The Wonder of Space

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
  what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?         Psalm 8:3-4

We just returned from a cruise to the Bahamas.  We had a wonderful time, but the highlight of the trip wasn’t the pink sands and aqua waters of the Caribbean.  No, the highlight for me was the stop on the way south at Port Canaveral and the day trip to the Kennedy Space Center.  I was awed as I stood underneath a Saturn 5 rocket; I was overwhelmed looking at the space shuttle Atlantis, and I was moved nearly to tears as I walked past the rows of pictures of those who died in the course of our space exploration.

Looking at the pictures of space and seeing the tiny space station on the magnificent canvas of infinite outer space, I was reminded of the words of Psalm 8, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them…”  The wonder of space and its billions of stars and billions more planets, the beauty of the universe in images from the Hubble telescope, the size of what is out there, all combined to make me feel small and insignificant.  And yet Scripture tells us that God loves us and gave Jesus Christ for our salvation.  What an awesome thought, that in this infinite universe, the God who is even greater than that cares for us.

It is the nature of our faith to combine things that seemingly cannot go together – a God who is infinite and yet came in the person of Jesus, a God who is transcendent and yet is present to us in every moment, a God who orders stars and suns but who also gives meaning and purpose to my daily life.  That in itself is cause for wonder and awe.

When you go outside tonight, look up at the heavens and consider the vastness of space and our faith in a God who is even bigger, even greater than that.  Open your mind to the reality that we worship the God who created all that.  And give thanks for the abiding presence and love of the master of the universe.

Prayer:  Infinite God, you have created a universe of awesome size and diversity, setting stars in the black velvet of outer space, twirling planets in a soundless dance, and mixing a palette of planet-hued colors.  And yet you care for us, seemingly insignificant in the vastness of space but given meaning and consequence by your love.  Help me to honor your greatness even as I give thanks for your abiding love.  Amen.

Snow!

I took my dog outside this morning in the first snow of the season.  It wasn’t very deep, barely two inches, but it covered the  grass and made everything look beautiful and fresh.  Yet I quickly learned that looks can be deceiving.

At first, Wesley romped with delight.  He jumped into the snow and like a rabbit or kangaroo, leaped straight up again.  He dug his little nose into the snow and tried eating it.  He seemed to be having a wonderful time, and I thought I would write this blog about the wonder of God’s creation.  But then, he began to slow down, and a little ways further, he started to whimper.  He picked up one leg and limped along on three legs, and then began to shiver all over.  I realized his fun romp in the snow had soaked through his toy poodle coat and left him freezing.  What had started out as great fun was now not only not fun, it was threatening to him as the cold seeped in.

I picked Wesley up and we walked home together, with him trembling in my arms the whole way.  When I tried putting him down, he held up his one leg and hobbled on the other three, so I ended up carrying him all the way home.  Once there, I wrapped him in a thick towel and rubbed him down, holding each paw in a warm grasp until he jumped out of my lap happy to be warm and dry.

It occurred to me that all too often sin enters our life in the same way.  When it first appears, it may look like lots of fun.  I’m reminded of the song from The Fantasticks where the young man is lured away by bright lights that are “shining brightly.”  But the narrator reminds us, “Those lights not only glitter but once there, they burn.”  One silly little joke that targets a racial group, one little drink for an alcoholic, one little lie to a friend so that we can go somewhere without them, one rearranging the numbers at work just this once so the boss won’t be mad – they can feel good or make our life seem easier, but the truth is that “once there, they burn.”  One can turn into many or the web of deceit grow impossibly complex.  Our life can end up spinning out of control leaving us hobbling along.

So as you look out at the snow covered ground today, remember that what seems beautiful and fun can also prove threatening and harmful.  God has shown us the way, not to riches and prestige, but to a life that is truly good and abundant.

Prayer:  Loving God, from the beginning of creation you laid out for humanity how we could live and enjoy the fullness of your presence and the blessings of your love.  Sometimes we see other ways of living and think they look better.  Help me, Lord, to trust in you, to follow the path you have laid out before me.  Let me know the warmth of your love and the joy of your abundant life today and every day.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power vs License

 

image“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Years ago our family used to drive by a house in Wayne that we called “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea.”  It was a huge house, with its rear facing the road we drove on.  The house had originally been just a really big house.  But at some point a new owner took over, and decorated the back yard.  There was a pool, a colonnade, and more statues than I could count.  It looked like someone had said, “I want to show how much money I have so buy one of everything!”  It was incredibly ostentatious, and our family made it a fame to see who could call out “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea!” first as we drove by.

Money and power – two things that as a child I thought, if you got it, you flaunt it!  Got money?  Then let the world know!  Got power?  Then show it off!  It seemed to me as a child that someone who had money or power could do whatever they wanted, and if they didn’t do what they wanted, then they obviously didn’t really have enough money or power.  After all, wasn’t the point  to be able to do whatever you wanted to do?

Then I grew up.  As a parent, there were things I wanted to do, things I had the power and the money to do,  but I didn’t do them because I voluntarily limited myself for some reason.  Maybe I didn’t do something because it would hurt someone I cared about; perhaps I restrained myself because I wanted something else even more.  And sometimes, I held back because I had no need to show off money or power.  Of course, I didn’t have the kind of exorbitant money or power that the owner of that house must have had, but I certainly had enough to do what I wanted.  But I restrained myself.

Paul reminds us that a spirit of power does not mean doing whatever we please.  God’s gift of power comes most clearly when it also comes with a spirit of self-discipline.  Like the person who could sit at home clipping coupons and never work (not me!), like the corporate CEO who could tell people to jump and their only response would be “How high?”, some people have power and money but don’t feel a need to show it off to the world, but are content to balance power and money with a spirit of self-discipline.

It occurred to me that many people who feel the need to blatantly exercise power or spend money are people who are trying to convince themselves of their own worth.  They base their sense of self on how others see them.  If others cower in the face of their power, they know they are powerful.  If others are impressed by their spending, they feel rich.  I had a babysitter for my kids years ago who always felt it was important to tell me how much her mother had paid for every outfit she wore.  I got tired of her monologue pretty quick – she didn’t last long as our babysitter.

As Christians, our worth doesn’t depend on how others see us; our worth comes from God. God loves us, therefore we are worthwhile.  Not the other way around – we are worthwhile therefore God loves us. No, we derive our sense of worth from the love that God gives us, from our awareness that we are frail, sinful humans who are loved anyway by the author of creation.  And that gives us the ability to exercise power with self-discipline.  We don’t have to show off our money; we don’t have to make people jump in order to know we are worthwhile.  We know it because we know the Lord.  And that knowledge gives us both power and self-discipline.

Prayer:  Your love, O God, transforms me from sinful a human being to a beloved child of the king.  Fill me with the power of your presence; let me exercise that power with self-discipline and love, as your son, Jesus, did.  Amen.

 

This Is A Bible.

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I will open my mouth and tell a story.
        I will speak about things that were hidden. 
They happened a long time ago.
        We have heard about them and we know them.
                                                    Psalm 78:2-3a
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This is my favorite time of year.  No, not the end of summer or the start of the school year. No, this is the beginning of football season.  I love football, and since I was a child, I have loved the Green Bay Packers.  Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, they were the men I dreamed of on Sunday night after the game.  But the best guy of all was Vince Lombardi, coach of the Packers.


Lombardi had arrived as the Packers’ coach in early 1959.     The team  hadn’t had a winning season since 1947, and the year before Lombardi’s arrival their record was one win, ten losses and one tie.  That summer of 1959, when the Packers reported for training camp, Lombardi challenged his players in every way possible.  He led practices – inspiring, training, motivating the players. But one day, in the middle of a practice, Lombardi got so frustrated with what was going on with the players that he blew his whistle.  “Everybody stop and gather around,” he said. Then he knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning. Gentlemen, this is a football. These are the yard markers. I’m the coach. You are the players.” He went on, in the most elementary way, to explain the basics of football.

After that year, he began every subsequent season with the same speech, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”  He never took for granted that his players knew the basics.  In fact, many of them said that the genius of his coaching was his ability to break down the game into its simplest elements and teach them again and again.  By focusing on the basics, by repeating them over and over again, Lombardi instilled them into his players so that doing the basics became second nature.  They were never too experienced to go back to the basics and review them again.

In the kingdom of God, we, too, need to revisit periodically the basic questions of our faith. Why do I need Jesus Christ?  How do I live out my commitment to God in my daily life?  Why do I bother to get up every Sunday morning to go to church?  What difference does church make in my life?  The answers you gave ten years ago or five years ago or even last year may no longer accurately reflect your faith understanding.  The world around us changes; our lives change; we change.  And as we change, our relationship to God changes and adapts to the current circumstances in our life.  So we must regularly reexamine ourselves, our relationship with God and how we are living out our faith.

As American Christians move toward the start of a new program year, with a new pastor and new classes for all ages,  consider how you might revisit the basic elements of your faith.  Consider Sunday School classes, bible studies or other ways of intentionally returning to the foundations on which your faith is built.  Engage in dialogue with fellow Christians to recall the basics and how they figure in your life today.  And consider how your congregation is being called to be church in the world today.

Prayer:  Gracious God, remind me always of the basics of my faith in you.  Let me never lose sight of the cross of Christ or your abiding love for me.  May that foundation strengthen my faith and lead me into the world to serve you and your people.  For I ask it in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.
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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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WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

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The new Ghostbusters movie opened this past week across the nation. Thirty years after the original, a new foursome tackles the battle against the supernatural powers of chaos. Some things are different; for example, the main characters are all women this time around. But just like thirty years ago, we’ll be hearing cries of “Who ya gonna call?” all around us. And for the next several weeks, the answer will come, “Ghostbusters!”

But fictional characters in a movie can’t really change the world around us.  In this political season, we need to remember that even the President of the US and other political figures are limited in their impact.  There is only one we can call on who has the power to create in us a new heart, to model absolute love, and to change the world – the God of Jesus Christ. When our lives are out of control, when we worry that we cannot find a way forward, who else would we call but God?

Over the last few weeks we have seen violence in too many places. Shootings by police, shootings of police, nearly one hundred killed in an intentional truck crash in France, the list goes on and on. We look at the conflicts behind these acts of violence, the animosity between people based on race or religion, and we wonder how on earth we can find peaceful resolution and reconciliation. Left to our own devices, the answer is probably that we can’t. But we are not on our own. When the world threatens to overwhelm, when the obstacles seem insurmountable, who are we gonna call? We can call on the name of the Lord in prayer. We have a God who cares about us, listens to us and wants what is best for us.

So as we go forward as a church, as a nation, as a world, let’s remember that there is one we can call on who has already won the battle with sin and death, one we can turn to whose love for us is steadfast and whose power is infinite. The God of Jesus Christ is there for us, waiting for us to turn and reach out in prayer and in love.

Prayer: Almighty God, we look around us and see such overwhelming problems, and we wonder if peace and reconciliation are a possibility in this world. Remind us that we do not tackle these problems alone. You are there for us if we will just call on you. Turning to you in prayer, may we follow your will. Sensing your presence and love, may we live this day with courage and hope. For I ask it in the name of the Lord. Amen.
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The Rev. Dr. Bronwyn Yocum

Speaking the Truth in Love

Pastor’s Friday Reflection                                                                      image
 
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
                                                      Ephesians 4:14-16                  
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When my daughter, now over thirty, was about seven years old, she asked me one day if she could invite a new friend from school over to play.  I agreed, and a few days later she arrived home with her friend.  To my surprise, the friend was black.  I welcomed her and the two girls had a good time together.  Later, after her friend had gone, I asked my daughter why she hadn’t told me her friend was black.  Jenny looked up at me with a puzzled expression and said, “I wouldn’t tell you if my friend was blond, why would I tell you she was black?”  That brought me up against my own racism.
This week we have watched in horror as first two black men were killed by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then, just in the last 12 hours, eleven police officers were shot in Dallas, with five dead, during a Black Lives Matter rally.  The details of the Dallas shooting are still under investigation as I write this. These shootings all have one thing in common – race.  In his press conference after the St. Paul shooting, the governor of Minnesota asked, if the occupants of the car had been white, would the result have been the same. Answering his own question, he said probably not.  And I wondered, if the police officer had known Mr. Castile was a Montessori School administrator, would he have felt as threatened as he must have felt when he shot the man? Did racial profiling play a role?
Paul coined that wonderful phrase, “speaking the truth in love.”  As a society, we must examine our practices with an objective eye, recognizing where racism has been so ingrained in our systems of governance that we who are not persons of color no longer notice the discrimination.  In order for us to be a “whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,” we have to be sure that those ligaments, those connectors, are just, fair and supportive rather than destructive.  We need to work strenuously to eliminate racism and all “ism’s” from our society.  We need to speak the truth about our society.
In the aftermath of Dallas, the good news is that most police officers are honorable people who work for the good of their community.  But the time has come for us as a nation to rise up and demand that we speak the truth in love – that some people should no longer carry a badge and gun, that racism exists and must be addressed, that justice is the right of all Americans regardless of the color of their skin.  Let none stand on the sidelines saying, this is someone else’s fight.  Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called those who experience such visible racism the “canaries in the coal mines, whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere…Until their voices matter, too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”  (dissent opinion in Utah v Strieff, last month)  Paul’s words take it one step further, making it clear that we are one body.  When any part of that body is unhealthy, the whole is unhealthy.  We must work together to create a society that reflects the love of God and the recognition that every human being is a beloved child of God.
Here in the suburbs, we are shielded from much of the blatant challenge of racism, but that doesn’t give us a pass on action.  Our affluence also means we are people of power, people who have the ability to demand change at a governing level – better community policing in underprivileged neighborhood, better training of police officers, body cams, community oversight, but also fair wages for police and responsible efforts to increase their safety.  Let us act within our own sphere of influence to eliminate racism.  Let us speak the truth in love to one another – not firing shots at those with whom we disagree as in Dallas, but lovingly and hopefully pointing out places where racism exists and working together to make changes.  After all, even those who are filled with racism are children of God who deserve our love, not our hate.  Speaking the truth in love, asking God to change our hearts, we can create a world that reflects the love and justice that God intends.
Prayer:  O loving God, I come to you this morning all to aware of my own biases, my own proclivities to judge people by external criteria like race.  Help me, Lord, to see instead as you see.  Let me recognize injustice when I see it; let me act to correct inequity.  Give me a heart that is both demanding of justice and filled with love as I seek to bring our world one step closer to your kingdom.  And, Lord, help me to examine myself to find those places where I fail to love my neighbor because of race or other isms.  Change my heart wherever that occurs, so that I may grow more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, who both loves me and challenges me to be better.  Amen.
 
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Death, Taxes and God’s Grace

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But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved…”
                  Ephesians 2:4-5
We all know that old saying, “there’s nothing surer than death and taxes.”  But this year, as we continue in our Easter season, neither death nor taxes is sure.  On Easter Sunday we celebrated Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and today, what should be tax day – April 15th – we celebrate the IRS’s grace as they give us until Monday, April 18th to file our taxes.
Grace – a word that we often tend to misinterpret or misconstrue.  This year’s delay in tax day can help us better understand grace.  Grace is often defined as unmerited favor, or an undeserved break.  We didn’t do anything to deserve an extra weekend to file our taxes; the government just gave it to us.  In the same way, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s forgiveness since we are all sinners.  God, through grace, just offers us forgiveness.  It is by grace that we are saved.
But too often, we also think of grace as a pat on the head with God saying, “There, there; it’s alright.  I’ll forgive you no matter what you do.”  Grace then appears to be God’s acceptance of us just as we are, with no expectations of growth or change on our part.   If we consider grace in light of the tax comparison, however, we can say that just as the IRS has given us an extra weekend but still expects us to file our taxes, so God is willing to forgive us, but still expects us to grow as disciples.  We aren’t saved by grace in order to keep doing everything wrong and make no effort to do better.
Grace is God’s wonderful gift of forgiveness and mercy that wipes the slate of our sin clean and invites us to do better next time.  God does understand when we slip and fall back, but God is not inviting us to stay the way we were with no effort to be better.  There’s a saying from the black church, “Lord we ain’t what we should be and we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God, we ain’t what we was!”  That’s a good way to think about grace – we aren’t yet the heavenly angels we hope to be someday nor are we perfect in living our lives as disciples today, but thank God, we aren’t the sinners living apart from God that we once were.  The invitation from God is to grow closer to God, to grow deeper in relationship with the Lord, and to grow in our commitment and effort to live as God’s people every day, always by grace.
Prayer:  Loving God, by grace you have saved me from the consequences of my sin, and offered me entrance into your eternal kingdom.  May I recognize that gift, and in gratitude, live my life as your beloved child, always striving to honor you in all I do.  Forgive me when I fail, but give me the strength to try always to live as Jesus lives.  For it is in Jesus’ name that I pray.  Amen. 

SENT

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
                  John 20:21
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Our daughter was just shy of three years old when our son was born.  I had stayed home with her, caring for her, playing with her, and reading to her.  There were books all over our house, and one of my greatest joys was reading to Jenny.
When Doug was born, Jenny came to the hospital to help us bring him home.  Once home, we tried to include Jenny in activities with her new baby brother..  Imagine my surprise when I peeked into the living room one day to find Jenny reading to Doug as he lay in his baby seat.  She was holding a book, running her finger under the words that she couldn’t yet read, just like I did with her.  She was telling the story we had read so many times, turning pages at just the right time. She was doing for him what I had done for her.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus told his followers.  For three years his disciples had observed him, watching how he worked.  They saw him heal the sick, feed the hungry, preach good news and reach out to those on the margins of society to bring them into the circle of God’s love. Now Jesus was sending them to do for the world what they had seen him do.
You and I are sent in the same way.  We are invited to watch Jesus at work in the Scriptures and then go and imitate his work, caring for those Jesus cared about.  We have the portraits of Jesus in the Bible; we have images of a loving God in the lives of the saints, and we have the privilege of continuing the work of God as the Body of Christ today.  In resurrection power, we are sent to the world as Christ was sent, to share God’s promise of new life.
Prayer:   Eternal God, you sent your son to the world to bring the love and life.  In the power of his resurrection, he now sends us to the world to continue that work.  Help us to act in imitation of Christ, to heal and love, sharing good news that makes a difference in the world for good.  Amen. 

Rock Concerts

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“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.””
                  Luke 19:39-40
That first Palm Sunday Jesus announced the first rock concert – the stones singing Jesus’ praise if needed!  The comment reminds us that Christ had come not just to save humanity but to restore all of creation.  As Paul says in the letter to the Romans, the whole creation has been groaning, waiting for redemption.  All creation hails Jesus as God’s anointed one, the one who will deliver us from the consequences of the fall.
So often we think of Christ’s work only in terms of human redemption.  While that is important, the story of salvation covers all of creation.  Revelation 21 tells us that a new heaven and a new earth will appear at the end of time; in other words, all things will be made new.  The cycle of decay and death has entrapped not only human beings but all living things and even much that is not living.  And so we celebrate not only what God has done for us, but for all of God’s creation.  We join trees and flowers, cats and dogs, everything that has breath and everything that God created in rejoicing over Jesus Christ.
So as we go through Holy Week, let’s not take a ho-hum attitude as if this is not important.  Because if we don’t shout out our praise, God will find another way to celebrate the Son’s love.  And I’d rather be part of the concert than sitting on the side watching a rock take my place.
Prayer:   Gracious Lord, fill my heart with praise today.  Let me join all of creation in celebrating your son.  My I not stand silent on the sidelines, but instead offer my praise and thanks to the one who redeems everything that has been created by you.  Amen.