Light and Worship

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Light and Worship

1 Peter 2:9-12

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Once you were not a people,

but now you are God’s people;

once you had not received mercy,

but now you have received mercy.

Live as Servants of God1

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

The countdown came onto the screen as the lights begin to dim. The latest hits playing in the background began to slowly fade away as the guitar amplifiers hummed. There was a hiss and a cloud of gray smoke plumed out into the stage and suddenly everyone grew quiet around. Worship was about to begin.

I’m one of those odd ducks who sits at the end of Generation X and the beginning of the millennial generation. Culture sometimes moves a little slower in smaller, poorer, and/or more rural areas like the one I grew up in and I remember when I first got to college and began meeting some true millennials, I was a bit shocked at some of their differences. The scene I described above would be a dream come true for ‘gen X’ers, I think, but for millennials it probably just seems normal.

Well, actually no, let me amend that. I think they probably would get rid of the fog machine because it seems a bit too “performance driven” and inauthentic. They might replace the timer with a professional video of a church leader sharing a testimony/advertisement for the theme of the current month’s sermon series. The guitars are still there, but they are balanced more with keyboard synths, and the music overall has slowed down. Gen X wanted to jump and shout, while the new worshippers want to sway with God like a middle school slow dance.

I’m an odd duck, and I see humor in much of it. But I also so some great similarities as well. The younger generations might argue about the song selection and setup of the chairs, but the one thing they will all agree on is the light switch needs to be turned off. We want it dark in our worship spaces. We want to forget everyone else around us and create an environment of intimacy. The only light needs to be coming from the words on the screen, and we want to fill the space around those words with beautiful paintings of light, depicting the great creativity of our God.

We see a similar attitude from our older worshippers who love to attend candlelight vigil services, often around Christmas time. Shut the lights off and let’s create an intimate setting where we lose track of everyone but me and God, and the pretty lights all around. We want to lose ourselves and all the burdens we carry in the daytime, and we want to be caught up in the beautiful darkness around us. Maybe we learned it from the nightclubs and speakeasies of the Prohibition era as many former addicts became Christians and sought to attract in those looking for escape from life as they knew it.

I don’t really know where it all came from or why it lingers on. What I do know is that scripture calls us people who have come out of the darkness and now walk in the light. I’m not opposed to worshipping in dark rooms. I just wonder what it says about those of us who cannot worship outside of them, in the light of day. Peter, and God before him in Exodus, calls us a royal priesthood and a holy nation – those who worship on behalf of others. We do not live as Christians in their place, as substitutes. We live as Christians to be examples, to lead them to Christ. Do we do that in our worship, or are we lost in the dark, trying to lose ourselves and everyone around us?

I think Jesus Himself probably stated it the best:

Matthew 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Where do you find the light of God?

Do you allow that light to shine through you in your worship?


  1. (Cp Rom 13:1–5)

Step into the Light

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Step into the Light

John 9:1–41 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Beauty

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“Your eyes will see the king in his beauty;

they will behold a land that stretches far away.

Your mind will muse on the terror:

“Where is the one who counted?

Where is the one who weighed the tribute?

Where is the one who counted the towers?”

No longer will you see the insolent people,

the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,

stammering in a language that you cannot understand.

Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals!

Your eyes will see Jerusalem,

a quiet habitation, an immovable tent,

whose stakes will never be pulled up,

and none of whose ropes will be broken.

But there the Lord in majesty will be for us

a place of broad rivers and streams,

where no galley with oars can go,

nor stately ship can pass.

For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler,

the Lord is our king; he will save us.” Isaiah 33.17-22 (NRSV)

Closely related to Christ’s gentleness is His beauty. Although, it is not popular in many cultures to call a man (or a boy) beautiful, God has, in Jesus Christ, everything that we would consider beauty.

Beauty may be subjective, or “in the eye of the beholder”, but it cannot be beautiful if it does not capture our attention. True beauty is that which draws us out of ourselves. The greatest kinds of beauty draw us out of ourselves and transform us into something beautiful ourselves.

This is Who God is. He is that greatest, true beauty. He speaks, and the whole world listens. The winds and the waves obey and lift Him up. The angels of heaven celebrate His birth alongside poor shepherds and pagan leaders. Those who followed, not even knowing what they would expect to find had their lives transformed right before them. Simeon and Anna in the temple waited their whole lives just to meet the newborn messiah. Jesus does not disappoint when we come to Him, just as He is, and just as we are.

But beauty draws the possibility of envy and jealousy as well. When we see the light we see ourselves more clearly and sometimes we don’t like what we see. We resist being drawn out of ourselves and retreat into the darkness to plan ways of wounding the beauty before us. It is sinful nature that invites us to fear what we cannot understand and hate what we cannot have.

Yet, despite our best (or worst) efforts, the beauty of God is not broken. The ugliness of the cross on which our Savior hung only made the majesty of the manger more real. The attempts to put out the light, surrounding it with darkness only made it shine brighter.

So to, the light of Christ, the true gift of Christmas, shines brightest in you and I when we face the darkness around us instead of flee from it. Do you want to be beautiful? Let Christ shine through you. Nothing else in this world can compare. You cannot dress, cover, color, or work your way to greater beauty than by simply letting the light of Christ shine in you. The Creator of beauty Himself made you just for that purpose.

  • Where do you see the beauty of God?
  • What do you see in your life that is not beautiful?
  • How can you bring the beauty of God to those places that need His light and love?

Bring your peace into our violence

Bid our hungry souls be filled

Word now breaking heaven’s silence

Welcome to our world

Friday December 23, 2016

Holy

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In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. Isaiah 6:1-13 (NRSV)

You might not believe me, particularly if you have read through any of the census records in the Old Testament books recording the tribes of Israel, but in general, the Hebrew language does not waste words. In the Hebrew scriptures, if something is repeated, it is done so on purpose… typically for emphasis. When Isaiah writes that the angels around God’s throne say, “holy, holy, holy”, it should be translated in English as “Holy, HOLY, HOLY!” or, at the very least, “the Most Holy of All!”.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin may have been the first men on the moon, but over 2500 years earlier, Isaiah stood face to face with the source of life so powerful it makes the sun itself look like a lightbulb hanging in the sky. God’s holiness overwhelmed him. He understood in a moment how very small his own life was. Isaiah could feel how unworthy and unable he was to serve God, but he was more than willing to try.

There are varying concepts of this “worthiness” to be found all over, but only God’s worthiness reaches out and makes us worthy as well. Only in Christ can the filthy become clean and the sick made well. Why? Because God is the source of all life.

That is the mystery of Christmas. We can criticize the virgin birth and details of the gospel accounts (although not by much) but what the witnesses of 2000 years ago are truly proclaiming is that the holiness that Isaiah witnessed is the same thing that Mary carried in her womb and gave birth to in Bethlehem. The source of all life in the universe became a baby.

This passage ends with the mystery of Advent – our time of waiting for Christ’s return, even as we prepare to celebrate his first entry into our world. It is the mystery of the holy seed found in the stump. The stump is the tombstone of the tree… there is no life in it. It is the seed of the tree, found in the fruit, and much smaller that typically brings new life. But God, in His Holiness, chose the tomb to be the source of new life – perhaps gazing down through the ages to an empty tomb that would change the world forever. The Holy seed is found in that very place that it appears life has abandoned.

  • Where do you experience the holiness of God?
  • How does that holiness make you feel?
  • Where is God sending you to carry that holiness?

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth

Wednesday December 7, 2016

First Frost

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Supple droplets coalesce

in morning mist, whose cool caress

embraces all in loneliness,

sinking into shallow ground.

Follows then a breath of air,

whose northern accent chills the fair

unfinished droplets, held with care

there upon my glass found.

Shining into crystal likeness,

bright and white and round –

they harden without sound.

Beaded strings of peasant pearls

twined about in crescent curls,

crawling up my window, whorls

unbroken in a line.

There beset with misting sweat

they bind together, tight and yet

their seamless sheen and coverlet

grows gently as a vine.

Silently, with silver strength,

they reflect the moonshine –

until the night’s resign.

Morning brings a glassy sight

a world engulfed in frost-fire light

and painted crystalline and white

in heavenly decor.

The dusted streets stand glistening

while festive boughs are listening

to birdsong southbound christening

the mountain to the shore.

The fragrance of festivity

wafts in and out my door –

til spring returns once more.

The Herald

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She sought solace, wrapped in soft,

thick clouds, from a dark, cold world.

Le Nuage d’Aurore gazes back

to the land where love and fear intersect

and mix in awesome dissonance

and beauty enough to stop the train

of Titan’s gait. He gives pause to wait

for another sight of her peaking billows

creeping over the cup of darkness below

like too much milk in a pitcher too small,

threatening to overflow and spill upon

a famished land. They cry with hand

held high toward heaven’s dove

who refuses to turn her back

on a world in which she cannot stand

to stay. Yet soon will come the day

persistence paid in scarlet streaks

she yet again will light the skies

and herald the Sun in fevered gleam

and mark the heavens

and feed His fish –

His dying wish.

 


 


 

An Acrostic on Midnight – Life XVII

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We hide each night

not in gestures, however timely

in stature

and living marks of strained torque –

deeds of no extent.

 

A new day

set upon nimble reaches in sure event,

glows red on waiting shores,

sighing onward

‘neath each awaiting response.

 

This hour answers those

warring emotions,

crashing and neurotic,

tipped over unconditionally, crying horrendously

to heroic endearments,

slighting pillars, and culling each sentinel.

 

It ticks softly,

this intimate moment evading

the other

siding midway over on the hearth

to hither ears

hidden above iridescent regality.

 

Addled, noted digressions

greet each tether,

together heading everywhere,

dreaming in multiplexed prickles, leaning ever south,

reverencing every addler, despite yourself.

 

All now declare

with open numinosity, declaring eighty reaches

without end,

cradled over us, lowered down,

crossed and redeeming evermore.

 

For our respite

there heralds a trophy,

only left dying

for a death-eating democracy

marked in damned notes, in great hellish thoughts.

 

This has a troubling,

fear-ridden intensity, garnished here this evening, next empty doors,

but underneath this,

another note…

hope – our understanding renewed.