Pentecost Communion at the Altar: Historical and Spiritual Perspectives

Join us for a historical expression of a timeless reality this Pentecost!

Christ’s Church at Lowhill is an historic church; next year marks our 250th anniversary, and our current sanctuary is 150 years old. But we also strive to be a church community that looks to entrench itself in the future to which God is calling. We’re learning together how to blend traditional and modern expressions and understandings of Christian worship and spiritual depth.

This Sunday, which is also Pentecost, we’ll be sharing Communion together. In and of itself, that’s not out of the ordinary, especially for a special day on the church calendar. What is different, though, is how we’ll be sharing the Lord’s Supper together. Rather than reinvent the sharing of the sacrament, we’re going to be doing something very, very traditional; something that hasn’t been done at Lowhill in many, many years.

Harkening back to practices from the long life of our church, we’ll be receiving Communion at the altar railing this Sunday. We hope that participating in this practice helps each of us understand a greater depth of meaning in the shared meal, or, perhaps, a more personal connection with the God we meet in bread and cup.

Altar railings are, themselves, a product of the Protestant Reformation. They were designed in part to mark off sacred altar space from the sanctuary in general, according to prevailing theological sentiments of the time or of a particular local church. For many Christians, the “otherness” of sacred space is an important aspect of the experience of worship.  Other Christians understand all space as sacred, and therefore have tended away from the use of altar rails. Here at Lowhill, somewhere along the line, an architectural and spiritual compromise seems to have been struck. Our altar rails are low and permeable, meant, I think, to suggest that while the kingdom of God is here in nascent, growing form, it’s not entirely here yet. Even so, there are very real places and times and experiences in which heaven meets earth. Jesus himself is the ultimate expression of this truth. Our altar rails, which once wrapped around the entire altar space but were scaled back in the 20th century to allow open access to the table, seem to suggest both the present nature of the kingdom and our access to it, and the not-yet complete work of Jesus’ mission and prayer, that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Pentecost itself is a seminal moment in the building of the kingdom of God here among us. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early church, and as we look with anticipation to the Spirit’s clear call in the present and for the future God is calling us to build.

Blessings!

Pastor Chris

 

 

Breaking Babel, Building the Body of Christ

It was wonderful to worship together with organ, piano, and acoustic guitar! We also explored the Tower of Babel story by building and destroying our own tower of self-centeredness, then rebuilding it on the altar, piece by piece, into a representation not of our own pride or desires, but of the Body of Christ!

As always, you can check out our morning video stream at our Facebook page in case you weren’t able to be with us in person yesterday.   This coming Sunday, we’re celebrating Pentecost with flourishes of color, exciting music, and the story of the pouring of the Holy Spirit on the early church.  In many ways, the Pentecost story is a reversal of yesterday’s story of Babel.  Whether you’ve been in worship with us recently or not,  come help celebrate the often-forgotten power of Pentecost.  Join us this week!  We’re not just inviting you to church, but to a mission to build a world on earth as it is in Heaven…a just world for all, where each and all know the power, provision, and protection of God in the Body of Christ.

Mothers’ Day Call to Worship and Litany

While we’re focusing our sermon and scripture tomorrow on the story of the Tower of Babel in preparation for celebrating Pentecost, we’re opening our service with a special Call to Worship and Litany in honor of Mothers’ Day. Recalling familiar and powerful figures from the history of our faith, this litany honors mothers, but also brings to our hearts the struggles of families who long to have children but can’t, of people left motherless, of people faithfully raised by other family members or by adopted parents. Whatever your experience, know that you are invited and welcome to participate in the life of our community!

Mothers Day Call to Worship

Make a Joyful Noise in Babel…

Getting ready to look at the Tower of Babel story on Sunday, and incorporating David Gray’s 1998 hit “Babylon” into a call and response with Keith Green’s “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” We’ll have piano, organ, and acoustic guitars leading us in worship! Join us!

 

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Welcome to a Journey with Jesus

Here at Lowhill, our leadership team has started to read and discuss a book called Real Good Church by Molly Phinney Basket.  It’s a great resource and we’re having some great discussions because of it.

Something that emerged from our last leadership meeting was the idea of intentional welcome.   Three questions emerged from that idea that I wanted to take a moment to share.

In terms of our life at Lowhill:

Who is welcome?

How do they know they are welcome?

What are we welcoming them to?

The consensus we came to:

Who is welcome?   Everyone is welcome (and wanted).

How do they know they welcome? We’re not exactly sure if we’re conveying that welcome as publicly as possible. It’s something we’re thinking about how to act more visibly on.

What are we welcoming everyone to?  Simply put, we’re welcoming each other, our community, our friends and neighbors –and everyone else– to get to know Jesus better.  We don’t think we have all the answers, and we know that your presence with us will help us get to know Jesus better, too.

That’s not a bad start toward articulating who we are and why we gather.

Boiled down to one sentence:

We’re a church where everyone is welcome to be part of a journey with Jesus, and we’ll hope you’ll join us!

– Pastor Chris

 

“Beautiful Things”

We played this song as we came forward to the cross on Ash Wednesday. Each week during Lent, everyone will be invited to come forward to visualize the act of laying their burdens down by pinning a symbolic drop of blood to our rough-hewn cross.

God takes our ashes and dust and makes beautiful things!

Please join us in worship and fellowship this Lenten season. Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

Ripe Unto The Harvest

Paul David Hewson is an outspoken Christian activist focused on the justice issues of access to life-saving medicine, the elimination of extreme poverty and the forgiveness of predatory debt. He’s also the lead singer of U2. (You probably know him as Bono).

What does Bono mean when he says our opportunity to end extreme poverty — the kind that causes children to starve to death — has become instead a millstone around our necks?

If the imagery sounds familiar, that’s because it’s from Jesus, as recorded in Luke 17:2:

“It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones [children] to stumble.”

The root causes of extreme poverty, both here and abroad, are important to think about as we prepare to celebrate Harvest Home tomorrow, thanking God for another year’s harvest and collecting produce and canned goods in support of the Lowhill Food Pantry.  Please join us!

Celebrate Harvest Home this Sunday!

 

“Our passion is to imitate the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. This requires we must follow Jesus out of baptismal waters, through our personal deserts, and into the harvest.”

     – John Wimber

Lowhill, we’re getting ready for our annual Harvest Home celebration this Sunday, October 15.  The gathering and blessing of produce (and, in modern times, canned goods) at the altar of the local church is a long-standing tradition among many American churches with Germanic roots.  Lutherans, Mennonites, Moravians, and the German Reformed ancestors of many United Church of Christ congregations like Lowhill brought this yearly celebration with them from Europe, where its roots run even deeper.  This 2013 piece in the Berks-Mont news chronicles some of the tradition’s origins and practices.

The Lowhill Food Pantry, hosted on our property and managed by volunteers from across the community, serves the needs of families and children in the Northwestern Lehigh School District.  All produce and canned goods offered at the altar on Sunday will be donated to the Food Pantry for their essential work in bringing the harvest home to friends and neighbors in need.

Please join us this Sunday as we celebrate God’s good provision through another year. There will be special music, a harvest liturgy, and a message about perhaps the most famous and subversive of Jesus’ agrarian parables about the Kingdom of God:

“What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

The mustard plant was considered an invasive weed in Jesus’ day.  What that might say about our own harvest work here and now?  Join us on Sunday!

 

On Harvest and Harvest Home

I worked at a record store the summer before I left for college.

Actually,  I worked at Best Buy.  But I worked in the media department, and two of my main jobs were keeping the expansive CD aisles organized and making sure no one was stuffing Snoop Dogg, Everclear, or Blink 182 into the pockets of their late-90s cargo pants.

Over the course of the summer, I developed a compulsion for farming the product, organizing the albums alphabetically by artist and title.  At the end of the season, I used my employee discount to buy my dorm-room mini-fridge and one exquisite piece of music:  Harvest by Neil Young, released 26 years prior.

“The Needle and the Damage Done.”  “Old Man.”  “Heart of Gold.”  “Alabama.”  All classic songs that helped make Young’s fourth solo album a breakout record and establish him as a breakout solo artist.  “Heart of Gold” is the best known, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” about the death spiral of heroin addiction, and “Alabama,” a response to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” (itself a response to Young’s “Southern Man”) about the pernicious longevity of racial hatred,  are the most important (and, sadly, still the most timely).  The title track, “Harvest,” is the most understated and lovely, the most closely observed.

Much of Young’s music is about growing up, falling in love or out of love, understanding the process of loss that leads us to adulthood.  Harvest, the album, dominated my late teens and early 20s.  45 after its release, “Harvest,” the song, keeps asking important questions:

Will I see you give
more than I can take?
Will I only harvest some?
As the days fly past
will we lose our grasp
Or fuse it in the sun?

When I first met my wife, these were the kinds of questions I was asking about the persistence of relationships.  Our first date was a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert.  One of the first things I ever bought her was a “Heart of Gold” t-shirt. It was the early 2000s, but our souls were very much in tune with the early 1970s.

When Harvest was released in 1972, the haze of hippie possibility had already dissipated.  Harvest is in part about what happens after fleeting first love fades. The older I get, the more I understand love to be a choice, and the less I think about my feelings.

At Lowhill, we’re celebrating a Harvest Home service on October 15. Prevalent in churches and denominations first organized by early German Americans like the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Harvest Home tradition is hundreds of years old. I’m part Dutch, but I didn’t grow up in one of those kinds of churches.  A Lehigh Valley native, I’m about as familiar with always-present agriculture as someone who grew up in the suburbs can be.  But every bit of planning I do for Harvest Home brings me back to “Harvest.”

Will I see you give more than I can take?

If I’m addressing this question to God instead of my wife, and if I’m being honest, the answer is always yes.

Will I only harvest some?

Yes. But only because God’s provision of love and grace is so vast and unwieldy.  Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a seed that grows into a plant so invasive, so tenacious, so all-consuming, that it was actually illegal to grow, even in private gardens.  God’s longing for us is so outsized and uncontainable, Jesus compares to it contraband.

As the days fly past
will we lose our grasp
Or fuse it in the sun?

That’s the question left to us in every season of life.

In the book of Malachi, the foretold Messiah, who Christians believe is Jesus, is seen as “the sun of vindication,” rising with healing in his rays. (Hence the lyric from “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing:” “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace, hail the Sun of Righteousness, life and light to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings!”). In the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus) prophesies powerfully:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
    the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

We undoubtedly find ourselves straying from God’s path. But God longs to grasp hands with us, to fuse us in the sun of his grace, love, and peace.

“Give,” a worship song by Third Day, puts it this way:

All I want is love
I confess to this
I will take it, Lord
All You have to give.

That’s a harvest prayer.

Please bring your produce and canned goods to harvest on October 15 for donation to the Lowhill Food Pantry, and I look forward to seeing you as we celebrate the God who is our Harvest Home.

Blessings!

– Pastor Chris

Worship Elements, World Communion Sunday

This morning, we celebrated World Communion Sunday with congregations across the world.  Each year on the first Sunday of October, Christians of all denominations, backgrounds, and cultures,  set aside differences and together celebrate the things we cherish in common: the call of Jesus to love God and one another.

Central to our worship, liturgy, and conversation today were the images of bread and cup. Continuing our series on Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God,  we explored this parable:

Matthew 13:3

    He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

as well as this teaching from Paul’s letter to the Galatian church:

Galatians 5:22-27

   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

 

This was our Call to Worship:

This is the day that that Lord has made! 

Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

We gather as one Body,

we gather for worship, fellowship, and celebration!

We are united, always, with brothers and sisters in Christ

across the world,  across the pages of Scripture, across the passing of time.

We gather for worship, fellowship, and celebration.

We gather in the name of Jesus.

We gather for story and song, for prayer and praise, for bread and cup.

We gather as one Body, together building the kingdom of God.

Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a great vineyard, that he is the vine, and we are the branches.

Jesus said the kingdom of God is like leaven, like yeast in bread, living, active, transforming everything.

Like the stretching of branches across the vineyard, let us bear fruit!

Like the baking of bread, let faith arise!

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We then sang I Lift My Hands by Chris Tomlin, with the uplifting refrain “Let faith arise, Let faith arise!”  We continued this theme in the Children’s Chat and during Kid’s Table, our youngsters made salt-dough creations to share with our shut-ins.

Our Communion liturgy was adapted from the United Church of Christ Book of Worship, using elements below followed by prayer and the blessing and sharing of the elements.

Merciful God, we know that you love us and that you call us to fullness of life, but around us and within us we see the brokenness of the world and of our ways.  Our successes leave us empty; our progress does not satisfy.  Our prosperous land is not the promised land of our longing.  Forgive our willful neglect of your world, our insensitivity to the needs of others, and our failure to feed the spirt that is within us, the Spirit of Christ Jesus, and through Jesus our Redeemer we pray, Amen.       

Beloved, we are beloved by God. Fashioned in God’s image, forgiven through God’s grace, free in the way of Jesus. Amen!

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Jesus said:  I am the bread of life.  You who come to me will not hunger; you who believe in me shall never thirst.  Luke, the evangelist, wrote of our risen Savior, who at the table with two disciples took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  Their eyes were opened, and they recognized the risen Christ in the breaking and sharing of bread.

In company with all who hunger for spiritual food, we come to this table. In company with all believers in every time and beyond time, we come to know the risen Christ in the breaking and sharing of bread.

God be with you!

And also with you!

Lift up your hearts!

We lift them up to God!                                                                   

Let us give thanks to God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

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We prayed together, sang together, and shared the bread and cup.  We reflected on the connections between the kingdom of God being like yeast in dough to the imagery of Jesus as the Bread of Life and the breaking of bread in Communion. We talked about connections between the cup of Communion and the image of the kingdom of God as a vineyard, each of us branches drawing sustenance from Jesus, the vine.

If you couldn’t join us this week, please make plans to be with us soon.  We’ll continue our series on the parables Jesus told about the kingdom of God for the next two weeks, with a special focus on the parables of planting, harvesting agriculture on October 15, our Harvest Home Celebration.

See you in church and in the community!

-Pastor Chris