Foot Washing? (John 13:1-20)

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Blessed Easter & Resurrection Sunday y’all!  (And yes yes, happy April fool’s too!).  But no joke — today, even with cool air outside and a hint of snow trying to fall — we gathered round the table, opened in prayer and began to check-in.  The homework had been to find our deep (& LOUD) Hosanna & offer it to God.  It wasn’t necessarily easy, though we pondered if sometimes our deep Hosanna comes from doing what we feel designed to do — being open to/led by/a willing vessel of God — and the answer seemed to be YES!  Also — there was the insight of the Hosanna that seeks to adore God for who God is (on God’s terms) as well as the Hosanna that is asking God to save us!  There also was an image offered of someone on the inside trying to praise loudly (while maybe personality, tradition, or other) wants that praise to behave & to be quiet.  Regardless of where our deep hosanna rests, be it in dancing in the street — singing at the top of our lungs — playing an instrument — sitting in stillness — offering deep and repetitive “thanks” out of the overflowing gratitude we have for all who God is and for all that God has done — I do believe God invites us to live in that deep hosanna and to find a certain freedom that exists in living there, in unapologetically praising the God who gives us everything — who gives us life!

And then we turned to scripture.  We focused on John 13:1-20.  The story of the foot washing.  The story of Jesus modeling something.  The story of inviting us to accept those who are sent (by God).  Our first focus was recognizing, we do not understand what Christ is doing.  Our second observation was mentioning Christ as a model of what we are to do.  And the conversation began about the “foot washing.”  What is it?  Why is it there?  And are we called to it today?  OR — is this just a symbol?  The varied insights included naming the idea of the individualism of the foot washing — the engaging with the dirt each (disciple/us) walked through to get to Jesus — and the need for Jesus to wash that off — and the reality check that washing dust off of feet was a job for the lowest of the servants, and recognition that Christ has no ego, no reason why we should be afraid of him — his humility speaks loudly.  There was also the offer of an observation as to the discomfort of the foot washing — today, or perhaps especially today — even for the disciples and that the discomfort might be less about Jesus (& a status thing) and more about us — the idea being that in the nakedness of Christ we must see our own, in Christ washing us we must recognize our need of him — our inability to achieve salvation on our own….which is not easy…

And so we came to the homework time while the conversation still begged to continue.  And yet the conversation will continue through the homework as well as into next week.  Spend time with this text (John 13:1-20).  Listen, what is God saying?  What is Jesus teaching?  And think about what it is to wash feet?  Is there a modern-day equivalent and if so what exactly is that?

Blessings as God reveals during this week & remember…

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  AMEN!

~ Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Shouting HOSANNA! (Matthew 21:1-9)

Last Sunday began the week we know as, Holy Week.  It is marked by some specific holy days, Palm Sunday (last Sunday) when we remember the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on a colt (baby donkey) with people shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  and “Hosanna!”  Then on Thursday there is, “Maundy Thursday” when we remember the last meal that Jesus ate with friends, what we call the last supper — the beginning of communion/eucharist — and when Jesus served the disciples, the very folks who would betray, deny, and desert him, in such a humble way we still are uncomfortable with it — he washed their feet.  And today we have come to Good Friday.  We call it good now, but some 2000 years ago it didn’t feel good at all.  Today is the day we remember that our Lord & Savior — Jesus Christ — the Prince of Peace — an innocent man — was arrested under false pretenses, condemned, and beaten — all because people (& a system — a government) were afraid of him — and he bore the beating, the shame, the dishonor, and climbed up Calvary to be nailed to a cross & pierced in his side.  Because today is the day that his being was created for, to love in such a way that would change the world — and today we know the end — today we know what will come (death & sin DO NOT WIN)…but then, on that original “Good” Friday, no one knew — no one had an inkling…No, on the original “Good” Friday the light of the world went out, the hope of God’s favor, the promise of God’s covenant, life itself died…Today the church (liturgical) color is black, symbolizing the darkness that pervades when the light goes out.

It is Holy Week.

And last Sunday when we made it through some light snow, gathering and praying around the table as we do, we began Holy Week.  We began first with reflections on using the Lord’s prayer as a model for prayer and we shared the Lord’s prayer in our own words.  And while some struggled with using the model to pray, finding it hard to pray for our (my) daily bread — knowing so many go hungry — others struggled to find their own words to pray.  However, the struggle for words seems to be more of a struggle to in confidence share what God has given — because we often don’t think what we have to offer is good enough.  And as we were bold enough to share, the voice — our individual voices — were a blessing and encouragement to others.  We heard the model of the Lord’s prayer personalized to what we could say, what we needed to pray, and I think, the Lord’s prayer became more than something that was memorized years ago — it became something more personal, something that we think about a bit more when we pray it.  And then we shifted and because it’s Holy Week, we considered, Matthew 21:1-9.

We noticed the donkey (momma-donkey) and her colt were taken to Jesus.  We noticed that the reading of the different translations made us wonder if Jesus rode both the donkey & the colt at once (or perhaps more likely that Jesus rode on top of the cloaks that were spread on the colt.)  We thought about Jesus coming into town this way.  And I think too there was even a mention of how this crowd could have been those who just a few days later would go from crying “Hosanna!” (save us) to “Crucify Him!”

There was talk of how we (good reformed Presbyterians) are typically a bit uncomfortable with the loud declarations of praise — we are a bit uncomfortable with crying “Hosanna!” out loud.  And it was named that this week, this Palm Sunday & Easter/Resurrection Sunday are 2 of the biggest Sundays where even WE (Presbyterians) can get LOUD — are encouraged to shout first “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and second, “He is risen indeed!”  And so our homework is rather fitting….to discern what your deep & loud Hosanna! is right now — to consider what your heart praise is right now — and to offer that praise — that LOUD HOSANNA back to GOD.

This is Holy Week.  And the invitation for the homework is to find the deep praise even in the darkness of “Good” Friday.

In Christ & during Holy Week ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Praying…”Our Father” (Luke 11:1-4)

Good morning y’all!  Tomorrow we will gather around the table, like how we gathered around the table last week!  And I don’t about you, but after the first day of spring and a string of snow-less days — maybe the snow-less season has finally arrived…time of course (as it always does) will tell!

But let’s think back to last Sunday when we gathered, prayed, and began checking in about a week during which our homework was to sit at the feet of Jesus each day.  Some voiced a palpable angst over not doing it right and then the sigh of relief when they realized they do sit at the feet of Jesus.  Others named how this was hard for them.  One mentioned how in their Martha-like behaviors they were Mary too!  Someone was brave enough to ask, how exactly does one sit at the feet of Jesus anyway?  This important query — one that really is for each and everyone of us to discern with the help of the Holy Spirit –was answered by many seated at the table, and something I mentioned to some degree there was — this sitting at Jesus’ feet will look different for each of us, it might include gardening, music, sitting, maybe even a nap! — and while it will look the same, I imagine that once we’ve found our way there — we will experience some similar things, like a relaxing into Jesus that we can feel; like an ability to breathe deeply that we didn’t realize we had been missing; like a pause that restores us and enables us to go on knowing somehow it’s going to be ok; sometimes even like we’ve gotten clear on something that had been very foggy!

From the sounds of it, the invitation to sit at Jesus’ feet daily — to engage more of our “Mary” selves, turned out to be a blessing and to bring a certain blessing of peace into each of our lives — to GOD be the glory for this gift!  So having checked-in of course we turned to scripture, specifically to Luke again and continued into the next verses.  While the 2nd reader read Luke 11:1-13, our first and last readers read where we focused, Luke 11:1-4:

Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation.   (Luke 11:1-4, English Standard Version)

The conversation included not having noticed before that in Luke the instruction on how to pray comes immediately following the story of Martha & Mary.  Yet what really seemed to stand out was how there is a reward for persistence in asking, how really when we approach God it is in the posture of one who begs — for all that God gifts us with is grace (something we do not deserve & did not earn), and how the gift of the Holy Spirit seems to be the best gift that we can get.  There was a question as to if it made folks nervous that this “Our Father” is different than the one in Matthew 6:9b-13?  There was also the aloud wondering if we really even think about this prayer or give it its proper respect, considering it is one of the (few) times that Jesus rather directly answered a question which leads us to the homework of the week.  A homework assignment which has 2 parts because it’s just so easy!

Part 1:  Use the “Our Father” as a model to pray — all week.  See what happens.  Part 2:  Put the “Our Father” into your own words.

Happy Praying y’all & see you tomorrow — on Palm Sunday!

In Christ ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Past the Pulpit & Around Town (thinking about The Sound of Music)

This week (March 16, 17 & yes today too the 18th) the Spencer-Van Etten High School proudly presented “The Sound of Music.”  Thanks to the reminder especially during weekly church announcements as well as around town I was able to make it out on opening night.  While there was the added treat of getting to watch this production with folks who make me smile and feel welcome — it was by far the superb production in its totality that stole the show.

The props were perfect, the painted mountains were a spot on depiction, the singing was delightful, the pit orchestra was sublime, the casting — including of course all those volunteers behind the scenes making make-up, costumes, lighting, stage switches, and practicing at home too — could not have been better.  Every single person who made “The Sound of Music” possible this weekend, brought the show to life.

I am grateful for the opportunity to absolutely enjoy the gifts of so many people.  And I hope to meet and learn more about each and every person involved — because I get excited when I recognize the names — when I get to see people sharing their gifts with the world.  And while I might be biased (I mean I am a Pastor!) the themes of identity, the uncertainties of love, seeking God’s desire and will for your life, and standing up for what you believe (sometimes at great personal cost), are timeless — they are some of the questions often engaged in a church service.

And as I sat back and enjoyed the story, beaming as though all those performing were my family — knowing we are part of the same community — I was moved by the sincerity of faith each character had.  I was moved by the difference each individual voice in the musical had.  I was moved by the wisdom offered by Mother Abbess in her encouragement of (instead of fear of!) Maria’s voice, in her encouragement for Maria to not hide from love or from God (even when scary), and to invite us all to “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow – ’til you find your dream.”

I was moved because in a place outside of the institutional church “The Sound of Music” took us all to church in speaking to the liberative and saving power of love and inviting us to watch as one young woman seeking to love and serve God with all of who she is found that indeed the gifts God had given her (her spirit — her voice — her love of children) while not the ideal fit in the abbey where she thought she could best serve God — were perfect for where God was leading her to live, love, and thrive!

May each of us in the gift that we know as our own lives — follow the spiritual guidance of those nuns, and “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow – ’til you find your dream,” realizing that the way is not easy but the rainbows we follow are some of the signs of the promises of God — and even in the storm(s) of life, God has always planned for the rainbow to come!

As the show comes to a close…it’s technically too late say “break a leg” — so instead blessings to all who made this possible & thank you for sharing your gifts with us all.  I can’t wait for the next one!

Blessings ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Sitting at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42)

1 or 2 — or is it 3 — storms ago we gathered around the table Sunday morning.  Although it was Daylight Savings Sunday and we’d jumped ahead an hour no one was an hour late, it was impressive I must say.  So we began as we do, gathering, praying and of course — checking in.

Our homework during the prior week had been to reflect on when we have been able to really bless God in loss and/or bless God after loss.  This reflection included if we realized we had been able to do this, how did we get there, and if we had not to ponder what stands in the way?

Every single person checked in.  Some shared they felt they had a rather blessed life, and individually had not found it hard to bless God — however, when then consider the devastation and oppression and violence and war in the world this becomes much much harder.  There was the perspective of losing not life but an identity — a job.  Another named that when first going through a devastating loss they were not able to bless God, it was more going though additional losses and knowing God had brought them through (including through on their own journey with God) that they were able to bless God because God had been faithful in the past.  Other voices named that it was and it is hard.  Some still have questions of loss that is heavy/deep and relatively recent.  There was insight given in a poem that had proven comforting over the years with language of God leading us through circumstances, understanding there is not avoidance but there is One with us through it all.

The conversation was rich.  Honest.  We spent a bit more time listening to the stories of who we are.  And in what can only properly be understood of how the Holy Spirit moves in delightful ways, the final voice checking-in shared how God had been faithful through a trying time in their life & had given comfort through the passage of Mary & Martha….the very passage we were considering for the day — Look at God!  So we turned to the passage and read,

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”                    (New Revised Standard Version) 

We hear the scripture twice.  And it is worth nothing the tender way that the second reader rendered the “Martha, Martha,” that Jesus spoke.  The conversation I anticipate will continue this Sunday, but we did engage how some love and some distinctly do not like this passage.  There are so many (gender) expectations engaged here.  Martha doing what she needed — the expected preparations, the preparations that allowed Jesus to come.  Mary doing the unexpected — and likely the unwelcome — putting herself in a man’s place — as a disciple at Jesus feet (the audacity!  THANKS BE TO GOD!).  And yet, let us think about who we are typically as Christians….(Martha).  But even when this was observed using the very stories that had been told in the check-in, calling out our collective Martha-like tendencies, the observation was met with an immediate — “NOT ME!  I’m a Mary!”

So we were lively — which is delightful — and we were honest too that there are elements of Martha and Mary within each of us (like it or not!).  And all too soon of course, we arrived at homework time.  The homework is to engage more of our Mary.  To each day this week sit at the feet of Jesus.  If it helps you can try to figure out what the one necessary thing — the only thing — the better part — that Jesus invites us to know, to enjoy, to follow — and to do that.  To sit at Jesus feet, to find the necessary thing and do it and to see what happens in the sitting and in the doing.

Excited for the coming check-in & praying shalom in the process ~

Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Blessed be the name of the LORD? (Job 1:20-21)

Nearly a whole week ago we gathered around the table (before gathering around the table in communion during worship!).  We prayed.  We checked-in.  The homework had been to put energy into being quick to listen and slow to speak.  While some found they really hadn’t had time to invest in doing that during the week, someone else found they were able to listen immediately — while still at church!  And someone else named how in three very different circumstances they found that the opportunity to listen was presented to them.

As the conversation developed with the insights being offered, I will highlight two themes to hold.  First, when we were willing to wait it out, to really be quick to listen and slow to speak, people were willing to open up and to share.  Their openness in these moments were unexpected gifts, and gifts that led at least one to consider, “What am I missing by talking (too soon)?,” it is a question we might want to ask ourselves…And second, in the listening, really listening, some recognized that they will not know what to say, or an answer for what is being shared.  This is true, and often people are not looking for answers in that sense, they are not looking for advise.  Yet what we have to offer is so much more than advice, we are invited to witness to how God sees, hears, and loves (them) in the midst of the darkness, chaos, messiness, sorrow, and pain of life.  It has been called, a ministry of presence, and it is just that, being present or being with people — where they are.  I know, often it sounds like nothing, but isn’t that exactly what we profess is the core of our faith?  That God walked with us?  Isn’t the entire life of Christ one of a ministry of presence?  And, well…turns out that ministry, that #love with flesh on, that Christ changed everything — changed each of us (praise God!)…so maybe there is something powerful, something that we cannot quite grasp that happens when we are open to being present, when we are truly quick to listen and slow to speak.

Thinking of how our listening can communicate the love of God is both powerful and humbling.  Isn’t God good to give us simple tasks that we can do?  And yet, aren’t we also so grateful for the grace for all those times when we forget to be quick to listen, and slow to speak?

In the shift that happens weekly, the turn to trying to hear God speak to us in listening to scripture,  we heard,

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  (Job 1:20-21, English Standard Version)

And we considered Job, we considered blessing God, we considered loss.  In a wilderness time (Lent), in the day following the funeral of a beloved member of the church family, we let the words of Job breathe and speak to us.  Many I think enjoy the book of Job, find comfort in the book.  We noticed how (later in the book) the friends of Job were truly friends, while they kept silent and just sat with him.  We wondered if it was worth it — all the trials — to bless God?  There was a mention of the humility inherent in these two verses; everything we have is a gift from God — EVERYTHING — and we will take none of the “things” we have when we meet death, and yet, would we be able to understand and to offer that we are naked before God and all that we have is from God?

So what is the homework?  It is a reflective exercise.  Meditate on these verses, and think if you have been able to really bless God in loss, to bless God after loss.  If not — what has been in the way.  If yes — how did you get to the space where you could bless God, through tears, through heartache, through it all?

Peace to all in the challenging work of reflection.  May the Holy Spirit stir what needs to be stirred in this Lenten moment.

Praying God speaks through the stillness,

~Rev. Sabrina Slater

Shhhhh! Quick to Listen (James 1:19-20)

A more intimate group than typical (read – less folks literally around the table) gathered & prayed.  And while I was not one of those gathered round the table (yes, even Pastors need to miss a Sunday here and there — it’s honestly pretty important for the health of the pastor & the congregation!) I was blessed to have Gina & Gene be able to co-facilitate our Adult Study.

It began with the check-in.  Now, the homework to write a Lenten prayer was not easy.  It’s not easy because it invites us to listen to God, in order to hear who/what God is prompting us to be/do and humbly seeking the strength, courage, capacity, and will to obey.  And that is vulnerable; vulnerable before God in a way that often makes us squirmish.   While no prayers per say were shared aloud, it had been contemplated over the week — perhaps allowing that question, “What is my Lenten prayer, what is God speaking?,” to breathe and to shift how we listen to God in our daily (prayer)life.  And it feels like, while a specific “prayer” was not shared, the conversation of the check-in uncovers the unsaid Lenten prayers.  Prayers to leave fear & worry nailed to the cross.  Prayers to walk in the freedom that Christ has promised us.  Prayers to allow the sacrifice of love (Good Friday) to continue to shape who we are.  Prayers that God would show us the way.  Powerful prayers all of them, ones that will help us to walk what often is the lonesome valley of our lives.

Then was the turn to scripture.  We considered one which dare I say if we are honest, challenges each of us?

19 Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; 20 for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us].  Amplified Bible (AMP) 

After some silence, some stillness sitting with scripture and trying to discern where the Holy Spirit might be leading, there seems to have been a fruitful conversation.  People thought of the issue of control, when we are angry who is in control?  Arguably not us.  Possible elements and components of listening were mentioned, including tolerance, understanding, and even the gift of asking clarifying questions.  It seems as though the listening part is hardest for us.  But seriously, is that surprising?  Who likes to be told what to do or what to believe?  And isn’t that how we speak, trying to control someone or something?  It makes sense not wanting to listen, because if they’re anything like us — well, they will have opinions and thoughts — and who has time for that?  Especially when I’m right?!  Or is it just me?  To be fair, we essentially do that with God…it might be part of why we often are uncomfortable in prayer, or in silence — if we are silent too long, and if we pray too much — what if God really speaks and we hear it?  What then?

The thing is God has & is speaking.  And God at times is (annoyingly clear).  Listen, be quick to listen.  Be slow to speak.  Be slow to anger.  And don’t mistake your own anger as though it was the righteous anger of God, because it is not.

So while, we could stay and talk awhile about this I will take the liberty now to remind us of the homework we have for this week.  If there is a Lenten Prayer on your heart continue praying it.  If there are Lenten practices God has invited you to do — do them.  And, put energy into being “quick to listen and slow to speak.”  Really think about listening, and observe what happens as you make the decision to openly listen to what the person is saying — whether they are a stranger or someone you’ve known forever, family or an enemy — listen to what they are saying, be quick to listen.  (Notice this might mean you are listening across difference!)

Blessed listening ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater     

Hard Conversations…and Lent (Joel 2:12-13)

We gathered around the table, and we prayed.  But this last Sunday felt & was a little different than usual.  The week had been heavy.  The day in which we celebrated Valentine’s Day & Ash Wednesday (a rather beautiful pairing considering God is love) — after many had received the imposition of ashes in a noontime service, we heard the news of (yet another) school shooting.  And that thrusts us into an understanding of wilderness and mortality that we’d prefer not have.  So instead of the typical checking-in of the homework assignment (which last week was to consider what God might be leading you to do – or not do – during Lent, considering seriously what your Lenten practice will be) after a few comments from me — comments that included naming the hard week, not doing the typical frame, and that we’d open for larger discussion to consider — scripture, the week, and possibly Lent — realizing the conversation might not necessarily go there — we turned to scripture,

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  Joel 2:12-13 (English Standard Version)

And what struck me the most in a conversation that engaged much — including guns, gun control, safety, society, culture, and more — was that many heard REND, and many even said that part 1 of rending was easy but that part 2 was hard — the action element (solving element perhaps).  I silently wondered then, and ask in writing now, do we know what it is to rend our hearts?  I know what it is to rend my garments, to rip them apart in lament — but must I rend my very heart?  How do I do that, how do I violently tear my heart into at least 2 pieces?  Does it mean I am honest with how the brokenness of our world, breaks me?  Does it mean I force myself to not ignore that which I would prefer to ignore – injustice, oppression, hunger, corruption, violence, war, abuse, bullying, gossip…?  Does it mean I choose to #love knowing it will break my heart, knowing that when I #love only God will ever be able to repair the damage done by (well-meaning) people in this world – this side of heaven?

I don’t think rending is quite so simple…but maybe that’s just me (I can own that — it’s ok).  But this theme of rending and returning is important.  And as the brokenness of our world breaks us (and it does) the invitation is to rend and return — and it is there I believe we’ll find God speaking.  The invitation of the wilderness might be to better identify the (LYING) voice of the accuser/Satan/tempter in order to recognize God’s voice — to hear God speaking.  Don’t you find it’s in the wilderness, where we discover our ears, our eyes, our spirits, our minds, and even our literal hands are open?  Wilderness is a season of preparation, and that is to say Lent is a season of preparation for what is yet to come — a season that requires us to let go of some things, to add some things, and to be (more) alert & aware of the surroundings around us.

The homework for this week (in addition I would say to continuing to ponder Lent…and following our Lenten resource HERE ) is to write a Lenten prayer (for you).  An example could be, God please help me to live with hands open that I might receive what You give and I might give others from what You have given me.  It might be, Help.  Perhaps it is breathing, and offering Be Still.  Prayer is where we talk, it’s also where we listen to God, let the prayer perhaps lead you (and us) to a posture of being able to better hear God speaking — wouldn’t that be beautiful, and worth a wilderness walk?

Praying through the wilderness,
Rev. Sabrina Slater 

Happy Valentine’s Day

Last Sunday — known as “Transfiguration Sunday” — a few Valentine’s were handed out — to all of us in the church — but they weren’t for us — they were for others — to give out some love!  Because, we love — because God first loved us (as the song & the Bible teaches us).

And some of the Valentine’s looked like this (see picture below).  The front said, “What’s sweeter than candy?  … How much JESUS LOVES You!”  and the inside said: “Join us as we open our hearts & lives (or minds) to God!” followed by — details of when:  Sundays @ 10AM (Sunday School) @ 11AM (Worship) & on Wednesdays @ 12noon (Prayer).  With our name — our website & our address (75 N. Main Street, Spencer NY) — and on the back it had #love & a chocolate heart.  Now…I know we didn’t have enough for each person in our community to receive one — but we would love to give everyone one — knowing the best gift of love we know to give is the love of God that has already been given to us in Christ.

So — from us to you — Happy Valentine’s Day!

We love you & know God loves you perfectly & desires great things for you!    

Looking toward Lent…considering Mt. 4:1-11, Mk. 1:12-13, & Lk. 4:1-13

Through weather that was a bit treacherous & slick!  We gathered.  We prayed.  And we began checking-in.  The homework from the prior week, as we considered, “How do we listen? How do we hear?  How do we create space for conversation across difference?,” was to do just that — to listen across difference and to see what happens.

Folks asked if it counts when considering talking with their spouses — which of brought grins and laughter.  And yet, that indeed is an important question, and one which might prove & provide a useful (though challenging!) model for us to consider.  If we can be in the most intimate relationships we know with folks very different than us and still love them dearly, how can we do the same with people whom we do not share so much space?  An interesting insight and question too was, do we need to respect (or accept) people’s ideas, or just the people?  Important and possibly a nuanced query — however, importantly it was raised how for some (if not all) the opinions and ideas they hold dear are very connected to who they are as people.  And there was also an important voice naming how important it is to be able to listen to people, how vitally important it is to allow people to be heard — that listening in and of itself is a great gift (a healing gift) that can be offered.

And we cut some of the conversation off short — as we shifted to turn toward scripture.  And there was a caveat stated, the topic of listening across difference, of engaging challenging topics (yikes — dare I say — potentially divisive topics!) is not one that has been satisfied and doubtfully will be this side of “thy kingdom come.”  And so we hold these thoughts and we encourage each other to listen well — and to especially listen well across difference (working to create spaces to listen & hear others!) — recognizing perhaps because we are deeply rooted in Christ, we have freedom to sincerely listen and intentionally hear others with great love and compassion (as God listens so lovingly to us!).

And we turned to scripture.  This time — listening to the same story from three different perspectives, as offered in each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke).  Before reading the Holy Scripture, I invited us all to consider — what is Lent?, what is Lent to you? — as we heard the Word of God read.

In the listening, we found different elements of the story highlighted.  We noticed how Mark is (always) direct and to the point.  We wondered about just how the angels ministered to Jesus, and when.  We pondered if Christ was tempted for all the 40 days or just in the end.  We noticed all three persons involved in the story of the temptation narrative.  We heard Christ’s understanding & knowledge of scripture more than the tempter.  We saw how big of a question “IF” can be, and how Christ was solidly rooted in his identity.  And we wondered too about what it means for us as those who have the opportunity annually to remember Lent and to observe Lent (this side of the cross).

Lent is a time when spiritual disciplines — especially fasting — often are engaged.  Some add practices like a moment of meditation, time with scripture, or even new movement (like a walk) into their lives looking to seek God more intentionally and opening space in their lives so God might have the space to move & speak; others remove things in the same way looking to make more space for God choosing to fast from foods, or social media, negative thoughts, or even TV (things that likely are distracting us from listening to God).  And while the goal of a spiritual discipline is not the actual discipline, but God (seeking God to find God — to be in the presence of God — to be as near to God as is possible!) it might prove useful to also understand that often these spiritual disciplines were understood in community.  Think, maybe spending less money on groceries during the next 40 days & donating that money to a cause that feeds people or works to eliminate poverty, or if adding an additional prayer time thinking of praying for someone, a community, a region of the world that you would not typically pray about.

Our homework this week is all about what our own practices will be for Lent.  Will you be adding something?  Subtracting something?  Praying something?  How will you be seeking God in these next 40 days — beginning today on Ash Wednesday — and culminating on Easter/Resurrection Sunday?  As we prayerfully consider how the Holy Spirit is guiding us this year & this Lenten season, may we all remember that indeed it was the Holy Spirit who lead (drove) Christ still dripping wet from his baptism and hearing the affirmation from God — “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!” — into the desert, the time of temptation, the time of semi-solitude and consecration before the next season was to begin — it was never a punishment, rather it is a time of preparation — I wonder what God is preparing us for…As we listen, we will be using a resource which can be found CLICKING HERE.

Excited about where God leads ~
Rev. Sabrina Slater