A Liturgy for Lighting Advent Candles

Using the words of Archangel Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1, and the the lyrics to Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus:

Leader:“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”
People, singing: Come Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee. 

Week 2, we continue, lighting the second candle.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the saints Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Week 3, we continue, lighting the third candle:
And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. 

Week 4, we continue, lighting the fourth candle:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
(sung) By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

“On Earth, Peace” – a Homily for Christmas Eve

Preached at the Upper Room on Christmas Eve, 2013.

Glory to God in the highest.
And on earth peace among those on whom his favor rests. 

We likely are well familiar with these words the angels speak to the Shepherds. When we read them, we may associate them with the voice of a pastor reading them in a church we attended, or with a choir singing them in a performance of Handel’s Messiah, or with the voice of Linus reciting them in the Peanuts Christmas special. 

They sound like words of worship – “Glory to God in the highest.”

And they sound like a nice greeting for angels to give to shepherds – “On earth, peace among those on whom his favor rests.” Peace (Shalom in Hebrew) was a common greeting in Israel. It still is. And so these words the angels speak sound typical. Like words of a nice greeting or well wishes. Not much different from saying “good morning” or “have a nice day” to a friend.

On earth, peace among those on whom his favor rests.

However, even this early in Luke’s story of Jesus (we’re only in chapter 2), we’ve learned that words spoken by angels have an uncanny propensity for becoming completely true.

Already an angel has promised Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. And now an angel has told shepherds that the Christ is born – news confirmed to be true by the time we finished reading our Scripture passage tonight. 

If angels say that there is peace on earth among those favored by God, we should probably expect it to be completely true. Not just a nice wish. Not just figuratively true. Not just ‘inner peace.’ But complete, 100% real peace on earth.

And that peace lives and abides among the favored people of God.

This afternoon, as I was finishing work on this sermon, I was sitting in the 61B cafe, where Chris works. Chris had actually just left and a new barista started her shift. Chris had been playing WYEP (91.3) on the radio, and the new barista turned it off. (I was disappointed because the DJ had just said they were going to play the Chipmunks Christmas song.) But then I was delighted by what I heard. Words and melody that were very familiar to me – the sound of a child singing, Once in Royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed…” 

I immediately knew that the barista was playing a recording of the annual Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings college.

I love that every year Kings College begins their Nine Lessons and Carols with a child singing Once in Royal David’s City. It bears witness to the fact that the coming of the Son of God, and the coming of peace on earth starts small. And it was striking that in a relatively busy cafe, where a number of people were sitting at tables doing their work, and others were ordering coffee, the message of good news of great joy once heralded by angels was piercing through the air.

I began to think to myself, “How many times is it possible for a hymn of praise to be played in a public, “secular” coffee shop?” The reality is Christmas is one of the few times it’s possible.

I then began to think about all that the Jesus’ birth makes possible.

The story of Jesus’s birth shows us that seeing angels, and experiencing the glory of the Lord shining around you, is just as likely to happen at your job (even a menial job that most people don’t want, like shepherding) as it is to happen in a church.

The story of Jesus’ birth shows us that the work of angels is also our work. Just as the angels proclaimed good news of great joy to the shepherds and then praised God saying “glory to God.” So too the shepherds made known the saying that had been told them, and returned to their homes glorifying and praising God.

The story of Jesus’ birth shows us that the savior of the world is approachable, relatable, and for us. The sign that the angels give to the shepherds, that they will find the baby Jesus “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” is considerably unremarkable. Wrapping a baby in swaddling clothes was the common practice in rural villages. And despite how out of the ordinary it sounds to us, in ancient Israel mangers were kept in the family room of a home, and always doubled as cribs. The point is this: The shepherds are told that the savior of the world is born, and will be found in a context that for them was entirely familiar and approachable. Imagine how difficult or intimidating it would be for the shepherds to visit Jesus if he were born in some exceptional way. If Jesus were born in a royal palace, he would have been inaccessible to shepherds and others on the lower rungs of society. But being wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger means that Jesus is accessible to all.

The story of Jesus’ birth tells us that peace on earth is possible and begins with the favored people of God; with us. We live in a world that is longing for peace. And a life of genuinely following Jesus, begets peace, and that is good news of great joy.

This year, on Facebook, the number one most posted-about topic around the world was Pope Francis. People found joy in the fact that the Pope was leading the church’s leadership to greater simplicity. People found joy when he invited a boy with down syndrom to ride with him in the Pope mobile. People found joy when he embraced and kissed a man with a genetic disorder. People found joy when he had a Maundy Thursday footwashing service in a youth prison where he washed the feet of teenage prisoners. People found joy when he invited homeless men to join his birthday dinner celebration. And recently the media discovered evidence that Pope Francis might be sneaking out of the Vatican at night and personally giving money to the homeless and poor.

All that Pope Francis is doing are the things any follower of Jesus is supposed to do. And the world is receiving it as good news. That’s not to say that if and when we follow Jesus, we’ll make the news or be a buzz topic on social media. We’re not high-profile, public figures whom the world is watching. But it does show that any who do see us following Jesus will be seeing good news of great joy when we live a life of following Jesus. The coming of Jesus really is good news of great joy for all the people. And good news of great joy begets peace.

Friends, Christ is born this day. Let us join the angels and shepherds in glorying and praising God. And let us with the shepherds and the whole Church, tell and do all that we have seen and heard of our savior. For peace on earth has come. And it abides in us , for we are the favored people of God. 

Glory to God in the highest.
And on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased.
Amen.

 

Hospitality and Holy Kisses

On any visit to a different country, your first impressions usually have to do with cultural differences.

Last month, I traveled to Spain. One of the first differences between American life and Spanish life that I experienced was how people greet one another and say goodbye. In Spain, it’s almost always with a kiss on each cheek. And always with everyone in the group.

I got to meet many relatives in Spain for the first time, and each time I saw them, and each time we said goodbye, it was always with a kiss on each cheek. (Though the men usually didn’t do this with me. I assume because of sensitivity to it being something I wasn’t accustomed to. But they did do it with one another.) It didn’t matter how many were there. You took time to greet and kiss each person.

And this custom wasn’t just with family. Anytime my family introduced me to anybody else, the greeting was the same. “Mike, this is our neighbor who lives across the street.” Kiss kiss. “These are our former neighbors and good friends.” Kiss kiss. “Oh! I know that person! We went to elementary school together.” Kiss kiss. On one occasion, we were in a bank and one of the tellers left. I watched as he gave goodbye kisses to his two fellow tellers and the cleaning woman.

This way of greeting one another made me feel instantly connected and welcomed with these new family and friends. Despite being in a new place, and meeting people for the first time, and hardly able to speak any Spanish, I felt connected and welcomed.

Experiencing this for two weeks gave me newfound appreciation for the command given in the New Testament to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” Paul gives this instruction in some form or other four times – Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. A similar phrase is also in 1 Peter 5:14.

In the past, when I read any of these verses, I saw the command as bound up in ancient middle eastern culture. In our contemporary American context, we don’t just kiss anybody. I understood these verses to mean that we should greet one another in church in whatever expression seemed appropriate.

I still think about these verses as culturally bound, but I now realize that we can’t substitute a “holy kiss” with just any other form of greeting. Simply waving and saying “hello” won’t do. Kisses connect two people in a way that is physical and affectionate. Greeting in this way also takes time and demands honoring each person’s presence. You can’t kiss a group all at once. You have to give attention and time to each person you see.

What would happen in our churches and in our homes if we showed this level of hospitality? I’m not suggesting we all start kissing every person we see; there’s still a need to recognize cultural differences. But what if we sought to ensure that every guest in our church or in our home receives a welcome that connects them with every individual in a way that is physical, and affectionate, and that is honoring each individual’s presence?

Is such hospitality possible in our American culture? What would it look like?

Morning Prayer for Ash Wednesday

First, a Few Notes

♰ indicates an invitation to make the sign of the cross

✙ indicates an invitation to make the sign of the cross, followed by bow

☦ indicates an invitation to make the sign of the cross, followed by a prostration

Words that are in italic font are addressed to saints and others who Scripture tells us are in the heavenly throne room with the Triune God, most often Mary (the Theotokos). Our communion with them is real, and addressing them is no worse than pausing one’s prayer to talk to another person. If anything, it’s better. Nevertheless, I know some still have scruples concerning this practice, and so the use of italic font makes passing over these prayers easier for those wanting to do so.

Let Us Pray…

Remembrance of Baptism

♰ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to You, our God. Glory to You.

We Call Upon Our Lord

Arise, Lord: Why are you sleeping? Arise: Do not make our exile final. How can you turn your face from us? How can you forget all our troubles? We are pressed down to the earth itself. Arise, Lord: Help us. Set us free.

Trisagion Prayers

✙ Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.

✙ Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.

✙ Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on US.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us!
O Lord, cleanse us from our sins!
O Master, pardon our transgressions
O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Your Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the ♰ Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

We are Called to Worship

Return to me, says the LORD of hosts,

And I will return to you.

Hymn – Synesius of Cyrene, 4th cent.

Lord Jesus, think on me

And purge away my sin;

From earthborn passions set me free

And make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

By anxious thoughts oppressed;

Let me your loving servant be

And taste your promised rest.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

Nor let me go astray;

Through darkness and perplexity

Point out the heavenly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

That, when the flood is past,

I may th’ eternal brightness see

And share your joy at last.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Trisagion Prayers

✙ Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.

✙ Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.

✙ Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on US.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us!
O Lord, cleanse us from our sins!
O Master, pardon our transgressions
O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Your Name’s sake.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, of the ♰ Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Remembrance of the Holy and Life-giving Cross

O Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance. Grant victory unto

faithful Christians over their enemies, and by the power of Your Cross preserve Your commonwealth.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

O You Who was lifted up willingly upon the Cross, bestow Your mercies upon the new community named after You, O Christ God; gladden with Your power all faithful Christians, granting them victory over enemies; may they have as Your help the weapon of peace, the invincible trophy.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

O Awesome intercession that cannot be put to shame, O good one, disdain not our prayer; O all-hymned Theotokos, establish the commonwealth of the Church, save the faithful Christians, and grant unto them victory from heaven, for you did bring forth God, O only blessed one.

Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Look with your loving care, we ask you, Lord, on the fast we have begun. May the discipline we keep with our body be exercised with sincerity of mind, and may we persevere to the end with steadfast devotion. Amen. (From the Missal of Pius V)

Morning Psalm – Psalm 5

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest.
But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.

Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Lord, have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Lord, have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

♰ Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Encountering the Risen Christ

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us!

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us!

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

All nations surrounded me; in the Name of the Lord, I withstood them.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us!

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

I shall not die, but live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us!

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing and is marvelous in marvel- ous in our eyes.

God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us!

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

Prayer of the Day: Wednesday, the Holy and Life-giving Cross

O Lord, save Your people,
And bless Your inheritance. Grant victories to all Christians Over their adversaries.
And by virtue of Your Cross, Preserve Your habitation.

Having thy protection, O immaculate one, and being delivered from afflictions by thy prayers, we who are in every way guarded by the cross of they son do all magnify thee reverently as is due.

(Additional Psalms May be Read Here)

Short Verse: Wednesday (From the Magnificat)

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His handmaiden; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

Preparing to Read the Scriptures from the Italian Sacramentary

O God, you know how fragile is our human nature,

Wounded as it is by sin.

Help your people to enter upon the lenten journey

Strengthened by the power of your word,

So that we may be victorious over the seductions of the Evil One

And reach the Easter feast in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Old Testament Reading

Jonah 3:1-4:11

Epistle Reading

Hebrews 12:1-14

Gospel Reading

Luke 18:9-14

Prayer of Penitence: Psalm 51

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which You have broken may re- joice.

Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and re- new a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your generous Spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.

Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart –– these, O God, You will not despise,

Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem.

Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and

whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Prayer for Our Lenten Disciplines (Missal of Pius V)

Grant us, O Lord, to begin our Christian warfare with holy fasts; that as we are about to do battle with the spirits of evil we may be defended by the aid of self denial.

(At this point, time may be taken to remember saints of the Church or to read other devotional material.)

Honoring her with hymns, Let us magnify the Theotokos, the Mother of Light:

More honorable than the cherubim And more glorious beyond compare than the sera- phim! Without corruption you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos, we magnify you!

We Sing with Mary

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Psalm of Praise: Psalm 147:1-11

Praise the Lord.

How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble
but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
make music to our God on the harp.

He covers the sky with clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.
He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.

♰ Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Canticle: Te Deum

We praise you, O God,

We acclaim you as Lord,

All creation worships you,

Father everlasting

To you, all angels, all the powers of heaven,

The cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise:

“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

The glorious company of apostles praise you.

The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.

The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.

Throughout the world the holy church acclaims you;

Father, of majesty unbounded,

Your true and only Son, worthy of all praise,

The Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You, Christ, are the King of glory,

The eternal Son of the Father.

When you took our flesh to set us free

You humbly chose the Virgin’s womb.

You overcame the sting of death

And opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

You are seated at God’s right and in glory.

We believe that you will come, and be our judge.

Come then, Lord, and help your people,

Bought with the price of your own blood,

And bring us with your saints

To glory everlasting

Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.

Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is Your Name for ever. Amen.

Let Your mercy be upon us, O Lord, even as we have set our hope on You.

Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes.

Blessed are You, O Master; make me to understand Your commandments.

Blessed are You, O Holy One; enlighten me with Your precepts.

Your mercy endures for ever, O Lord! Do not despise the works of Your hands!

To You belongs worship, to You belongs praise, to You belongs glory: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem

O Lord and Master of my life,
Keep from me the spirit of indifference
And discouragement,
Lust of power, and idle chatter.

Instead, grant to me, Your servant,
The spirit of wholeness of being,
Humble-mindedness, patience, and love.

O Lord and King,
Grant me the grace to be aware of my sins
And not to judge my brother and sister,
For You are blessed,
Now and ever and forever. Amen.

Dismissal

Confirm, O God, the holy Christian Faith unto ages of ages! Amen.

Glory to You, O Christ, our God and our hope, glory to You!

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

Look with your loving care, we ask you, Lord, on the fast we have begun. May the discipline we keep with our body be exercised with sincerity of mind, and may we persevere to the end with steadfast devotion. Amen.

On Christians and Politics: Some Thoughts for Election Day

It’s election day, and I just returned from voting. In the months leading up to this day, I’ve heard and read plenty of arguments from other Christians about what to do today. Some have made appeals for Obama, some for Romney, and some for not voting at all. Almost all of these appeals, when they’ve been from Christians, have been on the basis of faith. A few arguments, from both Christians and secularists, have tried to convince that our faith should not play a part in our political decision making. In pseudo-response to all that I’ve read and heard, here are some of my thoughts about what it means to be voting as a Christian:

1. Jesus tells us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” As citizens in a democracy, we live in a context in which “Caesar” has asked us for our participation and input in determining our leaders. Our vote may be just a drop in a bucket, but our participation in an election is part of our calling as followers of Christ.

2. We should never shy away from allowing our faith in Christ to influence, or even determine, our vote. Our faith is not merely a hobby or a private opinion. It’s a gift from God, and a gift not merely to ourselves personally but to the world. Our faith is an invitation to see our country and world from heavenly perspective, and that perspective blesses our society (even if that blessing is unacknowledged or denied).

3. Even as we vote according to our faith in Christ, we should fully expect Christians to make different decisions in the voting booth. Our system of government is complex, and the application of our beliefs to our voting will differ depending on how we understand our government. I know Christians who are deeply concerned for the unborn, but believe that Obama’s economic policies are more likely to create a culture in which abortions are less desirable. I also know Christians deeply concerned for the poor but who believe that the poor will ultimately be better served under Romney’s plan.  I also know Christians with an orthodox understanding of marriage who nevertheless oppose any federal legislation on the topic, thinking that it’s a matter best left to individual states. Any of these decisions may be incorrect in terms of their logic and how things will/would actually play out, but poor logic is different from unfaithful.

4. For Christians, voting should never be motivated by desire for power. I’ve heard plenty of evangelical Christians this year lament the lack of an evangelical candidate. (“Am I OK with voting for a Mormon?” “How Christian is President Obama really?” etc.) Our calling in Christ, though, is not to strive after power for ourselves, but to bear witness to God’s Kingdom. Whether or not our president is “one of us” is not our operating question. Rather, the questions we need to ask are, “How do we live faithfully in the context of the person’s administration?” and “How do we bear witness to this person about Christ’s concerns for his world and this country?”

5. For Christians, our participation in politics is an invitation to humility and submission. A victory for the candidate we support is not equal to a victory for Jesus. The candidate we opposed is not the incarnation of evil. If Paul can say that the Roman empire that was persecuting him and the church was established by God, we can say the same of our president. Whether we’re pleased or not tomorrow morning, our calling remains the same: bear witness to the cause of Christ, and submit to the authorities in place, even if the combination of those two things leads to a cross.

TODAY ONLY: Your Gifts to My InterVarsity Work Can Be Matched

Today is the annual Pittsburgh Day of Giving. The Pittsburgh Foundation will match all gifts on a prorated basis given through the website http://www.pittsburghgives.org. This is the first year that InterVarsity is participating. This means that you can support my ministry with grad students and faculty through pittsburghgives.org, and a portion of your gift will be matched. (The matching amount usually turns out to be about 25 cents for every dollar given.)

To give, here’s what you have to do:

2.) Click Donate Now
3.) Fill in your contact info, and begin typing “InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.” A drop down list should appear where you can select InterVarsity.
4.) On the next page, provide your credit card information on the secure website.
5.) You should receive an email from the Pittsburgh Foundation confirming your gift.
6.) Send an email to IVCFmetropgh@gmail.com and let them know you want your Day of Giving gift to InterVarsity designated for Mike Gehrling. (You can also designate your gifts to other staffworkers in Pittsburgh, or to Grad and Faculty Ministry in Pittsburgh.)
Thanks in advance for your generosity!

Mustard Seeds Beginnings…

I was asked to contribute a piece to my home church’s Lenten Devotional. I was assigned today’s lectionary readings which includes Mark 4:26-34 – the parables of the growing seed and the mustard seed. Here’s what I wrote:

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how…. It is like a grain of mustard seed…” – Mark 4:26-27, 31

In my ministry of starting a new church and starting a new ministry for Graduate students, I often reflect on the image of the mustard seed. The kingdom of God starts small. When we started The Upper Room Church, there were only 8 of us meeting in a living room. When I started Graduate Christian Fellowship, there were just 3 of us praying together in a classroom at Carnegie Mellon.

I used to think of those small groups as “mustard seed” beginnings of my ministry. I don’t anymore. I’ve come to realize that my ministry had even smaller, less noticeable beginnings. My ministry started in 2nd grade in a Sunday school classroom at Parkwood. I still remember the lesson: “We’re Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus’ disciples tell other people about God.” Easy enough. The next day, I went to school, sat down next to my deskmate, Joe, and started telling him about how God created him and me and everything else. That’s what I was supposed to do, after all. I was Jesus’ disciple.

 

I’ve lost touch with Joe, and I highly doubt he remembers our brief conversation about God more than 20 years ago. But I remember it as the first deliberate action I took as a follower of Jesus; a mustard seed beginning to a ministry of telling many more people about God. A mustard seed planted by my church family, fulfilling the promise they made at my baptism to raise me in the faith. Keep planting mustard seeds, Parkwood, you never know how those seeds will sprout and grow.