Almost 2013

Sunday’s Scriptures ~ John 1:1-18; Luke 2:25-32; Romans 13:11-12; II Corinthians 4:4-11; Ephesians 5:8-14; and I John 1:5-7.

Reading lots of Scripture – it’s a beautiful thing.

This week we turn our attention towards New Year.  We have celebrated Christmas, our houses are wrecks, our fridges are over-flowing with left-overs, college football bowl-season is in full swing, and people are beginning to make plans for the new year.

2013…

What will it hold?

What will I resolve to do this year?  What will I resolve to not do this year?

This Sunday’s service is based on a Watchnight Service, which is a service typically held on New Year’s Eve.  It begins late in the evening and typically concludes after the clock strikes *NEW YEAR*.

(Reeves will be having our service at 10am on Sunday, December 30…same time…same place…same Bat-channel…see what I did there?!)

A Watchnight Service provides us with an opportunity to reflect, confess, and prepare:

  1. Reflect – upon the year that has come to an end; what was started, what was accomplished, and what was left undone; the joys and successes alongside the trials and the losses.
  2. Confess – our sins, individually and communally, and be reconciled
  3. Prepare – for the new year through prayer and resolving.

As I consider the spiritual opportunities in a Watchnight Service I see a fantastic opportunity for growth in spiritual discipline throughout the new year.  What if I (what if we) resolved to have this sort of reflection time each week during 2013?  A time to:

  1. Reflect – upon the week that has come to an end; what was started, what was accomplished, and what was left undone; the joys and successes alongside the trials and the losses.
  2. Confess – my sin and be reconciled.
  3. Prepare – for the new week through prayer and resolving change and to be the change.

Each weekly watchnight would be an opportunity for private worship, study, journaling, and prayer.  Each weekly watchnight would be an opportunity to commune with God, center oneself again on the being who is our true center, and then proceed into the world as God’s hands and feet.

Perhaps…

Perhaps this is what God is calling you to resolve…perhaps this is not what God is calling you to resolve.  If a weekly reflection experience is not your cup of tea, then seek diligently the way God is calling you to resolve more time in the divine presence.  Seek it.  Name it.  Engage it.  And on the cusp of 2014 we will celebrate it!

Happy New Year!

Prayer: For “Seeking God’s Will” through Confession and Words of Assurance* by Bishop Ken Carter, Resident Bishop of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church

O God, we seek you, and yet we hide from you.  At times we draw near, and at other times we move away.  If we are honest, we sometimes prefer darkness to light; despair to hope; confusion to clarity.  Help us receive the call to rebirth as a gift, and open our hearts and minds to the Spirit that makes all things new.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pray in silence.

Brothers and sisters, hear the good news.  The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent, and believe the gospel.  In the name of Jesus, you are forgiven.  Amen.

* Kenneth H. Carter Jr, Prayers and Liturgies of Confession and Assurance (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009), 37.

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Advent Prophet Parade: Micah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Micah 5:2-5a

Here we are.  We have arrived.  We are almost to Christmas.

This Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent.  At Reeves, we will round out our Advent wreath by lighting the candle of love.

(Love is particularly special between Andrew and me this Sunday as we will celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary and 11 1/2 years of togetherness.)

In reading this week’s Scripture passage I am reminded of the Christmas seasons during my college years where I added my voice to a chorus singing Handel’s Messiah.  The selection “He Shall Feed His Flock” rings in imagery full of the Micah text as well as Matthew 11:28-30.  It reads:

‘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.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

One word stands out to me as I read these pair of passages.

The word is rest.

Upon reading the Micah text I initially interpreted the phrase “then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel” to mean that the remainder of those in exile will return to the King.  (Micah was a prophet contemporary to the Babylonian exile.)  However, once I reread the Matthew text, I was struck that rest could mean peace, quiet, release.

When Micah spoke to God’s people they were in turmoil.  When Jesus spoke to God’s people they were in turmoil.  I am confident that God continues to speak to us today…and that sadly…we are still in turmoil.

At times we become numb to the turmoil.  I am guilty of not watching the nightly news or reading the newspaper with much frequency because I know what I will find there: more stories of violence, greater instances of need, resounding aches of the world.  Mass tragedies occur and in the moment we are attuned to the circumstances…but we seem to move on all to quickly though our neighbors persist in their sorrow and loss.

Turning a blind eye is not the solution.  Ignorance is not the solution.

Perhaps rest is the solution.

Not rest as in laziness or dereliction to our responsibilities to our families, our vocations, or our God.  But rest as in seeking that divine peace, quiet, and release.  Rest as in the salvation that comes from coming under the Lordship of the true King, being first a sheep in the Messiah’s flock that we will be equipped as sheepdogs for other sheep.  Then – and only then – do I think we will be able to respond faithfully to the turmoil that persists and respond to it through God’s salvation.

Reflection and Challenge: In a society where it is truly difficult to find time to slow down, be at peace, release, and rest, make time.  Much like they tell passengers on airline flights – turn off your electronic devices.  (Once a flight attendant told people to turn off their EasyBake ovens…I laughed so hard.)  But the spirit is true!  Get away from technology and get with God.  Not sure of what to do?  Read Scripture; sing favorite hymns or songs; draw, paint, or sculpt; go for a run, jog, or walk; meditate; pray; do almost anything as long as your focus is on God.  That is key.  If your mind wanders, then you are not truly resting in God.  Seek clarity in what God may be revealing to you during that time – and it could be as simple as God saying, “Hey Sarah!  You need more time like this!!”  (I know!)  But, it could be something more…you won’t know until take time and make time to rest.

Prayer: A poem for “Generous Quietude” by Safiyah Fosua

Carry a little quiet inside you while the world continues in rush and rage fighting and frenzy.  Carry a little quiet inside you so that the worry and war trouble and tumult do not capture you in their grip.

Tarry in the Son-filled meadow of the heart beside the still waters where God’s Spirit refreshes and renews.

Carry so much quiet inside you that you have some extra calm to share with me.

Advent Prophet Parade: Zephaniah

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Zephaniah 3:14-20

This past summer I had the privilege to serve as a worship leader at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Youth Camp for an incredible bunch of rising 4th and 5th graders.  They were bright, intelligent, and somewhat smelly (hey – it’s summer camp in Florida!).  They kept me on my toes for sure.

The last night of chapel was special.  We were set to share Communion together.  We were set to hear from the worship arts groups during the service.  We were set to celebrate everything we had learned that week.  And to get us in the mood…I taught the children’s campers a song.  A wonderful song from Sister Act II.  The song is one sentence:

If you wanna be somebody, if you wanna go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention!

(And they sang lustily…and it was awesome.  John Wesley would be proud.)

God gives each of us a prophetic voice – to call to attention our own gazes as well as the gazes of our neighbors – that if we want to be the person God desires us to be and be in the places God desires us to be, then we better wake up and pay attention.

“Prophets say what no one wants to hear, what no one wants to believe,” says Deborah Block.  “Prophets point in directions no one wants to look.  They hear God when everybody else has concluded God is silent.  They see God where nobody else would guess that God is present.  They feel God.  Prophet’s feel God’s compassion for us, God’s anger with us, God’s joy in us.  They dream God’s dreams and utter wake-up calls; they hope God’s hopes and announce a new future; they will God’s will and live it against all odds” (Feasting on the Word: Year C Volume 1, 52).

In this week’s Scripture text Zephaniah is calling the people of God to wake up and pay attention!

Sometimes the words of the prophets are very harsh towards the people.  Zephaniah himself shares these harsh sentiments.  Zephaniah 3 begins, “Ah, soiled, defiled, oppressing [Jerusalem]!  It has listened to no voice; it has accepted no correction.  It has not trusted in the Lord; it has not drawn near to its God.  The officials within it are roaring lions; its judges are evening wolves that leave nothing until the morning.  Its prophets are reckless, faithless persons; its priests have profaned what is sacred, they have done violence to the law…I [the Lord] have cut off nations; their battlements are in ruins; I have laid waste their streets so that no one walks in them; their cities have been made desolate, without people, without inhabitants” (vv. 1-4, 6).

The picture isn’t looking very good at the outset of Zephaniah 3.  So it’s as if we experience scriptural whiplash when we read the conclusion of this chapter, which is also the conclusion of this prophetic text.  The final pericope or passage of Scripture is a song of joy!  It is full of hope!  This King – our King – is coming and his presence will unite all under the shadow of his wing.   In him and with him are safety, security, healing, and salvation.  In him is everything we have been waiting for.

Zephaniah knows the future!  Zephaniah shares what is coming!  Zephaniah invites us to participate in it through rejoicing and exultation!

But we can only do so if we wake up and pay attention.  We can only do it if we claim God’s strength within to lift our eyes out of the mire and into the light.  We can only do it if we turn our eyes and ears and beings and spirits to the vision of the prophet and embrace the hopeful reality we find there.

It’s time to wake up and pay attention.

Prayer: Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear; and while the wavenotes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.  Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere; open my heart and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, my ears, my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine.  (Open my Eyes, That I May See ~ Clara H. Scott)

Advent Prophet Parade: Malachi

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Malachi 3:1-4

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Long taught my homiletics course in seminary.  Homiletics is a fancy word for preaching.  One of his earliest lectures subjected how a preacher determines the biblical text that he or she will prayerfully discern, exegetically (from the word exegesis meaning critical interpretation of a text) explore, and theologically interpret for his or her congregation.

I thought to myself…wow…is he serious…an entire lecture on how to select a text?!

But it was a lesson that I needed to hear.  Dr. Long spoke of the damage that we can inflict on a text when we lift it up out of its larger context to preach.  He used the illustration of wallpaper (I know…do you remember that stuff?).  When preachers lift up a portion of Scripture out of its larger context it’s like we are briefly removing a piece of wallpaper from the larger whole.  We want the section that we take to preserve the integrity of the whole – we want it to still look like and identify with the whole – while we explore just a portion.  This guards from reading in to the text, which is known as eisegesis.

Yet, we still do damage…once wallpaper is torn it can never be whole again.  Yes, the pieces can fit back together, but the marred edges will remain.

The lasting lesson for me was this: if I am going to do damage to a text in lifting it up, then I want to make sure the marred edges are worth it.

When I consider this week’s Scripture passage, Malachi 3:1-4 looks like a neat little piece of wallpaper taken from the larger whole…but I wonder if the crafters of the Revised Standard Lectionary lifted up this section of Scripture a tad prematurely.

Malachi 3:1-4 speaks of the Coming Messenger of the Lord.  This messenger will be like a “refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap,” purifying all God’s people (3:2).  This messenger will be a physical manifestation – an incarnation – of God’s justice.  This messenger will bring about a new day which will be like the “the days of old and as in former years”…perhaps even like the “first day” when  creation was called “good” (3:4).

And the lection or Scripture lesson ends.

Readers are left with a general image that justice is coming…but for who specifically?  Keep reading.  Malachi 3:5 names them:

“Then I [the Lord] will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”

I question whether the marred edges of the Malachi 3:1-4 lection are worth it.  Yes, these verses proclaim that justice is coming, but it isn’t specific enough for me…nor do I think it is specific enough for God’s people that I serve.

I can stand in my church week after week and proclaim to my congregation that God’s justice is coming, but I believe what they truly need to hear is the nearness of the justice.  Justice is coming to the broken, the afflicted, the wanderer, the judged, the lonely, and the lowly.  It some circumstances the justice has arrived and been embraced; in others arrived and deflected; and still others awaiting arrival.  Whatever the circumstance, justice is coming and it is coming near.  

This is a proclamation and reminder that they, me, we have not been forgotten.  God draws near to us.  God redeems.  That is the healing that comes in the justice.  That is the gift of the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ soap.

The justice was, the justice is, and the justice is to come.

So the lesson, my friends, is to keep reading.  Don’t start or stop where I say or anyone else says.  Explore the Scripture to the fullest.  Question and discern the marred edges of Scripture passages.  Bear in mind and keep in sight the integrity of the text.  Draw near.  Draw near and be refined.

Prayer: Holy God, Messenger of the new covenant, flaming Spirit, we confess that we are sinners and cannot worship you worthily except as we are purified and cleansed of our sins.  Let your Holy Fire refine our characters, and not merely our appearance, so that our very natures can become true and rich, purged of the dross of our deepest faults and the evil that corrupts us.  Fit both pastor and people to worship you in the purity appropriate to the house of God, through the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.*

(*from B. David Hostetter, Prayers for the Seasons of God’s People: Worship Aids for the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 13).