Well, the time has come, and all good things eventually come to an end. This will be my final time sending out these Prayers/Devotions to you. Beginning in January, you will be in the capable hands of Orrinda Stockton, so be sure to open the email when you receive it. I thank you for this opportunity, and for all the support you've given me over the years.
Logically, I've been thinking of endings. I don't know of anyone who will be sorry to see 2020 go, as it's been quite a trying year. The end of a Presidential term is coming, and of course, my time on the UMRA Executive Committee. When one thing ends, another generally begins. We think we have an idea of how the new thing will go, but we never really do. An ending is always bittersweet as we say good-bye to all we've known, and to people we've come to love and care for. And then we're asked to take a step, or leap, of faith into the unknown and begin something new.
When Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples he gave them tasks to accomplish: preach, teach, baptise, make disciples, care for others as I've cared for you, feed, visit, give water to those who ask. He also gave them encouragement that he was going to prepare a new and better place for them to eventually inhabit. Finally, he reminded them that he would always be with them, no matter what.
I would encourage you to continue to be the disciples God has called you to be, and to allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you in the path you are to take.
Loving God, we thank you for endings and beginnings. We thank you for your call in our lives, which is ever changing, and always the same. We thank you for angels among us who help us along the way, and hold us up when we're having trouble putting one foot in front of the other. And in this season of Advent and Christmas, we thank you that you chose to become incarnate among us to show us how we are to live our lives and remain always in contact with you. Be with us and guide us always...Amen.
I don't want to watch the news. I don't want to read the papers or magazines. I don't want to see most commercials. I have a difficult time reading Facebook posts. I am weary. I am over-stimulated. When our kids would get over-stimulated we would swaddle them, and put them in a dark, quiet room. When they were a bit older we'd have them run around the house a number of times. Some people put their kids in time-out. The point of each being to distract them from whatever is over-stimulating them, and let them focus either on something else, or on nothing. That's what I need, something to take my mind off the elections, the explosions, the shootings, the lying, the arrogance, the carelessness for the needs of others, the unwillingness to do one's job, the homelessness, the joblessness, the hunger, the climate, the extinctions...
Scripture tells us that when God was finished creating the heavens and the earth, God rested. The Gospels remind us that fairly often Jesus would get away: to a quiet place alone, to his own house or the house of friends, to places in the hills, or a boat out on the lake. He would get away from the people and their needs, from the Romans and their demands, from the religious authorities and their politics... He had to get away to re-set himself, to remind himself of who he was and what he was there to do. He needed to just breathe, and enjoy the creation around him. Time away to recharge, to relax, to re-energize, to take a step back and re-evaluate. Just as for Jesus, it will all be there when I get back, but for a little while, all that exists is me, and my communication with God. I encourage you to join me, separately. Take a break. Renew your spirit. Get back in touch with God. Breathe.
Loving God, we confess that at times the needs of the world, the weight of the world completely overwhelms us. There is more to do than we can possibly do. There is more that needs our attention than we have attention to give it. There are new learning curves, new needs popping up in our communities, new decisions that must be made, and we feel the need to fix it all. Help us to set boundaries, and we realize we cannot do it all. We cannot address it all. We cannot fix it all. We know we are to be your hands and feet on the earth, but we need your guidance as to which things we need to focus on, and which we need to leave to someone else. Give us grace to pull away, withdraw, regroup, and return ready to serve your people once again....Amen
As with many of you, I suspect, I have been mesmerized in watching the news, reading articles, and absorbing Facebook information. In the past few weeks, it seems the most dangerous thing a person could be in America is black. Not that it was ever easy, but that fact seems to have been driven home much more strenuously in the past few weeks. A woman shot by police as she slept in her bed. A man killed by vigilantes as he took his daily jog. A man who had the audacity to remind a woman of the rules for having dogs in a park. A woman sitting on a bench in a park near her home. Teens who didn't get out of their car as quickly as police officers thought they should have. A man pepper sprayed in the face for standing quietly while protesting, and a man under arrest dying while three police officers knelt on him until he could no longer breathe. None of these people was doing anything threatening or overtly troublesome. Each one singled out for nothing more than the color of their skin. And in the ensuing protests, white people interjecting themselves with fire, looting, and bullets to ramp up the actions to riot level. All of this shining a bright light on what has been just barely under the surface, but given permission to come out into the light of day, even to being seen as acceptable in some quarters.
On my Facebook page, a poor soul made the mistake of saying that All Lives Matter, and the gathered community raged around him for hours. Finally someone used this analogy, and I think it's good. There were 100 sheep, and one was separated from the rest. Jesus went out looking for the one. When he returned with the one, the 99 all said, "You left us alone. Didn't our lives matter?" To which Jesus responded, "Yes, but in that moment, this sheep was in trouble, and you were safe." Yes, all lives matter. Yes, blue lives matter. Yes, brown lives matter. But right now it is black lives that are in trouble, and it is black lives that must be lifted up and especially cared-for right now. It is systems and beliefs and pre-conceptions around black lives that must change. And it is, for those of us who are part of the 99, our own mindsets and sense of privilege that must be challenged, so the one can be brought safely back into the fold.
God, who loves us with a love that will not let us go, we do all stand in the need of your love and mercy at this time. Some need to just be wrapped in your love and reminded that they don't deserve what's happening, and that they are worthy. Some need to learn that all persons are persons, and not animals to be treated carelessly, and with disdain. Some need to find ways to be supportive, while also challenging their own prejudices and fears. Each of us need courage to bring change to our country, and to ensure that systems change so these kinds of things do not keep happening. Send your Spirit to comfort, to lead, to encourage us that in everything we will be your disciples, and live together as you intend....Amen.
My world has gotten smaller in increments. First it was: don't gather with more than 50 people. Then: don't gather with more than 10. Then: don't gather with more than 6. Then: we're closing the dining halls, so you'll have to carry-out. Then: don't leave campus. Then: don't leave your house except to walk around outside. Then: we'll deliver meals to you. Yesterday: just leave your trash outside your door, and we will pick it up. I read an article today that said that New Zealand had just gone cold turkey. When they shut down, they shut everything down all at once. I think that would have been easier. There for a while it was hard to keep track of what we could and could not do. And there are the people still working, and the clergy and teachers on a steep technology learning curve. I don't need to tell you these are difficult times we're living in.
I think about Mary and Joseph. They lived under Roman rule. They had to be careful what they said and did. They could be ordered around by the Romans at a moment's notice. When told to go to Bethlehem to be counted, Joseph would have had to shut down his carpenter shop for the journey, so they would have no income. Then they ended up with an unplanned trip for a couple of years in Egypt. (I know, I'm consolidating stories and myths, here, but stay with me.) Returning home, they probably had to move in with family until they could get back on their feet. It was a very trying time, but those of us who've come after are so appreciative of the sacrifices they made.
Loving God, we are so grateful for the people who are helping us all to survive, or at least to go peacefully. We thank you for the medical professionals on the front lines. We thank you for the grocery, delivery, and restaurant workers helping us to stay fed. We thank you for the scientists, who even now are rushing to find not only a cure, but a way to help us all through this. We know that this will not last forever, but how different the world will be when it's over. And through it all, we know that you are walking with us, and before us, and that you will lead and guide us in the rebuilding when this is all over. Be with those who grieve, with those who are ill, with those in fear, and with all of us as we seek to continue to be the church in the world. Amen.
I've been thinking a lot about money these days. Oh, not mine, but everyone else's. At least, that's how it feels. With the Presidential nomination season fully in place, it seems all I hear about is how much money this one has, how much that one will spend, how much the other one has spent, and what it all will mean to all our pocketbooks in the future. We seem to be moving from a system in which from the lowest income to the highest was a continuum, to one in which there are folks on the low end, folks in a blob in the middle, and folks so far on the upper we can't see them or imagine their incomes. I've been on the low end, and I know how exhausting and demoralizing it can be. I can't imagine being on the top, mostly because whenever I get "extra" money I give it away. How does a person just continually accumulate wealth? I don't get it.
Jesus spoke often about poverty, wealth, and what to do with our money. I think the statements boil down to this: If your wealth gets between you and your relationship with God, get rid of it; If your wealth is more than you need (NEED being the operative word), give the excess away; If you have received it by immoral/unethical means then stop and give it back. I don't imagine that the obscenely wealthy among us will do any of the above, which is why we're always surprised when they do become benevolent, but we in the middle must not become complacent. It is easy for us to justify holding on to what we have in case we need it. We cannot live our lives in fear. Decide what your absolute needs are, then step out in faith and share with others.
Holy God who supplies all our needs, we come before you admitting that money is a subject that often consumes us. While the love of money might be the root of all evil, just thinking about money can also disrupt our ability to follow you as we know we should. Keep us from concentrating on money to the point that we miss opportunities for ministry in your name. Free us to joyfully follow you and serve your people in whatever way you need. Let us rely on you to care for us as you do the plants and animals around us. Amen
The following was written by a friend, and it moved me. I asked, and received, her permission to share it with you all:
Third Sunday of AdventWeek of: December 15, 2019
Scripture: Luke 1:46b-55
... my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
(Luke 1:47-50, NRSV)
DevotionAnd yet she persisted.
In spite of her lowly station in life, in spite of her marginalization by culture and society, in spite of all the chaos, Mary says "yes." For her "yes," she is granted one of the greatest gifts of all time, to bear the very body of Jesus the Christ in her womb. She willingly holds the incarnation of God-with-us in her belly. Lifting that belly, she sings out one of the most victorious songs ever sung.
In the very act of saying "yes" to God's call, Mary knows that God has lifted the lowly. Mary knows that the hungry are being fed and that God's mercy is great. She sings in hope with assurance that God will fulfill the promises made to her ancestors.
This Sunday we light three candles, with the third being historically pink to celebrate Gaudete ["Rejoice ye"] Sunday. This week of Advent is often seen as a more joyful time as we look through the victorious eyes of Mary to the coming of God in human flesh. You could say that we have been granted liturgical license to fling our arms open with an abandoned shout of "yes"!
Prayerful Reflection:May we say "yes" to God in spite of whatever station we find ourselves. May we seek with God to lift the marginalized, to feed the hungry, and to show mercy. In doing these actions, we join Mary on this journey of birthing God again on earth in this time and space, and we rejoice!
Director of Music, Blue Ridge Presbyterian Church, Raytown, MO
Artist in Residence, Community Christian Church, Kansas City, MO
It's 4:30 in the afternoon, and it is becoming dark. Part of that is the building across the street. It blocks whatever sunshine might still be there, but it is getting darker. I think about our ancestors who couldn't just go flip a light switch to brighten their environment. And even though candles and oil lamps do give light, it isn't really enough to do much beyond the basic requirements of life. And that doesn't even begin to touch TV, radio, computers, etc. Darkness requires us to slow down. We can't see as well where we're going, and could get lost, or trip over something. Darkness changes the way things look. Shadows are deeper, familiar things look strange, and many people are lulled into sleep. We tend to draw into ourselves, and to be quieter.
Into this nighttime darkness, to shepherds tending their flocks, came angels. Now, they might have just appeared as men, and walked quietly up to the shepherds. But most of the time we envision a very bright angel appearing in the sky, then being joined by many, many more. Scripture tells us they were terrified. Well, yes! The night is dark and calm, the sheep are sleeping, the shepherds may be talking quietly as they listen for the sound of predators. Into this calm quiet comes...BAM!! light, sound, speaking, singing, angels for goodness' sake! No wonder they were terrified. And the angel tells them to be calm. Be still. To not be afraid, in fact, to rejoice. It's no wonder they decided o go into town to see what the angels were talking about. In their shoes, wouldn't you?
Loving God, into the darkness of the night came the light of angelic messengers. Into the darkness of our world came the light of Messiah. Into the darkness of our lives you continue to come, often in the form of love from friends and neighbors. Some of us are struggling with doubt, fear, and grief, but we know that no matter what we face your light of love will go with us and before us. No matter how dark the night may be, Joy comes with the morning. May your love and mercy surround us, and beckon us out of our darkness into the light, to see what new thing you are doing today. Amen.
I watched a movie the other day that was set in Australia. Christmas came, and the producers had a very tongue-in-cheek way of acknowledging the conflict between most of the world's understanding of Christmas with cold, snow, ice, bad weather, and that experienced by those in the southern hemisphere. While "Let it snow" was playing they showed shots of people surfing, swimming, and playing in the sand of the beach. The incongruity was jarring, but also really funny.
Jesus' ministry, or for that matter, his whole life, seemed to be incongruous. The world was waiting for Messiah to come riding in on a white horse with armor all around. He came riding on a donkey with just his regular clothes. The world expected him to overthrow the oppressive Roman Empire. He overturned tables in the temple. The world expected fire and brimstone. He brought love and acceptance. He wasn't at all what the world was expecting, and we, as his followers, must also stand outside of the world's expectations. We are called to live humbly, to love mightily, to break down oppressive systems to bring justice to the world, to speak for those who are voiceless, to challenge the status quo. Dangerous? Yes. Look what happened to our leader. But we are not called to live quietly and hide from the world, but to enter it boldly to bring about the change that needs to be made. Are you ready to live in-congruently?
You call us, O God, to live in ministry to your world, and to continue the work of bringing your reign even on Earth. In doing this you do not call us to wear capes and tights with big red S or W on them. You do not call us to get bitten by radioactive spiders or blasted through with gamma rays. You do call us to step out in faith to make changes that need to be made. You call us to be ourselves, but to do that in the strength of your Spirit. With the courage that comes from you we go forward to do your bidding, so that the world will be a better place for all your people....Amen.
When we moved in there was a couple living across the hall. She was small, strong, determined, and fiercely loyal to her husband. He was in a wheelchair, could only grunt, and his body was ravaged by Parkinson's. He died last week, and suddenly all of Columbia was talking about him. Professor of Sociology. Strong advocate for peace with justice. Leader in every movement to stand beside the marginalized and oppressed for 50 years or so. He was a leader in his church, and a mentor to many in the community. People wrote letters in newspapers, on Facebook, and on his Obituary Page online. All I knew was he was in a wheelchair, couldn't talk, loved fried zucchini, and hated having to move to Assisted Living when his wife became unable to lift him. I often become frustrated not knowing who these people were before they came here. A lot of Professors, a Professional Football player, phenomenal musicians, and Mel West. I was in a conversation the other day with a man who not only knew about, but was actively involved with many of the projects my dad worked on. We enjoyed conversing with someone else who understood what we were each talking about.
Jesus met and interacted with many people who had been labeled by their communities: The whore, the tax collector, the Scribe, the Roman Soldier, the leper, etc. He looked beyond the reality of their current situation to the person within. He talked with them, he got to know the person behind the label. Where I live he would see beyond the Parkinson's guy in the wheelchair, the wanderer, the really grumpy old guy, the woman who never smiles, the woman who introduces herself to you every time you meet--even if its only been 5 minutes. He would take the time to sit down and listen as they talked about their past, their path, their hopes and dreams. It is the least we owe to those around us: to drop the labels and get to know the person, to honor the person, to hear the person, to love the person.
God, who sees through the labels and the outward appearance to the person within, we rejoice that in seeing us for who we really are, you love us. You know our hopes and dreams. You know our failures and foibles. You know our fears and faults. You know how very much we want to be a part of helping your reality to come to pass. Help us also to do that with and for the people around us, so that they might see and feel your love through us.......Amen.