Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent Tree

Yesterday as part of our Hanging of the Greens service I shared that throughout the season of Advent, we are going to be reflecting on the identity of who Jesus is. Who is this one we are waiting for? Over the next four weeks of watching and waiting we will zero in especially on the titles given to God’s Messiah in Isaiah 9:6—Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We’re going to consider these titles in our sermons, in song, and in art we will create together. How did Jesus fulfill these expectations, and how did he redefine them? What does it mean that he is these things today? Then, in the season of Epiphany—the season after Christmas where we celebrate the light of Christ filling the world, revealing who he is—we’ll be reflecting further on who we are understanding Christ to be, considering the seven things Jesus said that “I am” in the gospel of John. So basically, the next three months are going to focus on the question of who Jesus is—who do we understand him to be? Who did he say that he was? Who did he show himself to be?

To help you prepare for our encounters with this question, since Advent is a season of preparation, I handed out in worship yesterday an "Advent tree" for each family to take home. The challenge is, each day of Advent, to fill in one of the ornaments on this tree with a word or image that says something about who Jesus is—who is this one you’re waiting for? If you need prompts or places to get started, there are verses listed on the tree that we will be reading and studying together throughout the season. It’s my hope that this can be a rich season of us individually and collectively coming to know Jesus in new, deeper ways that can shape who we are, and prepare us to be followers of Christ and bearers of God’s image in this world. I'll be sharing my own tree periodically as it comes together, just to encourage you along the way. So here is mine with the first two days filled in, and also a blank one you can print off (adapted from if you were not in worship yesterday to receive one. Come Christmas Day I'd love to see the art everyone created!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Post-Election Prayer

As a pastor, elections are tricky territory. I know that I am pastor to both Republicans and Democrats. I know that some of my folks are heartbroken this morning, and some are jubilant, and some don't even know how to feel.

How, then, shall we pray on a day like today? This morning, this has been my task, to try to figure this out. What follows is the best I currently have to offer. I hope you'll receive this prayer from the place of honesty and genuine love from which it comes. Know, whatever place you are in today, I am praying for you and loving you. And may we keep practicing those five healing habits of the heart we talked about during this election season: a recognition that we are all in this together. An appreciation of otherness. The capacity to hold tension creatively. A sense of voice and agency. And the capacity to create community. These things are needed still, and things we can all do as we live, act, and pray.

The Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit’s very self pleads our case with unexpressed groans. -Romans 8:26

Lord, on this morning most of us are unsure what to pray. Whether on the “winning” side, the “losing” side, or among those who thought both were “losing” options, the events of the last 24 hours are stunning.

How then shall we pray?

We pray, Lord, not knowing what to pray. But we do want to pray. We know we must.

And so we pray for our world, recognizing this decision impacts not just us, but people around the globe who awoke this morning to uncertainty, knowing what the future holds now even less than before. The needs of so many around the world are so profound—hear your children, Lord, as they cry out to you. Let us open our ears to hear those cries, and respond to them.

We pray for our nation. We are filled with varying emotions—from shock to joy to fear to anger to determination to confusion to relief to horror to grief to disappointment to uncertainty. We pray for extra kindness towards one another as we process this election that has been so divisive and ugly and disheartening. We pray that we may give each other space and time to feel what we need to feel—especially those who feel deeply wounded. We pray that, in time, we might not leave ourselves permanently in separate camps, designated as “winners” and “losers” but rather to seek a path where all, somehow, can walk side-by-side and not feel left behind or afraid. We don’t know what this path is, Lord, but in time we must find it. Give us the courage and the vision. May we each continue to speak with passion and compassion what we hold to be true while finding ways to be in discourse and dialogue with each other.

We pray for Donald, as he prepares to assume immense power and responsibility. This is a heavy burden for any person. We pray that he will look to wise counsel as he assembles his administration. We pray that he will move with sensitivity, with compassion, with wisdom, that he will act in ways that promotes genuine healing for our country. We pray for guidance for him, for humility, for strength to make decisions that are good for all. We pray he will always, first and foremost, have the courage to seek the way of peace.

We pray for the rest of our country’s newly elected leaders—for Senators and Congresspeople, for Judges and School Board representatives, for Governors and local councilpeople, recognizing government is far more than just those at the top. We need wise leaders in this time of fear and instability, and pray that those assuming or returning to office will feel the gravity of their responsibility and seek to lead with discernment and open-heartedness.

We pray especially for those who woke this morning feeling afraid because of things said about their religion, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, sexual orientation, or nationality throughout this campaign. So many feel deep wounds. We pray that, no matter how we voted, we will always be those, as followers of Christ, who stand for and with the oppressed. Help us treat each other with gentleness, with dignity, with a willingness to listen. Fill us with a continual desire to act for justice and for peace, to cry out wherever we see a wrong. We pray that we may love well those who feel alone this morning. We pray that we may love well even those we disagree with. We pray we might each continue working to make our communities and our country a place where no one needs to live in fear of persecution because of the way they worship, the color of their skin, where they come from, their physical abilities, or who they love—knowing that you have called us to embrace, not exclusion.

For those rejoicing, we pray humility and compassion. For those grieving, we pray comfort and compassion. For those not sure what to feel, we pray clarity and compassion. For all of us, Lord—Compassion. Love. Wisdom. Hope.

This is our prayer, in the most holy and loving name of Christ.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Giving Thanks for the Cloud of Witnesses

As part of our All Saints worship at church today, I shared this lovely guide created by a fellow Alliance of Baptists minister, Laura Stephens-Reed, for praying with gratitude each day in November for someone who has shaped us in faith and life. I modified it slightly so one could respond with someone living or dead--and if it's someone still living, I want to challenge you to contact that person and let them know what you are thankful for that they did in shaping you as a person of faithfulness. Though I only included November 6-24 in the bulletin, the list for the whole month is here. Thanks be to God for all who God has put in our paths at just the right time to help shape us in God's image. Who are you thankful for today?