Friday, December 15, 2017

Prayer for Friday of Advent 2

advent 2 candles

Hello God! In the church we've been in the thick of Advent; out there in the world and in our partly in here / partly out there social media lives we've been hearing sounds of the season, glancing at shiny and even sometimes socially meaningful gift suggestions. Everywhere we go, we're still waiting for Christmas, for the rebirth of love and hope among us, for the light darkness cannot overcome. Everywhere we go, please help us be that love and that hope; help us live as the light that won't leave. Thank you, God! In Jesus' name, amen!


Written for Bruce Reyes-Chow's C4CW Facebook group

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Porch Stories :: Faithful Living

porch stories 13 December faithful living

Today for her Porch Story Kristin Hill Taylor's about service projects as a way of Living Out Our Faith.

The transformation and literal resurrection of the old into the new is a huge part of the witness of scripture, a major aspect of biblical religion. God named Abram/Abraham "faithful" or righteous {one of God's attributes!} because Abram walked out in trust toward the place God promised to show him later. In other words, Abraham had no destination in his imagination; he'd journey as in Rich Mullins' song "Step by Step":
Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land
And I am that, no less than he
And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach

God choosing and claiming us by grace and not because anything we do {or even because of a loving or generous attitude} is central to our theology, yet God's calling and enabling us to be his transformative presence in the world is fundamental to our identity as God's people. When she talks about living out faith, bringing faith or trust in God to life, Kristin writes about activities that help change people's lives. I've received tremendous satisfaction from serving at soup kitchens and at Thursday evening community dinner. I've helped with several aspects of Habitat for Humanity houses. The brightly colored art and design I do for church and community is a unique way I live out my faith in service. Any of those are small contributions almost any individual can make; they may seem tiny, but you know how many small deductions out of your wallet or your checking account it takes eventually to deplete the entire balance? In the exact same manner, small additions to needs of your workplace, community, family, or organization eventually add up to transformation so complete they amount to resurrection from death, re-filling the balance on the side of life.

Does acting as God's presence in the world redeem us? No, never, not at all. God in Christ Jesus already has saved us. But are those acts of service essential to our step by step trust in God? Absolutely! Theologian of grace Martin Luther said he loved good works so much he'd like to be called the Doctor of Good Works!

Maybe because I have a not unusual tendency to act more like a human doing than a human being a lot of the time {please notice me! Check out everything I've been doing! Let me show you my list!}, I could make lists of lists of help-filled activities I've enjoyed. But it's winter in the northern hemisphere and again it's that season of Chanukah-Nativity-New Year parties, gifts, and festivities that catapults many people into a deep blue funk, sometimes triggers serious depression. As much as I glory in making myself feel good by doing observable and quantifiable service projects and making physical gifts literally to present, one of the best ways anyone can live out their faith and make it tangible, audible, and visible is by simply being alongside others. Sometimes just sitting. Often listening and hearing their stories. Nothing spectacular, nothing anyone else ever will know about.

Kristin concludes by remaining herself, "Obviously, what we're able to do changes with seasons in life. Serving together has reminded me not to grow too comfortable in on stage because God is always working. I don't want to miss what He has for us because I'm growing too comfortable in my own ways." That next season in life might be three or four years from now, or it might be near as the season of spring 2018. God calls us faithful and righteous because we follow his call. That means putting aside all the noise and activity; it means being still and simply listening to God in order to hear and discern God's call and the next step toward that place God will show us—when we get there.

porch stories button

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Porch Stories :: Hope

porch stories 06 December hope

For her Porch Story this week, as Kristin Hill Taylor considers The Thrill & Pain of Hope, she tells us about a painful ear condition and anticipates {isn't anticipation a variety of hope?} celebrating the arrival of Jesus in our midst.

Last Sunday the church opened a new Year of Grace with the season of Advent, the nearly-winter month {in the northern hemisphere} we formally watch and wait for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. The word advent has roots in the Latin ad-venire, toward-coming—just like adventure! Every year Advent begins with a splash of scriptural apocalyptic, signaling the end of the world as we've known it.

Churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary for their scripture readings started listening to and studying the gospel according to Mark for this new liturgical year. Most weeks in the lectionary we hear an Old Testament reading from one of the prophets; as I explained to my adult Sunday School class, people tend to think of Hebrew Bible prophets calling people to repentance {to some extent they did—they also lined out if-then alternatives}, but more than a change in human attitude, behavior, and outlook, prophecy proclaimed the inbreaking of the grace-filled reign of God, the end of the old, the birth of the new creation. They announced resurrection from actual death!

Blue is the color for Advent; blue is the color of hope. Advent with its hope is a harbinger of Easter, the great Trinitarian feast of resurrection we celebrate as the fulfillment of hope. "Advent" comes from the same root as adventure. Are we ready to trust God through the season of Advent and beyond as we anticipate the defeat of death, the adventure of resurrection, the reality of the new creation? I hope so!

porch stories button

Prayer for Thursday of Advent 1

Advent 1 candles

God of grace, God of unmediated presence, you don't need another news bulletin. You already know what's been happening on earth—you've been in the midst of it. We've entered another season of advent. Blue is advent's color for the hope of newness and rebirth; blue sometimes is advent's color because of sorrow. Because of grief. Loss. Waiting in the dark until days grow longer and events resolve can be tough. Please help us shine as your light and your hope for our neighbors who long for morning, our friends who yearn for resurrection. In the name of Jesus, Light of the World, amen.


Written for Bruce Reyes-Chow's C4CW Facebook group

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Five Minute Friday • Near

I've been playing and working catch-up, but I had to Five Minute Friday this week because Kate Motaung's near prompt aligns with my preparation for introducing the Gospel according to Mark on Sunday. Everyone already knows Mark's gospel quite well, but with the start of a new Revised Common Lectionary year B that's Mark's year, I needed to create a quick overview. I'm also Friday Fiving because of the beautiful illustration Kate provided; I took the liberty of decorating her banner photo for my header.

five minute friday near

A few minutes ago on urban wilderness I blogged a short overview of the Gospel According to Mark I'll use to open my adult SS class session tomorrow. Similar to many people today, back in those days of the Ancient Near East (love that ANE terminology!) people tended to think of God far away, unapproachable, distant, and uninvolved. Or if they believed God was a little closer, they imagined God contained and protected in a space or place like the Jerusalem temple they'd worked so hard to build. Particularly as we've studied a pericope or selection from one of the four gospels each week, we've been discovering and uncovering a God who's anything but distant and far away, anything but unapproachable and uninvolved in creation—and in our own sometimes difficult lives and pressing concerns, in our joys and everyday routines! Especially as God self-reveals in Jesus of Nazareth, God has drawn near to earth, to creation. So near that God has chosen to live as one of us, as a human, in a body formed from stuff of the earth. But paradoxically, God-with-us, close-to-us still is the God of the Hebrew scriptures who fills heaven and earth, who remains free, elusive, and can't remotely be contained in space or in time. But you already knew that!

Given that humans tend to be more mimetic than thoughtful, the temple concept partly imitated gods of other ANE religions that mostly were gods for a certain place. Not only Mark but all the gospels reveal God so near that in Jesus God becomes and lives as part of creation—yet we find actual "near" vocabulary more in the deutero-Pauline theology of Ephesians and Colossians than elsewhere in scripture. In any case, as another Advent dawns, literally breaks open this week, let's remember God's abiding passion for all of us. God incarnate as a baby in the Bethlehem manger. God embodied in each of us so we can live as God's presence very near to our neighbors, friends – and enemies.

disclaimer: I wrote this very quickly in a little less than five minutes, but unlike most weeks, I found too many discrepancies and discontinuities, and In the interest of overall coherence, I edited so it would make sense, so this represents closer to fifteen minutes than to five.

five minute friday near five minute friday new button

Friday, December 01, 2017

Damian Chandler • The Crooked Christmas Tree

crooked Christmas Tree book coverThe Crooked Christmas Tree by Damian Chandler is a nice book for seasoned Christians and possibly to help introduce newcomers to God's love and grace for each of us. Each mini-chapter is really really short; you could make this into an Advent season devotional book, follow the author's chronicle of purchasing, definitely not liking, gaining insight into, and then loving the Crooked Christmas Tree his kids chose. Pastor Damian Chandler parallels the less than perfect condition and appearance of the evergreen (not quite ever-eternally verdant, because in the end its needles turn brown) and his attempts to make it acceptable, then finally beautiful, with God's redemption of human sinfulness and our less than attractive traits and habits. I realize this is a very "slim volume," and nothing is comprehensive, but I'd have appreciated more emphasis on God's gracious redemptive activity in Jesus Christ restoring humanity's original Imago Dei (the image of the divine in which God created us) rather than what comes across as original sinfulness and depravity.

Pastor Chandler's interaction with the sex worker (strip teaser?) when he recognizes her vulnerability and essential beauty and then invites her to the revival he'll be preaching is a strong and stunning model for us to follow as it demonstrates one way he followed Jesus' example. And I love how he describes chopping the truly finished-for-Christmas tree into three pieces, taking it to the curb for recycling, and tells us how the tree will get shredded and return to the earth it grew from as mulch to become a life-giving matrix for other trees and vegetation that in turn will help restore life to humanity and the rest of God's natural creation. Jesus of Nazareth on the tree of the cross of Calvary?!

Bringing his three kids and his spouse into the story about the crooked Christmas tree is an excellent device, but I got confused. In the book his kids apparently are very young; they weren't a whole lot older and bigger in Chandler family pictures I found online. Yet the author refers to decorating the tree with years of stored school craft projects! I doubt the kids had gotten much beyond preschool at their ages in the book, not much further in their online photos, so maybe that could be revised? All in all, very well done!

my amazon review: very well done!