Earth Day service

Earth Day 2016

Earth Day was Friday, April 22, 2016. And so this past Sunday, we celebrated and honored this beautiful world that God has created in our worship. So this week, I’m posting our worship instead of my sermon. Come and worship with us!


Letting God In
During this time, we invite you to prepare your heart and your mind for worship. We want you to be able to use this quiet time to settle your thoughts, set aside any distractions that may be troubling you, and focus your whole self on God. Open your heart, your mind, and your spirit, and let God into your life.

Centering Prayer: Creating God, we are earth of your Earth.
As you breathe in, pray, “Creating God.”
As you breathe out, pray, “We are earth of your Earth.”


* Gathering Hymn #467 (PH) – How Great Thou Art (verses 1-2)

* Opening Praise
One: God’s creation, spinning silently through space:
Many: We celebrate your beauty and grace, your special place in the universe.
One: God’s creation, gleaming green and blue:
Many: We rejoice in your ocean currents as they dance and swirl with hope.
One: God’s creation, pulsing with life:
Many: We join in praise with all creation as they sing their songs to God.
One: God’s creation, our precious, fragile home:
ALL: We celebrate with all your children God’s presence in our planet home.

* Opening Hymn #31 (NCH) – All Things Bright and Beautiful

Before the service, I passed out fresh bay leaves to everyone. Very often, when we worship, we use our eyes and our ears, but we don’t get to use our other senses. I wanted people to be able to feel and smell something living and green and earthy as we worshiped.

* Joining in Prayer

                Still-creating God, we remember planet Earth with wonder. We remember our excitement when we first recognized the mystery of this living green blue planet, a fragile speck of stardust made into a magnificent home. We remember and rejoice. We thank you for the privilege of seeing Earth anew each and every day. Teach us to empathize with the Earth. Make us sensitive to the cries of creation – cries for justice from the land, the seas, and the skies. Living God, teach us to care. We confess that we have become alienated from the Earth. We view too much as disposable. We view your beautiful creation as a source of endless resources. We have polluted Earth’s waters, turned our greed into global warming, and helped cause arctic regions melt. In focusing so intently on progress, we have forgotten about the importance of preservation. Forgive us. Renew us. And help us to heal your world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

* God’s Promise of Grace: Friends, hear the Good News. In Christ – the living and risen Christ – we are forgiven. We are given grace upon grace, love upon love, and a peace that passes all understanding. Alleluia! Amen. Let us share the peace of Christ with each other.

Passing of the Peace

* Song of Peace: Let There Be Peace on Earth


Old Testament reading – Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Friends, how many times have we heard these words? Heard this account of how God created the heavens and the earth? Maybe this is the first time … or maybe we’ve heard them so many times we don’t even hear them anymore. This morning, I want to share a different version of this amazing story of creation with you. It’s a poem that was written by James Weldon Johnson, a man who wore many hats including diplomat, educator, lawyer, poet, and early civil rights activist. He lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he wrote this sermon-poem based on the creation stories in Genesis.

The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson

Hymn #469 (PH) – Morning Has Broken

Psalm reading – Psalm 104:1-13, 31-35

Today, we celebrate and honor the beauty of this earth. We find peace and comfort, joy and inspiration and awe in the world around us, especially a time of year like this when everything seems to be waking up, coming back to life. But as we experience all the wonder that this world has to offer, we also have to acknowledge what we have done to this beautiful Earth. The polar ice caps are melting. Acres of rainforest are being destroyed every minute. The sea level is rising, and the earth is growing warmer by the day. None of this is happening because of the way God created the world. It’s happening because of us. Because of what we are doing to this planet. Because of our abuse, neglect, and misuse. I want to share a story with you – a story about God, and about humanity, and about our true role on this earth.

Old Turtle by Douglas Wood

Hymn #32 (NCH) – God of the Sparrow

New Testament reading – John 1:1-14

This is a crazy world we live in. It’s a world of beauty and strength, a world of ups and downs, a world of joy and intricacy and complexity and challenge. And it is a world of faith. A lot of the time, when we talk about faith, we talk about the doctrine of it: God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the miracles and the teaching of Jesus and what they mean, the resurrection and the life everlasting. I think we often forget that creation is part of our faith. John tells us the Word was the light and all things came into being through the light. Creation is, indeed, at the heart of our faith, and a part of our faith must be nurturing and caring for and being faithful, responsible stewards of that creation. And so, let us affirm our faith together.

Affirmation of Faith (from Seasons of Creation)
Women:       We believe that God creates all things,
renews all things and celebrates all things.

Men:              We believe Earth is a sanctuary,
a sacred planet filled with God’s presence,
a home for us to share with our kin.

Women:       We believe that God became flesh and blood,
became a piece of Earth,
a human being called Jesus Christ,
who lived and breathed and spoke among us,
suffered and died on a cross,
for all human beings and for all creation.

Men:              We believe that the risen Jesus
is the Christ at the core of creation,
reconciling all things to God,
renewing all creation and filling the cosmos.

Women:       We believe the Spirit renews life in creation,
groans in empathy with a suffering creation,
and waits with us for the rebirth of creation.

ALL:               We believe that with Christ, we will rise,
and with Christ, we will celebrate a new creation.

Hymn #8 (NCH) – Praise to the Living God
(Couldn’t find an online version of this hymn)

Prayers of the People
Sharing our lives in prayer
Silent Prayer
Pastoral Prayer
Lord’s Prayer: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.



* Hymn of Response #777 (NCH)

* Prayer of Dedication


* Hymn – May There Always Be Sunshine (insert)
This is a folk song from Russia. I have a copy of it on a playlist that my 3-yr-old boys like to listen to. One of the really cool things about this song is that you can use whatever words you want for the verses, so I wrote an Earth Day version that we sang:

May there always be sunshine.
May there always be blue skies.
May there always be mama.
May there always be me.

May there always be rivers.
May there always be trees.
May there always be rainbows.
May there always be peace.

May there always be rainforests.
May there always be clouds.
May there always be flowers.
May there always be hope.

May there always be oceans.
May there always be rain.
May there always be prairies.
May there always be faith.

May there always be wetlands.
May there always be deserts.
May there always be creatures.
May there always be the world.

May there always be sunshine.
May there always be blue skies.
May there always be papa.
May there always be me.


Finally, in each bulletin was a 1/4 sheet of paper with a blessing printed on it. But this blessing wasn’t just printed on regular paper. It was printed on seed paper. I invited everyone in the congregation to rise in body or spirit and read the blessing with me so that we could send each other out with words of love and peace and life. And I also invited them to plant the blessing when they got home so that it could grow and be a continuous reminder of God’s beauty and blessing in their lives.

Earth Day blessing

* Charge & Benediction

* Sending Hymn – This Is God’s Sacred World (insert)


* indicates please rise in body or spirit as you are able



Sunday’s sermon: Rock the Boat

Rock the Boat

Texts used – Psalm 30 and John 21:1-14 (in sermon text)

  • It was all over now. It had been a crazy-amazing last few years full of miracles and lessons, healings and strange predictions, parables and sticking it to the Pharisees. They had been welcomed and rejected. They had been laughed at and cheered. They had criss-crossed the country side with him, stopping to rest and getting food when and where they could. But always teaching. And even as intense as those last few years had been, the last few weeks had been the craziest part of the whole thing. That perplexing and intimate Passover meal in the upper room. The betrayal. The arrest. The trial and torture. The death. And most inexplicably of all … the resurrection. Jesus had been dead for three whole days, and yet, when the women showed up at the tomb to perform the customary burial rites, all they found were an empty tomb and cast of grave clothes. Oh, yeah … and Jesus, alive and well again. Not just some specter made of vapor and imagination. Jesus. Real. Alive. Whole.
    • Showed up here and there a couple of times after the resurrection – had this knack of popping up in rooms whose doors were all locked
      • Brought words of peace
      • Brought encouragement in faith
  • But it was all over now. Jesus couldn’t just keep randomly popping up like that, could he? It was time for the disciples to rejoin “the real world” … which is where we find them in today’s Scripture reading.
    • READ John 21:1-14
    • Seven disciples involved: Simon Peter, Thomas (the Twin … the Doubter … take your pick), Nathanael, James and John (Zebedee’s sons), and two other, unnamed disciples
    • Text: Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.” They said, “We’ll go with you.”[1]
      • Seems normal
      • Seems plausible
      • Seems almost blasé
      • On the outside, it appears like a perfectly natural decision … but there’s a little more to this decision than meets the eye. → weight of this decision is found in placing this short story within the broader context of the gospel
        • Passage that we read last week: That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them.[2] – also mentions later on in the passage that the disciples were again gathered with the doors shut  speaks to a real fear that the disciples had
          • Fear of the authorities
          • Fear of the crowds
          • Fear that someone would recognize them as one of his disciples  recognition might snowball into those disciples meeting the same terrible fate that Jesus had endured only days before
    • And yet Peter and those other seven disciples had finally decided that it was time to step out. It was time to leave those dark, stuffy rooms with locked doors and shuttered windows. It was time to move on. So they decided to go fishing.
      • Attempt at returning to “life as usual” after their time with Jesus
      • Trying to go back to the way things were
        • Scholar: Many of these men had left their families, jobs, and hometowns to follow Jesus – who was dead and miraculously raised but, for all they knew, permanently gone. Jesus was the compass in their lives. Now they had no direction. … They took comfort in familiar routines. They went back to what they knew: fishing.[3]
          • REMEMBER: at least three of the disciples – Simon Peter, James, and John – were known fishermen before they chose to follow Jesus
  • But even this seemingly-normal endeavor doesn’t go as planned.
    • Having no luck fishing: They set out in a boat, but throughout the night, they caught nothing.[4]  Now, we can imagine what a difficult and frustrating night that must have been for the disciples. It was the first time they’d ventured out to do something since Jesus’ death. It was their first attempt at moving on – at continuing to live after their extraordinary teacher had been taken from them. But time after time, all night long, their nets came up empty. An entire long, dark night of nothing.
    • And then, the dawn. Surprise, surprise … the risen Christ appears in their midst and interrupts them again: Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.[5]
      • In the darkness, in the night, on their own = coming up empty
      • In the light, in the dawn, with Christ = overflowing abundance
      • Scholar: [This passage] awakens memories of the darkness – the darkness of our hunger, the darkness of our failure to recognize Christ, the darkness of our denial – but at the same time it reminds us that none of this darkness has overcome the light.[6]
    • Brings us to probably the greatest reaction in all of Scripture: Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water.[7]  Peter was the rash and impetuous disciples. He acted before he thought. He was bold and passionate, which got him into trouble plenty of times.
      • Climbed out of the boat when he saw Jesus walking on water – walked a short way before he began to doubt and sink[8]
      • Reprimanded Jesus when he began talking about having to suffer and die: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you!”  elicits Jesus’ harsh response: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”[9]
      • Cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane when they come to arrest Jesus[10]
      • And when John, the beloved disciple, points out that it is Jesus on the shore, Peter couldn’t wait. He couldn’t hold back. He forgot about all the reasons they had come out in the boat in the first place – to try to move on, to try to do something “normal” for a change, to try to make a living – and he jumped into the water and swam to shore as fast as he could.
        • Scholar: There is a time for decorum, and there is a time for the raw sort of desperation that is on display in Peter’s swim. … Peter was not thinking practically; he was hardly thinking at all. If given the chance, he would do it again a million times over.[11]
  • All of this makes for a crazy scene: disciples out in a boat all night catching nothing, Jesus calling to them to try something as simple as casting their net on the other side of the boat, the disciples hauling in a catch so massive they couldn’t even pull the nets up, Peter jumping into the water and swimming full speed ahead for the shore (can’t you just see him dog paddling as fast as he could toward Jesus?), and Jesus meeting them all there – in the midst of all the ordinariness and all the insanity – with breakfast on the beach. Because of all of this, I think this is the realest story in the gospels.
    • Disciples had tried to go back to something familiar, something normal after their experience with Jesus BUT Jesus meets them in the midst of that normal and shakes everything up again  So often, we have these incredible encounters with God in the world. Maybe it’s witnessing the jaw-dropping beauty of the world – a sunset, a glass-calm lake in the early morning, majestic mountains, a night sky so full of stars you feel like you can’t even see them all. Maybe it’s experiencing some incredible kindness – someone helping you out when you needed a hand or caring for you when you were ill. Or maybe it’s an experience in prayer – a conversation that you had with God that touched you so deeply, you can’t forget it. These are those places where God interrupts our lives and reminds us, “Hey, I’m here and I’m working and I’m doing great things. And you’re a part of that.”
      • Flashes of the sacred and the inspiring and the unexpected in the midst of the mundane and the normal and the expected à that’s what makes them so special
      • Ps we read this morning testifies to those times: I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up; … I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. … You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop.[12]
    • But like the disciples, we eventually slide back into our old patterns, our familiar routines. We believe that God is out there, but we begin to rely more and more upon ourselves to get through.
      • Also in the ps this morning: When I was comfortable, I said, “I will never stumble.” … But then you hid your presence. I was terrified. I cried out to you, Lord. I begged my Lord for mercy … Lord, listen and have mercy on me! Lord, be my helper![13]  speaks to just how much we need God’s presence in our lives even when we don’t think we do
        • Times when things are normal
        • Times when things are easy
        • Times when things are familiar
  • Like the disciples in the boat that morning, Christ comes to us. We are reminded that God is indeed near. And we will forever be changed. Even as they attempted to return to “life as usual” – fishing and making a living and moving on after their incredible experience – the disciples discovered that nothing would ever be the same again. Friends, Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to leave things as they are. Jesus comes to shake things up. Jesus comes to rock to boat. Jesus comes to fill our nets to overflowing. Whether we expect it or not – heck … whether we like it or not! – we cannot continue to do things as we have always done them because we have experienced the goodness of God: grace, forgiveness, love, hope. These are things for which the world is truly desperate. And we cannot simply sit idly by and keep them to ourselves.
    • Could react like Peter
      • Jump in with both feet
      • Throw our whole selves into that message
        • Live it
        • Breathe it
        • Share it
        • Let it electrify our hearts and minds
    • Could react like the other disciples
      • Pull in the incredible catch
      • Work hard to bring it to shore
      • Feel the awesome weight of that message in our hearts and our bones
    • That morning on the beach, Jesus appeared to all of them. He didn’t say, “Peter, you’re the best because you came to me immediately.” He didn’t say, “You other disciples are the best because you did the work of hauling in the net.” Both actions in this story are essential. The Church needs Peters – people to hit the ground running with enthusiasm and excitement, people who encourage and inspire and envision and lead. And the Church needs the other disciples – people who are methodical, people who are strong in spirit and dedicated to seeing the task all the way through. We’re all in this boat together, and Jesus is ready to rock it. So what are we going to do? Amen.

[1] Jn 21:3a.

[2] Jn 20:19.

[3] Louise Lawson Johnson. “John 21:1-8 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 336.

[4] Jn 21:3b.

[5] Jn 21:4-6.

[6] Thomas H. Troeger. “Third Sunday of Easter: John 21:1-19 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 425.

[7] Jn 21:7.

[8] Mt 14:22-33.

[9] Mt 16:21-23.

[10] Jn 18:10.

[11] S. Brian Erickson. “John 21:1-8 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: John, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 337.

[12] Ps 30:1, 2, 11-12.

[13] Ps 30:6, 7b-8, 10.

Sunday’s sermon: Seeing is Believing?

vision 2

Texts used – John 20:19-31 and Revelation 1:4-8

  • Let me tell you a story this morning.
    • Folk tale from India – “The Blind Men and the Elephant”[1]:Long ago six old men lived in a village in India. Each was born blind. The other villagers loved the old men and kept them away from harm. Since the blind men could not see the world for themselves, they had to imagine many of its wonders. They listened carefully to the stories told by travelers to learn what they could about life outside the village.

      The men were curious about many of the stories they heard, but they were most curious about elephants. They were told that elephants could trample forests, carry huge burdens, and frighten young and old with their loud trumpet calls. But they also knew that the Rajah’s daughter rode an elephant when she traveled in her father’s kingdom. Would the Rajah let his daughter get near such a dangerous creature?

      The old men argued day and night about elephants. “An elephant must be a powerful giant,” claimed the first blind man. He had heard stories about elephants being used to clear forests and build roads.

      “No, you must be wrong,” argued the second blind man. “An elephant must be graceful and gentle if a princess is to ride on its back.”

      “You’re wrong! I have heard that an elephant can pierce a man’s heart with its terrible horn,” said the third blind man.

      “Please,” said the fourth blind man. “You are all mistaken. An elephant is nothing more than a large sort of cow. You know how people exaggerate.”

      “I am sure that an elephant is something magical,” said the fifth blind man. “That would explain why the Rajah’s daughter can travel safely throughout the kingdom.”

      “I don’t believe elephants exist at all,” declared the sixth blind man. “I think we are the victims of a cruel joke.”

      Finally, the villagers grew tired of all the arguments, and they arranged for the curious men to visit the palace of the Rajah to learn the truth about elephants. A young boy from their village was selected to guide the blind men on their journey. The smallest man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. The second blind man put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, and so on until all six men were ready to walk safely behind the boy who would lead them to the Rajah’s magnificent palace.

      When the blind men reached the palace, they were greeted by an old friend from their village who worked as a gardener on the palace grounds. Their friend led them to the courtyard. There stood an elephant. The blind men stepped forward to touch the creature that was the subject of so many arguments.

      The first blind man reached out and touched the side of the huge animal. “An elephant is smooth and solid like a wall!” he declared. “It must be very powerful.”

      The second blind man put his hand on the elephant’s limber trunk. “An elephant is like a giant snake,” he announced.

      The third blind man felt the elephant’s pointed tusk. “I was right,” he decided. “This creature is as sharp and deadly as a spear.”

      The fourth blind man touched one of the elephant’s four legs. “What we have here,” he said, “is an extremely large cow.”

      The fifth blind man felt the elephant’s giant ear. “I believe an elephant is like a huge fan or maybe a magic carpet that can fly over mountains and treetops,” he said.

      The sixth blind man gave a tug on the elephant’s coarse tail. “Why, this is nothing more than a piece of old rope. Dangerous, indeed,” he scoffed.

      The gardener led his friends to the shade of a tree. “Sit here and rest for the long journey home,” he said. “I will bring you some water to drink.”

      While they waited, the six blind men talked about the elephant.

      “An elephant is like a wall,” said the first blind man. “Surely we can finally agree on that.”

      “A wall? An elephant is a giant snake!” answered the second blind man.

      “It’s a spear, I tell you,” insisted the third blind man.

      “I’m certain it’s a giant cow,” said the fourth blind man.

      “Magic carpet. There’s no doubt,” said the fifth blind man.

      “Don’t you see?” pleaded the sixth blind man. “Someone used a rope to trick us.”

      Their argument continued and their shouts grew louder and louder.

      “Wall!” “Snake!” “Spear!” “Cow!” “Carpet!” “Rope!”

      “Stop shouting!” called a very angry voice.

      It was the Rajah, awakened from his nap by the noisy argument.

      “How can each of you be so certain you are right?” asked the ruler.

      The six blind men considered the question. And then, knowing the Rajah to be a very wise man, they decided to say nothing at all.

      “The elephant is a very large animal,” said the Rajah kindly. “Each man touched only one part. Perhaps if you put the parts together, you will see the truth. Now, let me finish my nap in peace.”

      When their friend returned to the garden with the cool water, the six men rested quietly in the shade, thinking about the Rajah’s advice.

      “He is right,” said the first blind man. “To learn the truth, we must put all the parts together. Let’s discuss this on the journey home.”

      The first blind man put his hand on the shoulder of the young boy who would guide them home. The second blind man put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, and so on until all six men were ready to travel together.

    • Very often, we put so much stock in what we can see – what we can concretely sense, very often with our eyes but also what we can hear and touch and even smell. But no matter how keen we think our senses are, there are times when they don’t provide us with the whole picture. Like the men in this folk tale, we may be convinced that our experience has given us the right answer, but we may be lacking in some key element of understanding.
      • Scripture readings this morning = idea of seeing vs. idea of vision
        • Seeing = sensory input + all the filters we have to go with it
          • Personal experience
          • Biases
          • Cultural context (family, societal, educational, economical, etc.)
        • Vision = larger picture
          • Requires understanding
          • Requires insights/input of others
          • Requires openness/willingness to expand our ideas and preconceived notions
  • Gospel story about Thomas = story of proof vs. belief, story of seeing vs. vision
    • Always called story of “Doubting Thomas” because by demanding his own proof of the risen Christ, Thomas gives voice to his own doubts: Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand in his side, I won’t believe.”[2]
      • Exactly this demand that earns Thomas such a bad rap → labeled no longer “Thomas the Twin” (meaning of ‘Didymus’) but Doubting Thomas
      • But I feel the need to point out here that Thomas wasn’t the only one who didn’t see/believe in the risen Christ right away.
        • Luke’s account of the empty tomb[3] → At first, Peter didn’t see or believe.
        • John’s account of the empty tomb[4] → At first, Mary didn’t see or believe.
        • 1st resurrection appearance in Luke = two disciples on Road to Emmaus have an entire day-long conversation with risen Christ and sit down to a meal with him before recognizing Jesus[5] → At first, they didn’t see or believe.
        • Even other disciples in today’s text: Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy.[6]
        • So Thomas’ request for visual confirmation wasn’t actually all that out of the ordinary. Thomas was just looking for that sensory input, that concrete evidence. Thomas wanted to see.
    • But Jesus’ expectation wasn’t about simply seeing. Jesus wanted his disciples to go further. He wanted them to see past all of their preconceived expectations, all of their presumptions, all of their biases, and all of their limitations to the amazing things that God could do. Jesus wanted his disciples to have vision.
      • Definition of vision: a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation; the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be
      • Samuel S. Wise, rabbi from Hungary who emigrated to America in late 1800s: “Vision looks inward and becomes duty. Vision looks outward and becomes aspiration. Vision looks upward and becomes faith.” → Turn that imaginative anticipation inward, and we uncover our expectations for ourselves: duty. How can we make ourselves better? Turn that imaginative anticipation outward, and we uncover our expectations for the world around us: aspirations. How can we make the world around us better? But turn that imaginative aspiration upward, and we begin to catch a glimpse of God’s expectations. And to follow – to dive in and explore those expectations and what they mean for us and the world around us – requires faith. – as we said with vision:
        • Requires understanding
        • Requires insights/input of others
        • Requires openness/willingness to expand our ideas and preconceived notions
  • Vision = critical element in the life of the church
    • It takes imaginative anticipation to worship!
      • Read these ancient, ancient words and continue to find meaning and inspiration and an important message in them → have to see beyond just the black and white words on the page
      • Prayer → Taking all of those complex and complicated pieces of our lives – our joys and our concerns for ourselves, for the people we know and love, and for the world – and placing them in God’s hands requires vision.
        • Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.”[7]
      • Even our concept of God requires vision! → we say that …
        • We have only one God … yet we speak of the three persons of God: Father (God)/Son/Holy Spirit
        • Our God came to earth, lived among us, died, and rose again after three days
        • We celebrate and participate in the love of God by eating bread (which we call “body”) and drinking wine/juice (which we call “blood”)
        • We speak again and again about this thing called “grace” – about God (who we cannot see or hear or touch or prove) forgiving our sins because of grace
        • And the list could go on and on. There are elements of our faith that are strange, that are mysterious. There are elements of our concept of God that are difficult to understand and oftentimes even more difficult to explain … and yet we believe. We come together to worship this incredible, baffling God. It takes going beyond what we can concretely sense with our eyes and our ears and our hands to believe. It takes vision.
          • Passage from Rev = example of just how earth-shaking, just how disrupting, just how presumption-shattering, just how revealing vision can be
            • Entire book of revelation = genre of apocalyptic literature – characterized by …
              • Symbolic language
              • Vivid imagery
              • Thick with metaphor
              • Just the kind of vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation that faith requires!
            • Text: Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before God’s throne … “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty.”[8] → Just this description requires vision. It requires imaginative anticipation to even begin to wrap your mind around a God who was and is and is to come.
  • Key element of vision = it challenges (concepts, beliefs, prejudices, fears) → And the challenge of vision is where the rubber meets the road, friends. Because our faith also require vision to be enacted not just within these walls but outside these walls. How do we take that challenge and the inspiration that comes from being challenged and let it open our eyes – and, more importantly, our hearts – to the world around us?
    • Open ourselves up to the “thin places”
      • Phrase coined by George McLeod, founder of Iona Community, ecumenical Christian community located in the Scottish isles whose purpose is to work for peace and social justice, to rebuild community, and to renew worship[9]
      • “thin place”: those places that God seems to haunt, where the veil seems more fragile than usual, places to which people have always been drawn to pray, listen, watch, or just to be. A “thin place” is a place to which you feel drawn back, a place in which you feel enriched, enlarged or accompanied.[10] → It takes vision – it takes imaginative anticipation – to be able to find those places in our lives and in our world.
        • Places of renewal
        • Places of contemplation
        • Places of being touched by God
      • But it also takes vision to see those places of greatest need in the world – the places where God says, “I have brought you here for this purpose. Help. Feed. Clothe. House. Comfort. Encourage. Be my hands, my feet, and my love. Whenever you do it for the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do it for me.”
        • Sometimes these places are more obvious – see when someone doesn’t have a home or doesn’t have a decent coat/gloves/shoes in the winter, see when someone comes to women’s shelter/Dorothy Day House/food shelf for help → But even these encounters require vision to see beyond the need to the person behind it.
        • Sometimes places of need are invisible
          • Blog post from Young Clergy Women’s Project – Austin Crenshaw Shelley (Assoc. Pastor for Christian Ed at Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia): Debilitating hurt emerges in many forms. Job loss hurts. Depression hurts. Grief hurts. Severed relationships hurt. Loss of ability hurts. Loneliness hurts – and this list represents just a slim cross-section of the hurts we might otherwise ignore because they are seldom on display.[11] → Those “invisible hurts” are just as much a part of who we are – as individuals, as a society, and as the church. They are just as much a part of how we function and just as much a part of our interactions with the world as the language that we speak, the way that we dress, the hand gestures we use – all of those things that we can see with our eyes. But it takes vision – it takes an openness and a willingness to be led and challenged by God. It takes that imaginative anticipating to not only see those places of need in the world but to have the courage to step up and help. Because it’s guaranteed to change the world around you … but it’s also guaranteed to change you.
            • Helen Keller quote: “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.” → It is a terrible thing to believe … and have no vision. It is a terrible thing to have faith … and have no vision. It is a terrible thing to be the church … and have no vision. Amen.

[1] “The Blind Men and the Elephant” from The Peace Corps website. Accessed Apr. 4, 2016.

[2] Jn 20:24-25.

[3] Lk 24:9-12.

[4] Jn 20:14-16.

[5] Lk 24:30-31a.

[6] Jn 20:19b-20 (emphasis added).

[7] Jn 20:29b.

[8] Rev 1:4, 8.

[9] from “Our Working Principles” on the Iona Community website: Accessed Apr. 10, 2016.

[10] Tim Marks. “Being in a Thin Place” on The Leadership Institute: Advancing Christian Leadership website. Accessed Apr. 10, 2016.

[11] Austin Crenshaw Shelley. “When the Hurts Don’t Show” from Fidelia’s Sisters online magazine, publication of The Young Clergy Women’s Project. Written Mar. 24, 2016, accessed Apr. 4, 2016.