Blog: Random Thoughts on Sunday's Sermon

Below are some random thoughts on this coming Sunday's message.  We hope they create a little time in your day to reflect on the journey of faith and life.  If they spur any thoughts, quotes, or experiences, please share them.  God moves among us as we share with each other.

Wasn’t Sunday a glorious day as all creatures of God lifted up our voices and sang? It was a privilege to meet many new furry friends and listen to stories of how animals have provided companionship in our lives.  A few people inquired about how they could obtain the prayer about animals so I have provided it here for you to pray whenever you desire. I love how this prayer reminds us to be prayerful for animals that are in vulnerable and abused positions. It reminds us to care for the animals entrusted to us and pray for ones that are suffering. (The prayer is attributed to Albert Schweitzer).  I hope you find it to be a nourishing addition in your prayers.

Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals,
especially for animals who are suffering;
for animals that are overworked, underfed and cruelly treated;
for all wistful creatures in captivity that beat their wings against bars;
for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry;
for all that must be put death.
We entreat for them all Thy mercy and pity,
and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion
and gentle hands and kindly words.
Make us, ourselves, to be true friends to animals,
and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Sunday, October 19, we’ll celebrate the holiness of all the creatures of the earth.  This is probably my favorite Sunday of the year - I just love to look out at all the pets sitting in the pews, with their sweet ears poking above the seats, their doting owners proudly introducing them to churchgoers and clergy, seeking a blessing on their furry heads. The dogs, cats, hamsters and snakes (yes, we have a snake - named “Dude”) are inherently blessed, just by their gentle beings. The choir will sing some special pieces for the occasion: a song for children called We Thank You God, for Animal Friends, the tune Bless the Beasts and the Children made famous by the Carpenters sung by young Mina Moore, and John Rutter’s setting of Cecil Frances Alexander’s poem, All Things Bright and Beautiful:  

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all!

Cecil Frances Alexander began writing verse at a very young age. The story goes that she would hide her poetry under a rug, fearing that her father, a strict disciplinarian, would not approve. He noticed a bulge in the rug, though, and read them. Something about the childish lines touched him; he sent them to a member of the clergy at Oxford who pronounced the young author a born writer who should be encouraged! 

Some of her hymns our among our most treasured favorites: All Things Bright and Beautiful, There is a Green Hill Far Away, Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult, and the Christmas carol Once in Royal David's City.

Come to church this Sunday, and bring your creatures, great and small! 

Posted by Cynthia Powell, Friday, October 17, 2014

Have you ever read Scripture from the perspective of the animals? Have you ever wondered how many times an animal is the main character in a story in Scripture? It’s quite interesting to read Scripture highlighting animals. For instance, the first mention of animals is in Genesis 1:20 “And God said, 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.'” Job 35:11a is a particularly fitting verse as we head into The Blessing of the Animals this Sunday “Who teaches us more than the animals of the earth?” Anyone who has had a pet knows how much humankind learns from their animal friends!  In John 12:14 we see a donkey taking a large supporting character role as the donkey carries Jesus into Jerusalem. There are over 120 animal species named in the Bible from peacocks to mules to lions and gnats. Animals are important to God! Animals are important to us at West End Collegiate Church. The tradition of blessing animals dates back to Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) who was known for having a special communion with animals. It is said that Francis would preach to the birds and after preaching he would make the sign of the cross to bless them. This is a joyous day of worship this Sunday and I hope to see you there. Consider joining us for Adult Education at 10:00 a.m. as we look more closely at Scripture from the perspective of animals before worship!

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For a blog, I was recently looking for an image of dogs being walked on the street, and so I Googled "dogs on street image." I was heartbroken by the photographs that resulted. There were starving dogs, suffering dogs, and abandoned dogs. I had to quickly leave the site.

Since little Gracie has come into our lives, my sensitivity around these issues has greatly increased. I think it's because through Gracie I experience the joy of a relationship with God's creatures—and an exceptionally cute one at that (had to include her picture!).


This Sunday we're celebrating the joy God's little (and not so little!) creatures bring to our lives. It is our annual Blessing of the Animals service, and we look forward to welcoming all of your pets into the sanctuary!

While our fuzzy pets are being blessed, I hope it stirs compassion within us for all of God's creatures. In Psalm 145:9 it says, "God's compassion is over all that God has made." May we be a community that embodies this compassion in ways that respond to the needs of God's creatures.  They are part of the beauty and miracle of creation that so enriches our lives.

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Sunday we reveal the top three beliefs that are difficult for West Enders. We’ve dedicated a lot of thought and time into preparing this series and I’m so excited about our collective conversation between Pastors/congregation/Scripture/tradition/experience/God.

I’m aware when we begin to “get honest” many emotions may arise. Yes, the truth shall set us free, but sometimes truth can be scary to address. The journey of faith for a Christian requires a commitment to self-reflection and prayerful attentiveness to God’s movements. When we begin to address beliefs that we’ve held onto for years and begin looking at them honestly, thinks shift in our soul. We may feel freedom, we may feel anxious, or we may feel a new awakening in our faith.

As we begin our series, I want to offer this hymn as a prayer for us to spiritually lean on. It is one of my favorite hymns that reminds me of the journey of faith can take us in directions we might not have originally expected and that in the midst of new directions, God is there always leading God’s people in grace and mercy.

The hymn is called In the Midst of New Directions written by Julian Rush (1985):

Verse 1
In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways, Who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering in their separate ways?

Refrain
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar, We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.

Verse 2
Through the flood of starving people, warring factions and despair, Who will lift the olive branches? Who will light the flame of care?

Verse 3
As we stand a world divided by our own self-seeking schemes, Grant that we, your global village, might envision wider dreams.

Verse 4
We are man and we are woman, all persuasions, old and young,
Each a gift in your creation, each a love song to be sung.

Verse 5
Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain,
May your blazing phoenix spirit resurrect the church again.

 

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The survey results on “beliefs that bother you” are in, and we now know the top three beliefs with which you struggle. It was wonderful to see so many of you participate. It was also fascinating to read through your comments to better understand the areas that can be obstacles in your faith journey. Be sure to be at church on Sunday as we reveal the results and talk about these problematic beliefs.

Since we’re talking about beliefs, someone designed a questionnaire that matches your beliefs with a denomination. If you’re interested in seeing which Christian denomination it places you in, click here to take the quiz.

My results said I belong with the Lutherans, who I appreciate greatly. Supposedly, I’m “meant for a serious, traditional and intellectual Christianity.” It makes me sound a little stuffy, which I hope isn’t true of my faith! Which denomination does it say you be a part of?

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Monday, October 6, 2014

One of my favorite spiritual writers of the 16th century is Saint Teresa of Avila. Teresa was a Spanish Christian mystic who was known for having a deep communion with Jesus. She reminds us that it is us who are the hands and feet of Christ now. It is us who are called to share the love of God with others. We are the vehicle through which God works in this world. She writes:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

I love this poem and it surely stands alone. A colleague has taken Teresa’s prayer and made it applicable for the digital age. Meredith Gould reminds us that in the digital era, Christ has no online presence but ours. Take a peek at this video and let it inspire your interactions in the digital and physical world.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We have always carried the notion that religious commitments shape our social and political views. But research shows the opposite may be true. We also change our religious identities to match our views.

Mark Chaves notes this phenomenon in American Religion: Contemporary Trends. This began when religion and politics became intertwined with one another, and the use of “Christian” became associated with those carrying a conservative political agenda. Chaves observes, “After 1990 more people thought that saying you were religious was tantamount to saying you were a conservative Republican.” When people began to feel that Christianity no longer represented their views, they began identifying as having no religion.

For millennials, this continues to impact their views of the church because they carry the perception that “Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics” (Kinnaman & Lyons in unchristian). Sadly, the legacy of mixing religion and conservative politics continues to shape religious identities as a new generation increasingly identifies as non-religious.

If congregations have any hope of engaging those who have left their religious identities behind, they need to communicate clearly that they’re interested in people’s lives, not their votes. It’s not that one’s faith can ever be divorced from one’s political views, or that at times people of faith need to seek political change. But when it seems the sole reason congregations exist is to support a political agenda, people have no problem leaving the church behind and self-identify in other ways.

For more blogs and trends by Pastor Michael, visit churchbeyondbelief.com

Posted by Rev Michael Bos, Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I’m really looking forward to our sermon series next month “Let’s Get Honest: The Top Three Beliefs That Bother Me.” I’ve been doing my personal work on this topic to prepare to lead us in this conversation. My journal is peppered with notes on beliefs that are difficult for me personally. A friend and I were having wine and I asked him “What are the most difficult beliefs for you in the Christian faith?” Well, that opened up another hour long conversation. I love that, spiritual honesty! That’s one of the attributes that is distinct about the West End Collegiate Church family: we are a people who value spiritual honesty. You don’t have to check your brain at the door to worship God!

I’m not going to share my top-three beliefs, just yet. I don’t want to sway you in your honest processing, but I want to say how great it is being a minister in an intellectually vibrant congregation. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please consider filling it out in this link. It’s a short, 2 question survey that honors anonymity.

As we get honest, may the Spirit be attentive to our questions, our hopes, our doubts, our fears, and our needs as we begin to open up topics that we may not yet have had the chance to open up.

Grace and Peace to each of us.

Posted by Rev. Jes Kast-Keat, Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Our topics for last week and this week are about finding purpose and direction in life, both personally and communally. Last week had to do with honoring our past and recognizing where we’ve been, and this week Michael will talk about where we are now and where we’re going. 

I was thinking about all this during a bar mitzvah at the temple where I play. When a youngster has a bar/bat mitzvah, he/she is expected to lead the congregation in the prayers, most of which are sung. Lots of preparation goes into this: months of one-on-one sessions with the cantor, and practice, practice, practice. The whole thing culminates in the service, and, of course, the big party that follows! 

Singing is a BIG part of this, and some of these kids can really sing! But there are some who can’t seem to stay with the key, and they wander all over the place. They barrel through the prayers as fast as they can, with no clue as to where tonal home base is. Maybe it’s the pressure to perform, maybe having their other 13-year-old friends staring at them is freaking them out, maybe they just want to get it over with and head to the party - whatever the reason, they just can’t find tonic. 

In Western music, tonic is the first note of the scale that a piece is written in. It is synonymous with the “key”. It is “Do” (think, “Do Re Mi”). It is the note to which all other notes reference themselves, and tonic permeates a piece. Tonic is the tonal center, the musical home, and all other tones are pulled and directed toward it. 

I’m positing that finding tonic is a metaphor for finding direction in life. We need to know where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed. I suspect that finding tonic has less to do with singing ability and more to do with the ability to connect with oneself and the cosmos, to slow down and listen. 

Looking for direction in life? Can’t find tonic? Slow down, quiet your mind and listen. 

Posted by Cynthia Powell, Friday, September 19, 2014