Why We Sing

For thirty plus Christmas’ I’ve led groups of carolers.  I can’t carry a tune.  But I understand the importance and value of singing.  Particularly when singing to those among us who are feeling vulnerable.

First Baptist in Beverly, sharing the love.

We sing in nursing homes, memory centers, jails, retirement communities and on street corners.  We sing to folk who have lost a loved one.  We sing to encourage neighbors wrestling with addiction.

We sing to remind people that they are not forgotten.  To remind ourselves and those we sing for,  that as dark as any given moment may seem, that the light will come.  To lift up and celebrate the beauty found in community and mutual care.

In the Gospel of Matthew we hear these words:

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

Matthew quoting words from the prophet Isaiah, reminds us that the embodiment of this light is Jesus.  It is this light come to earth in the story of Jesus, which inspires us to sing, to hope, to persevere.

Christmas is often a difficult time for people.  We have so many expectations of what the season should be…family, gifts, comfort, joy, peace.

Yet the reality for many doesn’t match the expectations.   Many of us are estranged from family, struggle to pay the bills, wrestle with addiction, face health challenges or worry over the future our children and grandchildren will inherit.

There is a lot of darkness in the world.  This is true.

Yet our faith teaches that the light enters into the darkness.   Light which cannot be extinguished  or contained.

Each year the story of Christmas comes to remind us that light has come.  An unlikely light in the form of an infant, born to peasant parents, during a time of military occupation. This child born homeless, wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.

From this humble beginning a life-sustaining light has come.  A light which still burns.  A light that rests upon each woman, man, girl and boy.

This is why we sing.  To remind ourselves and those we sing to, that darkness never has the final word.  The light has come, once again.

Let us raise our voice in song.



Brussels: Living in a Good Friday World

More than 30 people are dead and more than 200 are wounded after explosions struck Brussels during the Tuesday morning rush hour. Two blasts hit the international airport; another struck a metro station. The city is in a state of emergency. Residents and visitors are told to ‘shelter in place’. ISIS has taken credit for this atrocity.

We in the United States watch this horrific story unfold and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We recognize that such senseless terrorism can come to any of us. I think of my daughter, a college student, who in January spent a week living and working in Brussels. She told us how beautiful Brussels is and how friendly the people. She arrived at the same airport and rode the same subway that were bombed this morning. It could have been my daughter, your child, anyone of us caught up in this tragic story.

bombing in brussels

The world has always known violence. The 24 hour news cycle brings tragedies before us in quick secession. We feel overwhelmed, frightened, even numb. What then, if anything, are we to do? In this political season some would have us isolate from the world and build bigger walls. Others would have us respond to the violence of ISIS with violence of our own. An eye for an eye.

Is there any hope? Any way forward that does not lead to more suffering, create greater fear?

We reflect on such questions during this Holy Week in the Christian calendar. This week we remember how Jesus was betrayed, arrested and on Good Friday crucified by the Empire of Rome. On that Friday 2000 years ago a reasonable observer would have thought that the forces of violence and revenge had won. That death was the final word.

In the aftermath of today’s bombings in Brussels we too may be thinking that hatred, terrorism, fear and death have won.

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the last time: ‘As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of? In my tradition it is the way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

My tradition tells me that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not, believer or skeptic, we are invited to claim this truth that evil will never have the final word.

We think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear. What forgiveness are you prepared to offer? Who are you called to embrace? What stranger (who makes you uncomfortable ) are you called to befriend?

Pope washing feet of youth

Today and in the days to come the prayers and love of millions of many faiths and no particular faith will be with the people of Belgium. In time, ISIS will be a footnote of history. And the story of love’s capacity to persevere and guide our shared path, will continue to be told.

Love wins. It is the only force that can.

A Christmas Promise: Only Love is Real

Fall 2015 052

Outside the church stand four doors, public art intended to engage the imagination of the wider community. Painted by the children of the church with lettering by a local art student, the four doors are intended to catch the attention of those driving and walking past. Together the doors say: ‘God’s Door is Always Open to Everyone’.

At the base of the fourth door is a blackboard with chalk with the invitation ‘share a prayer’. Each day people stop to write their prayers. Often the board becomes full and at the end of the day erased so that new prayers can be offered.

Yesterday, a few days prior to Christmas, I saw these words written by a passerby: ‘Only Love is Real’. This left me pondering, do I believe that to be true? Certainly evil is real. Certainly loss and pain are real. But is love different? Is love even more real?

A line from a hymn comes to mind: ‘Love Came Down at Christmas’. Christmas arrives each year to remind us that love made a home in the life of an infant named Jesus. My Christian tradition teaches that this infant was a gift to humankind from God. This infant would grow to show us what is real. He would grow to show us that love is more expansive than anything our human minds can possibly comprehend.

In time this bearer of love would confront an adversary that is also real, evil. Evil in Jesus’ time (as in our time) had and has many faces. For Jesus and his people evil took the form of a sociopath named King Herod and a seemingly all-powerful emperor called Caesar. We know the story. King Herod forced Jesus’ parents to flee with their baby and seek refuge in Egypt. Later when Jesus was age 33 the empire put him to death. So is evil more real than love?

The Jesus story tells us that the empire does not have the final word. On Easter life overcomes death, forgiveness overcomes hatred, love overcomes evil.

I agree with the writer on the church door: ‘Only Love is Real’. This will continue to be true as long as people like you and me do our part to make it so.

Centuries ago, Theresa of Avila wrote: “God has no hands on earth but our hands, no feet on earth but our feet, no heart on earth but our hearts.” To the extent that we believe this and live this, then the promise of Christmas continues. The story of God’s love coming into the world in human form remains true, incarnated in your life and mine.

It’s true: ‘Only Love is Real’. I wish you a very good Christmas. May you be both blessed and a blessing.

Refugee Crisis Meets a Crisis of Conscience

We can’t escape the images of refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea and the list goes on. Certain photos have become iconic: A baby boy’s body washed up on a Greek island; an anguished father holding his exhausted child. Some nations like Hungary have placed razor wire, others like France and Germany struggle to make room for hundreds of thousands of the displaced.

Syrian Dad and child

Then last week a terrorist cell brought carnage to Paris. 128 murdered/ executed, 350 plus wounded, a city and nation traumatized. One assailant was believed to be a Syrian.

The response of many around the world was fear. Fear that the tide of refugees contain terrorists. Fear that we need to put up barriers between ourselves and those who are different. Fear that we too are at risk.

In the United States Donald Trump has climbed to the top of Republican presidential poll waving the flag of fear. He’s called for an insurmountable wall being built along the Mexican border. He’s called for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, most from Mexico.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the wake of the Paris attack has called for a halt to efforts to welcome Syrian refugees. He’s called the current 18 month vetting process insufficient. Nearly all Republicans and a significant number of Democrats voted with the Speaker. Over half the Governors support further restrictions.

Fear has a way of constricting the mind and the heart. Many who have voted to remove the welcome mat are people of faith. What are we to make of this?

Jesus understood the power of fear. He understood what it means to be a homeless refuge. In response he told a story whose hero is a Samaritan, an outcast. At a time when an emphasis was placed on religious orthodoxy and racial purity the Samaritan was neither. They were outcasts. Looked down upon by those in power.

In his story in Luke’s Gospel 10: 25 – 37 Jesus tells of a man beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left to die in a ditch. Along comes a religious leader who sees but chooses to walk by. Next is a political leader who also walks by.

It is the Samaritan who stops, binds up the man’s wounds and takes him to an inn. There he pays for the victims lodging and medical care. Jesus ends the story by asking the listeners: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” They replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus replied: “Go and do likewise.”

Good Samaritan pic

It is one thing to say or do the right thing when there is little cost. But as we wrestle with how to respond to the refugee crisis this isn’t easy or cost-free. My faith tradition puts it this way, ‘this is come to Jesus time’. We either believe in Jesus’ wisdom or we don’t. We either believe in the power of love or we give in to the power of fear.

This is the time when we as Jesus followers are called to push back against the fear peddlers. We are called to set aside our fears and step out in faith. We are asked to place our faith in a 2000 year old story that promises to show us the way forward. Will you walk with me?