Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The One Who Spins the Planets

An Inkling
We hear a lot these days about the polarization that has hobbled the political process in Washington.  Sad to say, the same is true of the larger Church of which St. Giles is a part:  the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I’m heading to Minneapolis in a couple of days to participate in its biennial General Assembly, our highest governing body, and I expect to see that polarization play out in spades.
The Presbyterian Church has always been diverse, and that’s a good thing – God’s gift.  But, to borrow an astronomical picture, the diversity the scripture describes as God’s gift to the Church presumes a center with the gravitas to hold that diversity together, like the sun’s gravity holds its diverse planets in orbit.  And our larger Church is losing its center.
A generation ago, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) had a more unified understanding of Jesus Christ, scriptural authority, and what our mission is, we had a “center” with the gravitas to hold us together.  But now, with the center itself debated, the “planets” of our diversity are wobbling in their orbits, and it looks to me like they will indeed fly apart at some point.
It’s a bit hard to see a “solar system” clearly when you’re in an orbit yourself, so I offer my take on the state of our orbits with that caveat.  But there is One who does see clearly, and as surely as his hand set the stars in their courses, so he is guiding the course of the Presbyterian Church – both through us and in spite of us!  The polarization in our Church will be easy to see this week.  One of my prayers is that we’ll also glimpse the Lord’s guiding hand.  May he make himself and his will plain!
If you want to keep up with the news details of the Assembly, you might check out these sites:
I’ll leave the news reporting to them.  But I will write a few blogs with an eye out for the hand of God at work in our midst!  Thanks be to God…
It’s all his,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thoughts on a Long Day

An Inkling
When I was in sixth grade I did a social studies project on Stonehenge.  I researched Stonehenge’s history and construction, and wrote a report.  I painted a 3x3 piece of plywood green, and made little gray clay blocks, which I mounted on the board in a scaled down Stonehenge pattern.  As an eleven year old, I was fascinated that these ancients could figure the sun’s course and move gigantic stones (sans bulldozers!) scores of miles in order to celebrate, worship, calculate, ______  – you fill in the blank – we’re still not sure exactly what they were doing.  I was amazed to read that in the forty plus years since my report, not many of the Stonehenge knowledge gaps have been filled in.
A couple of days ago I was reminded of my youthful Stonehenge enthrallment with news of celebrants gathering at Stonehenge for the summer solstice – pagans, new-agers, and lots of curious people.  Happily for them they got a good clear sunrise, and sure enough, it rose right over the “Heel Stone,” the one the ancients set in place to mark the sun’s most northward course.  Cheers, horn blasts, and dancing greeted the sun.  Many expressed delight in reconnecting with their ancient Briton roots.  Stonehenge continues to fascinate.
And I’m fascinated at yet one more picture of how the human spirit yearns to find meaning.  G.K. Chesterton gave that yearning a wry description a century ago:  When a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes in anything.  Rather than tut-tutting that people would believe anything, let’s major in clarifying why we believe God created the heavens and the earth.  Then we can let the contrast speak for itself:  a celebration of stones erected to recognize the course of the sun, or a celebration of the One who set the sun in its course.  Many of those whose yearning has led them to believe anything will recognize how lame anything is compared to the one living God.
It’s one facet of living and telling the good news.  We major in how that one God has redeemed us in Jesus Christ.  But let’s not leave out how the One who redeemed also created this amazing world.  May he be praised – especially at summer solstice!
All day long,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Herding Cats

An Inkling
For many it’s the favorite biblical image for our relationship with God: “the Lord is my shepherd.”  So reads Psalm 23, depicting in just a few lines some truly prized aspects of our relationship with God.  Jesus picked up the same image, and described himself as the good shepherd. 
In both Old and New Testament versions, if the Lord is the shepherd, then we are the sheep.  As you know, that’s not exactly high praise!  While sheep provide the essentials for cozy sweaters, they aren’t especially well known for their cerebral capacities.  But one thing you can say for sheep:  they do follow a good shepherd.
Not so cats.  Ever heard of something being “harder than herding cats?”  It’s not a biblical image, but it’s definitely picturesque.  Imagine a shepherd with a bunch of cats – trying to get them to lie down in green pastures or to lead them beside still waters.  Cats are so independent and contrary that they can hardly be led, much less herded.  The master must win the cat’s confidence in order to lure the fickle feline toward the desired end.
Would that we were as responsive to the Good Shepherd as are sheep!  But in fact we’re more like cats, constantly shooting off toward our latest headstrong whim.  Thus our Lord has a challenge.  He can use raw power to accomplish his purpose in our lives.  He has plenty of such power to use.  Yet his goal is not to beat us, but to win us.  And given our contrary nature, winning us is no small thing.
May it be that the Master’s love would so captivate our hearts that we would readily lay aside our cat-like obstinacy and follow his lead.  For he really does lead us to green pastures and still waters.  And we would do well to become more “sheepish!”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Church Houses

An Inkling
Last week Sarah and I spent the week in New York City to celebrate our 35th Anniversary.  Go ahead and say it loudly: “she must be a saint!”  Indeed, she is.
The sights of New York are many, and particularly so for me, since this was all new to me.  I’ll not bore you with a travelogue, but I do have some reflections on the church houses we saw.
One of the most interesting was not a church house per se, but a Hunter College lecture hall, which serves as one of three sites for a very vital church, Redeemer Presbyterian.  The hall seats well over a thousand, and it was nearly full for a 6:00 p.m. service on Sunday.  Tim Keller, the Pastor, has a national following as a preacher and author, so many of those present were visitors, like we were.  This “church house” didn’t look like a church house – just a band on a stage, and a music stand for the preacher’s notes.  Yet the worship that evening was truly alive with the Lord’s presence – and it was filled mostly with young adults.  Wow!
We also saw St. Paul’s Chapel, across the street from the World Trade Center.  We didn’t see an actual worship service there, but were touched by the pictures of what happened there in the days after 9-11.  It survived the attack, and soon became the go-to place for relief workers needing solace and prayer.  Memorials, pictures, and banners recalled what God had done as people brought their sorrow and were met with his peace.  Thousands of lives were changed by those spontaneous services in the fall of 2001.
We also visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  The Catholics surely know how to build beautiful church houses!  The sanctuary had about 200 people or so at mid-day, a mix of people touring and praying.  I was most taken, however, by the sight that faced us as we headed out the door.  Directly across the street was the Rockefeller Center statue of Atlas holding up the heavens.  So from the doorway, one could look in one direction and see the titan of mythical strength, bearing the heavens, and look in the other direction toward the chancel and see the One who had made those heavens, on the cross, bearing the sins of the world.  The muscle bound Atlas definitely suffered by contrast.
Of course God is not confined to any church house.  But those places which house his worshiping people often point to facets of his goodness and glory in fresh ways – one of his many gifts.