“The good news is that you have everything you need to begin.” We spend much of our lives thinking that when we get that one new skill or have that one new possession or when we finally “make it” then we’ll pay more attention to the spiritual life within. The truth is, the earth is crammed with God; every corner, the rough places and the smooth ones, in our hearts and in the souls of our neighbors. In such a spirit, every ground is holy ground. Like our spiritual ancestors of the Bible who marked holy moments and spaces by building an altar, perhaps we too, have some altars to set in our lives to the glory of God. Author and theologian, Barbara Brown Taylor, inspires this series based on a book by the same title An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.
June 30, 2019 An Altar in the World: The Practice of Waking up to God
Theme Verse: “Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16)
How can we possibly know a God so vast and mysterious as intimately as we know the gift of rocking an infant in our arms? For the most part, we’ve boxed God in, giving parameters of our own making so that we can contain God in our own manageable ways and systems. And yet, when we leave the familiar confines of the places we have done such boxing of the Spirit, we still seem to have a gnawing sensation that there’s got to be more to God than that. What might happen if we commit to wake up to the fullness of God each day, open and ready to receive the Spirit of God that is everywhere all the time? Perhaps, like Jacob, we’d discover that the Lord is in this place and that one and that space over there and we did not know it. What do you do, however, once you know? You build an altar.
July 7, 2019 An Altar in the World: The Practice of Wearing Skin
Theme Verse: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Preeminent American food writer, M.F.K. Fisher once said, “People ask me: why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way the others do? The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.” We are a hungry people – hungry for spirit and truth and also sandwiches. The mystery of the flesh-embodied spirit confounds us. Paul struggled with a thorn in his flesh. Leprosy was among the unclean flesh designations which had significant implications for community. God, however, Creator of all things, longed to connect to humanity in the flesh – thus he put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. How do we live in this flesh? How can we see it as gift, holy and beloved, a vessel for transformation and wholeness?
July 14, 2019 An Altar in the World: The Practice of Feeling Pain
1 Peter 5:6-11
Theme Verse: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)
Few of us seek pain yet none of us are exempt from experiencing it. Job, named as a godly and upright man, is the one who ends up on the poster entitled simply, “Suffering.” He just wants to know, “Why me?” The very fact that the book of Job lands in our holy scriptures is testament to those who decided to include it – the recognition that an uncensored account of the depth of human pain and suffering is more to be valued than any correct doctrinal answer to it. We do know, however, that our God is one who restores, heals, and redeems – even the depths of our pain. Louis L’Amour said, “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” In the feeling of pain, we acknowledge its presence as the beginning of our way to the all-things-new hope that is promised by God.
July 21, 2019 An Altar in the World: The Practice of Living with Purpose
Theme Verse: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
From mowing yards or babysitting or bagging groceries as teenagers to the roles of corporate life in adulthood, we often define ourselves by our jobs. “What do you do?” we are often quick to ask. The implied desire is for you to share how you make money or what tasks you do in order to make a living. If, however, we identify first and foremost as a child of God, how might everything else we do and are support that primary identity? Jesus identified our primary call to be about loving God and loving our neighbor. What does it mean to give our lives to that, through our jobs or otherwise? What does it mean to live with purpose?
July 28, 2019 An Altar in the World: The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings
Theme Verse: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
Barbara Brown Taylor says, “To pronounce a blessing on something, it is important to see it as it is.” How seldom, it seems, do we look upon what we’ve done, who we’ve done it with, and the gifts many have brought to the common table with simple appreciation for the moment, the season, the relationship and simply soaked in the gratitude. Or in the passing of a place, a tree, or even a stranger, could we pause to offer a blessing for what it is or who they are? Each is on its way somewhere, the same way you are. They are between places too, with no more certainty than you about what will happen at the other end. And yet, what gift in pronouncing blessing on that moment, that person, that community… trusting God to be present in each benediction, trusting that God will bless again as we serve as such a blessing in the world.