Looking for love (Abundances of grace that we resist…Luke 5:1-11)

Y’all — HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!  May each of you know that you are LOVED, and that indeed what is sweeter than candy or honey — or anything — is how much JESUS LOVES YOU!  (AMEN!)  Now — last Sunday we gathered around the table as is our custom.  Some of the coffee was a little late in the making — but it was there none-the-less and we also had the joy of a guest facilitator for the morning!  We are so grateful for how we can worship with believers from EVERYWHERE & also that we can be blessed by people we’ve never met before!  And I know I’m also grateful to be able to worship with friends who I have known for years (even if we’d never worshiped in church together!  God is good!).

So we gathered.  Anne (our guest facilitator) led us in our opening prayer — thanking God for bringing us together in God’s presence.  And we checked-in — answering the question of how would we react if Jesus showed up?  Some asked, well do you mean today, as in if this was the first time he came?  Or would it be a second visit?  Or are we to imagine ourselves back in the day?  Others wondered what he would say, how he would come to visit us.  Would Jesus jump right in and tell us some things, would he let us get to know him first and then maybe say some things to us?  After considering it for a bit — it seems that perhaps the best answer we might offer is that, “it’s complicated.”  Some of us would hope we’d be excited to see Jesus, able to recognize him for who he is — and agree with whatever he might say.  Others imagine that depending on what Jesus had to say — or how or when he said it — would determine how we would hear him.  So we don’t know…we hope we will recognize him….we hope we will listen to him….we hope that even if offended (perhaps we pray for the humility to know the conviction of the Holy Spirit when God is leading us in a way we’d rather not go!) we would recognize the voice of Christ.  But our honest answer is we don’t know…we’re not sure….it’s complicated!

Thus we turned as we do to scripture, specifically Luke 5:1-11.  The story of some fishers who have been unsuccessful for an entire night of fishing, having Jesus use a boat to teach people who want to listen to him teach & then Jesus telling the fishers to cast their nets….and them telling Jesus — we’ve been unsuccessful/it’s not the right time — but since you say so — we will do it….and so many fish being caught that it started to sink 2 boats & break the nets holding the fish!  And then Jesus telling them he would make them fishers of people (not fish!) and that it would be even greater than what they just saw happen!  WHOA!

In the hearing of the story we had questions about what Jesus had been teaching about, questions about where all the fish went?  People wondering if they had to leave fishing completely for the rest of their lives in order to follow Jesus.  We noticed how Jesus told them to go out deep (not shallow, to go further than where they were).  We noticed how Peter wanted Jesus to leave.  We even noticed how the blessing, the abundance of grace that God brought them though simple (though possibly questioning!) obedience required community involvement to receive it:

They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  (vs. 7A)

And Anne led this conversation & shared some of the realities of her own life.  The twists and turns that come.  Marriage.  Children,  Divorce.  New jobs.  Strained relationship with a child/teenager distancing themselves for years.  And as she shared the reflections God has gifted her with in living this life she is realizing God seems to always be asking us to be willing and God works with our willingness, equipping us for what it is God wants to do!  We don’t have to be accomplished for God to allow us to be co-laborers in grace, God uses all of what we know (God took fishers of fish to make them fishers of people!) to do the work God desires done!  What God asks at times can sound odd….will we follow anyway?

The way of God can be challenging (for a variety of reasons) — and sometimes God wants to give us something that makes us want to react similar to Peter, focusing on how unworthy we are and requesting that God will take the gift and leave us kindly alone.  The homework this week invites us to be attentive to exactly that, it asks us to look for instances of abundance that we resist.  Maybe it is a gift (unexpected), an unsolicited offer of help, or someone wanting to share something with us.  Will we resist this (these) gifts — given in this week when we celebrate Valentine’s Day?! — or might we accept them, acknowledging the blessing and grace that they are?  The homework is to be attentive to where this abundance (LOVE) is that we tend to resist.   (Perhaps the extra credit — would be to receive the grace God is gifting us with!)

Can’t wait to hear the abundance….

~ Rev. Sabrina Slater 

What if Jesus came today? (Luke 4:20-30)

Last Sunday — the first Sunday of February, communion Sunday,  and “souper-bowl” Sunday.  We gathered as is our practice round the table.  And after opening in prayer (as we do) — we started with the check in time.  We had the homework of thinking about the scripture which is most comforting to us (this might not be the same for folks as the scripture which might be their favorite).  And there were many scriptures named…

Psalm 23  — Deuteronomy 29:5  — John 14:18  — 2 Timothy 4:7  — Romans 8:28  — 1 Kings 19:11-13Psalm 13  — Psalm 99  — 1 Corinthians 13:4-8  — Colossians 3:2 Isaiah 40:25-31Psalm 125

It was beautiful to hear scriptures that had been comforting throughout life, scriptures that spoke very specifically over the past week or years, scriptures that make space for our lament.  Comfort comes in many ways & it was beautiful to hear some of the scriptures whether just one verse or an entire chapter.  A good reminder of how much comfort God wants to offer us…and a gift to hear the scriptures that have comforted others.  (Don’t worry…I’m sure some of these comforting verses will make appearances in the future!)

After meditating & enjoying some of the comfort God has offered us we turned to Luke 4:20-30  that delightful passage where Jesus boldly proclaims that the scripture he has just read has been fulfilled — to his hometown — and at first everyone loves it & loves Jesus.  And then Jesus perhaps (unnecessarily?) provokes these people who have just been speaking well of him – so much so that they take him out of the synagogue and up to the top of the hill and throw him over.  Jesus tells them the truth (about their own faith & history) and his telling of the truth angers them to the point that they want him dead!  Jesus in a miraculous turn of events somehow walks through the crowd and on his way — it was not the day of his death that day.  It can be a challenging text.  What made them so angry?  Why did Jesus say what he said?  Who understands that somewhat odd proverb of “Doctor, heal yourself!”?  And why at this point in time would Jesus emphasize the stranger & the foreigner of the scriptures of old being helped?

Many questions exist in this text & our homework poses another — how would we react & respond if Jesus showed up?  Essentially this is a creative thinking (writing) assignment.  If we — our church — was the folks who were in the synagogue — how would we receive Christ?  You can rewrite the whole exchange.  You can imagine Jesus walking into our Sunday worship — what scriptures do you think Christ might read to us?  What might he say are fulfilled?  Where would Jesus come from if he were to show up?  Think about this & think about how we really would respond to him…

Looking forward to hearing how we might welcome Christ (today)!

In grace ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Not “favorite” but most COMFORTING? (Isaiah 40:10)

Last Sunday we were able to gather around the table.  We did.  And opened in prayer.  And then started as we do with the “check-in” — with the conversation around the homework (lifework) from the prior week.  Of course, we’d had 2 weeks last Sunday because of a “snow-sabbath” day.  So, there had been 2 weeks of considering & writing down what God says to, thinks about, and/or calls you.  In the sharing it was encouraging to hear a diversity of answers.  Folks hear God with a kind & tender voice, and folks hear God with a strong voice that convicts.  There was a shared consensus that depending on the time/situation the way God speaks to us is different.  In sitting with some of this insight I asked if the voice of God sounds harsh ever?  There was a bit of push-back to calling God’s voice “harsh” — and offered as an alternative was hearing a lilt of disappointment in God’s voice at times.  A perhaps similar mention to this was how God is holy — always — there’s never a time when God ceases to be holy, and that reality can feel/sound “harsh” (or convicting or with a lilt of disappointment) to us because sin & disobedience can get in the way of our relationship with God (PRAISE GOD FOR THE GRACE OF JESUS!) — and so we noticed a loving God who wants (always) to be in an intimate and saving relationship with us who is big & dynamic enough to speak to us in different & nuanced ways & tones.

And then we did something a little different.  All were given a little piece of paper.  Then everyone was invited to write something that God (has/had/was) inviting them to give up — a burden — something we were carrying that honestly we just can’t carry any longer — to write this down in some way on the paper.  And then we burned the papers.  Fortunately — others are better at burning things than me & as the plate with a little water in it & the matches were passed — the flames came easier.  We were invited to leave the offering of our burdens for GOD to carry.  And then we turned to scripture — Isaiah 41:10

do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.  (New Revised Standard Version)

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.  (New Living Translation)

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness (King James Version)

As we sat with this one verse, one named the difference of language — both not fearing, not being afraid and also not dismaying.  Hearing that God is with us.  Some keyed into the thee & thou language with remembrances (I think) of the good shepherd & Psalm 23.  The hope of course was to hear God’s voice, God’s promises, God’s intention with us even in this one verse.  To hear that God’s heart is for us to trust that God is here with us — to trust and not fear — to trust and not be dismayed — to trust that we are not alone and that indeed it is God who helps us, God who is our comforter, God who is present.  It’s a message & promise that I hear at all times — when life is delightful & when it seems less so — God is present & God is there strengthening us.

But with this & with the conversation earlier centered around hearing God’s voice speaking & calling us.   There can be this disconnect, this understanding in our head, or when we read scripture that yes — God does say this.  But — having that connect & resonate deeply within us — having it be something that we really do trust — is not always easy AT ALL.  We get distracted …we choose fear…we disobey….and by grace (praise GOD) God is gracious to move in us to bring us back, back to a place where we can hear the grace, back to community where we can be encouraged, back into the abundance that God desires for us.  And so the homework this week (yes you do still have time) is to think about what is your most comforting verse and/or passage of scripture?  This is not necessarily the same thing as a favorite scripture — what in the Word of God speaks most to you offering comfort — offering love to you when all of life might be breaking at the seams?  What maybe holds you when you don’t have the strength to hold onto anything?  That is the homework, to name & share that (these) verse(s) with us all.  I don’t know about you — but I am looking forward to being blessed in the sharing on Sunday — see you soon.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

 

But what does GOD call you? (Isaiah 43:1-7)

We gathered, as we do, around the same table.  It was funny, different folks were “early” and “on time” and “a little late.”  As we laughed, as some got coffee, as we negotiated the available seats we settled in and prayed.  And then of course we checked-in, checked-in with some homework that perhaps some (if not most) would prefer to have not been assigned, to consider each day (by literally looking at it) “Be still, and know that I AM GOD” and to consider what an entire year of really trusting and believing that would look and feel like.  The conversation — like all of them — was rich, full, peppered with insight, laughter, and vulnerability.  Comments like the year would feel good — we would feel good, using our skills and talents knowing God has equipped us to move in certain ways & to bless others in certain ways; or that if we really believe this it allows us the ability to breathe because guess what — we are not God and God is in control — even when we don’t see how something will work out; there were comments that being a bit further along on the journey of life allows one to be still more easily but also there were comments that being still (any type of stillness) was hard — that people wanted to be doing something for God — must be doing something for God (I mean just consider the world and the community around us, right?).  There was a comment too though — have we ever considered that God might literally be also inviting us to take a time out, to breathe, to trust the divine parent (GOD) to know what is going on, what is needed, what is helpful?  Have we ever considered like how many around the table are parents that God knows what is best and the invitation for stillness is for us, is necessary, is part of the movement?

It’s hard to trust of course though…we know this because by grace we are alive and on this journey of being found by & seeking God (Amen!) — and so it’s a good reminder, a good invitation, even within the very context of where the scripture comes from — that while the world seems to be falling, while chaos abounds, while it is hard — God has the audacity (or perhaps better named — the LOVE) to tell us, hey slow down, I’ve got this — “Be still, and know that I AM GOD.”  It’s pretty amazing.  It’s a reminder EACH OF US NEED.  It is something that I believe will bless us immeasurably if we are able to trust it & live it for a year — because God does desire this for us, to trust in God’s love, God’s wisdom, God’s ability…wouldn’t we be more blessed trusting God than us & our God-given talents?

Now — while the conversation still most definitely had more rounds to go we turned to scripture, Isaiah 43:1-7…some excerpts,

  1. But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel; “Fear no, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”…. 4. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you,…

This chapter of Isaiah is a beautiful one (feel free to read all of it!) — but we took some time just with the beginning 7 verses.  What stood out to some was that through the hard times — through the oppressive circumstances of life  — God has your back, a translation that painted this picture clearly was how the New Living Translation renders Isaiah 43:2

When you go through deep waters,I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.

We also noticed the ability to read this directly for ourselves, the attempt to hear this as it would have been read (heard) originally, the compassion of God to bring back those spread afar, the ability to read this through a Christ lens (one where Christ comes to redeem us).  And as we pushed against the time allotted for our weekly study we turned to what the homework and lifework is for this week — to daily (or at least once — but ideally daily) — write down what God calls you/says about you.  (Yes come ready to share on Sunday).   The goal here to be very transparent, is to HEAR how God sees us more loudly than how anyone else (including ourselves) see us…So happy listening & looking forward to continuing the journey on Sunday!

Listening with you ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Be STILL and know that I AM GOD (Psalm 46:10a)

It was the first Sunday of the new year, Epiphany Sunday — and after having a week off of meeting (on the last Sunday of 2018) — we gathered round the table.  Chatting and laughing as we figured out who was sitting where, we opened in prayer & then checked-in a bit about the optional homework assignment from the last 2 weeks.  Praying for our community — for the in-breaking of hope, peace, joy, and love.

The reflection seemed to be that it was hard.  Praying in generalities was difficult.  Which in some ways might invite us to use the general as starting point for specifics — to use the idea of how in Advent we name that true hope, peace, joy, and love are truly found in Christ & at Christmas we celebrate how Christ broke into our “ordinary” world and lives in an undeniable way to make manifest hope, peace, joy, and love in a new way! — to guide our prayers; to think what would God breaking into SVE — look like today — what would the hope in Christ, the peace in Christ, the joy in Christ, the love in Christ, look like in specific ways — that we could prayerfully name?

The conversation also lead us to a space to consider community & love & unity across difference.  Conversations that are not always easy.  Realities that can hurt.  Arguably the idea of expectation in relationship was broached — how do we be authentic to what the Holy Spirit has spoken to us, while respecting how God in infinite wisdom has given ALL of us both the gift of grace and the freedom to choose to accept the gift, or not?  These are places where we (each and every one of us) can still grow — inviting God to lead us to love with Christ’s heart, to comfort with the tenderness and strength of the Holy Spirit, to see and hear each other (especially when we don’t agree with each other — on the important things!) — with God’s eyes and ears and heart.  Maybe that’s part of the key to praying specifically for hope, peace, joy, and love to break into our communities — to be intentionally praying for God to have God’s way in our very own beings — especially when it is hard; especially when we don’t agree; especially when we’d prefer that God would stay quiet about how Christ came for all on purpose!

And we talked a bit more here, before turning to the scripture selection for the day, Pslam46.   The conversation naturally moved toward Psalm 46:10a,

Be still, and know that I am God.

We asked, what is stillness?  Stillness of mind?  Stillness of body?  Other?  Some mentioned that really when praying, all else ceases and they focus on God alone.  Others mentioned in the time when it seems they could (should) be still, and they are physically their mind races.  Others asked if people were in the habit of working on being still, working on stopping, working on listening — fully listening to God?  There was talk of how our harried, distracted minds/lives are our nature thus making stillness challenging…but there was mention too of how God might — in the invitation to be still — be reminding us all that our true nature is not harried and distracted but fully present with God in the beauty of creation and a loving relationship with the Creator of all.  And so we pondered these 8 powerful and elusive words.  (Though, I don’t know quite how still we were in the conversation!)

And thanks be to God — the homework comes directly from this verse we had been focused on.  All gathered round the table were given an index card & invited to write these 8 words, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  And the homework is this:

  • Each day this week — at least once a day — look at this verse.
  • And consider & seriously answer (for you), what would a whole year committed to knowing & living this (“Be still & know that I am God) — look & feel like?

Y’all I cannot wait to hear these answers and to see (& feel) the movement of the Holy Spirit though this week with taking the time daily to look at — Be STILL, and know that I AM GOD.  Be encouraged as you experience the week.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater  

 

The Lord IS near & happy new year (Psalm 80:1-7)

It was 2 Sundays ago, back in 2018 — back before Christmas (on Sunday the 23rd) when we gathered round the table together.  We arrived, some later than others and after some banter opened in prayer.  And then we began checking-in; talking about whether the Lord is near, talking about what is hardest in Philippians 4:4-7 (rejoicing always, letting your gentleness be made known, not worrying/anxious, praying for your desires), talking about if we follow these verses will joy be guaranteed to come?

There were mixed responses.  God can feel so very far, maybe not from us specifically but from all those suffering.  God is also inside each of us — so God is near, always…but it doesn’t always feel quite that way.  And then all the invitations — to rejoice always, to be gentle, to not worry, to (know & then) pray your desires are each challenging, with some being more challenging than others to each of us (likely some even being more or less challenging depending on whatever season of life we might be in!).  And while we didn’t necessarily consider following these 3 verses to guarantee joy would come, it seems that we did agree that following these verses (and seeking God in general), but in seeking to live into these invitations, to rejoice always, to be gentle, to not worry, to pray your desires did make a difference in our lives.  From experience, when we have done these — when we have rejoiced even when our heart might be full of sorrow, when we have been gentle even when taken advantage of, when we have been able to pray our desires to God — it allows joy to be present, it has allowed us to breathe easier knowing that God holds us tenderly.  So while not a guarantee, we did agree that trusting and living this “guide” has proven reliable, and as we enter into the new year perhaps we can hold onto these verses!

And then (I think) we turned briefly to scripture — and if memory serves…we didn’t read the whole scripture selection for the day (Psalm 80:1-7) but instead I named it, and highlighted verse 3 & 7 (nearly same language):

Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us,that we may be saved.

Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

There wasn’t time to discuss.  But instead the announcement of no Adult Study on Dec. 30th & an invitation to optional homework, for the next 2 weeks — the ending of 2018 and beginning of 2019 — to be praying for hope, peace, joy, and love to come to our community — right now & next year (this year!) in new & unexpected ways.   It’s a homework assignment of course we can be doing (praying, living) at all times.

I pray God is in-breaking in new ways right now and I cannot wait to sit around the table with you again, for the first of many times in 2019!  See y’all Sunday!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

The Lord is near…REJOICE! (Philippians 4:4-7)

We gathered around the table.  People made a few comments about the windows (they are back).  There was laughter – esp. because more folks than usual were early/on-time.  We opened in prayer.

Then we checked-in, how was bringing peace during the week?  Some felt like some peace was brought to them, an unexpected gift received.  One prayed peace over their home/space and found that things that could have not been peaceful — were fine (AMEN!).  Someone helped create a space where someone else who was having a hard time could find peace.  We wondered about if we were talking about our own (a type of internal peace) was being discussed, a type of peace between people or in families, as well as what about the larger communities/nations; can we really influence a peace in the world?  And of course at some point we wondered, what exactly is peace?  Can we even agree on if/when peace has arrived or been brought?

As is the case, (always), we did not exhaust all the answers; in fact, we didn’t even name all the questions — and yet, we are called to be those who bring peace — and perhaps those who know peace too — may God be so gracious to equip us to know and offer peace — a peace that is rooted in Christ!  But we did shift from a conversation centered on peace to consider Scripture, Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (New International Version) 

It seems the feeling when hearing these verses is to breathe easier, to feel comforted by God.  People knew the truth of these verses, how indeed when we pray about what is heavy, when we lift it to God –we do breathe easier.  And yet, this is also a challenging invitation (how often do we resist doing what the verses say), we are asked much here and so — like the scripture, we have been asked much in the 3-part homework assignment:

  1. The scripture says “the Lord is near” — in Advent we are waiting for Christ to come again (for the in-breaking of God into our lives!) — so do you agree that the Lord is near?  What does that even mean?  And — how do you know the Lord is near?
  2. What is hardest in these verses?  (Rejoice always?  Letting your gentleness be known?  Not worrying/being anxious?  Praying your desires/requests?)
  3. On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, when we light the “joy” candle — does doing exactly what these verses say lead to & bring forth Joy?  (Yes or No and why?)

Y’all we are almost at Christmas, the time when we remember and celebrate the coming of God to us, in the most unexpected way — so I’m excited to hear your thoughts (as always!) this coming Sunday on these questions — to be blessed by the wisdom gathered around the table, to grow in Christ together.

In Christ & waiting ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Bringing Peace (Luke 3:1-6 & lighting the candle of peace)

It was Sunday (days ago) and we gathered (as we do) around the table.  The coffee was hot for those who wanted & the lights were on especially because there was less natural light streaming in (since the windows re-installation had begun & cardboard filled a large window).  We opened in prayer.

And then of course was that delightful time of the homework check-in.  Not all had necessarily understood it.  There were mixed thoughts.  Are we there yet, at this time where creation (the creation without “voice” — sun, moon, stars) is giving us signs and we — humanity, from all over — are confused; are we at the time when Christ is coming again to us — returning to earth (as we know it) in the way that he left it after the resurrection — in a cloud & this time in the pomp & circumstance that was expected the first time?  Well…yes, in the sense that we are confused, and there are things (say like climate change…or if you prefer the fires, earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, etc.)…and also no, in the sense that there has always been storms, and climate change, and no one is shouting that they’ve spotted Jesus on a cloud.  And what about the second question, are we ready?  Are we prepared for Christ to come back?  Yes — in that exasperated space of — God is so much better, there’s so much brokenness, pain, death — yes we are ready.  And, yes — in that hopeful space of we can’t wait for Christ to come back — to get to really know him — to be living in “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” — to be there!  And yes too — in the sense that by grace, as far as we are able we’ve been doing what we believe God has called & equipped us to do — we are ready!  And no, no in the sense that if we were ready Christ would be here; and no in the sense that not all who will come to the saving knowledge of Christ are there; and so no — because we are still lighting the advent candles and we are still praying and we are still here…

So the questions, are we there yet & are we ready, are useful to invite us to think and to pray and to reflect.  But it seems the answers might always be a “both-and” and a “yes and no.”  Which of course can be frustrating, but y’all that can happen as we read scripture — especially when the Holy Spirit gives further revelation and the Word speaks powerfully into our lives in new & different & unexpected ways (which is something God has always been in the business of doing).  And we turned to a new text to consider in our Advent season, Luke 3:1-6.

We noticed how the story is situated in a specific time, a specific social & political context.  It was named how John the Baptist was doing something that was not new, he was baptizing the people — doing a faith ritual that was familiar, and God was using that in a new & different way — God was breathing new life into an old practice.  And we saw that the seeing of salvation of God was for everyone — not just some, but all.  While unsaid specifically (I think) it is worth noting how the proclamation & the practice of baptism roots John & Jesus too in the faith practice & tradition of Judaism — this is not something new, but something old with new life — this is God using what is known to bring more life — this is the faith of the ancestors in fullness and something they could speak to but not fully know (using the voice of prophets that came before them like Isaiah) — this is a type of fulfillment.

Our homework this week connects a bit with the idea of joining into the (already) movement of God to bring a fulfillment now even as we wait for Christ to come again!  It also coincides with the candle we lit during worship, the candle of Peace, in which we prayed,

Dear God, we pray for the peace that only You can bring through Your Son, Jesus the Christ.  May we walk in the paths of peace.  Amen.

Thus the homework is this: bring peace in at least one way this week.

I know…perhaps not an easy task, but we indeed are called to be peacemakers, and indeed we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ — who is the Prince of Peace; so while hard it seems rather appropriate that we would seek in this season especially (but really for at all times!) — to be those seeking to bring peace!

As always — looking forward to when we gather getting to hear the stories of peace & be blessed by what God is up too through each of you who will gather round the table.

Waiting for Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Are we there yet?…Are we ready? (Luke 21:25-36)

It was December 2nd.  The first Sunday of December.  The 1st Sunday in Advent (the 4 Sundays before Christmas is celebrated, a distinct time of waiting, expectation and preparation — for God’s in-breaking into our lives in new & unexpected ways).  And we gathered around the table, and prayed — while expecting some more would join before we finished.

After “Amen” we began checking-in.  Sharing if we had done the homework (a few folks said no) — but some had read, and some had thought a little about it and so we still were able to check in with this idea of “enough” — and we were able to have honest conversation.  Conversation that engaged how disappointing and vulnerable it is to consider the places where we feel we are not enough; conversation which asked who gets to decide “enough” — is it God, or is it us?; conversation that named the need for us to let go of our own ideals and expectations of enough and to accept God’s instead.  And in only the briefest moment we mentioned (or was it just me?) how the story goes that we give what (little – insufficient – not enough) we have, offering it to God & God takes it, breaks it, blesses it and uses it for exactly what it shouldn’t be able to do.  That’s grace — that’s God — that’s powerful!  But let’s be honest, do we really want God to take and to break that which we offer (especially when that which we offer is our very selves)?  That seems to be the deal, that there is a breaking involved in the blessing…it’s what Christ has (always) showed us & every time we celebrate communion we remember this in the breaking of the bread (in the sharing of Christ’s body — broken for us!).

And following this we turned to scripture, we turned to Luke 21:25-36 (one of the lectionary selections for the day).  We heard the scripture read aloud only once, held silence and then began speaking.  We spoke of this being a more apocalyptic text, and speaking more of spiritual than physical realities.  We spoke of the ability of this text to seemingly reference realities in every age — wars and violence.  We spoke about the need to be watchful/aware.  But we didn’t have too much time to think about the text, to talk about the text, to notice where the Holy Spirit was inviting us to look and listen harder.  This is one of the texts that begins the Advent Season this year, this idea of the whole world knowing and seeing the coming of the Son of Man; this idea that all creation is in total understanding of when God is coming.  So I find the homework to be a rather fitting two questions for us to consider:

  1. First, are we there yet?  Are we at the time for which this text is speaking?  Are the signs present?  Is the Son of Man coming – right now?  So — are we there yet? (take another look at verses 25-27)
  2. And second, how do we wait for the time to come?  How are we preparing?  How are we watching?  (take another look at verses 34-36).

Y’all we are in the season of preparation, the season of expectation, the season of waiting — all for the in-breaking of Hope — of Peace — of Joy — of Love — of God!  It will not be expected but we are called to be waiting, to be preparing — to be excited about what God is up to and how God will show up (and change everything!).  Are we there yet?  Are we ready?  I for one can’t wait to hear what all y’all think; I can’t wait to be blessed by what the Holy Spirit will speak through each of y’all during this week.

In Christ & waiting ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater  

Gratitude & the idea of “enough.” (Mark 6:30-44)

Just a little more than 48 hours ago we gathered round the table.  Some familiar faces were missing while others who we had missed for awhile were back.  The coffee (one pot of regular & one of decaf) were hot & ready.  And with some delightful chatting & connecting already beginning we opened in prayer.

As folk continued to join we began sharing how the last 2 weeks of taking the time to reflect upon at least 1 thing we are grateful for went, how it influenced us.  One shared how there is so much they are grateful for, including health & family — that it was nearly overwhelming considering the blessings, considering how blessed they are.  Another shared how even as they slowed and considered the many things they are thankful for, they also struggle a bit with a type of survivors guilt — wondering aloud, why me? (why us?) — why do I have the blessings that I have when so many others do not?  (Though it was also noted, that our idea of blessing is also culturally shaped…that not everyone in the world would choose to live like us or to have the blessings that we enjoy…)  And someone else found research naming how saying “thank you” and being grateful has health benefits — sharing they personally found sleep to be more restorative in this season of being mindful in thinking & giving thanks — and they found in noticing their blessings, they were more able to handle whatever God brought their way.

Today — and during the Holiday Season especially — it can be challenging to take the time to breathe, to reflect upon life as we know it, the blessings in our lives, and what we are thankful for.  It can be hard because it’s so easy for us to see what we don’t have (and want), it can be so easy for us to want (more), and it seems so much harder to see all that we (already) do have.  And this of course is part of what drives our economy right?  Those desires for more — for that “shiny” thing which somehow affirms us & makes us more shiny and more new?  Beloved — only God does that, only Christ offers us a new life — a new beginning — a joy that is beyond all circumstances — and it is a gift freely given, never bought by us because it’s already be bought by Christ!  So as we enter the Advent Season (a season often forgotten in the excitement of Christmas) — may we remember that even as we wait for what is to come next (God bursting into our lives in unexpected & often uncomfortable ways!) we give thanks for the blessing of the waiting time too…I know not easy, but it seems that giving thanks even in the not-so-easy times will help us to be able to endure a bit better.

But we turned from talking of being grateful to scripture, specifically Mark 6:30-44.

This section of scripture is known as “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand.”  A time when the disciples (appropriately) asked Jesus to send all the people he (& they) were teaching away so that they could get dinner & Jesus (incredulously) told them — nah, you feed them.  And the miracle happened, while they were hungry & after Jesus gave thanks (for what they did have — 5 loaves & 2 fish) all the people were fed & satisfied.

This scripture gave us much to chew on (see what I did there?).  Was this a spiritual feeding or a physical one?  Yes.  Were they really satisfied?  Yes, the scripture says so.  Does it matter that they just say 5000 men were fed, yes, because the number is greater when you think about the women and children (some say it perhaps was more like 20,000).  Was the miracle more of the feeding, or the gathering & teaching of so many?  (Think about how HUNGRY & what type of hunger they people gathered were & had.)  Is it less of a miracle if the people shared what they had — so much so that there was more than enough to satisfy all who were gathered?  What are the implications for us, today — as individuals, as a church, as a church, as part of a national community?  What exactly would Jesus do today with all the things/events/wars/migration going on, what would Jesus do?

Our conversation could have gone on — of course — but it drew past time to close.  The homework was handed out — though if you missed it — or misplaced it — it can be found HERE.  Specifically, please consider the “Spiritual Exercise”

A Spiritual Exercise
Read Mark 6:30–44. The disciples’ response to the needs of the crowd was, “send them away.” Are there any people with needs in your life that you sometimes wish would go away? How do you find your patience and energy being stretched by these people? What circumstances tend to make you feel “it’s not enough” or “I’m not enough?”

Pick one of these situations of need. In prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to show you the five loaves and two fish that you have to offer there. In your imagination, take those things and put them into the hands of Jesus for his use. Ask Jesus to take, bless, break, and use what you have to meet the need in this situation. Thank God for what God is going to do. Try to develop the habit of letting anxiety and irritation function as a call to prayer.

Y’all I’m looking forward to seeing what the Holy Spirit speaks through this scripture during the week.  This idea of enough & not enough – something that we mentioned briefly on Sunday — how what (little) was offered, what they had, with God was enough.  I wonder — is that the thing, that who we are — with God is enough?

Until we gather next may all be held in the tender arms of God.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater