Who are you? (faith, forgiveness & healing…Matt.9:1-8)

Last Sunday we gathered, round the table and opened in prayer. Then was check-in time with a homework assignment that was likely challenging. We were to honestly assess how we ourselves do with the “golden rule,” you know, treating others as we wish to be treated. Even more challenging than this however, was likely the homework to be honest with ourselves as to whether or not we are the enemies or the people judging/condemning that Christ references in Luke 6:27-38….are we actually the people he is instructing others to pray for?

Sometimes we treat others fairly good. Sometimes we find ourselves (yes — including me!) being unkind, being like an enemy — like a bully — like someone who is judging. (forgive us God we pray) What struck a cord within the group though was thinking that the golden rule is good on an individual level, but what exactly are we supposed to do when we are thinking about an entire group, an entire people? There are many examples of this that could be considered — two which were specifically mentioned were Native Americans and African Americans — questions about what does asking forgiveness mean, or what does forgiveness mean (is forgiveness possible by ourselves? are we able to forgive that which was not done to us? are we able to ask forgiveness for something that we didn’t specifically do? what is the point of forgiveness if it is just words and not actions?) None of these are easy questions. None of these have easy answers. I imagine though that even thinking about these things, even being concerned (and passionate, and uncomfortable) with these conversations — or how often these conversations have not been happening — make God’s heart a bit warmer, I imagine the Holy Spirit getting excited because when we are thinking of forgiveness, when we are imagining how to live into exactly what Christ taught us to pray that God is pleased & that is encouraging — that gives us an openness to allow God to lead us — that allows some healing to live and breathe in places where brokenness has been thus far…

And after taking some time here in the challenging spaces and in conversations that demand much more time than a few minutes we pivoted (yes – before some were ready) to consider another passage of scripture, Matthew 9:1-8:


Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man
Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”
But some of the teachers of religious law said to themselves, “That’s blasphemy! Does he think he’s God?”
Jesus knew[a] what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man[b] has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
And the man jumped up and went home! Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority.

New Living Translation


Footnotes:
9:4 Some manuscripts read saw.
9:6 “Son of Man” is a title Jesus used for himself.

We had conversations about the name Jesus chooses for himself, “Son of Man” and also compared it with the name of “Son of God” — thinking about what is Jesus emphasizing, considering how he is fully God & fully human. There also was a comment how Jesus was speaking in his own town, and remembering again how it can be hard to speak & be fully you (even for Jesus) in a place that knows your story — knows your name — knows you (or thinks that they do)…

This is a rich text, with much going on — including of course, forgiveness & healing. It is a text that allows you really (whenever you have time) to find yourself in the story, to really be there — seeing the scene unfold right around you. And the homework for this week invites us in a way to do just that — to put ourselves into the narrative — so the question we have to hold in our homework for this week is, who are you?

  • Are you one of the (unnamed) people carrying a paralyzed person (lying on a mat) to Jesus? If YES…who do you need to bring before God for forgiveness/healing? It might be one person all week….it might be different people depending on the day….who is the Holy Spirit prompting you to bring to God (in prayer)?
  • Or are you the paralytic? Are you the one needing forgiveness & healing? If YES, imagine hearing Jesus say to you, “Take heart beloved; your sins are forgiven. Stand up & go home; go and live free & fully!”

You are invited to do one or both of the above….and the reality is in life we are both those (the faithful unnamed) who carry those who cannot make it on their own to Jesus & those who need to be carried (by the faith of those who believe when we can’t!). I very much look forward to how God will move in our midst with this homework & cannot wait to hear how you’ve joined this divine dance this week with God.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Confession…are we the enemy/bully? (Luke 6:27-38)

Last Sunday we gathered round the table. Before opening in prayer there was laughter (a bit as usual!) this time centered around folks asking where everyone was….turned out last Sunday some folks who are usually later in arriving were earlier and vise versa….making those gathered scratch their heads….and after getting settled we opened in prayer.

Then of course was check-in time. Asking, do we really believe verse 19 of 1 Corinthians 15,

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

And another question, does the belief that Christ is risen make a difference in your daily life? There were a variety of answers. Some don’t too often think about this in the daily life — maybe only in times of reflection. Others emphasized the context being spoken into (always important when we consider scripture because as much as it is easy for us to focus on a word, a phrase, a verse, or even multiple verses at a time/in isolation, scripture comes out of a context) noting that Paul was speaking into a culture in which there were many who did not believe in the resurrection of the body (is that so hard to believe?), and essentially saying, hey y’all here’s the thing…whatever your reasoning might be — whatever belief structure you have had your whole life which seemed right, appropriate, decent & in order (you know that dead people stay dead) — well, God has interrupted it as only God can do & here’s the thing — if that’s an issue for you then you are not understanding just how radical God’s love for us is…..Christ (GOD with us) was born into our materialistic/physical world (which is ridiculous & was not appropriate nor ever to happen…God is God!) and then suffered in ways that we suffer (God is not supposed to hurt, God is supposed to be above pain — God doesn’t deserve to suffer nor know pain) walked to a cross & DIED (God is NOT to die!) and went into a tomb & descended into hell and walked out of hell & rose from the dead & went into heaven too. NONE of this is supposed to happen, NONE of this is business as usual, NONE of this is what we are accustomed too. And Paul is saying, the thing is this is the core of our faith: that Christ is that perfect One (the new “Adam” — the One representative of humanity that could be perfect because he is God) & Christ is the sacrifice that saves us all, the sacrifice whose blood covers each of us, the One who died & went to hell (what our sins earn us) & was separated from God (that’s a hard one to wrap our heads around) so that we can be forgiven, so that we can be in loving connected relationship with God, so that we don’t have to experience death in sin eternally, so that we can experience some of love/life/grace/heaven right now on earth in our daily lives. Paul is saying that if there is no resurrection of the dead (which seems reasonable!) then Christ is not risen from the dead, and even if he was a great healer/teacher/person we are to be pitied because we are believing in a lie that will not save us from death/destruction for eternity & we are also lying about who God is. Ouch — that’s a hard word. And it’s complicated because — first, we don’t so much see folks risen from the dead & second, even those stories (in the Bible, and also those folks who were dead & brought back to life in modern times) all eventually died….Christ is different — this is what we believe (and it’s HARD to understand & explain too … because it doesn’t make sense (said like a question….but we know that Grace doesn’t make sense).

All this to say….it was a good conversation, it is a full conversation that is not over. It is more (or less) interesting of a conversation….because we don’t know what happens after we die until we do & then it turns our we can’t talk too much about it with the living…. so we held the space for the conversation & then we turned to scripture. And there was a choice as to where we’d go next….further into 1 Corinthians or over into Luke….well….we choose Luke. So we considered Luke 6:27-38:


Love for Enemies
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Judging Others
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

New International Version

Our favorite, right? Immediately there was a comment about lending and not expecting repayment. And later there was continued conversation, asking about how many people/organizations as for help/money — asking is there a limit to how many/who to give too — considering maybe if it’s better to give to a few (much) instead of giving to many (little). There was talk about it being easier to give to those who we know. We even spoke of the church & community emergency fund as a way to meet some of these needs. One was struck by the end of verse 35,

because (God) is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

What? God is kind to the ungrateful & wicked?! Who likes that? Other than wicked & ungrateful people? And I for one love the imagery of the final verse, thinking of a carbonated beverage being shaken and opened & it being messy & covering everyone & it even bringing joy & delight in the spilling — grace covering us in this way — makes me smile — I want that!

So then as we wrapped the conversation….what is the homework? While verse 31 (the golden rule) is hard enough….the homework is more reflective — how well do we live these verses? No seriously — do we do these behaviors & actions? AND even more, are we actually those (as individuals and even as the church) — who are the enemies, are those who curse, are those who slap, are those who ask, are those who judge, are those who condemn? Are we those wicked & ungrateful people who God is still kind to? If the Holy Spirit reveals yes, I (we) are….is there anyone whom God is inviting you to ask for forgiveness? If yes — be encouraged & see what God will do with your obedience — it’s one of the few things we get to offer God & it brings God pleasure. Happy reflecting y’all & may you feel God’s grace in the thinking.

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater

Are we to be pitied? (Looking @ 1 Corinthians 15:12-20)

Last Sunday y’all gathered.  And while I wasn’t able to join y’all…I am grateful that you were still there & that Gina facilitated (THANK YOU!).  So you gathered.  You prayed.  And you continued as we do…with checking-in with homework.  The assignment had been to be attentive to the instances of abundance that we perhaps resisted throughout the week.  Now I hear that there was not too much offered here…it was the homework given by our guest leader the week prior, Anne, and so maybe we felt like a class with a substitute teacher — you know what I mean…we don’t have to take them seriously.  BUT, perhaps this invitation is something that we will carry at least in the back of our minds — as it seems to me that often God offers us grace (& graces) that make us uncomfortable….uncomfortable because it’s not what we expect, uncomfortable because we might know full well we do not deserve it, uncomfortable because maybe we want to stay feeling sorry for ourselves and when we receive grace often we change (seeing grace is seeing love and it seems that love is the most transformative & healing force we’ve ever known!)  May we be always open to God, open to grace (and especially grace that makes us uncomfortable — may we be bold enough to ask God to help us accept the gifts being offered!)

Then you turned to the scripture being considered — 1 Corinthians 15:12-20:

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

And started wrestling with (yet again!) a hard to understand text.  Talk about death & resurrection.  Talk about a faith that is honest or a faith that is worthless (futile…failed).  I hear that there was talk around this, considering what resurrection means — which is important considering that those who saw Jesus (raised from the dead Jesus) did not initially recognize him — but then they did/could — but also this resurrected body was different than the one that walked the earth….meaning the Jesus raised from the tomb in some real way was different than the one that walked to the cross (and guess what, we don’t know all the specifics yet, sorry!).  So what does that mean for us?  How are we to understand this text today?  And furthermore, do we find it encouraging or infuriating?

The homework are a set of questions….

  • Do we believe verse 19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”?  (Why or why not?)
  • Does the belief that Christ is risen make a difference in your daily life?  (Why or why not?)

It’s Friday night…there is time still (whether you’ve been considering these since Sunday or whether you’ve just now been reminded!) — to consider this text and these questions.  I’m interested in the wisdom that will gather around the table.  I’m interested in the blessing that comes from wrestling with challenging texts (in scripture & life!) that can only come through struggle as a gift from God.  So — what say y’all?

See you soon!

~ Rev. Sabrina Slater 

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