The sermon this Sunday (Christmas Day) makes use of the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Okay, maybe that’s not much of a spoiler, but I thought I should let you know up front.
Actually, that fact made me start considering how sometimes secular songs have a decidedly spiritual message. I started thinking about the time when I first acknowledged God’s call on my life.
It was long ago and really not so far away. I was in a youth group in Webster Groves, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. Every year, our large UCC fellowship group (80-120 students on any given Sunday evening) would plan a spring break mission trip. Usually there were two groups – one went to a rural area and another to an urban area. In each location, we would stay in a church, take turns cooking for the group, and work on a variety of projects with various social service agencies. We would leave on the Friday before Palm Sunday, and return to camp Mo-Val on Easter weekend for processing the experiences and reconnecting the group that had been separated by the two trips. We would finish with Easter worship at which our parents would show up to reclaim us, worship with us, and take us home.
During my senior year in high school, I had chosen to participate in the urban work-camp that was to take place in Kansas City, MO (hence the “really not so far away.”) We stayed at Colonial UCC in Prairie Village, KS where one of our former youth advisors was one of the pastors. Much of our work took place at the (now defunct) Wayne Minor housing project.
One evening, as I was talking to a friend, discussing our mutual ennui at feeling there was something we were supposed to be paying attention to , but not quite grasping what it was, he broached the subject that he thought maybe he was being called to ministry. The thought hit me like a lightning bolt. He had named it! As I toyed with the idea in my brain, it felt right. It felt like truth. I began to mull it over with great intent, sharing my thoughts with only that particular friend. And then, on the way back to St. Louis, someone stuck a Chicago cassette into the van tape player, and I heard this song: I’ve Been Searching So Long (Click the link or the video above to hear the song.)
It’s hard to describe the feeling that washed over me. It felt like truth. It felt like PEACE. It felt like being filled with the Holy Spirit.
And like the song says, “Good things in life take a long time.” It took me another twenty-five years or so to formally respond to that call. And as I listened to the song again this morning, tears welled up as I was once again reminded: “Now I know my life has meaning.”
Over the last couple of weeks, I have watched out my office window as a crew works to remove a stately oak from the yard of a house across the street from the church. At first I hopefully thought they were only trimming it, but as the work has progressed, I now realize that it is truly going to be completely removed.
And this makes me sad.
I love trees. I probably would have made a pretty good Druid if it hadn’t been for my Christian upbringing. As I’ve watched this beautiful oak being brutalized with chainsaws, I recall that in fifth or sixth grade I wrote a poem about an oak (among others) that was bulldozed down behind my elementary school in preparation for the construction of Interstate 44 in the St. Louis suburbs. The poem has long since vanished, but it bothered me then, and it still bothers me today, nearly 45 years later.
Sure, I can understand why someone might want a tree taken down..we’ve done it ourselves. There’s the dropping of sticks, acorns, and leaves. They clog gutters, can damage the roof, require raking in the fall and spring. The acorns often sprout up in the spring and all these tiny trees have to be mowed. And let us not forget the scourge of oak mites we experienced this past fall!
But I can’t help but consider the loss.
That tree provided a home and food for wildlife, especially squirrels. I know some think of squirrels as rats with furry tails, but I sure do enjoy watching them, and God created them for a purpose.
And I’m certain that a wonderful tree like that located on the south side of the house provided significant shade resulting in a reduction of air conditioning costs. I wonder if they considered this when they decided to have it cut down.
I guess I will choose to be generous with my understanding.
…Perhaps the homeowners plan to install solar panels on the roof, and it was necessary to remove the tree to provide solar access and to increase efficiency.
…Perhaps the homeowners felt overwhelmed by the home maintenance required by the presence of the tree. Perhaps the wood will help someone heat their home during the brutal cold.
…Perhaps, had it not been for this project, the tree-trimmers would have been out of work leading up to the holidays.
So I watch and I pray. I pray for the safety of the man up in the tree cutting the branches. I pray for the safety of those on the ground, cutting up the felled wood. I pray for the homeowners, new residents of this country who face rejection and discrimination daily in their own neighborhood. I pray for people in vehicles passing by. And I pray for forgiveness and understanding, so as not to judge, especially when I don’t know the whole story.
Psalm 65 (NRSV)
To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.
Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
May the year be crowned with God’s bounty, and may all shout and sing together with joy!
I want to bring to your attention an opportunity for our congregation to participate in life-changing work through our support this Advent season in the work of Cross-Lines Community Outreach. Many of you are already familiar with Cross-lines, but some may not be. The stated mission of Cross-Lines is to “provide people affected by poverty with basic services and opportunities that encourage self-confidence and self-sufficiency.”
Cross-Lines was built on a simple idea–that poverty borne problems could be answered best by looking to the community for solutions and working together to tackle them. In 1963 a group of ministers and concerned citizens joined together to improve the plight of the poor. Under their leadership they created a legacy of programs that have positively impacted the lives of thousands of needy people. We are part of that community they look to. Last year Wyandotte Church raised $4800 for ministry in another part of the world. I wonder if this year we could match or exceed that figure for work within our own community? I hope you will join me in contributing toward their good work in the weeks leading up to Christmas and on Christmas day.
Take a look at their video below:
I’ve been dwelling in a dark place recently. Nothing too serious, just a number of frustrations piling up, but as they build higher, the weight of it all can feel a little overwhelming. But there are a lot of people worse off than I am.
I have a home and a loving family.
I have a job that brings me joy.
I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from.
And it looks like I’ve about got the website up and running. A special thanks to my friend Amy who helped me figure out which end is up in WordPress!
There truly is so much to be thankful for. As we head into the season of Thanksgiving, I encourage you to set aside a little time each day to consider all that you have for which you can be thankful…and then remember to give thanks to the One who has made it all possible.
In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful,
in the Lord I will rejoice!
Look to God, do not be afraid;
lift up your voices: the Lord is near,
lift up your voices: the Lord is near.
The Wyandotte Church website is temporarily under construction until such time as I can get all the pieces pulled together.
Our site host recently migrated their servers, and with that change, also eliminated the software that I had previously learned with which I built the site and would regularly update it. I was lost without it, so now I will be rebuilding the site over the next couple of weeks. (I hope that’s all it takes!) My goal is to be back up and running by Advent. Pray for me.
In the meantime, here is the newsletter: November 2016 Newsletter for this month. The calendar is below: