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Monday Morning Musings

Have you used the old expression “Would, you help me out because I’m still in the dark?” Or, have you asked someone to “enlighten” you? Not long ago I attended a class where a lamp stand was passed around, and when someone had a good idea they were encouraged to pull the chord and turn on the light before sharing with the others. The metaphors of light and dark are common in use. And that’s been true through the ages. The Gospel of John explains that Jesus is the Light of the World. All of us understand the importance of light and just what this description of Jesus Christ means So, it isn’t hard to catch onto the depth of despair described in the Gospels as they tell of the death of Jesus. This terrible event was accompanied by darkness that fell across the land at midday. And there was the blackness of the tomb that was sealed with the stone. While I do not know fact, many dramas depicting this event will accompany the telling with murky skies, lightening and mud. Those who were witnesses of these events were left with destitute spirits. The contrast between light and dark or day and night is something I have pondered for a long time. Recently it led me to attempt to find a place where I could experience total blackness. I tried to find a spot outside, but even when I tucked into a shadowless cavern there was light. I tried shuttering myself into an interior room of the house, but even with all bulbs off, light crept under the door. Once, I thought I found a place where I would be in total darkness, but my eyes adjusted, and I saw dusky impressions. So after my failed attempts I returned to scripture with a renewed understanding that light has the qualities of persistence and endurance. It is no wonder when Jesus was described as “the Light of the World” or the “Light of Life” the metaphors are so powerful for me. It is no wonder they are linked to the Easter promise of eternity within the light of his presence. Well, I’m yet not done with my study of ways the two terms, (darkness and light), are used in the Gospel of John, the New Testament and the theology they present But since I’ve spent all this time pondering, I am even more thankful for the gift of light and life Jesus Christ brought to a dull and dying world. My prayer is that all of us will remember the importance of his gift as spring returns to our world, or each time the...

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Monday Morning Musings

Do you remember the musical ditty used by the Army which beckons “Be all that you can be. You can do so in the Army.” That’s a call which sounds to many more people than just the recruits. What would your life look like if you were living your best life? What are the obstacles to living that way right now? Can anything be done about them? These are big questions. But they are inspirational questions too. When one is mindful of a desire to live one’s best life now- then that same person is not easily swayed off course. What would it mean to be part of a church that was living its best life? In other words, are we striving for excellence in all that we teach, share and do in service of Christ and his kingdom? I have a friend who in high school was quite musical. He played multiple instruments and went on to study music at the U. of Iowa. He is a music director at a large school in Milwaukee today. My friend says. “I told God I’d do anything God wanted of me except be a high school music teacher.” He said, “The reason I didn’t want to do that was because too many teachers and kids in our school music department just want to get by and get a grade. I wanted to take music seriously. Later God told me it was just because of my desire for excellence that I was being called to be a teacher of music. My purpose was to raise the bar and instill the a desire for excellence in the hearts and lives of high school students. Excellence is worth striving to achieve in the church. It’s worth it with regards to our own discipleship too. Our membership vows urge us to support the church through our prayers, presence, gives and service. I believe members of the Gladbrook UMC care enough to do these things to the best of our abilities and to strive to set the bar a little bit higher. The best place to start the process is by offering prayers to God, asking for guidance in the days ahead. When we have a spirit of prayer surrounding us, God can move in a powerful way. Have an excellent week and all of us hope to see you in church very soon. (Phil 4:8-9) R. Carol Kress Gladbrook,...

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Blessed are the Meek, the Merciful, the Pure of Heart.

Scripture: Matthew 5:5-12  Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Thoughts:  Over the past month I’ve been opening my Bible and reading through the Beatitudes twice a day. It doesn’t take long but I have found a lot of food for thought by doing this so often. My inspiration to take up this practice was when I learned that Ghandi read the Beatitudes twice a day too. He was not a Christian, but he still had great respect for these words of Jesus. It has been said that he founded his non-violent movement for peace and justice upon the Beatitudes.. By reading through them daily I have also been struck by their beauty and insight. They are a mission and vision statement, authored by Jesus, for Christians and the church through all ages. Just think what would the world be like if every Christians was meek, merciful and pure in heart. How would you be challenged, if Christ called you to be both a peace-maker and a defender of righteousness? Over the course of the month I think I see the Beatitudes leading me to be a bridge builder who is meant to carry the message of a “third way.” It is a way that moves Christians beyond the “me vs. them” wrestling matches into which we fall, and seeks to span the distance between us. I really want to do this even though I know bridge-building is hard work. Richard Rohr says, “The joy of serving as a bridge is that you get walked on by both sides. But the goal of being a bridge is to end strife by creating an opportunity for a transformation of the heart.” That may be lofty thinking for Friday morning. Still, Jesus is using the Beatitudes to take me on a journey. While the focus of Christianity may be to gain converts, there is another equally...

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Monday Morning Musings

So, yes. Bishop Laurie Haller will appoint me to be the next District Superintendent of the North Central District in Iowa. Wow, just typing those words causes me to swallow hard and blink twice. There were few things the Bishop could offer to me that might cause me to consider leaving Gladbrook. But God showed her one. The five years I have spent here have been good years for me and, I pray, also for you. You have risen to some interesting challenges and taken on a few new projects. God has called us to venture outside of the church doors and to be his agents in this community. We have touched new lives and hearts with the love of Jesus. It seems like the light is a little brighter. (And that’s not just because the Trustees have found out the best bulbs to use here.) I believe the church is growing toward the Light. The lighted city upon a hill is a descriptive phrase found in the beatitudes. Jesus tells his listeners, ‘You are the light of the world, a city that is set upon a hill cannot be hidden.’ (Mt. 5) This verse was used by John Winthrop, the 17th century Puritan, as he cast his vision of a new society for the colonists who were leaving ship and setting foot on American soil. While anchored in Boston Harbor, on the Arbella, Winthrop shared that vision. He saw their new city becoming a Christian model of communal charity, affection and unity for all the world to see. We may not use the same terms, but we understand their meaning. Charity is an old word for aiding or assisting one who needs help or support. Affection describes a gentle feeling of fondness within a relationship. And unity is a desire for all people to be included, respected and protected. I think it’s interesting that John Winthrop, known as a great Puritan preacher, focused his vision upon the way society should be ordered but he did not speak of a personal relationship with God. Maybe he did that in other speeches. Or he believed that the way Christians treat other is a clear indicator of their relationship with God. If John Winthrop came to Gladbrook, I think he would cast a similar vision for the church. He would call you a shining city upon a hill. Returning to those old terms he would see you as Christ’s agents of charity, affection and unity right now. Surely we can agree that these qualities are desperately needed as darker forces try to pull us apart. Furthermore, he would add a word in the description of our...

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Monday Morning Musings

People in my profession tend to have a lot of nativity sets in their homes. A minister-friend of mine (who retired to Colorado) has over ninety. At Christmas time her condo in the mountains must be quite the sight. I wonder if she has room for any visitors at all? My number of nativities is modest in comparison to hers, but I like mine and enjoy setting them up for the holiday. So on Christmas Day I set out the very last one. While I took the set out of the box and found the perfect place for each one of the pieces, I found myself thinking about the shepherds. They have their moment in the spot light, but I find that they are not the first ones that I look at when I reflect upon the nativity sets . Baby Jesus is front and center of all the sets. He gets the spotlight (as he should). On either side are stationed Mary and Joseph who are major supporting characters. An angel glows near the manger. The three kings seem to command a strategic spot where any one can admire the camels and those gifts that made an impression. Even the animals of the stable have spots. I like placing the donkey as close to Mary as I can and I will turn the cow so that her gaze is upon the precious child. But the shepherds don’t have a special spot, I seem to fit them in to balance out the nativity scene. In one of the sets they really do look best standing out in a side pen with the sheep. If you saw them you would agree that those shepherds were meant to watch over things while everyone else gathered in the stable. Who knows what would become of a church that did not have a team of shepherds to watch over things? I think of all the volunteers and quiet workers who serve Christ by tending to so many little things that happen inside the house of God. So much of their work goes overlooked and under appreciated. But without their thought and care, the church would suffer. There are shepherds who keep the flowers watered, the projection current and the sanctuary orderly so there are few distractions to worship. There are shepherds who pay attention to fiscal matters and talk about a greater stewardship of our personal and shared resources. There are shepherds who are planning Sunday school lessons, making costumes, and helping our young people open the Bible. There are other shepherds who encourage everyone to open the Bible and invite it to live within our hearts. We...

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