Seven Miles

Seven Miles

Third Sunday of Easter

Week of: April 30, 2017
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem ...
(Luke 24:13, NRSV)

Devotion

A lot can happen in seven miles. To a marathon runner, traveling seven miles is a piece of cake. For those of us slightly more asthmatic, seven miles is a very long distance. However, when walking at a conversational pace, seven miles offers time for relationship to begin.

When the disciples encounter Jesus, they don’t recognize him immediately. For them to see who he is, it takes more interaction - a journey, a conversation and a meal. We worship artists and theologians who work within the fourfold pattern of worship are grateful for this story because it provides the basis for the Service of Word and Table. We gather to begin a journey, we walk and talk, we eat, and we leave to tell "what had happened on the road" (Luke 24:35, NRSV).

Where are you leading your congregation in worship? Are you accompanying them on the journey, talking and breaking bread along the way?

Prayer

God, you meet us on the road as we encounter the risen Christ in this Easter season and throughout the year. May we always feel the presence of your Spirit in the journey, the conversation, the breaking of bread, and the eyes of our neighbors as we share the Good News. Amen.

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Peace Be With You

Peace Be With You

Second Sunday of Easter

Week of: April 23, 2017
Scripture: John 20:19-31

"Peace be with you." … Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you."
(John 20:19, 21, NRSV)

Devotion

Greetings were a high priority to Jesus, and I imagine he carefully considered the greeting he offered the disciples after his resurrection. When I prepare to visit someone I haven’t seen in a long time or who is not expecting me, I often find myself practicing and carefully selecting something to say that has the most impact: "Wow, I haven’t seen you in years. You look great!" or "What a wonderful surprise!"

Jesus chose the greeting that would give his disciples assurance when he offered them peace—not once, but twice! If Jesus greeted me that same way, I imagine I would reflexively say, "and also with you." But, I admit, I might just stand in shock had I just seen him put to death before my eyes.

When Jesus offers us that same assurance — "Peace be with you" — it is because death does not have the last word and the resurrection is still at work today. When you sing, when you dance, when you play, or when you create, how do you express peace to others? Does your creative role offer peace? How do you embody peace?

Prayer

Holy One, you have the power to bring about peace from conflict, courage from fear, and life from death. Remind us that death does not have the last word, and life rises from the depths when all hope seems lost. Amen.

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The First Day of the Week

The First Day of the Week

Easter Sunday

Week of: April 16, 2017
Scripture: John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed ...
(John 20:1, NRSV)

Devotion

Jesus is alive! We are joined and bound together in new life, and we have become the body of Christ. This is the Good News and the witness that connects us with Mary Magdalene and the rest of Jesus’ disciples. Resurrection is a daily occurrence, but do we see it?

As worship artists, our lives are often defined by the work we do on others’ Sabbaths. Because this holy work is a big part of who we are, we invest so much of ourselves in it that many of us do not experience Sabbath on Sunday or any other day of the week.

Part of discipleship is investing in our relationship with God. Otherwise, we won’t have the lens with which to see resurrection around us. Have we observed enough Sabbath ourselves to become witnesses of God’s grace? Don’t miss the presence of the risen Christ in between Sundays!

Prayer

Living God, you created enough time and space that we all might have a share in it. By your Holy Spirit, remind us to claim rest for ourselves, especially in busy and holy seasons, that we might witness the risen Christ in our midst. Amen.

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Speaking Stones

Speaking Stones

Palm/Passion Sunday

Week of: April 9, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
(Psalm 118:22, NRSV)

Devotion

South Korea is a mountainous peninsula; its rocks date to the Precambrian era. Visiting the studio of a famous sculptor, Chang Gon Kim, was like looking into the heart of these mountains. Gigantic pieces of marble and granite dwarfed the massive cranes and bulldozers, making the machines look like toys. Located near the DMZ, the ground of the studio was salted with discarded pieces of stone that glittered when the sun touched their surface. How did the artist know what to keep and what to cast away?

His answer was simple, as translated: “He listens.” How do we prepare for the One who comes in the name of the Lord? Listen. Listen through the deep silence of prayer. Shelter in the shadow of the Rock in the Wilderness. We must learn to listen or our songs of praise will be easily twisted into chants of hate. 

Out of the many forms in this stony place was one that I could clearly recognize. Measuring over 15 feet high, two gray granite figures were outlined against the fading light on the horizon. One standing. One kneeling. No faces with human expressions were evident yet, but they were holding on to each other for dear life. I could see that. I could hear that. The stones were speaking. In Korean or English, it was the same. “Prodigal, welcome home.”

Palm Sunday is when God sends the Holy One into a far country, be that a nation’s capital or a pig farm, to find “we who have gone astray” and bring us home.

Prayerfully consider ...

Engaging your worship artists in experiencing worship through stone.

Consider giving a small stone or pebble to all of your choir members, dancers, ringers, and other worship artists during Holy Week. Invite them to carry the stone with them and to hold it at least once a day to remember that as they prepare for Holy Week and Easter worship services they are called and gifted by the one who is the Chief Cornerstone.

Prayer

Holy One, Rock of Ages, teach our stony hearts to sing Hosanna! Amen.

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Play With Blood

Play With Blood

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Week of: April 2, 2017
Scripture: Romans 8:6-11

But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
(Romans 8:10, NRSV)

Devotion

In the series “Mozart in the Jungle,” Rodrigo, the conductor of the New York Symphony, implores his musicians “to play with blood.” His metaphor translates to “play with passion” but when he was young, he would practice his violin till his fingers blistered and then he’d practice, practice, practice, till the music was played with blood.

There are powerful gospel songs about being “washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Those songs give us insight into Paul’s meditation on the relation of flesh and Spirit. The Spirit does not hate what God created. We are Spirit-embodied flesh and flesh-shaped spirit. However, the flesh is “in the beginning” difficult to shape; it’s hard to do what we hope to do. We are not angels whose thoughts are instantly transmuted into flawless action. Any artist, any preacher, has experienced the difference between intention and performance.

But we can, with grace, learn to play with blood. When we pick up our violin, brushes or pens for the first time and try to play a C or draw an eye, or write a verse, we experience the resistance of the flesh. We slide our fingers to find the right note, we mark and then erase and then try a new line, shade or word. We may doubt that we will ever accomplish what we’re called to do. But in light of Christ’s resurrection we can practice, practice, practice. It takes time and trouble, sweat and certainly blood to materialize our life in Christ.

Prayerfully consider ...

Engaging your worship artists in experiencing worship through the affirmation of the work of practice.

As your various arts groups move into the last weeks of Lent, help them reflect on these many weeks of practice. How has their practice transformed their faith? Engage them in a conversation about what phrase, movement, or art form has helped them understand more about the life-giving love of Jesus.

Prayer

O God, may we continue to bear our flesh until it is filled with Spirit. Amen.

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Antidote to Blindness

Antidote to Blindness

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 26, 2017
Scripture: John 9:1-41

Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?"
(John 9:40, NRSV)

Devotion

Watching me repeatedly stop to take photographs while hiking through a national park, a friend remarked, “I want to see your pictures. I want to see what you’re seeing.”

Taking photographs helps me see better. The camera lens narrows my focus and helps me see details of the world around me – the shadow of a leaf on a boulder; the crab spider at the center of a flower; the moon seemingly cradled in the bare branches of a tree.

It’s easy to rush through the woods – or life – blind to what, or who, is around you. The Pharisees in John’s Gospel were blind to the miracle of a blind man’s healing and the good news it proclaimed. They couldn’t see the details in front of them.

It’s easy to dismiss folks, such as the uniformly garbed women I visit at a New Jersey prison, as “sinners.” The key is to slow down, look closely and see who is really there. Some inmates committed awful deeds, but they are also women of unique talents and stories: mothers, poets, singers, scholars, immigrants. Viewing photographs can help us pause to share those stories and connect with the Divine held in the images and each other.

The incarnate Jesus sees us – all sinners, all God’s children – in the unique details of our lives, calling us to see and embrace one another as individuals as well.

Prayerfully consider ...

Engaging your worship artists in experiencing worship through photographs.

Ask your choirs, dancers, ringers, and other worship artists to take a photo whenever they experience or “see” Jesus during the week and to send them to you. Post a montage of the pictures in your rehearsal spaces and gather around the montage as you pray together. Perhaps some will be willing to share the story of the photo as a part of your closing devotion. Consider continuing this practice through Holy Week.

Prayer

God among us, open our eyes to see your wonders in the world around us and your face in everyone we encounter. Amen.

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A Hunger for the Holy

A Hunger for the Holy

Third Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 19, 2017
Scripture: John 4:5-42

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."
(John 4:34, NRSV)

Devotion

Did you ever stop to think, when you felt pangs of hunger or thirst, “What is it that I am actually craving?” Sometimes it is simply for things that will nourish our bodies, such as water, or a cheese sandwich. Other times what we crave is much deeper than that.

Jesus was thirsty. Jesus was refreshed by his experience with the Samaritan woman. The unnamed woman from Samaria was hungry. She was both nourished and transformed by their conversation. Jesus, living into his call, shared with the woman about “living water.” The woman was willing to engage the experience with the Messiah and had her hunger forever transformed.

Each time we engage in the creative process with our Creator we are preparing a feast. When we create, we remember that our artistic gifts are from God and they help fulfill the will of God on earth. When we offer our art, we feed others as we are fed. We transform and present opportunities for others to be transformed as well. May each of us be nourished by our Creator’s living water and able to spread the Gospel to others through the experience of it.

Prayerfully consider ...

Engaging your worship artists in experiencing worship as a feast.

Consider how you can use the image of a feast as you lead your rehearsals this week. Engage your artists in reflecting how they are fed as they feed others through their art.

Prayer

God, you give us the gift of creativity to help satisfy our deepest hunger and thirst. Help us to do your will as we offer our gifts to this creation. Amen.

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Showing Glory

Showing Glory

Second Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 12, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.
(Matthew 17:2, NRSV)

Devotion

The intake person for the temp agency was visibly upset as she told me the news. After having passed all their required tests, the company I interviewed for had overestimated their need for more workers, so the offer of employment was withdrawn. She stared at me, then asked if I was OK. I said yes, wondering about her question.

What I couldn’t see was what she was seeing; there was light shining through my eyes. It was not what she expected to see. What she didn’t know was that I had been praying. Her news was all right with me because I was trusting God to provide.

When Jesus revealed his true nature, his disciples saw who he really was. As believers, we must let the glory of God shine through us for others to see. God daily transforms us by his glory. 

As those who follow Jesus we pray: “Oh, that You would show us your glory! Oh, that You would envelop us that we would see differently with our eyes, and know differently with our hearts!”

May we who lead worship, dance, and pray, and preach and sing: with swaying bodies in motion, with up lifted hands and uplifted voices resoundingly declare:

“I need your glory. I want your glory.
Less of me and more of you, it’s what I need.
I realize I need you more and more each day.” *

Prayerfully consider ...

Engaging your worship artists in experiencing worship through movement.

Consider adding hand movements to a refrain or prayer as a part of your rehearsals and worship. How can our bodies reflect the need for Christ?

Prayer

Oh, God of Heaven and Earth, may the touch of your Son on our lives transfigure us to be transformative agents of your love. Amen.

* "I Need Your Glory," Words and Music: James Fortune. © 2011 Black Smoke Publishing (BMI) and Pughspen Music Publishing. 

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Not By Bread Alone

Not By Bread Alone

First Sunday in Lent

Week of: March 5, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11

But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 
(Matthew 4:4, NRSV)

Devotion

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about a transgression I had committed in my youth. Her response was, "Sounds like you had a human moment." Yes, yes, it was a human moment. I crossed a boundary because I wanted something for myself. I was feeling the temptation in its presentation and took the bait.

In this scripture, Christ reminds us that we are all tempted. We have human moments; we are not infallible, impervious to the human needs which often present themselves in our daily journey.  We experience Christ’s empathetic gift of resisting that which does not provide true sustenance. In moments of weakness, strength comes from our desire to remain true to God’s word over and above that which takes attention away from the Creator’s purpose for life.

So when we next encounter a distracting "human moment," let us use Christ as our guide to rise above the din of earthbound, temporary happiness. We do not live by bread alone. We live in the knowledge that God is permanence and offers the promise of eternal life.

Prayerfully consider ...

How to engage your worship artists in experiencing worship through bread.

Filling a sanctuary with the smell of freshly baked bread for this Sunday will communicate the human temptation of hunger that can become Holy Communion with the Bread of life. Distraction becomes inspiration when Christ invites us to the table and helps us rise. 

Prayer

Everlasting God, help us to remember Christ’s strength in the face of temptation.  Let it be the inspiration when we struggle in our daily walk amongst distractions.  Amen.

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A Clean Heart

A Clean Heart

Ash Wednesday

March 1, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 51:1-17

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
(Psalm 51:10, NRSV)

Devotion

I hear my mother’s hope in the words of this psalm. Hope that I would become a better person; hope that I would use kind words, have compassion and clean up my act. I do not think that she was hoping to get me to change my language, or my thoughts, as much as she was trying to create a clean heart within me that would result in changed behavior. I have discovered that only God can truly do that. 

Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our own rebellion, our speaking against God when we use harsh words against another person, group or even ourselves. Ash Wednesday reminds us that  our actions or inactions adversely affect others and the world around us.  As the season of Lent begins we are reminded of our sinful nature and our need to ask God for forgiveness and to create a clean heart within us. When we repent, our hearts are cleansed and the true joy of our salvation is realized. .

Prayerfully consider ...

How to engage your worship artists and congregation in experiencing worship through ashes.

The Ash Wednesday burning of dried palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday connects a congregation in time as well as space. The cleansing fire of Love reduces human sin to dust and ashes. We are marked by our mortality by this cross of dirty ash, and paradoxically our hearts are cleansed and joy is realized.  

Prayer

Forgiving God, may our rebellion cease, our hearts be cleansed and our joy through Jesus Christ be full.  Amen.

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Listen!

Listen!

Transfiguration Sunday

Week of: February 26, 2017
Scripture: Mark 9:7 *

“Then a cloud appeared and covered him, and a voice came from the cloud: 'This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!'”
(Mark 9:7, NIV*)

Devotion

Many times our thoughts and actions convey that we do not truly understand who Jesus is in our lives. With a lack of full understanding, we end up not listening to his instructions.

In this scripture, God confirmed Jesus' identity and declared him to be "my Son." The disciples were commanded to listen to Jesus’ past and future teachings and instructions knowing he was the Son of God. The disciples needed this reassurance and confirmation so that they not only would hear Jesus, but also understand and take heed of his teaching.

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The Extra Mile

The Extra Mile

Seventh Sunday After Epiphany

Week of: February 19, 2017
Scripture: Mark 2:3-4 *

“Some men came, bringing to (Jesus) a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get the man to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat which the man was lying on.”
(Mark 2:3-4, NIV*)

Devotion

Though there are millions of people who come to Jesus each day, there are still some that cannot see a way to come to him. 

Here, a paralyzed man could not get to Jesus on his own so four men carried him to Jesus. Once they arrived, it naturally was a discouraging sight to see the large crowd. Instead of complaining, quitting, and turning around at the perceived impossibility, the men looked and took another way. 

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Timing

Timing

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany

Week of: February 12, 2017
Scripture: Mark 1:44-45 *

" 'See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.' Instead (the man) went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him everywhere."
(Mark 1:44-45, NIV*)

Devotion

After healing the man with leprosy, Jesus commanded him to keep silent about it. The time was not yet right to reveal this healing to everyone.

However, caught up in his own excitement, the man did the exact opposite of what Jesus had commanded. As a result this had a potential negative effect on Jesus’ ministry – he could no longer enter a town openly.

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A Top Priority

A Top Priority

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

Week of: February 5, 2017
Scripture: Mark 1:35 *

“Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”
(Mark 1:35, CEB*)

Devotion

In the hustle and bustle of life and the demands of our various ministries in worship arts, there are many tasks, deadlines, and individuals perceived to be our number one priority.

In the midst of full and exhausting days of healing, teaching, exorcism – competing for Jesus’ full attention – Jesus revealed to us that despite the importance of each area of ministry, his grounding priority was to spend time alone with God.

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Creating Space

Creating Space

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Week of: January 29, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:10, NRSV)

Devotion

The Beatitudes have always been one of my favorite portions of scripture. Yet this particular one took on a whole new meaning for me on the morning of June 18, 2015, the day after the unfathomable massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. My seminary professor entered the classroom silently, read the Beatitudes, and led us in a prayer of mostly silent grief.

The entire trajectory of the semester seemed to change after that moment, and what emerged was a group of people more committed to working against the very serious powers of hatred.

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Leaving Our Nets

Leaving Our Nets

Third Sunday After Epiphany

Week of: January 22, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 4:12-23

“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
(Matthew 4:20, NRSV)

Devotion

As a worship artist, there is simply nothing more important in my life than the project I am currently working on. The artist in me knows that an interruption at a crucial time in a highly artistic thought process could be devastating to the potential creativity of the finished product.

The worship leader in me almost feels as though souls may be at stake in the song I have chosen for such a high moment in the upcoming service. And then it comes, often through the door of my office: the interruption that seemingly ruins my whole day!

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Abundant Gifts

Abundant Gifts

Second Sunday After Epiphany

Week of: January 15, 2017
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

“... so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 1:7, NRSV)

Devotion

As usual, God’s grace sustained me during the hectic season of Advent, and there was enough left in the tank to experience meaningful services of Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord. Yet it’s about this time in the liturgical year when reality hits: Holy Week is right around the corner! Indeed, it’s about this time when I begin questioning whether my gifts and my endurance will be enough for the task ahead.

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Bursting Forth

Bursting Forth

Baptism of the Lord Sunday

Week of: January 8, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”
(Matthew 3:16, NRSV)

Devotion

I will never forget the time I was flying back home from China amidst what seemed like complete darkness over the Pacific Ocean. Even though I am never able to sleep on flights, my eyelids could barely stay open as I stared out the window. And then suddenly, rising far off in the distance, breaking through the enormous clouds, light burst forth over all the earth, scattering every hint of darkness. The sun overwhelmed the sky, its brilliant rays racing to all corners of creation, and my heart was equally overwhelmed.

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Total Transformation

Total Transformation

Epiphany Sunday

Week of: January 1, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12

"… they left for their own country by another road."
(Matthew 2:12, NRSV)

Devotion

What will it be this year? Exercise more? Get more organized? Commit to less use of social media? New Year’s resolutions are a societal ritual that we simply must take part in, right?

Unlike the often fleeting nature of New Year’s resolutions, this powerful text from Matthew’s Gospel is a reminder of the total transformation that we are called to after encountering Christ. Just as the Magi left “by another road,” how can we not be changed by our encounter with Christ during the Advent and Christmas seasons that we have just experienced? What might the transformation that others see in us elicit from the people with whom we partner in ministry?

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The Mystery

The Mystery

Christmas Day

Week of: December 25, 2016
Scripture: Hebrews 1:1-12

"He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being ..."
(Hebrews 1:3a, NRSV)

Devotion

Mystery. Few other words seem to capture what this day is better than "mystery." Yes, this is a day of rejoicing, of carols, of laughter, of family gatherings with presents and food. This is the day that all our work and planning has been leading up to. Celebrate! Christ is born! And still I say ... mystery.

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