“All his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” - Luke 23:49
for Good Friday
let all stand still
Sun and moon
Let the ground
gape in stunned
Let it weep
as it receives
what it thinks
it will not
Let it groan
as it gathers
who was thought
By Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons
I hope you will join us in stillness tonight for our contemplative and creative Good Friday prayer stations for the whole family aired every 15-20 minutes on all our livestream platforms between 5 and 7:30 PM tonight. On Saturday, you’ll get another chance to move deeper into stillness as Arlene leads us in a 12 hour vigil using the wisdom and words of Julian of Norwich at the top of every hour, also on our live platforms.
And then…. (cue the trumpets) don your bunny ears, your fancy frocks, and your flowery hats because WOWEE DO WE NEED A PARTY OR WHAT?!?!! So let’s celebrate together that, despite all, Love Wins!
We hope to see you at 7 AM for our sunrise worship, 8:30 AM for our outdoor worship, 10 AM for our online worship. (Please remember to RSVP in advance for our outdoor services at uccaustin.org/outdoorworship.)
Love and blessings,
BLESSING OF THE PALMS
for Palm Sunday
By Jan Richardson
can be heard coming
from a long way off.
its steady way
up the road
blooms in the throats
springs from the hearts,
tumbles out of the mouths
is stitched into
of the cloaks
that line the road,
that trace the path,
of the willing colt,
of the donkey’s hoof
against the stones.
Something is rising
beneath this blessing.
Something will try
to drown it out.
But this blessing
cannot be turned back,
cannot be made
to still its voice,
to sing its praise
of the One who comes
along the way
Richardson, J. (2015). Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Wanton Gospeller Press.
Greetings to you, United Christian Church of Austin friends! My name is Karen Cotton, and I’m serving as one of your Elders this year. As Kim Flores explained a couple of weeks ago, Elders serve by “assisting the pastor(s) in the care and spiritual nurture of the congregation.” We send cards and make phone calls, to help us stay in touch as a church family. (Of course, you don’t need to be an Elder in order to stay in touch with others in the church; Elders just work to ensure that EVERYONE knows they’re included, loved, and cared for by their church family.) We want you to know who we are so that if you need a call, or have a prayer concern, you know that you can contact one of your Elders, in addition to Rev. Anna.
A little more about me—my husband, Roy, and I moved to Austin in 2008, and have been members of The United Christian Church of Austin since 2014. We have two sons, two daughters-in-love, and three grandchildren, ages 7, almost 5, and 3.5. They are our sunshine! We are both retired from the workaday world, but seem to have no trouble filling our days at our home in Wells Branch.
During our quarantine year at home alone, I’ve done even more reading than usual. Contemplative Christian writings have sustained and enriched this very strange year in my life. The idea of the rhythm or cycle of life seems to be popping up in a variety of sources. For instance, the book A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal, edited by Sarah Bessey, is divided into three parts: Orientation, Disorientation, and Reorientation. I can relate those stages to the last year or so of my life: 1) my life had a rhythm or schedule of sorts that kept me going; 2) that rhythm and schedule came to an abrupt and prolonged halt, so I tried to use the time to process “stuff;” 3) I can now see light at the end of the tunnel—I look forward to the time, hopefully not too far off, when I can hug and kiss those precious grandchildren again. There is indeed, a rhythm to our lives, both individually and communally. I accept that there will be times of disorientation in life, and look forward with hope and anticipation to a time of reorientation. See you there!
Grace and peace to you,
When I came to United Christian Church, my title was “Full-Time Mom.” I was ordained, but not interested in pastoring at the time. When UCC needed a choir director, however, something within me ignited - I guess you could say it was a calling. I had a degree in music, but very little experience in choral directing. But you had faith in me -- you believed that I could do it. And so I offered to step in until someone permanent was found…
Then when Rev. John moved back to New England, there was to be a gap before we could find an Interim Minister. We needed someone to fill the pulpit, so again, the need was presented, and something ignited. Rev. Nikki and I decided to take on the task as a team! You believed in us, and so we accepted the call together…
I never thought a year ago I would find myself here. God leads us down winding and surprising paths. But again, the need has been presented, something within me has ignited, and your belief in me has spurred me on.
The grief of this year has been great, but truly, my hopes are still high. Why? Because I have seen God alive and well at UCC in...
So friends, I promise to do my best with whatever time God gives us together. I promise to do my best at exactly what I tell my children to do each morning when I drop them off at school:
“Have courage and be kind.”
Having courage means that we do not always do the easy thing. Having courage means we speak Truth, even when it’s hard. Above all, it means we strive always to be kind - to live by Christ’s commandment to love one another as Christ loves us.
Praying for you always,
I think we can safely say that the last year has been one of disaster and enlightenment, pain and joy, selfishness and giving, hate and love, and blaming and forgiving. We have seen the most comprehensive spectrum in our society this past year. We experienced political unrest, a worldwide pandemic, and weather that left people in the dark, cold, hungry, and thirsty. We had a political system that showed us its worst and communities who stepped forward to fill the same political system void. We experienced a worldwide disaster (and somewhat still are) and a system failure to help those most in need. We saw again a community come together to fill the void and help people they do not know. While some on social media shouted hate often based on untruths, many came forward to show love and protect those in need and at risk. We have again seen leaders quick to blame and a bit slow to offer solutions. We have seen individuals, business owners, corporations, and neighborhoods join together to create solutions where needed. Many times the helpers did not know or have never met the ones in need of help. These individuals, businesses, and communities shared food and water with strangers.
Sometimes we wonder where God is in all this messiness of life. Just look around. In Exodus 33:20, the Lord speaks to Moses and tells him, “But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”. Here is one place I have to deviate from what some bible purists would say is true. I have seen the face of God. I have the face of God in those with very little giving part to someone else. Someone with only a little water, heat, or food, sharing with someone who has none. If you wonder where God is? Just look around. And … sometimes the face of God is you.
Peace and Blessings my friends,
I am praying that this letter finds you warm and safe. By the time you read this letter tomorrow, may the ice begin to thaw, may your home be filled with warmth, may the streets again be safe for you to go out to get food, and may this deadly week loosen its icy grip on us.
Friends, know that I am praying for you all the time. I wake in the middle of the night, and I pray for you. I pray for you as I buzz about the house -- I just can’t sit still. I pray as I boil water, I pray as I poke the fire, I pray as I blow dry the faucets… as I check my phone... as I read the news - I pray, pray, pray. I pray until I wonder if there really is a difference between worrying and praying, and then I think perhaps sometimes praying is just worrying before a divine audience? I don’t know. I should be able to relax knowing that my family is safe and warm, but I cannot. I cannot because you, my church family, are not all safe and warm.
So I repeat to myself the famous words of Julian of Norwich:
All shall be well,
All shall be well,
And all manner of thing shall be well.
Part of me thinks her words sound naive, but then I remember she lived through the plague, a peasant revolt, and troubles our modern minds can only imagine. So I ask myself, can I trust God, like Julian did -- that God will ultimately make all things well? Can I believe that God loves us so much, even more than the sparrow, and so will take care of her children?
In this season of Lent, I want you to bring all your worries, all your sorrows, and all that weighs upon your heart to worship. Forget self-discipline, self-flagellation, and self-denial this Lent. You won’t be giving up sugar or carbs this year. We’ve given up too much that brings us joy and comfort already. This Lent, we are letting go of our sorrows, our worries, our regrets, and our grief.
Stay safe and stay warm.
‘Arise my love, my fair one, and come away ...
the time of singing has come.’
- Song of Songs 2:10,12
“The Song of Songs describes a lover standing at the latticed window of a house, calling to their beloved to come outside and share the delights of a beautiful garden. It is a love poem, a form that mystics throughout the ages have used to speak of the soul’s relationship with God. That call, ‘Arise my love, my fair one,’ is addressed to each of us, and the ‘singing time’ is now.
The Song of Songs continues, ‘... the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom ...’ (S of S 2:12-13). That special song is the natural chorus of creation, life itself, in which we have our own part. It is the definitive love song that enlivens us as we grow in the womb, that sits on the tip of our tongue throughout our lives, and serenades us as we pass through the veil of death.”
The Healer’s Tree by Annie Heppenstall
This Sunday is Valentine’s Day, and our five week worship series “Love Does” will culminate in an Agape Feast on readings and hymns celebrating God’s divine love. We will hear, in particular, how that love became visible in the story of Christ’s transfiguration. Love, and her other face, awe, illuminate us with Christ.
Even so, quick on the heels of this Feast of Love will come our liturgy of Fire and Ashes on Wednesday written by our dear Rev. Elsa Cook. (Find her meaningful fireside Ash Wednesday liturgy by going to uccaustin.org/ashwednesday.) You may also join us at 6PM online as we together welcome in this holy season of Lent and prepare for the liturgy of Fire and Ashes.
A celebration of love on Sunday immediately followed by a liturgy of loss on Wednesday! Love followed by loss. This comfort and grief are almost too much to hold together in the same week. And yet, perhaps true love and deep grief are simply two sides of the same coin; it is said that these two forces - love and suffering - are the only paths to spiritual growth. True love of God and neighbor always leads to the cross.
Even so, take comfort in knowing that we worship Christ who knows what it is to both love and suffer. What’s more, never give up hope, knowing our God is a God of resurrection. Just when grief, pain, and ashes seem to be closing in, God rolls away the stone, shining in a new day.
As we continue yet another week in our homes, with lives mostly still disrupted, a prayer poem for you by Terri C. Pilarski.
In a world that is simultaneously
Help us to breath in a steady rhythm
in and out
that the expanding may helps us grow
and the contracting will not make us smaller
Help us to see You
In and Out
In all ways
In the rising sun
In the birds that fly
In the changing seasons
In the vast diversity of human kind
all the many ways we are
made in your image
a reflection of you
in the world
made to love
made good to do good
may our expanding
be a gentle rhythm
like a breath
of fresh air
instead of gasp
in fear for life.
The Jesus story has been hijacked. Now, I know: this isn’t news to you. For decades now, a particular version of the Jesus story has dominated, and I’ll spare you the retelling of it one more time. You might have grown up with this version of the Jesus story. For many of us, our pulse quickens as we hear it -- it’s the version where those who are lucky enough to get a pass through the pearly gates, and the rest of humanity is subject to eternal fire...
A few weeks ago, a few from a far wing of this fiery theology raised the heat even further. Christians around the world were sickened as we literally witnessed the horns of evil forcing its way into our nation’s capital, whipping Christian flags in the air, pumping signs bearing Jesus’ name, and even wearing apparel with phrases like, “God, Guns, and Trump.” We watched in horror that despicable scene and said to ourselves -
“These people don’t know the same Jesus story I know.
I know a story where Jesus commands us to love above all else.
I know a story that tells us that God is love.
And this is not what love does.
This is not what love does.”
On a gut level, what you and I were feeling was an innate sense of St. Augustine’s famous Rule of Love. St. Augustine articulates this rule in his first century writing, On Christian Doctrine, saying “So anyone who thinks he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up a double love of God and neighbour, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.”
In other words, any interpretation of scripture -- or any theology -- that does not produce love of God and neighbor, simply cannot stand. This Rule of Love is the litmus test by which we can judge all our Biblical interpretation. If our theology leads us to shame our neighbor, it does not stand up to the Rule of Love. If our reading of scripture causes us to back away from God in dread, it does not stand up to the Rule of Love.
This week, our country inaugurated a new administration into the White House. It is my deepest prayer, no matter our political affiliation or opinions, that this administration follows this Rule of Love. I pray that these leaders might hold up their words, actions, and policies up to this litmus test: are we duly increasing our country’s love for God/Universe/Creation and for neighbor? Or are we instead increasing division, strife, and fear?
Please dear ones, pray for our country -- that it be filled with more love in the days ahead, and pray that this love begins with us.
The late Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Love is the most durable power in the world.” Love is “durable” you say? In our world today, love can often seem like a fragile thing. Couples break up, marriages end in divorce, friends fall out, church members leave, and family members no longer speak. An acquaintance of mine who works in the office that processes divorce filings in Houston says they are busier than ever -- one can only assume due to the stresses the pandemic and political unrest have layered onto marriages. More than ever, we long for a love that endures.
The Apostle Paul however, tells us that love, however, “never ends” (1 Cor 13:8). True love cannot possibly end because we know that God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16), and we also know that God is eternal. Think about these truths for a moment: God is love. God is eternal. If we believe these statements to be true -- if God is love -- then by the mathematical law of inverse operations, that means that love is God, and if God is also eternal, then love too must be eternal.
But what kind of wondrous love is this, that endures eternally? What love is this, that in King’s words is the “only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend,” of “driving out hate,” and “the very key to the problems of the world?”
This is the love that is God. It is not the kind of love that is a sweet, syrupy sentiment. This love is not a fuzzy feeling. It is not something you just “fall into.” True, divine love is something you choose. It is something you do. It is a strong, active verb. It is the hard work of deep listening, forgiving, showing up, speaking truth, giving, serving, thanking, apologizing, appreciating, letting go, sacrificing, and caring. This love is the very heartbeat of Creation.
And this love is the only path to real joy, yet is also the surest path to grief. So many of you, dearly beloved, are feeling grief right now. You grieve because you have loved someone or something you’ve lost. I know your hearts can’t seem to hold any more right now. If you’re like me, you may feel like you don’t have the heart to do a whole lot more loving right now.
So beginning this Sunday and for next 5 weeks, in our worship series “Love Does,” we will envelop ourselves in the active and divine love of God. Because what has the power to bind up our broken hearts? Love does. What has the ability to bring enemies together? Love does. What has the answers we need to the world’s problems? Love does.