Tag Archive | Messiah Church

Remember Me?

Eight months ago I stopped publishing my blog every week. Now I post an entry sporadically, averaging about one a month. The one thing I’ve been consistent about is always publishing on Tuesday morning. Today that tradition ends, too. It’s Friday. Specifically, it’s Good Friday, and there’s something on my mind that I want to share with you.

SKM_C22717041309390For the past several years, our church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, has published a daily devotional booklet to be used during Lent. In January, members of the congregation are invited to volunteer to write a one-page reflection on a Bible verse that will be assigned to them. Every year volunteer writers range in age from elementary school children to very senior citizens. The resulting booklet is a wonderful devotional aid for all of us to read throughout lent. Here’s a link to this year’s booklet on the church website: http://www.messiahchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-Lenten-Booklet-MASTER.pdf

I’ve volunteered to be one of the writers every year. But the verse assigned to me in 2014 just didn’t speak to me. I had no idea what to write about, and I discussed that concern with my partner Mim. The verse was:

Jesus crying with a loud voice said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

Mim said, “Oh, I can write about that.” And even though Mim hates to write, she did it. She started her reflection with, “Having been a nurse for 40-plus years, I have been with many people as they have breathed their last…” It was the perfect verse for Mim to write about.

This year my verse is also from the book of Luke, and again it’s the one scheduled for Good Friday.

One of the criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42

I decided to give my reflection double duty by posting it on this blog as well as having it appear in our church’s devotional booklet.

fullsizeoutput_204dWhy in the world did one of the criminals hanging on the cross next to Jesus ask Jesus to remember him? Why was it important to this criminal to be remembered by Jesus?  Why was the question important enough to Luke that he included it in his Gospel?

We all want to think that we matter as a person. At the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail (where I volunteer as pianist), we take time to pray for each other.  The inmates, the chaplain, and I sit in chairs arranged in a circle. Each person shares what’s going on in her life as we go around the circle sharing our thoughts and feelings. Then we pray for each other by name. The person on my left prays out loud for me. Then I pray for the person sitting on my right. Then she prays for the person on her right, and so on. Each person is remembered. Each person is important in God’s eyes. And each person needs to know that.

I think that’s why the criminal on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. He needed to know that he mattered, that Jesus would remember him. Jesus reassured him that he would. In the very next verse Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

One of my favorite prayers in our hymnal is “Jesus, Remember Me.” It’s a simple Taize chant that repeats the words of this verse over and over again. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.…”

Yesterday I played the piano for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail again. I don’t play there twice a month any more like I used to. I just play occasionally for special services. Yesterday was a special service to observe all of Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. That’s a lot to cover in a little more than an hour. But with all of that, we took time to sing four hymns. One of them was “Jesus, Remember Me.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that Luke had a very good reason for including the criminal’s request in his Gospel. That’s my request, too.

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I Planned and God Laughed

Marian at Messiah organ 5Thursday was just one of those days. I usually try to go to church to practice the organ for a couple hours about 9:00 every Thursday morning. Last Thursday I was running behind schedule because of being away at Christmas Mountain for a 3-day getaway earlier in the week, and I didn’t have any music picked out to play for the Saturday and Sunday services yet. I had tried to pick out the music Wednesday evening, but I was just too tired.

I always read the scriptures for the service and try to select a prelude, postlude, and any special music that relates to the theme of the service. Early Thursday morning I tried to think of appropriate music, but nothing came to mind. As I paged through several music books for ideas, I realized I’d be pretty late for my church practice time. I called Annette at church to let her know I was still coming, but would be there late morning or early afternoon. I got there about 11:30, carrying a dozen music books of possible preludes and postludes. The first book I opened up had the perfect prelude. The second book had just the right postlude. Amazing.

As I was practicing, my friend Peggy just happened to drop in the church. I hadn’t seen her in more than four months. What an unexpected, pleasant surprise! We made plans to go out to dinner that evening.

I went back to practicing, and then Clyde, the church director of music who just happens to work nearby, dropped in during his lunch hour. Great! I had some music questions for him about the hymns selected for Sunday. We had a good chance to go over them.

A few minutes later Pastor Jeff came into the sanctuary where I was practicing. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I reached for my phone to check my calendar to see if I would be available to play for a funeral in the next week or so.

As I finished up my practicing I thought about how good it was that I had practiced later than I had planned. God knew that a later practice time would enable me to meet up with all these people!

blueberry6ozAs I was sitting in my car, ready to leave the church parking lot, I called Mim, who was away for her 3-day getaway at Christmas Mountain. (We had split the week between us.) Our youngest resident (only 94) had asked me at breakfast if we could get some more fresh blueberries from Costco. They had been so big, sweet, and juicy, and she loved to have them on her cereal. Mim had been at Costco earlier in the week, and I wanted to ask her if she knew if they still had those special blueberries when she was there. If so, I would go to Costco on my way home. Mim said she thought they had some, but she suggested that I stop at Metro Market, right by church, instead. They have a big produce section and would probably have good blueberries, and they were much closer than Costco.

So that’s what I did. I left the church parking lot and drove to Metro Market. Unfortunately, they didn’t have nice big blueberries, but they did have honey crisp apples. So I bought a bag of them, checked out, and went to the car.

o-IPHONE-6-facebookI reached for my cellphone in my pocket, and it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I got out of the car, so I searched the ground near the car, but I didn’t find it. I searched the car. No luck. I re-traced my steps through the parking lot into the store and throughout the store. No luck. I went to the information desk in the store to see if anyone had turned in the phone. No one had. A check-out clerk suggested that I take her phone, call my phone to make it ring, and re-trace my steps throughout the store. It must have fallen out of my pocket somewhere. I did what she suggested. No luck. I asked her if I could take her phone out to my car to see if I could hear my phone ringing in the parking lot or in my car. She said sure. Again, no luck. I returned her phone, and left my name and home phone number at the information desk at Metro Market so they could call me if anyone turned in my phone.

Pretty frustrated, but appreciative of the helpfulness of everyone at Metro Market, I left the parking lot and drove to Costco for blueberries. They still had them – and they really are delicious! About an hour had passed, so I decided to stop at Metro Market again before heading home – just in case someone had turned in the phone. No luck.

I arrived home about 4:00. The plan was for me to pick up Peggy at 5:00 and we would drive to a restaurant in Fort for an early dinner. I decided to call the US Cellular store in Fort to ask them to de-activate the phone and download my info onto a new phone for me to pick up the next day. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), my call went to voicemail, and I did not leave a message. Apparently, everyone was with customers. I tried calling the Lake Mills store. Same result.

I decided to call Peggy and suggest changing our plans. I said, “Let’s go to Lake Mills instead and stop at the US Cellular store first, and then go out to dinner in Lake Mills.” She was game for the change in plans.

I picked her up and we drove to Lake Mills. A US Cellular representative greeted us as we walked through the door of the store. I explained my predicament, and he said, “Let’s try to find your phone first.” I gave him my cell phone number and my Apple password. He keyed that info into his computer, and a green dot showed up on a map on his computer screen. There was my phone. The green dot was just north of Cottage Grove Road and just west of the Interstate. That looked like the location of church. The phone must have fallen out of my pocket in the parking lot of the church just before I drove away.

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I had parked my car in the first handicapped parking space, in front of the smaller window.

Peggy and I abandoned our plan to have dinner in Lake Mills, and drove back to Madison, to church. I looked around the handicapped parking space where I had parked earlier in the day. No phone. The church was locked, but I had a key, so we went inside to see if someone had brought the phone inside. It wasn’t in the gathering space. I checked my mail slot in the office. Not there. Maybe it would be in my music slot by the organ. As I walked toward the organ, I spied it sitting on the piano. That’s where I had put it after Pastor Jeff and I had talked and I had entered the funeral into my calendar in my phone. I was so happy to have my phone in my hands again.

As we were ready to leave the church, I saw an elderly man trying to get into the church, but the doors were locked. I went to see what he wanted, and he asked if this is where the “whittling” was happening. I had heard people downstairs, so I asked him to wait with Peggy while I ran downstairs to see if that was the group. Sure enough, it was a wood carving group meeting. I went back upstairs, and showed him to the elevator so that he could go downstairs and join the “whittlers.”

I guess God needed someone to be near the main entrance of the church about that time to welcome this elderly stranger. I’m not quite sure why God chose Peggy and me to be the ones to welcome him, but I’m glad we were at the right place at the right time.

Prius VAs I was thinking back over the day, one of the most amazing things is that I did not consider at all the possibility that I might have left my phone in church. I knew I had my phone with me when I left the church because I sat in my car and called Mim to ask about blueberries before I left the church parking lot. My fancy new Toyota Prius V has the feature that my phone automatically connects with the car when I step into the car if my phone is with me. I make and receive phone calls through buttons on the dash and steering wheel. Apparently, there was a straight shot where I left my phone on the piano in church, through the church window, through my windshield, and to the phone interface of the car. And the signal between the phone and the car interface was strong enough to connect.

I’m sure God had a good laugh all day long about the intersections of my plans and God’s plans. When God finally let Peggy and me in on the joke, we laughed, too, as we dined on a great dinner at Angelo’s Italian restaurant on Monona Drive, not far from church.

My day certainly didn’t go according to my plans. God’s plans were much better – especially the way they ended!

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Angelo’s – a great place to end our day!

Amen, Papa, Amen.

My mom used to tell the story about one of her best childhood friends, Ruth Eckblad. Ruth’s father was pastor of the Willerup Methodist Church in Cambridge, Wisconsin for a few years in the early 1900s. One day when Ruth was a little girl, she got tired of sitting in church and being quiet for what seemed to be an awfully long time. Finally she stood up on the pew and said loudly enough for her father who was at the pulpit preaching (and the whole congregation) to hear, “Amen, Papa, Amen.”

1930s Willerup Preacher

Inside Willerup Methodist Church in the early 1900s.

Mom told that story often enough that “Amen, Papa, Amen” became a family expression that meant, “That’s enough for now. Let’s move on to something else.”

Well, it’s about that time of the year to say, “Amen, Papa, Amen” to 2015 and to welcome a new year.

Near to the Heart of GodLast Sunday’s hymn in the devotional book, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns was “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” composed by Peter C. Lutkin. As you read the words  below, I’m sure many of you who have been members of church choirs will hear this benediction being sung in your mind as a beautiful choir anthem, especially the 7-fold Amen at the end.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious, and be gracious;
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

The reflection for the day was on benedictions. The word benediction was defined as a “Latin-based term meaning a concluding prayer of blessing.” The author, Robert J. Morgan, cited several different benedictions given in the Bible. His favorite benediction is from Hebrews 13:20-21, “May the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will.” (NIV) His wife’s favorite is Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

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Pastor Jeff at Messiah

My favorite benediction is the one Pastor Jeff says at the end of every service at Messiah:

May God go before you to guide you;
Be behind you to encourage you;
Above you to watch over you:
And beneath you to support you.
But may you discover the presence of God within you,
And know that God will always be your friend.
Amen.

As I was drafting this blog post, Floey came up to me and asked, “What are you doing, Mom?”

“I’m writing my blog post, and it’s kind of a benediction as we move on from 2015 and into a new year.” I read to her what I’d written so far.

Floey sitting - profile cropped“I like that, Mom. It’s good to think about God blessing us as we move into a new year. I especially like Pastor Jeff’s benediction. I like being reminded that God is guiding me, encouraging me, watching over me, supporting me, being within me, and being my friend.”

“Yes. Isn’t it comforting to know that God is with us as we begin the new year,” I replied.

“It sure is, Mom. I was going to offer to help you write your blog this week, but you’re almost done. Can I blog with you next week? I want to blog about our special words for 2016. I’m so excited. I can hardly wait to tell you what my new word is. You’ll never guess it.”

“Great! We’ll work on it together next week. I’ve chosen my special word for 2016, too. We’ll check with Mim to find out her new word, and we’ll reveal them to everyone next week!”

Meanwhile, it’s time to move on to something else – just about time to begin our New Year! Amen, Papa, Amen!

Floey-Marian 12-29-15 cropped

 

 

 

Imagine you have just been arrested! Now what?

arrestedImagine you have just been arrested – for a crime that you may or may not have committed.

Your life has suddenly been put on hold – for who knows how long. You may have small children at home. Who will care for them? You may have a job. What will happen to that? Think of all the ways your life will be disrupted.

Imagine how helpful it would be to talk to a chaplain, someone who could help you think through and pray about the changes that are suddenly happening to you and your family.

In 1970, forty-four years ago, an organization called Madison Area Lutheran Council (MALC) was formed to address this need, along with several other needs. The idea was for Madison area Lutheran Churches to work together to provide a ministry to inmates of the Dane County Jail, as well as to work collaboratively to address other needs (like coordinating the collection of food and clothing for humanitarian relief organizations in Dane County and in other parts of the world). Over the years, other (non-Lutheran) churches have become involved in this ministry, as well.

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Chaplains John and Julia

Currently, MALC employs two chaplains who work in the Dane County Jail. The Rev. John Mix is chaplain to a daily average of about 800 men in jail, and the Rev. Julia Weaver is the part-time chaplain to a daily average of about 150 women in jail. This ministry is entirely supported by donations from churches and individuals. (You can check out their website for more information about the organization: http://www.madisonjailministry.org/)

As some of you may know, I’ve been involved with jail ministry for the last three years. As a volunteer, I play the piano for the women’s worship service twice a month in the chapel of the Dane County Jail in Madison. In this role I’ve been privileged to hear some of the stories inmates tell of how being in jail has changed their lives, and of how helpful the chaplains have been to them.

One woman talked about how being in jail, talking with the chaplain, and worshiping God with other women in the jail chapel had taught her humility. When she was first incarcerated she thought she was a better person than the other inmates. She was in jail for a mere white collar crime – income tax evasion. She would never hurt anyone or do drugs or commit any of the violent crimes other inmates had committed. But during her months in jail, she learned that God loves all of us despite the mistakes we make in life. And we all make mistakes, just different mistakes. The chaplain provided the opportunity and the atmosphere in the jail chapel for this time of sharing, learning, and spiritual growth to happen.

Another woman sat in jail for two years, accused of killing her little boy who was three years old. When she was arrested, her brand new baby was taken from her and put in foster care. She never saw her baby again. Eventually the trial and sentencing processes were completed and she was transferred to prison to serve time, a 13-year sentence. (She claims she never hurt her little boy. She says her boyfriend was too rough when he tried to discipline the boy, and she is terribly sorry she was not able to protect her little boy from him.)

During her two years in the Dane County Jail, she came to the women’s worship service whenever she could, usually twice a month. She was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever met. I’m sure the hours she spent in worship services and one-on-one with Chaplain Julia were a tremendous help to her in dealing with her grief.  (I wrote about Maria’s Story in this blog about a year ago.)

yellow pencilIn order for this kind of jail ministry to continue, someone needs to pay for it – salaries for the chaplains, and money for materials like Bibles, paper, and pencils. At every worship service, Chaplain Julia passes around a basket of paper and pencils. Each inmate is invited to write down her prayer requests so that Chaplain Julia can continue to pray for her throughout the week. Chaplain Julia tells the women they can keep their pencils if they need them. Everyone keeps a pencil. Inmates don’t have junk drawers filled with pens and pencils and other odds and ends like most of us have in our homes. A pencil is a valuable gift – a tool that inmates can use to write down their thoughts, or to write letters to loved ones.

JAZZ for the Jail is an annual fundraising concert to raise money to help support this jail ministry – from salaries to pencils. If you are in the Madison area this Sunday evening, I invite you to join us for a wonderful experience.

Chance Allies - 3 heads small

Chance Allies – David, Tisha, Lucas

Chance Allies, a jazz group, will be performing. The group includes a female vocalist (the Rev. Tisha Brown – a UCC pastor), a pianist (Dr. David Allen – a pediatric endocrinologist), and a bass player (Lucas Koehler – the professional musician of the group). Chance Allies was created to do fundraising concerts for churches and other non-profits in the Madison area. Their style of jazz is primarily the smooth jazz from the 1930s and onward – George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and so on – the kind of music I love to sit back and listen to. (You can preview their sound at www.TishaBrown.com)

Love Mosaic

Created by the Backyard Mosaic Women’s Project

In addition to the concert, there will be a silent auction for works of art (mosaics, quilts, and other works) created by inmates and by friends of the jail ministry. There will also be desserts and beverages.

The suggested donation for the Jazz for the Jail fundraising event is $25. The Concert starts at 7:30. Come as early as 6:45 to see the works of art on display for the silent auction. The fundraising event will take place at Messiah Lutheran Church, 5202 Cottage Grove Road in Madison.

If you want to learn more about the jail ministry…
If you want to see (and bid on) some beautiful works of art…
If you want to sit back and enjoy an absolutely delightful concert…
If you want to feast on rich desserts and lively conversation with some friendly people…
Then I invite you to join us for the JAZZ for the Jail fundraiser this Sunday evening at Messiah.

Please feel free to call me (608-212-6197) or email me (mariankorth@gmail.com) if you have any questions. Hope to see you Sunday!

 

My Grade on Giving up Hurry for Lent

2 geese 04-21-14On Easter Abbey spent about an hour out on our deck, watching two geese float back and forth on the pond. She said to me, “Mom, did you notice that two of our geese have finally come back home? Two years ago they were here at the beginning of Lent. This year they didn’t come back until Easter. Why were they so slow in returning?”

“I don’t know, Abbey. Maybe it’s because of how cold our winter was, and how long the cold weather stayed with us this year. I was beginning to wonder if they had decided not to come back at all.”

“I’m glad they’re back, even if they were in no hurry to get here. It’s fun to watch them glide on the water so gracefully.”

“Speaking of HURRY, Abbey, how well do you think I did at giving up HURRY for Lent?”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

Abbey-Marian“Remember, I said I was going to give up HURRY for Lent? You were the one who told me I was always in too much of a hurry to enjoy life. How do you think I did? Did I succeed in giving up HURRY for Lent? What kind of grade would you give me?”

“Well, you did stop saying ‘Hurry up, Abbey’ when we went out for our walks. That’s progress…  You let me take all the time I needed to sniff out the news about who’d been walking in my yard. I guess I could give you a grade of B. Sometimes you tugged on my leash a little, so you don’t quite deserve an A.”

“I really tried to stop living my life in a hurry. I think hurrying has become a habit for many of us. We schedule too many things to do, without really thinking about how much that will make us rush around rather than allowing ourselves to make the most of what we’re doing at the time.”

“Did you read that book you wanted to read during Lent?”

“Yes, I did. The book was An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling. There were some good thoughts in the book, but overall I was a little disappointed in it. The author focused pretty specifically on pastors, so quite a bit of the book wasn’t very relevant to me. What sticks in my mind most from the book is the story of The Good Samaritan. What if the Good Samaritan had been in too much of a hurry going about his own business to help the wounded man? That possibility was pretty easy to relate to. The discussion of that story reminded me of the Saturday morning prayer for Spring in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays:

… As this Earth spins around at thousands of miles an hour,
my mind spins with plans for this day.
At the same time as I use your gift of organizing,
grant me also the gift of openness to what you, my God,
may have in store for me on this new spring day.
May I be open to sacred surprises.
Grant me the readiness to set aside my plans when life proposes another agenda
or the needs of others invite me to unexpected service…

“You know, Abbey, the perfect ending to Lent this year came for me on Saturday night.”

“What happened Saturday night? I know you were gone for a long time.”

Messiah altar

“We had an Easter Vigil at church. This was a first for our church (MessiahChurch.com). Since we now regularly have a Saturday night service, as well as two services on Sunday morning, we had to figure out what kind of service to have for the Saturday night before Easter. We decided to do a somewhat abbreviated Easter Vigil. It didn’t last until midnight, like a traditional Easter Vigil would, but it was somewhat longer than a normal service.

“We gathered in the darkened community room of the church. In the middle of the room was a huge, beautiful centerpiece with dozens of candles of all sizes symbolizing a bonfire.  You would have loved it, Abbey. I saw one little girl, probably about three, timidly walk around some people to get a good look at the pillars of fire. As soon as she saw it, her eyes sparkled and she called back to her mom to come quick and see. She was beaming with excitement.”

“I wish you could bring me along to things like this, Mom. Tell me more about it.”

“After a couple short readings in the community room, the pastor lit the big Easter candle from the “bonfire” and then the fire was passed on to everyone gathered there, each person holding a small candle. The pastor led a procession into the church. When everyone was inside the church, the pastor chanted ‘The Exultet.’

“What did that sound like, Mom?”

“It was beautiful, Abbey. Hearing the chanting made me feel like I was a part of our long faith tradition, like I was joined together with ancestors going all the way back to the time of Christ, even back to the time of Abraham, way back to the time of creation.”

Abbey looking up colorized 2“Wow. If I had been there, I bet I would have been tempted to howl like my wolf ancestors!”

“I bet you would have, Abbey. To remind us of how God has been with us throughout history, there were several Old Testament readings. We sang a response after each reading. There was also a reading from Romans, which was followed by loud joyful singing to announce the reading of the Gospel. After all these readings there was a homily, an adult baptism and confirmation, and communion. The service ended with the congregation joyfully singing ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.’ It was really fun to pull out the loud stops on the organ to accompany the congregation as they sang this Easter hymn. The whole vigil was dramatic and wonderful. And you know what, Abbey? It wasn’t rushed at all. We didn’t hurry through any part of the service. It was wonderful to be fully engaged in each moment of the Easter Vigil.”

“It’s a good thing you practiced not hurrying all through Lent, so that you didn’t feel antsy during the vigil.”

“You may be right, Abbey. But, it really felt good to just be in the moment, to be worshiping God, and to be remembering our history and God’s love for us throughout all history, and even up to today.

“It was also good to end the evening with a party, enjoying time together with our friends in church. We had just been reminded of how much God cares for us. That’s something to celebrate!”

Marian-Abbey faces bronze“Hey, Mom. I’m re-thinking the grade I gave you for fasting from HURRY for Lent. I think we both learned three good reasons for not hurrying through life, to not let HURRY become a habit.

  • First, we need to not hurry for our own good, so that we have time to fully experience the hidden joys in each moment of everything we do.
  • Second, we need to not hurry so that we can take time to respond to the needs of others we happen to run into – like the Good Samaritan did.
  • And third, we need to not hurry so that we can recognize God being present with us – like you experienced during the Easter Vigil.

“I think maybe I’ll give you an A-minus, Mom, for your fast from HURRY. You still need to learn to never tug on my leash, even gently, just because you’re in a hurry. But together, we’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.”

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The geese on our pond already know it’s best not to hurry.

My Thoughts on Last Weekend’s Big Event

Not the Super Bowl – Church!

Humility SandLast week, as I was planning music for church, I read the lectionary readings for Sunday, as I usually do. I was happy to see that two of the three readings were among my favorites.

The Old Testament reading was Micah 6:1-8, which ends with the well-known verse:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

The Gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, a passage commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:3-12 NRSV)

Sheet Music 2 - Theyll Know We Are ChristiansAfter I read the Scriptures, I thought about what music might prompt people to reflect on living the kind of life God wants us to live. Two songs came to mind: Lord, I Want to Be a Christian, and They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love. Fortunately, I remembered a couple arrangements of those songs that would make a good prelude and postlude. All I had to do was find the music. I found both pieces within an hour, and was all set for the service – after a little practicing.

Last weekend I was scheduled to play for the Saturday evening service at Messiah. (We have three services – 5 pm Saturday, 8:15 am Sunday, and 10:30 am Sunday.) The service was so good, particularly Pastor Jeff’s sermon, that I went on the Internet to the church’s website Sunday morning to watch the 8:15 service as it was streamed live (messiahchurch.com/streaming/).

emptying ocean 9The most vivid image that’s still in my mind from Pastor Jeff’s sermon is a story he told about St. Augustine. The 4th century priest was walking along the shore of the ocean, deep in thought, pondering what God really is like. He saw a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was running back and forth to the water’s edge, pouring bucket after bucket of water from the ocean into the hole. Augustine asked him what he was doing. The little boy replied, “I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole.”

Augustine said, “But that’s impossible.”

The little boy responded, “No more impossible than your being able to understand the wonders of God.” Then the little boy disappeared.

The point Pastor Jeff was trying to make by retelling this legend is that we need to be humble. Humility is a virtue that underlies all the Bible readings of last weekend’s service. And it’s a virtue that is undervalued and quite scarce in our society. “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” is what the Old Testament prophet Micah said God wants us to do.

The gift I received from participating in worship last weekend was this image. I can picture myself trying to empty the ocean with a little plastic bucket, and I’ll be reminded – that’s how little I really understand the grand scheme of life on earth and how each of us fits in with God’s plan.

I guess there’s good reason I should be humble.

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