Of Pine Needles and Alleluias

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It is a Lenten tradition in our congregation that on the first Sunday of Lent, the children hide papers with the Alleluia printed on them. We symbolically bury the alleluias for the Lenten season, reminding us of the somber tones of Lent. Then on Easter Sunday the children find them and we bring the alleluias back to our worship. As we were getting the last of the Advent/Christmas decorating finished right before Christmas and moving things around in the chancel, I came across a folded sheet of paper—one of the alleluias that had not been found on Easter last year. Fast forward a few weeks to putting away the decorations and moving the Christmas trees out. Even if you have an artificial tree you end up vacuuming the needles. It seems that for the rest of the year you will find a needle here and there. They are never completely gone.
The church is between times right now…we call it ordinary time. Ordinary time is the seasons outside of the major observances of the Christian year; namely Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. It doesn’t mean this is an unexceptional time of year, rather it takes its name from the fact that ordinal numbers are used to describe the sequence of Sundays. Extraordinary things happen during ordinary time, but I always think we have to pay extra attention because we aren’t in the big, exciting seasons such as Christmas and Easter. Ordinary time gives us a chance to figure out what it means to live out the message of the Christ child…and then the message of the Risen Christ. It’s a time when we aren’t facing the frenzy of preparing for the major holidays, so we have the space to do that.
As we observe ordinary time, I love the fact that you can almost always find an alleluia tucked away somewhere in our sanctuary…and in our homes and at church there’s always a pine needle to vacuum up. The pine needles and alleluias break into our everyday, just as God surprises us and breaks into our lives. Such reminders help us to remember what the love of God has done, and continues to do for us. They are the signs of the mystery of God’s love found in the cross and the cradle. May pine needles and alleluias break into your every day to remind you of the awesome mystery of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ.

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Advent Day 16-Strong

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This is a picture of my niece celebrating after she had just made her first journey out on the “big rocks” at the Manasquan Inlet. It’s about a half mile out…there are some steep drops between the rocks, and some daunting jumps; especially if you are Madison’s size! I think of strong in remembering her journey. She approached the task with appropriate caution, reached out for a helping hand when needed, and wasn’t afraid to get down on her hands and knees when necessary. Isn’t that what true strength is all about? Not a show of bravado and “I can do it alone” mentality…but the willingness to journey with others, reaching out for help…and perhaps even having to risk being awkward and clumsy along the way.

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Advent Day 15-Rejoice

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This picture reminds me of the text from Isaiah: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” That is a day of rejoicing!

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Advent Day 14-Gather

There is a lovely hymn called “Gather Us In.” One of the lines reads: “Gather us in and hold us forever, gather us in and make us your own; gather us in–all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone. What a beautiful reality that is! A reality that God calls us to work towards and a reality that God longs for. In Luke’s gospel Jesus expresses that hope as he looks over Jerusalem and says: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” May we know the peace of God’s gathering us in! Then, in that peace find those seeking the shelter of God’s love.

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Advent Day 13-Justice

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This picture of the balancing rock in Bar Harbor, Maine reminds me of Lady Justice. Lady Justice is often depicted as holding scales and she is blindfolded. It demonstrates the idea that justice is a balancing act and that justice shows no partiality. That being said, when I think about the justice that Jesus came to bring to us I don’t think of a blindfolded, impartial sorting out of issues. Instead I think of the Jesus who came to disrupt…the Jesus who threw tables around in the temple because the money takers were stealing from those with the least resources…the Jesus who helped us remove blindfolds so that we could see others with the love of God. That is God’s justice!

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Advent Day 12-Hope

Last night the Sr. Hi’s, aka the God Squad gathered around my fireplace to talk about their hopes and fears. We wrote them on flying prayer paper. We set the paper on fire and watched as the “prayers” gently wafted up in the air. After each person we paraphrased a line from O Little Town of Bethlehem: “our hopes and fears are met in you O God.” As we continue in this season of Advent what hopes and fears do you lift to God. We have the assurance that God will gently keep those hopes and dispel our fears as we live into the love of God.

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Advent Day 11-Steadfast

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This is a picture of my Appalachia Service Project workteam, celebrating the completion of a roof repair. We had spent three days on this roof, trying to figure out how to make a roof patch possible given the realities of the home. Oh, and it was about 100+ degrees on the roof. Hot enough that if you put your hands on the roofing paper or shingles it would burn.

I am reminded of that experience in the word “steadfast.” Our team stuck to it under difficult conditions. And we didn’t simply stay on task, there was a lot of joy involved…laughter and singing and sharing. It is what God calls us to–to remain firm to the truth of God’s love, keeping that love visible in our daily life no matter what the circumstances. In 1 Corinthians Paul sums it up: “Stay awake, stand firm in your faith, be brave, be strong. Everything should be done in love.”

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