Monthly Archives: April, 2012

  1. Sermons : The Care of People

    Psalm 23
    John 10:11-18 

    "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…" This is such a familiar text. Many know the words by heart. It appears often on plaques and posters, on cards and bookmarks. There are many hymns and songs based on it. We have six hymns based on Psalm 23 in our hymnal, and the choir sings several anthems based on it. My favorite anthem is by John Rutter, who re-interprets the first part a bit, saying:

    "The Lord is my shepherd, therefore I can lack nothing.
    He shall feed me in a green pasture, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort. He shall convert my soul, and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness, for His Name’s sake, for His Name’s sake…"

    The use of this psalm is not confined to churches and hymnals. Psalm 23 was recited as the ship sank in the 1997 version of the movie "The Titanic." The British comedy TV show, "The Vicar of Dibley," about a slightly irreverent woman priest, used a version sung by The Choirboys as its theme song. It was recited by Denzel Washington’s character in "The Book of Eli," and said in part in the 2010 version of "True Grit." This psalm is well-known, perhaps for its beauty, its simplicity, its comforting images.

    People of biblical times would understand the image of a shepherd better than we would. We do not see many shepherds in fields these days. But we do have images in our heads from the nativity scenes and movies about Jesus’ birth, with the gentle shepherds in the field receiving the news from the angels, and sometimes holding a lamb as they kneel before the manger.

    The psalm is a metaphor. James L. Mays says: "In a metaphor something is said to be something else that it obviously and literally is not….A metaphor used for theological purposes is serious business…A metaphor becomes the image as which and through which something or someone is known or understood. " (Mays, p. 115)

    "The Lord is my shepherd" is a powerful image for us. It is an image through which we come to know God. It may be part of the reason we struggle with other images of God that seem more harsh or judgmental. We naturally want to cling to the comforting image of God as shepherd.

    When the people of biblical times, Old and New Testament periods, heard shepherd, they saw images not only of shepherds in the fields but also of kings and rulers. For kings and rulers were referred to as shepherds, and were expected to guard over the people as if they were their flock. Some kings and rulers succeeded, to a degree, in bearing out such an image. Many did not. Perhaps the image of "lord as shepherd" was not always a good one. But it is for us. We love it so much that we sometimes adapt it to the images of caring folks around us – "The Lord is my co-pilot." "The Lord is my business manager." "The Lord is my doctor." Even for we who do not know many shepherds, though, such images do not carry the same power or comfort as that of the Lord as shepherd.

    As Jesus was prone to do, he took this image and carried it further. "I am the good shepherd," Jesus said. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Anyone with a little knowledge of sheep herding would know that this would make no sense literally. If the shepherd died to save one or even more sheep, then the rest of the sheep would be defenseless, and would be lost to predators or thieves. Yet we know what Jesus meant, as we remember, in this post-Easter time, that Jesus did indeed lay down his life for us, his flock, that he might be raised again, and conquer the evils of the world, sin and death. This is why we follow Jesus, our Shepherd. Our lives are better when we follow Jesus.

    When we, as modern Christians, hear shepherd, we may think of images of Jesus from childhood. We think of loving, caring, gentle guidance. Maybe different images come to our minds.

    My image of shepherding may look like an episode of "House" I saw last week. Dr. House is a doctor with deep issues, but he can figure out strange illnesses that others cannot seem to diagnose. This episode showed a woman who was dying, the wife of one of the doctors. The staff told him to quit working and go to her. He climbed into the hospital bed with her. She looked at him and said that she was tired and thought it was time to go to sleep. He said not yet. She said, "You will always say not yet." Then he asked her why she wasn’t angry (like he was). She said, "I don’t want anger to be my last emotion." Then they snuggled together as her life slipped away. Perhaps a bit like Jesus, the one who died was the shepherd, showing the kinder, more loving way.

    Or I may see images like the story I heard on the "Today" show this week about a woman who was married for 6 weeks to the love of her life. They were in love and talking about getting married when he was diagnosed with cancer. She wanted a 2 year engagement, just for the fun of planning the wedding. But his diagnosis changed, and he was told his cancer was stage 4. He took her on a walk and proposed to her. They were married 3 days later, and he died 6 weeks after that. The interviewer asked her how she planned a wedding in 3 days, when she had wanted 2 years, and how she was doing. Her reply to both was that she did not, and could not, do it alone. Community shepherded her, and the love of this couple witnessed to those outside the flock.

    Those kind of images fit my view of shepherding. Also I see pastors visiting sick members in the hospital and grieving members in their homes. I see congregational members taking holy casseroles to these same people. I see Stephen Ministers sitting with these folks after the immediate crisis has passed and most everyone else has faded away. Stephen Ministers visit week after week just to listen and be a caring, Christian ear. Today we will commission six new Stephen Ministers who are ready to be shepherds, after 50 hours of training. Those who are suffering often need a listening ear, a gentle companion along the rough way (through the valley). Helen Keller said, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it." In her book, Caring Cultures: How Congregations Respond to the Sick, Susan Dunlap (a professor at Duke Divinity School who led our women’s retreat this fall), said she found that "those who offer care to others in crisis reach beyond the bounds of self." (Dunlap, p. 126) We have trained and encouraged our Stephen Ministers to "reach beyond the bounds of self" as they extend a caring hand to those in crisis. Stephen Ministers and the church seek to offer spiritual care.

    Yet we find too many people are ashamed, or are too proud, to ask for help when they need it most. Asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness in our society that encourages us to take care of ourselves. Richard Eyer, a hospital chaplain, wrote a book for ministers called Pastoral Care and the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering. He says:
    "It needs to be recognized that individualism in our culture is killing us. It is pulling us away from each other, and even naïve, faithful Christians often seek personal spiritual thrills more than the spiritual care of one another." He also says that "the theology of the cross reminds us that it is through weakness and suffering that God comes to us most clearly, first on the cross, and then in our experience of suffering." (Eyer, pp. 9 & 16)

    "I am the good shepherd," said Jesus, "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus, the good shepherd, has laid down his life for us, and risen again to show us the power of God’s love for us. We need but reach out and accept that love, or give that love to someone else who needs it. The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is your shepherd, and our Lord and Savior calls us to shepherd and care for one another. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want… Even though I walk through the deepest valley, I fear no evil, for You (God) are with me…" You are with US!

    Glory be to God! Alleluia! Amen.



    Dunlap, Susan J., Caring Cultures: How Congregations Respond to the Sick (Baylor University Press, TX, 2009)

    Eyer, Richard C., Pastoral Care and the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering (Concordia Publishing House, MO, 1994)

    Gench, Frances Taylor, Encounters with Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of John (Westminster/John Knox Press, KY, 2007)

    Mays, James L., Psalms (Westminster/John Knox Press, KY, 1994)

    Sloan, Gerard, John (Westminster/John Knox Press, GA, 1988)



  2. Music Notes : Music for April 29th

    Alleluia. . .

    Our Eastertide celebrations continue with another wonderful setting of the ancient Easter chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden by Georg Böhm (1661-1733), and the singing of one of Christendom’s most heroic Easter hymns, The Strife is O’er. But what really ties the morning together is music by two beloved 20th-century composers, both of them perhaps as well loved for their teaching as for their writing.

    Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was born in New York City and died in Boston. The son of an English teacher, Thompson never strayed far from the academic environment. In 1916 he entered Harvard, where he auditioned for the chorus but was turned down by its conductor, Archibald T. Davison, who eventually became his mentor. Thompson later mused, "My life has been an attempt to strike back." To many music lovers, the name Randall Thompson brings first to mind the lofty sounds of his most famous anthem, based on the single word Alleluia–a piece still heard regularly in church services, choral concerts, and at academic ceremonies. Our Chancel Choir sings it in worship this morning, and will sing it again during the May 6th concert program in the Music Room. Much loved by all of us, this iconic American composition has an interesting history.

    Thompson’s Alleluia was commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky and the trustees of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the spring of 1940 for the opening exercises of the new Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. Koussevitsky wanted the head of Harvard’s choral department, G. Wallace Woodworth, to lead the entire Harvard student body in the new anthem to symbolize the center’s mission: the performance of music. The date for the opening was July 8th. Thompson had been preoccupied with another commission, but from July 1st through the 5th he was able to turn to Koussevitsky’s request. The large chorus was ready to rehearse, but opening day approached and no music arrived. On July 8th, with 45 minutes to go, it appeared. Woodworth got his first look at the score and reassured his charges, "Well, text at least is one thing we won’t have to worry about." In spite of the painfully short first rehearsal, the performance successfully launched a tradition: to this day Alleluia is performed each summer at the center’s opening. The anthem’s tempo mark of lento was very important to the composer. France had just fallen to the Nazis and Thompson later explained, "The music in my particular Alleluia cannot be made to sound joyous. . .here it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’" Thompson’s other works include three symphonies, two string quartets, and a scattering of instrumental pieces, but his writing for voice spanned his whole life. His love of music was matched by his love of teaching the art to students. Thompson taught at Wellesley College, Berkeley, the Curtis Institute of Music, the University of Virginia, Princeton, and Harvard.

    Thompson’s organ works may not be well known outside the insular world of organists, but I have always enjoyed playing them. They are beautifully crafted small gems and, to me, represent another facet of Thompson’s many intellectual interests: the desire to link his work directly to the great organ writing traditions exemplified by Bach and his predecessors. This perhaps explains why most of Thompson’s organ pieces are based on German chorales and employ the same strict contrapuntal techniques and stylistic traits found in Bach.

    This emphasis on traditional counterpoint links Thompson with Dutch church musician, composer, organist, and teacher Jan Bender (1909-1994), who contributed many important works to the 20th-century organ repertoire. Particularly in Lutheran circles, Bender’s name carries great weight, and an influence similar to that of Paul Manz. Born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, Bender was a pupil of Hugo Distler, and held important posts in Holland and Germany before emigrating to the United States, where he taught composition at Wittenburg University in Springfield, Ohio, and at Concordia College, Seward, Nebraska. Bender’s works can be technically demanding, but are great fun to play because they always sparkle with an underlying energy and brilliance. In addition, Bender’s compositions show an instinctive understanding of the organ as well as of the chorales and hymns upon which many of them are based. Bender’s works are beautifully constructed, based on logical, time-tested principles of counterpoint.



  3. Bulletins & Sunday Announcements : April 29, 2012

    April 29, 2012 Bulletin

  4. Messages from Monica : Choir, our spring concert is fast approaching!

    Dear Chancel Choir members:

       Our May 6th spring concert is less than two weeks away!  Rehearsal attendance has been shrinking somewhat lately.  I’m not alarmed yet, but am getting there.  I want to be sure we keep up the momentum through May 6th so that we can all truly enjoy the concert experience.  As you know, the spring program is a wonderful interactive opportunity, and the energy in the room as our audience joins in singing is a joy to behold.  You don’t want to miss this!  As you also know, many of the anthems programmed for Sunday morning worship during the next few weeks are taken from the May 6th concert program.  In other words, attending rehearsals regularly benefits both Sunday morning worship and our concert.  These American treasures are really beautiful, and I hope you agree that this labor of love is well worth our time and effort.

       Please make sure you have the May 6th concert (7 p.m., music room, preceded by a potluck supper at 6 p.m.) on your calendars; equally important is the dress rehearsal (Saturday, May 5th, 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.).  Our usual rule applies:  unless you’ve made other arrangements with me, attendance at the dress rehearsal is a must if you want to sing the program.

       A quick reminder also that Betty’s wedding is on June 9th, and our choir is privileged to be participating in the service.  If you know of others who would like to join us, please have them contact me, since we’ll have to make arrangements for when/how they will rehearse the music with us.  

       One more thing. . .please continue to use our choir sign-out calendar as often as you can.  It really helps in my planning to know who will be missing on any given Sunday.  

       Please contact me with questions or concerns.

       God bless!



  5. News : Choices at the End of Life

    Chris will lead a special seminar on "Choices at the End of Life" on Wednesday, May 2, at 7pm in Room 105. Regardless of your age, you will benefit from a thoughtful discussion on how we are called to live our lives at the end of our lives. Joining Chris in the discussion will be Beth Eagen of Eagen & Eagen, Mark Higgins of Hall-Wynne Funeral Service, and Jennifer Gentry of Duke Hospital’s Palliative Care Consult Service.