Hone For The Holidays

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 1:39-45

The Nativity Story is a story of movement. In reading scenes of the story in Matthew’s gospel or Luke’s gospel, we observe that the characters are always on the go. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth, as we read in our text this week. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem for the census. The shepherds leave their fields to worship at the manger of the Christ child. The Magi from the East trek westward towards the star that hangs over where the child lays. The Holy Family seeks refuge in Egypt until the sign is given that it is safe for them to return to their homeland.

Somewhere to be. Something to do.

Sound familiar?

For many of us during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years we are on the go. We travel to eat with family, to visit friends, to shop, to attend parties, to catch concerts, to see Christmas lights. We go and we do because we do not want to miss out and we do not want to disappoint.

I shared Thanksgiving Day with almost 40 family and extended family members across two meals. It was fantastic to see them and to catch up, to break bread and to hope no one would break buttons off of their pants! My heart was full and my belly satisfied by the fellowship and food that was shared. I treasure that time with my family.

And I also treasure the time Andrew and I spent driving to these gatherings. I confess that most of our travel time was in silence; there had been plenty of sound in other moments of the day! In silence we “pondered in our hearts” all that had happened with our families and held the moments dear (Lk 2:19, 51). In silence we shared gratitude for the family that we – the two of us – are together. In the silence, though we were moving, at times, swiftly down the interstate, we were able to slow down. We were able to reflect, to be present, and to process. Intermittently we would break the silence to share a thought or crack a joke. And then we would return to the silence – to think, to be still, and to be grateful.

I encourage you in this season of Advent and activity – in this season of personal and Scriptural movement – where there does not seem to be enough time and the world will not slow down to find and/or create moments of silence. Slow down. Share gratitude and quiet prayer. Listen for expected and unexpected words from God. Ponder these moments in your heart. Share what you observe and learn with a loved one. Crack a joke with a friend. Then return to the silence once more.

I am grateful I did. I am sure you will be, too.

Prayer: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand. King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood, Lord or lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood; he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.”* Amen.

*”Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” The United Methodist Hymnal 626.

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Collect Moments With God: Through

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:8, 2:42-47

I remember it like it was yesterday…the sweaty palms, the clammy brow, the unsettled stomach.  I was seated at my desk.  A blank sheet of paper before me and a pen in my hand.  The task: write out the prepositions used in highest frequency in the English language.  I believe there are 63.

Did I mention this was 8th grade?  This was a life or death situation!

Then again I also remember the day before my first exam in my Old Testament seminary course, where Dr. Petersen and his fabulous mutton chops said, “I will not test you on something you can look up in a book…”

Geez…I wish Mrs. Anderson would have had the same sentiment…all that sweat for nothing!

Through was one of those high frequency prepositions.  I understand through as a conduit.  Like if you were traveling through a tunnel – you begin on one side and end up on the other.  Movement, momentum, and progress occur in the through.

In honor of today being the kick-off to the 2014 NFL Season (Go Packers!), there are no “delay of game” penalties when you get to the through. You walk up to the line of scrimmage and you initiate the play.  Or in our case of the collect prayer, you state your do – the petition of the prayer – and then proceed to the through so you begin working on it.

To continue the football analogy, saying the prayer is not the end of the play.  Walking up to the line of the scrimmage and saying “hut hut hut” is not all that is required.  You have to surround yourself with a team.  You have to have a strategy.  You have to actively move the prayer forward.  If you are going to run the prayer, then you need people around you that are going to secure a safe passage.  If you are going to launch your faith into a new area, you need to make sure you communicate with others so they can catch you or meet you on the other side.

There are allowances for time-outs, for pauses, for discernment, for consultation with coaches, mentors, family, and friends.  But those need to be regulated as well.  Not rushed, but regulated, because we cannot stay in time-outs forever.  God does not want us in between plays or in between pursuing the words of our prayers indefinitely.  God wants us active and serving and, in the words of John Wesley, “spreading Scriptural holiness over (or perhaps through-out!) the lands!”

In a football game the clock is always running.  If it is stopped, it is only for a brief period.  That players and coaches make such discerned and calculated and timely decisions is evidence of their preparatory work.  God calls us to the same sort of preparatory work, and we engage that work through prayer.  In prayer we offer our requests, we hear God’s will, we feel God’s strength, and we are sent out through the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  Every day we are stepping onto the “playing field” – are we going to move forward or move backward?

The through of the collect prayer moves us from start to finish, from beginning to end.  And through God’s Holy Spirit, I believe we are transformed into holy conduits to move forward God’s new and renewing acts of grace, from one side to the other, from start to finish, from beginning to end.

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways, speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

*”Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.