12-06-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

December 6, 2019

Scripture: Luke 1:26-30

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Thought for the Day: This is, by my standard, one of the great human – angel encounters. There are some really surprising words found in this part of the birth narrative. It says that Mary was “perplexed” by this initial meeting, but the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid…” It’s as if that was Gabriel’s go-to line. Angels are so used to people being frightened that he simply assumed Mary to be afraid, but Mary was perplexed (or some translate it as troubled). This might have been the writer simply not wishing to repeat the same word – afraid, but I tend to think it was specifically chosen. Mary will receive one of the single most shocking and demanding invitations, and her response is not to ask for a few weeks to think about it or to ask if it includes dental coverage or even to just flat out decline. Instead, Mary will respond (in vs. 38) with the words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” This is not your usual Biblical character. This is not Moses who had a half dozen excuses and a few complaints. Mary is not like the Kings of old whose faithfulness was eased by their great wealth. Mary responded differently, and maybe that’s the reason she was chosen above all others. May we look to her as one who shows unwavering trust and conviction.

Prayer: Whatever she had, whatever made her the amazing example of faith, I wish to find it or cultivate it within myself. Help me, O Lord whose messenger put before Mary one of the great invitations. Amen.



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12-05-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

December 5, 2019

Scripture: Number 6:26

The LORD lift up his face to you and grant you peace.

Thought for the Day: The Hebrew word we translate as peace in the Old Testament is Shalom. It most definitely means peace, but peace that includes contentment and completeness, health and wellbeing. Too often the goal of peace is too short-sided, hoping to simply squelch the current violence. But if there is no shalom, then violence remains a real and accessible option – never addressing the larger structural problems from which violence emerges. Most of us know the words of Karl Marx who suggested that religion is the “opium of the people.” I believe Marx was right on this occasion as you think about the worst of institutionalized religion. It often seeks a peace that pacifies, but does not want any real change. The voices of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), and later Jesus himself, spoke of a peace that sought to transform both individuals and communities. The peace of scripture does not impose peace as the Romans did so well through military intimidation, but endeavored to create an environment where every person was respected and every person had reason to respect every other person. It was the vision of a whole new reality, a vision embodied in a child whose birth represented a radically different perception of peace.

Prayer: Grant us your peace, Lord God, a peace that provides comfort and contentment to all people in their unique circumstances, a peace that seeks to create the lasting reality of true shalom. Amen.



12-04-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

December 4, 2019

Scripture: Colossians 3:14

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Thought for the Day: On this day in 1945, the United States voted to join the United Nations. I know not everyone will agree with me, and I am not seeking agreement or even an argument, but I am one that believes that there are needed places, like the UN, where diverse people can come together and speak as one. Is it done perfectly, without some tense moments of disagreement? Of course not! Like the United States, where we have chosen to unite the states around a document, representing our shared values and core ideals, the United Nations seeks to unite nations around some shared values and core ideals as articulated in the first few articles of the UN Charter. Like the United States, the United Nations does not always do this perfectly. In our country, states have clear differences of opinion on how to embody and live out those shared values and core ideals, but there can still be a claim that we are united. It is one of the great and beautiful challenges. The same is true of the United Nations. And of course, the same is true of the church. Paul constantly struggled to hold together a very young movement, that included a growing number of people who brought with them even greater diversity. On occasion, Paul put forth some DO’s and DON’Ts in an attempt to bring people together, but for the most part that approach failed. Ultimately, Paul returned to love as the glue for whole together this beautiful but fragile body. And like the glue I used on the Christmas ornament we dropped the other night, it didn’t initially work. It took a second try, and though it held together on try number two, you could see the crack. Being a part of anything that claims to be united requires a lot of work, but if love is a part of the mix, it’s possible…with a few of the cracks showing.

Prayer: Cover us with your love, Merciful God, as we try to do the hard work that requires your love. Amen.



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12-03-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

December 3, 2019

Scripture: John 1:5

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Thought for the Day: I was speaking to a fellow clergy person a few months back, and this individual has had some wonderful moments in his/her current ministry along with a few struggles. I was surprised to hear how the struggles defined the ministry, entirely overshadowing the wonderful moments. Most all of us have rough patches, where negativity can cast a pretty long and oppressive shadow. Should that be the experience that define us? In the life of the church, one of our central convictions is how the darkness could not overcome the light. Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” As people of faith, we need to point to the light, even when it appears as nothing more than a spark. Then, with courage, we need to lead others toward the light despite the power of hopelessness that can so easily solidify them in their darkness.

Prayer: Provide us the courage, Mighty God, to point to the light and follow the light even when others have allowed the shadows to become their home. Amen.




12-02-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

December 2, 2019

Prayer for the Week:

Move among us, God of Light. Enfold us within the warmth of your brilliance. Provide your presence that reveals cracks in shadows that loom over us. Give us the courage to claim the light, even when it is faint at best. The prophet invited us to walk in and by your light. Take us beyond the well lit path of consumerism that devours our waking hours. Usher us to the source of the light, a young and impoverished couple who huddled where field animals usually ate and rested. There, where the world was not looking, let us find the glory of your grace, the light of your love. Let us be willing to follow the unexpected and arduous journey to the Bethlehem of our day and time. Let us not look to the traditional places of power, or even those who have been given titles of prestige. Let us look among the powerless and forgotten. Guide our attention to the borders where the frightened cry out, to the places of violence where children are too often viewed as collateral damage, to brothels where the innocent are trafficked, to the institutions of piety that oppress with guilt and shame, to those places in the world where the gifts of women are dismissed. It is in these places, to which so few are looking, that you are choosing to once again be born as the Holy One of Mercy. By faith, let us make our way to those Bethlehems of anguish that you have never forgotten. Amen.



12-01-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

December 1, 2019

Scripture: Isaiah 2:3

Many nations will go and say, “Come, let’s go up to the LORD’s mountain, to the house of Jacob’s God so that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in God’s paths.” Instruction will come from Zion; the LORD’s word from Jerusalem.

Thought for the Day: A message was coming to the world according to Isaiah. It was not necessarily coming through those the people might expect. Yes, it was Zion (Jerusalem), the geographic center of the Jewish faith. But many nations were coming to hear the instructions, to learn the ways of God for the purpose of walking the path of God. As you think about the story of Christ’s birth, it might begin in a similar way – with central figures from the Jewish faith, but it almost immediately spreads beyond the original community. Many will say, “Let us go, not to the Mountain of the Lord, but to Bethlehem.” Shepherds who were probably a plethora of nationalities, followed by Magi from the East, went to this place of revelation. In the birth of Jesus was a retelling of the ancient Isaiah announcement. As we begin this Advent Season, let us place no restrictions on those who might be making their way. They won’t look like us, speak like us, think like us or even follow the same cultural rules we accept, but the gracious invitation has gone forth. In the faces and languages and rich diversity of those who appear, let us see the message itself being embodied. When Isaiah suggested that “Many nations” would come, there would have been a great deal of discomfort. Yet why should we think the ever-expanding message would suddenly be reversed in the birth of Jesus. It was not! In fact, this message is always going places that the current generation isn’t ready for it to go. That’s what the relentless and reckless love of God looks like.

Prayer: I am ready for all the traditions of this season, O Lord, but am I ready where the story is really trying to take me? I pray for peace as an ancient message comes alive for this moment, challenging us in the same way it challenged every generation. Amen.




11-30-19

ECCLESIOLOGICAL ETCHINGS

November 30, 2019

(Saturdays during Advent will have a guest writer from the congregation)

Guest Writer: Rev. Katelin Jordan

Scripture: Isaiah 2:5  

Come, house of Jacob, let us walk by the light of the Lord.

 

The season of Advent is an opportunity and challenge to live in darkness, waiting for the light that will come. We are waiting, always waiting, knowing that the light of Christ will come, but that it isn’t quite here yet. So often, we want to rush right into the light. We focus on the light of Christmas morning, forgetting that we must embrace the darkness of where we are now, to learn how to live in the waiting, and to find our light.

 

I have struggled with my health the past year. I have gone through countless procedures, tests, appointments, surgeries, recoveries, and therapies. But going through all of this has taught me how to find light in this darkness. I have learned how to laugh and embrace joy amidst terrible pain and uncertainty. I have learned how to give myself grace and forgiveness when I must cancel plans and say no to something that is being asked of me. I have learned how to ask for and accept help. I have learned how to embrace the darkness that is pain and, in doing so, have found the most beautiful light and love in the people around me who continue to walk this path with me, my family, my friends, and my church.

 

My faith in a God who loves me when I want to give up and who shares in my joy when I pick myself back up again is my light. Learning to accept that, while I may be in a time of darkness, there is light all around me on this journey is how I get up every morning and find the goodness and love in every day. And the love that I have been given by others is a constant reminder to me that I am also called to Live the Love First Life and all that entails as well.

 

This journey is hard. A time of Advent darkness always is. But in learning how to pause, and live in that dark journey, we are given the chance to see the light all around us! I like to think that, in all of the fear, pain, and uncertainty that Mary and Joseph must have felt on their journey to Bethlehem, there must have been light there too, even if just in the movement of the babe in Mary’s womb.

 

It is my prayer for all of us that we learn to live in our dark times, knowing that it is in those times that the light shines brightest of all.



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