Ready With Heart, Mind, & Strength

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“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence”

1 Peter 3:15b-16a

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Wednesday morning Gordy and I had an adventure. We took the train into Philadelphia, riding for the first time on our $1 senior fare. What a deal that is! Then, we walked over to 17th and Vine for a tour of the new Mormon Temple. I had responded to an invitation extended to Philly area clergy to visit and tour the new building prior to its consecration this fall. Once a Mormon Temple is in use, only Mormons may enter it, so this was a wonderful opportunity to see the building before it was closed to visitors.

We began across the street in the meeting house where actual worship services will be held. The Temple itself is reserved for special services, weddings, proxy baptisms of deceased ancestors, and special instruction. Crossing the street, we entered the Temple after several volunteers helped us put coverings over our shoes to preserve the carpeting inside. The building is beautiful. The interior reflects the Philadelphia colonial period, the decor is gorgeous, and striking artwork adorned the walls. It was a treat to tour the four floors of the building.

What struck me more than the building was the knowledge of our tour guides. The husband had been a leader in the local church. He and his wife guided us through the building answering questions not only about the building but about the Mormon faith as well. They explained the theology behind the proxy baptism ritual, described Mormon beliefs about the afterlife, outlines the organization of the Mormon church and more. I was deeply impressed by their knowledge of their faith, but I realized he had been a leader in the church.

Following the tour, we entered a side building where refreshments awaited us, along with several dozen hosts and hostesses. I realized that throughout the tour, we had seen people on every floor to guide and direct. Altogether, there must have been nearly 100 people present assisting with the tours, all volunteers. There were young adults and youth providing music in the reception area, some young adults doing their 2 year mission assisting in various places, adults of all ages volunteering their time to help with the welcome across the street, the tours and the reception. It wasn’t just for one day, either. All of this will go on for several weeks as the Philadelphia area is introduced to the new Temple. And every participant is ready to speak of their faith, to explain why they are Mormon, and to offer God’s love, human hospitality and an invitation to faith.

As I looked around, I was struck by the knowledge and commitment of those who were involved, and I wondered, how would our denomination stack up? Each person we met yesterday seemed to feel honored to be present to extend hospitality to visitors. Each one was “ready to make their defense” and share their faith if asked. Could we say the same? Could we gather such willing volunteers and would they be ready to explain their faith, their church? In the Scripture passage above, Peter clearly believes that all of us who call Christ our Savior need be ready to explain the hope we have in him. Are we? Are we ready? Do we understand enough about our faith to give an account, do we know why we have hope or are we just blindly accepting a faith we don’t really understand?

As we move toward the start of school and the program year in churches, I encourage you to consider how you might deepen your knowledge of your faith. It isn’t a choice between knowing God or knowing about God; we need to do both. We are each responsible for working to grow closer to God through our own devotional life; but we are also called on to understand our faith, to explore it intellectually. I believe God is honored when we use our heart, our mind and our strength to know God. Perhaps we can best do that when we worship (heart – love), study (mind – knowledge) and serve (strength – service) the Lord.

Prayer: Gracious God, you have given us hearts to love you, minds to know you and strength to serve you in this world. Help us to offer you all of ourself, not holding back any part but giving our all to you. Open our hearts to receive your love and offer you our own. Open our minds to know you more fully. And open our hands to serve you in the world. May we find in knowing you that we love you more dearly and want to serve you, for we ask it through Christ our Lord Amen.

 

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The Light of Christ

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
John 1:3b-5
A 7-year old child was drawing a picture of the Nativity. The picture was very good, including Mary, Joseph and, of course, baby Jesus. However, there was a fat man standing in the corner of the stable, that just did not seem to fit in. When the child was asked about it, she replied, “Oh, That’s Round John Virgin.”

On Christmas Eve we’ll join our voices to sing “Round yon virgin mother and child” as we hold our candles high. The light of the candles will begin as only a few points of light in the darkened sanctuary. From just the light of the Advent and Christ candles, the light will spread across the room from hand to hand until the room is alight. The candle light will fill the room, allowing us to read the words of the hymn and see one another’s faces. That light will be enough for us.

A young mother, a child born in a stable, a rag-tag group of sheepherders…not the beginning that we would expect for the Son of God. A small beginning, not too different form the light of one candle, but a light and a beginning that cannot be overcome by the darkness that threatens it. As the faith is passed from person to person, just as the light is passed from hand to hand, the darkness recedes. We might not have total light in the world anymore than the we will have total light in the sanctuary, but just as the candle light is enough for us to see one another, the light of Christ is enough for us to see each other in the world, to recognize and care for fellow children of God. The light of Christ promises life, grace and a new future for all who believe.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

May the light of Christ fill your life this Christmas, and may you pass it on, hand to hand, person to person, until the world is alight with the grace of Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Stairway to Nowhere?

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“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.'”
                                                                                                Acts 2:38-39

My husband and I just returned from wonderful road trip to St. Louis and Chicago. We drove out the PA Turnpike to Pittsburgh and then turned south to head for St. Louis. Coming home from Chicago, we came across the northern route, following Route 80 to Cleveland where I found the house I lived in between ages 4 and 9, and then continued on Route 80 till it met the PA Turnpike at the edge of the state.

Out near the Breezewood exit of the PA Turnpike, there is a curious place that has always fascinated me. On the eastbound side of the turnpike, sitting on the land overlooking the turnpike, is a church. Across the way, on the westbound side of the turnpike, is a cement staircase leading from the turnpike up to the road above that crosses over the turnpike. Next to the staircase, at the side of the turnpike, is a sign that announces the church and its mass schedule.

I’ve always wondered about that staircase. The sign and staircase appear suddenly, just beyond the bridge abutment for the road that runs over the turnpike. At 65 miles an hour, the sign and stairway are there and gone alost before you realize it. And if you did want to stop, there is no safe pull-off area to park your car, just the regular little shoulder section of road. The sign certainly lets you know the church is there, but is a stairway with no safe parking area really an invitation that means anything to a traveler? Is a stairway with no advance warning likely to attract anyone to come and draw closer to God?

As I thought about that stairway, I wondered about our evangelism efforts in the church. Do we offer Christ to the world in a way that others can actually take advntage of, or do we simply go through the motions of evangelism, putting signs where no one can act on them, claiming we’ve provided access to God for the unchurched but actually building stairways that no one in their right mind would use? Are we connecting with the world in meaningful ways that enable people to come and see, or are we sitting back in our stained glass towers content to offer Christ in ways that will not connect with the people around us?

Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go into the world, baptizing and teaching.” Some may be more skilled at evangelism than others, but all of us are called to share Christ in some way, whether through an invitation to an ice cream fest, sharing about the church we love, or accompnying a friend to worship for the first time. Don’t let your efforts be limited to signs that pass by too quickly or stairways that can’t be used. Let’s all work together to create meaningful ways for people to experience Christ and find in him the answer to their prayers.
Prayer: Gracious God, you have welcomed me into the kingdom of your love, and asked me to extend that invitation to others. Help me to create meaningful ways for others to hear of your love and to take advantage of your invitation to discover purpose, community and saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

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