Monday Theme - Messages and Messengers
Monday Scripture - Luke 1:26 'God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee...'
Monday Quote - Luci Shaw - “Paul gives us an astonishing understanding of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson, 'Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.' With such motivation, we can wait as we sense God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the child within her grew.”
The greek word that is translated into English as angel is 'aggelos.' It means messenger. Many of the times that an angel is present in the Bible, the message is that God is present despite appearances. As a matter of fact the message is that God is present and involved no matter how dire the circumstance. Angels are surprising and unexpected and as we will explore tomorrow, likely disconcerting, even inspiring fear. Today however, we focus on angels as those who bring the message that God is with us, that God is especially with those who are abandoned, abused or exploited.
When Hagar was exiled in the wilderness with a small son, no food, no shelter, no water, it was an angel that unexpectedly appeared. 'Do not be afraid,' the angel says to her, 'God has heard the [cries] of the boy.'
When God speaks to Moses it is an angel that simply appears as a burning bush, and when Israel journey's through the desert after their liberation from slavery, it is an angel that leads them by day and guards them at night. And when Gabriel appears to Mary the first message is, 'The Lord is with you.' Many times, the unexpected message is that God abides, is present, in intimately connected.
It is easy to doubt Israel's consistent claim that God is present and active in the world and in our lives, especially in difficult times. One could interpret most of the Bible's stories as dealing with that doubt, that struggle of feeling abandoned, alone, without help or guidance. In Hagar's stories, the struggle is being powerless and exploited. For Israel, the story is much the same but on a political and social level. It is too much to hope that circumstances could be different, that the status quo might be interrupted, that justice might come. Yet when angels arrive, Hagar and Israel and even Mary can begin to dream of what seemed unlikely, that God would be present with justice for them.
Mary too, after hearing the message of Gabriel. She sings, 'He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
But first, the angel says, 'The Lord is with you.' And all other hopes and dreams are born from that promise.
Monday Explore - Genesis 21:8-21; Romans 8:18-39
Monday Prayer - God who calls to us continually, give us ears to hear you. Create times, spaces and places for us to pause and listen. Remind us that listening for you and to you is the most important practice of faith for it inspires faithfulness in action. And we pray that our listening inspire within us compassionate and faithful response to what we hear.
Tuesday Theme - Troubled
Tuesday Scripture - Luke 1:29 - Mary was greatly troubled at his words
Tuesday Quote - Dietrich Bonhoeffer - “I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”
The angels that sit atop our Christmas trees adorn our mantles or hand as decorations in our homes or on our jewelry are warm and comforting creatures. The angels of the Bible were often troubling. mary is troubled. Luke says that when the angels appear to the shepherds 'they are sore afraid.' Isaiah and Ezekiel too are awestruck and overwhelmed when angels appear to them. We tend to soften the rough edges of angels and have adorable children play them in the Christmas pageant. But in the Bible they are shocking and sobering creatures and humans rarely experience calm and peace. When angels come, the world shifts under our feet and leave unbalanced and stumbling.
It is safe to assume that the appearance of the angel to Mary and the message the angel brought to her was not convenient news. Good perhaps, but hardly convenient. The message, that she would nurture the Son of the Most High and bring into life on earth was hardly convenient news. It would put her honor in doubt, her marriage in deep trouble and undermine all her plans for the future. Her life would no longer be her own to pursue. Now she is enlisted in the service of God's plan of redemption. And that enlistment is risky and it requires sacrifice. No wonder Mary is greatly troubled. God's presence in her life in this unexpected way is earth-shattering. Her life will never be the same, nor will it be easy.
It seems we return to this theme year after year at Advent. Sometimes I wonder if I should not attempt to put some fresh new spin on it. Try another interpretation of this story on for size. Or perhaps it is an important reminder. We live in a world that is in many ways increasingly customized for our wants and needs. Information is collected online so that adds can be targeted to our desires. Even the news we consume, many today by Facebook and Twitter, is customized according to what we like to hear. Amazon suggests books based on the books we have purchased before. If we do not like the service we are getting at one store, one cell-phone company, one cable provider, well, we can choose another option. And subtly we are at the center of our own little universe. The angel appears and breaks that universe apart and draws us from our own safe and comfortable place into the unsettling world of God's coming kingdom. It is demanding, it is challenging, it is unsettling. And ultimately, it is the only hope we have. So let us pray not only for a merry Christmas and a joyful holiday season but also for a troubling advent and an unsettling season in which the message of the angel draws us, like Mary, into the thrilling and frightening adventure of playing a part of God's plan of renewal and redemption.
Tuesday Explore - Luke 18:18-23; Romans 12:1-2,9-21
Tuesday Prayer - When life is complex and stressful we thank you God our shepherd that you lead us to still waters and green pastures so that we can be restored. But we confess that too often this is all we accept of your presence, and the unsettling or disturbing challenge to grow in holiness is ignored. With trembling hearts, we ask that you continue to unsettle us so that we do not grow complacent or apathetic. Encourage us with the promise that your challenge brings with it the promise of life in all its fullness.
Wed Theme - Impossible Possibility
Wed Scripture - Luke 1:34 - How will this be
Wed Quote - Enuma Okoro - “Openness to God demands our growing acceptance that we cannot create blueprints for our own lives. Though God’s character is unchanging, the ways of God are unpredictable, and there is a difference between arbitrariness and unpredictability.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, reflecting on the season of Advent, “The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty.' I must admit that I've spent most of my life avoiding and dismissing 'mystery.' It has always sounded like the answer people give to difficult questions, most especially in the realm of faith. Most especially my negative attitude has come from those faith leaders who discourage questions with, 'don't ask questions, just accept that it's a mystery.' After all, Anselm once spoke of theology as 'fides quaerens intellectum' or 'faith seeking understanding.' I bristle at the use of mystery to shut down seeking, learning and understanding.
But this doesn't seem to be what Bonhoeffer is talking about, nor does it seem to be what we are watching as Mary says, 'how can this be?' Bonhoeffer, in lamenting the loss of mystery and I suppose urging disciples to attempt to regain a desire for its experience, isn't trying to shut down our imagination, but instead to open it up. His further comments seem to lament the fact that we tend to live our lives according to what we can be certain of, what we can measure and plan. And while being realistic has its place, limiting ourselves to what we comprehend, can understand, can plan for and measure, leaves life flat. And worse, it leaves the human heart without hope for healing, justice or peace. Mystery is that awakening to the something more, the possible impossibility that is the kingdom of God. Or as Jurgen Moltmann has said, 'the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.” Mystery is that which awakens us to the all too often readily accepted present and all of its broken promises, disappointments, and injustice. Mystery is that which dares us to hope and dream for more.
This is exactly what we are watching happen with Mary once the impossible is announced to her by the angel. That God will come to earth, be born as a human. Not just any human but economically exploited and politically oppressed. Born to common people without power or influence. This is where and how God will appear and peace and justice be born. It is unexpected, unlikely and impossible. How can this happen? It is beyond imagining. It is a mystery. And we see that a mystery is that moment when the unexpected and impossible is promised; when there is justice or peace, when we are empowered to forgive or to give generously, when a stranger is welcomed or a risky venture toward any of these signs of the kingdom undertaken against our better judgement, that is a mystery. That is what Bonhoeffer hopes that we will learn again to embrace. That is how Mary finds hope and courage to say 'Yes' to God's impossible proposal and all of its consequences. She is drawn into the hope of a mystery.
Wed Explore - Genesis 18:1-15; Mark 6:30-42
Wed Prayer - Rescue us God, from the fear and discouragement that keeps us from dreaming and dreams and nurturing visions. Forgive us for giving our attention to obstacles and not the goal you present us with. Forgive us for thinking ourselves too small, too insignificant, to carry out the plans you have for us. Heal us from the malady in which we judge the work of your kingdom to be too hard, too dangerous, just plain impossible and bring us to a place of a healthy embrace of the impossible that you cause to be, that we might always live and work with hope.
Thursday Theme - The humble state
Thursday Scripture - Luke 1:48 - for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
Thursday Quote - Dietrich Bonhoeffer - God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
As I pondered today's verse I realized that it sums up the way that I have been interpreting much of the Bible lately. Each time I read a story, sometimes consciously, sometimes not I'm sure, I'm asking the question, 'How, in this story, is God being mindful of those in a humble state.' So many stories sparkle with new light and crackle with new energy when we begin to pay attention to the social location of the characters. Ruth, the immigrant outsider, Israel enslaved in Egypt, Jacob the second son, Joseph the enslaved, The Samaritan woman, the leper, the prostitute. So many of the characters in the Bible are considered outsiders, less-than, ignorable and expendable.
What is it that makes Mary humble. I don't think that this a description of her character, that she is not a prideful person. Her humble state is economic and social. She is not a part of a rich, powerful or influential family. Her humble state is political. She is a Judean living under Roman occupation. Her ethnic group is oppressed and exploited. She is from Nazareth, a town far from the center of power, a town where rebels, brigands, and thieves go to hide out (The Mos Eisley Cantina for your Star Wars fans). So she becomes associated with, by proximity, criminals. No one would pay her any attention. The wealthy and powerful would expect nothing from her, they would not notice her or hear her or value her.
Which explains her surprise that God has chosen her to be such a vital part of God's plan to bring justice and start the renewal of all creation. The story of Jesus's birth in one episode after another of God considering those of humble estate; Joseph, a laborer, Shepherds, again, laborers usually held in low esteem socially. Even the wise men, yes educated and wealthy, but outsiders once they arrive in Bethlehem. God is paying attention to and bestowing great responsibility on those of humble estate. If these are the people among whom God chooses to be born, what does this say to us? It certainly challenges us to consider who is of humble state in our society and inspires us to treat them with greater honor.
Thursday Explore - Ruth 1; John 4:1-42; Matthew 5:1-15
Thursday Pray - It is difficult to believe that you place such hope and trust in humble folks like us, God. But your word reveals just that in virtually every story. So for combatting every negative message we have received with the dignity and honor you bestow on us, we are grateful. We confess that too often we have not considered those of humble state in the world around us. We pray that we will seize each opportunity you bring to us, to consider these your humble children and give them the gift of dignity and honor.
Friday Theme - Incarnation
Friday Scripture - He will be called the Son of the Most High
Friday Quote - Dietrich Bonhoeffer - any attack even on the least of men is an attack on Christ, who took the form of man, and in his own Person restored the image of God in all that bears a human form.
Friday Thought -
Many of us perhaps do not pause during the Advent or Christmas season to ponder the Incarnation. It isn't a word that we use often, and I confess I rarely use it even in sermons. It refers quite simply, to the fact that we believe that Jesus was God in the flesh, as a human. Incarnate means, in the flesh. So God is no longer only a concept, an idea, far off and apart from creation. God is now an intimate part of creation, connected to humanity. You can probably tell why I rarely mention all this. It sounds highly technical and jargony, the kind of thing pastors talk about over dinner or at meetings and conferences. What does it matter to us in our everyday lives?
Once again this week, Bonhoeffer gives us guidance. It isn't the concept of incarnation itself that matters. It is what Jesus did as the incarnation of God that matters. And we have already talked about that this week. Jesus was the incarnation of God attending to those of humble estate. Jesus embodied that, as we said yesterday. The Incarnation doesn't simply what Jesus was and continues to be, but also what Jesus did. He 'restored the image of God in all that bears a human form,' particularly at the table where all were welcomed, fed, healed, confronted, restored, and dignified. By no longer calling us to reach God and instead, joining with us, becoming one of us, God is restoring the divine image we bear.
Finally, Bonhoeffer reveals the truest importance of this concept. 'any attack on the least of men is an attack on Christ.' By becoming human as one of the occupied, the oppressed, the exploited and abused, God is restoring the dignity of all humanity. In Jesus, born as one of 'the least of these' God became human, God was incarnate. So all words and actions, systems and traditions that divide humanity up into worthy of God or unworthy, worthy of dignity or not worthy, deny the incarnation. They reject God's gracious gift of joining with us to restore the image of God. But, if what Bonhoeffer says is true, then all the ways that we support, encourage and welcome others; through feeding, comforting, accepting, and clothing are celebrations not only of the dignity of each served but celebrations of the Incarnation, restoring the image of God in each person.
Friday Explore - John 1:1-14
Friday Prayer - It is a mystery, God always beyond us yet calling us forward, how it is that the Divine could be human. But it is a mystery in the best sense for it awakens our hearts to compassion and our minds to dignity. Because of the Incarnation you are always ahead beckoning to us and beside us guarding and guiding. So we humbly accept the risk of celebrating your Incarnation through welcoming and dignifying every person you bring into our lives. We celebrate your incarnation through bridging gaps and building relationships and drawing closer to one another, as you did to us on that night so long ago in Bethlehem.
Monday Theme - Jubilee
Monday Scripture Isaiah 61: 1-2
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me...to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Monday Quote - C. Rene Padilla
1. God's purpose for humanity and the creation remains unchanged,
and one of the essential elements of that purpose is that human relations,including those that have to do with economics, be based on love and justice.
3. The basic problems that hindered human relationships in biblical
times continue to obstruct human relationships today: the abuse of power, the ambition for material gain, the exploitation of the poor.
The first two Sundays of Advent we heard prophets make grand promises in the face of calamity. Jeremiah, faced with the Babylonian exile, promised a new covenant born from the new heart God would give to the people of Israel. A new heart was promised. Joel, faced with either natural disaster or socio-political threat (invading armies) promised that God would pour out the Spirit and give dreams and visions to the people. Dreams meant the people would find hope in catastrophe and visions meant the people would discern the most faithful and wholesome way to respond to catastrophe. A purpose. Today, we begin to see these promises fulfilled.
There is so much 'good news' for us to explore in just eleven verses of Isaiah 61. But today we look at 'to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' This is a reference to the Jubilee year that we find referenced in many places, most specifically, Leviticus 25. This is a dream and a vision not only of spiritual but social renewal. Every 50 years according to God, Israel would forgive the debts of the poor, free indentured servants, return land sold because of debts to original owners, let the land lie fallow and restart their social and economic system so that justice could have a chance to flourish. The new heart and new Spirit promised by Jeremiah and Joel, according to Isaiah, would bring about not only a spiritual renewal but a social one as well.
In Luke 4 Jesus will quote Isaiah 61 in revealing his mission and ministry on earth. He has come to proclaim Jubilee, the year of the Lord's favor, a spiritual and social renewal. This means justice for all the poor and vulnerable who will be made part of a wholesome, merciful, community. As Christians, we look at Isaiah 61 and see it as fulfilled in Jesus. But it could also be read faithfully as a call for all disciples of Jesus. We too are called to embody and advocate for Jubilee; for fair wages and health care and welcome of the stranger and dignifying all of God's creation. Isaiah 61 reveals the details of the hope that Jeremiah and Joel have told us to have. It is a hope found in serving and advocating for the poor among us. It is the hope born when our spirituality connects us to the community around us through healing and wholesome relationships. The purpose of Advent is revealed to us. It is to encourage us to remember the birth of the one who made Jubilee his mission statement and then to pause and consider how we live out Jubilee as individuals and as a church community.
Monday Explore - Leviticus 25:1-28; Luke 4:14-30
Monday Prayer - Energetic God, active in creating and renewing. Use the joy of giving and receiving gifts this holiday season to inspire us to continue and even expand the many ways that we embody the mercy and generosity of Jubilee. Teach us to listen to the vulnerable, help us to make a place for them in our hearts and lives, and make us generous in word and deed toward those most in need.
Tuesday Theme - Proclaiming, Comforting, Bestowing
Tuesday Scripture - Isaiah 61:2-3
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
Tuesday Quote - Henri Nouwen
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
The result of the Spirits anointing is a flurry of activity. The prophet launches into a barrage of actions words; proclaim, bind, comfort, provide & bestow. It is to whom this action is directed that grabs my attention; the poor, the broken-hearted, the captive, those who mourn and grieve. We are reminded that Jesus's own Sermon on the Mount includes many of the same people, the poor, the meek, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (also translated justice). According to Isaiah, when God decisively acts to bring a new heart and a new spirit, the first action will be to bring relief to those who suffer most. And this is very good news.
It is also a challenge. When Jesus preaches this portion of Isaiah in Luke 4, he specifically directs its message of mercy, peace, and healing to... outsiders. He not only references Isaiah but the stories of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian. Two stories from Israel's history in which God acts decisively to bring healing and relief to people who represent the enemies of Israel. And the people listening do not appreciate it. The poor and vulnerable are easily missed and easily dismissed as lazy, unmotivated and unworthy of a chance at opportunities to achieve a meaningful life. And even our own generosity at Christmas time can reflect that. After all, the struggle of the poor doesn't just occur at Christmas time. Their battle to feed children and pay bills and find work and childcare is a year long one. Generosity at Christmas can make us feel better, but it doesn't necessarily reflect a true engagement in the lives of those broken-hearted by the fact that they must rely on charity.
So the good news of Isaiah (read through Jesus's interpretation) remind us that God's action on behalf of the poor requires more than occasional focus challenges us to be faithful in the long-term. And it reminds us of the emotional toll poverty takes. Broadening to considerations beyond poverty, the one anointed by the Spirit in Isaiah 61, is anointed with a Spirit of compassion for the broken-hearted. Which means this challenges us when we are tempted to doubt, deny, be critical of or judge, the meek, the struggling, the outsider.
Tuesday Explore - Galatians 5:22-23; Matthew 5:3-13
Tuesday Prayer - Continue to rend my heart, God of mercy and compassion, so as to make space for those who struggle. Create space for those unlike me, space for those whose experience is unlike my own, space even for those I disagree with. Let the compassion of Christ become my own and that which directs my every thought and action.
Wednesday Theme - Gift and Grace
Wednesday Scripture Isaiah 61: 2-3
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Wednesday Quote - Miroslav Volf
“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.”
The prophets Joel and Jeremiah, who have preceded this week's prophet, Isaiah, were quite clear about the causes of despair and dismay that inspired warning, their lament and even eventually, their hope. We've already reviewed the fact that Jeremiah is compelled by the impending rush of the Babylonian Army and that Joel is brought to action by either natural disaster or military threat. But what about Isaiah? Just reading the scripture for Sunday without knowledge of what has inspired this message leaves us bereft of the full force of the message.
Isaiah (or the disciple who writes in his name) is NOW writing after the people of Israel have made it through the long Babylonian captivity. King Cyrus of Persia has liberated the Israelites and allowed them to return to their homeland. If you take the time to review chapter 40-55 of Isaiah, you will see the joy, excitement, and hope that springs to life at about this time. But Isaiah 61 happens AFTER that return home from exile. And all the hopes, dreams, and wishes, lie disappointingly unfulfilled as Isaiah writes. Construction of the walls of the city, the palace and temple are woefully and depressingly behind schedule. It seems that the people have divided into factions and cannot cooperate. And the economic and social division that Isaiah warned against BEFORE the captivity, have reared their ugly and unjust heads again. All those hopes and dreams with nothing to show.
Which is where the words of Isaiah for this week find their full force and effect. The buoyant words from Isaiah are not inspired by success or ease. On the contrary it is the hard work and challenge of embodying God's promises and the disappointment at failing that is the foundation for this weeks promises. These verses aren't a celebration, they instead, are an empowering utterance from beyond. What seems impossible, a rebuild, beautiful, just and peaceful Jerusalem, is indeed possible. What they experience in the present; ashes, mourning, despair, will be replaced by new gifts from the anointed one, gifts such as, a crown of beauty, oil of joy and a garment of praise. Isaiah urges Israel to reflect upon the grace of God, the merciful goodness, the powerful gift-giving nature of God to give them hope in hopeless times. This is an appropriate message for this season. It reminds us that beyond our usual gift-giving, we too are anointed by the spirit to give the gift of hope, dignity, and joy to those in despair.
Wednesday Explore - Romans 8:18-39; Matthew 10:1-15
Wednesday Prayer - Always gifting God, remind me today of the many gifts we have received from you. Bring to mind the many ways you have provided for us in when we felt the sting of lack, as if we had lost out or did not have enough. Continue to shape us to be generous givers in a society in which acquisition is so important. Remind us each day to be grateful and show gratitude to you and to others.
Thursday Theme - Receiving a New Name
Thursday Scripture - Isaiah 61:3
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
Thursday Quote - Thomas Merton
The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Yesterday's verses from Isaiah highlighted the gifts that God would give to Israel through the anointed one. These were powerful gifts, grace-filled gifts that reversed the fortunes of the sad and despairing and lifted them up. Today's verse follows along the same theme. In today's verse, there is a symbolic new naming, 'You shall be called oaks of righteousness.'
The gift of a new name is a common theme in the Bible. Sarai is re-named Sarah (I know its really the same name with a different spelling.) Abram is renamed Abraham, Jacob is renamed Israel, and in the New Testament, Saul is renamed Paul. The re-naming is symbolic of a new identity. While the details of each story differ, in each case, a name change symbolizes that despairing and struggling existence has come to an end and a new hopeful, fruitful existence has begun. Sarah's identity changed from barren to life-bearing, Jacobs from desperate and manipulative to passionate but trusting. Saul's identity changes from resisting to accepting the new things God is doing.
All of these themes are picked up in Israel's renaming to 'oaks of righteousness.' Israel disappointed that they have been unable to carry out the promised rebuilding of the Temple, are promised that their identity is not barren, but life-bearing. Israel is reminded to trust and to continue to work passionately toward their dreams and visions even though success is not quick or easy. And Israel is reminded to keep hoping for the new thing God is doing.
All of this connects both to the life and ministry of Jesus, who consistently and persistently bestowed new identities on those he met. Whether he was interacting with lepers, Samaritans, Romans, the poor, the sick, the 'sinful,' his words, his healing, his miraculous intervention all worked to bestow a new identity. All were named 'expendable' and 'unworthy' were renamed 'Beloved of God.' Paul picks up this theme when he writes in 2 Corinthians 5, 'If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.' The re-naming of Sarah, Jacob, Paul, Israel and even us upon our baptism is both a rescue mission to save us from fear, doubt, and despair. And, as we will see tomorrow, it also bestows upon us a new identity with a new mission, a new purpose in the world.
Thursday Explore - Genesis 32; Romans 6:1-14; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Thursday Pray - God whose word creates, thank you for speaking to us, calling us by name. We are grateful that you continue to reveal our identity, your Beloved, to us each new day. Continue to make us willing participants in your re-naming and renewing of us, so that we may continue to grow into your image our whole lives long.
Friday Theme - Rebuilding
Friday Scripture - Isaiah 61:4
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Friday Quote - Lesslie Newbigin
“The gospel is not just the illustration (even the best illustration) of an idea. It is the story of actions by which the human situation is irreversibly changed.”
Friday Thought -
One of the constant tensions I experience as I prepare for preaching or teaching is between how the scripture reveals what God is doing and what the scripture is demanding that we do. My first impulse is to jump right to trying to discern and present to you, what it is that the scripture is calling us to do and to be. I remember reading an article about Eugene Peterson in which he said that too often preachers focus on what the church should be doing instead of revealing and celebrating what God is doing.
Over the first three weeks of Advent I have continued to attempt to correct my proclivity to think about what I must do, what we must do as a result of the gospel and instead focus on what the stories are revealing about what God is doing. Most likely with modest success. So let's stop and review. Each of our prophetic texts, Jeremiah, Joel and now Isaiah, are indeed a call for the faithful to watch carefully for what the Lord is or will be doing. Jeremiah promises that God will renew our hearts, Joel, that God will pour out Spirit and Isaiah that God will anoint. Joel and Isaiah go well together because Isaiah spells out in poetic detail what happens when God pours out the Spirit. When God acts according to Isaiah, God breaks into the troubling and traumatic times with comfort and encouragement, forgiveness and hope, a new identity and with an invitation to new work and action.
Once again, I find myself resisting the temptation to jump into what we are supposed to do. But after all, in this week's scripture, after God comforts, encourages, forgives and re-names, God invites the people to 're-build,' 'restore,' and 'renew.' And it occurs to me that these three words begin with the prefix 're-' which means, 'again.' So our verse today shows us God's loving, healing, creative activity in the world and says to us that God acts again, and again, and again, to see the loving, healing and creation done. This is, I would suggest, what it means to be anointed. To be so caught up in this the persistence of God's loving and healing that we cannot help but join in. And so we find the balance. The gospel isn't just about what we are doing. It is primarily about what God is doing in the world. But the gospel is also about how we are inspired and empowered to join with God in God's incredible healing of creation.
Friday Explore - Luke 6:45-48
Friday Prayer - Persisting and Insisting God, we are grateful that you never grow discouraged and never give up on making us your people and all of creation the good that initially intended. Help us to find balance in our lives. When we resist action, encourage us. When we grow busy and stretched too thin, insist that we pause and rest and pray. In both, the pausing and practicing, renew our hearts and renew our world.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.