Exhausted, but Hopeful

One of the students this morning said I looked exhausted and asked if I was okay.  I thought I was covering it up by not wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants, by wearing real adult clothes – slacks, a cardigan, a statement necklace.  Apparently, it didn’t work. Yesterday was Senior Sunday and also a celebration for Ryan and I.  It was perfect.  I read the scrapbook the students and staff made me yesterday afternoon.  My eyes were red and puffy from happy tears and memories.  I announced yesterday evening where we’ll be going.  We are excited to let the world know, I was appointed to Point Hope UMC in Mt. Pleasant.  Since HOPE is such a large part of my story, I was thrilled it had it in the name!  We are thrilled to be in ministry with the people there.  We’ll be living and the kids will go to school in the same neighborhood the church is in.  Fingers crossed about the house.  I awoke this morning to several things we had to get together for our loan documents.  After I got those together, I turned on my iTunes and this song by Chris Rice came on.  Stirring my soul to holiness.

I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane
Suddenly the dead brown leaves are stirred
To scratch their circle dances down the lane

And now the sturdy oaks start clappin
With the last few stubborn leaves that wont let go
I can hear Old Glory snappin
And her tattered rope now clangin against the pole

And my breath is snatched away
And a chill runs up my spine
Feels like somethins on the way
So I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness

I see the lifeless dust now resurrected
Swirling up against my window pane
And carried cross the distance
Come the long awaited fragrances of earth and rain

And out across the amber field
The slender grasses bend and bow and kiss the ground
And in them I see the beauty of the souls
Who let the spirit lay them down

And it takes my breath away
And a tear comes to my eye
Feels like somethins on the way
So I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to ho-holiness

And like a mighty wind blows with a force I cannot see
I will open wide my wings, I will open wide my wings
I will open wide my wings and let the spirit carry me, yeah, yeah

From the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness
Stirring my soul to ho-holiness

I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane

Psalm 96

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Amen.  Let it be that God stirs all of our souls to holiness and may we see God’s tangible reminders that we REST in HOPE.

Psalm 23 Sermon

I picked two scriptures from the lectionary today, we will explore one first and then the next.  The first one is Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

It was one of the scriptures my mother made us memorize when we were little and it is a familiar refrain in the Bible.  Ryan talked about it last week, we, as sheep, tuning in to Jesus, our good shepherds, voice, tuning into our Master and Lord’s voice.  In this particular passage, “He restores my soul,” is actually a statement of conclusion. In other words, green pastures and still waters are the way God restores our souls. And if we stop long enough to let God speak to us, we’ll discover that our souls need restoring.  Especially at the end of the semester with the last three of days of class.

“He restores my soul” literally means He causes my life to return. The word restore means replenish, to return to its original state. Restoring my soul means God keeps me going and gives the enjoyment of life back to me. Notice it’s not some general or physical restoration—“He restores my soul.”  I would always get sick at the end of the semester, whether it was over Christmas break or if it were May.  My mom would say that I was running on adrenaline all during the semester, and if I didn’t take little moments to recharge then I would eventually burn out.

Those who really know God, also know God “makes” us lie down sometimes. We’re not smart enough or willing enough to do many things for our own good. But our Shepherd will do what the Shepherd needs to do to get us where we need to be—in green pastures—so God can restore our souls.

Soul is a very important word in the Bible. The Hebrew term nephesh can be translated soul, life, heart, or mind. Nephesh is the word used in Genesis 2:7 to describe what happened when God breathed into the clay figure He had made: “The man became a living creature [or soul].” Soul refers to the immaterial part of you that will survive beyond this life. The central thing that is most you about you is your soul. Your soul relates and responds to God.

So, if God continually “restores my soul,” how does God do it? First, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” In Hebrew, “green pastures” literally means the tender grass. In sheep terms, it’s rich, lush feeding places from which the flock need never move to be satisfied. What do we do to get fed?  What do we do to get our God fix?

Psalm 63 verses 1-4 talks about it this way, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.”

“He leads me beside still waters.” God says, What are you doing over there? C’mon over here. This is where the water is quiet. This is where you can be refreshed. My living water is deep and plentiful. And it restores your soul. Sheep are scared by troubled waters, and so are we. God provides the still waters of God’s thirst-quenching presence. God can satisfy your deepest longings every time we turn to God.

A bit of poetry from Wisdom Path by Jan Richardson,

God of the waters,

help me to know

that there will be wilderness,

but the wilderness

will turn to green land;

that there will be desert,

but in the desert a spring;

that in the heart

of the rock

of my life

will begin to flow

a river

washing through the chasm of my soul;

and that I will walk

wet with memory

when again I touch

dry land.

Don’t you love that imagery.  Through the chasm of my soul…  I have the memory ot water even when I’m on dry land.  In the original text, notice the word beside. This isn’t some down-to-the-river-and-out-again experience. Beside the still waters is where you can live your life. It isn’t a monthly or a weekly thing; it’s a daily, continuous replenishing. The psalmist of Psalm 121  wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  You’re walking with Christ beside still waters, walking in his ways, letting him lead and guide you as the good Shepherd he is. You’re alone with God, not thinking about the time. It’s quiet . . . and God’s restoring you.  God actively seeks to restore your soul.

After my grandfather died, my gandaddy because I was the first grandchild and I couldn’t say my r’s when I was little, we gathered in his hospital room, all of his extended family.  He had a heart attack and because it was so sudden we were all in shock.  He was one of six boys and they were all farmers at one time or another.  He went to Clemson when it was a military college and he was stationed at White Plains in El Paso where they were doing nuclear testing.  He was a long-time educator in Williamsburg County, one of the counties off of the I-95 corridor, first as a math teacher and then as a principal.  He loved Clint Eastwood movies and he challenged me to not use empty words like “cool.”  He was our rock.  Our constant.  He lived #blacklivesmatter before it became a thing to stand for.   For that matter, he stood for #alllivesmatter.  And when we all crowded in the hospital room, we all joined together in saying Psalm 23.  I’m so glad my mother made us memorize it as children.  It comes in handy.  When I don’t know what to pray.  When I don’t know what end is up.  When I just need some Jesus in my life.  I pray it.  I encourage each of you to write it on your hearts because when the rubber hits the road, it will come back to you.  Lyrics to a song…Scripture passages you’ve memorized…the Holy Spirit will give you a nudge or a loud clanging cymbal about where you should go and who you are.  Not only that, but whose you are.

Our other lectionary text for today is from Revelation 7:15-17 talking about those who come out of the great ordeal.

15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Tune in to the Shepherd’s voice even when things seem insurmountable and the entire deck is stacked against you.  Even when you barely hear the Shepherd’s voice, even when the shepherd’s voice is silent.  Keep reading scripture, keep listening, keep doing all you can to connect to the Source of life – God.  My prayer for all of you and for me is that God will give us the courage and strength to stand firm in the midst of every adversity, that Christ be our shelter and shield and he wield his sword of truth, and that the Holy Spirit blow over this place igniting anew and afresh our hopes, our dreams, our deepest longings.

You have below your seat a button and a card.  The buttons say things like “Praise God,” “You are Loved,” “Joy,” “Be You,” “Shine Your Light,” and “Be Love.”  I encourage you to “Be Love” because you are precious and Beloved.  The card is a great quote of Frederick Buechner, “Here is the world.  Beautiful and terrible things happen.  Don’t be afraid.”  The Bible, nor Jesus, nor I – don’t promise the road is going to be easy, but God promises to always restore your soul and Jesus promises to never leave you nor forsake you.

This benediction was used at Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland in 1692.  It still rings true today.  “Go placidly among the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible without surrender be on good terms will all persons.  Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you will become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.  Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.  Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.  Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism

Be yourself.  Especially do not feign affection.  Neither, be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as grass.  Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.  Nurture strength of the spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.  Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gently with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the tress and the stars; you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore, be at peace with God for he is greater than we can ever comprehend.  Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be careful.  Strive to be happy.”

Choose joy.  Be joy.  Choose love.  Be love.  Choose hope.  Be hope.  Amen.

IMG_4838 (2)

*The classic Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” will be read for the graduating seniors.

Confession, Forgiveness, Love Prayer Station

This past Wednesday, during our Evensong worship service, I gave the students a handout with these words on it.  We read the confession together.  Then I asked them to write with black sharpies on a black table cloth a couple of things.*  Those things that they feel are hindering them from feeling God’s love, the personal and corporate sins they wanted to confess, the name of person(s) that they want to forgive, and their worries and fears.  We have every Sunday and Wednesday, Communion, as well as a votive candle rack, so I asked them to ponder, light a candle, and focus on confession, forgiveness and love and then we would do Communion, a tangible sign of God’s love for each of us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way of peace.

Come into the brokenness of our lives and our land

with your healing love.

Help us to be willing to bow before you in true, actual repentance,

and to bow to one another in real forgiveness.

Lead and guide us, O God our creator, to see anyone that we have

done actual harm or the harm of neglecting the others feelings.

By the fire of your Holy Spirit, melt our hard hearts

and consume the pride and prejudice which separate us.

Fill us, O Lord, with your perfect love, which casts out all fear,

and bind us together in that renewed reconciliation and unity.

May we trust that as we confess ALL of our sins both personal and corporate,

that Jesus, Emmanuel, will be faithful and true.

Renew us day by day by the power of the Living God that seeps into

us as we seek the freedom that comes from knowing that we are truly forgiven.

Revive in us a Spirit of forgiveness in our day to day lives, walking and living in

a way that leads to evidence of God’s kingdom coming to Earth.

Amen.

(based on BOW 482 and changed by me to fit this particular community  – Cecil Kerr, Northern Ireland, 20th Century)

 

“Make Me Merciful”

by Peter Storey

Holy Jesus, your forgiving love

Saves and disturbs me.

Without it, I am lost,

Yet, if I receive it, I must practice it.

By your mercy, make me merciful;

By your forgiveness, help me to forgive.

As I have been forgiven.

Amen.

 

Colossians 3:12-15 (NRSV)

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

I played Needtobreath’s “More Heart, Less Attack” and “Rivers in the Wasteland.”

  • Kristen Marshall created this prayer station.

 

Worry

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

How many times have you heard those words, or something similar? The song, “Don’t worry, be happy” is certainly catchy, but not as “Hakuna Matata.” Maybe what you heard was a distinctive New York accent saying, “Fuggedaboudit!”

Those four words — “Don’t worry about it” — are, in combination with each other, possibly the most useless words in the English language.  You could say “no worries” and the words could mean very different things.  Someone could say them honestly “no worries” and it means genuinely don’t worry about it or they could say “no worries” because they’re really mad that you made something they cared about seem trivial or you said something to hurt their feelings and when they saw it, they brushed it off.

They’re useless not because banishing worry isn’t a good idea. Certainly, it is. Duh.  “Don’t worry about it” is advice routinely ignored and impossible to obey.  It’s a clichéd phrase that often doesn’t get at the weight or depth of the issue.

Some psychologists — borrowing language from medical science — draw a distinction between acute anxiety and chronic anxiety. Acute anxiety, they say, is related to some immediate threat. Leonardo DiCaprio when he comes face to face with the grizzly bear in The Revenant has acute anxiety.  You could say he’s experiencing acute anxiety and fear for most of the movie because he just reaches the double digits with his lines.

Yet, if you wake up each morning with a sense of free-floating dread, but have little idea where those dark forebodings come from — nor any idea when or how you’ll break free from them — then chances are, you’re a victim of chronic anxiety.  My mom calls this the worry cycle.  When you wake up every morning going down the list of worries…your family…your classes…your job…that particular test…that girl or guy that you like…what am I going to this summer…

The word “anxious” is historically related to a Latin word, angere, which literally means “to choke or strangle.” I figured it meant something along the lines of nervous, but I didn’t know it meant to choke or strangle.

There’s another English word that traces its lineage to the same Latin root. The word is angina — the sharp, piercing pain that precedes a heart attack. Angina arises when one of the coronary arteries becomes choked off by arterial plaque, blocking oxygen from reaching the heart muscle.

Anxiety, in other words, can kill you, if you let it fester.

Another English word that grows out of this Latin root, angere, is “anger.” Anxious people, as it so happens, are often angry people. They sense the breath of life being choked off from their soul, and so they lash out, flailing wildly in an effort to remove the threat, whatever they imagine it to be.

Anxious. Angina. Anger.  It would be so easy to link this to Star Wars as leading to the Dark Side, but I won’t.  In our 24 hour news cycle, we’ve gotten numb to the headlines. Would you say it is worse now, more violent now, more worrisome now?

Although we may imagine ourselves the most anxiety-ridden people ever, gazing back longingly, a quick look at the Scriptures reveals this is hardly the case. Speaking God’s word to the community of Israelites in Babylonian captivity, our text reminds us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. … For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (vv. 2-3).  The good news of the salvation oracle in Isaiah 43 is that God directly addresses this experience of exile.

It can be hard for us to conceive just what Jewish people went through as they were uprooted from their homes, and transported to the Babylonian capital. Not everyone was compelled to relocate, of course — just the political, intellectual and economic elite, the ruling class. The Babylonian rulers seem to have followed the advice, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Settling the cream of Judah’s leadership in comfortable quarters, in a neighborhood of the city all their own, the Babylonian overlords made certain there were none from the defeated nation’s leadership who could raise a rebellion back home.

The entire identity of the Jewish people, by contrast, was rooted in their theological understanding of the land. They were proud to be the chosen people Moses had led out of Egypt to claim the land of milk and honey for their own. The land was the principal sign of the Lord’s favor, the continual reminder that they lived in a state of divine grace. The temple mount in Jerusalem was the spiritual center of their universe.   Remember God’s broader plan of salvation is for ALL people, unlike what those Turlington preachers say, but God focused attention on the shocking particularity of God’s love for this one people, Israel, for whom God would pay any price.

When all this was suddenly snatched away from them, not only for their immediate physical circumstances, but, also, whether they could maintain an identity as the Lord’s chosen people without that tangible reality of the Promised Land. They also wondered how they could worship God apart from the cherished temple rites. Their cry of despair is echoed in Psalm 137:4: “How could we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land?”

Isaiah assures them. He gives the people a word from the Lord. “I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Who but the Lord could accomplish such a wonder, redeeming the exiles from their hopeless situation? How could such a miraculous release from their captivity happen, unless the Lord willed it? This prophetic passage pictures the exiles’ journey home, passing even through rushing rivers without hindrance or danger.

The image of passing safely through the waters may recall Song of Songs 8:7: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” What miraculous power is it that brings the exiles home, across the mighty Euphrates, but divine love?  How is it that God can bring us out of the muck and mire of our own lives and set our feet on solid ground?

God is with us.  We are not the first generation of human beings to feel inundated by worry. True, we often use our mass-communications technology to construct an echo chamber to amplify our natural anxieties, but the fundamental psychological fact of worry is no different. By nature, we are a worrying people. At times, worry keeps us appropriately vigilant so we may fend off tangible threats. Yet, more often than not, it’s simply a burden.

Yet the Bible in today’s text reminds us that we need not fear.

We can live without anxiety because:

– God created us – In John Wesley’s notes he wrote about this particular passage.  “I have not only created them out of nothing, but I have also formed and made them my peculiar people.”  God formed us.  When you build or create something, you know it inside and out. God, as our Creator, knows us better than we know ourselves. Moreover, the text says, God redeemed us, God calls us by name and God says “you are mine.”

So worry is a lack of trust. If we truly believe that God says, “You are mine,” then how can we be anxious about the things that cross our paths?

This does not mean that there will not be waters to pass through, or fires to put out, but God promises to be our faithful shield and strength.

Such anxiety does not honor the God who created us, calls us by name and not only says “You are mine,” but “you are precious in my sight” (v. 4).

I invite y’all this week as worries or fears flood your minds and hearts, that you come up with 3-5 word phrase like, “Lord have mercy” or “God give me peace” that you say in your head as these thoughts come unbidden.  The Holy Spirit will lead and guide you and we as a community will be here for you.

The Bible says that we should “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Here, the writer echoes the comforting voice of Isaiah the prophet.
Two Days We Should Not Worry

There are two days in every week about which we should not worry; two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.

Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.

We cannot undo a single act we performed; we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow. With all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and its poor performance, Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.

Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds, but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day, Today. Any person can fight the battle of just one day. It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities Yesterday and Tomorrow that we break down.

It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad. It is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring that renders a person wild with anxiety. Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time.

–Author unknown.

Matthew 6:25-34 says it this way, “25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Chronic anxiety — unlike the acute variety — isn’t based on outside threats. It rises from within. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  The great God of the Universe knows your name.  And some of y’all may freak out at that.  Don’t worry.  Confident that you are more than your name, that you are first and foremost a baptized and beloved child of God, you can look at the world, and even around your neighborhood, with new eyes.  How would that affect how we live?  If we know the Living God?  How would that shape us being in the world?  Do we spread peace that way?  Would that affect how we see the challenges that come daily into our personal world?  And the broader world?  I’ll let you wrestle with those questions.  It’s easy to say what we would do, it’s much harder to banish worry from hearts and minds, to act as peace agents in the world, seeing if we could help, only a little, and trusting God will be our strong fortress……all the days of our life.  Amen.

 

Epiphany at Evensong

Greeting 

Tonight we will celebrate the Ephipany (Manifestation) of the Lord.  This is always celebrated on January 6th.  The United Methodist Book of Worship says it’s an even more ancient celebration among Christians than Christmas, originally focused on the nativity, incarnation, and baptism of Christ.  Today we celebrate the coming of the three wise men (magi), who brought gifts to the Christ child.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.  You will do well to be attentive to this, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Amen.

Song – Holy Spirit

 Vesper Psalms

We started going through the Psalms one by one at Evensong.  We’re on Psalm 29 tonight.

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. 

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. 

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,*
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Song – Finally Free

Story –  

I’ve printed out the three scriptures the lectionary gives us to begin the new year (hold up the lectionary book and explain the lectionary).  I thought it appropriate during this Epiphany service to give you a quiet prayer time during this busy time of year of getting books and meeting with professors about changing class schedules and learning a new rhythm of life as you figure out where your classes are or when you will break for lunch.  Our hope is to create an atmosphere of Holy manifestations.  I’ve asked Erin to set out crayons, colored pencils and paint so that you can prayerfully draw or if you’re not into drawing, perhaps circle and underline and pray these scriptures while reading them.  Make this time be between you and God.  If somethings comes into your mind to distract you, pray for it.  If you have a burden on your heart that needs the community to pray, I invite you to share that during prayers and praises.  If you don’t want to do the prayer stations, you can reflect and pray.  Let nothing come between your time with your Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (NRSV)

3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 9What gain have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.

11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Psalm 8 (NRSV)

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Revelation 21:1-6 (NRSV)

The New Heaven and the New Earth

21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Prayer Requests 

Communion

Communion Song Ever Be

Prayer after Receiving

Song – It Is Well

Call to Prayer and Request for Presence (Liturgy Reader)

May the Lord Almighty grant me and those I love a peaceful night and a perfect end.

Our help is in the Name of the Lord; the maker of heaven and earth.

Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon) (Liturgy Reader)

Lord, you now have set your servants free to go in peace as you have promised;

for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,

whom you have prepared for all the world to see:

a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

      as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

 Song Gracious Tempest

 Benediction 

Christmas Eve Reflection

 

Does anyone feel like we need this in-breaking of the kingdom of God a little more this year?  Simply saying that there’s suffering in the world, we’re a country that’s more viciously divided albeit in my short life time, and the community-wide, familial, and personal tumult is not enough.  Simply acknowledging this reality is not enough.  Frankly, because that attitude breeds complacency and apathy.  We need to be urgently praying and seeking God’s will in the big and small ways so we can bring peace, joy, love and hope to the world, in our communities, and within our own hearts.

A dear friend recently shared this quote with me.  It’s from Bobbi Patterson, long-time faculty at Emory University’s Department of Religion.  “As this darkening grows drawing us closer to a spark of incarnate light generating long-haul love.”  I love that.  I’ve been meditating on it since she sent it to me.  You see, we expect that with darkness, grief, sadness, despair, suffering, a greater darkness, but the opposite is true.  That’s when we cling to that spark of incarnate light.  That’s what Advent is all about.  An in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the form of the most vulnerable thing on Earth, a baby, who came to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set us free of our societal, communal, and personal bondage.  As it is written in Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.”

May you draw closer to God’s Incarnate Light.  It’s available for each of us.  No one is separated from the love of God, and Bobbi’s right, it’s a “long-haul love.”  We love even when it’s difficult, even when it’s costly, even when hatred is spewed.  We’re called to be the light of Christ and, as Robert Louis Stevenson says, “to punch holes in the darkness.”  Gator Wesley always does an Early Christmas Eve service and I prefer not to sing the traditional “Silent Night” choosing instead “Joy to the World.”  I love how the entire service is dark and somber and then it transitions with that last hymn, each person has his or her own light and when all of the candles are lit, it’s definitely effervescent light.  May we make him room; the light of Christ radiating out of each of us and shining in the world.  Come Lord Jesus, Come.

candle

Joy to The world! the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let ev’ry heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonder wonders of His love

Compelling Faith Evensong

The image above is from the movie Oliver Twist and he draws the long string…

 “The other thing that comes to mind about compelling content is that….. it leaves me thirsting for more. There’s something about compelling content that drives me to subscribe, join or bookmark because I’ve had a taste of something I’d like a second helping of.”

I know this reaction for myself.

  • When I read a book from a new author that I enjoy I immediately look for more information on the author to see what else they’ve written. I got all of Ellin Hildebrand’s, Sophia Kinsella and Madeline Wickham’s book, and I realized that Sophia and Madeline were the same person, she just wrote under these pseudonyms.
  • When I see someone tweet something that grabs my attention or makes me think – I check out their other tweets or when a news source like huffpost religion or the New York Times post an article I usually read it
  • When I watch a TV show that entertains me, makes me laugh or gives me something to think about – I put it on our “list”
  • When I read a blog post that informs me, teaches me or stretches my mind – like Bishop Ken Carter’s blog that’s currently doing a 6 part series on Fresh Expressions – I bookmark it, to check back to read next week’s installment.

What is the definition of compelling? com·pel·ling kəmˈpeliNG/

adjective

  1. evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.

“his eyes were strangely compelling”

synonyms: enthrallingcaptivatinggrippingrivetingspellbinding, mesmerizing,absorbingirresistible

“a compelling performance”

  • not able to be refuted; inspiring conviction.

“compelling evidence”

synonyms: convincingpersuasivecogentirresistiblepowerfulstrongweighty,plausiblecrediblesoundvalidtellingconclusiveirrefutable,unanswerable

“a compelling argument”

  • not able to be resisted; overwhelming.

“the temptation to give up was compelling”

What makes a compelling story?

What makes you trust the storyteller?

What gives someone a compelling faith story that leaves you wanting more?

Is it the integrity of the story teller?  Is it the way that the storyteller tells the story?  Building up anticipation?

I would wager it has more to do with nonverbal – the sincerity, the vulnerability, the body language, the raw emotion, the honesty.  I would also guess that you have to trust this person.  It doesn’t mean you have to know the person, it just means you have to buy what they’re selling.

As we were giving out free cake today at Santa Fe College, I went into the coffee shop to buy an iced drink as I do.  Two of the co-workers had just gotten our free cake and they were trying to talk their other co-worker into getting a piece.  He said, “I don’t trust free cake.”  They said that we were a church.  He answered, “I don’t trust free cake, especially from a church.”  As he was taking my order and I didn’t tell him I was the pastor of the sketchy church giving out free cake.

Some synonyms for “compelling” are convincing, persuasive, irresistible, strong, credible, valid…I bet if he works that same shift every week and if he sees us and gets to know us and we share stories for a period of time, he will find us more “credible.”

I know I highlight this multiple times a week, but when we share stories, lives together, then that’s when the real change happens.

I know some of you know all about my second brain surgery in 2013 that left me without the ability to speak for three weeks.  I typed a text to Mike a few weeks after the surgery, “The quickness with which I speak comes back?” and it took me 20 minutes to even type that.  Thankfully, my speech has returned for the most part.  When I’m tired, y’all have been great about doing charades to understand what I mean.  I still don’t have the fine motor skills in my right hand, but I can deal with that!  I have to go back to get an MRI and meet with my oncologist every 3 months.  I’m due for that next Wednesday.  Mike and I know the rhythm so well, that we start getting tense when it comes close.  I was diagnosed with a oligodendroglioma when I was 30.  Enoch turned 3 in the two weeks when I first was diagnosed and the first surgery.  Evy was 1.  They don’t remember me not having this diagnosis.  I’ve been brutally honest on my blog that I don’t write very much on any more.  I created the  blog so that I could update everyone about the medical aspects and what my head space was at the time, so I didn’t have to repeat it all the time, and also so I can LIVE my life.  The fullness of it.  I claim the end of John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” and I claim the last verses the song “In Christ Alone.”

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

You don’t have to have had brain surgery to have a compelling story of faith.  Trust me.

The best stories are from the heart, when you peel back the layers and are vulnerable.  Being real with people is the highest compliment you can pay, because no one likes to be bs-ed.  No one likes to be made a fool of, but when you drop the masks and you KNOW and RECOGNIZE that you don’t have any control of the situation that’s where God’s love steps in and makes a way.  That’s where the trust comes and the faith.  It’s okay to yell at God.  And it’s okay to cry out.  May scriptures come to you in the midst.  May songs come to you in the midst.  May a friend lift you up in the midst.  May you have the courage to be vulnerable and may people’s responses be more than enough…may they lift you up with the grace and mercy of God.

You see, you’ve been invited into the greatest story ever told.  You have your own story of redemption.  You have your own story of the mountaintops and valleys.  You just have to tell it.  God will give you a story.  God will give you the boldness, the tenacity, and the courage to speak it.  Don’t be afraid.  If you’re not a great speaker.  Many people in the Bible and throughout time have had that same problem!  God will give you the words.  God will guide and lead you in all that you do and say.  Tell the story.  Last Easter, we painted the 34th Street Wall with the words of the last song Jake is going to sing tonight.  #BecauseHeLives  Tell the story.  You will have a compelling one, indeed.  The world is hungry for a life-giving, life-tranforming story.

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Song During Communion