Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent week 4: Peace

We have spent the last four weeks looking for Christ. Our verse for the time has been: "Keep watch, for you do not know on what day your Lord will come." Matthew 24:42. During this particular Advent season, while feeling called to really look for Jesus, so much not-Jesus has been shoved in our faces. Tragedies of various kinds have affected our country and our congregation. Yet the word is still the same: Keep watch for Jesus. He could show up anywhere, at any time, whether for His second coming or for his visits into our daily lives. We look for Him to come.

So today, we are going to spend some time looking for Jesus's peace to come. Following is a reading of the story of God bringing peace to earth that goes from the Old Testament, through the life of Jesus, and after Jesus left us with His spirit. Through all time, God has been bringing peace on earth.
Isaiah 54:10
Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Psalm 34:14
Seek peace and pursue it.
Isaiah 52:8,7
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
Luke 2:14
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And He will be called…Prince of Peace.
John 16:33
[Jesus said, “…I]n me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 20:21-22
Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
To these, I would only add a couple of verses that have encouraged me this week as I have been thinking about Peace. 

Isaiah 32
16 The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,
    his righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
    its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

That phrase, "quietness and confidence forever," is what I want to lay hold of. The righteousness of God is what ushers it in. And I can be confident in Him. Who he is replaces the turmoil in our souls with quietness. I can be confident in his unfailing love and can be sure that nothing can take that away form me.

Also over this time of Advent, I have seen those in our midst who have been affected by the darkness of this world letting Christ's light shine through them. I have seen a girl badly wronged turning to Christ for her way forward. I have seen those who mourn claiming Jesus as the center of their joy. These things are great sources of encouragement to me. They help light the way for us all. And so the next verse comes to mind. It brings me peace because I can see the truth of it coming to be right before my eyes as I look around at all us messed up people finding God right where we are.
Philippians 1:6
[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
And so we know that those of us He has begun forming into His children, He will keep forming until He is finished. That brings me quiet confidence today.

Lastly, let's observe a time of quiet today. After a time of silence, we will have a prayer.

Heavenly Father,
The same God who created peace in the beginning and who has ever since promised its return,
The same God whose gift to a power-hungry, sin-occupied world was a baby
who remained just as innocent as the day He was born,
who promised to share with us His peace.
You are the God we need.

Prince of Peace,
We have been looking for you for a long time.
We love you because you have overcome the troubles in this world.
Thank you for enduring violence to share with us your peace.
We ask you to bring peace to our hearts
and to our land.
Spirit of the Living Christ,
Helper, Comforter.
Live in us.
Help us to find your peace in our world.
Let it grow in our lives.
Give us the beautiful words that proclaim its coming
to a world that needs to hear.

We want to see you with our own eyes.
We want to shout for joy.
We want go running with the news.
Make us beautiful as we shout it from the mountains.
We want to live at peace with each other,
to be fully restored.
In you, we have peace. You yourself are our Peace.
Be with us, Jesus, both now and forever.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent 2012: Joy

Reading from Psalm 30
Sing the praises of the
Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
 For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.
To you, Lord, I called;
    to the Lord I cried for mercy:
Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help.
Weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.
 For his anger lasts only a moment,

    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name!
You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

I am here to talk to you about joy. This week, we have learned about senseless tragedies in our nation and perhaps in our own lives. I know many of us are in the nighttime of sorrow. On this very week when we are to come together to talk about the Joy that comes in the morning, talking about Joy may feel like salt in the wound.
Perhaps the timing for this Advent is off. Or perhaps this is the best time. Because this is a time when we know we need Joy. We need to know that this night won’t last forever. We come empty-handed and asking to be given something we don’t have and can’t make for ourselves. We know the only One around who can give it to us is Christ himself.
Especially during Advent, we look forward to Jesus coming, because we know He’s not the only one who has come into the world. We know we have an enemy who has shown up as well. In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that our enemy “comes to steal and kill and destroy.” We can see joy stolen. We feel robbed. But John 10:10 doesn’t end with the news about our enemy. We don't have to hang on there long. Jesus goes on to say, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And THAT is the final word on the situation. Jesus came to give us just those things we cannot get or maintain for ourselves: Hope, Love, Joy…Life.
Last week, I spoke about how we oftentimes find whatever it is we’re looking for. I don’t necessarily think we should look for truth on social media, but sometimes it is found even there. A picture was going around the internet yesterday that I had to share then and I think is fitting to share now. It’s a quote from Fred Rogers – Mr. Rogers – who was a pastor before he was a children’s television creator. He said:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."
I’m not trying to be a humanist. It’s not that I think there are more good people in this world than bad. I just don’t know. But God has left us His spirit – in people – and so we can always expect to find helpers. So this morning, we are looking for our Helper. Those around us may be focused on the chaos and the horrible, but in the middle of it all, we are as children in the middle of a disaster, looking only for our Helper. We know for sure we will find Him here. He comes bearing the gift of Joy to people overcome with sadness. 

These are the words Jesus used when He told us why He had come:
Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Sovereign
Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
If God has called us to be oaks of righteousness, there is nothing that can keep us from becoming who God will make us to be. No ugliness can keep us from displaying His splendor. Our Helper and is coming with just the gift we need! We need joy. And we’re looking for Him. We’re focused on finding Him. We can praise Him right now because He is here. He is the unshakable center of our Joy and nothing and no one can ever take Him away from us. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! 

Shameka encouraged us with a dance to this song by Richard Smallwood. (This page sites the wrong artist.) I wish I had thought to have someone film it, because she has a gift of encouraging others through her dance. But here is the song for those who would want to hear it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent 2012: Love

This year, we are looking at the traditional themes of Advent: Hope, Joy, Love, and Peace. However, to prove once again my imperfection, I accidentally switched the weeks of Joy and Love. Traditionally, Love is the third week of Advent instead of the second, but I'm a rebel like that, so we're going ahead with the second week of our Advent: Love. Our verse for this entire Advent season is: 
"Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." from Matthew 24:42.
Our reading for this week is from Psalm 13:

 “1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
                    _  _  _  _  _  _  _ 
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.”

Because the Lord has been good to me,
I will sing His praises.

My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I trust in your unfailing love.

When I was in college, I went through a time of being really disillusioned and disappointed and angry with God. I was out from under the shelter of my parents’ faith and trying to figure out why it seemed the world was such an ugly place to live. Did God really love everyone? It didn’t seem like it. Why did so much evil happen in the world? Was God really going to hide His face forever? The enemy of my soul had triumphed over me for so long that I was trying to switch sides. I wasn’t asking God “How long?” anymore; that seemed too childish. I had moved past that to anger that He hadn’t showed up yet, that He didn’t love as well as I’d hoped, and that injustice seemed to rule the day. I wasn’t looking for Him anymore. I was done with waiting.
So often in life, we find what we’re looking for. I was looking for reasons to blame God for everything wrong. And I found them. I was looking for hate in the world. And I found it. I was looking for hypocrisy in the church. Yes. There it was. I found what I was looking for. I wasn’t really looking for love in the world, but at the same time, I was angry that I wasn’t finding it.
But, happily, Someone Else was doing some looking, too. That Person was named Love. He had always been there, even though I wasn’t really trying and couldn’t see Him. He had been a good listener to all of my angry outbursts during my times alone with Him, and just so I could see it, he put on the flesh of friends in my life to show me His heart towards me. One night, after hours of listening to me accuse God of being unloving, one of them said, “Lezlie, if love doesn’t exist, then what are we doing here?” And so Love had found me.
We can trust in God’s unfailing love. We rely on it. Even when we are fumbling around in the darkness, we can trust that God will find us. This time of year especially, we remember how he put on the flesh of a Friend so we could all see just how far Love will go to pursue us.
I’ve asked the little children of our church to share with us, because the truth of this morning is simple and we should never try to outgrow it: God is Love. We look for Jesus as little children – trusting He is there – or we don’t find Him at all. In this season of Advent, let us set aside the troubles we’ve encountered as we’ve grown older. Not that those troubles aren’t real; they just aren’t as eternal as God’s Love. Let us focus instead on the Light of the World making his Love known to us. “Keep watch, therefore, because you do not know when the Lord will come.”
Today, we can praise God even now because of his Love that never fails. We may fail, but God’s love is perfect. Praise Him, because He is love, though others are not. Praise Him, because He is love no matter whatever else may happen.

The Bible says, “Seek and you will find.” Look around you, because God is everywhere. Look around you, because even though we may live in dark times, God has us living where we do “so that [we] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” We are swimming in Love. Look around you and take hope, because God is Love! His love will not fail.

Look around you, because God’s love is still in the business of taking on flesh. If you can’t see Love around you, pray that you will have Him in you.
For those who look – and even, perhaps, for some of us who don’t – we will see Him coming! He is coming for us! Through faith, we can even see it now. See Him coming! There He is – and there – and here. We can all look back or around or ahead and see Love’s presence showing up in our lives. He has not left us. He is here with us now. He will come and rescue us. See Him coming! God is Love!

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:17-19

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent 2012: Hope

I cherish Advent. I get to share this love of the season at my church each week as we observe the season together. Since I have a blog, I thought I'd also share it with you. I am late posting the first week's observance, but it's always better late than never, right? Besides, keeping you waiting was perhaps only a means of reinforcing one of the main ideas of the season. :) Enjoy this time of reflection and meditation.

- Advent means coming.
- We set our minds on Jesus, the light of the world who came into the world to change the world forever.
- We let that change begin with us.
- During Advent, we set aside time to think about what Jesus’s coming means. We think about what it must have been like to wait for the first Advent, when Jesus came as a humble baby. We feel the anticipation ourselves as we look forward to the second advent of Christ. We think about how much our world – and we ourselves -- need Jesus to come right here, right now.
- There are many ways and traditions within the church to observe Advent. This year, we are observing the traditional themes of advent: the light of hope, of love, of joy, and of peace. Each candle around the outside of the Advent wreath represents one of these lights. The reason we are able to have any of these, of course, is Jesus, represented by the Christ candle in the center.
- Our theme verse this year comes from Mt. 24:42: “…Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Our Lord is coming; we believe and are looking for Him.
- Let’s start by letting the word wash over us as we begin celebrating the first week of Advent: HOPE.
In service, several people quoted these verses. Read them over several times so their words wash over you.
But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
Micah 7:7 
But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. -
Psalm 39: 7

Often in the Psalms and in the prophets, we read the words of people who see all kinds of darkness in the world around them. They record injustices, troubles of all kinds, their own struggles with sin, the evils of their leaders, the sicknesses of the chosen people of God themselves. I have times like that. Sometimes, I feel like all I see around me is dark. Sometimes, I feel like all I see in ME is dark. I think there’s a lot of truth there – hearts are full of darkness and the world is fallen and broken.
But I love how the writings of the prophets and the psalmists never end there. Because we are not left without hope. Both talk about how the Savior of the world is coming. Writing from a dark place, they talk about the Light that is coming. We can read passages that promise every tear will be wiped away, that the Lord himself will teach us the way of Life, that wars will end, that every sickness will be healed, that justice will be done, that mercy will win, and that all will be made new.
          When Jesus told His disciples about his second Advent, he told them it would be like the coming of a wedding party. 
(From Matthew 25)
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This image of being ready to wait for the One who is coming stuck with me this year. I want to be one who is ready to wait, however long it takes, to see my Savior’s face when he comes. Watching for the coming of the Bridegroom means we, just like the prophets and the psalmists, have to hold out the light of hope.           
Andrew, our pastor, often talks about how we’re not here to run a sprint; we’re running a marathon, here. If I’m going to make it, I need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I need to see people carrying the light around me, encouraging me on. We have these things. We even have Jesus’s own Spirit burning inside us.
              Even as we are in the middle of whatever dark circumstances are around us, we know He’s coming. Therefore, since we have hope, we don’t sit around asking, “Are you coming?” If we have hope burning within us, we ask, “How long, O Lord, until you come?” We aren’t looking for anyone else to cure the sin of the world. “How long, O Lord, until YOU come?” Our world has only one Hope. So we wait, looking everywhere to find Him. We do not know exactly when to expect Him, so we look for Him everywhere. We know He is coming; we just don’t know how long He will take. 

You can follow this link if you'd like to listen to the song we covered as a backdrop to a time of meditation.