Imprisoned for Christ? (Philippians 1:12-18b)

Today we gathered round the table. We were mostly on-time, and it was a warm table — with only a few squabbles over the choice chairs to sit in. After the last person (at that time!) sat, we opened in prayer. And then we began checking-in: answering the question of what we learned about Philippians and what the good work is that God is working on in us.

We started with what we learned: written by Paul, while he was imprisoned (likely in Rome, but perhaps somewhere else like Ephesus, or Caesarea), written to a church in Philippi that he had established earlier. Also, the church is mostly Gentile, and the general population of Philippi is retired Roman soldiers. We also learned that this letter of Paul’s is likely one of his last (or the last) — so we can hear it nearly as final words in some ways. It was also noted that this letter is encouraging, full of joy (a theme), and also seems as though written to Paul’s favorite (church/believers) — in a way, this seems appropriate as he was in many ways called to the Gentiles and this church was mostly Gentile.

We learned quite a bit about the book (and yes, of course you can continue learning about the book as we continue with it!); the willingness to share about the good work that God is doing within each of us is a little more challenging (vulnerable) if we want to engage the details. We named how generally, God is working out our salvation; that we are becoming more like Christ. It was named how this could be more of a behavioral thing that God is working on or more of a heart thing that God is developing within us (note — these two are perhaps more intertwined than we understand or really think!). And so we talked about some behavioral pieces that God is addressing, and we talked about some heart issues that God is addressing — noticing that even as we get older (and prayerfully more mature in Christ) we still have things that God is working on in each of us! Within here too we began to talk about what it really means when Paul prays that our love abound, that it grow in knowledge & discernment — and we considered perhaps Paul’s prayer is that with all that life offers us (including pain, sorrow, betrayal, hurt, anger, imprisonment…etc.) that we choose to grow in love — that our hearts get larger in the breaking rather than grow smaller or colder or harder; this prayer is a hard one — it’s one that recognizes that love (even when the emotional euphoria is not there) is a decision that includes behaviors (like Christ going to a cross) that we would rather not do; this love is expansive and costly & seems rather to line up with the Good Work that God is working out in us all (until we’re done — and to allow us to be able to do the work that has been prepared *ministry in all forms* in advance for us to participate in!).

So…after a rich conversation that really did not want to end, we turned again to scripture & continued in Philippians reading Philippians 1:12-18b:

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[a] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[b] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

New International Version

We heard the scripture read aloud once and had just a little bit of silence before seeing where the Holy Spirit was directing us to look. Quickly mentioned was different motives; that what mattered was the preaching of the gospel; that everything had happened was for the advancement of the gospel; that Paul is rejoicing. There is much being said in these few verses, and much that if we’re being honest might be rather challenging for us to really agree with (if we’re being honest that is!). And so — in short order the homework for the week was offered before we closed in prayer, and it was/is:

  • Answer: Have you (literally or metaphorically) been imprisoned for Christ? Please describe/say more/explain…
  • Answer: Do you agree with Paul with all that he is offering here (in these verses)? Why/Why not? In theory or reality? *doesn’t matter people’s motives — only that Christ is preached….or “it” (all life) all makes sense & is to advance the gospel….?

Enjoy answering y’all…and of course keep on learning about Philippians as we go. Looking forward to gathering around the table with y’all next Sunday! Until then….

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Finishing a Good Work? (Philippians 1:1-11)

Yesterday we gathered round the table. Some usual faces were absent, but as it happens — the table was full of beautiful people of God — to read Scripture with & listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We opened in prayer.

Then we checked in trying to answer why God loves kids so much; and also sharing at least one way that you (we) can receive a child in God’s name or help protect a child from sin. There was an immediate answer that was both simple and profound: the Bible; reading & teaching the Bible instructs us all on how to receive a child in God’s name and how to help protect a child from sin. (*I mean, if we’re honest, while there are arguably many ways that this can & is done — I wonder if we’d all agree that the under-girding of these ways is from the Bible, from a scriptural basis instructing us how to treat children & each other!)

The question about why God loves kids so much took us in a few tangents, again visiting and talking about children who are young in age, as well as children of God (spiritual children — not talking so much about “age” in that sense). AND, we also even dipped into the more (what we called:) “technical” differentiation between who are considered (spiritual) children of God — engaging some conversation about who is named as a child of God — and our own (our, meaning us — individuals who have the ability to say/choose whether we trust/believe/follow Christ) decision(s) as to if we accept the gift of grace. This is a conversation that can go on for a long time; some people can be invigorated with the engagement with scripture & asking hard questions, others are less so — that’s OK & doesn’t mean you are less or more spiritual than another, each of us is and has been shaped uniquely in the divine imagine of God! And yet — we reminded ourselves that while we do find ourselves blessed to be considered children of God (a grace given to us) — our status as children of God does not guarantee us to somehow living a good life without sorrow or pain or betrayal; and if we forget we need only consider God’s only begotten Son: Jesus Christ! Jesus in whom God was well pleased, the one who is God — he went to the cross, and died, and rose from death into life — FOR ALL OF US, but let us not forget that the most beloved of God still endured death on a cross & all the pain & suffering that led to that event…the children of God are beloved, but safe from pain or betrayal or sorrow in this world that we know — we are not; but we are not alone in it (AMEN?!).

So after this we turned to scripture…Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

New International Version

We listened to the scripture read aloud twice. We allowed God some space in silence to direct our thoughts to where God was speaking to us yesterday. Some noticed that this letter is kinder and softer in its approach and message than the others Paul wrote, a more encouraging letter for us to receive today. One heard something that is HARD…check out verse 10, that we “may be purse and blameless for the day of Christ.” We might try, but completely pure and blameless? That’s a TALL order that we are trying for…but. Another appreciated the end — all glory and praise to God.

Our homework however — will ask two things of us:

  • 1st: we are invited to learn all we can about the book of Philippians. We will be spending time in this book, reading it through together — thus, this week let us be learning about it!
  • 2nd: re-read verse 6 & answer what is the good work that God is working on in you?

I’m excited when we will gather together again — next Sunday! And don’t forget Daylight Savings…so you know “spring ahead!”

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Did you wash your hands? (Mt. 18:1-6)

Last Sunday we gathered, as we usually do around the table. While there was some shuffling of seats & some spilling of coffee we did make it alright and opened in prayer.

Then we began the checking-in, sharing our answers to how old we are in Christ and whether or not it’s possible to simultaneously be mature in Christ and have a child-like faith. Some found the ageing process (well naming an age I should say) challenging, others felt their Christ-age was their current age, some named the age they are with when they accepted Christ as when they were born-again (so a new birthday/age of sorts), others gave general ages — like middle aged, or old enough to no longer be a teenager but not too old to still get in trouble (and need grace of course!). The answers about maturity & child-like faith were fun to hear. At least one named that we’re not fully mature really until death (which is the completion of our baptism). Others named when thinking they’d perhaps finally gotten it (something) well life came through to remind them there was much yet to learn, so humility was a big part of the maturing process (& reminding us we’re not there yet). In the humbling, some also found an invitation to child-like faith, a going back — a needing to focus on and trust fully in God. Some of those around the table have experienced (or are experiencing) grandchildren who are young, and trusting, and have a curiosity and joyful exuberance about life — a way to invite those who are a bit older to see again the world in awe and wonder…perhaps even an invitation to simplicity and a very grounded holding of the moment presenting itself to you (as literally children cannot remember all the things folks who are older can…). Though in short, the discovery was regardless of the age we felt in Christ, no one thought they were totally mature and without growth yet to happen, and it seemed that everyone around the table thought it both possible and actually necessary to be able to be simultaneously mature in Christ and childlike in our faith.

So we turned to scripture, Mt. 18:1-6:

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

New International Version (NIV)

We considered these 6 verses. We heard the text read three times and allowed God to direct our thoughts even in silence in between the readings. It’s peculiar to consider the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is a child, or the example of a child. Do we wonder why a child is the example? Or in what way are we invited by Christ to become like little children? In the NIV rendering, what exactly does it look like to take the “lowly” position of a child? Are we to have no power? Complete trust in God? Question everything? Enjoy creation? Make messes? Expect goodness in others? Cry when we are hurt? Expect fairness in life? What exactly are we to have or do to be like a child?

We noticed of course the harsh warning if we are those who cause one of “these little ones” to fall — it’s harsh! But we asked too, we think of little children, but are we also to think of those who are little children in the faith (which of course is much more expansive/inclusive….perhaps maybe even all of us?)? So what does it mean to think of causing a little one in the faith to stumble? And do we hear the harsh warning? Because…we’re we just saying that we’re not fully mature in Christ; that we are still learning and growing and making mistakes; does the warning hold true for us even if & even when with good desires and intentions the impact is to cause a little one in the faith to stumble? (Is it possible, or does God’s grace cover us?). Questions not fully answered round the table, but perhaps the answering has begun between God & us in the asking of the questions…

So of course homework for the week…a two-part option:

  • 1st: Why does God love kids so much?
  • 2nd: What is one way (this week even) that you can either:
    • receive a child in God’s name? (OR)
    • help protect a child from sin?

Looking forward to seeing many of y’all around the table tomorrow morning!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

How old are you, really? (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

Y’all I do apologize that this blog is coming so late this week! And it still is true, last Sunday we gathered round the table as is our tradition, and after settling in & mostly finding the seats that we usually sit in (because, well we are rather creatures of habit which can be both a blessing & a challenge), and some grabbed or topped off their cups of coffee, we opened with prayer.

Then we checked-in, the prior lifework had been to give at least one person who was not already on our list of recipients, a valentine. Some found it a little fun, choosing to gift many people valentines & we even got to learn about a fun (& cost-effective) way of giving online & interactive cards. Some had forgotten & even gave out a valentine or two that day. What was interesting though, was that we didn’t seem to want to share too much about the experience, but even with that some of us around the table had been the recipients of an unexpected valentine and found it very moving to receive one unexpected. And for those who did give out one or even multiple valentine’s — the shared experience in the giving was that it typically brought joy to both the giver & the receiver! So even without too much to share it was a blessing of some lifework to experience & a good reminder for us all to share some love in the world — amen?! (And don’t worry….I’m sure it’ll be an annual life-work assignment — but FYI you don’t have to wait a whole year to offer some unexpected joy or love into someone’s life!)

So after checking in we turned to 1 Corinthians 3:1-9:

My friends, you are acting like the people of this world. That’s why I could not speak to you as spiritual people. You are like babies as far as your faith in Christ is concerned. So I had to treat you like babies and feed you milk. You could not take solid food, and you still cannot, because you are not yet spiritual. You are jealous and argue with each other. This proves that you are not spiritual and that you are acting like the people of this world.

Some of you say that you follow me, and others claim to follow Apollos. Isn’t that how ordinary people behave? Apollos and I are merely servants who helped you to have faith. It was the Lord who made it all happen. I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow. What matters isn’t those who planted or watered, but God who made the plants grow. The one who plants is just as important as the one who waters. And each one will be paid for what they do. Apollos and I work together for God, and you are God’s garden and God’s building.

Common English Version (CEV) translation

We heard the scripture read aloud three times with silence between each reading to allow the Holy Spirit to direct our attention where God desired for last Sunday. What came up was rich conversation. Talking about milk, the necessity that milk must come first (and while I don’t think it was mentioned, also of great interest is to consider just how important milk & often the mother’s milk (if possible, and formula if not) is for the overall health & thriving of a person — the fact that the time for milk consumption is vital for health…) There was recognition that we all have different roles, and no need to be jealous of each other — because it is God & God alone who does the growing & we’re all on God’s team….but as the scripture mentions, it can be hard to be “spiritual” and often we find ourselves rather “worldly,” or “fleshly,” or “carnal,” depending on what translation you might be following. We tried to talk about what eating solid food (“meat”) in our spiritual lives might look like — but of course that (like eating meat!) is hard, takes time, can cause indigestion or perhaps even invite us to a nap after consuming…we didn’t get too far in this vein, but it was noted.

And perhaps that’s rather expected, because we know that while God is the one growing each of us, and the Triune God is who we follow…our egos can often get in the way and we do find — or have found — (even dare I say in our own church?) that there can be times of distension, of arguing, of perhaps even jealousy… And that of course is hard because we all are on this journey of life, of love, of following God & we don’t always get it right (part of why every week we confess together in worship & ask forgiveness from God!) — but we want to, we want to be spiritual children of God who can eat the meat that God/Christ/Holy Spirit feeds us for our growth & good & we’re trying; and on our best days I think we trust that so is everyone else! So it can be hard to consider if we indeed are acting Christ-like, if we are speaking in love, encouraging each other, letting God be God & serving in the way that God invites us to with great humility — not easy service of course!

But…we all know that even while the conversation can be rich the clock keeps on ticking & usually there’s a homework/lifework assignment and last week was no different. And indeed….perhaps if you’ve forgotten there’s still time to consider….because the homework was some personal thinking/reflecting on two questions:

  • 1st: Think about/figure out — How old are you in Christ? Yes, please think of an actual age (#) & why you think this is so! (fun right???)
  • 2nd: Consider…is it possible to be mature in Christ & to simultaneously have a child-like faith??? Why or why not?

Y’all…looking forward to seeing you & seeking God with you & being blessed by being near you so soon.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Blessed are…who? (Mt. 5:1-12)

Almost an entire week ago, we gathered around the table. It’s a good tradition isn’t it, to either begin (or end) a week gathering with friends (who prayerfully feel like family), praying, listening, sharing life, and trying to hear, understand & follow God together? It is beautiful I think & a blessing. Last Sunday we gathered, we sat, we opened in prayer.

Then we began checking in, reminding ourselves the homework had been to figure out what Jesus meant & was saying when he said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (people).”; to consider if we (you) are effective fishers of people; and to discuss what it means to be a fisher of people? What was a beautiful theme that emerged in the sharing was something that in some ways is too simple…to be a(n effective) fisher of people was to live a good life; an exemplary life; a life that is marked by grace — one where we are kind, generous, involved in our community. Scripture was referenced, reminding and inviting us to live in such a way as to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)

We didn’t leave the conversation (check-in) fully satisfied. We wrestled a little with what being effective (or what we often want “success(ful)”) means & who really gets to determine & define that (God). We held for consideration who’s job it is to “save souls” & convict hearts (the Holy Spirit). And so in different words, and from various voices — we sat in that space of being an effective fisher of people (a disciple dare I say) is to follow Christ and to live a life that is marked by the desire to follow Christ well…that is how we become (effective) fishers of people — to follow Christ.

But we turned as we do to scripture & this time to Matt. 5:1-12, the section of scripture known as the Sermon on the Mount (sermon by Jesus) & the Beatitudes. This sermon that Jesus offered to his disciples and the crowds, maybe was his best or his worst sermon, you decide. But these beatitudes are a list of couplets, blessed are (you — insert identity here) — because you get (insert thing/reality here); but they are seemingly on first read nonsensical. Perhaps actually Jesus was even introducing the first opposite day — you know when you say literally the opposite of what you mean…but that is not how we have received this teaching of Jesus, the beatitudes can be a very challenging to understand or appreciate, and yet we still yearn to know what Jesus meant & why it was important to teach us these beatitudes. And this is how we came to the homework for the week….everyone was invited to draw from the bag…and they chose 1 of these beatitudes to live with for the week & to discern:

  • What does this beatitude really mean?
  • What does this beatitude look like today?
    • Who is blessed?
    • How are they blessed? (the 2nd half of the beatitude….)
    • Ex: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — Who are the “poor” today? How do they have “the kingdom of heaven” today? (*or what is the “kingdom of heaven” today?)

Looking forward to learning from all y’all tomorrow. And there’s still time to discern even if this got a bit forgotten….

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Follow & fish for people? (Matt. 4:12-22)

Last week we gathered round the table. We greeted each other with smiles and we opened in prayer. After saying “Amen” — the homework assignment was remembered — seeing how encouraging at least one person the week prior had gone.

People checked in with different experiences. One found that the encouragement (the homework assignment) seemed to open up opportunities for them to encourage many throughout the week. While another found that the only person (in person) they seemed able to encourage was their spouse. Another person shared a story that may or may not have been encouraging in the sense of the homework assignment (mixed reviews there, and full of smiles!). The theme I’d invite us to remember though was how we also discovered that there are many different ways that we can encourage others — it might be with our words, or perhaps a wordless smile, a welcome hug, a note sent along — it might be something shared in-person and it might be something sent along (like a card, a voice mail, a text, an email). We were reminded that encouragement looks different & at least to me, that’s encouraging too!

Then we turned to scripture, looking to Matthew 4:12-22:

12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

New Revised Standard Version

We listened twice with silence between — trying to discern where God was directing us right then to look more closely. And then we shared. Someone was drawn to considering, what exactly does it mean to sit in darkness (as compared to walking through it)? Many considered the father in the boat. We wondered how that father felt, was he encouraging of his sons; was he discouraged; did he know Jesus? Some asked questions about how quickly is “immediately” exactly? Which led to pondering if we would do the same, immediately follow Jesus if he called. Some thought yes, others no, still others thought when younger — of course to drop what you’re doing – leave the family business – and follow this Jesus. And while in some ways we don’t (& can’t) know how we would have responded, others named moments in their lives where a decision had to be made and when that moment presented itself indeed they left all to follow/to be obedient/to submit. Life is full of choices & decisions, and God continues to speak with & guide us (Amen?) — and so we do get invited to follow Christ again & again & again in our lives…if the model of those original disciples reveals anything to us it is there is grace to stumble & fall (away) & still by God’s grace be counted as one of God’s own! (Be encouraged! I know I am!)

And so perhaps the homework assignment should have been — would you follow? Immediately? Or are you following right now? But that was not the assignment, our work for this week is answering 3 questions:

  1. What does “Follow me, & I will make you fishers of men/people.” mean? *another way to do this would be to put it in your own words*
  2. Are we (you) effective fishers of people?
  3. What does it mean to be a fisher of people?

While the questions are seemingly direct, that doesn’t mean they are easy to answer. I know I’m looking forward to seeing what y’all are thinking come Sunday. Until then, happy wresting (with God).

In Christ ~

Rev. Sabrina Slater

Offering Encouragement (Psalm 40:6-11)

Last Sunday a good number of us gathered around the table as is our practice. Smiles were shared and an appreciation of the sun shining outside before we opened in prayer.

Of course following prayer, we reminded ourselves as to the prior weeks homework: to consider the storms of life we have experience & see if we might notice any patterns, as well as see if there might be a bit of encouragement God gave in remembering the past storms and how exactly God has been faithful.

While the sharing was slow-ish to begin, we heard how some can look back and see and remember and know that God is faithful and has always provided, but still find it hard to trust, to be patient (to even be still!) while a new storm is all around. We also heard how some might not consider what they go through to be (all that big of) storms, though it was interesting to hear that others in their life could remember times when God had covered & protected them & their family in challenging situations. Another shared a “how to” get through a storm — or avoid one in the first place — which included always including God, asking for help/wisdom/direction, and also waiting on God. Someone else named how none of us are promised a life without storms, in fact that we would have trials and tribulations — to which I posed the question as to whether or not people enjoy the storms of life? (A question that I still invite people to answer for themselves…do you enjoy the storms of life? Do they have value? If you might not say you “enjoy” the storms, what do you think of them? Do you appreciate them, despise them, something else? An extra life-work question!)

Not all answered, which is always fine — we are invited always to be discerning in when and how we share — and I also wonder, sometimes the storms that God has faithfully kept us in & through (and keeps us in & through) are too tender, too devastating, too expansive for everyone to hold — God is faithful and sometimes the encouragement is just for us in remembering, and sometimes the encouragement is meant to be shared one-on-one as the Holy Spirit guides and invites. Prayerfully, in the remembering of past storms & how God has been active in them we each were encouraged…

Then we pivoted to scripture, Psalm 40:6-11.

After listening & holding silence we named where the Holy Spirit invited us to notice. Considering the emphasis on speaking, holding that God is not asking us just to follow all the rules (“in sacrifice and offering you have not delighted”), wanting God’s mercy and steadfast love to keep us. And even noticing that in just the next verse there is this reality that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are to preserve us — because we have been encompassed in evil and our hearts fail us!

There is much in these verses, inviting us to love God with all that we have, to desire to be in an active and intimate and vibrant relationship — one that we enjoy sharing about! Thus, it seemed only fitting to have a homework assignment for the week that invites us to speak about God’s faithfulness, God’s saving help, God’s love in our own lives! And that is the assignment, to encourage at least one person during the week in sharing how God has shown up in your own life & in your own storms. Y’all, it might be a bit vulnerable, and yet I invite us all to trust the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to share as we are directed with someone in need of the encouragement. (And y’all….how many of us know that we need encouragement, even when all looks ok — perhaps especially when all looks ok?).

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

After the storm (Mark 4:35-41)

Last Sunday we gathered round the table. There were smiles and laughter and the coffee was hot. We opened in prayer.

Before immediately beginning to check in, there was a reminder of what the homework/lifework had been: in creating a short prayer that could be prayed daily (somewhat like a breath prayer), and then seeing what happened. We also took a moment to remind ourselves that we had been in Galatians 5:22-26 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 — chuckling a little in the recall of how much folks liked considering the possibility of praying for patience! As the homework/lifework had spanned three weeks, the invitation was to share whatever the Holy Spirit might prompt.

While not all shared the specific brief prayer they had prayed, the ones who did share thematically engaged love, the desire for our actions & behaviors to be loving, the hope that God’s love would shine through us. And this created space for quite a bit of conversation; discussion including our individual agency & personhood in being active participants in sharing (God’s) love, questions on the practical how-to & what love (in action) looks like, the realization that on our own we don’t (often, or ever?) love well — that any love we are able to give is only because of God’s love & the grace that it might come through. The conversation was rich, and it also made clear that we (as a group, a community, and even the larger Church) do not have a shared understanding of what love is (and yes, there was also mention of some different types of love specifically naming ‘agape’ love — the divine God love). AND this, this not really knowing perhaps what or how to love is something that I do believe we will engage further because we had a lot of energy around the topic, a lot of unanswered questions, as well as a lot of curiosity — AND, if we are to be known and recognized by our love (see John 13:35) then it would serve us & the Kingdom of God well to be as aware & well-equipped as possible so that we might be able to love well and to grow our loving capacity! Perhaps a quick prayer for us all might be, God please help us love well! (AMEN!).

Then we turned to scripture, Mark 4:35-41:

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

New International Version

The story known as “Jesus calms the storm.” (a story found in not only in Mark 4:35-41, but also in Matthew 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25) The conversation we found ourselves in after hearing these verses included deep questions like, who caused the storm? This question is a big question in thinking not only stormy weather in the natural sense, but in all the storms of life; who or what causes them? And how do we understand that? Is the challenging life situation you might find yourself in of your own creating; is it from God; is it evil; is it of the devil? Is the situation a consequence of decisions outside of yourself or within yourself; a function of your (or your family) sin(ning) or of our living in a sinful world? These are not easy questions, and they are questions that we wrestle with both in how to understand our own lives, and the lives of others we see…consider for example how we often find it easier to help or offer love & compassion when we believe the struggles (or the storm) that someone is experiencing is because of decisions or circumstances outside of that person’s own agency – instead of being a fault (or sin) of their own…

And, as is often the case, time ran short while conversation was still to be had! But alas, it came time to hear the homework before praying out (& the prayer for the day was a beautiful poem shared that really spoke of storms & Jesus calming them!). And the homework for this week is a reflective one:

  • Think over your life & the storms you have faced & come through. See if there are any patterns that you notice…

As we have begun a new year, it seems it might be a rather encouraging task to remind ourselves of the storms we have faced in life — to bring to mind how often God has told the chaos in our life “Quiet, be still!” Perhaps we might even find ourselves in a storm right now and the remembrance will encourage us!

Looking forward to hearing about the power of God to bring peace in our lives y’all!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Patience…again (Galatians 5:22-26 & 1st Corinthians 13:4-7)

Just last Sunday (yes, day before last) we gathered round the table as we do. And after greeting each other, after sharing smiles, after likely making mention of the sun shining outside & streaming in through the stained glass windows we opened in prayer, asking that God be present — in our reading of scripture, in our sharing of life (in all life really).

And then, (DELIGHTFULLY) it was time to check in. Time to answer if we consider ourselves to be patient and then to share what scripture has to say about patience (and to share if anyone had steps to grow their patience muscles). Some fun things happened y’all…there were some eye rolls (I LOVE the honesty) — those who shared they certainly do not want to ask for patience because they know how God works! Most folks named that they are not too patient, or if they are patient — they are patient situationally — additionally, which I SO appreciated that this was named — was the ability to identify that at times we might be patient with others and less so with ourselves. A fun point that was discovered here too was how we might assess ourselves as compared with how we might assess others — someone shared their challenge with patience — & another was shocked, saying they find them to be incredibly patient (hilarious was the response that they must have never been driving with them….though they promise they don’t have road rage!).

The conversation was rich and included considering whether patience is a gift from God or a skill (that really can be developed) to which I answered “yes.” As folks also named the scriptures that they had found — many noticed the patience of God being named and others wondered just how patient God really is….and we also engaged the scripture “love is patient” which was ideal because that was one of the scriptures we took some time with….

  • Galatians 5:22-26:
    • 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
    • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

So we held these two texts and we continued the conversation….and that conversation & consideration will continue for the next 2 weeks (the next time we’ll gather round the table officially will be Jan. 12th) — but of course we have life work in the interim (and maybe folks want to gather round the table to check-in and to pray with each other….just a thought……

And the homework is this: create a daily prayer (simple — 1 sentence)….maybe something like this:

Dear God help me to love (or: be patient; be kind; be generous; be faithful; be gentle; have self-control; experience joy; have peace).

I don’t know….but a simple prayer, prayed daily…and let’s see what God does.

In Christ — the One who we celebrate his birth because in it — God came near to be with us!

~ Rev. Sabrina Slater

Are you patient? (James 5:7-10)

Last Sunday we gathered around the table as we do, there was laughter & while some were missing we welcomed someone new to the table — even introducing ourselves following the opening prayer.

And after all this we checked in…offering our own interpretations of Matt. 24:1-14 and/or talking about how we prepare for the breaking in of God (in the unexpected) during this season of Advent.

We heard summaries in our own words, comments about how all the things have come to pass, some recognition that even today we expect God to come to us & the world in a certain way — even though the birth of Christ uncomfortably reminds us that the picture of saving grace came into the world as a vulnerable child who lived the ordinary & ridiculous that we each experience as well. The conversation named more questions and more spaces for where God can bring deeper understanding & revelation — like if heaven is the same as paradise. We even (if memory serves) mentioned again context, translation, and interpretation — the understanding that scripture was written in context (by God’s grace) & had meaning & significance then — and still does now, although our context & our understanding & our language is different than when the Word of God was first penned.

And then we turned to listen to scripture — we opened up to James 5:7-10 (though we heard verse 11 as well):

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

New International Version

And there was nearly immediate (after the silence of course) responses. Groanings — a bit of a visceral reaction to the invitation to “Be patient.” There was an immediate naming of how farmers aren’t really all that patient, always wanting their crop to come up. Yet there was push-back too, that while the farmer might be anxious they have an understanding of the seasons & how the growth does have to happen in it’s time — perhaps a recognition that there is work for the farmer & work for the crop — but the crop cannot do the farmer’s work no more than the farmer can do the crop’s work.

IT WAS GREAT! (Yes, perhaps because I imagined not all would like the passage) — but more because the fact that we reacted as we did also means we are listening, means we are understanding & wresting with scripture, means that we are not just on “autopilot,” means that we take seriously that God speaks to us through scripture, that God still speaks today, and that our faith is something that we live out — is something that requires (something) of us (not, to be mistaken with the idea that we earn our new life in Christ — because we don’t, life in Christ is a gift that we are invited through grace to receive & live!) — but as we lived as a people claimed by God — it means that we also are actively growing as disciples of Christ. All good things, and easy to say/write, but harder to live — this we all understand I think.

Thus, we arrived at a delightful and self-reflective home/lifework assignment for the week:

  • 1st: Answer, “Are you (a) patient (person)? Why or why not?”
  • 2nd: Find what scripture says about patience (anywhere).
  • 3rd: IF you feel led/convicted by the Holy Spirit as you learn & listen to what scripture has to say about patience — what is something (an action step) you can do to develop your patience “muscle”? (Or to grow into greater Christ-like-ness?)

Looking forward to gathering round the table next y’all & hearing what was discovered.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater