Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.18.18

Where do we get gratitude?

Today at Lakewood Church is The BIG Event: Sharing the Harvest, a celebration of gratitude and generosity. In these weeks leading up to The BIG Event, we have been exploring many facets of gratitude. A gratitude journal was provided to encourage thinking about thankfulness.

The spiritual discipline of gratitude is life shaping, life altering, and life sustaining. Gratitude gives us a lens though which to see our lives. Gratitude inspires generosity. Gratitude is like a microscope that shows us what is really there in our lives. And it is like a telescope that reveals to us where we really are in the scope of things. Gratitude shapes our ideals, our behaviors, and our reality. I think we can see from these weeks of reflection the power of gratitude to inform our worldview, our self concept, and our reality. Gratitude gives us an orientation of generosity and abundance.

And where do we learn gratitude? Not in school. Not from society. From society we are more likely to learn greed. We learn gratitude in church. In church we are taught appreciation, awe, and our capacity for generosity based on gratitude for all that has been given to us by God however we may image or conceive of God.

We may be part of other groups and organizations like card clubs, political parties, music groups, environmental organizations, service clubs, book clubs, sports teams, and these experiences may be meaningful and enriching. But it is the church which forms and shapes us as people of gratitude. And gratitude invites us to celebrate the abundance of life and to be generous.

So today we give thanks for the church! We celebrate the church. We offer our generous support of the church. We share our bountiful harvest!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16   

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.17.18

Jesus

The BIG Event is almost here. On Sunday there will be a festive celebration at church of all that we are grateful for. And as part of that celebration, we will choose to share the harvest with one another and the world by offering our financial support for the ministry of the church in the coming year. It will be an exciting morning!

And behind it all, really, is Jesus. Jesus is our window to Divine Love. He is our image of a fully loving human being. His stories and teachings convey how human life can be lived to the fullest, with meaning, purpose, and wonder. Jesus invites us to find our highest good not in accumulating wealth or power or privilege. Not in fame or comfort. But Jesus calls us to find our highest good in service and solidarity with those who suffering.

Jesus’ life and death show us what it means to love with generosity and abandon. To love truly. Not counting the cost even when the cost is your very life. That is why we are here on earth – to love. Ourselves. The Creation. Each other. Our neighbors. Our enemies. Beauty. Life itself. This moment. The great beyond. The mystery. The wonder. Jesus takes none of it for granted. He is enchanted by all of it and tries to show us how to live in full awareness. And for all of his appreciation and engagement with life, he accepts death, he is not afraid of death. The big problem is not dying, but not fully loving and living in every moment, with every action, in every circumstance. He shows us how to do that: to be fully human. And for that, I am grateful!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.16.18

For what am I thankful?
 
Originally written by Robert “Coke” Coughenour for the
Westminster Shores Newsletter: Shorelines November 2015
 
For what am I thankful beyond the expected family, friends and food?
I am grateful for the ineffable mystery of life;
for wonder more than “facticity”; 
for a fundamental faith in eternal values;
for compassion given and received; 
for learning Time as qualitative rather than quantitative;
for learning to seek in complexity, simplicity; 
for learning and love; especially, love of God and love of neighbor,
as one friend taught me, “all the rest is commentary.”
“I would not sleep here if I could, except for the little green leaves in the wood, and the wind on the water” (from Archibald MacLeish, J.B.)  
 
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  
1 Thessalonians 5:16   
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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.15.18

Cultivating Change

While I was in California recently, I needed exact change for a bus.  I looked for a business nearby to get change.  There was a coffee shop.  The clerk said that she was not allowed to open the register to give change but she herself was a bus rider, so she got out her purse and made change for me from her own personal money.  How kind is that!

The cost of the bus was $2.25, so I had three quarters left.  Someone else came to the bus stop and she did not have exact change either.  She had two dollars but no quarters.  I offered to give her one of the quarters I had left.  She didn’t want to just take the quarter from me.  She was very hesitant.  Then I told her about the clerk giving me change from her own money.  It was really the clerk’s kindness and generosity that produced the quarters.  So, the fellow bus rider accepted the quarter – with a caveat.  She said that she would make it a point to help someone else when the opportunity came up.  

Gratitude produces generosity which produces more gratitude which produces more generosity and on it goes.  Or is it generosity that produces gratitude which produces more generosity which leads to more gratitude?  All I know is that gratitude and generosity go together.  And cultivating the spiritual discipline of gratitude makes the world a better place and makes us better people.  

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16   

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.14.18

People I don’t like

Maybe it’s not Christian to not like someone.  But to be honest, there are people I just don’t like.  It doesn’t happen often.  And it’s not enough to keep me from doing what I want to do and being who I am trying to be.  I can usually overcome my negative feelings, but sometimes there are people that I just don’t like.  

And I am grateful for these people.  On reflection, I find that if I am open to it, I can learn a lot from people I don’t like.  Why don’t I like someone?  Figuring that out can tell me something about myself and my values and concerns.  Why is this person annoying to me?  What is it about their behavior?  Exploring these questions helps me discover more about who I am and what makes me tick.  

Then there is the idea that what we don’t like in someone else is usually something that we don’t like in ourselves.  So, when I don’t like someone, and I can figure out why, I may learn more about my myself and what I don’t like about myself.

Oh yes and something else about people I don’t like.  They help me to grow as a Christian.  Even if I don’t like someone, I still want treat them with dignity and kindness because that is who I want to be.  Dealing with someone I don’t like helps me to work on treating all people as precious children of God.  It’s a lot easier to do that when you like someone.  With someone we don’t like, it stretches us and helps us grow.

So, today I give thanks for people I don’t like.  

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16   

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.13.18

Lazarus

The story of Jesus summoning Lazarus from the tomb is an assigned lectionary reading for this month.  [See the Gospel of John chapter 11.]  It’s a beautiful story.  Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are three siblings.  They live in Bethany.  They are friends with Jesus.  You may remember the story of Mary and Martha.  Well, as the story goes, Lazarus is sick.  Mary and Martha have sent for Jesus.  Jesus delays in coming to Bethany.  By the time Jesus gets to Bethany, Lazarus has died and been put in the tomb.  And the sisters are consumed by grief.  It has been four days since Lazarus died.  It was thought that it took three days for the spirit to leave the body.  So maybe there was a possibility that Lazarus could be restored to life within those three days.  But after four days there is no hope.

As the story relates, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb and he appears wrapped with grave clothes.  The impression is that he was really dead.  And now he is really alive.  

I am wondering about what hopes and dreams and desires we put in a tomb.  What kind of things do we let die?  What do we give up on?  What do we abandon?  What do we lock away never to be revisited?   Our faith teaches us to be peace makers.  Have we given up on nuclear disarmament?  On gun sense laws?  Our faith teaches us to value economic arrangements that are just.  Have we given up on economic justice?  Our faith teaches us to cherish the environment.  When we hear about the trends with global warming, do we simply ignore the statistics because we have given up on mitigation?  Our faith teaches to pursue forgiveness.   Have we given up on mending a relationship?  Our faith teaches us to be servants.  Have we given up on being able to make a difference?  Our faith invites us to health and wholeness.  Can we change our habits and face our addictions and dis-eases?  

The story of Lazarus reminds us of the persistence and resilience of the hopes and dreams of our faith.  Maybe they have been shut away but they can be restored.  What dreams have you given up on?  Divine Love can breathe new life into our dreams.

I am grateful that we are part of a religious tradition of hope and promise.  No situation is beyond redemption.  Restoration and healing are always possible.  

 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16   

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.12.18

Lynching Revisited

Several days ago, I wrote about the poem and song, “Strange Fruit” which describes lynchings in the southern United States. I have recently read Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society, and An Early Cry for Civil Rights by David Margolick written in 2000. That propelled me to YouTube to watch videos of the song performed by various artists starting with Billie Holiday. Yes, her performance is emotionally wrenching to watch as are the renditions of the song by Nina Simone and other African American artists.

Then I noticed a more recent performance, 2013, by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa. These people are white. Hm. What would that be like? I was skeptical. I watched the video. And I watched it again. And again. The vocals. The guitar. Haunting? Breathtaking? Tortured beauty? It’s hard to describe.  You can watch it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qf_aytrlpQ

That performance led me to new thoughts about lynching. Yes, it is horrific to think about what it was like for black people to be the victims of such heinous evil. Again, hard to find human language to talk about something so inhumane. I am white. Can I say I am grateful that I am not black and was not subject to that depravity?

But watching the Hart/Bonamassa video stirred a different perspective within me. Here were these white people putting on such an authentic, pained, gut-wrenching performance. Maybe it is better to be black, to be associated with the victim rather than the perpetrator of such horror. Maybe it is worse to be white and to know that people of your kind did this, lynched people, hung them from a tree. With no semblance of justice involved. Can some say I’m grateful that I’m not white and not associated with behaving with such depravity?

We revisit this topic today, the 104th anniversary of the lynching of John Evans who was lynched in St. Petersburg near MLKing St. and 2nd Ave. S. by a mob of 1500 white people.

Can we be grateful? White and black? Can we be grateful that such a horror would not happen in St. Petersburg today? Can we be grateful that we are making progress in confronting racism? We have not come far enough. There is still a long way to go. But I am grateful that the majority of our society wants to end racism in the United States.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.11.18

Veterans Day

This is a difficult day.  It’s a day to remember all of the suffering and sacrifice of those who have served in the military.  Yes, it is good to thank our veterans and remember their honorable service to our country.  But it is also a day of conflicted perspectives and feelings for me.

Jesus was adamantly anti violent.  He was a pacifist.  Thus he was against armed conflict and war.  So as followers of Jesus, we, too, are to be against war and violence of every kind.  

So to me it feels like there is a tension between the commitment to following Jesus who was against war and expressing gratitude to those who have served in the armed forces on Veterans Day.  

There is also the underlying tension between the view that the armed forces protect our safety and security and the view that the armed forces are used to undermine working for peace in the world.  

So, there is a sense in which Veterans Day is a day fraught with mixed feelings and contradictions.

I am wondering about truly remembering our veterans.  What if we were to commemorate each and every person who has served this country in the armed forces?  What if all those thousands and thousands of people were named and identified?  What if the toll that was taken on their lives and the lives of their families was cataloged?  What if their scars, emotional and physical, were charted?  What if all of their stories were told?   What would that be like?  To know who all of these veterans were, what they did, and how it affected their lives.  What if we spent Veterans Day, a holiday, pouring over the stories of veterans?  Listening to their stories?  Surrounded by published lists of all of their names?  What if we really remembered each and every veteran on Veterans Day instead of shopping, going to the beach, and sleeping in since it is a day off?  

Maybe if were really thought about the human cost of serving in the military as well as the financial cost, we would re-think our military-industrial complex.  

Stanley Baldwin, British statesman and three time Prime Minister, declared, “War would end if the dead could return.”

Maybe the most significant way we can express gratitude to those who have served in the military is by abolishing war.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16   

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.10.18

Finding Gratitude through the Back Door

There is a wishing trees garden within the Arlington Garden in Pasadena, California. This public garden features native and drought tolerant plants. It has tables and chairs and benches for people to sit and enjoy the natural beauty. There is a labyrinth made from stones in the garden. And there are several trees blossoming with ribbons and papers that convey people’s wishes.

 

One post on the tree conveys these wishes:

I wish my husband will stop drinking alcohol and smoking.
I wish I will have job soon
I wish for best of health for my whole family
I wish I win in lotto.
I wish to have house soon.

After seeing that and some of the other wishes, here is my wish:

I wish to be more grateful!

 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.9.18

Poetry

In 1937, an English teacher at De Witt Clinton High School, Abel Meeropol, wrote the poem Strange Fruit:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Later, Meeropol set the poem to music. It was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939.

Why be grateful for such wrenching words? For the portrayal of such a gruesome scene? In words or in song?

Here we are served by George Santayana who observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The poem and song Strange Fruit portray the past in sickeningly stark honesty. Meeropol was Jewish. Could he have been thinking that remembering this harrowing past in America could influence the course of events in Europe? We don’t know.

But may we be grateful for those writers, musicians, scholars, and artists who help us to remember the past so that we are not condemned to repeat it.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thinks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.8.18

Forgiveness

We’ve done something to wrong someone. And we know it. And we feel awful about it. We’re abashed, ashamed. We do what we can. We want to make things right. We ask for forgiveness. And what a relief it is when that forgiveness is granted!

It can be hard to accept such a gift. A relationship is restored and maybe even strengthened. Our guilt is relieved. Forgiveness from someone is something to be very grateful for. Can you think of a time that you have received such forgiveness? How did that feel?

There is also another side to forgiveness. Sometimes we are the ones who have been wronged. Sometimes someone has done something that has caused us harm in some way. We bear the burden of the injury, the hurt, the pain. It may be something fairly minor. It may be devastating. But we carry the weight of having been wronged. It may linger and fester.

When we choose to forgive someone, we lay that weight down. We release that burden. We free ourselves from that load. And we can forgive whether the other party has requested that forgiveness or not. We can choose to forgive regardless of the demeanor of the other person.

Forgiving others restores us and frees us. Maybe you can think of someone who has hurt you. Forgive them in your heart. You don’t even need to tell them you have done so. And you likely will find that you have unburdened your spirit.

In this season of gratitude, may we give thanks for forgiveness – the forgiveness that we receive AND the forgiveness that we give.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thinks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.7.18

The Examen

One year as part of Bible Study, we used the spiritual discipline described in the book Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life (Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn, authors). The book is designed for children and families and is based on the examen, a prayer of St. Ignatius. At each Bible Study session, we would take some time to light a candle, then each person would respond to the question, What am I most grateful for? Then we would respond to a second question, What am I least grateful for? After our sharing and a closing prayer, we blew out the candle and were finished for the evening.

It was a very interesting process. Sometimes we found it very hard to figure out what we were least grateful for. We were often surprised at what we said. And how we felt about it.

One thing that tended to happen again and again was that in the process of examining what we were least grateful for, we found a hidden blessing. We discovered something we had not seen. We realized that something we were not grateful for had helped us or taught us an important lesson.

I have found this to true in my own experience. At one time, we had an older couple in the church and the wife had Alzheimer’s Disease. The situation was very difficult for the husband who was the caregiver. He would call me regularly to come over to their house to try to help when things got dicey. I was glad to go but I don’t think I was of much help. I was “least grateful” because I felt I was ineffective.

A few years later, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. My mother also had the same condition. In those frustrating experiences with parishioners, I had not been of much help to the couple. But later I saw that those experiences were of great help to me in preparing me to care for my parents. Something I was not grateful for at one point turned out to be something that I was very grateful for later.

To be honest, in those Bible Study prayer sessions, I think we all learned more about ourselves and the spiritual life through the discipline of identifying what we were least grateful for rather than what we were most grateful for. It was very illuminating.

So as we engage in this season of gratitude, may we be open to the possibility that something we are not grateful for may actually hold a blessing for us.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thinks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.6.18

Election Day

It’s Election Day.  Finally!  There’s been quite a lead up to this election.  Ads.  Mailers.  Robo calls.  Yard signs.  Emails.  Texts.  Social media posts.  Radio, TV, and print media coverage.  And it’s finally here – the day of the midterm elections in the United States.  

In the Gratitude Journal provided by the church for this season of preparation for The BIG Event, there is a prompt:  Something I appreciate about living in the United States. . . There are so many things to be grateful for but today, I am thinking about how thankful I am that we have a say so in who our leaders are.  We have the right to vote for our leaders and those who will govern.  And that right was hard won for African Americans and for women.  People were willing to give their lives to get the vote because voting matters.  In the current news there are many stories about voter suppression and gerrymandering.  Why bother to restrict voters or to manipulate district lines if it didn’t matter?  Voting makes a difference.

And here in Florida, voting is not just about who gets elected to govern, but we also vote on amendments to the state constitution.  This gives us the power to directly influence the laws of our state.  Think of it.  With our vote.  In those few minutes filling out a ballot, we have the power to give 1.4 million people in Florida who have paid their debt to society the right to vote and have a constructive impact on their community and their country.  [Vote yes on Amendment 4]  We have the power to stop any further off-shore drilling on the coasts of Florida and to stop fracking in Florida.  [Amendment 9]  

I am grateful that we have the power to influence the life of our communities and our country by voting.  I am thankful that voting gives us a voice in the affairs of our land.  

I am also thankful that the election will be over today.  Whoever wins, whoever loses, there will still be work to do to ensure that there is “liberty and justice for all” in these great United States of America.   

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16    

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.5.18

An Operation

I am thankful that our new dog, Stephanie, had surgery.  Yes, I know, that sounds like a strange thing to be grateful for.  An operation?  But here’s my story.  

First of all, I am thankful that we have Stephanie.  She is a 6 year old, AKC champion, 136 pound black Newfoundland.  She was re-homed to us this spring.  So she is new to our household.  And she is one very big bundle of JOY.  

I am also thankful that Stephanie’s bum leg could be healed through surgery.  In another month, she should be up to snuff as she has not been in some time.  It was a relatively easy fix.

Next, I am grateful that we actually had the money to pay for this extremely costly procedure.  There have been many times in our lives when paying for this surgery would have been impossible.  I don’t know what we would have done.  Maybe we would have given her back to her breeder.  I don’t know.  But I was am so very grateful that we could provide this care for our beloved pet.

I am also thankful that we were able to manage the care that Stephanie needed after her operation.  It has been an inconvenience, to be sure, always taking her out on the leash when needed 24 hours a day, buying a harness to hold up her back end when she stands, not letting her use the doggie door, restricting our other two dogs from using the doggie door, giving medication at 8 and 4 and 8 and midnight for a week, etc.  But I am so grateful that we have been able to allocate the time and manage the scheduling to meet Stephanie’s needs.  And I am also grateful that I have the physical ability to hold her up and help her maneuver.  

Sometimes it is surprising how much you have to be thankful for.  And even more surprising how that is revealed to you. 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16  

A personal note:  On this, our 35th wedding anniversary, I am thankful for my husband who tolerates my devotion to dogs and my special fondness for Newfs, drool and all! 

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.4.18

Sunday

It’s Sunday.  Yep.  That’s the day that you may go to church if you want to.  I say “you” because I have to go to church – I’m getting paid to go, you might say!  But for others reading this, you have the opportunity to go to church today.  

In some places, people are forced to participate in religion, whether they want to or not.  In other places, people are forbidden to practice their religion.  We have the freedom to choose.

That means that we are free to go to church. Today and every Sunday. There is no one stopping us from being part of the community, enjoying the music, experiencing the prayers, being with the caring people, having our values nurtured, having our spirits fed, and feeling rooted and grounded in love.  This is always available to us.  Each and every week.  And there is no law or authority to prevent us from participating in church.

There is also nothing to stop us from offering our generous support to the ministry of the church as it feeds us and the world.  We can give as much time and money to the church as we choose.  There are no barriers or limitations imposed by an outside authority on our giving to the church.  

There is also no limit placed on our ability and our capacity to serve.  No one can stop us from offering a smile or a kind word.  No one can make us stop praying in our hearts.  No one can prevent us from writing a letter and expressing our views or joining in a demonstration.  Because we know that serving is more than helping one individual person in some way.  It is also about changing the institutional arrangements that create and perpetuate need.  

I am so very thankful that it is Sunday and there is nothing stopping us from fully expressing of our faith today and every day!

Looking ahead, make sure to plan to be in church for The BIG Event on Sunday November 18.  Come and share the harvest!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.3.18

Scarcity Part Two

This is a second look at scarcity.  Yesterday, I mentioned how the culture around us tries to convince us that we are lacking something, and that something is scarce, so we have to seize the chance to get it.  This kind of cultural ambiance keeps the focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we do have.  So we feel a sense of scarcity.  Intentionally choosing a discipline of gratitude helps to counter that.

But there is another aspect to the scarcity mentality around us.  It is not just that we are lacking some material object.  There is also the perpetuation of the idea that we are not good enough.  We’re not thin enough.  Or tall enough.  Or rich enough.  Or stylish enough.  Or athletic enough.  Or successful enough.  Or charming enough.  Or. . . . enough.  

This creates the impression that we are lacking.  In and of ourselves.  As we are.  This is disempowering.  And can lead us to think, I can’t make a difference.  What I do doesn’t matter.  I don’t count.  

The scarcity mentality tells us that we don’t really count for much. With this outlook, we are less likely to give, to help, to contribute because we think we’re not much and our help doesn’t matter.     

When we choose to be thankful and affirm our gratitude, we see how powerfully gifted and blessed we are.  We see our abundance.  And then we are aware of all that we have to give and share.  And it does matter.  And we can help.  And we do have much to offer.  

As we prepare for The BIG Event, think of all that you have to offer to the life of Lakewood United Church of Christ.  Let your gratitude guide you!

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.2.18

Scarcity Part One

Hurry in and save.

This week only.

Don’t miss it.

This won’t last.

Free.  No cost.  No obligation.  Call today.

Don’t let these deals get away!

We are constantly encouraged to hurry up and buy.  Something.  Anything.  Goods.  And services.  The underlying messaging is: 1) that we are lacking something, and 2) that there isn’t enough of it.   There is the creation and perpetuation of the illusion of scarcity.  

Something we already have is not good enough.  There is something new that we need.  That something is in high demand and we have to be sure to get ours.  Our economic system has to create demand to keep growing.  Demand can be created by making something look really appealing or necessary, and scarce.  It’s a never ending cycle and we get sucked into the whirlpool.   It is very stressful to the spirit, this always trying to keep up and not to miss out.  And it can be stressful to the wallet to feel pressured to spend beyond our means.  

One way to put the brakes on this endless cycle, to reduce the stress, to reframe reality, is to engage in the spiritual discipline of giving thanks.  The conscious choice to give thanks, to look for what we have in our lives to be grateful for, is an intentional rebellion against the mindset of scarcity and consumerism.  The practice of gratitude reorients our reality.   Gratitude and giving thanks induce a change of heart.  Instead of seeing what is lacking, what we don’t have, what we can’t do, we see all that we do have.  Our perception of reality transforms from scarcity to abundance.  

This November as we prepare for Sharing the Harvest at The BIG Event, consider using the Gratitude Journal offered by the church (available at church and on the website) to guide you in the spiritual discipline of giving thanks.  

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Sharing the Harvest Devotion 11.1.18

The Magic Words

When I was growing up, the magic words were not “abracadabra” or “wingardium leviosa,” but “please” and “thank you.”  As I child, I could understand why please was a magic word.  It helped you to get what you wanted because it was used in conjunction with a request of some kind.  But thank you?  In my young mind, I saw that as just flat out being extra nice.  

I see thank you quite differently these days.  It is more important than I thought as a child.   Just a simple thank you, especially to a stranger, acknowledges the humanity of the other person and recognizes your interdependence and connection.  I am surprised at how many times I get a heartfelt, “You’re welcome!” from a clerk or a stranger to whom I have simply said, “Thank you.”  

Saying thank you, whenever I have the opportunity, reminds me how much I am receiving from others all of the time.  This helps me to see how much I need other people; in many different ways.  It’s not just all about me and what I do.  Thank you reminds me that I am dependent on others and it helps me get away from being so self-centered.  Thank you undermines the tyranny of the self.  

Thank you makes me realize that I am constantly benefitting from things that I did not do, that I did not create, that I am not responsible for, and that I cannot control.  

So, that simple thank you, is a magic word.  It takes my beyond myself and makes me aware that I am part of a much larger reality that includes other people, known and unknown to me.  That larger reality involves the natural world which supports life.  And it alludes to the mysterious unknown, named God by some, that is at the heart of it all.    

In this season of gratitude at LUCC as we prepare for Sharing the Harvest at The BIG Event on Sunday November 18, I am going to try to say thank you more often and let that simple act work its magic.  Will you join me?  

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16

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Christmas Eve Devotion

Have you watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” yet this season? How about “A Christmas Carol,” the Dickens classic? Year after year, these and other Christmas favorites are repeatedly enjoyed. What gives these stories such staying power?

I think it is the theme of transformation. We like to see transformation. We like to see the characters turned around. Redirected. We like a story of a someone selfish and crotchety becoming someone kind and generous. This kind of tale gives us hope and lifts our spirits. It reminds us of the reason for the season.

When we look around at the state of things, maybe we can see lots of areas in which we would like to see transformation in our world. How would you like to see those who deny the human influence on global warming transformed into avid environmentalists? I would like to see that! How would you like to see Congress working for the good of ALL people of the US and an end to the warring partisan tribal factions? I would like to see that kind of transformation, too. How would you like to see every person treated equally instead of privilege and favoritism based on money and race and religion and identity? Wow!

This is the season to be inspired by transformation. The religious stories of the season are stories of transformation. Elizabeth transformed by a birth in later life. Mary transformed by her special role. The shepherds recipients of special treatment by the angels instead of being ignored outcasts. And there is the whole concept of incarnation – divinity taking on flesh. This is a season for stories of unexpected twists and turns. So we feel an openness to change. To something new. To possibility. The start of a new year ahead also feeds into those expectations.

So with all of this hope and potential swirling around us (instead of snow, here in sunny Florida) we remember the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We are invited to welcome change, conversion, and transformation into our own hearts and lives. And then to see this change ripple into wider society. This is how societies change – with change in one individual, then another, and another, and another. . . . The world-changing impact of Christianity over centuries and civilizations began with one small baby.

So this Christmas Eve, open yourself to Divine Love, the spirit of Christ, being born in you, transforming you, filling you. Add your story to the stories of transformation that illumine this holy season.

Prayer
Love, light, peace, be born in us today. Transform us, remake us, give us new life for the good of this beloved, beleaguered world! Amen.

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Advent Devotion 12.23.17 Beyond Giving

Christmas is a season well known for charitable giving. Many charitable organizations receive generous financial donations at Christmas time. Food banks and meal programs are swamped with food and volunteers. Shelters are given heaps of socks and underwear. Toy collections for those made poor exceed expectations. Christmas giving goes well beyond those presents under the tree to sharing gifts with those who are less fortunate. This is a beautiful dimension of the holiday season.

In the Magnificat, the poetry talks about the hungry being filled with good things. That is a beautiful vision. Everyone having food to eat. This is something we would all love to see especially when you think about how much food gets thrown away and how many people experience food insecurity.

But the Magnificat doesn’t just talk about plenty for the poor. The writer extols the God that has selected Mary to be the mother of Jesus:

“You have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.” [Luke 51b-53]

This portrayal of God goes well beyond promoting charitable giving much of which comes from those who are wealthy and powerful. So what are we to think of these provocative verses?

I think the writer is not looking for punishment for specific individuals who are rich or in positions of power. I think the poetic imagery in the Magnificat is a way of talking about changing the system, the societal arrangements and the economic structures, that create poverty, that make people poor. The Magnificat is envisioning a new social and economic order that does not take advantage of people or make anyone poor or hungry or “less than.” This new reality can be seen in the selection of Mary, a poor, humble, small town girl, for a big important role in God’s plan for justice. And Mary’s son, Jesus, will devote his ministry to making God’s dream of a human community without poverty or oppression a reality.

The kind of reality portrayed in the Magnificat and in the teachings of Jesus, a reality which does not create victims but promotes mutuality and equality is good for everyone. In that kind of world, no one needs to be afraid. Those who were on the bottom don’t have to worry about being taken advantage of. And those who were toward the top don’t have to be afraid of being robbed or attacked for their wealth. It is a reality without fear, or guilt, or twisted justifications and manipulations. It is a reality based in shared experience and truth.

So, maybe we want to look forward to a Christmas season without charitable giving. Not because people are greedy or hard-hearted, but because there is no longer any need. As Divine Love is born in us, may we commit ourselves to creating social and economic arrangements that eliminate poverty and oppression.

Prayer
We are grateful for our many blessings and our material resources. We are grateful that we can share with others. May we be generous with our hearts and minds and creativity working to create a world that is free of poverty and need especially for those who are most vulnerable. Amen.

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Advent Devotion 12.22.17 JOY!

The word joy doesn’t seem to be used much except around Christmas and in church. Joy was once a common girl’s name. Maybe you know someone named Joy. In the stories leading up to the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke we hear of joy. Mary has been told that she is going to have a child. This child is going to be special. He will do great things for his people. That’s a big responsibility for Mary. She must know that it will complicate her life. And she is probably poor and struggling as it is. Yet she and her cousin, Elizabeth, are portrayed as being filled with joy.

Can you think of a time, recently, that you were filled with joy? When your heart was joyful? When you wanted to sing for joy? When you were overcome with joy? Maybe even shedding tears of joy?

Take some time to think this over and reflect on one or more recent experiences of joy. Is it hard to come up with a recent occurrence of joy in your life? That’s something to be aware of. Do memories of joyful moments come easily to mind? That is also something to ponder. Was joy once a common occurrence? Has that changed? Are you feeling more joy? Take some quiet moments to reflect on joy in your life.

If you can think of a recent experience of joy, try to remember what was happening. What were the circumstances? Were others involved? What was going on? This may give some illumination about finding more joy in your life in the days and weeks to come.

While many Christmas ads promise joy, shopping and presents may not be where we actually find joy. Joy may not be in a box under the Christmas tree or in a stocking hung by the chimney with care.

Being part of the life of God, following Jesus, cultivating the image of God within, seeing the sacred in others, these things are associated with a wellspring of joy in the Christian tradition. Or at least they point in the direction of joy. In the gospels Jesus is remembered for coming to bring joy. If we would like to feel more joy in our life, maybe our spiritual life needs more attention. Maybe it’s time to be more regular about church, prayer, and service.

This Christmas may we ready ourselves for JOY to “Be Born in Us Today.”

Prayer
The fullest expression of our deepest humanity is a life of much joy. In these busy, hectic days of holiday preparation may we find our way to making room for more joy in our lives. Amen.

Remember the LUCC Christmas offering for Gulfcoast Legal Services.  Your gifts may help bring joy to others!

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Advent Devotion 12.21.17 Born of the Spirit

The prophet Isaiah reminds people what they are to expect from one who is sent by God. They are to expect a spirit of wisdom and understanding. A spirit of counsel and strength. A spirit of knowledge and reverence for God. They are to expect one who takes delight in obeying God, and doesn’t judge by appearances, or make decisions by hearsay. One who will treat poor people with fairness and uphold the rights of the land’s downtrodden. [Adapted from Isaiah 11:1-4a, Inclusive Language Bible, Priests for Equality]

We are celebrating Christmas because we believe that these traits were present in Jesus. In Jesus’ life and ministry we see these characteristics. We feel that Jesus fulfills this description. And he calls his followers to do the same. His followers are not just to glorify who he is. They are not simply to extol how virtuous, and righteous, and good Jesus is. They are not just to praise how Jesus fulfills God’s intentions.

Those who find themselves on the Christian path are to follow Jesus: To emulate his goodness and values and compassion. They are to embody the Divine Love that is seen in him. Jesus shows us what we, too, are made of.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and all that means, we are also to prepare ourselves to birth the spirit of God in our lives. We are making ready for the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and reverence, to take root in us.

People today are prone to be weak. We often lack self discipline. We make explanations and excuses rather than applying inner strength to curb our baser impulses. People routinely spew venom not just on social media but face to face. We need the spirit of God to be born in us today.

As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we are to be preparing ourselves for the spirit of the Divine to come upon us so that we might take delight in God’s ways and not judge by appearances or make decisions by hearsay.

Think of it – “not judge by appearances.” How many people of color are being judged not by behavior but by appearances? How many people are being judged not by character but by clothing? How many are being judged not by conduct or compassion but by country of origin or accent or religious affiliation or gender identity?

And think of the significance of not making decisions by hearsay in this era of fake news and false testimony and intentional lying and deceit even from the most powerful officials of our land. We are being called to make decisions based on factual information, on actual experience, verifiable evidence not on hearsay. Not on fake news. Not on lies and distortions.

The human impact on global climate change is a fact. The racism in America is based on verifiable evidence. The sexism in the world can be documented with statistics as well as powerful stories. #metoo is about truth telling not hearsay. Be born in us today.

As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we are preparing ourselves to treat poor people with fairness and uphold the rights of the land’s downtrodden.  We don’t see that spirit in the tax law that was passed by Congress this week because it appears to cater to the interests of the rich and send the poor away empty handed.  Centuries after Isaiah, the writer of the Magnificat will echo the same sentiments:  You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty.  [Luke 1:53]

As we pray this season, “Be Born in Us Today” we need the words of Isaiah and the writer of the gospel of Luke to remind us just what that kind of birth looks like. It is a radical departure from much of what we see around us just as it was in the days of the prophet and the gospel writer.

Prayer
May we be open to the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit that does not judge by appearances or make decisions by hearsay. May we treat poor people with fairness and uphold the right’s of the downtrodden. So may the spirit of God “Be Born in Us Today.” Amen.

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Advent Devotion 12.20.17 Ponder

In the most hectic season of the year, who gives a thought to pondering???

Ponder? When there are presents to buy? When there are decorations to be put up? When there are parties to go to? When there is wrapping to be done? When there are cookies to be baked? When there are errands to run? When there are so many things to do, who can think of pondering?

And as if that were not enough, the daily assaults in the news continue apace. More revelations of sexual harassment and assault. Is Congress really going to pass that hand-out-to-the-rich tax bill? Then there are the bombings and mass shootings that have become commonplace. Ponder? Who has time to ponder?

Well, in the stories around the birth of Jesus, we are told that Mary pondered. She pondered about the message of the Angel Gabriel in the story of the annunciation. In the story of the shepherds visiting the manger, we are told of Mary pondering these things in her heart. Mary pondered.

People who make strides in science are known for pondering. Darwin was a ponderer. Einstein was a great ponderer. Scientists who ponder make new connections, see things in new ways, come up with new insights to be tested and explored that inform our understanding of the material world.

People who come up with strategies for advancing civilization are often ponderers. They take time to observe things and think about things and analyze things. Then they come up with new ideas for advancing society.

Winter is a good time for pondering. There are the long hours of darkness. In many parts of the world, it is a season of dormancy. Plants and trees look dead. Fields are bare. Yet life is preparing to emerge again after the cyclical period of stillness.

This Advent season, at LUCC we have been focussing on the theme “Be Born in Us Today” from the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” This is a season to ponder how Divine Love is seeking to be born in each one of us this season. How are we being called to birth more love into the world? How can we help to create a more peaceful world? How are we needed to challenge the power arrangements of society that create poverty and suppress the human spirit? This takes some pondering. And Lakewood Church has been providing the opportunity for doing just that during Sunday morning worship in Advent. The services have been contemplative with time to rest in Love, to think, to stop thinking, to listen, to be. To ponder. For from pondering comes transformation of ourselves and of the world.

Prayer
We are grateful for the tradition of Mary who pondered. She is a reminder to us that we are all part of the great stream of Divine creativity which flows forth from contemplation into action. As we pray for the spirit of Christ to be born in us may we ponder our new birth. Amen.

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Advent Devotion 12.19.17 Reorientation

At the Florida Conference Annual Meeting in October, keynote speaker, the Rev. Molly Baskette, asked a question of us. “What is your church’s ‘why’?,” she asked, leaving us to answer the question, “What can church still offer that secular culture can’t?” [From FL Conference UCC “Conference Call.” By Rev. John Vertigan, Conference Minister]

What does the church have to offer? This time of year, it is pretty blatant. While the culture around us is focussed on what people will get for Christmas, presents under the tree, making sure that retail spending is high as an indicator of economic health, the church is focussed on the stories leading up to the birth of Jesus which are all about, “What can I give?“ not “What will I get?” And that is one of the main things that the way of Jesus has to offer the world that is unique and different from secular culture.

Our culture creates consumers of us all. What will we consume? What do we want? What material goods will we buy? What convenient services will make our lives easier? It’s all oriented around “What’s in it for me?” What can I get?

The church, when it is faithful, isn’t promoting what it has to give people. It is not promising an easier life, or more comfort, or more money, or a more beautiful, younger looking you. It’s not about “What can I get?” here.

The church is promising wholeness, a world that is welcoming and friendly to all people. It is focussed on the healing of the spirit and body; healing society and the very Creation itself. And how does this happen? Through GIVING. The church is here to help us see the needs of others and the world, and to ask ourselves how we are being called to respond to those needs. The church is here to help us and others find ways to contribute to the greater good.

In the final frenzy of Christmas shopping this week, with offers of free shipping and guaranteed Christmas delivery, keep in mind Mary. The story of the annunciation was read in church on Sunday. It is a story of active, initiative in response to the needs of the world. Mary gives up whatever her expectations of the future may have been. She gives up an easy, anonymous life. She gives up a “normal” life. For a life that is for the greater good AND that will involve the horrible, tortured death of her beloved child. That is what the church has to offer: Finding your truest life, in service to the greater good regardless of the sacrifice involved. Jesus learned this from Mary. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus was killed for undermining and threatening the power structure of the culture around him. He was not killed for promising to make people rich, or happy, or pretty.

Prayer
May we keep our eyes wide for how we are needed to contribute to the greater good. May Divine dreams of justice, community, and plenty for all fill these long winter nights. We will find our highest good as we create Peace on Earth. Amen.

Reminder: Don’t forget to drop a contribution into the giving can for Gulfcoast Legal Services which provides legal help to immigrants. Please bring the can with your offering to church on Christmas Eve.

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Advent Devotion 12.18.17 Long, dark nights. . .

This devotion is offered by the Rev. Victoria Long

John 1.5 reminds, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome.” In this part of the country Advent is experienced in Day Light Savings time. The sun rises later each day and is sooner to set. The winter solstice is here (even in Florida!) the beginning of longer days and the ending of shorter nights.

This season has felt darker than usual. The events that continue to unfold serve to make this writer doubt the possibility of a miracle this year. Who will feed the hungry? What will become of the poor? How can those who have so much feel the need to accumulate more? Where is the voice of reason that will make sense of this insanity?

I wonder if this is how Joseph felt. So many moving pieces! Way beyond one’s ability to to understand, to deconstruct, to remain faithful in the call you had been given. A deep trust in the promise given. Not a faith without doubt and an abundance of questions, but a faith that sets a life in a new and uncharted direction.

My prayer on this day is help me to be a light in the darkness. Today, give me the courage to do the one thing I can do. Allow me to not loose sight of how much my one small action can impact another. My challenge is not to understand all that is occurring, but to respond to what I am a witness to.

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Advent Devotion 12.17.17 The Unexpected

This devotion is offered by the Rev. Victoria Long

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Isaiah 11.1

Fourth century preacher and teacher John Chrysostom wrote,
“What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant…”

The Advent season is a time of watching, waiting and preparing to bear witness to the coming of God’s presence. Year after year many remain surprised by the form it appears. Our salvation comes in a most unexpected package. It is small and fragile, weak and vulnerable, tender and soft.

The world applauds loud and aggressive entrances. This story serves to remind those willing to slow down, to sit down, to listen, that spectacles of power and grandiose announcements are more the nature of humans than YHWH.

There is something comforting about a God who operates like this. It reminds me to stop living my life anticipating the “what’s next.” Moving from my list of things that must be done, to collapsing from the energy it took to complete the tasks. I might indeed check all the boxes, but where was I truly present?

Henri J.M. Nouwen offered, “Our temptation is to be distracted and be made blind to the ‘shoot that shall sprout from the stump.'” He went on to say, “When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence-the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends- I will always remain tempted to despair.”

Let my prayer today be one that invites the small and the ordinary to garner my attention. May I seek to find the sacred in my daily encounters. May I be wise enough to recognize the Divine in the places no one else thought to look. AMEN.

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Advent Devotion 12.16.17 The Annunciation

This devotion is offered by the Rev. Victoria Long
Luke 1.26-35

The opening line from Denise Levertov’s poem “Consent” dares us to enter the story at the moment Mary was asked to say yes to a life changing invitation.

“This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.”

Advent, offers much to unwrap, as we re engage with the perineal story that leads to a birth. This Luke narrative, has frequently caused some to ponder the question, “but…what about Mary?” Placed in the context of the hashtag movement of “me too,” the quest for reconciliation becomes even more timely.

Each of us must make meaning for our own selves, as our sacred stories are seldom as simple as we may have hoped. There are layers upon layers of possible truths. There are consequences for our responses. Our yeses and our nos.

Theologian Cynthia L. RIgby suggests, “Gabriel, reminds Mary that to be incapable of conceiving in and of ourselves is not the end of the story, that ‘nothing [is] impossible with God’. The best discussions of Mary’s response recognize the pitfalls inherent in rendering Mary either a passive participant, who has no choice but to submit to God’s will, or an autonomous individual, who can choose differently than to bear God to the world….Mary’s obedience is neither optional nor forced. Mary acts freely when she offer’s herself as a servant of the Lord. To embrace her identity as the mother of God is the only choice that is true to her calling, because it is consistent with who she actually is.”

Each of us encounter those places that require a yes or no. Mathew 5.37 challenges us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. We then must live into the consequences of those responses. What is being born within your own life by the answers you give to the questions presented to you? Are your responses leading you to the places you want to be? Are you equipped for the adventure?

Consent
This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
Spirit,
suspended,
waiting.
She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor, “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
courage unparalleled,
opened her.
Denise Levertov

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Advent Devotion 12.15.17 Magic!

Disney promises magic. Displays of Christmas lights promise magic. Ads try to convince us that a certain gift will deliver magic at Christmas. Many of us have a soft spot for the “magic.” That something special. That over the top feeling. That reaction that just could not have been scripted. That eruption of delight.

The Christmas story is filled with magic. Elizabeth getting pregnant in her later years. The child leaping in her womb. A young small town girl becoming the mother of one who will offer a path of salvation to humanity. Joseph choosing to submit himself to a greater purpose than protecting his reputation. Lowly shepherds confronted by angels in the night. A star leading learned astronomers to a remote, far off town and a child of another culture and religion who will be important to all of humankind. The Christmas story is filled with magic before you even get to the more recent Santa and flying reindeer and visits via the chimney.

But the magic of the Christmas story is not the message of Christmas. The magic points to the message. Divinity taking up residence in humanity. The incarnation of Divine Love. God enfleshed. In one baby, one person. So that we know the nature of every person. Sacred. Divine. With the capacity for universal love that is very personal, intimate, and specific. So as we make our way through this Advent season, let’s not settle for the magic but look deeper for the message and the meaning.

Prayer
Amidst glittering lights and nativity scenes and Santaland, may we look for the incarnation in Jesus, in ourselves, in each other, and, maybe most importantly, where it is least expected. Amen.

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Advent Devotion 12.14.17 Feel the Pain

When Jesus begins his ministry in the Gospel of Luke , we are told that he quotes the passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of Our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison – to proclaim the year of Our God’s favor.” [Luke 4:18-19]

So from the beginning, Jesus lets it be known that he is committed to fulfilling God’s dreams. He is not concerned with image or gain. He is not trying to amass power or popularity. He is going to concern himself with the pain of the world.

This Advent season, we are thinking about how Divine Love is seeking to be born in us today. Part of discerning this calling is to reflect on the pain in the world around us. Who does your heart break for? What story in the news just riles you up? Where do you want to offer comfort? Is it the women responding to #metoo? Is it the people of Korea, north and south? Is it kids that are going through school and not learning to read or add or tell time or write a paragraph? Is it those who have sought to relieve their despair in ways that have resulted in addiction? Is it the neighbor who must decide between buying food and buying prescription medication? Is the pain which moves you the pain of Earth – the land, the waters, the animals, the air?

Try to pay attention to how you are moved by the pain you encounter. This will help you to know how God is seeking to birth Divine Love in you, love that is healing and restoring and joyful.

Prayer
May we pay attention to what moves us. May we slow down and be aware and feel. In this process of discernment and discovery, may we get a better glimpse of how we are to be Good News for the world. Amen.

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Advent Devotion 12.13.17 Restoration

Powerful leaders make many promises. Politicians make many promises. We are used to hearing how they want to please everybody all the time, which, of course, is impossible.

There are promises to improve the economy, and education, and healthcare, and public safety, and the environment, and care for seniors, and care for veterans, and care for children, etc. etc. etc.

In the scripture that we heard Sunday from Isaiah, promises are made. These promises are made to people whose homeland has been reduced to rubble by war. Ancient ruins will be restored. Sites long devastated will be rebuilt. Ruined cities which have been neglected for generations will be repaired. [Isaiah 62:4]

Who makes these promises? Not a politician. Not a king. Not a prophet. These promises are made by God. But who will do the work? Will God enlist kings and princes and priests? We are told that the dreams of God will come to fruition through the efforts of those who are made poor, and those who have had their hearts broken, and those who have been in prison, and those who have been in debt, and those who have been in mourning. These are the people whom God will use to create a new community, a new city, a new society, out of the rubble.

This Advent season is a time to be reminded that God includes everyone. There is no one so lowly, or so disadvantaged, or so stigmatized that they cannot be part of making God’s dreams for humanity come true. Think Mary from a small backwater town, Joseph, a carpenter, and the shepherds who had the status of an undocumented farm worker. And then, there is the image of God coming as a baby to save humankind.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey, there is a place for you with God and in the faith community.

Prayer
Society may tell us that what we are really good for is shopping and spending money and fueling the economy. May we listen for another voice. A voice calling us, insignificant as we may feel we are, to be part of brining the Divine visions for Creation to fruition. We have gifts to give that can’t be bought and sold. Amen.

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