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August 29, 2017

November 2017

 

Happy Harvest Time!

Many people love the Southcoast best in the summer, but my favorite time is right now. The days are sunny, the nights are cool, and everybody’s back on schedule.  Not to mention the foliage!

This is a time when we start to look toward the end of the calendar year and assess what we have left to accomplish. This inevitably involves looking back over our shoulder toward January, and seeing what we’ve already accomplished. All in all, we are taking stock.

At church, we are constantly keeping tabs on where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. Our Trustees have kept us marching down the list from the Capital Campaign: Three-level lift by church office, safer and beautiful stairs to the pulpit, and planning for the lift up to the kitchen level, among other projects. Christian Education is bringing an inter-generational flavor to our experience, while Stewardship awaits remaining annual pledges.

I recently read a devotional piece about discipline as part of the spiritual life. Many of us don’t like the word, “discipline.” It can feel claustrophobic. In our spirituality, the word can easily be removed from a healthful context, and place us at the business end of a pointing finger of a stern deity who insists the only way to get to heaven is to work ever and ever harder. But there was much good stuff in this devotional entry:

“Empty freedom is a snare and a delusion.”

“Without the discipline of prayer, we are likely to have practically no experience of divine-human encounter.”

“Excellence comes at a price, and one of the major prices is that of inner control.”

“Discipline is the price of freedom.”

In other words, if we exercise all the freedom God gave us, ironically, we shortchange ourselves by not living as fully as God makes possible for us. This doesn’t necessarily mean we fail to love God or our neighbor, or commit a sin that will keep us out of heaven. But it does mean we miss out in this earthly life. It’s like staying up until 3 a.m. to watch a bad movie and then missing the most spectacular sunrise imaginable.

Somewhat to that point, I’ve spent much of this year applying a little discipline to my leisure time. You might recall last February I shared my modest reading goal for the year. I should say extremely modest goal, since it was only three books. One was a spirituality book, one was a murder mystery, and one was a classic. By setting an achievable goal, I hoped to start making more time for books generally. I’d like to report back:

God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Mirabai Starr. I started in March, but wasn’t in the mood. The book worked its way to the bottom of the pile. In October, determined to reach my goal, I re-started. Now, I am blessed by a wonderful read.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal, a mystery by an author new to me. An okay book, but not quite my taste.

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare.  I tried to read this on my device, which was a mistake.  I gave up before I got past the cast list. But, knowing I wasn’t going to read this one made me all the more determined to read God of Love.

 

To recap my “goal” books: I didn’t care for the one I finished, I’m still working on one I set one aside for several months, and I rejected the third outright.  I’m calling this year a reading success, however, because I was inspired to read more, and went on to read quite a few other books:

In the category of modern classics: Lila by Marylin Robinson, and The Wapshot Scandal by John Cheever. In the category of spirituality books: The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen, Letters to a Young Doubter by William Sloan Coffin, For the Time Being by Annie Dillard, Memories of God by Roberta Bondi, and Between the Dark and Daylight by Joan Chittister. My murder mysteries came courtesy of the Mattapoisett Library, which has a good selection of audio books. I discovered that listening to murder mysteries on audio is probably the single best way to endure a gym experience: Sanibel Flats by Randy Wayne White (a mystery series that takes place in Florida, for those of you who know the place) and two by Elizabeth George, Careless in Red and With No One as Witness.

I hope each of you is looking back over the year with joy and satisfaction, can truly enjoy an amazing autumn, and will be ready in a month or so to start thinking about our holy season of Advent.

Autumn blessings to you,

Rev. Amy Lignitz Harken

 

 

 

September 2017

 

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits. … when man’s natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect of wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift.  … A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God … should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” – Martin Luther, 1538


What a summer!

With much planning and the work of many hands and minds, we moved our worship from the sanctuary to Reynard Hall. Artists and artisans in our congregation turned the hall into a beautiful worship space; the hospitality crew arrived early to make the coffee; and the deacons ensured the myriad details of worship were tended to.

Our hall is a busy place with various events, fundraisers, and building projects. Throughout the summer, whatever had to be moved for the week’s activities, our band of volunteer Trustees faithfully made sure we were ready for Sunday 9 a.m. worship!

Sunday mornings, we became a little more familiar with the New Century Hymnal, and read scripture printed in the bulletin.  Meanwhile, the sermon series invited us to take an up-close-and-personal look at a dozen of our favorite hymns. We learned about the people who wrote them, the “back stories,” and the theological meanings of the lyrics. Many folks have requested this be the basis of our sermon series every summer – and there are surely enough hymns that we could do this for decades and never duplicate!

As we wind up our series, I’d like to express my hope that we might be coming to appreciate more fully the power of the hymns we sing. The hymns bind us together as a congregation, and convey profound thoughts about God, Jesus, and the life of faith. These aren’t random words on a page.  These are perhaps the most powerful tools to learn, exercise, express, and share our Christian faith.

Martin Luther, quoted above, included the congregational singing of hymns in worship as a key ingredient of the Protestant Reformation.  I’ll also repeat a quote from a 1966 article, “Hymns and Heresies” by Prof. Alvin C. Porteous:  “Hymns are among the most potent vehicles for religious nurture and theological instruction that the church possesses. The spiritual vitality, the scriptural fidelity and the theological maturity of individuals and congregations are often more dependent on what is sung than on what is formally taught in church or in Sunday school.”

Between Martin Luther and Prof. Porteous, another man sensed the importance and potential of what we sing in worship: the famed evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who was born in Northfield, Mass., in 1837. He believed hymns should be written in the ordinary language of common people, easy to sing, with the kind of tune that would stick with you. He found somebody to write some new “gospel” songs, and to his delight, these songs had people clapping their hands and stomping their feet. In his generation, these hymns became a new way people could participate in the worship service, and build community among themselves.

Our favorite hymns come in many forms: some new, some old, some long, some short. Some have lyrics that are easily grasped the first time you sing them; others have lyrics that a person could ponder for a long time, in the way we might ponder scripture.  For all the hymns that we’ll be singing in the coming year, I’d like to encourage you to begin paying special attention to the words. What do they say about God? What do they say to you? Do you agree with all of it? Discuss these hymns with your partner or your friend. Does he or she understand it the way you do?

I’m looking forward to the return of our hard-working choir at our Sept. 10 Homecoming, and grateful for all those talented people who’ve been sharing their musical gifts all summer long.

Our Music Director Michelle Gordon is always on the lookout for singers and musicians to help our church worship. If you like to sing, come join the choir! If you play an instrument – the guitar, piano, or anything at all – don’t hide your light under a bushel basket. Talk to Michelle!

Meanwhile, may the hymns we sing as a worshipping community continue to bless you!

Rev. Amy Lignitz Harken

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