Thursday, December 21, 2017

God in our midst

Daily reading: John 1:1-18
Thursday, December 21, 2017

In John’s vision of the incarnation, God’s story takes on flesh so that the world can recognize the presence of God in their midst.  Incarnation then isn’t just some grand cosmic action, but it happens when we engage in the actual broken places in our neighborhoods,
when we allow love to embody us in a way that is deeply humbling. 
It happens when we allow space for absolutely everyone to have a voice and we realize that we are not whole unless we allow those around us to share their own stories that are deeply connected to their human homes, their joys, their pain, their need for welcome.
John’s vision of incarnation is that we embody God’s hope in worship and protest.  Not just by speaking words of love and compassion and welcome, but by living them out. So that together, our act of faith is to embody the humble and radical love of God in flesh.  

Prayer: God-with-us, holy one among us, shine light in the dark places of our lives, our communities and our world so that we can see what we are blind to.  Open our hearts so that we can embody your welcome.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Welcome

Daily reading: John 1:1-18
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

“The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light.  The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him.  But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children.”
How is it that we welcome God into our neighborhood?
How do we embody this message?
How do we allow it to humble us, so that we stop insisting on our own way?  So that we can be open to other perspectives and allow other opinions other than our own to hold a space at the table and have equal validity?
Perhaps when we invite God into the neighborhood, we are opening our eyes to see that God is already here.  We are in essence taking the blinders off to God and to one another.  Perhaps we are allowing our hard exteriors that are tired of protecting and pushing away, to give room for wonder to grow. 
Perhaps we are allowing light to shine where there has only been darkness.

Prayer: God-with-us, holy one among us, shine light in the dark places of our lives, our communities and our world so that we can see what we are blind to.  Open our hearts so that we can embody your welcome.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Incarnation

Daily reading: John 1:1-18
Tuesday, December 19, 2017

John makes this radical claim that the God of the universe loves humanity so much that God was willing to come and be one of us so that we could learn to be more like God.
So it seems strange, but I feel the need to state the obvious: we live in our bodies.  It is never more real to me when I wake up with a stiff lower back and find that I have to will myself to move with each step that I make.  It is never more real to me than when I visit with people in the hospital.  This temporal place that our souls reside can ache and hurt and carry disease and try as we may, we cannot think ourselves out of our earthly homes.  
And it is not just that we live in our bodies but society has much to teach us about them.  Our size, age, gender, ethnicity, appearance, who you are attracted to and physical abilities all put us in categories of worthy or unworthy based on societal standards. 

Prayer: God-with-us, holy one among us, shine light in the dark places of our lives, our communities and our world so that we can see what we are blind to.  Open our hearts so that we can embody your welcome.  Amen.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Light into darkness

Daily reading: John 1:1-18
Monday, December 18, 2017

John takes us back to primordial creation, and proclaims, much like the poet in Genesis 1, that God’s primary action is spoken.  God speaks creation into existence. Before being identified by name, Jesus is introduced as the capital “W” word.  This Word “was life, and the life was the light for all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”
Into the darkness of uncertainty, into the darkness of loneliness, of violence, of abuse, of loss, of oppression, God’s light shines in the darkness and our world cannot extinguish the light.
John’s words sing off of the page, “The Word became flesh and made his home among us.” 
Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message Bible, writes that “God moved into the neighborhood.”  I love this imagery.  It drums up childhood memories of Mr. Rogers in a lovely nostalgic way but it also of pulls my attention in a different direction to think of God moving into the neighborhood of Ferguson, Missouri or Charlottesville, Virginia, or Sutherland Springs, Texas, or in New York City into those neighborhoods where violence and hatred has ripped homes and lives apart.  Of all of the places in our world that are dark, and unsafe, and hurting, God is willing to move in.  In slums and in high rises, we will find God. 

Prayer: God-with-us, holy one among us, shine light in the dark places of our lives, our communities and our world so that we can see what we are blind to.  Open our hearts so that we can embody your welcome.  Amen.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Beginning

Daily reading: John 1:1-18
Sunday, December 17, 2017

We began the fall season in Genesis 1, with these words “In the beginning”.  We now have reached John’s gospel in this last full Sunday of Advent with an echo of these words and it is hard to miss how audacious John is to be writing a new genesis.
It speaks deeply to his belief that the first Advent of Christ is a radical beginning.  Much like the gospel writer Mark, this Advent is the end of the world as we know it, and for those of us who long for the coming of God, we can echo R.E.M.s chorus  “and I feel fine.”
John’s prologue makes remarkable claims about God and Christ to set the tone for his gospel writing.  John’s gospel stands apart from the other gospels in his time line of Jesus’ life, in the stories he includes and even in the voice that Jesus uses.  While in other gospels, Jesus encourages some secrecy to his true identity, in John’s gospel, Jesus is making “I am” statements left and right.  Today, we lay the foundation for this gospel that we will focus on during the Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter seasons.

Prayer: God-with-us, holy one among us, shine light in the dark places of our lives, our communities and our world so that we can see what we are blind to.  Open our hearts so that we can embody your welcome.  Amen.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What God desires from us

Daily reading: Mark 1:1-8
Saturday, December 16, 2017

What we learn is that this Kingdom that Jesus teaches us about requires our participation.  In order to be part of it, to recognize it and to live as citizens in it, we have to prepare by participating in some spiritual house cleaning if you will: Which isn’t all that popular during this season that tends to lend itself to being self-indulgent and self serving.  John calls for us to be self-emptying.  In order to make room for God there might be some habits that we have to leave behind.

Today, we are to ask ourselves “is this the way it is supposed to be?”  This is a question of expectation. Is saying a few prayers about social justice the kind of preparation that God requires?  Or does God require that we take a look at what we are doing during the week that might be supporting some while oppressing others?  How may my words and actions cause breaks in other’s lives?


Promising God, open me to your movement in and among me!  May I see need where you see it, in myself and in my community.  Help me to be active in your kingdom building.  Amen.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Preparing

Daily reading: Mark 1:1-8
Friday, December 15, 2017

We have to actually go into the desert in order to hear this word from John.  We have to make the effort to step away from our busy lives and retreat into the desert, away from the comforts of the city in order to hear his cry.

John’s location is significant in this story. He is in Jordan River, the last place on the highway that the returning exiles would pass through before returning to their homeland that has been utterly destroyed and go through the long hard process of rebuilding.   So John situates himself where the people would have this memory of the journey their ancestors took, reminding them that this journey we take is not easy, it takes us away from the comforts of home, and calls for us to do the hard action of rebuilding.  John is preaching about the coming a new kingdom, not one that is built with bricks and mortar, but calls for work none-the-less.  He teaches us that it is through confession and repentance that we are able to enter into it.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ according to Mark lies in message, preparation and expectation.  And you may wonder if God is all powerful then why would God need us to prepare anything in order for God to come down? 


Promising God, open me to your movement in and among me!  May I see need where you see it, in myself and in my community.  Help me to be active in your kingdom building.  Amen.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Obstacles

Daily reading: Mark 1:1-8
Thursday, December 14, 2017

Yet we don’t want to hear John, we would rather hear the stories of the baby being born, without having to think too much about it.  We want the lullabies about baby Jesus without the prophet, we want redemption without judgment.  Yet John reminds us that in order to fully understand the baby Jesus, we have to prepare ourselves.
John calls for a construction project in the desert, echoing the words of Isaiah.  There is to be a highway in the desert where there once was none, valleys are to be lifted up and mountains are to be made low, the rough places are to be smoothed, in other words there is to be a massive removal of obstacles.  So I have to wonder what obstacles might be in our way? 

Obstacles of wanting to go back in time?

Obstacles of measuring success by numbers?

Obstacles of not fully believing that God is present in our exile or in our journey home?

Obstacles that lead us to the believe that the status quo is grounds for closing off different perspectives?


Promising God, open me to your movement in and among me!  May I see need where you see it, in myself and in my community.  Help me to be active in your kingdom building.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Is this the way it's supposed to be?

Daily reading: Mark 1:1-8
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

While we visualize John out in the middle of nowhere, outside the control of the oppressive Roman forces, outside the nicely decorated temples, away from the bustle of vendors and shopper in the city squares.  John seems to be at a safe distance in this story from really having to bother our lives.

And I have to wonder if we really want to be bothered this Advent season, after all how did repentance and confession get squeezed into our “decking the halls” and “riding in a one horse opened sleigh”? 
In this passage, John reminds us that Advent is a season of introspection, of prayer and repentance, much like the season of Lent that leads up to Easter.  Yet our daily lives might not reflect this spiritual journey we are to embark upon.

Instead, we may find ourselves standing in long lines.  Perhaps you read in the papers about the fights that broke out on black Friday in stores.    And I have to wonder “is this the way it is supposed to be?”  Is the way that we prepare the way for the Lord, by fighting in the stores over discounted merchandise?

When I hear about this like I do, every Saturday after black Friday, I wonder isn’t there something really worth fighting for, more than a super deal on a big screen t.v.?  And we all know that there is, there are gross injustices in our world, there is oppression and hunger and things even much worse going on that can lead us to ask “is this the way it is supposed to be?”

“Is this the way it is supposed to be?”  cries John, “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make God’s paths straight!”


Promising God, open me to your movement in and among me!  May I see need where you see it, in myself and in my community.  Help me to be active in your kingdom building.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fulfilled and Fulfilling

Daily reading: Mark 1:1-8
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Mark helps his readers to see that God was active in the past and God is active now and God will be active in the future.  He reminds us of Isaiah’s fulfilled prophecy and then introduces us to John, who shares the same longing of the prophet Isaiah, for God to come near and make the world right.  As Fred Craddock wrote, “although the coming of Christ is a new thing God is doing, it is not without a past.  John’s preaching is news, good news, but is has a history, a memory.  Memory is the soil in which hope survives, and that which is remembered is the promise of a faithful God.”

Everything about John points to this past, present and future of God’s promise.  John’s dress and diet remind us of the prophet Elijah, one who was strong and survived in the desert on God’s provision as he remained faithful despite being hunted by his king and queen.


Promising God, open me to your movement in and among me!  May I see need where you see it, in myself and in my community.  Help me to be active in your kingdom building.  Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Promise

Daily reading: Mark 1:1-8
Monday, December 11, 2017

Motion is a key phrase in Mark’s gospel.  Mark hits the ground running in his telling of the good news.  There is immediacy to Mark’s gospel, in part because he uses the word “immediately” continually throughout his book but also because he doesn’t share in a long explanation of how Jesus came to be.  He shies away from the genealogies we find in Matthew and Luke and the stories of Jesus before he began his ministry. Mark does not linger on the stories of Mary and Joseph’s visit from the angel Gabriel, or on the visit from the shepherds and wise men.  Here we will find no mention of the birth in Bethlehem.  Mark reminds us that Jesus grew up. 

Mark grounds his gospel in promise.  Many scholars believe that the first line of his gospel was originally the title of the gospel, so that the real beginning begins with promise, the promise that we have from the prophet Isaiah.  “Look, I am sending my messenger before you.  He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”

This promise is grounded in Israel’s struggle with oppression and it sets up certain expectations for us even today. 


Promising God, open me to your movement in and among me!  May I see need where you see it, in myself and in my community.  Help me to be active in your kingdom building.  Amen.

What are we waiting for?

Daily reading: Mark 1:1-8
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Last week we explored the theme of waiting in worship and lit the first Advent candle of waiting.  Today, the candle of expectation has been lit and joins the candle of waiting.

Have you ever noticed that our waiting experience changes depending upon what we are waiting for?  We can wait with excitement or we can wait with dread.  Waiting can be a build up to something heart breaking and waiting can also be a build up to a release. 

In Advent, we wait because we know that God’s timing is not our timing and God is active in our world.  In Advent we remember the promises that God has made to God’s people, to preach good news to the poor,  to liberate  the oppressed, to set the prisoner free, to recover the sight of the blind, and to proclaim the year of Jubilee when economic in-balances are erased.


Promising God, open me to your movement in and among me!  May I see need where you see it, in myself and in my community.  Help me to be active in your kingdom building.  Amen.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Active Waiting

Daily reading: Mark 13:24-37
Friday, December 8, 2017

Mark invites us to actively wait for Christ, to pray for God’s presence, for God’s justice.  We wait for Christ, because we acknowledge that our world is broken and is in need of healing.  We wait for Christ because we acknowledge that we are broken and we cause brokenness. 

Active waiting happens when are preparing for the arrival of someone or something.  Parents nest in the late stages of pregnancy.  Students gather supplies for school at the end of summer vacation.  Hosts clean their homes and put clean linens on the beds as they anticipate the arrival of guests.  What might you do this season to actively wait spiritually?  How might God be calling you to seek God’s presence in the world this season?  We actively wait by staying alert and by seeking out places where the world’s great needs and our own needs meet.
We wait for Christ because in our active state of being alert together we are awakened to Christ’s presence.
 

Surprising God, in our active waiting, awaken our sense of call to follow you.  Open our eyes to the needs within us and around us and help us to be bold in making meaningful connections during this holy season of Advent.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Awake!

Daily reading: Mark 13:24-37
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

This passage is known as a mini-apocalyptic passage.  The universe will reverberate with the coming of Christ as the sun and moon become dark, stars will fall from the sky and other heavenly bodies will shake as angels come to gather the chosen people.  In other words, this second Advent will be the end of the world as we know it.
 
This coming of Christ is completely and utterly out of our hands and that is hard for us to grasp.    It reminds us that we are not God and we cannot control or protect God. 

The seasons will change, kings will rise and fall from power, nations will too rise and fall, but God will remain constant. 

No one knows when the day or hour will come.  But for those who watch and wait, they will know the time is coming near just as we know when the seasons are changing.  We are to remain awake and alert just as a servant is as he/she waits for the head of the household to return.
 

Surprising God, in our active waiting, awaken our sense of call to follow you.  Open our eyes to the needs within us and around us and help us to be bold in making meaningful connections during this holy season of Advent.  Amen.

Monday, December 4, 2017

An in-breaking

Daily reading: Mark 13:24-37
Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent is a season of active waiting, a season of looking back, being fully aware in the present and anticipating the future.  It is a season when we hone our skill of active waiting, because, as followers of Christ, we are always waiting for Christ’s return. And so we begin the season with a passage of scripture that reminds us to watch out and to stay alert because we do not know the time when Christ will return.

For the next two weeks, we will be looking at Mark’s gospel and there is something important to note about his gospel.  Mark’s gospel does not have an infancy narrative.  Instead, Jesus is introduced by his cousin, John, out in the wilderness and in the baptismal waters of the Jordan, when the heavens are said to have torn apart or split open.   This is important to remember, for God according to Mark, has entered into our world in a radically new way that cannot be reversed.  There is this in-breaking that changes everything; it is the end of the world as we know it.


Surprising God, in our active waiting, awaken our sense of call to follow you.  Open our eyes to the needs within us and around us and help us to be bold in making meaningful connections during this holy season of Advent.  Amen.

The beginning of Advent

Daily reading: Mark 13:24-37
Sunday, December 3, 2017

Today marks the beginning of the season of Advent; it also marks the beginning of a new church year.  For the seasons of Christmas and of Easter we have built into our worship liturgy a period of preparation.  Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas; it is marked by the color purple, a royal color of our King who was born in a manger not in a palace.  A lot of what we do during this time of the year is preparation for the Christmas holiday.  We decorate our homes, we purchase presents and give them, and we go to parties and celebrate.  We even do our fair share of waiting during this season: we wait in lines when we travel, we wait in long checkout lines at the stores, we wait for our on-line purchases to arrive, we wait to see our relatives. 

Yet we gather here on Sunday morning to remind ourselves that we wait for something greater.  Advent is the time of preparation for God’s in breaking into our world:  of God meeting us where we are in our joy or in our pain, to be present with us.  It reminds us that we cannot control God and so we wait for Christ to return.


Surprising God, in our active waiting, awaken our sense of call to follow you.  Open our eyes to the needs within us and around us and help us to be bold in making meaningful connections during this holy season of Advent.  Amen.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Plans for the community

Daily reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
Friday, December 1, 2017

Then in the Hebrew God says, in good southern fashion, I have plans for y’all.  God has plans for the community.  We often take this phrase and turn it into an individual mandate but that is not is what is said here.  God has plans for the welfare of the community and radically God is seen to be active in and among a place outside of the land of promise. 
Texts like this one from Jeremiah and the other prophets that speak to a community in exile, a community that continues to live away from the Promise Land, generate an expanded understanding of how God is present everywhere. 
You may find that you are currently in a situation that cannot be changed, no matter how much you want things to be different, and it is out of your hands. 
When we are in exile we find ourselves saying things like, “we’ve never done it this way before.”  And that can either be simply an observation if we say it with enthusiasm “we’ve never done it this way before!” or it can be a limiting statement, “we’ve never done it this way before.”
The question in these situations is how can we amidst such trying circumstances live life faithfully?   How can we find joy in our exile?
Jeremiah offers a word of hope to the people living in exile and to us today.  With the help of God roadblocks or impasses are turned into opportunities for growth and grace.  They allow us time to contemplate the internal blocks we put into place that keep us from moving forward.  However we need to acknowledge that his words can be hard to hear.

Long suffering God, may we know your presence in and among our moments of suffering.  May we take comfort that you are always present with us, even when we feel very far from you.  Amen.

Waiting

Daily reading: Isaiah 40:1-11 Monday December 10, 2018 Focus passage:  Go up on a high mountain, messenger Zion!  Raise your voice a...