and routines to the seasons of the church calendar. However what we “sweep out” or give up at this season should be more than food. It could be soccer or TV or social commitments. We might discuss with our families ways to give up our busyness and focus on the truly important things of God. The time we free up can be used for special prayers and Bible readings, for spiritual retreats and for involvement in local or overseas mission that enables us to focus beyond ourselves and onto our responsibility to those who are hurting and in need.
During Lent it is as though we join Jesus in his walk toward Good Friday and the crucifixion. Our self denial is a way to enter into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering so that we can identify more fully with those who are chronically hungry, oppressed, in pain or in need. This year as we walk towards the Cross may we invite God to make us aware of those things that distract us from a wholehearted commitment to God. We may want to gather up all those things we are aware of that vie for our attention and literally nail them to the Cross.