Advent Prophet Parade: Jeremiah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jeremiah 33:14-16

This Sunday begins the liturgical season of Advent, which marks the Christian new year! 

Happy New Year!

(Must work on an Advent ball dropping for next year…would it be an ornament?  And if so, what shape…and color…and will glitter be involved?!  Hmm…this will require further thought.)

Advent is the season when we prepare ourselves to receive God’s greatest gift, Jesus.  It is a time of getting ready for the celebration of Christmas while also being a time where we reflect on why we need this great gift of Jesus. 

Our Scripture passage this week invites us to such a place of reflection and remembrance.    Jeremiah is a prophet to God’s people in exile.  He is aware and lives in the midst of Israel’s brokenness, pain, and despair in Babylon.  While Jeremiah bewails the people’s circumstance and admonishes their behavior, Jeremiah brings messages and signs of hope. 

Fulfilled promise is near.  A righteous branch is sprouting.  By God’s hand you will be safe and saved.  The Lord is our Righteousness.

In one word: Hope.

My favorite Advent carol is O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  This hymn choruses the journey from human despair to hope in Christ our Lord.  It reminds, it reinforces that death and despair do not have the final word.  Hope is the final word.  

But it also stirs me towards this revelation: if I am or my faith community are surrounded by hope, then we cannot use that hope to cloister us away from the despair that continually surrounds.  We are called to walk the sometimes lonely road from despair to hope alongside our neighbors.  And if we walk together, then it is not so lonely after all, is it?

And more to the point – rather than if we walk together…

It’s when we walk together. 

Reflection: How is God preparing me to walk my own path from despair to hope?  How is God preparing me to walk with my neighbors from despair to hope? 

Prayer: Rejoice.  Rejoice.  Emmanuel.  Shall come to thee, O Israel.  Amen. 

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God’s Balance Sheet: Lessons in Stewardship ~ Give With Us

Sunday’s Scripture Passages ~ Numbers 10:29-32; Proverbs 11:24-25; Acts 20:28-35

I am constantly amazed by where God’s Spirit leads me in the discernment of my sermons (and subsequently) the discernment of these blog posts.  This is where God led me this week…

This Sunday concludes our time spent with God’s Balance Sheet – Lessons in Stewardship.  The annual giving campaign at my church this year was entitled Give With Us and each week we thoughtfully explored what it means for individuals to collectively give to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom on earth.

This Sunday – the Sunday after a holiday where we pause to give thanks for our many blessings – Reeves will pause as a congregation to receive and rejoice for the riches that will be shared by individuals in the service of the Kingdom for the coming year.

All this got me thinking…what will all of this mean?

What’s next?

What all of it means is that we are continuing our legacy at Reeves.  And what a fruitful, Spirit-led, Christ-founded legacy it will be!

What’s next?  Well, I don’t know for sure.

What I do know for sure is there is great truth in the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20.”  There have been several times in my life (and I’m sure there will be several, several more) where I have said, “God, where are you in this?!”  Frustrated, in the moment, I could not see.  But after that moment, in looking back I can see where God was creating space, crafting circumstances, and moving me into place, readying me to respond.  The path I have walked and continue to walk is part of my legacy.  It tells me where I have been and helps inform where I am going.

The same can be said for the church.  Throughout the ages God’s people have been crying out, “God, where are you in this?!”  And sometimes generations pass before the people are able to reflect and identify, “There.  God is there doing what it is that God does so well.”

The path the church walks and continues to walk is part of the church’s legacy – both the Church universal and the portion of Church I serve at Reeves.  Our legacy tells us where we have been and helps inform where we are going.  And our constant discernment and seeking the Lord’s guidance challenges us to further commit ourselves in strengthening our legacy through our service and stewarding of our resources.

Give With Us has been an opportunity for the family of faith at Reeves to consider our stewardship practices, to consider how Christ stewards us, and finally, to consider how we will participate in the legacy of the Kingdom.

I think we all want to leave a legacy.  And a good one, too.

Prayer: Legacy by Nichole Nordeman

God’s Balance Sheet: Lessons in Stewardship ~ Cultivating a Life of Contentment

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 4:10-13

(tangent…the spelling of Philippians always catches me…I think it should have more l’s.  Alas, it does not.)

When pondering contentment I am reminded of a scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It is after Christmas and Harry is wandering and wondering about the Hogwarts Castle under the shield of his invisibility cloak.  One night he is fleeing from Filch and Snape (that’s Professor Snape, Sarah) and he ducks into a room that is home to the Mirror of Erised.

The Mirror of Erised bears magical powers.  It shows the viewer the very desires of his or her heart – and if the desires are of pure intentions – the mirror will reveal what will lead the viewer to ultimate contentment.

Harry gazes in and sees his parents – parents he has never known.

Ron gazes in and sees that he is head boy and Quidditch captain, too!

Professor Dumbledore told Harry if he were to look into the mirror he would see a very warm pair of wool socks.

(I never quite understood this…been looking for connections in the book…any HP experts care to help a sister out?!)

Maybe what Dumbledore was trying to convey by saying he would see himself with a warm pair of wool socks was that he didn’t need very much – or very material things – in order to be content.  He didn’t need stuff upon stuff upon more stuff.  He didn’t need wealth, power, or influence.  Perhaps this is a nod to how close to contentment the wise old professor already was…
If you had access to such a mirror and stood before it, what would it reveal on your path to contentment?
  • Lots of stuff?
  • A person?
  • An ideology?
  • Faith?

And when you stand before that mirror to see the desires of your heart, are they pure desires?  Desires becoming of the teachings of the gospel?  Or desires of the world that are clouding your heart and mind?

In this week’s Scripture passage Paul encourages the Philippians (and us!) to find and secure our contentment in our faith in Christ.  In our faith in Christ we will discover a strength that will not falter and will guard us from the temptations of materialism and over-consumption.  In our faith in Christ we find strength and found our identity, not in worldly things that will break or tarnish or pass away or fail, but in he who is perfect and eternal.

When I look in that mirror…I want to see Christ.  When you look in the mirror what do you want to see?

Reflection: What have you seen in your mirror?  Did it fill you or fail you?  What has led you towards contentment?  What has led you towards what you thought was contentment but did not truly fill your emptiness?  How will strengthening yourself in Christ strengthen your contentment?

Prayer: Most gracious God, I want to find contentment in you.  I want to look into the mirror and see you.  I want my identity to be in Christ, not in stuff.  Forgive me, Lord, when stuff has kept me from you – whether it be the physical stuff or the pursuit of it.  Strengthen me to pursue you and only you.  I want to see you.  Amen.

God’s Balance Sheet: Lessons In Stewardship ~ God’s Financial Plan

Sunday’s Scripture – Luke 16:1-13

(I know, right?! Back to back gospel lections…weird isn’t it?)

I believe supporting the local church I attend, and since I am United Methodist likewise my annual conference and the UM connection, is a sign of spiritual growth. It is a sign of trust – that I trust God with the riches I return to God.  I trust that God will do what God does – make them fruitful and multiply!

I also believe that in supporting the local church I attend (again and my annual conference and the UM connection) that I grow in financial maturity. I am reminded as I give that it’s not all about me.

I know. Shocker.

It’s about God and how God invites me to further participate in the Kingdom as I give.

Now, I’ll admit. Giving has been hard for me these past few years. And I think that I’ll find a lot of kinship with that statement. With the recession/downturn in the economy financial fear has been the norm instead of financial security. Andrew and I faced a great decision as we were in seminary during this time: did we take student loans to finish our education and begin serving the church full time or wait to earn the money and finish our degrees as our funds allowed?

We accepted the debt. Along with 2 car loans (word to the wise…don’t EVER have two car loans if you can help it…) And credit card payments. And utilities and cell phones and groceries and book costs. And…and…and…

Now, this is meant to turn into a pity-party for the Millers. It was rough. But it taught us (1) the value of what we have, (2) the value of hard work, and (3) the value of offering gifts to the Kingdom.

I have felt so financially trapped these past few years. Our savings were dismal, the bills kept coming in, and I often turned to God to complain only to quickly turn away because I was ashamed I wasn’t giving more to the Kingdom.

And then I heard these words from a congregant one day, “Sarah, I always give to God first. Not last, but first. And I don’t worry if the money will be there for bills or at the end of the month. Because God will provide. God always provides.”

Those words broke my chains. Those words reminded me that God honors my gifts, whatever it is, and God can do great things with what we might consider the smallest of offerings. God assured me that growth in my spiritual and financial maturity included growth in managing my personal finances, paying off debt, not adding new debt, and budgeting. Doing so frees me and frees up more funds that can be given to the glory of God’s Kingdom.

Andrew and I are slowly but surely coming out of our debt. We are moving towards the Promised Land of financial security and spiritual maturity. We are more able to support the churches we serve, support other charities and initiatives close to our hearts, bolster our own savings, and seek a simplistic life. It is not something that happened over night. We have been working towards “this day” for a while and will continue working for many many more years. We have God as our companion. We know God celebrates our financial successes while challenging us to constantly evaluate how God is calling us to alter the management of our resources that we will be better stewards in the Kingdom.

Whatever we give – I give, you give, we give – God honors as God knows our circumstances and God knows our hearts. Let us not become comfortable in our giving but seek the ways in which God challenges us to stretch and give in new ways.

Our Scripture tells us, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Lk 16:10). God has trusted each of us with a small portion of God’s Kingdom. Do we, will we trust that in returning that portion to God that God will provide and make those riches fruitful and multiply?

Prayer: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Amen. (From Psalm 51:10-12, 15-17; 139:23-24)