On This Sunday, the choir of First Baptist Church presented Joel Raney’s Christmas Musical “A Thrill of Hope.” There was no separate sermon.
The words I read to introduce our first hymn were taken from what is called the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, and are commonly agreed to be some of the oldest poetry in the Bible, and so, arguably, some of the earliest words to express faith in the God of the Bible. Here they are, again, from the pew Bible: “Who is like you O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendour, doing wonders?”
This is, I think, a pretty good translation until we get to the last two words “Doing wonders,”… Continue reading
This is the Sunday we light the second purple candle on the Advent Wreath – the Candle of Peace. Each year as this candle is lit, I think that it’s a good thing that this is the second candle and that it comes after the Candle of Hope because it seems every year that I can remember, that peace is only a hope. Today, we truly live in a world where religious intolerance and hatred is white hot. Indeed, in this country which we say is a country of laws, we suffer violence because it is commonplace to shoot and… Continue reading
There he was, out in the wilderness that surrounds the Jordan River, bellowing about repentance. He was a bit of an oddball – John the Baptist. He wore garments of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He was doing all he could to look like Elijah or one of the early prophets of Israel (and you can see 2 Kings 1:8 if you don’t believe me). John ate locusts and wild honey. And yet, Luke takes immense pains to make the appearance of this oddball an event worth coordinating with no less than seven rulers of the… Continue reading
Jean Vanier could be described as a humanitarian, philosopher, or theologian, but those who know him best would describe him as a man with a heart, a man of compassion. He was born the son of a Canadian diplomat. He joined the Royal Navy and had opportunity for a career as a commissioned officer but he was drawn to study and to seek a deeper spirituality. So he resigned his commission and studied both philosophy and theology. He was on his way to a life of academics. Either of those careers would have been honorable and worthwhile, but he felt… Continue reading
“Staying the Course,” is an idiom that means sticking with a task until it’s done. The most commonly suggested derivation of the idiom is from sailing a ship in the same general direction it was charted to go by its captain in spite of exigencies. This explanation recognizes the need for modifications in the course and for steadiness toward the goal and for keeping at it until the goal is reached. First Baptist has been sailing now for over 163 years. We’re the oldest church in La Crosse, and one of the smallest. We haven’t always been as small as… Continue reading
The Ashley family Thanksgiving at our house has gotten me in the mood for the Thanksgiving season. (I, for one, refuse to go to Christmas this early, despite every effort of merchants to get me there!) There’s an old German hymn that isn’t in our current hymnal, but which most of us know:
We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered God’s almighty hand.
God sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
And the refrain is:
All… Continue reading
“For All the Saints, Who From Their Labours Rest…” today we may think about the Apostles and other like Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquila in the New Testament, the many great names like Polycarp, Irenaeus, Augustine, Francis, Benedict, Hildegard, and so on, up through the Reformation names of Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Bucer, Tyndale, Hubmaier, and others such as the Wesleys, the Judsons, William Carey – the big names, whose stories can be inspirational and moving to us all. Well, since the New Testament calls all of Jesus’ disciples “saints,” on All Saints Day, when many of my most devout colleagues are… Continue reading
Seeing and not seeing, blindness and vision, are fairly common metaphors in the Bible, not only for physical changes (as in the Gospel story of a blind man who is made to see), but for spiritual changes that happen, as when Saul of Tarsus, who persecuted the early church, became Paul the Apostle, its greatest early missionary. The whole story of his blindness and recovery of sight is a metaphor for a complete transformation.
Often, on the day of our quarterly congregational meeting I turn to thoughts of planning, mission, and vision. These are times for “seeing” both where we’ve… Continue reading
I think I’ve told you of the small pieces of note paper that my father had on his office desk. It was one of the first things I remember learning to read. At the top was the legend “From the desk of Pastor John Herschel Ashley,” and, at the bottom was a part of our Gospel lesson: “…Not to be served, but to serve…” Even as a boy, I knew that my dad thought this saying was about him as a minister, and I thought that somebody ought to serve him at least once in a while. “…Not to be… Continue reading