August 04, 2006

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Blessing A chapel service I helped plan recently juxtaposed the dominant community calendar (the academic one) with the church's liturgical calendar. So the chapel service the week before Ascension Day was entitled "The Blessing of Week Nine." One of the neat features of the service was a skit composed and improvised by seminarians that illustrated the contrast between the flippant way we use the word "blessing" and the powerful way the word is understood in scripture. They did this by juxtaposing funny 3-4 line sketches with longer scriptural or other readings. Examples of both after the jump. A: (singing to self) God bless America… B enters, sits next to A A: Hey, you actually made it to class on time today. Way to go. B: (somewhat hurried) Yeah, luckily someone was leaving a spot in the Psych lot just as I pulled in. It normally takes me forever to park. A: What a blessing. * * * * * * * * Anny: (Sneeze) B: Bless you! * * * * * * * * Reader: 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 the account of Christ. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. * * * * * * * * "Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you," he said. I was doubly cursed then... but the blessing was more terrible still. When the camel you're riding runs wild, nothing will stop it. You cling to its neck. You wrench at its beard and long lip. You cry into its soft ear for mercy. You threaten vengeance. Either you hurl yourself to death from its pitching back or you ride out its madness to the end. It was not I who ran off with my father's blessing. It was my father's blessing that ran off with me. Often since then I have cried mercy with the sand in my teeth. I have cried ikh-kh-kh to make it fall with a sob to its ungainly knees to let me dismount at last.... Its long-legged, hump-swaying gait is clumsy and scattered like rags in the wind. I bury my face in its musky pelt. The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own. --...
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Living Water A couple weeks ago I baptized my nephew at his home church in Chicago. Per his parents' request, we used freshly imported water from Lake Michigan. Let's just say that we certainly followed the ancient advice to use "living" water. His parents were eager to do this because their families -- on both sides -- have deep connections to the "Big Lake" as home. In the service, I pointed to the appropriateness of the link the water made between family initiation and initiation into the larger family of God. But more than that, I suggested that using water from this natural resource -- so dominant and precious to us in the midwest -- highlights the deep connection between the grace of God offered in baptism and the responsibility we gratefully take on as Christ's disciples to care for the world in which that grace is manifest. It says something damning to us if the water in our backyard streams, or rivers, or lakes is so polluted that we cannot in good common sense bathe in it, or in good conscience call it "living" water. Perhaps my nephew Samuel will grow up, in service to Jesus, to be a biologist who concerns himself with the health of Lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, Ontario, and Erie. I was thinking about all of this yesterday as I visited a local Children's Sculpture Garden and watched my own children play in a large reproduction of the Great Lakes. As I splashed my head with the cool, clear water (it was a hot day), I thought to myself: "What a great place to have a baptism service!" There is easily room around the perimeter of the scultpure for an average-sized congregation -- maybe 100 people. (In the real world we call this the "fourth coast," and it is home to about 30 million, or 1/10 the US population). A pastor could dunk the one to be baptized down in that corner by Lake Erie, where there are three bubbling fountains. Then invite each member of the congregation to put his or her hand in the water, get wet, and remember, in a genuinely aquatic, tactile way, the promises God makes to us, and the responsibilities of our promises in response.

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