Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Morning, Going Up

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith For the Years of Winter…

I woke up at 3 and laid awake until 4:30, when I rolled out of bed. The thermometer read the same as the clock, 4.5 degrees. I was too excited to sleep, because this afternoon we’re going to the Second Sunday Folk Dance at Fortune Lake, 35 miles up the UP. Bryan Bowers [1], the great auto-harpist, is the special guest, along with our usual hosts, the great “Whitewater,” Dean and Bette Premo. And, oh, yes, I am preaching this morning, too.

I thought I had given up preaching forever when we moved from Sterling, IL to Iron Mountain, MI. That was my intention. I was worn out from filling in for Pastor Nancy whenever she got tickets to Packers games. Now we have Pastor Debbie, another woman who prefers to worship at Lambeau Cathedral. You know how women get when they have a chance to sit outside on bleachers in the cold to watch big men run into one another; there’s just no stopping them. So I’m preaching again, at 9 and 10:30.

Every night I wake up around 2 or 3 and lie awake for an hour or so, praying for my long mental list of people in need. On Sunday, I switch my prayers to preachers and churches. I start with the church in Oxford, OH where I was baptized, and go on from there, every church I’ve ever been a part of, preacher and people, and all of my preaching friends. What a complex and varied array that is.

It’s amazing that people get anything out of worship. Each person there comes from a different experience with different feelings and different hopes and a different idea of God from everyone else there. Each of us gets a different meaning and experience from the hymns and prayers and anthem and sermon. And just one person, the preacher, is charged with taking his or her individual experiences and understandings and creating, or allowing, worship where each individual “can come closer to the throne of God.”

Today is the first Sunday after Epiphany, when, according to the church calendar, we focus on the baptism of Jesus. The lectionary Gospel for the day is Matthew 3:13-17, where Jesus is baptized by John and comes out of the river and God smiles and says, “That’s my boy!”

I’m reading that scripture, and preaching on it, but most of the other elements of the service don’t have much to do with the “theme.” I used to work very hard to be sure all the elements of the worship service—hymns, prayers, anthem, etc—followed the theme. But after church one Sunday, older daughter Mary Beth, then a teenager, said she had not gotten anything out of worship because the reality of her life that day had nothing to do with that theme.

So I learned from my children, a never-ending source of education, that every element of worship should not be pulled out of the same basket. Sometimes that particular theme has nothing to do with where you are in your own life, in your own relationship with God. So the worship needs elements that allow each different person a way into the presence of God.

That means that a preacher needs to trust the people. When I was a very new preacher, I heard someone say that a sermon should be like a string of beads rather than a handful of confetti. I believed that then; I’m not sure about it now. These days, I spend a lot of time before the service choosing confetti. Then I stand in the pulpit and toss it out and trust the people to grab what they need.

This afternoon, we’ll worship that way at Fortune Lake. Dean and Bette and Bryan will play and sing the songs that appeal to them, and we’ll listen to the stories in those songs and enjoy what they mean to us. Some of us will laugh as we hear them, some of us will cry, but we’ll be together, and then we’ll get into a circle and join hands and heel and toe our way around the room, some elegantly, some clumpily, but together.

Wherever you go today, to Lambeau Cathedral or WalMart Worship Center or the Bapcathluthmethpresepiscopal Church, may there be some confetti for you to grab. And if not, come on up to Fortune Lake.

May the peace of Christ be with you,

[1] If you’ve never heard Bryan, go on YouTube and listen to his rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” He makes the autoharp sound like a whole orchestra.

{I also write the fictional “Periwinkle Chronicles” blog. One needs a rather strange sense of humor to enjoy it, but occasionally it is slightly funny. It is at}

(If you would prefer to receive either “Christ In Winter” or “Periwinkle Chronicles” via email, just let me know at, and I’ll put you on the email list.)

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