The Crossing

“The Crossing”

I remember when I was ten asking my father how old he was, and he told me he was three times as old as I was. He went on to say that in ten more years he would be just twice as old as me and that, one day, I would catch up to him! Doubtful as his math seemed then, I began over time to wonder if there was not some truth to it, I now in my fifth decade and he in his seventh. The longer he lives, the older I get. (Happy birthday, Dad!)

My father is retired now from the long-distance trucking that occupied him when I was a kid. I remember the excitement of him being “on the road” when we were little. Later, he would meet us at some truck stop or other around the country. Even after we moved to New York and he still lived in Mississippi he’d call now and then to let us know when he was at the truck stop in Belvidere and see if we wanted to bring the boys up for breakfast and, most exciting of all, a ride in the cab.

Maybe it’s from my father that I developed a sense of driving as not escape but something more like meditation. Or better, a means of contemplation. A way to be with my thoughts and in communion with the world, crossing its surface while it turns slow beneath.

In her entry “Upon the Floods,” in Poets on the Psalms, Diane Glancy reflects on crossing 4,799 miles of open ground in the western U.S. “in a week and a half” to teach and give readings. “I listened to Psalms as I drove” she writes. “I wanted strength for the unknown journey ahead.” “What I listened for in Psalms was mostly the landscapes,” she notes: “The outgoings of the morning and the evening, the rain, hills, rivers and valleys, the settled furrows, the pastures of the wilderness clothed with flocks and crops (from Psalm 65).”

“The earth was removed as I drove” she continues, leaving out of Bismarck, North Dakota on her own that first night. “I was alone under the sky. I was alone on the road though mountains shook with rumbling; though the earth tumbled into dark, I kept driving. My refuge is in the Lord.”

Onward to Missoula she went, leaving from there before dawn, and then to Portland to teach yet more, continuing on until “all of Psalms seems to be a divided highway. Cries of agonies and desperate pleas for help mixed with continuous, profound praise of the Lord’s faithfulness.” “It seemed, in the end,” she found, “that the landscape David wrote about was a landscape of faith. A migration across the circumstances he met.”

“I could enter the Psalms as I traveled,” she writes. “I could drive the road like a trucker. I could praise God before his creation. It seemed to me this is a day in which common man has access to God, and so does common woman. Faith has broken down the partition. I can enter a close relationship to God like David. I can do so because of Christ.”

That’s the closest approximation I’ve read of the 6:00 a.m. feeling engendered on my father’s calling out Adios (“to God”) from the lane beside us, our youngest in arms as our oldest pumps his elbow hard to “Grampa! blow your horn,” Dad waving down to us from his rig to pass him by, as I pull back instead to make our exit; not ready to pass him, even if he wants me to. In God’s time I may yet pull alongside. For now though, it’s enough to share the way.

To let the Psalms of David wash over us as we gather; to let the Psalms that washed over Jesus open us to worship: That’s what we have before us now, as we gather again to discover what God has done. The road laid open before us of laughter and love, heartache and tears, welcome and leaving and waving us on. Christ to point the way to God; ours to join, the crossing home.

–Pastor Bill Jones, Sept. 2009

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Phillips Creek

February, God, and I am done
with words for awhile — and you must be too;
budgets to bed, Christmas past,
letters crafted, prayers sent
and white, white
everywhere
in woods as still
as these.

Icicles clinging
the snow-crested branches,
creaking in quiet and bitter cold,
as granular ice slips underfoot
and crossing the frozen creek I stumble
to rise the beauty you’ve spun around,

the edge where you’ve been waiting me,
where day speaks to day
and night to night,
and though no utterance is heard,
throughout the earth —
to its very edge
their voice arrives

and so do I.

Whisper me
in quiet, God,
whisper me
in life.

— William B. Jones, Feb. 2009 (italics from Psalm 19)

God’s Co-Workers

“We are God’s Co-workers.

You are God’s Field.

You are God’s Building.”

–1 Corinthians 3:9

 

This verse from a letter by Paul to an early Christian congregation provides a vision of what Christ’s disciples are and should be about. It thus supplies a framework in which to view areas of discipleship we engage in as church.

 

“We are God’s co-workers.”
You and I are God’s co-workers. Really? People like us, here and now, and not just saints in the past or yet to be born? Amazing! And a bit daunting. For reasons clear only to God, people are important to God, and our ability to choose good over evil means we can help make present God’s loving-kindness in the world. For our church locally this has meant being host to each other in times of prayer and worship, in times of illness and recovery, and in times of hurt feelings and hoped-for reordering of our life together.

In working with others – on church committees, in church events, at soup kitchens, youth retreats and mission fairs – “wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name,” he is present among us. And so we are joined as co-workers with the best and brightest of all.

 

“You are God’s field.”
We’ve had interest expressed in increasing mission expressed as we’ve looked at ways our financial gifts – both present and past – are and could be deployed. It’s important to ask what we mean by mission. Often it is a term that is held as somehow different from the essence of who and what we are as church, as in “this (just here) is our ministry, and that (over there) is our mission.” Yet the church itself is formed to be a mission outpost in its community.

Here we have the opportunity to name God’s love and justice as core to what we are about. Here we are called to remember we belong to Jesus first. In this place we gather uniquely to ask that the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit guide us in the world. Does a local group undertake the work we feel Jesus calls us to also? Then we are grateful to support it with our prayers and participation, as many here do. Does a wider ministry extend our witness in ways we cannot do so easily? Then we may choose to add financial support, as we have in support of both local and global outreach. What constitutes tending God’s field? It begins from where we are, and is added to from here.

 

“You are God’s building.”
Finally, to something concrete (and glass, and carpet…). We know we will take care of the physical facility, because it provides a base for us to worship in – and meet in, and pray in, and study in, and teach our children the faith in, and to “marry, carry and bury” God’s loved ones in. People sometimes demur over the notion of giving “to pay the light bills,” yet doing so means we have a place in which to be present to the community as a place of proper welcome, deeper worship and longed-for aid. Remembering we are God’s building first of all helps keep perspective on who and whose we are here for.

 

To be God’s co-workers; to be God’s field; to be God’s building — what an amazing charge we have. What a precious opportunity. May the church continue to be both blessed and blessing.

(January 2008)

“Come Spirit, Occupy the Earth” [Advent/Christmas Eve/New Year]

“Come Spirit, Occupy the Earth”

Christmas Hymn after Francis of AssisiCome, Holy Spirit

1. Come Christmas, Francis calls his friends
to make a place for Christ on earth;
Sing now to re-awake the world,
the rocks and wood to echo birth.

2. Laid cold on hay, ‘twixt ox and mule,
no wood-stoked fire to warm the night,
Cry sister, brother: “Born again!”
“In this place, a new Bethlehem.”

3. Who was asleep within our hearts,
forgotten, dead beside our cares;
Recalled to memory and life,
received and teaching hearts made right.

4. Now giving forth to those in need,
gathered in healing, here to feed,
Your truth to bring and peace to seed;
your loving-kindness offering.

5. Come Spirit, occupy the earth,
the poor and lowly hold in worth;
Your love illuminate our sight
and multiply your gifts aright.

______

for those keeping a “Watch-Night” Vigil,
preparing to enter a New Year in faith,
an additional verse may be added:

6. This Watchnight, make us God your friends,
the coming year to make amends;
Ring true again your promises,
that peace and mercy here may kiss.

______

by William B. Jones, Advent, 2011,
based on the nativity scene of Francis of Assisi
as told by Thomas of Celano and Julian of Speyer.

tune: Tallis’ Canon (“All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night”) L.M. 8.8.8.8

“Veni Sancte Spiritus” (“Come Holy Spirit”) chapel window at Academy of Notre Dame, Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, photo courtesy of Elizabeth Rossano.

hours

Mount Ireneaus bell

the bell sounding matins
tells the day,
the prayer,
the work begun

the bell calling nocturns
prays the night,
the God,
to bless our friends on.

______

“hours” by William B. Jones

Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Retreat Center, NY, Nov. 28, 2011

______

What, Me Marry? (Marriage Equality)

As have most pastors, I’ve been asked to do weddings on a number of bases: We have “a nice church on Main Street.” A friend got married here. We don’t require people to join the church first. Fellowship Hall is cheaper than a fire hall for a reception. Their parents/grandparents worship/were married/once lived here. Our building is nicer than the church they (or their parents) actually attend.

All of these speak to reasons given (or not) for being married at a pretty church on Main Street; none of them answer the first two of three questions I ask of couples looking to get married by me: (1) What does getting married mean for you? (2) Why get married by a Christian minister? (3) Why get married in this church?

The last one is what they often have in mind first. Not that I mind people getting married in a sanctuary with side-windows open to the green of nature and Jesus praying over the communion table up front — I was married in a lovely sanctuary too. (Here I did come to request that a couple worship with us some Sunday before I meet with them to plan a wedding. It provides them the chance to meet the folk who keep up the nice church on Main Street, and to see the minister being asked to marry them “in action” beforehand. Sometimes they join the church. A couple even went on to teach Sunday School.)

But I really want the couple to focus more on question (1), and challenge them gently to think, at least, a bit about question (2). There are friends and family members aplenty to worry about receptions and candle colors. It’s my job to help them think about who they are as a couple already, and what it means to ask the world’s blessing to their joining. The first properly involves the couple and, in faith, God. The second expands it to include a Minister and so her/his sense of the couple’s readiness to make a sacred covenant public. And the third extends to a congregation, usually of those gathered for the wedding itself.

On the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act this summer (2011), a letter to United Church of Christ clergy and congregations from the New York Conference office offered positive guidance on treating all marriage requests equally. Interim NY Conference Minister Rev. Rita Root put it this way: “I have encouraged those who have asked to not have separate policies should their congregation determine that, if asked, they would welcome same-sex couples to hold their wedding ceremonies in their building but rather that one policy would cover all weddings.” I find that helpful. Maybe it’s coming from the South that leads me to suspect policies which are different for different folks, but I prefer one drinking — or baptismal — fountain for all. Seems to me Jesus pretty much did too.

I believe most clergy welcome conversation on marriage that reaches beyond “how long is the center aisle for the runner'” Being already open to inviting those who attend church any three Sundays to join the choir, may we also be affirming of those who seek to consecrate their relationship in a space made holy by the One who invites us all to the reception table God provides.

Peace and good,
Rev. William B. Jones

Walking the Water

Like Wile E. Coyote run off a cliff and hanging in mid-air until he realizes nothing is beneath him, in Matthew’s gospel Peter has faith enough to walk out on the water for a bit — enough to make a beginning, at least. “Walking the Water” invites us out onto the water with Christ, and on to the other side among those gathered for healing there.

As we prepared for worship this week I found myself humming a refrain I knew, but whose opening words I could not quite recall (a problem for those of us who must look up hymns indexed by “first line” instead of tune!). Though the church organist knows most tunes by hum, this was an original one by me, and she was teaching at college that day anyway. Thankfully the church secretary, who tracks many things faithfully, located the hymn in a 2005 file on our “old” church computer. (That would be two lectionary cycles from Matthew ago now, readings from that gospel having been followed in 2008 as well.)

It’s a catchy enough tune (though I’m not sure I have scripted it entire accurately), and the words cover the ground (or water, I should say) well enough to “include us in,” I hope, as Jesus heads off into a storm and Peter follows out after him (literally) across the lake.

View “Walking the Water” Hymn

Here the song is preserved in “B+” quality pdf file — perhaps by the time Matthew comes around again, I’ll have it in sharper focus. If not, the “grace notes” added by the organist in real time during worship will help carry us over the water again, what and wherever Christ may call us to next.