The Week of Faith and Love

Week of Faith and Love

Week of Faith and Love

The second week of Advent in 2013 began Sunday, December 8th.  In the church I am serving, there were four filet crocheted wall hangings that had been made.  Each one had a word crocheted on it: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace.  However, there is an alternate way of naming the candles: Hope, Faith, Joy, and Peace.  And, being new to the community of faith, I had worked with the scriptures and with the light of Faith this week.  However, in thinking about it, love is very much associated with faith.  For it is the God who loves us in whom we have faith.

The Gospel this day was:  Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Today, we continue to hope as we light the candle of “Faith,” reminding us of who it is we worship.  It’s amazing that the God of all the universe has stooped to earth and sent his son to live among us.  We have faith in the God who comes.  We have faith that we are loved and live in a community that believes in love.

Yet, the Gospel reading has John the Baptist yelling at us to repent.  How rude!  It says that he’s yelling at the Pharisees and Sadducees, but I never feel safe when either he or Jesus criticizes those guys.  I worry that I might just be closer to that crowd than the disciples.  Since the Pharisees are the religious leaders, I am always afraid I am one of them.  I hope not but I think it is a possibility.

Where is the good news in this?  Aren’t we all about Gospel, good new?

I love the Christmas story.  I love that those poor shepherds get to greet the King of Kings before anyone important shows up.  I love to imagine the sound of angel choirs.  I love the best of all the celebrations we have added to it over the years: the Christmas trees, lights, garlands, the scents of mulled cider and apple pie, sleigh bells and wonderful movies.

I love O Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi” that illustrates the beauty of love where a husband and wife would sacrifice what was the most valuable to them to give a gift to each other.

I love the Jimmy Stewart movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” which shows how one man’s love for family and friends makes such a huge difference to a whole community.  And he is granted the grace of seeing what the world would have been like without him.

I think O Henry’s story of sacrificial love and the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” were doing what John the Baptist was doing but in a different way.  They were saying what you do is important.

We all want to run to the beautifully decorated house and eat all the wonderful Christmas goodies and open a ton of packages and sing and laugh and hug each other and have the best of Christmases.  We want to feel loved.  That’s what Christmas is about:  love.

Today, we light the candle of faith and hear John the Baptist telling us to prepare the way of the Lord through the wilderness.  And sometimes that wilderness looks a lot like our lives.  He yells to us: “8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “

We want celebration and love and he’s talking about repentance and chopping us down.  That sounds pretty judgmental to me.  I don’t want to hear anything approaching judgment.  Just give me a Christmas mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows and a roaring fire.  I want cozy.  And John does not want us to get too cozy, not yet.  First, he wants us to examine ourselves and our actions because what we do matters.

You and I matter.  What we do matters very much.  It matters to those around us and it matters to God.  Examine your actions.  How can you show more love, more kindness, and more forgiveness?

That’s what John the Baptist is trying to tell us.  What we do matters:  bearing fruits of repentance matters.  Those fruits are like the gifts in O Henry’s story, like all the kindnesses of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

It matters what we do.  By every action we take, we change the world.  The world would be a different place if we were never born.  And may it be that we change the world for good with the help of the Holy Spirit.

This past Thursday, Nelson Mandela died.  We have been seeing and hearing a lot about his life.  Because of his faith and letting God work through him, his country was transformed.  The institutionalized racism was eliminated.  Reconciliation was achieved.  South Africa now has a completely transformed society.  His ability to forgive those who imprisoned him was a great example for all the people of the country, black and white alike.  What he did mattered.  The world is a better place because he lived, because he believed in a God of transformation and love.  Through him, God did amazing things.

We light the candle of “Faith.”  We pray that God can continue to transform us so that our actions show the love of God.  Alone, you could never do what Mandela did.  But with God, you can do even greater things.

Prepare for Christmas, for the light coming into the world: the Light of Hope,  the Light of Faith, and more light to come.

Prepare the Way of the Lord.  Lord Come.

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The Week of Hope

The Light of Hope

The Light of Hope

The first week of Advent began in 2013 on Sunday, December 1.  We lit the candle of hope and read words from the Prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 2:1-5

1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2   In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3        Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4   He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
     they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
          and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

5   O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!

The light that one candle can give is small but when it is the light of hope, it can make a world of difference.

This week of hope saw the death of Nelson Mandela, an amazing man of faith.  God working through him healed a nation.  Swords were beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

God continues to work today through the people of today.  Our hope is in the Lord.

Come, Lord Jesus.  We are preparing for your arrival.

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Making Holey Walls

Holey Fence

A Very Holey Wall

One day, I was looking at my dish drainboard and noticing the scales on it from the South Texas hard water.  I pulled out the vinegar and poured it over the plastic drainboard, dissolving the build up of minerals, thinking about sin and forgiveness.

Sin is not always dramatic.  At times, it is something quite small.  The Greek word for sin, amartia, means to miss the mark.  Sometimes, we miss the mark in our relationships – by a little or by a lot.  And, sometimes, we miss by a little over and over and over again.  This little misses can build up like the scales on my drainboard.  They can put scales on our relationship.  This can lead to hurt feelings over time and begin to make a wall between ourselves and others.

For instance, here is a small thing that can become a big hurt.  I have had trouble calling people by the wrong name.  Some days, every man I meet is Bill.  Other days, they all seem to be Bobs.  Once or twice is understandable – but what if your minister consistently called you the wrong name?  And, that’s what I had done with one of the youth in my community.  It was inexcusable and yet I repeated the mistake until I was so embarrassed that I was afraid to use a name at all.

I do not want my mistakes to make walls in my relationships with others.  Using the wrong name may seem small, but such a thing could put a wall between me and that wonderful youth.

Humor can be the vinegar that cleans the air between people and punches holes in the walls that divide us.  I decided to fine myself every time I called this youth by his brother’s name.  Although I knew they were different people, my brain was either lazy or short-circuited.

I told the youth to keep track and I would pay him a dollar fine each time I called him by his brother’s name.  To tell the truth, I was feeling smug that I had solved the problem.  Between the embarrassment and the fear of losing money, I thought the only time I’d call him by the wrong name was when it was on purpose for laughs.

I needn’t have worried about working out a time to make a mistake.  I did it again even while I was giving my best effort to get it right.  Immediately, I realized the mistake.  I pulled out a dollar and offered it to him.  He did not want to take it.  He was immediately forgiving.  But I told him that making amends would help me.  He smiled and shook his head.  We laughed as I insisted.  I think the other youth were jealous at that point and hoped I’d miss their names as well.

Have you had times when you’ve used a bit of humor to clear the air and make amends?  Humor can be the vinegar of relationships removing those little scales.  Use it when you miss the mark but be careful, it’s a powerful tool.

I recently heard an interview Krista Tippet had with the Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Weber:  Nadia Bolz-Weber on Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Tattoos, Tradition, and Grace

Nadia was a stand-up comedian at one time and says she does not understand how a pastor can preach without humor.  I loved this interview and hope that some of you will as well.   Humor can not only remove the small scales, it can punch holes in those walls between us and others.  It can allow us to take ourselves lightly.

My hope is that all our walls have holes and all our scales be washed away.

Peace

Posted in Forgiveness, Hope, Love, Sin, Wholeness | 5 Comments

Memories: Remembering and Forgetting as Grace

I have been thinking about memories, both how we remember and forget.  It seems there is grace in each, depending on what we remember and forget.

I just finished reading a memoir, Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life by Abigail Thomas.  In it she poses a question about why we remember some things and not others.  Many memorable times have some kind of emotion attached to them — enjoyment or pain.  When we revisit memories, we might be searching for meaning.  We make meaning from our lives and events and in the process, our memories are changed.

I listened recently to a podcast on memories and our need to forget, Memory and Forgetting on To The Best of Our Knowledge.  Without the ability to forget, we have trouble moving forward.  They mentioned a man who had a ‘perfect’ memory but had trouble functioning because every detail stood out so clearly in his mind.  He could not prioritize.  He could not move forward in life in his career and most likely had trouble in other areas of his life as well.  Other people find it hard to move forward in life because they continue to be mired down in negative memories.

While it is important to remember that a hot stove will burn you, there are things that can be forgotten in a grace-filled life.  I was reminded of a poem my mother used to read to me, The Boy Who Forgets.  I found it in the Adventists’ Archives, in a Youth’s Instructor Newsletter published September, 13, 1910.  Thank you to the Adventists who have made their archive available on the internet.

During the dog days of August, perhaps this poem will bring a bit of grace into your life.  May we be given the grace to forget those things that deserve to be forgotten.  I can’t help but think that this forgetting will bring us closer to wholeness.

The Boy Who Forgets
I LOVE him, the boy who forgets!
Does it seem such a queer thing to say ?
Can’t help it; he’s one of my pets ;
Delightful at work or at play.
I’d trust him with all that I own,
And know neither worries nor frets; .
But the secret of this lies alone
In the things that the laddie forgets.

He always forgets to pay back
The boy who has done him an ill ;
Forgets that a grudge he owes Jack,
And smiles at him pleasantly still.
He always forgets ’tis his turn
To choose what the others shall play;
Forgets about others to learn
The gossipy things that ” they say.”

He forgets to look sulky and cross
When things are not going his way;
Forgets some one’s gain is his loss;
Forgets, in his worktime, his play.
This is why I am taking his part;
Why I say he is one of my pets ;
I repeat it with all of my heart :
I love him for what he forgets!
Pauline Frances Camp, in St. Nicholas

Posted in Dreams, Faith, Hope, Love, Wholeness | 3 Comments

The Baptism of Our Lord

Baptismal Font

Today, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus.  He came with the people streaming out to the desert to hear his cousin, John the Baptist preach and baptize for the forgiveness of sins.  He, too, entered the water to be baptized, like the others.  And as he comes up out of the River Jordan, he sees the sky torn and the Spirit descending like a dove.

We think of doves as gentle, the Spirit like a dove, but this is the same Spirit that just ripped open the sky and came through that opening. This is the same Spirit that drives Jesus out to the wilderness to pray for forty days and be tempted in preparation for his ministry. This is the same Spirit that comes to us in baptism and communion.

Seeing the lid on our baptismal font partially on and partially off makes me remember the sky being torn open.  I also am reminded of Annie Dillard saying that perhaps we should wear seat belts and crash helmets in church when we pray and ask the Spirit to be present with us.  This gentle Spirit has the power to send us out into the wilderness, set us up in a valley to see dry bones, and blow through our lives and cause tongues of fire to appear.  Do we try to keep a lid on the Spirit like we keep the lid on the font?

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Epiphany – January 6

Wise Men Seek the Christ

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  [Matthew 2:1-2 NRSV]

According to Merriam Webster on-line: an epiphany is : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.

Today, in the Western Christian Church, we celebrate the recognition of Jesus as the Christ, King of the Jews, Son of God by the wise men.  These were people of ‘the nations,’ people outside the covenant between God and the Jews.  How was it that these wise men could recognize what God was doing when some people in Israel did not see and understand?

It makes me wonder today if God is doing something, even within the Church, perhaps in the Presbyterian Church USA, that I may be missing but others outside the church might see and understand.  As the United Church of Christ reminds us, “God is still speaking…”  Can we hear?  Can we see?

Can I hear?

As I reexamine my Rule of Life this year, I have added this prayer inspired by the action step on January first in my devotional book, These Days:

May I be more open to the Spirit every day.

Perhaps in that way, I may be truly wise because wise men and women still seek him.

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Christmastide – The Season of Christmas

Lighting the Christ Candle

The day of fulfillment has arrived.  The hopes and promises of God are fulfilled in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  God’s amazing risk of love has been set in motion.  And, it’s not over yet!

But Christmas is not just a day, it is a season in the life of the church in the lives of Christians.  We celebrate Christmas with twelve days of Christmas ending this Friday, January 6th, Epiphany.   Wise men of the East recognize that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of the Jews.  These were titles that were used by the Empire, the Son of God for Caesar Augustus and the King of the Jews for King Herod, but they more rightly belonged to Jesus.

What does our Empire today say about God coming into the world?

Well, it is good for business.  Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated by people of all faiths but especially by business owners because for many businesses, Christmas buying is what puts them into the black for the year.  It pays the bills and allows them to be in business yet another year.

It has bothered me for years now that we are so much into anticipating the next big thing that we push Christmas behind us and are tired of it by the time December 26th comes.  Christmas becomes a time of mounds of paper and tired people.  So many say they are so glad to have it over and get things back to normal.  For me, however, the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is not normal, but is a holy time, my favorite time of year, a time when all is quiet and peaceful.  It is a time much like the hymn Silent Night evokes.  I usually spend it reading and doing puzzles, enjoying family, hot chocolate and tea and Christmas cookies.  I rest in the joy and peace of the season, thankful for the gifts that God has given.  Even I have trouble stretching the celebration through to the sixth of January, but perhaps I should try.  Perhaps it is a matter of Christian identity or a counter cultural movement.

Thanks to my colleague, Linda Whitworth Reed, through her Facebook post, I have found another Christian who is also concerned about the lack of understanding of the Christian calendar and envisions a way for us to fight against the pull of the Empire by celebrating time in a way separate from our culture so that we can hear messages of hope and love more clearly.  I hope you enjoy this thoughtful post as much as I did.  In stores, I already see the red and white of Valentine’s Day.  Time moves by quickly but perhaps does not need to skip from Christmas to Valentine’s Day just yet.  Read on.

The Redemption of Time

Posted in Faith, Holidays, Hope, Love, Time | 4 Comments