Fall is coming to New England. School has started and families are adjusting to their new busier routines. Summer with its long lazy days has ended. The leaves are beginning to show their vivid colors, and people come from all over the world to “Leaf Peek.” It is a glorious time here. I enjoy sitting on our deck with a cup of tea and just soaking in the beauty of the woods behind our house. Of course, I see God?s hand in all the beauty. I can almost imagine seeing his hand holding a paintbrush and spattering the bright yellows, golds and reds on all the leaves. It seems like even the sunshine on these fall days is more colorful somehow.
Fall continues as the leaves fall to the ground and the family dons sweaters and sweatshirts and cleans the spiderwebs off the rakes in the basement. The children try to help but get sidetracked jumping in big piles of leaves. Orange pumpkins become the theme of decorations, and in the local apple orchard the trees are heavy with their beautiful red fruit. The smell of apple cider and cinnamon is in the air.
I love that the seasons are very distinct here. But I know that when the leaves have been cleared and the rakes put away, the short days of winter lie ahead. We had a mild winter last year, but that was unusual. The bitter cold days and icy pavements will soon appear.
I think that?s how it is with our spiritual lives as well. The bright, beautiful moments are sometimes followed by periods of gray. This is often described by the terminology of “mountain tops and valleys.” The “mountain top” experiences give us reserve to live in the “valley” days. Yet our God is the God of both kinds of days. He rejoices with us on the “mountain tops” and holds us close in the “valley” times. When we walk through those dark days, He somehow seems closer and more real. We focus on Him and seek His help. Those are the painful days of growth. But it is also the time when God?s sweet presence seems most real. Through it all we can we be assured that the God who loved us enough to send his son to die for our sins is always with us.
It’s been a hard summer to be a Red Sox fan. I find myself still watching a few games, but my heart’s not really engaged. I believe many of us find it hard to cheer for such a cartoonish bunch of players. The most enthusiasm and excitement many have felt was with the recent trade. Josh Beckett is now a Dodger! Hallelujah!
So where is the excitement for our faith? For so many people this thing we call faith has become routine and perfunctory, rather like watching the Red Sox. We talk about God, but our experience of God seems to be somewhat lacking. For anyone who has walked with God for any length of time in their lives, the response ought to be overflowing thankfulness, worship and praise.
I look at what God has done in my life, and in the lives of the people around me, and I am astounded. How many times in our churches have I heard the proclamation made: “God is good” followed by the chorus response “All the time.”
If God is good in our lives, if we really take what we say at face value, and if we weren’t so conditioned by our culture to be civilized, proper New Englanders, we’d break out in songs of praise, and shouts of adoration and exaltation to our great God.
In fact, I think we’d be a whole lot like my two-year-old grandson, Eben. The toddler just loves to pray. He started by praying at meals, carefully taught a little child’s prayer by his mom and dad.
“Thank you, Jesus, for this food. Amen.”
Now he prays all the time, for everything. And he’s found a lot better way to do it. It’s no longer “Thank you, Jesus, for this food. Amen.” It’s “Thank you, Jesus for this food. Amen. HALLELUJAH!”
“Thank you for Manga and PaPaPa (his name for Nell and me). Amen. HALLELUJAH!”
He’s got the “Hallelujah!” bit down pat. He shouts it out with a big grin and both his arms shoot skyward as far as he can reach.
And that delights his parents -- at least it did until they took him to church. They go to Park Street Church in Boston, one of the great churches of our city, indeed of our whole nation. Now it’s an awesome church with a history stretching back to the Revolutionary War, but let’s face it, the congregation there can be a little reserved. At least it was until Eben prayed along with Gordon Hugenberger, their esteemed, scholarly pastor. Dr. Hugenberger ended his prayer with a proper “Amen.” Eben immediately finished it off with “HALLELUJAH!”
That what worship is like for a two year old. I think we could use a little of that at First Baptist Arlington. HALLELUJAH!
Baptists have a tradition of having Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, on the first Sunday of the month. We sit in the pews as the pastor or a deacon blesses the elements and then the deacons serve us. Before receiving the elements we pray for forgiveness of our sins and prepare our hearts to receive the symbols of Christ’s death on the cross. The wine and bread are symbolic of Christ’s blood and broken body. It is a sacred and deeply personal experience.
This summer I have had the opportunity to have Communion three Sundays in a row. Each very different, yet surprisingly the same. The first was here at First Baptist Arlington on July 22. We changed the date in July for various reasons. My sister and her family were visiting with us from Louisiana and some of my children were present. I was extremely happy to be sharing Communion with these people so near and dear to me. As my sister passed the wine to my daughter, she spilled the contents of her glass down her arm. As I looked at the deep purple juice flowing down the pale skin of her arm, the scene was transformed and I saw a tan muscled arm with blood flowing down in a similar pattern. In my mind’s eye. the juice had become blood and my sister’s arm had become that of our Savior. It was a deeply spiritual moment for me as the reality of Christ actually shedding his blood for my sins came into focus.
The following Sunday we were attending a family reunion in Glastonbury, Connecticut, where my niece, Lydia, is the pastor of The Lutheran Church of Saint Mark. Lutherans serve Communion at the altar where people come and kneel. There was real significance for me to worship with my extended family and to be served Communion by my niece. The thought came to me that at that moment my physical family was joined in that experience by my spiritual family of Christians around the world.
Finally, we were back home the following Sunday and had our annual outdoor service. The bread and wine were served not in the usual beautiful interior of our stone church, but outside with the cars and buses passing on Massachusetts Avenue, people walking past on the sidewalk, trees and bushes rustling in the breeze and the bright blue sky overhead. What a strange setting that seemed for such a holy moment, yet the world outside is the place where we want to share the marvelous gift of our Lord Jesus Christ. Three services, each so different, each bringing unique emotional responses in me, yet each service so alike, all held in the very presence of God.
The “god particle” is making headlines. Apparently it has been discovered, or there are very strong signs indicating its existence, or some very excited scientists believe they almost have it within their grasp. I don’t know, but it sounds awful much like the Bigfoot or Sasquatch sightings that surface from time to time.
When the European economy is collapsing, Greece and other countries are about to go belly up, and people are rioting in the streets, it is refreshing to know that this incredibly small mystery has taken only the biggest and most complex machine ever built, the most brilliant minds on the planet, a half century of hard work, and billions of dollars to “almost” capture the elusive prize. Oh, it has also taken a hollowed out Swiss mountain in which to bury the whole project.
Actually, hats off the the scientists on their discovery. By the way, no self respecting scientist would call the Higgs boson the “god particle.” It is the brainchild of Peter Higgs, a modest man of 83 whose lifelong vision is now being confirmed. The subatomic particle does have a huge payoff, for apparently it is the building block that holds the key to the universe.
So what about the “god particle?” Aside from the fact that an enterprising reporter or public relations spokesperson came up with a great name, nothing. There is no “god particle” -- at least not one involving my God. Let me tell you about my God.
First off, my God is not a particle. He is the infinite-personal creator of the universe. By infinite, I mean he is beyond human ability to discover. Years ago J.B. Phillips wrote a popular book called Your God Is Too Small. The biggest god we can imagine doesn’t begin to approach my God’s infinite presence. By personal, I mean God has chosen to relate to human beings in a way we can fathom. He relates to us individually and personally, caring for us as members of his family. He even created us in his image, reflecting in a most limited way those things that make God, well, God. We have God’s ability to love, to know right from wrong, to think, and to be creative.
Secondly, my God is not part of this universe. God is beyond this universe, and everything that is in the universe is just his handiwork. The universe is the creation of his hands, his voice. God spoke, and everything came into existence. It took a week to get the job done.
(Remember that the next time you think your week has been busy!)
Then, best of all, it is not necessary to search endlessly to discover my God. It doesn’t take a super-sized Large Hadron Collider and a whole Swiss Alp to find God. God knew our search would be fruitless without his help, so he has shown us who he is in his Son, Jesus Christ.
The finest humankind is capable of achieving possibly is summed up in this new advance in physics -- the discovery of the Higgs Boson. There will be more discoveries. I fully believe one day human beings will create life. One day we will discover there are other earths peopled with living beings. We might even find Sasquatch! Our greatest advances show that we, using all our abilities and resources, manage only to stumble along in baby steps following the magnificent creative activity of God.