Responsive Call to Worship
What is it around which I revolve—
to which I give my time—my energy—
my commitment—my hope?
Is it what’s most important to me,
or what most stresses me out?
Is it what others expect of me,
or what I choose?
What I live toward,
or live into?
What would it be like
to revolve around God—
both what I know of God
and what I don’t—
around assurance and mystery?
Might it be healing?
Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Psalm 19:1-6, 14
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Pray, first in the silence;
the questions we ask, do reveal who we are—
as do the answers we settle for.
So we pray at the outset of a new year—
we pray we will keep asking—
about what love means truly—
about what there is to fear truly—
about who our neighbor is—
about what’s important—
and what’s not—
about what makes life rich and wonderful and joyous—
about how to live so circumstances do not define us,
but so our values and priorities define our circumstances.
We pray we’ll keep asking
about what we do not know—
thus consistently acknowledging there’s much we do not know—
that there’s much for us to learn.
We pray we will keep asking
how we can make tomorrow more resonant
with the best of who we are
and less and less with the worst of who we are,
and God we pray
that as long as the world doesn’t look like You,
we will keep asking why—
and not settle for answers that don’t create change,
but keep looking for other answers—
in the hope and expectation of being found,
in the search for You,
we will search on—
in the name of Jesus,
Witness of the Living Word, ii.
Happy new year, y’all!
Day three of the year 2016.
Hope your celebrations
of another revolution around the sun were spectacular!
And that this new revolution—this next revolution—
brings you much joy and wonder.
As we begin the new calendar year in worship,
we continue with the way we’ve been doing it
in our lectionary sabbatical—
looking and listening for the stories
in which our culture invests
with an eye and an ear
to what more our faith story offers.
And right now we’re coming out of new year’s celebrations—
out of a focus on beginnings—
or as new years is for most of us—
on beginning again.
It’s one of the things we do—
celebrate revolutions around the sun—
years—in a variety of ways—new years, obviously.
And it’s interesting, while there is some rationale
for January 1 representing the beginning of a new year:
the gradual lengthening of days after the winter solstice,
the fact that in our yearly orbit of the sun,
January is the month that always brings us closest to the sun,
yet in different cultures, the new year has been
(and still is) celebrated at different times:
in conjunction with the vernal equinox in March,
with the autumnal equinox in September,
with the winter solstice in December.
And the fact that we celebrate January 1
has as much to do with that ancient two-faced, Roman god Janus
than anything else!
The god of all beginnings,
whose name comes from the latin word ianua meaning “door”—
the god of doorways and thresholds,
imaged as a two-faced god
always looking both backwards and forwards.
The month January, wasn’t actually added
to the calendar until 700 BCE.
Before that, according to the ancient Roman lunar calendar,
the year was only ten months long
and included an unnamed winter season
following December and preceding March.
So January is one of the youngest months.
But, though added to the calendar in 700 BCE,
January didn’t become the first month of the year
until around 450 BCE,
up until which point, March was still considered
the first month of the new year—
as it had been following that unnamed winter season
before the creation of January and February.
In fact, in Britain and throughout the British Empire
(including the “colonies”),
March 25—March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation,
was celebrated as the first day of each new year
until the Gregorian calendar was officially accepted in—
are you ready? 1752!
So given this somewhat arbitrary distinction
of January 1 as the first day of the new year,
you’ve thought this before, right?—
every day marks the beginning of a new year—
one full revolution since that day last year!
And January 1 is in some ways representative of all days.
Every day is a new beginning.
But there are other other specific days we celebrate annually—
And so in a wonderful way, our years, our days—
our relationships—our celebrations—revolve around the sun.
They revolve around the light.
Something important about that affirmation.
Something that orients us away from just ourselves.
It’s good theology.
Good astronomy teaches us though—
It’s actually an interesting development to ponder.
The assertion that everything does not revolve around us.
It actually goes back to some of the ancient Greek thinkers—
as early as 330 years before the common era,
who posited a heliocentric view—
the sun at the center.
but their thinking was dismissed—
largely because it doesn’t look right—
doesn’t feel right.
We still get into trouble today
relying too much on what looks and what feels right.
And I don’t mean to minimize the importance
of how things look and feel.
That’s important in so many ways—
integral to our world-view and our language
as we have always spoken (and still do)
of the sun rising and setting—
of the sun moving through the sky.
It’s just not always the most reliable of assessments!
Later—a lot later, Nicolaus Copernicus (1475-1543)
would again advocate this heliocentric view—
facing resistance in his time
not just from how things felt and looked—
from the dominant world-view—from language,
but also from his church
and its theology and understanding of Scripture.
The church leaned (still does)
into Scripture’s depiction of God as creator—
and of that creation as described in Scripture,
but less Genesis as Chronicles:
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved
(1 Chronicles 16:30).
as the psalms:
God has established the world; it shall never be moved
(Psalm 93:1; 96:10).
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken (Psalm 104:5).
But as much as you question science—
and reject it—
and mock the scientists—
seek to exclude and control their work—
deny their funding (this actually happened in ancient times!),
those pesky facts become increasingly hard to deny,
and with the work and thought of Galileo Galilei,
and Johannes Kepler, and Isaac Newton,
and developments in math and physics and astronomy,
they all continued to support the heliocentric view.
I really do so often wish the church
would get out of the fact business and back to the truth business—
acknowledging that so much has been invested
in protecting truth by denying facts
that it’s hard to fathom why anyone outside the church
would believe we have anything true left to say.
And here’s the thing.
People laud Copernicus and Galileo—
Kepler and Newton,
and mock the church—
the theology threatened by science,
but to posit the sun as the center of the universe
is as wrong as to posit the earth as such.
In the bigger picture, beyond our solar system—
from the universal perspective,
Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton
were as wrong as the church was!
What’s some 93 million miles (the distance from the earth to the sun)
in the scale of the universe?
And progress continued in math and physics and astronomy.
The invention and development of the telescope
helped locate our solar system along with other solar systems
in our galaxy—and then other galaxies in the universe.
The first recorded use of the term “solar system” though,
wasn’t actually until 1704.
So we revolve around the light we know—
that is the center of our perspective—
that is but one solar system in our galaxy
in the midst of more than we can see
or know or even suspect.
Good astronomy teaches us
that not everything revolves around the sun—
that our light is not the center of the universe.
That’s good theology too!
Not dismissing the light we know,
but not making an idol of it either.
While it remains so very important
to identify that around which we revolve,
how important too, that we always confess our limitations
of knowledge and of knowability.
This Wednesday, January 6, we—we in the church—
It’s been a revolution of the sun since we last celebrated it!
Most people outside the church
probably don’t know what Epiphany is—
Most probably think it’s an idea—an insight—
maybe a new idea—a new insight.
But today we placed the magi in the creche.
They arrived a little ahead of schedule
(they didn’t have to go through Atlanta!).
We sang “We Three Kings”
mindful of the star in the sky—
the heavens are telling.
Mindful of the story of the three gifts for the new-born king—
of the manipulative fear of Herod
harnessed into terror in Bethlehem.
Lots of important dimensions to that story,
but today—in our culture and for our times,
it’s particularly significant to consider also
that this is a story, perhaps most fundamentally,
of realizing what we didn’t know—
and didn’t know we didn’t know—
of being shown by foreigners what we, in our blindness, did not see.
We are still amidst the time of new year’s resolutions—
if you’re into that.
Maybe you do; maybe you don’t.
I confess my main thought about new years resolutions
is how annoying and inconveniently busy the gym is—
for a month or two—
how I can’t wait for many of those new year’s resolutions
to fall by the wayside!
I want us to consider a resolution though—
one not to fall by the wayside,
but to help us remain centered—
not just affirming that church is not just about us—
that it certainly doesn’t revolve around us—
not just that there’s much that we don’t know,
but also asking specifically what do we not know?
who we do not know?
The Service Ministry has had much conversation—
over the last several years, really,
about the importance of personal experience with—
of contact with—relationships with—
those whose circumstances are so other than our own.
We’ve talked about how much good we do
as a community of faith,
but how much of that good is done removed from people—
without contact—removed from even the possibility of relationship—
and so from growth within and through relationship.
Now we want to widen that conversation—
we want to include you—the wider church body—
we want you to think about this.
Pray about this.
As Emma Goldman reportedly said:
“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”
If you can’t pray into it—
live with it—live into it,
then it’s not who we are.
What would it be like this new revolution beginning
to prioritize some hands-on involvement in 2016?—
establishing relational connections—
shaking hands and touching hearts.
So here’s what we’re going to do,
and this is the challenge to the Service Ministry—
and they don’t know about this yet!
We’re going to identify more volunteer opportunities—
and opportunities that families can fulfill—
in which children and youth can be involved—
opportunities for hands on presence,
and we’re going to encourage more involvement
in what we already do.
More of you need to go to Kentucky.
More of you need to be involved
in taking produce from our garden downtown—
in serving food—
making casseroles—there are recipes on line—
and you can make them—take them—serve them,
and meet people.
Without losing what makes us us,
I want us to pay some attention to what we don’t have to do here—
removing as much as we can from responsibilities here—
to encourage responsibility out there—
responsibility, and possibility,
Because we are not just marking time around the light we know—
we are hopefully—we are prayerfully marking growth …
because of the light we know.
We don’t want to be the same,
come another revolution.
This revolution beginning, we want our days to come
to mark the unfolding of the story of God—
to incarnate the story and the presence of God—
to embody it—make it flesh—make it real—make it present—
make here and now—
more grace—more love.
It’s not that we impose a story on our days—
certainly not on the days of others.
It’s that we as followers of God in the way of Jesus
want to share—we want to share the story we have found
to be powerfully irresistible.
Less: this is the story you have to know,
and more: this the story I have found
that I can’t fathom you’re not wanting to know.
Each new day—
a story at the center of who we are
so important we can’t fathom others not wanting to know it too.
Not because we think they have to.
Not because it’s our job to force them to.
Not because we’re going to count them as some kind of number—
some kind of evaluation of our mission.
But because there is no better story—
until the light around which we revolve
becomes the very stuff of our days—
the very stuff of our being—
the presence of God for our world
in, through, and beyond us.
Let’s not settle for less.
Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me.
You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread;
as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread
for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib,
for in it you came out of Egypt.
No one shall appear before me empty-handed.
You shall observe the festival of harvest,
of the first fruits of your labour, of what you sow in the field.
You shall observe the festival of ingathering at the end of the year,
when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labour.
Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.