Archive for December 2011

The Power to Be Children of God: John 1:1-18

December 31, 2011

preached by Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes on Christmas morning, December 25, 2011

The Power to Be Children of God

John 1:1-18

You may be very surprised to hear these verses from John’s prologue read as our main scripture text today. John’s “Christmas story” is very different from the other Gospels. It is very different from the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 that we opened the service with; that is the story we know as Christmas. But here in John there is no birth story, no manger, no Mary or Joseph, shepherds, sheep, donkeys, stars, angels or even wise men. You might be saying where is Christmas in these verses? Perhaps John’s words do not warm your heart quite the way the familiar story in Luke 2 does. Perhaps John is too wordy and too focused on words, and in our world that is full of way too many words it is not quite what we want to hear on Christmas morning.

But open the ears of your heart and listen and open your Bibles and look again. John captures the mystery and wonder of Christmas. John’s prologue invites us to not dwell on the details of Jesus’ birth—on the how of Jesus’ birth, but on the why or the purpose of God’s Word made flesh. John’s opening sermon to his Gospel tells us who Jesus is and what that means for us.

I think in today’s world where the sights and sounds of Christmas consumerism have hidden or downplayed the reason we even celebrate the Christmas holiday we need these words in John to bring us back to the heart of the Christmas story. John reminds us of the meaning of Christmas—not with a sweet story of an engaged couple who traveled to Bethlehem, found no room in an inn, settled in a barn where the mother gave birth to a sweet boy whom angels sang and shepherds and magi from far, far away visited. Don’t get me wrong; I too love that Christmas story in Luke, but sometimes in that familiar story we forget just what all that meant and continues to mean for us and the whole world today.

This year our Advent bible study was Adam Hamilton’s Journey to Bethlehem, and for four weeks we looked at different characters of the Bible and we asked questions about the details found in Luke and Matthew. We discussed the age of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and we asked questions about geographical locations and timelines. Where was Elizabeth’s home? What path did Mary and Joseph take from Nazareth to Bethlehem? What season or month was Jesus really born in? And so on and so on…you get the idea. In the middle of one of the bible studies a sweet lady shook her head, put her head in hands and said with exasperation, “Why are we asking all these questions?! I don’t see the point!” At first I was taken aback because I like to ask curious questions about people in the Bible, but I see what she means and I agree with her. Sometimes we can get so hung up on these trivial detail questions that we fail to notice the larger meaning of the great narrative of Christmas.

John does not keep it simple with a narrative of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the shepherds. John just gets to the point. He is no storyteller preacher; rather he quickly draws us to the significance and magnitude of Jesus’ birth; like I have said he gets very quickly to the true why of Christmas. The birth of the Christ Child—the Messiah, the one Isaiah promised would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace is no insignificant event in the great story of human history. John tells us that Jesus is God; Jesus is God incarnate; the one lying in the manger is the very one who created the heavens and the earth when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. Yes, it is that God of Genesis who now has taken on flesh, who has joined us in human form. The one who created the light now comes to be our light.

And it is that light who has entered our world that has given us life—not just life in eternity, but life in the here and now. John tells us that this Word made flesh has given us power to become children of God today. That is the meaning of Christmas—not just that Jesus was born or that God took on human flesh—all that has meaning for us today. This Christmas John reminds us that God came into our world so that we might know full life in him now. The greatest Christmas present cannot be found under a tree because the greatest Christmas present was given to us on that first Christmas and he continues to be the greatest gift to our world. The world, you and I, are given the gift of life itself and all life’s possibilities—including the possibility or power to call ourselves sons and daughters of God. God has personally involved himself in our world and has personally invited us into his great story of salvation.

One of my favorite theologians whom I have been reading this Advent season is Howard Thurman. In one of his reflections on Christmas he writes: “There is a strange irony in the usual salutation: ‘Merry Christmas.’” He writes that it is a strange irony because for many people the holidays may not be in fact merry. For many reasons life during the holidays may be the un-merriest time of the year. For some it is because there is a lack of food or shelter or love. For some this is the first Christmas without a special loved one. Others may be feeling the financial strain of gift giving. And still others may be lonely, homesick, depressed or suffering. Whatever the reason for un-merriment I think I agree with Howard Thurman that sometimes our Merry Christmases are empty, but this morning John gives us every reason to truly be merry no matter our circumstance—and not only during Christmas, but throughout the ups and downs of life as we know it.

The other day I was listening to the Christmas radio station and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” came on. For just a brief moment I thought I heard lyrics to that song that I had never heard before. I know that song is a secular Christmas song, so perhaps because I was thinking about John’s prologue I heard for just a minute the message of Christmas. I heard, “Gone away is the bluebird/Here to stay is a new Word/He sings a love song/As we go along/Walking in a winter wonderland.” Now, those are not the lyrics as many of you may know. I had to go look the lyrics up because I thought for years I had been singing the wrong lyrics, but in my mis-hearing I heard the message of Christmas—the message John is trying to get us to see. Gone away are all our blues or as the song says—gone away is the blue bird/here to stay is a new Word/he sings a love song/as we go along.

That is what John is saying. John says that our God who took on human flesh for each one of us does not ignore the darkness of our world; he does not ignore the un-merry times of our lives, but in the midst of all of that God’s light shines, reminding us that our God is Emmanuel; God is with us today just as much as he was physically here on earth more than two-thousand years ago. That is God’s gift of love to the world—a gift of his presence and a promise to never leave us even when we are un-merry, struggling to make ends meet, suffering in emotional, physical and spiritual ways or even when we are confused, doubt, fear or question. God’s unconditional love gift to each one of us took human form so that we humans who at times desperately need physical proof would know that God’s love for us is real. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son so that we might have full life in him in the here and now and in eternity.

But John reminds us that such a present is just that—it is a gift. John reminds us that gifts can be received or refused—that is a very real part of God’s Christmas gift to each of us. I wonder if we asked the kids how many of them would say that this morning they shook a present, opened it and said, “Nah, I think I’ll leave that one under the tree; I don’t want it.” I have never known anyone—especially a child—to refuse a Christmas present that had their name on it under a tree, but nevertheless I guess any gift comes with the option to refuse it. Some people do not know or accept God’s gift of light and life, but as you and I who have the power to call ourselves children of God, who are participants in God’s great salvation narrative are called to shine God’s light into the darkest places of our world so that all may come to know the life and love that was given to us in God Incarnate. That first Christmas present of God himself is a gift that keeps on giving, but it is up to you and me to offer God’s gift to the world. Amen.

Christmas Eve Reflection on JOY: Luke 2:15-20

December 31, 2011

the fourth of four reflections by Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes on Christmas Eve 2011 at Wesley Memorial UMC’s 6:00pm traditional service

Every time I read Luke 2 I like to picture the shepherds at the moment the angels burst into their ho-hum world. Imagine this: it is night; a couple shepherds and a couple hundred sheep are out in green pastures when suddenly the darkness, the stillness and the silence of the night is interrupted by a glorious host of angels singing and announcing the good news of Christ’s birth, and then in the middle of the night the shepherds are so filled with joy that they immediately go to Bethlehem to see this child whom the angels sang. I often wonder how I would react if a host of heavenly angels came into my bedroom in the middle of the night while I was trying to sleep or in the wee hours of the morning while I am trying to read and write my sermons. I usually go to bed before Hiram and more than a couple of times he has come into our room in the middle of my precious sleep and flicked on the overhead light. Oh, you better believe I whine and complain and tell him to turn that light of NOW! And I covet my early morning hours alone. I like to go for a run, read, write and get some church work done while everyone else is sleeping and no one will bother me. Unfortunately I think too often today this is how many of us feel it is to be Christian—or what it feels like to be part of a church. At times it can all be just a little inconvenient, time-consuming, tiresome, too demanding, and too difficult.

The shepherds in Luke 2 remind us again of the joy that Christ offers us—the joy of hearing God call us and the joy of spread the good news of Christ. The shepherds went with haste and with joy to see Jesus in Bethlehem, and they left Jesus’ side full of joy singing praises to everyone they met. I pray that this Christmas eve and tomorrow on Christmas day and every day you will set aside your busyness and fatigue and greet Jesus with joy; open your heart to God with joy this season as the shepherds did. I am sure it must have been inconvenient for them to leave their sheep to go find Jesus, but they went without hesitation and discovered even greater joy. Sometimes pausing from what we think is important in our lives—from work, from cleaning, from whatever occupies our days—those little moments of inconvenience—can show us what is really important. God offers us joy beyond any kind of joy or happiness we have known, or can know on our own, but too often we are too busy to receive the joy God offers us. In their simplicity and their response to inconveniences the shepherds remind us to take time this season to celebrate the reason we even have the Christmas holiday. Like them, if we come to Jesus as we are—seeking, curious, full of questions and even full of fears as the shepherds were—we will come away from the manger singing a tune full of God’s joy.

Christmas Eve Reflection on HOPE: Isaiah 9:2-7

December 31, 2011

one of four reflections by Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011 at Wesley Memorial UMC, Columbia, SC

CHRISTMAS HOPE

You know that saying “the light at the end of the tunnel”? Well I imagine that is the kind of idiom the people who heard and witnessed Jesus’ birth would have used. Their world wasn’t too different from our own. Yes, in many ways it was—perhaps it was even far worse with no indoor plumbing, the technological conveniences we enjoy today, and no basic human rights for women, but what I mean is that throughout history people are people. The people of the first century experienced the ups and downs of life as we do and as every generation throughout history has. I am sure the people in these verses from Isaiah labored and sometimes struggled to provide for their family; they lost jobs, had dysfunctional families, got sick, made mistakes and paid consequences. Isaiah says that the people have endured darkness for a long time. They have carried heavy burdens; they have been abused by an oppressive and tyrannical empire, and they have been at war. Like these people in Isaiah sometimes it can truly seem like we walk in darkness, like we are carrying heavy burdens, like we have been abandoned by God and hopeless in all the chaos and mess of life.

But Isaiah gives us good news for times such as these and for every day. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them a light has shined…For a child has been born for us…and he is to be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” This is the hope that was born on Christmas morning. This is the hope we live in, that despite our current struggles, God is with us and God has great plans for each one of us. But just like someone who says there is “the light of at the end of the tunnel” expects to finally come out of the darkness of the tunnel into the fullness of light, so too must we have this same kind of hope and expectation to come into fullness of God in the here and now. We cannot merely read these verses in Isaiah 9 and later tonight in Luke 2 or tomorrow morning in John 1 and merely call Jesus the light without actively and deliberately seeking and moving toward the light—just as the shepherds and the magi moved toward and sought Jesus we too must be active participants in God’s great salvation story. God did not send his only son just to make life a little better. A man called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace” can surely do better than make things a little better; he overturns things and completely makes us new. This is the Christmas hope Isaiah invites us to experience and know and live—a hope in Christ that draws us closer to God so that we come to know God’s peace, love and joy even in the midst of our daily struggles. Amen.

She Said “Yes!”: Luke 1:26-38

December 31, 2011

preached by Rev. Jeri Katherine Warden Sipes on December 18, 2011 at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Columbia, South Carolina

4th Sunday of Advent

Some mornings Sharon and I like to begin with what we call a morning rant. It’s really not as bad as it may sound. We either read or see something and give our informal opinion; it’s our letter to the editor, if you will, that never gets written, but gets verbalized with one another—and whoever happens to be in the church at eight in the morning. We’ve tried to rename “morning rant” with something more churchy sounding, but nothing seems to stick quite like morning rant. I like to think of it as our Jesus-cleanses-the-temple moments because when Jesus drove sellers and buyers from the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers Jesus was on a rant; I think we could say a very big rant. Anyways, I would like to think mine and Sharon’s rants are just as good intentioned as Jesus’ were in Matthew 21 and Mark 11.

This Monday morning I began with a rant about the power of saying “No”—especially this time of year. The evening before I did a little Christmas shopping and I could not get over the parents who just could not say “No” to their demanding children who were making a scene in the store over something they wanted. I heard parents say, “You’ll just have to wait until Christmas.” But when the persistent, crying, demanding child kept at mom and dad the parents eventually gave in. There was one particular little girl who screamed and stomped her feet and finally her mom threw up her hands in surrender and put whatever the little girl had been screaming about in their basket. The mom looked at me, shrugged and said, “It’s the only way to keep her from acting that way.” I gave a half-hearted smile and a polite though I must admit fake laugh, and then I walked away feeling sad for both mom and child.

I know I am not a mother yet, but I have been a child with a mom who knew the word “No” quite well. Oh, believe me; my mom used “no” often and now that I am an adult I can look back and be thankful for the many times she said “No.” On Monday morning I ranted about all this to Sharon. You should have heard me. I can be quite dramatic and animated during these rants. I went on and on advocating and even defending saying “no” during the Christmas season. Buying things is not what Christmas is all about. We should give more intentionally and relationally, and how can parents be raising such consumer driven five and six-year olds—they are the future of our country! What are we teaching them to value and believe?! By the end of my rant I wanted to forget Noel and just keep the “No” part. No should be the word of the season as far as I was concerned at that moment.

But God has a very funny way of getting our attention when we start to feel righteous, holier-than-thou, and zealously crusade for what we think is right on behalf of God. Without acknowledging it that day, I probably felt all those things. I felt like I was channeling my inner prophet, and I alone could change the world just by encouraging people to say no to our modern consumerism Christmas.

Jesus says in Luke 14 and Matthew 23, “Those who take pride in themselves will be humbled, and those who are humbled will be exalted.” That morning I got a little lesson in humility. After I finished ranting I went into my office and read today’s verses from Luke. And you know what stuck out in stark contrast to my focus on “no” was Mary’s “Yes.” Mary’s response, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” grabbed my attention. I think my intentions were good, but my focus was bad. I want people to say “no” to the other things that get celebrated at Christmas, so people can say “yes” to Jesus who is the reason why we even have a Christmas celebration, but I think I got too caught up and focused on the no. I wanted to save the world with a “no,” but God chose to begin saving the world with a young girl’s “yes.”

And when you think about it Mary’s yes was a very big yes. I don’t think we always grasp just how significant Mary’s yes was to God. I know I have only begun to grasp Mary’s “yes” as an adult. I visited Margaret Short in her assisted living residence this week, and she told me her daughter took her to see First Baptist’s big Christmas pageant production. She showed me her program that had pictures of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. She said that seeing the Christmas story played out really made it come alive for her. When I left, I started to do a little Christmas reminiscing. All growing up I was involved with church Christmas pageants and live nativity scenes—not nearly as grandiose as First Baptist’s, but pageants nevertheless that made the Christmas story come alive in our modern world. Whenever the director asked for volunteers all the other little girls, and myself included, wanted the starring role of Mary. I think I played Mary once. I have an older sister who usually got that role, so I was usually stuck with being a wise man or a shepherd.

Now days I don’t know if I would be such a willing volunteer to be Mary. I think I would be content to be a wise woman or shepherd because Mary said yes even though the bible tells us that she was perplexed and confused. She did not understand everything that Gabriel said to her. She did not have everything figured out. She probably had a lot of big and substantial questions; she probably had fears and doubts. And yet she simply said “yes” and offered herself up to God as she was—confused, perplexed and in the dark about all the details. I don’t know if I could do that. I may be above Christmas consumerism, but I am not entirely above our culture. In fact I am steeped in our culture; I like to be sure of where I am going. I like to move forward with confidence. I do not make hasty decisions; I like to check my options, do some research, ask questions, get second and third opinions, and kind of get a sense of what the future will hold. I like to have a game plan, a course of action, so it is amazing to see the kind of courageous humility with which Mary says yes.

Yes, Mary was perplexed and probably had lots of questions, and yet in such a state she moved forward with God’s plans, saying “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” But too often our perplexity and confusion prevent us from having the courage to boldly say yes to God when we don’t have everything figured out. And yet this is the kind of Christmas “yes” that God calls us to this season—a yes to God even in the mystery of our faith when we are perplexed and confused.

Mary had to know that she would be met with scornful looks, disapprovingand accusing glances and whispers. She was engaged, not yet married and she was told by Gabriel that she was pregnant with God’s child. Having only been married three weeks myself and so recently engaged I can imagine the embarrassment, disappointment and shame my family would have felt if I announced I was pregnant before the wedding. And I can only imagine Hiram’s response had I told him I was pregnant with a child that was not his—that was in fact the child of God. I think he would have thought I was absolutely crazy. If I fear such reactions from my husband, family, friends and others then I can only imagine how much more Mary did. She lived at a time when women did not have rights, when women were treated as property and when a woman’s virginity was a woman’s pride.

Yes, she was perplexed and confused and probably had a flood of questions like: “What will my parents think? How will I tell Joseph? Will the religious leaders kick me out of the synagogue?” With such looming and adverse consequences to these questions I think many of us would not say “yes” as Mary did. Out of fear from what people would think Mary could have said, “Thanks, but no thanks Gabe. Tell God he’ll have to find another woman.” But instead in the middle of fear, doubts, and questions Mary said “yes.” Too often we use our fears, doubts and questions as excuses—to prevent us from saying “yes” to God. And yet we learn from Mary that this is the kind of Christmas “yes” that God calls us to this season—a yes to God to lead us and use us even when we have questions and fear rejection from those closest to us.

I read a story about four children who put on a Christmas pageant at home for their mom and dad. One child played Mary, the other played Joseph, one played an angel and one played all three wise men. When it was time for the wise men to come in she announced to her parents, “I am all three wise men, and I bring three precious gifts of gold, circumstance and mud.” As hard as it was the parents did not laugh and did not correct their daughter, but let their children finish their production. Later though the father reflected on what his daughter had mistakenly called the gifts from the wise men and in them he found the heart of the Christmas story. God loves us for who we are. The gold reminds us that God loves us when we are at our best. Our circumstances remind us that God loves us where we might be right now. And the mud reminds us that God loves us even when we are at our worst.

I think another reason that stops our yes to God besides not having everything figured out and our confusion, perplexity, our doubts, fears and questions is that we never think we are good enough, and yet God used a humble woman of lowly station from a no-name town to bring his one and only Son into the world, and she said “yes” to God. Too often we focus on what is inadequate, wrong and insubstantial about ourselves that we do not allow God to use us. Too often we focus on what is wrong with the world, the mess we’re in and the bigger mess some people are making of it and we do not see hope, so we do not say “yes” to God when he calls us. But when you read the whole Christmas story you learn that the Mary’s circumstance and world was no Eden either and she still found the courage to have hope, to trust in God’s goodness and so she said “yes.” This is the Christmas “yes” God calls us to this season—a yes to God in our world and in our present state today because as Gabriel reminds Mary, God also reminds us: Nothing will be impossible for God. If we but say yes, God will use us in a Mary-style way. Amen.

I’m A Model, You Know What I Mean?

December 13, 2011

On November 10 I had the privilege of modeling in the Killingsworth Gala and Fashion Show. It was a girl’s dream come true. As one of four sisters in my family I have grown up dressing up and putting on “fashion shows,” but this was the first time I took mine and my sisters’ childhood pastime to a public stage—in front of seven hundred people no less! It was an honor to be a part of such a beloved ministry to women, and it was a lot of fun. Yes, fun. Did you know a bunch of church ladies (and a few men who were present) can have fun loving God through supporting a vital ministry to women in our area? I know, it may come as a shock to some non-church going folks or jaded church life-timers to describe the church with this “F” word, but truly that night where many more than two or three were gathered there was the Spirit of the Lord and it was fun! John Wesley writes in many sermons that God desires us to enjoy Him in time and eternity; I can’t think of a more recent gathering that was truly lived out than at the Killingsworth Gala.

As much as I enjoyed our MC, Thomas, the fashion director from Dillards, he clearly thought that he was going to be dealing with a bunch of dusty, shoulder-padded, long-skirt-wearing ladies. Boy, was he surprised and proven wrong—not just by the models but by the beautiful, elegant women seated at the tables. At one point as I sauntered across the catwalk Thomas said, “Jeri Katherine looks like she should be on a runway in New York City. I think she missed her calling.” Instead of being flattered, as my six-year-old self would have been, I was annoyed. I almost shouted from the runway, “No, I didn’t! I am a model—maybe not on one of New York’s runways, but I am a model, at least I hope I am, of Christ in our world.” Thomas’ one seemingly innocent comment represents what I think, unfortunately, many people think of the church today: Irrelevant. Old. Unattractive. Not fun.

According to Thomas and many “un-churched,” or “de-churched” people I should have been shaking my little toosh on the catwalk singing that 1990s song by Right Said Fred, but instead of being too sexy for Milan, New York and Japan I should have been singing, “I’m too sexy for the church.” I won’t argue that night at the gala I totally rocked the Antonio Milano suit, Levi skinny jeans, Gianna Bini fedora, BCBGMaxazria faux-fur vest, and the Cremieux pintuck tunic. When money is not an issue a woman can find anything to look and feel good in. With money a non-issue, lots of makeup, and over twenty years of runway practice with my sisters I was ready for my night on the catwalk, so I lived it up and felt beautiful.

But in reality I am not that fashionista who did my little turns on the catwalk that night at the gala. I am a modest shopper and dresser who relies on coupons, TJMaxx, consignment stores and just a simple tube of mascara. And yet every day I think of myself as a model. Maybe William Shakespeare was right and “all the word is a stage.” But men and women aren’t merely players, but we’re also spectators and observers; we’re the audience. From the moment I wake up to the minute I lay my head down at night I am aware of whether or not my actions, words and thoughts bring God glory. Ministers have been given a place of situated ethos, power and authority where what we say and do can lead people closer to God, but the opposite can be just as true. John Wesley wrote about this issue in his sermon Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount V, “Now if an ordinary sinner teaches by his example, how much more a sinful minister…[A minister] is the choicest instrument of the prince of darkness.” I am deeply aware that within and outside of the church I always where the title “Christian” and “minister.” All Christians—ministers and lay people—have all been called models—models of Christ in the here and now.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by Thomas’ comment; it seems to be a view I am always fighting. I have met many skeptical looks and raised eyebrows when people find out that I am a pastor of a church, and I have had the heartbreaking exeperience of having folks leave my church without a word because of my age and my gender. People are always surprised that I am not male, old and balding. (Apologies to my older, balding, male colleagues!) Why don’t people expect young people—especially women—to be enthusiastic, passionate and competent leaders of our church? Why does church and youth seem to be opposites in the public opinion?

I do not have the space in this one article to even begin to answer these questions, and our bookstores are already full of such books that attempt to get to the bottom of this problem. I don’t have the catch-all answer to dispel these untrue stereotypes, but things have to change—and more than on the technical and structural levels. We are dealing with adaptive problems in a post-modern world that is rapidly changing. As a church, both old and young, need to work together to show the world that being a disciple of Christ is not outdated, irrelevant and a miserable way of life. Rather being a disciple today can be vibrant, engaging, extremely relevant, fun—and yes a little sexy at times too.

Instead of simply repeating and posting the UMC’s most current and catchy mantra–“Rethink Church”–everywhere, we, the church, need to be living experiments of rethink church; we need to make church a verb as one of the many commercials tells us to do. But part of living rethink church means being ok with change, being ok with church looking completely different than the church our grandparents or even parents grew up in and being ok with trying something new, failing but not letting those failures deter us from trying again. How are we modeling “rethink church” so that we are relevant, fresh and hospitable?

 

Advent Devotion: Sunday, Dec. 4

December 6, 2011

Week Two: PEACE
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Isaiah 40:1-11

1Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
6 A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

Quiet time with God

Thinking about Peace this Advent Season

 

 

 

What comes to mind when you think of peace? How would you describe or define peace? How does the world describe peace? What do you think peace on earth would look like?

How does the dictionary describe peace?

  1. The normal, nonwarring condition of a nation
  2. A state of mutual harmony
  3. Public order and security
  4. Tranquility or serenity
  5. Silence; stillness

Which definition resonates with you?

How does our church and tradition describe peace? Think about the songs, prayers, and creeds we sing and say. Look at our affirmations of faith in the UMH, pages 880-889. Read through some of the UMH hymns: 377, 397, 472, 534, 700, 729.

What does the Bible about peace? How does the Bible define peace? What are God’s promises of peace for the world? What does it mean that God is a God of peace? What does it mean for Jesus to be the prince of peace? What does it mean to know peace that surpasses all understanding? What does it mean for us that peace is one of the fruits of the spirit?

Digging deeper into God’s Word: Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-2, 6; Isaiah 40; Isaiah 48:18-22; Psalm 34:14; Psalm 85; Proverbs 3:13-17; Micah 5:5; Luke 1:78-79; John 14:27; John 16:33; Acts 9:33; Romans 8:6; Romans 15:5-7; Romans 15:33; 1 Corinthians 14:33; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 2:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Colossians 3:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:16

Serenity Prayer (Reinhold Niebuhr, an American preacher & theologian 1892-1971)
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next. Amen.

Advent Reflection: Nov. 28

December 5, 2011

Week One: HOPE
Monday, Nov 28, 2011
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

                                            18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

                                       19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Three times the psalmist prays, “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” In some Bible translations these verses say, “Turn us, O God, again,” Like yesterday’s scripture lesson, today’s scripture is a prayer of hope, and in this prayer is a reminder for us that God makes all things new; God is the restorer of life; God is the source of all hope. God is our Shepherd who provides and protects and who watches out for us—who leaves the 99 to search for the one—again and again and again. Our hope is in a God whose unconditional love offers us forgiveness and renewal daily if we but turn to him. We worship a relational God who not only hears our prayers but responds to our prayers if we but quiet ourselves long enough so that we can hear God speaking to us and drawing us to him.