Can you remember when God carried you through something very difficult?
Every week, members of New World United Methodist Church come around a table at a local family shelter for an evening of fellowship, prayer and creating art. Residents in the shelter are there for many different reasons – job losses, deaths in the family, fleeing domestic violence, unexpected illnesses or other expenses.
Art brings people together. The act of creating art has a powerful way of bringing about calm, healing and empowerment. We choose to create art with residents of a local shelter because many of the families are in desperate need of space for calm, connection, dignity and love.
Each week we have a different project and a different theme. In the picture, we are creating very special prayer beads, “ebenezer beads.” You might recognize the word “ebenezer” from the hymn “Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” My favorite verse goes like this:
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
What in the world is an ebenezer, you ask, and why are we raising one? The Hebrew word literally means “stone of help.” The song is a reference to the book of 1 Samuel:
Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12
In the story, Samuel is raising a special monument in gratitude for God’s faithfulness as the Israelites defeated the powerful Philistines. Samuel wants to make sure that all who come to this place remember what God has done for God’s people. We are called to remember.
In our prayer bead project, each participant was invited to include a few handmade beads made the week before. As they pray with their beads, these special beads serve as a reminder that God will faithfully bring each family through life’s difficult times of transition.
May we all remember that God is faithful.
Prayer: Dear God, we remember the times in our life when you brought us through difficult circumstances and we thank you. We pray for people in our community who are experiencing homelessness. Lead us to be messengers of your mercy, love and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness.I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you.Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.
2 Timothy 1:3-7
Remember a time you went through something difficult. How did God bring you through that? How can you thank God for God’s faithfulness?
“The kingdom, Jesus taught, is right here — present yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. It is at hand — among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. The kingdom of heaven, he said, belongs to the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for God. It advances not through power and might, but through missions of mercy, kindness, and humility. In this kingdom, many who are last will be first and many who are first will be last. The rich don’t usually get it, Jesus said, but children always do. This is a kingdom whose savior arrives not on a warhorse, but a donkey, not through triumph and conquest, but through death and resurrection. This kingdom is the only kingdom that will last.”
– Rachel Held Evans
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
What does it mean to hunger for God?
When I was working in youth ministry, one of my favorite events to lead was the World Vision 30 Hour Famine. During this event, students and brave adults fast for 30 hours, drinking only juice at mealtimes and skipping out on a dinner, snacks, breakfast and lunch. While fasting, we would play games, learn facts about world hunger, do service projects, and experience first-hand how going without food affects your mental and physical abilities. We developed empathy for the world’s hungry.
After 30 hours, we relished the opportunity to break our fast with communion followed by dinner. Nothing tastes sweeter than a generous helping of communion bread when you long to be fed.
In my privileged life, I have never really had to worry about whether I would eat again. The practice of fasting helped me to appreciate the sense of being empty, longing for nourishment and being filled.
Fasting from food helped me realize my deep hunger. I longed to be nourished with real food, not empty calories.
In the spiritual life, we long for real connection, not shallow faith.
I pray that, in the same way I anticipated that first bite of communion bread, I can also long to be filled with the spirit of God.
Dear God, we thank you for being a God who meets our needs faithfully. Teach us to be people who hunger and thirst for you. Amen.
Suggested Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12
Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 They seek me day after day,
desiring knowledge of my ways
like a nation that acted righteously,
that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
wanting to be close to God.
3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see;
why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
and oppress all your workers.
4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
if you want to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I choose,
a day of self-affliction,
of bending one’s head like a reed
and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?
7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?
8 Then your light will break out like the dawn,
and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
10 if you open your heart to the hungry,
and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
your light will shine in the darkness,
and your gloom will be like the noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually
and provide for you, even in parched places.
He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account;
the foundations of generations past you will restore.
You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Livable Streets. (Source: Biblegateway.com)
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
– Anne Lamott
Where were you when you last received news that brought you to tears?
Last December I got a phone call with news that rocked my world. What I learned was that my dad has cancer, and his future is uncertain. While we are always hopeful, finding out that someone I love is facing a battle for his life has shifted my priorities and helped me to realize what is important versus what is “urgent.” While I would never ask for this kind of news, it’s a blessing to have a reminder of what in life is most important – and the answer is your relationships with people, friends, family, and not work, busy-ness and achievement.
No matter what news you may receive, may you be blessed with learning to dance in a beautiful, life-honoring way. Life is beautiful, complicated and messy. It is full of news – good and bad. And the best news of all is that we have a God who walks alongside and dances with us no matter our circumstances.
God of Good News, thank you for the blessings you give abundantly, for dancing with us throughout life. Thank you for the people and relationships who fill our lives with love. Amen.
Suggested Reading – Romans 1:8-17:
8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because the news about your faithfulness is being spread throughout the whole world. 9 I serve God in my spirit by preaching the good news about God’s Son, and God is my witness that I continually mention you 10 in all my prayers. I’m always asking that somehow, by God’s will, I might succeed in visiting you at last. 11 I really want to see you to pass along some spiritual gift to you so that you can be strengthened. 12 What I mean is that we can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine.
13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I planned to visit you many times, although I have been prevented from coming until now. I want to harvest some fruit among you, just as I have done among the other Gentiles. 14 I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, both to the wise and to the foolish.
15 That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 God’s righteousness is being revealed in the gospel, from faithfulness for faith, as it is written, The righteous person will live by faith. (Source: BibleGateway.com)
In the face of a rare, possibly fatal colon cancer, author Kate Bowler wrote:
“At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I was not reduced to ashes. I felt like I was floating, floating on the love and prayers of all those who hummed around me like worker bees, bringing notes and flowers and warm socks and quilts embroidered with words of encouragement. They came in like priests and mirrored back to me the face of Jesus.” (from Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Have Loved)
Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent. During the next few weeks leading up to Easter, Christians traditionally observe the time with prayer, fasting and penance in preparation for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Today, Ash Wednesday, emphasizes our own mortality and our need to confess our sins.
We remember today that we are made from dust, and to dust we shall return.
At New World United Methodist Church, this Lent we are moving through a sermon series called “Giving Up.” In this life, there are many things we get caught up in that would be good for us to give up. As our culture chases wealth, accumulation, division, fear and greed, we can choose a different approach.
Many Christians commit to giving up something for the season of Lent. We give up things like eating meat on Fridays, eating chocolate, consuming social media, or drinking caffeine. Alternatively, we can give up some of our idle time and take up a spiritual practice like daily journaling, prayer or quiet time. Either way, the small sacrifices made are intended to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice made through Jesus Christ.
May you be blessed this Lent with a deep sense of hope, an utter refusal to give up faith and joy no matter life’s circumstances.
Almighty God, thank you for ushering in this new Christian season today. Thank you for the reminder of our own mortality, as well as the gift of life you have given us. May we use this time to reflect your love to others. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Are you giving up something for Lent?
What are ways you can reflect the face of Jesus to people around you this season?
Suggested reading: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21:
“Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (source: Biblegateway.com)
It’s no secret that one of my favorite spiritual practices is to integrate art and faith – including the art and imagery of photography. Lent, the reflective, somber season of preparation before Easter’s arrival, is a perfect time to pause and be thoughtful.
How is God at work in your daily life? Show us through a photo.
Beginning on Wednesday, you are invited to participate alongside me in a Lenten photo challenge:
How it works: Each day is assigned a different word. The words are intentionally open-ended, open to your interpretation. Take a photo that makes you think of the day’s word. You can explain it or not, that’s up to you. You can participate every day, or just when a particular word speaks to you. Just post the photo with the hashtag “NWUMCLent” on your social media of choice so we can find it and share it.
It is my hope and prayer that you will pause, reflect and grow a bit closer to God in the journey.
Bonus: The theme of our Lenten sermon series at New World UMC is “Giving Up.” (I preach on 3/8, 3/15 and 4/12 if you want to show up in real life!) Rev. Leslie Byrd and I will be creating daily devotionals to go with each photo challenge word. I’ll post them here too – so feel free to follow this blog for a daily Lenten devotional to bless your day!
With great love,
Sermon preached at New World United Methodist Church, Sunday, April 29, 2019 as the first of the “This is My Story” sermon series. Scripture reading is Deuteronomy 6:1-12.
Who has seen the new Avengers Endgame movie? Anyone seen it more than once?
I saw it late Thursday with my family & I have to warn you, I am really terrible about saying “spoiler alert” after I’ve already given things away. For example, on Good Friday I actually did say something like “Don’t worry! Jesus comes back on Sunday, spoiler alert…” but this time I promise, no spoilers.
But this movie is kind of a big deal, isn’t it? The grand finale after 22 movies and 11 years in the making…It’s not the kind of series you can just binge watch over a weekend. It’s too big for that.
This morning we are talking about an even bigger story.
At the end of January, I led what I thought was New World’s first adult mission trip to the country of Haiti. I was thrilled to be able to share our story about the great things God was able to do while we were in the village of Mellier – I even got to share the stories alongside Anna L. and Linda C.
What I learned in the weeks that followed my mission trip report was that this was not the first time New World UMC had sent people on a mission to Haiti. Apparently New World and First UMC Arlington made a joint trip there. Darlus S. shared that her late husband Herb made a great scrapbook from his trip there in 1985. (show book)
It has been fascinating to read through Herb’s diary of the church’s mission trip. It’s almost like a time capsule, looking at the pictures and the typewritten pages (on an actual typewriter!) I recognized a couple of the names, but the faces have changed over the years.
It’s intriguing to look at these pictures. We stayed at the same guest house near Port-au-Prince, and Haiti hasn’t changed all that much during the last 34 years. It’s not like the people in the photos are all that familiar to me – I’m not looking at it and saying, “wow! That was some crazy hair I had back then!”
The scrapbook isn’t my history – yet it is my history because it is part of the story that makes New World United Methodist Church. What happened here in 1985 isn’t my history in one sense, but in another, it is my history because I am part of the church. Same thing with the wall of photos of former senior and associate pastors – the leaders who came before me are not my personal history, but they become part of the story of all of us together.
When we are part of something bigger than ourselves, the story of that larger thing becomes our story. Your family history is your history. What happened to your parents and grandparents matters to you, in a way it explains how you have become who you are.
You’re an American. Although we weren’t there when the Declaration of Independence was signed, it’s still part of our collective history. We were not alive during the Civil War, but it is still part of collective history. The story of our culture is part of what explains who we are.
Another story you are a part of is the story of humanity. It’s a story that began perfectly as God created the first humans is God’s own image.
As people of faith, we are part of a much larger story, the story of God’s work from the beginning and throughout all of Scripture. We are people entrenched in our history as we find it written in the Book. The history of God’s people is our history. The story of our faith is part of what explains who we are.
This morning we are going through an overview of all of Scripture as One Big Story. So often we get tripped up in the details or we get our different Bible stories confused. It’s a beautiful story of God’s continual wooing us – it’s a story that is still being written.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all that lives in it. God is holy and perfect, and when God created all of this, God declared that the creation was all good. When God created humanity, in fact, God declared that humans were very Good. In the story, the first humans were called Adam and Eve and they lived in a garden where they walked with God. It was a very promising beginning full of wholeness and connection with God.
But, it’s a story that quickly included sin as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden. You weren’t there when Adam and Eve sinned, but their story is your story. This tendency to sin, to miss the mark when it comes to following God faithfully, is part of the story of all of humanity. In fact, that’s the rhythm we continue to repeat. God redeems us, we try our best, we rebel, and we drift away.
Eventually, humanity falls so far away from God that it becomes time for a clean start. Our ancestor Noah builds an ark, stocks it with animals of all kinds and keeps them safe through a flood of, well, biblical proportion.
The rainbow reminds us that God promises not to do that again.
In fact, God has many important promises for God’s people. God promises our ancestor Abraham that his descendants will number more than the stars in the sky. All of our Jewish, Muslim and Christian siblings trace their history to this promise.
In time, God’s chosen people, our ancestors, the Israelites, fall into slavery, but God protects them from Egyptian pharaohs and frees us.
God, working through a faithful leader Moses, shares 10 commandments with humanity, hoping God’s people will remember to follow God alone and to love one another.
Being God’s chosen people isn’t always easy. Our ancestors wandered through the wilderness for generations. Although we whined and complained quite a bit, God faithfully provided for us with quail and manna from heaven. God proves to be faithful again and again.
When the wandering is over, our people safely cross into a land flowing with milk and honey, the promised land.
As our crowds grew and eventual squabbles erupted, God provided special leaders to judge our disagreements. This worked for a while…until it didn’t.
We couldn’t help but notice our neighbors all had kings, so we wanted to have a king too. God appointed many kings through the years – some would leave great legacies like David and Solomon, others would be devastating leaders.
Prophets like Jeremiah, Micah and Isaiah received visions from God about our future and about the future arrival of the Messiah.
It was a future that came true in the form of Emmanuel, God with us. It has been said: “When Jesus came into the world as a human, he took on the story of humanity.
Though He never committed a sin of any kind, Jesus shared in our story by becoming human. By being one of us, He experienced everything we experience, except for the guilt that comes from sin. He experienced unkind people, stress, sadness, bad weather – all the things that are part of living in a sin-filled world. Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Jesus willingly experienced everything we experience. He did not make Himself immune to feeling pain. He might have had allergies or gotten a cold like many of us have suffered lately. He went through everything willingly. The story of humanity became Jesus’ story in every way.”
Jesus was baptized so he could identify with us in every way. In our baptism, we are personally drawn into this story that is larger than ourselves. Because we have received the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our baptism, we belong to the story of Jesus.
Jesus, our God with Us, performed many miracles while he walked among us. He healed our brokenness and taught us about the kingdom of God through telling stories of his own.
God is always making promises to God’s people, and we remember the promises every time we participate in part of the story known as communion. “Do this in remembrance of me”
Through his crucifixion and most significantly his resurrection, we are connected to the story of God’s victory over sin and death. We remember that in our story the worst thing is never the last thing!
And the beautiful thing is that God’s story is still being written. We are the church, God’s spirit is our companion, and we are walking in God’s storyline. Sometimes we sin, we fall short of God’s design for our lives, but God is always wooing us back into relationship.
And that is the most beautiful promise of all. As we live in the already-not-yet part of the story, we know that God will bring about a new heaven and a new earth. We will be restored to that very good, whole and connected relationship with our creator once again.
Our Scripture today reminds us of the one big story’s importance:
4 Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds.7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.
The Israelites knew what we often forget – our faith history is deeply significant. The story of our faith shapes us and forms us as human beings.
Let us be a people who shares the stories again and again – with our children, with others as we are out and about and always.
We are never to forget our history – and we are not to forget that the story is still alive and being written today.
May we be a community who walks in the storyline of God.
To God the great author be the glory! AMEN.
With Gratitude to Michael Novelli for his work “Shaped by the Story: Discover the Art of Bible Storying”
During Advent this year (Dec. 2-25) we are having an Advent Photo Challenge! You are invited to participate for any of the topics. Each day I will also send out an accompanying short devotional on the day’s topic. Feel free to share it. Be blessed, Erin
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
December 2-25, our church is participating in an Advent Photo Challenge. No matter who or where you are, you are invited to participate. Each day a different keyword is given for people to try to capture in an image.
Today’s word is “Hope.” To accompany the challenge, here is a short devotional to go along with the day’s word. Feel free to read this and share it with a friend. Be blessed! -Erin
From Psalm 46:1-3 ESV:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
The above mixed media artwork is one I created as part of the Mission and Art Nights at a local family shelter. Each week, volunteers from my church and residents in the shelter (primarily mothers temporarily without homes) met in creative community. We met together to create art, to share a devotional, to laugh and heal, and to share our lives together.
Whenever we go through difficult seasons of our lives, it is comforting to know that we have a God who is faithful to be our very present help. No matter what happens in this world, we can rely on God to carry us through. We do not need to be afraid.
As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, let us remember that God’s promises give us hope for the future.
God of hope, thank you for being a God who is always present, even if we struggle to see or feel your presence. Help us to trust in you. Remind us we can be hopeful about our future and to share that hope with others. Amen.
Based on Psalm 139, this is the sermon that I preached on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at New World United Methodist Church, Arlington, Texas. You can listen to the sermon online on the church’s website.
On April 29th, our congregation wrapped up the Healthy Church Initiative weekend. After our consulting team’s four prescriptions were read (including the one that could mean I will begin preaching regularly), we were walking out the door. A church member caught me on the way out and said offhandedly, “Well, I guess we’re going to get to know you a lot better.”
Oh. I’d considered how my work schedule would be impacted by the change, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. Yes, I imagine as I write sermons and share bits from my life from here and there, you will get to know me better.
I went home and shared that comment with my husband that night over dinner, and his reaction was great: “Oh yes, they’ll definitely get to know more about you…and if I mess anything up they’ll probably hear about me, and they’ll get to know stories about the kids. Every time one of us messes up or says something funny, you’ll be thinking, “oh, that’ll preach.”” (I may or may not have already threatened one of my kids that he was about to become a sermon illustration…)
So I’m not so sure how I feel about all that sharing. I’m pretty introverted, but most of my family is not. I know that my bigger kids are a little mortified about their lives being exposed from the pulpit.
But that did get me to thinking… What is it about sharing about our personal lives that made us so uncomfortable? Why did we all have basically the same reaction?
We will take a look at what it means to be known, what keeps us from wanting to be known, and what it means for us as a community of faith to know one another.
Today’s Psalm reading, Psalm 139, is one of my favorite passages of Scripture – it’s my go-to passage for my art and prayer workshops. As I move through the sermon this morning, I invite you to open to the Scripture in a Bible or the New Living Translation version on your smartphone so you can follow along.
What does it mean to be known?
Psalm 139 begins with Verse 1: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.”
There are a couple of ways to look at this word. It’s pretty common today to be satisfied with being “known” in the sense that people know your name, your image, they recognize you.
Instagram as a career
In fact, I learned recently that some people have made a lucrative career just out of being “Instagram known.” Instagram is a social media application that allows you to post and share photos. Like other social media, you can follow your favorite Instagrammers to see their latest posts & people can follow you back. The app keeps track of how many followers you have. You know you’re a cool kid if you have more people following you than you are following.
If you’re a professional Instagrammer though, you can capitalize on having a high number of followers. People who have more than 100,000 followers are considered “macro influencers” by savvy marketers and are often paid by companies to visit their businesses and post about it.
Once these influencers get into the range of about 400-500K followers, they can make something like $3-6K for a single sponsored post. This is one way of being known – in the sense of being famous or recognizable.
But what you are seeing in the photos isn’t even real. What you don’t see is the effort behind the photo. They are seated at tables with ideal lighting. There may be strategically placed beautiful people in the shots trying to make the venue look cool without looking like it was a staged photo. People may even come with their own makeup and lighting crew, use a professional photographer, then airbrush the photo to create that perfect Instagram moment the brands want.
So…if you want to go ahead and follow me on Instagram right now, I’ve only got about 400,000 more followers to go.
Culture of putting image first
So, we live in a culture permeated with the pressure to project our best images out to the world. This pressure has always been around (consider even Adam and Eve tried to pull one over on God), but Social media in general has intensified the pressure and given us a platform for choosing what images we share – including the humble-brag highlights of our weeks peppered with a few carefully filtered pictures of the food we eat. Through this lens, we live in to these roles as caricatures rather than sharing our true character. Your likeness… your image… is made known rather than your character.
It is really easy to live our lives in this safe, superficial mode of relating to one another. The problem is – if we live our lives at this level, we are missing out on the essential part of being in community in one another.
There is a different meaning of the word “known”
The Psalm continues: “You know my thoughts even when I’m far away…You know what I’m going to say even before I say it, O Lord…such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too great for me to understand.”
There is a different meaning of the word “known” that deep down we all long for. It’s a messier, more vulnerable kind of being known that goes much deeper. It requires a willingness to let people in to see your junk, to let people know your struggles, your sin patterns, and even your heartaches.
Methodism’s founder John Wesley formed small groups that developed deep community through hard questions like “How is it with your soul?” and “Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?” Wesley seems to have realized that we all crave this kind of community where we are known, but it’s a practice we are tempted to hold at arm’s length.
What keeps us from being known in this way?
This kind of being known requires that we risk rejection, recognize our worthiness, and put forth the effort.
Fear of rejection
A primary fear that keeps things superficial is a fear of rejection. We don’t let people get to know us because we are afraid they will discover something about us that they won’t like and they may reject us.
Even clergy writing sermons are tempted to keep sermons safe and unobjectionable because of the fear that people will leave the church if their toes get stepped on. (for the record, you don’t have to always agree with what I say in my sermons, but please don’t reject me….)
Sense of unworthiness
A second fear that keeps us from being known is a fear of being unworthy. It is tempting to believe at times that you are somehow not worthy of being known and loved by others. I love how this Psalm reminds us that each of us are “fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful (or marvelous) are God’s works.” God’s character goes into the creation of every person. When you feel worthless, or even begin to hate yourself, you can remember that God’s spirit is ready and willing to work within you.
You are worth knowing. Every person with whom you lock eyes is also worth knowing.
A third barrier to knowing one another is that we are just too busy to put forth the effort. With so much to do all the time, it’s a lot easier to just be friendly than to really be in community. Honestly, it’s a lot of work to get to the point that you are really known. Just think of how we greet each other with niceties like “How are you?” “Fine, you?” It takes more work to think about how you really might be feeling, and even more work and risk to share that information with other people.
To really get to know one another takes time, listening, and sharing life with one another. It’s easier and quicker to make sweeping assumptions about how other people are based on the boxes we put people in like politics, race, gender and education, than it is to really get to know one another as fellow human beings.
The question to consider is, which fears and excuses are you willing to give up in order to risk being known?
What does it mean that God knows us so well?
How well God knows us
How well does God know us? God knows us completely. God has examined our hearts and knows everything about us. God knows us in minute detail, God knows the number of hairs on our head. As the Psalmist reminds us, God is inescapable and always with us, even in our dark and secret places.
God has been with us from the very beginning, since before we were even knit together in our mother’s wombs. God is never going to abandon us.
God is a faithful & trustworthy knower
Although God knows us completely with a knowledge that is “too wonderful” for us to comprehend…God still abides with us and loves us.
What we can learn from this is: God is a faithful and trustworthy knower.
God also wants to be completely known by us. John Wesley preached on a concept he called “spiritual respiration” or breathing. Just as we must have breath in order to live, we must have God as part of our existence in order to be spiritually alive. A challenge with this is that, unlike breathing, to be in relationship with God takes conscious effort on our part. We can grow to a point of deep community with God through developing habits like regular prayer, Scripture study, and life in Christian community. We can grow to a point of deep community with one another through developing habits like praying for one another, studying Scripture together, and working toward really knowing and understanding each other.
Words of hope and a Call to action
As people of faith, we are also called to grow to a point of deep community with the all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. As Rev. Joseph Nader reminded us last week, we each have unique and important gifts and talents to bring to the Body of Christ. As a community, we need to know one another and to allow ourselves to be known. As a group of people with diverse views on a lot of subjects, we have a beautiful opportunity to model healthy Christian community. I challenge you to take someone out to lunch and get to know one another. It’s worth the risk. And as we move forward as a faith community no matter the results of today’s vote, we can have full confidence that God is present even as we venture in to uncharted territory.* My prayer for each of us is that we be willing to see the image of God in one another.
Let us pray:
O Lord who searches and knows us, we praise you for your constant presence and love in our lives. We are reminded today that there is no darkness we can encounter, no circumstance we can face, no place we may venture, no choice we may make that can separate us from your complete, all-encompassing love for us. Help us to lean into remembering that you, God, are always with us. Help us to risk getting to know one another so that we can be the kind of people who are known for how we love you, love one another, and strive to be your disciples. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
What key takeaways do you have from this message? What keeps you from being known by others? Who do you know that needs to hear this message?
*Later in the day on June 3, New World’s congregation voted 133-3 to adopt and move forward with the Healthy Church Initiative prescriptions. Go to nwumc.org to learn more about New World United Methodist Church.
Giving credit where credit is due: Scripture links are to the New Living Translation version of the Psalm on Biblegateway.com. Instagram career link is to an article on Elle.com. To learn more about John Wesley’s questions, check out umcdiscipleship.org. Be sure to read up on John Wesley’s sermon too. Follow me on Instagram @erinjackso.
Thanks for visiting and reading all the way to the bottom of the page! I hope you’ll leave a comment. Be blessed! ESJ