Freedom check & sharing our stories (Galatians 5:1,6,13-26)

Just yesterday we gathered round the table as we do. With windows open, lights on and fans spinning we opened in prayer. Then we began checking-in with the homework (which many had said was hard!). The sharing started slowly but then we got into it.

In general the theme seemed to be that “Yes” we (I) are(am) set free, that God has set us free from sin. Most folks were able to say this — some with more strength and quickness than others, but in general this was named as yes indeed set free from the sin! However, there were questions as to what exactly does it mean to be free as well as a mention of set free from (what) & for (what)? And here was where much of the conversation stayed. Folks were set free by God — BUT, found they themselves got a bit in the way of living free. Also, there was the insight and offering that this was a freedom to choose God — but that’s not necessarily a freedom to do whatever they wanted (just a freedom to choose God’s way instead of sin’s way) — naming though that one is either “enslaved” to sin or “enslaved” to God…but that there’s not that “open freedom” to choose whatever one might want. (There was a mention that hey y’all — sin looks sexy — if it didn’t we likely wouldn’t want to choose it!) And while we’ve been set free from sin & to choose God’s way, there also was the mention of how Paul names that what he wants to do he doesn’t and what he doesn’t want to do he does (in other words, I want to do good but I don’t always seem to do what I want….).

It felt as though there was some frustration here. Being set free — to live as God wants (and still failing). Being called to perfection, and knowing that we don’t quite always get it right. And a beautiful honesty of trying to get there, of allowing the Holy Spirit to prompt us and us wanting to give the Holy Spirit the authority to help us out! And as so often is the case — the scripture we would turn too was even named earlier as something that helps us see the fruit of living in this freedom.

We didn’t read the whole chapter (or book) but we turned to Galations 5:1,6,13-26. It continued the theme of freedom, and begins by stating as those who have been set free to not become burdened again (by/to sin). Now, time (as it always happens) becomes a bit short in our time together (a blessed problem if you ask me!) — but I wonder if we could consider these verses a bit more: it seems that the idea of freedom includes limitations. Verse 13 talks of staying free but not using it to indulge the flesh/sinful nature; verse 14/15 engage how being free seems to include care for (love of!) neighbor — and a warning not to harm/bite each other; and verses 19-26 seem to offer a bit of a framework as to what the freedom of choosing God versus the decision to choose sin will include. What strikes me though is how a free life seems a disciplined life, a structured life, a life that has goodness (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) flowing out of it (by the grace of God). There’s a bounded nature to freedom that I don’t think we often consider. The converse is also true, there is a bounded nature to the decision to choose sin as well. And perhaps bluntly stated one bounded nature promotes and leads to an abundant life and thriving, and the other heads toward death and destruction (even though — both of these may or may not be readily seen or observed).

So where do we go from here in considering our freedom? Well — especially in the body of Christ — we have a freedom to be known (and loved) and to get to know others. AND as Gal. 5:14 mentions, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it seems (to me at least) that one way that we can grow in loving our neighbors — (and yes, that does include your neighbor sitting at the table too!) — is to get to know more about our neighbors. So — for July (& likely August too) we will be getting to know more about each other through sharing our faith stories. The homework is thus praying and thinking about what you will share as we gather round the table.

Y’all — while I will miss some of the stories — I am VERY much looking forward to hearing about the movement of God in everyone’s lives. I know that it will be encouraging & eye opening & an invitation to trust God more!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Are you living FREE? (Luke 4:18-19)

Last Sunday we gathered round the table. We started a little small and with guests (my family!) joining. As is our custom we opened in prayer. Then we began to check in….we began to talk about the homework assignment & question. We tried to talk about if we would live or think any differently if we truly believed/considered that we have more than enough resources to do what God has called us to do/make/be.

Turned out the question was challenging. And also many (if not most or all) shared that actually there is not enough! There’s (never?) enough to meet all the needs. The conversation was full and there was discussion of the needs (individual, communal, global) — there was talk about having more than enough does not only include finances (being able to be hospitable in different ways) — there was discussion of both how if there was more money that someone (we) might have it sure would make it easier to be a great philanthropist. AND there was also the question though about — if there is not “enough” for the things we want and desire to do or if there is not “enough” for that which God calls us to do? Some would say – not enough for any of it. I wonder if we find ourselves to be under-resourced more often when it is a good idea as compared to a God idea that we are trying to accomplish? Not to say that we will find all the resources needed to be “enough” for what God guides us to do, however — when working within God’s will/desire/plans there are often ways where what is needed becomes provided (even if not in the way desired or expected). Also, when doing exactly what God has directed and we hit a wall, how often might it be God inviting and guiding us to someone who has also been called in a similar way and the even larger design is to partner with others to bring about God’s will? That seems rather God-like, that doing God’s will would require working together with others (who might be VERY different parts of the body of Christ!).

But we didn’t stop with the conversation — we just pivoted to scripture, specifically:

Luke 4:18-19 New International Version (NIV)

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

As we listened and tried to listen to what the Holy Spirit highlighted for us quickly it was mentioned the scripture references Isaiah 61:1. We recalled that this was Jesus reading the scroll and that his proclamation of this didn’t go so well. We wondering aloud if this really was true — did Jesus tell the truth — (yes, but…) because there are still poor, still prisoners, still those blind, still those oppressed! And what is the year of the Lord’s favor? Is it the jubilee year? Is it just a year?

And with these questions looming, with scripture speaking to each of us in whatever way needed just then we heard the homework….to answer 2+ questions (an easy assignment!):

  • (answer) Has God set you free?
  • (answer) Are you living free?
  • + (answer) — What does that mean (living free)?

Looking forward to gather round the table and talk freedom y’all.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Would you live any differently?…(Ex. 36:1-7 & 25:1-9)

Yesterday we gathered around the table. It was the first time of the season gathering at 9AM (instead of 10) — praise God for bringing us who could make it to the table :)! We opened in prayer. And then we started checking in.

Technically the homework had remained the same for two weeks, thinking on the scripture(s), people, and life experiences which had been most formative in shaping our understanding of finances. Now while folks had been a bit excited about sharing last week, this week we had a slow beginning — but then the stories of one and others invited the rest to share. Stories of growing up on a farm, or with many siblings. Stories of growing up not really with enough & knowing there was a struggle to make it. Stories of always having enough too. Folks who never learned or were taught to tithe. Folks who married others who either did or did not tithe — and a variety of new outcomes with those partnerships — one with a spouse essentially saying, “we have more than enough — we’re giving!” — one with a spouse introducing the concept and need of tithing and both growing in faith when it didn’t make sense but God provided anyway — and one with one spouse tithing on their money while managing but not tithing their mates money. We talked about generosity in other ways — opening the home, feeding folks, clothing folks — investing in people (and sometimes being taken advantage of) — and also engaging in wisdom & discernment, with one naming that while scripture tells us to give to any who ask (yes — check it out HERE) that if they ask for a coat & they have one & you have only one…well, you might not give then — that we give, but it’s complicated (?). A note that it DOES get/feel complicated at times, and I imagine that it’s complicated for different reasons for us all. This is where I think God works to refine us and invites us to grow more and more Christlike — thought the power of the Holy Spirit. But don’t we also know that growth often has growth pains? So we learn (grace!) along the way and with God we grow in discernment as well.

And there was SO much more great conversation, like feeling convinced to tithe, convinced not to tithe, convinced & living how God blesses our obedience, and also a reflection in death how when settling accounts people have the opportunity to walk in integrity or not & the power of someone when being told what they owed — sharing no, they owed more & paying that happily! Finances are definitely one way that we can witness who God is (the provider of all, worthy to be trusted) and how we walk out our faith. (And when we don’t that says something too…)

BUT — just like as we gathered yesterday — I’ll move us to the scripture we heard briefly yesterday, first (a bit as background) Exodus 25:1-9 & then Exodus 36:1-7:


Exodus 25:1-9 New International Version (NIV)


Offerings for the Tabernacle


25 The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather[a]; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

25 The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather[a]; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

And…


Exodus 36:1-7 New International Version (NIV)


36 So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the Lord has commanded.”


Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.”
Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more,because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.

Now we did not take time to hear where the Holy Spirit had directed people’s attention. But I did take a moment, as this passage is formative for me — to name how AMAZING it is that there was MORE THAN ENOUGH to do all that God asked & that people were turned away from giving. God through the giving of the people provided for everything. God also provided the skilled labor needed to do ALL the work. And for me — I don’t want to miss out on giving to God — I don’t want to be told no when I want to give to God!

So the homework for the week…and yes it is a bit involved:

  • Re-Read Ex. 25:1-9 & 36:1-7 (if you like read the parts in between too — but re-read these passages.
  • Think about what God has/is calling you to do/make/be.
  • Consider that you have MORE THAN ENOUGH resources to do exactly what God is inviting/instructing/calling you to do/make/be.
    • And answer this: Would you live any differently than you are now? Would you think any differently than you are right now? (if you did have more than enough resources)
      • Now…if the answer is NO: I wonder, are you being honest? And if you are — then your question is — do you feel excited and joy-filled to be serving God in your purpose?
      • And if the answer is YES: what are you waiting for?

This is the homework y’all….I’m looking forward to hearing what God reveals in the week and to when we will gather around the table next!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Give to Caesar…(Mt. 22:15-22)

Last Sunday we gathered. As we do. Different folks arrived a bit early and others a little after them. It was good to be around the table (since indeed I had been absent the week prior!) We opened in prayer. And then we shifted our rhythm a little….not just because it was Pentecost (which is was!) but also because it was youth Sunday & because with youth Sunday we also were saying “THANK YOU” to those who nurture and teach our youth in Sunday School & nursery care!

So there was a question about who had Sunday School. And it was fun to hear the different experiences, some did not have Sunday School until an adult. Those who had been raised Catholic mentioned nuns, and classes/school but not necessarily Sunday School. Others remembered maybe one Sunday School teacher or class — but couldn’t remember the name of that teacher. Turned out — there were a variety of experiences about learning faith and the concept of a Sunday School class. (Who knew?) However, there was something that we were going to do other than just talk about our own experiences (or lack of them) with Sunday School — we took some time to write thank you notes to those who have (for decades) committed to teaching the youth of our church! And then during Worship we gave these notes along with a little gift to our teachers! THANK YOU Sally & Liz & Carol for teaching so well & often — & THANK YOU too Lauren for caring for the littlest of us all — all that ALL y’all do is done with great love & we are so appreciative! THANK YOU!

Then after almost a mini-check in (where we saw whether or not folks had done the homework, and while at least 1 had so many had not — so the homework remained for this last week!) — we went to scripture. Matthew 22:15-22:


Matthew 22:15-22 English Standard Version (ESV)


Paying Taxes to Caesar
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.[a] 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[b] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.


a. Matthew 22:16 Greek for you do not look at people’s faces
b. Matthew 22:19 A denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer

From reading the scripture you can see…we are staying with the theme of faith and finances. After listening to the scripture and some silence, some noted how folks were always trying to trick Jesus. There was mention that perhaps the tone with which the people addressed Jesus was mocking — and/or if not mocking — that they were trying to butter him up if you will so that he would make a mistake that they could get him in trouble with. There was a question as to — what exactly makes these people who speak with Jesus hypocrites exactly? Interestingly — one mentioned how this scripture especially led them to pay their taxes, as it seems that Jesus is fairly clear on the matter. Others wonder — is it that clear, what was the tone of voice that Jesus used? Or perhaps more than tone, do we really live our lives understanding, knowing and trusting that EVERYTHING belongs to God? Do we freely give to God exactly what belongs to God? And what does that mean for us anyway? “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It seems to me that we might know what belongs to Caesar/government/leadership, but does that really belong to them without God allowing it? Doesn’t all come from God? Doesn’t all belong to God? Then how exactly do we render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s? (Hey y’all I was reading an article the other day and there was something that struck me as so very pertinent to our conversation & thoughts we might have — I’m going to include it after I share the homework — alright?)

But — y’all…those questions are not the homework for this week. The homework for this week y’all already had a sneak peak at….and it is answering this question:

  • What scripture (verse/passage) &/or people and experiences have been most formative in your understanding of finances? Come ready to share y’all…I can’t wait to hear, learn & grow!

And now as promised an excerpt from the article:


I remember talking to another friend about the inherent tensions in giving freely to others. She told me that there will always be needy people and greedy people. It is not our job to decide which is which; that is up to God. We must first do what God asks us to do, then we must leave the rest to God.
Jesus makes it abundantly clear that giving to the poor is what is required of Christians. His type of giving seems outlandish to many today, especially when he said in Matthew, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” Give to everyone — even if they don’t say “please” and “thank you.”
Jesus says to give — and to give forgiveness — just as freely as your material goods.
I understand there will always be greedy people who work the system and take advantage of others. We live in a fallen world. But we must have the faith and courage to know that God will use our gifts, not as we intend, but as God intends. Our only job is to release our gifts knowing that God will bless them in ways beyond our imagining, for as Romans reminds us, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

From article, “Address our hesitancy to give freely” in Presbyterians Today — by Rebecca Lister

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Faith & Finances_take 2!

Last Sunday y’all gathered round the table that has become familiar. And as you sat down (among friends & family) — you prayed. I wasn’t there but am so grateful that Gene facilitated the space & conversation while I was away.

Following prayer came check-in, the time to discuss how our faith and understanding of scripture influences and shapes how we think about, how we use & how we spend money. I think y’all checked-in and went back to the Deuteronomy 15:1-11 text again in checking in and discussing, this rich (no pun intended?) and challenging text/topic: faith & finances!

The conversation engaged questions — like, did the forgiveness of debts actually ever happen?; was (is?) God’s desire for each person to have the same exact amount of money?; what was the impact on the entire community when this happened (if this happened)? Or questions considering did this practice influence essential interest rates, or if someone would allow loaning, or would people borrow all they could — sort of an early credit card or shopping spree if the forgiveness was near? Some of the larger questions might be essentially the question that we are asking — if the Israelites (if we) took God’s invitation/plan as specified in Deuteronomy 15 seriously, how did it shape all of how they live? Did it encourage people to work at trying to take advantage of the system? Did it encourage people consider financial blessing a blessing that might be fleeting, thus inviting them to trust always and only in God (and not a nest egg, pension, 401K, investment portfolio, property investments)?

These are great questions. And there were & there are more. Questions of specifics. Questions as to the details…the how to. And it seems like there was the very real concern about people taking advantage of us, of the generosity of others. (Don’t we just hate that? Someone taking advantage? It doesn’t feel good, makes us feel foolish!) But to throw something out there for us to wrestle with….what does grace teach us? (We might not like the teaching?) Or what would it really look like & feel like to live knowing (KNOWING) God is always the giver, that the blessings we have (financial and otherwise!) we did not earn and we do not deserve (no matter how smart, wise, faithful, kind…..we are) — that all we have is God’s and God but allows us to hold these blessings & to steward them in a way that gives God all glory and honor and praise? What would that feel like for us? I wonder if this is part of what God was getting at, how God was trying help guide God’s people to create a community where God’s provision is the center?

Now….I could go on….but I’m not too sure if the homework was named yet….SO — I’m going to mention it here & realize we might need a second week with it….anyway — here it is:

  • Please think about what scripture (verses &/or passages) & life experiences &/or people — shape our understanding of finances. Come ready to share these at the table of course!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Faith & Finances ? (Considering Deut. 15:1-11)

During the long weekend for many we still gathered around the table to consider scripture and listen to God speaking. We opened in prayer after a little bit of musical chairs and started checking in. The homework had been reflecting on the process of spending time with Jonah, writing a mini sermon (hearing mini sermons), and reading Jonah again — AND thinking if there were topics that might be of interest to consider all together.

There was some time reflecting on when there had been a musical based on Jonah & how much fun all of that was (major thanks goes to Ann about this I think!). This reflection brought laughter and while I did not create or see it, I imagine it invited all into the story (scripture) in a different way and making it come alive for folks! Others recognized that the focus of creating a mini sermon allowed them to think about the audience they would be sharing the sermon with and that shifted where they focused on Jonah since everyone hearing the sermon would be familiar with the story (something always good to keep in mind — who we are speaking with at any given time!). In general it seemed folks enjoyed, noticed some different things, & especially found that in listening to all the sermons being shared the scripture was opened up because people noticed and emphasized different themes or insights. Spending extended time with scripture, with the help of the Holy Spirit often (always?) will reveal to us that there is so much MORE to notice, and what God highlights in one reading might not be what is emphasized in the 2nd or 3rd or 4th reading….while the words (if you are reading the same translation) do not change we do change and so by grace we grow in our ability to hear and understand more of what God is saying (and we need to hear different things occasionally at different times in our lives!).

After hearing these reflections all were invited to share any topics that they would be interested in considering together. While not all shared many did and included topics of:

  • Prayer (resources)
  • Considering what specific scriptures mean (Be all things to all people; growing in the knowledge of Him)
  • Asking — Is God’s Will always done?
  • Forgiveness
  • the Holy Spirit
  • Attitudes of the heart (where do we go wrong)
  • the Passion of the Psalms/David (being a zealot)
  • looking at Matthew 25

Now…y’all don’t be too surprised if some of these topics come up & if you (and we) all spend some more time with them….get ready!

Following this we turned to scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 15:1-11. After hearing this read once and leaving space for silence we began sharing where the Holy Spirit was leading. Folks noticed the emphasis on community (brother) — that there was a distinction on how different folks were taken care of/charged. We noticed too that the scripture didn’t always really seem clear…there will always be poor/there won’t need to always be poor. A question or two about how much this really worked, did it happen…questions about who is supposed to take care of who – including what role the Church has (as compared to government). The questions, thoughts and insights were rich – which brought us to the homework for the week, considering and answering the following:

  • How does your faith and reading/understanding of scripture influence or shape how you think about, talk about, and use money?

It’s a good one to consider y’all. And a real one. How are we supposed to steward the resources we have been entrusted with? Happy chewing on this one & I can’t wait to hear what y’all think!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Mini Sermons (learning from Jonah)

Last Sunday y’all gathered round the table — I’m sure there was chatter, introductions, laughter & coffee — then was opening prayer. The check-in was the focus of the whole day really with the opportunity for all to share their mini (1 minute) sermons based on Jonah.

The sermons were varied (like the people <us> who gather round the table) and seem to have included noticing how often when we listen to the Holy Spirit (or perhaps because occasionally we don’t so well….) we have to continue listening to make sure we get the message! Also noticed was that it seems when we are able to hear the Holy Spirit speaking it really is because God has prepared us (softened our hearts or cleaned our hears out!) to be able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in whatever way God is speaking! A theme that seemed present & one which even on the first Sunday we sat with Jonah together, was the ability to identify with the frustrations — with the emotions — and with the questions that Jonah experiences in this book (even & maybe especially when it might seem dramatic and/or funny!). This is beautiful, being able to see how we don’t always agree with what God asks/speaks even if we hear clearly & understand. It’s also refreshing to know that we too, (even if we’ve been trying to seek God & be faithful for more than a second!) can struggle with how FULL of grace God is, with how loving God is…when that love is directed to someone (or multiple people!) who we have deemed unworthy of God’s grace! Some of the lesson of Jonah it seems is to remind us that God is good, that God’s grace does not listen to what we want, and the reality is that God’s grace (because it is SO expansive) occasionally offends us because it doesn’t make sense — it’s God & true love!

So the sermons were shared…and what now? What is the homework following that? Well….3 things really:

  • REFLECT….what was the process of creating a sermon like for you?
  • Read again….after creating a sermon on Jonah & after listening to multiple mini-sermons on Jonah — go back to this book and read it again.
    • Do you notice anything new? Do you read the book differently?
    • Does anything become more clear? More complicated?
    • Does this surprise you?
  • And — a little different — if we had a topic of study to spend time with together in Adult Study — what topic (or 2!) would you want to consider?

Y’all…as we anticipate being in a different book after about a month with Jonah (though of course we could take longer!) maybe something to think of & hold is that God is always calling us to faithfulness & that faithfulness might not always or even often — look like the success & results that we might desire — God is always calling us to faithfulness…while we still struggle there, it seems a much more gentle task seeking to be faithful to the One who is always faithful & loving to us.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Staying with Jonah

So last Sunday we gathered. We prayed. Then we started checking in. The homework had been to read the book of Jonah at least once and then to notice where the Holy Spirit guided us to spend some time.

Some mentioned how Jonah is a pretty funny book (and guy) — that everything about it is pretty funny. Jonah might be a bit dramatic it seems…We had a riveting discussion on translation over if Jonah is swallowed up by a fish or a whale. (If you missed this — feel free to ask any who were gathered around the table for their thoughts!) Others named that Jonah is exactly like they are…a bit judgmental — and not wanting God to do what God is likely going to do! Others named the vast grace of God. Others noticed — how God prepared the hearts of those who were in Ninevah to receive the message. We also thought about how Jonah in the fish for 3 days is something that sets the stage for Jesus in the tomb/death for 3 days before rising! We found chapter 2 (Jonah’s prayer) honest, insightful, and to some humble and others a bit arrogant. We considered all this and so much more — the conversation around this entire book was RICH. Including a side conversation which also asked if Jonah could be considered a parable, and yes it could (I wonder though….whether it is or not, does that change the way you hear it? Why or why not?…especially considering that Jesus often spoke in parables…).

So we stayed with Jonah. Reading different parts of the book. Noticing the emotions that Jonah has. Noticing the movement. Noticing God’s sovereignty over all. Noticing how everyone perhaps except Jonah seemed to be fearful and in awe of God…Jonah seems to be the only one running from God and not listening!

After all this time with this delightful book of the Bible, what could be the homework this week? Well…..GET EXCITED (I know you ARE!) everyone is invited to make a 1 minute sermon based on Jonah!!!

All are invited to share….make some notes, (not too many now 🙂 ) — and speak from your heart. What sermon is God preaching to you right now through Jonah? Come prepared to share with all who will gather around the table on Sunday — and please know that the sermon God gifts us through you — will assuredly encourage and bless those who hear it! So keep hanging out with Jonah & bring the sermon that God writes on your heart to share with us all!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Running away (Jonah 1:1-6)

We gathered. Some were there a bit earlier than usual — so they figured out how to make the coffee! We found seats and we opened in prayer. Then, as is our custom we started to check in….our homework had been to daily pray for God to create in us a clean/pure heart. AND we also had paper hearts that as the Holy Spirit might lead us we could write in what God might tell us would be part of our clean/pure hearts.

Some folks filled their paper hearts with notes. Some as they prayed found that as God answered (& did!) the prayer, a new awareness was opened up to them — and that was hard…because well, learning the truth about ourselves (esp. if we think we’re doing alright!) is hard! There also was the important question of ‘what for’ or ‘for what’? We pray that God would create in us a clean/pure heart — but why? Just to be clean and pure? The sincere question was asked knowing their desire to live their faith out in real ways — in ways that feel more productive/active than only gathering around a table once a week. AND the thing is yes — God does invite us to move with the Holy Spirit, to do work that God has designed & invited us to do in our lives….and — the work does not look the same for everyone, and the work will not always be the same for us, and the work is not always the work that we want to do — sometimes what God calls us to do is the boring — the extra ORDINARY — the little things that seem not to matter at all — sometimes faithfulness doesn’t look like us curing cancer, poverty, racism…or even healing 1 person we love! I do believe though, as we seek God, as we ask to draw near, as we pray (or sing!) “Create in me a clean heart — oh God” (and if we’re singing maybe including too, “and renew a right spirit within me”) again and again and again, I just imagine God is able to do some of that — and as was correctly mentioned too — we don’t do this — it’s always God who is able! (We can’t really even know — what’s the difference between our heart, and our mind, and our spirit and our soul?) And even if we don’t care about those distinctions (and no that doesn’t make you a “bad” Christian!) — praying for God to create a cleanness and a purity in us opens us to be able to hear more of God’s voice, and God’s desires, and the direction that the Holy Spirit is inviting us to follow. Praying for God to create this cleanness and this purity might be the equivalent of turning stuff of when we have TV on, and music going, and something in the microwave, and laundry in the washer, and our own internal dialogue, and a text message coming on the phone, and a friend or a partner or a neighbor is trying to say something — AND OF COURSE WE CAN’T HEAR — praying for God to create the cleanness and purity might be the equivalent of turning off the TV, shutting off the music, pausing the microwave, silencing our phones, and breathing to pause our internal dialogue — to check in and listen. None of the other things are necessarily bad…but they sure do make it hard to focus on the one (One) trying to speak to us, right? And that voice might be telling us what is next, what we are invited to do — the voice might be trying to tell us where the Holy Spirit is moving next so that we are ready to go! (And that’s exciting!)

After this amazing time of talking and pondering and sharing. We turned to scripture. A small book (minor prophet) towards the end of the Old Testament. We read Jonah 1:1-6

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

New International Version

After listening we asked….what is the Holy Spirit highlighting? Something named was how even in disobedience Jonah has this trust in God which is so comforting he is able to sleep soundly in the midst of a powerful storm (something not mentioned at the time….but how many of us have been asleep in the storms of our lives…that we essentially walked into? How many of us have been blessed to have someone direct us — Wake up & pray!? How many of us have listened?) . They noted that it reminded them of the type of trust that Jesus had in God during storms….being able to sleep while everyone else experienced fear and chaos.

There’s much to notice in these short verses….as well as in this short book….and so — the homework this week is to READ. Read all of the book of Jonah. And come back ready to discuss what stood out — where God led you to pause — to share what verses are coming alive to you right now!

I know I’m looking forward to hearing how (& what) the Holy Spirit is speaking to each of us though this book!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Create in me a clean heart (Psalm 51)

Last Sunday we gathered as is our practice and sat around the table. After noticing the new fans, and opening in prayer we began checking in. The homework had asked us to both consider what committing our spirit into God’s hands means, feels & looks like, and to ask if we could do so at least once.

As usual, there were a variety of experiences. There was some confusion on how and if committing our spirit like how Christ did is possible — he was about to die (give up the ghost) — our goal isn’t that; and also thinking about how Christ (fully God — fully human, is able to commit his soul into God’s hands — fair enough of a question). However, a theme also emerged of submission to God, that the idea of committing our spirit into God’s hands means letting go, giving to God that which we have no control over. As people described this there was the experience of peace, breathing, pervasive joy, and clarity. What a beautiful testimony and encouragement to hear the gifts that came from submitting to God — with such lived experiences of peace, joy, and clarity — it’s a wonder we don’t attempt to submit ourselves to God more often….praise be to God for having patience with us all!

And we turned to scripture, an entire Psalm, Psalm 51. After listening to the whole Psalm, we briefly heard some comments on where the Holy Spirit was directing attention. One, in hearing verse 17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” recalled the parable of two men praying to God and a sincere humility (even though coming from a sinner) was regarded and heard by God, and heard an invitation for us to present ourselves to God with such sincere humility. Another named how as a church we used to use this exact Psalm as an aid to confession.

There is this beauty of Psalm 51 of regarding God’s steadfast love and mercy, in naming our sinfulness and even (perhaps this is on our best days) our awareness of our own sin and then the request for God to create in us a clean (or pure) heart. It seems very appropriately God-centered and aware that it is God who can create a newness of heart within us (not our own work). And so we came to the homework invitation for the week:

  • Every day pray this scripture, that God will create in you a clean (or pure) heart.
  • And everyone was given a paper heart (of their choosing) so if and as the Spirit leads, feel free to write (or draw) what God might be putting in your heart in creating it clean/pure/new!

Praying with y’all that God will create in us a clean hear & looking forward to gathering again.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater