Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Morning After Reflection

This week's post is written by a guest blogger, my dear friend since middle school, Rev. Erin Gaston Morgan.  Erin is the Associate Pastor for Youth and Outreach at South Aiken Presbyterian Church in Aiken South Carolina where she lives with her husband Jeff.  Erin has degrees from Presbyterian College and Columbia Theological Seminary.   When I tell the story of being King Herod in the Christmas Play at Bedford Pres, in which I was interviewed by a "reporter a foot taller than me," this is her!  I am blessed to call her a friend and a sister in Christ.

Erin was involved in the planning and implementing of a special event in Aiken over MLK Day and here she shares her reflection. If you'd like to read more about the event, attached is an article from the Aiken Standard Race relations discussed at King Day event in Aiken.  Thank you, Erin, for your willingness to work toward reconciliation for all God's people.  And for your willingness to share your reflections and your heartfelt prayer with us in this way.

"It's only by God's grace that this King Day Dinner and Movie Selma event happened, all were fed (loaves and fishes), and conversations were had around the table. I am struck by how similar our gathering was to the many gatherings of the women, men, and young people in the 1950s and 1960s. These brave souls ignited the Civil Rights Movement and set a Holy Spirit fire throughout our nation that manifested in more equal rights in more lives through the love of God. Folks, the civil rights movement is not over. We still have a lot of work to do. We are stronger when we work together, regardless of background, color or creed.

I am in awe at the power of the Holy Spirit because what took place last night was true communion fellowship with sisters and brothers in Christ. It's what Jesus modeled with his own disciples time and again. It's the love that Jesus modeled with the Jews and Gentiles, yes even with those Pharisees. It's what Jesus modeled even to those folks (governmental folk and street folk alike) who killed him when he stood up for love, truth, justice, and peace. The promise of the Easter resurrection reigns true each and every moment of our lives. Death never wins, but God’s love conquers all. 

Christ’s own words from the gospels of Matthew and John echo in my ears and touch my heart: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’ 
Friends, we will continue to have these difficult and necessary conversations. We will not stop with words but will act with love toward one another until we are truly able to see one another as beloved children of God. Lord, bless our incoming president, Donald Trump, and his team, whether we voted for him or not, whether we agree with them as a leadership team or not. May God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be the lamp that lights our path as we build bridges of love and peace for all people. Christ is the bread of life. 

This is my hope and my prayer to the One who cries first at hatred, discord, hurt, pain, and injustice:
God of all ages, take away our fears and shed light in places void of love and hope. Now when our land is troubled, be near to lead and save, precious Creator. May leaders in our nation, community, religious bodies, neighborhoods, offices, homes, and streets be led by your wisdom; may they search your will and see it clearly. If we have turned from your way, help us to turn back and ask for forgiveness. Give us light and your truth to guide our steps & continue the conversation. 

We are a nation of immigrants. Heal this land and all lands across the globe that have been destroyed by warfare, power struggles, arrogance, rape, hurt, and fear. Giver of Life, we lift up our incoming leader and his team, whether we agree with them or not. When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, in troubled times, do not let our hope fail. 

Continue to grant prophets, holy God, to cry out for justice and mercy, to say things that we don’t want to hear or admit about ourselves. Give prophetic, every-day people the fire and love of your Word. Grant, O Creator, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that the barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace. Lord, Martin Luther King, Jr., fondly known as “King” was one such person. He once said in a sermon on courage, delivered on March 8, 1965, in Selma Alabama: "A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true." 

Giver of life, throughout the years, you have given women, men, children, youth, and adults the voices to stand up for that which is right, regardless of birth, station in life, economic status, political status, job or no job, likes or dislikes, belief or creed, origin of belief. May we not forget this call that has been given to us as human beings, seres humanos. Convict us that it is okay and right to stand up for those things that matter: for our neighbors that don’t talk like us, for our neighbors across the street, on the other side of the tracks. May we not be silent about things that matter, for we know that death comes with silence. Life follows in the footsteps of speaking the truth in love. May we all be instruments of peace who empower life-giving conversations and opportunities instead of death and destruction. 
This we ask in the name of your one and only Son who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When The Church Takes A Snow Day

When the church takes a snow day it means no one comes calling before worship.  Meetings and Classes are suspended until next week.  This gives people the extra hour or so to dig their cars out of the snow, add that one extra layer on before facing the frosty temps, or enjoying that extra cup of coffee. 

When the church takes a snow day it means meticulously crafted bulletins are set aside for next week because the service reflecting on the Baptism of the Lord is perfect for ordaining and installing new church officers.  And you want to have a good turnout for worship in light of such celebrations.  It means the date on the cover will be wrong. But it means the content of the service will be right.

When the church takes a snow day it means everyone sits up front.  No one left behind to sit lonely in a faraway pew. Nametags reflect the colors of the window-stained.  Choir members mingle with friends they do not often see.  Children wave as they enter the scene.

When the church takes a snow day it means the pastor has taken the time to create a new, simplified order of worship because attendance is sure to be light.  It means everyone from the staff to the ushers is surprised when more bulletins need to be made before church begins. More and more cold noses and warm smiles trickle in. 

When the church takes a snow day it means we have a substitute pianist, one who is known and loved in the church.  One who plays the simplest of hymns with joy and unknowingly selects one of my favorite songs for the offertory. 

When the church takes a snow day it means the pastors "shoot from the hip."  Robes are discarded in offices and liturgy is led from the Communion Table.  It means children and church members receive the message God intended for them. How to spread God's words from their own mouths.  "I love you. I forgive you." 

When the church takes a snow day it means no lemonade and cookies after church is over.  More importantly, it highlights the nature of friendly conversations enduring long after the sounds of the piano have ceased.  Regardless of whether there were snacks. 

There is a hint of magic in the air, in the quiet that lay with the white covered ground.  Community abounds.  When the church takes a snow day.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Attitude Is Half The Battle

Where are you on your New Year's Resolutions?  Did you make any? Do they typically stick?  Mine have been to drink more water and get exercise every day.  So far today I've had two cups of coffee and been sitting at my desk for three hours. 

I woke up this morning thinking to myself, "Attitude is half the battle."  I repeated that mantra as I wrangled my son into the car.  I repeated it again, aloud to him, as he whimpered that he didn't want to go to school today when I unhooked his car seat.  I told Pastor Carl about it at my desk this morning.  He laughed and said, "I don't know about half...."

I've been thinking about the upcoming holiday celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.  This year we will host our second Mini Vacation Bible School on this date.  Last year we talked about the good Samaritan and the charge to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  This year I am pondering the story of Ruth.  I love the story of Ruth and Naomi. I love Ruth's tenacity.   In Ruth's case, attitude was definitely half the battle, at least half.

When Ruth lost her husband, she was still quite young.  She could have returned home to her parents and married again, a person from Moab rather than the immigrant husband she married the first time. The narrative infers for us that Ruth still had prospects, as did her sister-in-law, and mother-in-law Naomi knew it.  Naomi, however, didn't have anyone else. She lost her husband and her sons.  She was a foreigner in a land that was not her own.  She had no choice but to return, a widow, to the land of Judah.  Naomi encouraged the two women to return to their homes.  But Ruth stood fast, she committed to traveling with Naomi, "Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die I will die and be buried."  Ruth was committing, whole-heartedly to Naomi, for life.  Had Ruth's attitude not been one of positivity, love, persistence, and faithfulness...well our story would end here, completely changing the course of our Scriptures.  Attitude is half the battle. 

When the women arrive in Bethlehem, Naomi sends Ruth, who is, by the way, now a foreigner in a strange land just as her husband was in Moab--to glean from the fields what has been left after the harvest.  When Boaz, owner of the fields hears that Ruth has returned with Naomi, he encourages her to take what she needs from his fields and drink water from his well.  He saw in her, the tenacity--the great love and kindness she took to travel so far with Naomi.  Had she not been faithful, humble in this way...what might have happened to Ruth and also to the aging and widowed Naomi?  Attitude is half the battle.   

In the end, Ruth finds a new husband, she is married to Naomi's kin, Boaz, the very same who was so kind to her in the fields.  It was a risk for Ruth to present herself to Boaz in the threshing room, she was demonstrating her serious intent at marriage, but what if Boaz had turned her down.  Ruth put herself in a position where she had no control and very easily could have been shamed and lost what little opportunities she had gained in Bethlehem.  Boaz accepts Ruth and promises that all those in the village will know her to be a woman of noble character.  Brave. Dedicated. Fierce.  Attitude is half the battle.

Ruth married Boaz.  She had a son, Obed. Obed had a son, Jesse. Jesse had a son, we know him as King David.  And so the line to the great king, our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the genealogy of Matthew, Ruth is even listed by name along with several other women.  Not a practice you'd see in genealogy records of the time. 

And so, in this short story from the Old Testament, we are witness to so much of what Christ would have us be and do.  Perhaps, in hearing the stories of his ancestors, Jesus himself learned what it meant to feed the hungry and give drink to those who thirst--as Boaz did for Ruth and Naomi.  Perhaps, from these stories, Jesus recognized the importance of welcoming the stranger--from Naomi's family entering Moab due to famine, and from Ruth the Moabite being welcomed into Judah by Naomi, Boaz, and the community.  Perhaps, from his ancestor Ruth, Jesus learned the art of tenacity and the importance of committing one's life entirely to God and to God's people. 

Maybe this is where our focus ought to be in 2017.  Forget the fad diets and the expensive gym memberships you never use.  Give yourself a break when it comes to organizing that closet or cleaning the house.  At least, let those goals be secondary to the lessons we glean from Ruth.  How do you show love to those around you?  Are you committed to giving your time, your talents, your very life to God and all of God's people?  Are you willing to stick your neck out for someone else, so that they might have the very necessities of life, the same opportunities you have each and every day?  Are your eyes open to the immigrant, the stranger, the naked, the hungry?  Are your ears open to the cries of the oppressed?  I'm not asking if you yourself are the one oppressing them( although check yourself on that too).... I am asking, do you hear them?  Do you see them? Can you help them?  My thinking is that with the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, yes you can.  You see, attitude is half the battle. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Loren Tate Mitchell

Original text from 2012

Is 61:10-62:3, Lk 2:22-40


It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas


Our cultural celebration of Christmas has now come and gone.  And since we’ve been seeing commercials and hearing the music since Halloween, for some of us it is none to soon! Gifts are unwrapped and Santa is back home in the North Pole.  Soon the decorations will come down and be put away for next year.  You gave gifts and you received them—for some this was Christmas.  Others enjoyed a family get together.  Families came to share a meal, to laugh and talk.  For some this was Christmas.  Perhaps there were others for who Christmas was a depressing and painful time—maybe it was loneliness, shattered families or other health and financial problems.  Christmas means different things for different people. 

All of this is the cultural side but I wonder what Christmas meant for you spiritually?  Were you too busy entertaining and unwrapping gifts, or did you take time off to withdraw from the celebration for a moment and offer a gift to God? Was Jesus born in your heart again or is that something that you have put off until a later date? 

Did you know that the 12 days of Christmas are not actually the 12 days before December 25, but the 12 days after? We have largely forgotten the traditions of the 12 days of Christmas and confused them with the Christmas shopping season, which promptly ends Dec 25.  Widespread experience with the commercial calendar has encouraged a popular (but erroneous) assumption among consumers that the Twelve Days must end on Christmas Day and must therefore begin on 14 December. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. In some traditions, the first day of Epiphany (6 January) and the twelfth day of Christmas overlap. These days are important because they give us a way of reflecting on what the Incarnation means in our lives. Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history—the entry of God into the world He made, in the form of a baby. The Logos through whom the worlds were made took up His dwelling among us. So you see Christmas is not over yet, it has just begun.  We have some time left! 

Today’s gospel tells us about a man called Simeon who waited a whole lifetime for Christ to be born.  Simon seemed only to have one goal in life and that was to see the Savior. Scripture tells us that he was waiting for the relief of Israel and it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. 

What a surprise it must have been for Simeon, as well as Anna, and all who saw this bundle of joy with their own eyes!  Here is a beautiful child, but still just a child, no different in appearances from sweet Lily Ridenour or little Carson Hamilton.   What’s more surprising is the message that he has come for all people, to deliver the Jews and the Gentiles alike.  Jesus was not—is not—just a symbol of hope and victory but he came to lead the people into a new self understanding and a new relationship with God. 

We’ve been waiting, all of this advent season we have been waiting and now he is here!  Do we recognize him?  If we don’t recognize him we go through life as if it is the land of Narnia… always winter and never Christmas!  You know how I am inspired by music when writing my sermons.  This time my help comes from Christian musicians Jars of Clay who have a song called Carry Me which says this:

January 1, I got a lot of things on my mind
Looking at my body through a new spy satellite
I try to lift a finger but I don't think I can make the call
So, tell me if I move 'cause I don't feel anything at all....
Carry Me, I'm just a dead man lying on the carpet can't find a heart beat
Make me breathe, I want to be a new man, tired of the old one, out with the old plan

It’s January 1, we’ve got a lot of things on our minds.  The world keeps spinning faster and faster and we have to keep up.  But as the lyrics of the song imply, if we simply go through these motions we become numb until we can’t feel anything at all.  Christmas comes into our lives to revive us, to remind us of the love of Jesus that comes to carry us, to rejuvenate in us a new person!

 Just like Simeon, we’ve been waiting to see Jesus and here he is.  Friends, Christmas isn’t over, this story is just beginning!  Are we ready to hear the truth of Christ and accept him?  The truth is that God is on the side of the poor, the sick, the lame, the mistreated—all those sometimes rejected by the affluent, the high achievers. God came to dwell among us for all people.  Joseph and Mary come to the temple as a poor couple with two doves and a pigeon to give as an offering to God. Their child was born in a donkey’s feedbox, they live on the margins of society cast out to the margins by a foreign power.  Here comes Jesus, who grew up to become a wandering preacher with no place to call his home, surrendered by his closest friends into the hand of vindictive powers.  Yet through this child who grew (as every other child does) into a man, Simeon’s prophesy was fulfilled, is a surprise that only God can bring, for God’s thoughts and ways are not our own.  Who could have possibly imagined that God would resolve Israel’s plight through a suffering Messiah?  It is still hard for us to wrap our minds around!  Is this the Messiah that you know?  Do you recognize him?  Is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas?

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the Messiah we have been waiting for!  Think about it, what kind of things do you typically wait for?  Getting a present, achieving a goal? Landing a job, finding a spouse? Winning the lottery?  Having a child, building a home?  Where does our desire to fill our lives with things end?  In truth, here in this child whom Simeon and Anna recognize, is a greater destiny and a fuller grace.  There is the consolation that your sins are forgiven, your future is assured.  And with our identification with this suffering servant, there is also the assurance that in our problems and our sorrows there is one who has been there before us and comforts us in a way that no one else can. 

There is a biblical parallel to Simeon in one of Jesus’ parables known as “the pearl of great price.”  It is found in the gospel of Matthew.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  The merchant finds a pearl which is so spectacular that he realizes that nothing else matters as long as he has the pearl and thus he sells everything else to obtain it.  Now in doing that he has gotten a real bargain.  He may have paid millions for the pearl but it was greatly undervalued since its worth was billions.  When the merchant has the pearl he desires nothing else.  In the same way, when Simeon sees with his own eyes the Messiah, he knows that this is the pearl of great price.  Nothing else matters anymore because he knows the Messiah, the Savior, has come. 

The lesson for us to day is that we should not be content to go through life without truly knowing Christ.  Knowing Jesus is a dream that is within our grasp.  Simeon’s dream can come true in each of our lives, we can know him personally.  We can have a relationship with Jesus as our friend, brother, savior, Lord and king.   There is nothing wrong with our dreams of success, of wanting to be comfortable in this world, to have a family or getting a good education, these are wonderful goals as long as they do not prevent us from experiencing the joy of recognizing Christ.    

Furthermore, if you do know Jesus then be content.  In other words, it makes no sense to be a Christian but to think that true joy and fulfillment are found elsewhere.  This isn’t to say that nothing else matters.  God has given us responsibilities in this world to work and home and school.  God wants us to be involved in the lives of our families and friends.  God desires for us to attend our grandchildren’s ball games and concerts.  True followers of Jesus do much more than sit around reading the Bible and singing hymns.  It is a way of life! But we must remember that nothing is more important than our relationship with God. 

The question is this: Are we finding joy in the great gift God has given?  Are we ready to be a new man, out with the old plan?  Do we understand Christmas as well as Simeon did?  Do we recognize that Christmas is not just one day a year? Do we realize that Jesus’ coming means more than anything else in our lives?  The best way to celebrate Christmas this year is to embrace Jesus as the Messiah, to give thanks to God for what he has done, and to find joy in the gift of our savior. 

When we think about New Year’s Day we think about resolutions!  I’m going to exercise more!  We’re going to eat out less!  I’m going to give up reality T.V.!  We’re going to stick to our budget!  And we will start… tomorrow!   As a week goes by you start to backslide, and then by Feb 1, you can’t remember what you set out to do in the first place.  I have another resolution for you. Replace your old one or add this one to your list. 

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and I want to encourage you today to be like Simeon: live in anticipation of Jesus.  Will tomorrow be that kind of day for you?  Amidst the cleaning up from festivities, on the early drive to work, will you be looking for Jesus?  Don’t live in the land of Narnia… the one that is all winter and no Christmas.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Trolley Car

Last weekend we celebrated Christmas with the Mitchell family.  Kemper, my 2.5 year old son,  got so many things that he needed and so many great toys to enjoy.  He has played with them nonstop since Saturday afternoon.  He was given a Fisher Price Little People Zoo (with an elephant and a monkey), a set of vehicles from the Pixar movie, Cars (he loves Tow-Mater), and a Daniel Tiger Trolley car with songs and sounds (and a set of Daniel Tiger figures).  Suggesting these toys in a list of things to the family, was definitely a win. 

On Monday morning as I was getting ready for work I could hear Kemper in the living room, talking quietly to his toys, "Where did you go, oh there you are." "No, no, you go here."  I heard the clacking of plastic toys banging together, and the soft, "ding-ding" of Daniel's Trolley.  When I went into the living room to see what he was up to, I found every character from Daniel Tiger, several Little People, Tow-Mater, and Lightening McQueen all crammed into Trolley.  I had a flashback from my study abroad days of riding "the tube" in London during rush hour. 

The first thought I had was, wow, if Pixar and PBS characters from different universes can dwell together, why can't we?  As an adult, when I play with him, I find myself wanting to keep all of the characters and parts separated.  I want the Little People with the zoo animals, and the Daniel Tiger toys with the trolley, and all of the Cars characters lined in a row.  They don't go together.  When is it that we lose that sense of imagination?  When do we begin to separate people into categories and labels?  Such divisiveness must be learned....because in a small child it does not exist.  What is it that Christ called us to do, have the faith of a child? 

How do we move ourselves beyond fear, hatred, ignorance--to a place of understanding and harmony? There is such separation around politics, religion, the color of a person's skin.  There is such pain and misery in our world that goes overlooked--how can we not see our brothers and sisters in Syria?  How do we regain our childlike faithfulness in Jesus' command to love our neighbor as ourselves?  I believe we have to intentionally place ourselves and our interests in places that matter. We must invest our time into engaging people who are different than ourselves. Simply out of respect. Simply for understanding.  Simply out of love.

God's kingdom is surely more like Kemper's trolley car than the world in which we live. Perhaps, this Christmas, this is the gift I will pray for...more trolleys.   

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Oh That You Would Come Down

Nov 30, 2014
Isaiah 64: 1-9

Mark 13: 24-37


Oh That You Would Come Down

In her book, "Bright Valley of Love," Edna Hong tells the story of a handicapped boy named Gunther who, after WW I, ended up in an institution in Germany for physically and mentally challenged children.

At the home, he finally found a loving, Christian atmosphere after having suffered several years of severe rejection and abuse.

His best friend at the home was Kurt, and they did a lot in helping each other get over some of the painful memories of their earlier childhood.

One year during Advent, Kurt was asked to light the Advent Wreath during the chapel service.  As he was doing so, he collapsed and was gripped by a severe seizure.  He was obviously very ill.

After he was taken to the clinic, the pastor made an effort to continue with the worship service until finally Gunther cried out in anger and frustration, "Everything is broken!"

All the other children turned and looked at Gunther.

"Everything is broken," he said again.  "What's so great about Christmas?"

"Everything is broken."

That's pretty much the way the prophet and the people felt in today's reading from Isaiah. The people had been in Babylonian exile for a long time. Everything they had cherished had been taken from them. They cry out, "God, everything's broken. Don't you care? Why don't you split open the heavens, get down here, and straighten everything out, for everything's broken?"[1]

Perhaps you can also understand this sentiment.  The prophet captures our lament so well.  Our world is broken, why won’t you make yourself known to us God, clear as day so that we can know and understand your will for us and why all of the horrors of the world are happening. 

There are so many atrocities in our world and we feel helpless to stop them.  Individuals are being tortured and beheaded in the Middle East, political and religious violence is King.  There are villages in Africa where boys and girls go missing every day, ripped from their families to fight someone else’s war, or be innocent victims of it.  In some Asian countries people are actually dying from fatigue, from working too much.  The world is choking with pollution, slowly decaying at the hands of its stewards, actions that cannot be reversed.  In our own nation, that which we call “the greatest country in the world” thousands of people line up in the wee hours of the morning to feed their consumerist hunger, but pay little attention to midterm elections or PTA meetings that guide their children’s education.  Innocent children are fearful to go to school because someone might break through the door with a gun and end their lives.  There is prejudice and intolerance of all shapes and sizes and it is known at every age, every gender, and every color.  We are kidding ourselves if we think not, for if it is still being aired on the nightly news like so much dirty laundry, it exists, no matter how deeply we try to bury it. 

So yes, Lord, Please come down! In these days, in these hours where all we see and hear are acts of senseless violence near and far… Lord won’t you break forth through the clouds, come down and end all of the hatred, all of the bloodshed.  Won’t you come down and tell us all that is meant by your Holy Word.  Won’t you come down, let your face shine upon us and remind us of how to love?

“Advent finds us still longing, as we are in every year, for peace in the world.”[2] What is so great about Christmas? Everything is broken.

Advent is a reminder for us that God’s voice is still there, still crying out from the wilderness is the promise of God’s love for his creation.  Because he did, in fact, come down once, for the salvation of all and left us with the promise that he would return again.  Oh yes, we confess that it would be wonderful if he would make his grand entrance right about now.  Right in the middle of a violent school yard, a drug trafficking thoroughfare.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he would open the heavens and stand between innocent people and the sword that threatens to cut them?  Yes, Lord, come back to us and stand in the midst of the shattered glass, the burned out buildings, the broken homes and hearts of so many Americans who have forgotten the moment when you told Peter that the violence has to end, “put down your sword.”   Advent is the reminder.  God’s time is not our own. There is still time.  He will return. 

Rev. Katheryn Huey writes, “No matter how bad things are, we are reminded that we belong to God, and that all the earth belongs to God, and we believe that God breaks into this reality regularly. Sometimes, this inbreaking is dramatic and publicly celebrated: one thinks of the fall of apartheid in South Africa, for example, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes it's felt in private consolations and reconciliations, a relationship restored by forgiveness or a return to health. "The coming of Advent," Patricia E. De Jong writes, "jolts the church out of Ordinary Time with the invasive news that it's time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness."”[3]

The reading from Isaiah today claims that God has hidden his face from his people.  Is it that God has hidden God-self or that the people have become too blinded by their own vanities, prejudices, and sins, to see that God is still very much present and active. 

Rev. Beth Scribienski wonders, “So, has God hidden then or is it that they're lives no longer cultivate life. What does it mean when it feels as though our lives are no longer a proper environment for life to grow? What happens to our relationship with God when our lives become infertile? At what point does it feel God has hidden as opposed to we have ceased to support life? 

“We begin our journey of Advent pointing the finger at ourselves not at God. And yet so often when we believe God is hidden we fault God. We focus on the hidden part of the equation and not our part. I wonder if we are not a little bit like a child with her eyes closed,” Scribienski wonders, “Not willing to look at what's going on, perhaps frightened by loud sounds. If I can't see God, then God can't see me either. The writer, the prophet is asking us to open our eyes and look around. I can't help but wonder if when we open our eyes, we will find that God is not hidden at all. In fact, God is beside us saying, "I can see you." And perhaps that is why we keep our eyes closed.”[4] Because when we stop to think about it, we are ashamed of what God sees.

As we beg that the Lord would come and make known to us the answers for all of the questions we ask, let us do so with our eyes open.  With full awareness of the role that we are called to play in this world as followers of Christ. Jesus broke down political, social, and religious barriers everywhere he went.  He walked through hated Samaria and sat with a sinful woman while she drew water from a well.  He had dinner with tax collectors and other reputable sinners.  He touched those who were deemed unclean.  He turned over the tables in the Temple and called out the hypocrisy of Jewish and Roman leadership.  And he spoke of dying so that we might live. And in living into that grace I believe he expected that those who followed him would do the same.  That those who follow him would lose their lives to gain it: to let go of the comfort, the complacency, the status quo and open our eyes to the promise of his return, a return we are called upon to help him usher in, even now.  Amen.    

[1] Bass Mitchell,  internet accessed 11/25/14
[2] Kathryn Huey, 11/29/30
[3] Ibid
[4] Beth Scribienski 11/25/14

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Make Way

December 7,  2014

Isaiah 40:1-11

Mark 1:1-8            


Make Way


Rev. Steve Goodier relayed a story from Hollins University graduate Annie Dillard in his reflections. “In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk (Harper Collins, 1988), Annie Dillard reveals a sad, but poignant story. She tells of a British Arctic expedition that set sail in 1845 to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. Neither of the two ships and none of the 138 men aboard returned.

Dillard argues that Captain Sir John Franklin prepared as if they were embarking on a pleasure cruise rather than a grueling journey through one of earth’s most hostile environments. He packed a 1,200 volume library, a hand-organ, china place settings for officers and men, cut-glass wine goblets and sterling silver flatware. Years later, some of these place settings would be found near a clump of frozen, cannibalized bodies.

The voyage was doomed when the ships sailed into frigid waters and became trapped in ice. First ice coated the decks, and the rigging. Then water froze around the rudders, and the ships became hopelessly locked in the now-frozen sea.

Sailors set out to search for help (possibly delirious from lead-poisoning from the cans which preserved their food), but soon succumbed to severe Arctic weather and died of exposure to its harsh winds and subfreezing temperatures. For the next twenty years, remains of the expedition were found all over the frozen landscape.

Dillard reports that the crew did not adequately prepare either for the cold or for the eventuality of the ships becoming ice-locked. On a voyage that was to last two to three years, they packed only their Navy-issue uniforms and the captain carried just a 12-day supply of coal for the auxiliary steam engines. The frozen body of an officer was eventually found, miles from the vessel, wearing his uniform of fine blue cloth, edged with silk braid, a blue greatcoat and a silk neckerchief – clothing which was noble and respectful, but wholly inadequate.”

We scoff at such an ill-prepared voyage, at the captain who was either absolutely inept in leadership or so arrogant he thought he was all set and ready to go.  But, it begs the question, how prepared are we for what lies ahead of us in life?  I mean for the things that truly matter.  As we wait for the coming of the Messiah, are we prepared to accept his presence in our lives?  Have we made way, made room for the Spirit of the Lord to truly dwell within us?


This is what John the Baptist was urging his followers to understand as he preached from the banks of the Jordan River. His job was to prepare everyone for the one who was coming, the one who would baptize not with water but the Spirit.  It is interesting that in the time of Jesus, baptism would have been used as a way to introduce Gentiles into the Hebrew faith, but here, John the Baptist calls all people to repent and be baptized.  John the Baptist feels that the Jewish people need to turn around, to be reborn as God’s people.  God is doing a new thing.[2]


I can’t help but think of this holiday season with its shiny wrappers, twinkling lights, and glittering bows.  It is a lot easier for us to focus on the glories of our cultural Christmas than turn our thoughts to the necessary work that lies beneath it for us as Christians.  You’ve probably seen signs or heard people saying, “He is the reason for the season.” A quip to remind us of what Christmas is all about.  Well, our readings from Isaiah and Mark encourage us to do the same.  If we focus on the trappings of the commercial holiday, we are no different from the ship captain who needed his fine china on the frozen seas.  We are ill prepared, we miss the Holy Day because of the holiday. 


Isaiah tells us that a way must be made, a path must be cleared, a highway paved. How we prepare for the coming of the Son of God varies for each individual.  For some of us it is seeing the cup as half full instead of half empty.  For some of us it is overcoming greed or envy.  For some of us it is learning to forgive, letting go of anger and hostilities that boil below the surface.  For some of us it is recognizing our arrogance or the belief that we are already, like the ship captain in our story, well prepared. 

“But, it is John the Baptist’s physical and spiritual location that most clearly tells us what this new reign is all about. Mark’s description of the Baptist is meant to invoke images of the prophet Elijah who is in 2 Kings 1:8 described as having a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist. But the emphasis on John’s location (“wilderness” and “countryside” are mentioned three times) makes clear that the new reign, and its Messiah, do not come from the religious and social center, but the margins—the unknown, the unsanctified, the uncomfortable.”[3]

Michela Bruzzese argues, that such preparation also extends beyond the self.  “Taking John’s example, we who await the Messiah can also “Prepare the way of the Lord” by seeking out our own “wilderness”—that which is beyond our comfort zone. Since everyone is welcome to this new reign, we can prepare Jesus’ way by reaching outside our comfort zones to connect with someone different (you choose the difference: economic, racial, religious, political party, age, etc.). What is important is that it is not a natural connection but one that will take time, energy, and understanding to cultivate.” We can learn from the Apostle Paul, who “knows from experience that such a task is no easy matter but promises that God will be present and “patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”[4]

How do we prepare for the coming of the Messiah?  We repent. We repair.  We make way: a clear, straight path into our lives. We make room in our hearts for the Spirit who so desperately wants to fill us this season.  Amen.




[1]Rev. Steve Goodier, 
[2] Bass Mitchell,
[3] --Michaela Bruzzese
[4] ibid