This is a big weekend for stories.
This afternoon, the biggest advertisers – or at least the ones with a sizable enough marketing budget – will try to tell us a story. Or maybe I should say, they’ll try to sell us a story.
The story they’ll try to sell us is a story about who we should be, or the kind of life we should have … and how their product, be it yogurt or cars or beer or the latest gadget for the home, will help you give your story a happy ending.
Stories are important. They are vital to the way in which we understand ourselves as human beings, and understand the world in which we live. The stories we tell ourselves, the stories that resonate most deeply with us, help shape the way we look at the world.
It’s a commentary on our society that too many of our stories have been reduced to either a 30-second ad spot or 140-character social media post. In an age when the Internet makes sharing stories so much easier than ever before, I feel that perhaps we have not yet quite harnessed the power of the technology for the good of our culture.
Today, I encourage you to pay attention to the stories that others are telling you (or selling you). Listen to the difference between the stories you hear in worship, the stories you read on social media, the stories you see on television.
Choose to surround yourself with stories that matter.
Choose carefully the storytellers to whom you give you attention.
Choose courageously the stories that you will tell to others.
That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again. (from Saving Mr. Banks)
A portion of my sermon for Maundy Thursday … to get us in the mood for worship tonight:
There are two very church sorts of words that get used an awful lot … and often get used incorrectly. These two words are especially important tonight, on Maundy Thursday.
The first word is liturgy. Liturgy just refers to the words we use in worship: the words we pray, the words printed in your bulletin that we say back and forth (the leader saying something and the congregation saying something), the words we use to tell the story of God.
Telling the story is important. It’s what we do as the people of God. Liturgy comes from a Latin word that means “the work of the people”. It’s what we do; it’s our job or our calling.
When God told Moses to instruct the people on how to do the Passover, God told them that the purpose of the feast was to give them the opportunity to tell the story … to pass it on to those who didn’t know the story.
We tell the story … and we do it through liturgy.
The second churchy sort of word is ritual. Usually when we use the word ritual, we mean the stuff we do at church … and especially the way we do it.
Sometimes we get to thinking that there’s only one right way to take up the offering or to pray the prayer of confession. We talk about these things as rituals. But that’s not really what ritual means.
People of faith engage in rituals ‐ in particular actions ‐ trusting that God will meet them in those actions. A ritual is an action that we do as an offering to God, trusting that God will accept it, and ‐ in some way that we don’t quite understand ‐ God will take our action and make something much more, something truly extraordinary out of it.
The Passover, the Lord’s Supper, the whole of worship … all of these are action we take, offerings of ourselves that we make, trusting that God will accept them and do something with them beyond what we, ourselves, can do.
Ritual isn’t just something that we’re so accustomed to that we take it for granted (which is often how we use the word).
Ritual is not a thoughtless action, but a thoughtful one. It is not something that we take for granted but rather, it is a way of giving of ourselves. It is an act of intimacy.
I wonder if it hurts to bloom.
We sigh and smile at the sweetness of tiny green buds on nearly bare branches and assume it’s all ease and pleasantries.
I wonder if it hurts to bloom.
As the sap begins to quicken the branches, do the trees feel the tingle of pins and needles as I do when the feeling begins to come back to a hand or foot that has been “asleep”?
What does the bursting forth of the bud of a new flower or leaf feel like? Is it easy, like soap slipping through your fingers? Or does it require something more, like the pain and labor of childbirth?
My soul has known the dormancy of winter. And I have known what it is like to feel spring returning to my heart.
If blooming is as strenuous on the trees and flowers as transformation and new growth is for me, then I really should not take it so lightly. I should pay more attention. I should raise my arms in the air and dance and sing … in order to honor their sacrifice and celebrate their toil.
Anais Nin wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Here’s to the trees and the flowers! And to all of us struggling to bloom!
Tonight was the second week of our series on food ethics at FPC. Those who were gathered made up quite a good group: large enough to spark some interesting conversation and plenty of diverse opinions.
At some point, a lightbulb went on over my head and I thought: this topic is a landmine. It’s not the kind of issue that is so controversial that it comes with it’s own red warning light that flashes “DANGER” to pastors who would approach. But it is still very much an issue that can stir up controversy; it just does it subtly.
So, why bother with it? Why have the difficult conversation about food ethics? And what would I say to those in any congregation, anywhere in the country that might prefer NOT to be more aware of how their food choices affect people and animals and ecosystems and economies around the world?
As you might imagine, I’ve given this issue a fair bit of thought. For me, it comes down to one answer: because we are the people of God.
The God we serve has commanded his people throughout every age to tend to those in need: the widow, the orphan, the least of these. As the people of God, we do not have the option of ignoring the consequences of our actions, even actions that would be easy to take for granted (like our food choices).
When it comes to eating ethically, there is no easy answer.
No one way of eating (organic, vegetarian, etc.) will eliminate every ethical dilemma.(For more on this topic, watch to Michael Pollan’s brilliant lecture at Princeton University’s conference on Food, Ethics and the Environment available on iTunes.)
But because we are given the responsibility of stewardship of creation – and of care for one another – we are commanded to take our choices seriously: to eat with our eyes open and to be willing to bear the weight of the consequences of our actions.
Today in worship, our scripture is from Exodus 12 (the Passover) and Matthew 26 (the Last Supper).
These passages point to a meal – not a worship ritual, but a household meal – as a way in which God comes close to us and a way in which we practice our faith
It’s not unusual to talk about food during the season of Lent; the season of Lent is often when we give up something tasty as our Lenten sacrifice.
But what if, instead of giving something up, we were to be intentional about practicing our faith with every bite?
What if we were to see each mouthful as holy, as a way in which God comes near to us?
Would it change the way we eat? shop? cook?
What do you think? Offer your comments below.
It’s Ash Wednesday, so just a (very) quick thought or two …
As part of our increased mindfulness this Lenten season (especially around the issue of food), I asked the congregation to use today to pay attention to everything they ate and to make a list.
So, here’s mine:
bowl of granola cereal w/ milk
bacon cheeseburger w/ fries and tea
several cups of tea (during an afternoon meeting)
3 pieces of pizza
Geez! That’s embarrassing. I’d blame it on the busy schedule today … but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it.
On the bright side, though: I managed to get through a whole day without any high fructose corn syrup (which is what I’m giving up for Lent.)
While that title might look like Greek … it’s actually the Irish translation of Shrove Tuesday. (Irish seems appropriate, since we’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day next week.)
If I knew how to pronounce the Irish phrase, I might start using it instead of Mardi Gras (which is the French translation of Fat Tuesday.)
Mairt Inide. Pancake Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday. Mardi Gras. Carnival (which is Latin for “farewell to meat”). Fat Tuesday.
No matter the name, they all have a common heritage and point to the same thing: the day before the beginning of Lent.
The early church marked the time leading up to Easter as a time when the faithful would be prayerful and reflective in preparation to rededicate themselves … and as a time when those who were new to the church would prepare for baptism.
Later, an emphasis on Lenten fasting was added to the priority already placed on prayer …
Easter, of course, is in the spring … and in the centuries before our food system was industrialized and before produce was plentiful year-round, the weeks leading up to Easter found families living on the dwindling supplies that had been stored for winter.
Produce that had been stored (what was left of it) was beginning to look rather sorry. The grains held up pretty well, but meat was scarce and chickens don’t lay eggs in winter.
Smaller and plainer meals were not voluntary or optional. They were just a part of life, in that day and age.
But Lenten fasting gave purpose to their poverty. It allowed the people to see their circumstances as having spiritual significance.
Of course, with advances in refrigeration, transportation and agriculture, Lenten eating is a very different experience for us today. For example:
The day before Lent is sometimes called Pancake Tuesday, because making pancakes was a good way to rid the house of some of the richer food items (eggs, sugar, etc.) before Lent. But the idea of getting rid of a surplus in early spring (before the fields were even planted) would have seemed crazy in certain cultures at various times in history
The tradition of Mardi Gras or Carnival is based on the idea of gorging oneself on all the vices (rich food, strong drink and, well, whatever else) before entering into a penitential season. Again, the notion of such luxury at the end of a long winter would not have made sense to our fore-mothers and fore-fathers.
On Sunday, I invited the congregation I serve to NOT give up something for Lent this year. Instead, I suggested that we all be more mindful of what and how we eat.
Here are some suggestions:
instead of giving up chocolate or coffee or tea, pledge that you will only eat or drink fair trade chocolate or coffee or tea;
instead of giving up fast food, pledge to slow down (and not rush) your meals but to sit down with family and take time to connect across the table;
instead of giving up eating out at restaurants, pledge to eat only at restaurants that purchase their ingredients from local farmers;
instead of giving up a particular item (chips, soda, etc.), pledge to read the list of ingredients on the food labels of everything you eat.
Happy Mairt Inide, friends. And a blessings on your Lenten journey.