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The story of the banquet is found in Luke 14:7-11. Jesus attends a Sabbath feast and notices how everyone comes into the room jockeying for the most honored seats. He warns them not to. Better to take the last place and be invited up, rather than presume the honored one and have to be moved down. He finishes with one of his favorite lines, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Whenever we set ourselves to be honored above others, or promote our own influence, people only become a tool to our own ends and real life and real love cease. They came into the party with their eyes glued on the head-table.

Who wouldn’t? Banquets are designed to draw attention to the front of the room and celebrate the most-honored guests. And few people walk in without wishing they could have that place of honor so that others would know how important they are.

I don’t think Jesus’ point was to take the last place as a way to get to what you think is first place. Maybe his point was that the last place in a room is really the best place to enjoy him and love others in a way that is meaningful and transforming.

I don’t know of a story that better answers all of our how-to questions. How do I find relationship, fellowship, or an outlet for my creative expression? Instead of looking for what we don’t have, Luke 14 invites us into the space of responding to God’s working right where we are. Rather than having to make something happen by our own wisdom or ingenuity, the path to God’s life comes by loving the people he has already put before us, applying our gifts to their needs. I’m convinced that will create opportunity enough for whatever God wants to give us and what he desires us to share with us.

(Excerpts from “How Do I…” Article in BodyLife newsletter, March 2010, by Wayne Jacobsen)

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For the past few days along with my daily reading and meditation in the Word, I have been reading the book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. Let me share some reflections about living by grace, experiencing the love of God.

  • The disciple who is living by grace, rather than by some set of laws, has undergone a decisive conversion… turning from mistrust to TRUST. The foremost characteristic of living by grace is trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross… As a child of God, I am beloved, loved by the Father and am free to trust.
  • The tendency in legalistic religion of any sort is to mistrust god, to mistrust others and consequently to mistrust ourselves. Our focus then becomes an internal focus, rather than a focus on God.
  • We need a new kind of relationship with the Father that drives our fear and mistrust, anxiety and guilt. A relationship that permits us to be hopeful and joyous, trusting and compassionate.

The gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ calls us to sing of the everyday mystery of intimacy with God. To sing of the spiritual roots of such commonplace experiences as falling in love, telling the truth, raising a child, teaching a calss, forgiving each other after we have hurt each other, standing together in the bad weather of life, of the unexpected serendipitous moment, of the radiance of existence.

Of such is the kingdom of heaven. Of such is the homely mystery of genuine religion in which grace abounds and walks around the edges of our every day experiences

Trust defines the meaning of living by grace… the active expression of God’s love.

If we could all
just stop throwing stones,

and stoop, knees bent
and write in the dust,

we’d see that the dust
was once stone –
grand, and hard, and proud, and tough –
now ground and dissolved
in grace and tears.

So… how much better
to be a grain of dirt

on that kind prophet’s hands
than a stone
in the cold, accusing Temple
of the pure.

(from The Open Office: a tool for groups exploring a rhythm of life that has a liturgical edge to share resources.)

How often are we like the stone… cold, hard-hearted, distant and judgmental to those we love and to those around us. May the Spirit of Christ break up the hardness of our hearts, grind us into bits of dust through his grace, love and mercy. May we have a heart of tenderness, kindness, compassion for others.

Beannacht (“Blessing”)

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

(Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John Donahue)

Where the mist rises from the sea
Where the waves creep upon the shore
Where the wrack lifts upon the strand
I have seen the Lord.

Where the sun awakens the day
Where the road winds on its way
Where the fields are sweet with hay
I have seen the Lord.

Where the stars shine in the sky
Where the streets so peaceful lie
Where the darkness is so nigh
I have seen the Lord.

The Lord is here
The Lord is there
The Lord is everywhere.
The Lord is high
The Lord is low
The Lord is on the path I go.

Landscapes of Light: An illustrated Anthology of Prayers; David Adam

Psalm 84; The Message.

What a beautiful home, God of the Angel Armies!
I’ve always longed to live in a place like this,
Always dreamed of a room in your house,
where I could sing for joy to God-alive!

Birds find nooks and crannies in your house,
sparrows and swallows make nests there.
They lay their eggs and raise their young,
singing their songs in the place where we worship.
God of Angel Armies! King! God!
How blessed they are to live and sing there!

And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives becomes roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn–Zion! God in full view!

God of the Angel Armies, listen:
O God of Jacob, open your ears–I’m praying!
Look at our shields, glistening in the sun,
our faces, shining with your gracious anointing.

One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship,
beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches.
I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God,
than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin.
All sunshine and sovereign is God,
generous in gifts and glory.
He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions.
It’s smooth sailing all the way with God of the Angel Armies.

Ancient forms of liturgy and worship are taking on new meaning as they are placed within the context of new creative forms of worship. A renewed reverence for the holy, a journey of faith and mystery, create an expectation and desire to experience the power and presence of God.

Among emerging generations, there is a desire to seek the ancient. There is even a backlash against the church feeling like a modern business. So a revival of liturgy and other ancient disciplines, when brought back with life and meaning, are a desired approach to worship in the emerging church. There are beautiful expressions of worship from various times periods we can integrate into how we worship today.

Among future oriented churches there is a growing interest in the Christian calendar and in Jewish religious rites and roots of the faith. Among emerging generations there is a fascinating revival of interest in singing hymns as part of worship. The lyrical content of many hymns is rich and deep, something emerging generations desire.

Music continues to be one of the primary ways to involve all worshipers in a bi-directional relationship with God in worship gatherings. Music also affirms the corporate unity of the body of Christ because it is something that the entire congregation does together.

Recently contemporary music artists and song-writers have begun to write music with more depth, theology and mystery. This music is filtering into the traditional and contemporary churches. But as a congregation begins to develop new patterns, it should keep in mind that the essential nature of the assembling of the people is a divine call and a human response. No matter the forms of worship, God continues to call to his people and desires a response to his love.

The challenge of future worship is to identify those choruses and spiritual songs that have lasting value, to retain the music from the past that is characterized by depth and a power, and to combine these many forms of music into an order of worship that remembers, proclaims, enacts, and celebrates the story of salvation.

(continues in installment 5)

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