February 1, 2015 by Ken Dale
This past Monday I attended the annual convocation that historically has been offered by Bangor Seminary. The BTS Center continues the tradition. It?s a great time to see old friends and colleagues with ?old? taking on a different meaning than in days of yore. The program this year was more of a retreat and experiential than the traditional format of lectures. The program offered us opportunity to experience worship in a different way ? with different music and with wonderful artful pictures and videos on the wall before us. It was wonderful and done with technologies I have no experience with whatsoever. Eric Elnes was the main speaker and one of the things that has stuck with me is when he spoke of Christian Churches that are growing at incredible rates on the other side of the world.?? What struck me was what they are so excited about. They are hearing for the first time what we have had right in front of us for centuries. What they are so excited about and what is causing such growth in the Church there is in our scripture readings, in the hymns we sing, all the messages about God?s love in Christ for this world and its people. It is before us every time we gather for worship ? have we gotten to a place where we don?t see or hear it anymore? Do we take it for granted?
The Psalm we heard this morning is actually an alphabetic acrostic. Each line begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet ? sort of a comprehensive ABC or A ? Z celebration of God?s works and God?s character. I love the first line as the psalmist speaks of giving thanks to God with her whole heart in the presence of the congregation. That is to say it is deeply personal but it is also utterly public as it happens in the congregation. As we glance down through the Psalm we see that the psalmist give thanks for so much about God. Great are the works of the Lord, full of honor and majesty, gracious and merciful. The works of God?s hands are faithful and just, God?s precepts are trustworthy, performed with faithfulness, holy and awesome is God?s name. ?The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have good understanding. His praise endures forever.? Ho hum?? Have we lost sight of God ? or lost touch with God ? even in our worship? Do we still think God?s deeds are renowned? Where do we see signs of God?s works in our lives?
Beginning with the first Sunday in Lent I am planning a sermon series on spiritual practices which will be coming from Marjorie Thompson?s book Soul Feast. Earlier this past week I was reading her chapter on prayer and I can?t wait. She speaks of prayer as conversation. It was just awesome as she mentioned how and where we listen for the voice of God in our lives. One of those places that I think we could all easily relate to is nature. In nature ? yes even now with all that snow ? there are experiences of beauty that call us to stop and take notice ? are they not signs of the Divine we may fear to be no longer present. Right there in front of us ? yet we don?t make the Divine connections that are there for us. Outside my dining room window there is a dogwood tree ? and for the first 5 years or so I lived in my home it didn?t bloom in the spring. I guess I didn?t even know it bloomed ? until one spring it did. And ever since it blooms every spring. It?s the same tree – and last season?s blossoms most certainly do not diminish its power in subsequent blooming. Those gifts of nature are always pointing to the Divine ? to something beyond our human finitude. There is always something so much greater at work.
In her book, speaking of prayer, Marjorie Thompson states that the Creator speaks to us through creation. She writes, ?All aspects of the created order can teach us about human realities and struggles. Thus we tend to ?read? the characteristics and creatures and the rhythms of nature as symbols or metaphors illuminating our spiritual lives.? I think of the peace I experience looking out at a star filled sky on a clear night ? reminding me that I am such a small part of such a great thing – small but still important ? as we all are. As storms come and go, as seasons do the same, we are reminded that everything is moving forward and though the present time may be difficult or challenging in some way – it will pass and in some way we will grow from the experience of it. It is all in the hands of God ? or if you will, that Spirit of God is always present and at work and with us. But we need to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear those ways that God is with us and speaks to us.
I wonder what messages we miss in worship singing those ?same old hymns? and hearing ?those same old scriptures? because we?re not listening, we not looking, we?re not open to letting those words speak to us. Again, it really struck me when Eric Elnes mentioned those thriving and growing Christian Churches on the other side of the world. What they are excited about, he said, are the very basic things of faith that are before us and available to us today ? and they?ve been there for so many years.
As I wrote this sitting in my living room this past Friday, the snow was coming down ? yet another storm, just a couple days after the last one and just a couple days before the next one. The snow fell on that dogwood ? that was so beautiful when it bloomed. At present it is bear, and almost dead looking. But I know it will bloom again. Those blossoms will be as powerful as the first time I saw them.
So my prayer for us all is that we are open to God speaking through our worship, the words we speak, the words we hear, the words we sing. May we keep our hearts and our eyes and ears open for what God may be saying to us as we too celebrate a faith that is always personal but never private.???????????????????????????????????????????????