Reflecting on the hard & asking for help (Romans 12:1,9-13)

Last Sunday we gathered round the table.  We prayed.  We started to check in with the homework; the homework which had us seeking to outdo others in showing honor (or showing love) and also seeing where (or what) we heard that had encouraged us to live out what scripture invites us to do.

There was the naming of poetry and of music.  And a recognition that (secular) poetry had been telling the story of scripture in different words, and with words that were not rejected even when the person reading them was not following Christ.  This is an important note, how words and songs (and aren’t songs essentially poems set to music?) have the power to speak and to reach even those who might not know Christ; who might not have learned how much God loves them; these words can share the grace of God and the love of Christ in beautiful ways. (AMEN!)

And there was an important mention too about how if we are seeking to outdo others in showing honor (or love) and we think we do it correctly – that doesn’t seem to be the point…the whole “I’m so humble” mentality and being proud of it.  However, I wonder two things.  First, would it be so bad if what we were competitive about was outdoing each other in showing love and honor to one another?  Would that really be all that terrible?  And second, don’t we sometimes seek to outdo others in showing love and honor but in ways that do not feel competitive at all?  An example being, wanting to surprise or spoil someone (maybe a friend, a family member, even a stranger); maybe you see them having a terrible day, or they’ve gone through something rough, or you just want to treat them for some other reason — and you don’t do it so that you get the spotlight, or that you can boast about it — but your heart is to shower them in an extraordinary way….and isn’t that what God has done for each of us in so many different ways?  (Gifted us with an extravagant grace….like the Prodigal Father running toward the son who has returned?)

But let’s be honest.  It’s hard to show love and honor to others at times.  And so, we turned to the same area of scripture again to listen.  We heard Romans 12:1,9-13 read.  You’ll note that the 2 verses from last week (Rom. 12:9-10) were included again in the reading.  We mentioned that many of these seem to be the practical ways we live our faith.  In fact, it might be that the way we can offer ourselves (our bodies) as a living sacrifice to God is to actually do these practical ways that we can live out our faith.  But does practical always mean “easy” dare I say….not at all.

Which (of course?) leads to the homework for this week.  To think on all these things (Rom. 12:1,9-13) and the list of actions named.  This list will sound a bit different depending on which translation of the Bible you happen to be reading.  But — reflect on all of them, and (get excited!) consider which one you are WORST at!  Yes, which one of these is the HARDEST for you to do?  (Is it keeping spiritual fervor, being patient in affliction, sharing with others who are in need, practicing hospitality, being faithful in prayer, being joyful in hope, never lacking in zeal, presenting all of yourself as a living sacrifice?)  Which one of the actions is hardest for you.  And then — once that is identified, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal why this one is hard (and listen to what is revealed).  And finally, ask God to help you be open and to continue growing you in this area so that someone might be blessed by God through you!

So — to recap, reflect on Rom. 12:1,9–13 — consider the list of actions — determine which you are the WORST at — pray for revelation as to why & pray for God to work through you in this area!

Blessings y’all in the reflection and prayer. And I’m looking forward to seeing you Sunday.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

PS:

This is a little excerpt from “My Utmost for His Highest” which seems appropriate as we consider the homework for the week…

“Our tendency today is to put the emphasis on service…It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him.”

Outdoing each other…in showing honor (Romans 12:9-10)

Guess what?  Yes, it is Thursday — and the weather today has been a delight!  With it being Thursday, it seems a fitting time to remember that we gathered round the table this last Sunday to connect, to pray, to sincerely seek to hear from God together.  And last Sunday we did just that — gathered, introduced ourselves, and prayed before checking-in.

And our check-in was a multi-week homework assignment, to be like Christ, to imitate Christ.  The check-in was honest.  This was hard.  We are not Christ.  And even if we maybe were “Christ-like” we hear our thoughts rather loudly so….it was a little discouraging.  Yet, the frustration with trying to be like Christ (or trying to be perfect like Christ) reminded us too that God is not finished with us, that we are works in progress — and that can be an encouragement along the way too.  There also was a bit of a reminder as to why exactly we even try to be like Christ (which stemmed from thinking about why Christ came — why God found it necessary to have flesh on and be with us!) — it is not so that we become perfect, so that we can be proud….it is so ALL can be in relationship with God.  Christ came to reconcile the world to God — that’s the point, not perfection for the sake of perfection, not rule-followers for the sake of following rules, but relationship with the God who gives each of us life.  We try to imitate Christ so that we don’t get in the way of God loving on ALL the folks around us.  We try to imitate Christ so that others know how beloved they are of God.  We try to imitate Christ because in imitating Christ we grow into more loving people — people who can see the wounds of the world & be part of the love that will bring healing!

So the homework — the LIFEwork continues, as God promises it will — we continue to seek God above all and to be like Christ all the days of our life!

But we did turn to scripture, to Romans 12:9-10:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

Again we heard the voice of Paul.  Some asked questions of if this is for fellow believers & Christians, or if this is for those who are not (believers).  I asked — what do you think?  Is there a difference?  Who did Christ come for?  (ALL).  And even here we  have to think about the homework that follows us, this idea to be like Christ.  BUT, what does that mean; what does that look like; and what can help us?  This section of Romans is labeled in the New Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible, as “Marks of the True Christian.”  We are going to slow down and go through these scriptures for a few weeks seeing what God might be inviting us to do/learn/understand in order to be (more) like Christ.

The next step in this study is the homework stemming from Romans 12:9-10.  It has 2 parts:

  • 1st: Outdo someone in showing honor (to someone else) this week.  (Or if you prefer, outdo someone in offering sincere love to someone this week!)
  • 2nd:  Read or listen to sources/places outside of scripture that encourage you to live what scripture is saying.

Some things before signing off….the genuine love we are to show is from our core, from the inside — it is sincere — sometimes perhaps we might have to “fake it” until we “make it” asking God to change our heart along the way.  Also, I shared 3 quotes — which are example of sources outside of scripture that might encourage us they were:

  • Aretha Franklin:  We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white.  It’s our basic human right.
  • Finale of Les Miserables:  To love one another is to see the face of God.
  • Mr. Rogers:  As human beings our job is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has — or ever will have — something inside that is unique to all time.  It’s our job to help discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression. 

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Be like Christ (1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1)

Goodness me, it’s been quite some time since we all gathered round the table.  In fact — we all last gathered together officially round that table last month on July 29th.  Do you remember it?  We gathered and we prayed as we do.  And then we began to check in with each other by offering our answer to what it means and looks like to be laborers in God’s harvest (giving examples of labor and of harvest).  We did not all quite agree (this happens when we are talking with more than just ourselves!) as we had some different interpretations…And yet, unless memory fails me (it can) we did seem to agree that the harvest is people, and that laboring looks like loving and being faithful to how God is calling us to be.

And of course after this we pivoted to scripture, looking at 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1.

23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience.28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God,33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

We listened to Paul inviting us into the perspective that the fullness of creation belongs to God and we have freedom to give thanks and enjoy all that God has made.  However, we are encouraged to use our freedom to build up others & community — to use our freedom to help others, and to be aware of what their needs might be — seeking always to be helpful and not harmful.  And (where we read) Paul ends in offering a different invitation — to imitate Paul as Paul imitates Christ, putting what he has written into action — moving from the idea of a thing to the action of it.  Paul of course leads us to what the homework assignment has been over these past weeks, to be like Christ — to imitate Christ — because as great and faithful as Paul was (and this goes for any believer!) we are called to be like Christ!  So — the homework is both simple and the most challenging thing ever….be like Christ.

One person mentioned, “WWJD” (what would Jesus do) and another mentioned that Jesus did overturn tables (righteous indignation)…Christ also is the One who took time to talk with God, the One who looked at those caught in sin and did not throw stones, the One who healed with his hands and with his spit!, the One who wept over the death of a friend, the One who showed patience even when knowing he was talking to those who would betray & desert him, the One who while the Son of God still shows us he can be taught too by the faith of one he calls by a derogatory name (check out: Matthew 15:21-28).  So let us humbly seek to be like Christ in all we do.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Sent into the harvest? (Matthew 9:35-38)

Last Sunday — after a week of not meeting we came together again.  It wasn’t as warm as had been (& also wasn’t quite the downpour we’ve seen this week either!) and as we gathered we opened in prayer.  We then checked in with our homework that had been assigned two weeks prior — to, using the insight of the 3-point plans of becoming better lovers (more loving) as individuals, craft a 3-point plan speaking to how we can become better lovers & more loving as a church.

Some named they thought it was really rather similar to being more loving as an individual.  This makes sense as the church is made up of individuals.  Another voice pushed a bit though, recognizing that as a church we are more than individuals as well.  Two things happened in discussing how to be more loving as a church — one there was a repeated theme of listening (and being present) that one of the most loving things we can do and perhaps the only way we really can be loving was to really be a people who listen (and listen well).  And second, we were very easily wanting to “solve” how we can become more loving (there was talk of hosting listening sessions as well as considering following-up to prayer requests that are named in our weekly fellowship — both really great ideas! — which can be further developed!), which led one to name how there are many MANY in the church who are very loving to people in church and to people in the community.

But before shifting to the Scripture selection we would focus the rest of our time on, I took a moment to highlight something…there are many in the church who are very loving people — and that is a good thing, a blessing!  And the reason why we have been considering how to become more loving as individuals and as a church is because that is who we are called to be!  It’s not as though with a program or a certain way of following-up that we will reach the apex of what it means to be loving and we can just stay there — we are on a journey to becoming more and more like Christ — which is to say we are on a journey to becoming more and more loving.  Some days are going to be better than others — and that was even named 2 weeks ago — but the call is to love and to love well, we will continue to consider how we can do so more faithfully because that is who we are called to be — those who love others and love God passionately with all of who we are — AMEN?!

And then we shifted, to Matthew 9:35-38.  Asking, as we do, what the Holy Spirit was emphasizing in that moment to each of us.  Where God was directing our focus.  One noticed how here, in this story Jesus was healing all — everyone was healed, and that’s not always what the story says.  Another mentioned how those harassed and helpless people might not have even known how Jesus saw them.  Yet another mentioned, we are like those harassed and helpless people.  This week continue to let the Holy Spirit talk to you though this passage as you also consider the homework assignment which is to answer the question,

  • What does it mean & look like to be laborers in God’s harvest?
    • Give 1 example of “labor” and 1 example of the “harvest.”

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

LOVE is passionate! (Song of Solomon 7:6-9 & 8:6-7)

As usual last week on Sunday we gathered round the table, making room for all who come and we prayed.  And then we had check-in time.  The homework of being the MOST LOVING disciples ever the week prior and to create a 3-point (or step) plan on how to be(come) better lovers (more loving — if you prefer!).  There were stories of how being loving, taking the time to appreciate or notice someone, made such a difference — observations on how trying to love others returned love to ourselves!  And the honesty too that there were times when we were not as loving, times we failed as being good lovers too.  One offered the reflection too of being the recipient of great loving — taking a moment to name how being able to receive love is one element of loving others.  While others made mention of being present, being available to offer help/care to someone.  Some themes that rose included being present, being open to where people are, being in reciprocal relationships (ie being able to give and receive love), being open and able to listen.  One theme that I didn’t hear but I do think is useful (required perhaps!) is one of forgiveness — that part of being loving necessarily involves forgiveness.

After hearing some of the plans, including introducing ourselves to our neighbors, we turned to the scripture selection of the day.  Which did create a bit of a stir….we turned to Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) 7:6-9 & 8:6-7.  It’s a selection of poetry in the Bible — and it can be uncomfortable, or avoided with it’s language of passionate love between a lover & beloved!  (The Bible has SO much in it!)  And there are so many ways that this book and these passages can and have been interpreted, and while getting some chuckles especially with 7:6-9 — these selections (and the whole book) invite us to appreciate the beauty of love, the transformative nature of love, the strength and power of love — and that PASSIONATE nature of love.  Love is not something “ho-hum” — it is strong, stronger than death!  This is how God loves us, passionately!  This is how God invites us to love others!  (And no not only romantically, but it provides a useful frame from which to more fully understand how God loves each of us!)

So we continue with this journey of love.  Talking through these verses.  Talking through how passionately God loves us.  Talking about what could that mean for each of us, for the church, for the whole body of Christ.  And we come to the homework assignment of course.  Which has 2 parts:

  1. Part one: pray.  Pray for our community — for relationships, marriages, partnerships — for their protection, their thriving, for grace to be present in them.  Pray for relationships that our children and youth can see — healthy, nurturing — life-affirming relationships — honest relationships.  Pray over relationships in our community.
  2. Considering the 3-point plans that were mentioned for how we as individuals can be(come) better lovers, create a 3-point plan for how we AS A CHURCH can be(come) better lovers (of each other, of our community, of our world, of God!)

This assignment is special in a different way, you have 2 weeks to be doing this.  2 weeks to be praying over the relational thriving in our community, for healing over hurts, for forgiveness, for growth and 2 weeks to be thinking seriously on how we as a church can be(come) better lovers.  There will be NO ADULT STUDY this coming Sunday (yes, in 2 days @ 9AM — no class) — so the homework will be due for conversation on the 22nd of July.

See you on the 22nd — and happy Loving!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

A new commandment…LOVE one another (John 13:34-35)

Last week we gathered, some were missing (we missed you & travel safely) and there were new faces too!  Introductions were offered as we arrived and we began in prayer.  And then we jumped right in with our homework, we heard the prayers that had been written — prayers for those in authority.  Some focused on individuals we can name.  Some focused on those who serve on a national level.  Some included authority and leadership globally.  Some were shorter others longer.  One borrowed pertinent words from a movie.  One offered a song (side note: it has been said that a song is like a prayer offered twice which I find rather beautiful).  In all I heard a humility in the prayers created, an honestly and an earnestness — to be faithful even when we might not know which words are most faithful, even when the situations might seem challenging, even if perhaps we don’t understand why God chooses (or allows) who God does.  Each prayer was so beautiful.  It one blessed those who had gathered — all of us, and invited us to join in your voice (the one sharing their prayer).  One prayer that began with “Oh God….HELP!” ended with, “Please Lord, let Your voice be heard in a mighty way — guiding the paths of those in authority in the way of peace and justice.”  Other prayers asked that those serving in authority would seek You, and would come to receive grace!  It was powerful to sit around the table, and to hear how we are praying for those in authority, how we are seeking to be faithful to God and loving to neighbor in our daily lives.  Thank you all for these prayers, and for how listening to the prayer of another might even influence your own prayer voice!

After hearing from nearly all we turned to the Scripture du jour (of the day), John 13:34-35

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Hearing this three times, allowing these words to wash over us was a gift.  It is all about love.  Christ calls us to love.  Someone mentioned how easy this is — so simple (yes, of course we know it’s hard….but in essence it’s so simple and beautiful isn’t it?)  One noticed how in all their reading of these verses they never had noticed, how we love points to Christ — our love (of each other) invites people to see Christ.  One pointed out this is for the Christian community, how we (we gathered round the table for example) love each other reveals Christ to others….so that means how I love someone on my best day (& WORST day) & on someone else’s best/worst….how I love people who are not the same (insert identity….political party, profession, personality, gender, race, ethnicity, ability, age, sexuality…essentially someone who is not you!) reveals Christ to others, to the world who doesn’t know Him.

And so, after observing and hearing insights around the table for a bit we turned to the homework of the week…a two-fold assignment to,

  • First, be the best and most loving disciples ever this week!  (Love your socks off!)  And observe, does anything change?
  • Second — make a 3-point (or a 3-step) plan to become a better lover — or to become more loving.  (Be ready to share your plan!)

There was a question about if our loving is for our fellow Christians, or everyone to which I said — “yes!”  And I also added that no it was not an option to just avoid people at all costs so as not to have the opportunity to be as loving as possible all week!  So — it’s Friday but guess what, everyday we have opportunities to love each other — so feel free to get to loving!  I’m excited to hear the plans and see how we might grow together to be better lovers so that Christ might be seen clearly though our loving!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Hard Text, week 2 (penning a Prayer!)

Goodness me — it’s Thursday again!  Last Sunday we gathered @ 9AM — well done for all of us.  We opened in prayer (perhaps after some kindhearted banter about how old different folks were!)  and then because we were staying with the same (challenging) text from last week, we read & heard our scripture: Romans 13:1-10.

Of course the words of the scripture from the week prior did not change (though the translation we heard read might have!).  Yet we had been sitting with, considering, and asking the Holy Spirit to speak with us about these verses.  At least a third of us gathered around the table did not share.  Others apologised for emotion they thought would be rejected — which (and this makes my heart so full of joy) was immediately responded with we love you!  And the important insight and distinction about what God allows (permissive will) as compared with God’s perfect will.  An example that was not named last Sunday might be useful, prophets vs. kings.  God’s perfect will in the Old Testament was to raise up various prophets and leaders for the people, compared with the desire (they whined) of the people to have a king, God’s permissive will allowed for kings.

Here, I pray you allow me a(n extended) moment.  We did something different, atypical from our usual rhythm.  We discussed the same 10 verses two weeks in a row.  Some made comments to me that this text is hard.  Others made comments about the challenge of speaking about “political” things.  Scripture is one of the ways that God speaks to us, to each of us willing to open God’s word and allow the Holy Spirit to give us understanding as to what is being said.  And the texts (MANY of them!) are not easy.  If we read closely what Jesus said and did — we find he is challenging!  (Seriously, who wants to invite Jesus over for dinner?!)  The world we live in is fallen and broken, and yes God is still moving in the chaos of our lives….BUT, life is hard.  And scripture (and GOD) does not try to ignore this.  The folks who were the religious authorities when Jesus was walking the earth (and they were sincerely faithful folks) quoted the Old Testament to Christ (to the Word made flesh!) — think on how absurd that is….quoting scripture to Jesus…I mention that to say, folks have been using the Word of God to make points or to highlight certain agendas since we’ve had scripture.  And this is still true.  When we gather, when we consider the (always!) challenging Word of God together, I encourage us to wrestle with our own understanding(s), to wrestle with God (or to let the Holy Spirit wrestle with us!), to wrestle to allow this living Word to speak to us & be written in our hearts & transform us! — not to wrestle with each other.  Each person — each voice — around the table is a beloved child of God, is our sibling in Christ, is just as beautiful and loved and flawed and sinful as each of us.

Our homework this week is to pen a prayer for the authorities — a prayer that is faithful to our own voice and to God.  And the hope is that some will be willing to share these prayers.  Some might pray for our government (locally and or nationally).  Some might pray for God’s divine law to prevail.  Some might pray for the church (ecclesial) authorities in place in the PC(USA) or in ecumenical bodies.  I took a moment to remind us all that when we pray we too become changed (and didn’t we think about praying for our enemies a couple of months back? — so even if some consider those in authority to be an enemy, alas we are still to pray!).

But I will end today with a prayer for us all — that we would have courage to come to the table, knowing God calls us to come as we are — and that God calls EACH OF US to come.  May we have the courage to listen to each other, especially when we do not agree or do not understand.  May we listen well and seek to understand before seeking to be understood.  May we be open to sharing humbly, and discerning together what God is saying.  And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

A challenging text…submit? (Romans 13:1-10)

Happy longest day of the year!  And it is a beautiful one out there, so perhaps while you enjoy the weather you might continue thinking about our weekly homework ;).

Last Sunday — on Father’s Day Sunday — we gathered around the table (to many being told “Happy Father’s Day”) — we opened in prayer — and we checked in answering why does God care about the welfare of the city, as well as answering what seeking the welfare of our community looks like (for individuals and for us as a church).  There was mention that God’s care for the welfare of the city is being concerned about everyone’s welfare, that (even if we are individuals in exile) our thriving is often connected to the community we find ourselves part of.  We thought of prayer — all forms (including prayer with hands and feet!) as one of the ways that we seek the welfare of our community both as individuals and as a church.  And we also found ourselves for a bit considering how even if we are individuals in some form of exile (or oppression) that God might be using us — speaking to us — in order to bless the community we are a part of, naming how we might be the only ones in the community listening to God, and so God seeks to speak (& to bless!) through us — which is of course beautiful & annoying too, but how many of us on a daily basis think we are offering to the world, to all those who see us a picture of who Christ is (with our smile, or lack, with our generosity (or not), how we see people (or ignore), how we cheerfully serve & love….)?

As perhaps a most ideal (though challenging) follow-up to this invitation and expectation to seek the welfare of the city/community.  We turned to a scripture selection which had been in the recent news, Romans 13:1-10,

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. …10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

And we sat, we held these 10 verses.  We started sharing how we do not like all of it.  Some like some parts, some verses, others appreciate others.  Of course the question came, but what about when one verse is fighting with another?  What then?  What are we to do?  What does faithfulness look like then?  There was some discussion about different types of government playing a bit of a role in how we can faithfully engage (a) government, there was talk about engaging and challenging that which one finds opposed to God’s desires and being ok with the consequences that come….

We began the conversation.  And while it’s can be easy to allow the current political climate, issue, and cause to dictate a conversation — here that is not exactly what we are seeking to do.  (For unfortunately, often doing so mires us in confrontational & oppositional camps that are not necessarily useful in seeking to hear the faithfulness that the “other” is pursuing.)  Instead, how do we hear this (and ANY challenging) scripture, for which there can be more than one interpretation?  And how do we allow it to shape who we are as faithful lovers of God?

So….we began the conversation, but we did not end it and we will return to these verses again this coming Sunday.  After we’ve allowed the Holy Spirit to be speaking to each of us.  Which of course is what the homework is for the week, to sit with these verses and to allow the Holy Spirit to speak, to convict, to open each of us to what God is speaking to us here.  Where does God desire us to grow?  How does God want to shape us in faithfulness?  Prayers as each of us listen, for this work is not easy work, to be open to listening to God can feel as though the ground is crumbling under us….as it crumbles with in grace may we find God is inviting us not only to walk with Christ but to move (and even fly!) with the Holy Spirit!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

*and food for thought as I heard more than one comment about the challenging scriptures we engaged last Sunday…if life were 75 and sunny each day we’d likely believe we didn’t need God…but life is not always 75 & sunny…and so we find that we need a God who is not afraid of the mess of life — of our lives — we need a God who doesn’t disappear in the dark — we need a God when the world is chaotic and falling apart in our hands!  Challenging scriptures allow us to be honest with ourselves, and open with God — and in the struggle with these selections, in the wrestling to find where the Good News (grace) can be found — we often learn something with substance that helps feed us in the hardest times of our lives….*

Pray for the welfare of the city! (Jeremiah 29:4-14)

It is beautiful outside, something about the sun just makes me smile.  And it’s hard to believe that it’s already been days since we last gathered around the table as is our custom at 10AM on Sunday mornings.  It was a lively crowd, with some still coming while we opened in prayer.  After prayer of course we checked in, considering how to hold a scripture that was so hopeful (Rom. 10:8-11) with one that is so sad (Matthew 7:21-23).  Much of the conversation seemed to hinge on “belief” — that perhaps those in the sad text (Matthew 7:21-23) were choosing to try and earn/justify their salvation rather than believing in their heart who Christ is, that they need Christ, that the only way to God is through the gift of grace of Christ.  These considerations of course engage much — ideas of doctrines (like predestination, double predestination, free will, and more!) and spoiler alert — no, we did not plumb the depths of all these doctrines — however, we did hold onto the hope of Romans 10 & consider our neediness of grace, that it is a gift, one we cannot earn, one offered, and one that we are invited to believe so that we will never hear Christ tell us, “I never knew you….”

And then we turned to scripture, Jeremiah 29:4-14 (it’s after Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, & Isaiah).  There is SO much in this text.  Many are perhaps familiar with this,

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

However, we were invited to hear more than just this one verse.  We were invited to hear a bit of the context it comes out of.  Jeremiah a prophet, is speaking to the Israelites who are in exile, and this verse speaks to a time AFTER the exile (after 70 years of exile).  Furthermore, more than one person noticed the following verse,

  And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.

Wait, what?!  Work for the peace & prosperity of the city?  Pray to God while you are in the place of captivity for the welfare of where you are in exile?!  This seems a bit outrageous doesn’t it?  We mentioned that in this text, this time of exile it’s a little bit like God put the Israelites into (maybe the first official) time-out (there may or may not have been a comment that exile is a step up from a flood…. 🙂 ) but who while in timeout wants to pray for those who are keeping us in timeout?  This is hard.  In fact, while this text is beautiful, reminding us to bloom exactly where we are, to live life, even while we are living in exile, to seek the welfare of the community we are in (even if we don’t want to be there!), and reminding us how interconnected we all are — it is an incredibly challenging text.  A text that when we considered Abraham in the sermon later we might have remembered — Abraham taking the time to boldly pray for the welfare of a city that was not his own.  And so perhaps our homework makes great sense, we are to ask & answer for ourselves,

  1. “Why does God care about the welfare of the city (of [our] exile)?”
  2. What does seeking the welfare of our community (S-VE) look life?  (as an individual, as a church?)

As usual, I am excited to hear what answers emerge from the wisdom and creativity in each of you when we gather round that table again on Sunday.

Blessings in Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater  

How do these fit? (Matthew 7:21-23 & Romans 10:8-11)

Last Sunday we gathered round the table.  We prayed.  And we checked in, getting to hear what it means to walk humbly with God.  It was insightful.  The first comment might have been that examples come to mind of when we have not done this well (which of course brought a knowing chuckle from most of us).  There also was question, what is it to walk with God — you know what do we mean exactly…to live our lives in a way that God desires….a helpful word mentioned was to obey God…  We talked about how we were raised, how we saw humility modeled; we discussed how the key might be that in walking humbly with God we are comparing (ourselves) with God — not with others — which IS a rather humbling experience, and is a most necessary perspective shift.  We also discussed that if you try to “win” at being humble, well — you’ve missed the mark (the heart) of humility.  We also touched upon how humility is not false modesty — a denial of gifts and talents — but perhaps a true understanding of identity in Christ, a honest awareness of what God has given (gifted) each of us with.

And with many round the table we turned to Scripture, specifically to Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’   (New International Version)

21 “Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven.22 At the Judgment many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we told others about you and used your name to cast out demons and to do many other great miracles.’23 But I will reply, ‘You have never been mine. Go away, for your deeds are evil.’     (The Living Bible) 

We sat with this scripture for some time.  It was quickly named that this text is sad.  To imagine being turned away by God, to imagine the weight of such a thing.  Someone around the table mentioned it is more sad than “Jesus wept.”  Imagine hearing God say, “Go away, you evildoer” or “I never knew you — go away your deeds are evil!”  It is an interesting Scripture to read after focusing on walking humbly with God.  This text however, was offered in conjunction with a second, Romans 10:8-11,

This is what the Scripture says: “God’s teaching is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”  That is the teaching of faith that we tell. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from death, then you will be saved. 10 We believe with our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we declare with our mouths to say that we believe, and so we are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” (International Children’s Bible) 

This Scripture is more hopeful, and simple — believe and be saved.  And in the (possible) tension of the two perhaps we hear the fullness of the gospel message both the deep sadness of being told by God we never belonged & hearing the simple gift of the fullness of the love of God understood in the gift of grace offered in Christ that in believing/trusting/accepting Jesus as Lord — Jesus as raised from death — that we have been reconciled with God forever!  And we talked a little bit about the idea of God knowing all (the doctrines of predestination & double predestination) — HUGE topics (of which I’ll mention how only God knows who belong to God, who walk humbly with God, who profess & believe — only God — we don’t see with God’s eyes or know with God’s Spirit….meaning we don’t know who belongs to God, who walks with God, who is part of large “C” Church and who is nt….).

And so we came to homework time, which is this — reconcile these two scriptures (if needed).  Asked differently, what do these two selections of Scripture mean together?  How do you understand them?

Looking forward to the next time we gather round the table y’all.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater