THE WONDER OF GOD’S CREATION

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

[Psalm 8:1 NIV]

There are three psalms that I frequently turn to when I need words to describe God’s creation. They are Psalms 8, 19, and 24.

There are two verses in Psalm 8, with which I began this reflection, verses 3 and 4, that I find especially awe inspiring.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

As a child, I remember having to memorize the first six verses of Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Of course, I learned the old King James Version. I think the New International Version gives the modern-day reader a little more clarity.

And Psalm 24 begins with the unequivocal assertion in the first two verses, that all that we are, and all that we have, belongs to God:

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;

for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.

The longest creation Psalm is 104, which renown Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, describes as a commentary on Genesis 1. It goes on for 35 verses, far too long to reproduce here. But I would encourage its reading at some point because it is an inspiring poem.

Last Saturday, August 21, my wife, Linda, and I, spent the day in Lorain, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie.

We were there for the funeral of The Rev. Linwood Chamberlain, a dearly beloved pastor who served First Lutheran Church in Lorain for more than three decades.

That evening we attended the premiere of the film, The Fire Song, which documented the rebuilding of First Lutheran after an arsonist destroyed the building in 2014.

In between the two events, Linda and I passed the time away on the beach – literally. I happened to have my camera with me and spent a few hours digitally capturing the goings on at the East Beach of Lakeview Park and its Historical Rose Garden.

That evening, we drove home under the light of a brilliantly illuminating full moon. I ended my day with a few images of that glittering globe.

I end with the slide show below of just a few of the many images which inspired these words of celebration of God’s wondrous and majestic handiwork.

Enjoy!

STRUGGLING FOR INSPIRATION

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
[John 6:68]

Every so often, a day or a week rolls around that throws you for a loop. This has been such a week for me. Without going into a great deal of detail, so much has happened that I feel emotionally drained. Yet a while back I committed to blog two times each week, and so I am challenged to sit down and force myself to write with no idea in mind where this post is going.

What does one do when faced with such obstacles? Where does one go for inspiration, for direction?

I envy those who take on the task of writing daily devotions and never seem to run out of ideas. My mornings are spent in scripture reading and prayer, usually followed by meandering aimlessly  through the numerous reflections emailed by those devotional writers who populate my inbox.

There are days when they are simply a jumble of words on a screen. I would love to sit down with one of them and ask how they do it? I imagine it requires a great deal of discipline – a discipline which I seem to find lacking.

I realize that some of those writers are long gone from this earth, and what we are reading are thoughts that were published long ago. But still, at one point they wrote, and some individual or organization has found those words important enough to assemble into bite-sized chunks of wisdom to share with future generations.

Then there are those who are still with us, and who make it their responsibility to pore over sacred scripture and put thoughts to paper that they’ve gleaned from their reading.

And though I may intend to find my inspiration elsewhere, I, too, always return to those words found in the book that has eternally inspired humanity – the Bible.

Henri Nouwen

There is a quote from Henri Nouwen which I’ve used often. I’ve shared it in sermons to pastors about to be ordained.

“When we have lost the vision, we have nothing to show; when we have forgotten the word of God, we have nothing to remember; when we have lost the blueprint of our life, we have nothing on which to build.”
[The Living Reminder (New York: Harper Collins, 1977), p. 73.]

Though the book was written primarily for ministers, there is instruction and guidance that is beneficial to anyone, whether in religious service or any other vocation.

Rachel Held Evans

Before her untimely death in 2019, the author Rachel Held Evans penned a neat book simply titled, Inspired. It was her quest to find answers in the Bible to questions that had troubled her throughout her entire life. I may write a more complete review of the book at another time, but for now, let me say that I highly recommend it to anyone who finds scripture reading demanding.

Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve taken occasional hiatuses from daily reading. I think of those as my wilderness moments, those times when I wander about without purpose, flailing at life.

And then, I reach a point when I feel most discouraged, and guess what? I return, like the Prodigal Son, to the comforting words of scripture.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
[Psalm 130:1-2]

I prayed those words along with the psalmist this morning.

As I said at the outset, this has been a tough week. It would have been much tougher, had I not had the Word of God to remind me that I’m not going through this journey alone.

___________

.

A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.
[Isaiah 58:9b-10]

William Horne

The outpouring of praise for the life of William Horne overflowed on Sunday throughout social media. The Vice-President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America died unexpectedly on Saturday, and as news of his death spread, so did the tributes.

My wife and I had just come out of church and as I sat in the car scrolling through e-mails and text messages, the words from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton bolted across my screen with all the blunt force of a cannon blast:

“With much sadness and shock I share with you the news of the sudden passing of Bill Horne, my friend and Vice President of the ELCA.”

To say I was stunned is an understatement.

Bill Horne was elected ELCA Vice President in 2016 at the Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, my first as bishop.

I can’t begin to describe what a proud moment that was for me to have a person of color at the highest level of lay leadership in this predominantly white church body. To know that for the next six years this man would be the chief legislative voice of our denomination had me beaming ecstatically.

William Horne and me at ELCA Churchwide Assembly
New Orleans, LA, August, 2016

I sought him out to congratulate him and had my wife take a photo of us for posterity. I gazed at that photo throughout the day on Sunday and reflected on our several interactions over my time in office.

Bill Horne was a leader in every sense of the word. Those who knew him as the City Manager of Clearwater, Florida – a post he held for nearly two decades – attested to his integrity in all the comments published yesterday.

(See Tampa Bay Times article:)
Bill Horne, Clearwater city manager for 20 years, dies at 72, three weeks before retirement (tampabay.com)

Those who served with him on the ELCA Church Council likewise cannot say enough good things about his leadership.

It calls to mind a quote from the late Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of Notre Dame University:

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

There was no mistaking the sound of Bill Horne’s trumpet. He listened. He valued others’ opinions. He had a self-control about him that could calm even the most unsettling challenger.

For me, it was simply a joy to be in his presence.

The scripture reference at the top of this tribute is taken from his report to the Conference of Bishops in the Fall of 2019. It seemed so appropriate for that particular gathering as we were struggling through several controversial issues at the time that did cause some to point fingers and speak of evil.

I had hoped he would be our ELCA Representative at my final synod assembly in 2020. However, the rescheduling of the assembly from June to September due to COVID-19 derailed those plans. The people of Northeastern Ohio did not get a chance to witness an extraordinary servant of God.

I often wonder why some people are taken away from us at inopportune times. It is hard to make sense of it all. Bill was just weeks away from retiring. He was looking forward to spending more time serving the Church. Yet God, in God’s wisdom, has chosen to reserve for him “the crown of righteousness,” to borrow a phrase from the apostle Paul. [2 Timothy 4:8]

Bill Horne was absolutely certain of God’s love for him and lived in confidence of the promise of the resurrection to life eternal. That is why, even though we grieve his untimely departure from us in this life, we too can rejoice in the knowledge that we will see him again in the next.

Rest eternal grant him, O Lord,
And let light perpetual shine upon him.

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