Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stars of hope…

A couple years back, my good friend Mark became the pastor of First Congregational UCC in Moorhead, MN. And for his installation service, he asked me to preach. The invitation was quite an honor, so I tried to craft a quality sermon. On the drive up, even, I was still working, practicing the message aloud, asking for Tabitha’s feedback. Initially, she said, “Well, Shane, it’s a little…unclear.” So I scribbled and reworked- frantically- and eventually had something preachable. After I finished, Mark even said, “You did alright friend.” Which I took as great, gushing, epoch-defining praise.

I won’t rehash the sermon, but I thought you’d appreciate the main metaphor I used, considering something that’s happening at church this Advent. That metaphor was this: Installing a pastor is like Installation Art. For those unfamiliar with the genre, Installation Art is simple. An artist selects a public space- a lobby, building, park, sanctuary- then ‘installs’ in that space something s/he considers beautiful or profound. It can be a series of clear plastic tubes hanging from a tree, or empty combat boots. My favorite work was created by The Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, when in 1995 they wrapped the massive German Parliament Building- The Reichstag- with 100,000 square meters of polypropylene fabric. These art pieces typically remain in place for but limited time. And for that reason, some folk consider this branch of artistic expression foolhardy or unimportant.

But I think otherwise. To my friend’s congregation that day, I said we can learn something critical from Installation Art. Which is that while something ‘installed’ may abide for only months, even weeks, the goal of the installation is transforming the space forever. For instance, I cannot look at the Reichstag now without imagining the wrapping. So the building, to me, seems more like a gift than an imposing bastion of political power. I thought my friend should know that he had such an opportunity at the church where he was being installed. And, therefore, a responsibility to create something beautiful, profound and lasting with that congregation.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not describing this because I’m contemplating leaving Plymouth Creek! My hope is my installation will remain in place for awhile yet to come. Rather, I want to highlight something beautiful and profound that’s currently ‘installed’ in our sanctuary. You may’ve heard that our intern, Lynda Lee, was organizing a “Worship and Art” project, and after church last Sunday, she and many other Plymouth Creekers put the plan in motion. Together, they created stars and collages, fabric drapings and origami, all of which they then hung/installed in our sanctuary. I walked in there this morning, and let me tell you friends, it’s incredible! A few weeks back I confessed that one way I discern the Spirit moving in my life is when I feel my tear ducts begin to well with emotion. Today, walking around our worship space, seeing the incredible creativity of our members, their profound ideas and spiritual commitment, I had a sudden desire to weep, and thus said, “Thank you, Spirit, for this gift.” Truly, what Lynda and her team of artists have done is a sight to behold. And you can see it for yourself throughout this Advent and Christmas season.

But what to make of this sudden installation? Well, as I recall, the project’s theme was “hope.” After all, this Advent we’ve been talking about the good, good life Jesus led, and has freed us to lead ourselves. In other words, our Christmas vision this year is quite hopeful! Starting with that theme, Lynda’s group then reinterpreted it through modern symbols and stories, expressing artistically the hope they see, or want to see, in the world around us. At least, I think that was the goal. Meaning that we’ll be surrounded by, saturated with hope as we worship together this season. And perhaps- I hope- we’ll be so moved by their creativity, that even when it’s taken down and the new year comes, their hope will remain. As a memory of our sanctuary. As a reality in our hearts. As a motivation for the light we shine together as Christ’s Disciples.

Grace and Peace,

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