Peace – An Advent Devotional

John 14:272Peace 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.

Yesterday the word for the Advent candle lighting was “Peace.” In a world that seems so full of everything that is decidedly not peaceful – busyness, frenzy, rushing, hurriedness, violence, division, and so much noise – peace is wild and countercultural.

So today, be wild and countercultural. Be an instrument of peace. Dare to catch your breath. Dare to breathe in deeply. Dare to rest. Dare to be quiet.

Model the deep love and peace of the Prince of Peace. Refuse to follow a culture that models everything else.

Holy God, this is our deepest prayer.

Shalom.

The Candle – A sermon on Luke 3:1-6

Luke 3:1-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Proclamation of John the Baptist

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was rulerof Galilee, and his brother Philip rulerof the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias rulerof Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Video:

https://www.ignitermedia.com/products/8569-out-of-the-darkness(

Sermon: The Candle

Key Point: Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival.

Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. Do you have company coming in the next few weeks? Or are you the company that other people will be hosting? The holidays are upon us, and for many people, this means getting ready for the arrival of company.

And what do we do when we know that company is coming? (pause)

We clean the house! On top of all of the other things we try to accomplish between now and Christmas, if we have company coming, it’s time to get the house ready. Now, I know some of you may have a house that is sparkling clean all of the time…If you’ve come to visit, and my house was sparkling clean, you can safely guess that was only because I knew were coming and I made sure the house was clean before you got there.

From time to time, I get a question that usually goes something like, “With both parents working full time and having four kids, especially with three involved in sports, how do you do it? How do you keep up with everything?” And so I debated about putting this extra secret information out here. But, here’s the answer to the question I get asked all of the time,

In spite of the image I try to put out there, the answer isn’t that I put on my superhero cape and whisk through it all without breaking a sweat…I don’t do it alone, we sometimes hire help. A couple times a month we have a cleaning crew come in and help us get everything really clean.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up with having this kind of pampering, so I feel a little self-conscious sharing about it. Because I didn’t grow up with this, there was something I didn’t know about having a cleaning service. My kids can probably tell you because they are heavily involved in this part.

When Irene and the rest of the cleaning crew is coming, the day before it’s all hands on deck to have everything picked up so that the crew can do their jobs of scrubbing and cleaning.

We clean up the house just to prepare the way for the cleaning crew. I never expected I’d ever use this as a sermon illustration!

(Slide Change: Picture of John the Baptist circa 1600)

You see, strangely enough, this brings us to our scripture for the day about another person getting ready for company, although not in the same way we were thinking.

John the Baptist, sometimes called John the Baptizer – now he’s quite a character, isn’t he?

The various gospels describe him as a man who is shouting out in the wilderness, he lives alone. I like this painting because he’s pointing to Jesus – that’s a big part of John’s role. He is found wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, eating locusts and honey – he’s wild and eccentric.

He’s a relative of Jesus, possibly a cousin, and I imagine him like a pretty out there hippie cousin. Maybe you have a relative like this too.

(Slide Change: Jen Norton John the Baptist -used with permission from artist)

I imagine him with crazy hair, a bit of an oddball who maybe smells like the wild and nature. You can smell him coming. “A smellative” Do you have one of those? Know what I’m talking about? You don’t – is it you? J

He’s a prophet, not afraid to say what needs to be said. Maybe you have relatives like him who apparently are unafraid to speak passionately about whatever is on their mind? No? Maybe you’re that relative? (Smile)

So in this story, John is preparing the way for Jesus to start his ministry. We tell this story at Christmas time because Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. It’s like he’s getting the house ready so Jesus can come in and do the real, deep spiritual work.

So let’s set the scene: In this story, God’s people have become pretty comfortable and complacent…If we kept reading in today’s chapter, we’d see that John calls the crowds “children of snakes,” and warns them to repent, be baptized and have their lives changed. It seems he is a bit of a wet blanket.

Now I imagine few people ever want a sermon on repentance – it’s like being scolded for all the bad things you’ve been doing and being told to knock it off.

(SLIDE CHANGE- Repent & be baptized meme)

John’s message to “Repent & Be Baptized” includes two parts – a “no,” and a “yes.”

Repentance is the “no.” Repentance isn’t a word we use in everyday language, so I’ll explain it. To repent is to turn the other way. We all make mistakes and have regrets, when we repent we turn from sin and move toward making things right. You can think of repentance as a big “U-Turn” sign on your life.

It’s worth pointing out that the people in the crowd John was talking to weren’t caught up in big sins, causing trouble. Their biggest problem was that they were beginning to be settled in their faith, just resting on the fact that they were “born” into the faith & just going through the motions of faith. For me, this description hits a little too close to home. It’s tempting to sometimes claim the identity of “Christian” and then not think much about it.

The problem is that being a Christian isn’t always supposed to be comfortable, feel-good stuff. We are not called to a comfortable, lukewarm, safe faith.

John knows that when Jesus starts his ministry, people will have to have a deep faith. Jesus is going to start a new world order. So John’s call here to repent is designed to make us uncomfortable when we want comfort. We need to turn from ways that keep us from God.

We talked last week about how Advent is the in-between time – it’s a time for reflection on things that have already happened, and preparation for things yet to come. Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. It’s a time for cleaning up our spiritual house, so to speak. We can use this time to consider the condition of the world, even consider our own wrongdoing and regrets. We can reflect on what we’ve said and done (or perhaps what we have not said, not done) to make the world a better place. John the Baptist makes the way for Jesus’ ministry – this morning we will consider how we can prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival too.

Repentance means asking ourselves tough questions like “How deep is my faith? (pause) Are my actions in line with my beliefs? (pause) Is my faith expectant, alert, growing, and serving? (pause) Or is my faith small, tired and lukewarm? (pause)

John is preparing the house, getting ready for company. When Jesus arrives, we can’t have legos and dirty socks on the floor – we need to be ready.

But we’re not left in the dark feeling sorry for ourselves –there is a second part to John’s message that’s really important.

The Be Baptized part – the life as a follower of Jesus – it’s a “Yes!” It’s not that John is trying to bring us down by telling people to repent, he’s trying to direct us to a new life that is richer, fuller and more meaningful.

To have a life of richer faith, it begins with discerning what actions you need to take.

What gifts/resources do you have? What is on your heart to do for God? Do you know you are forgiven? What are you passionate about? Inlight of your gifts and resources, what is your mission?

Once you have come up with answers to these questions, you are preparing the way for a life of following Christ.

Advent is more than just a time to make sure all of the toys and presents are bought and delivered on time – it’s so much deeper than that! Advent, as the beginning of the Christian new year, is a perfect time to make a fresh start and prepare for what God has in store.

Advent is a time to get ready for an arrival. Advent reminds us – we have an adventure ahead. We need a light to our path on this adventure.

(Slide Change: luminarias)

Which brings us back to the symbol of the Candle at Christmastime.  

It’s important that we turn to the right sources of light as we go on this faith journey. When we light a match in a dark room, it provides a temporary light. If we try to be the match for too long, our fingers get burnt. We also don’t want to turn to the wrong sources of light – if we put our trust in the wrong things, they will eventually disappoint us.

The candle is a symbol that reminds us of Christ.

Christ is a light that will overcome any darkness.

The candle can also symbolize God’s word found in the Bible, is “a light unto the path,” a guide that helps us to see on the journey of faith. It’s not a candle in the wind about to get extinguished.

When I was a small kid living in San Antonio atChristmastime, I remember seeing much of the city sidewalks, especially around churches, lined with luminarias –simple brown paper bags, each filled with a little sand and a small candle.

Paths lined with candlelight, a tradition started in the AmericanSouthwest, is a beautiful practice reminding us of the fabled journey of Joseph, a very pregnant Mary, and a simple donkey taken long ago. The light of the luminaria shows us the prepared path.The decoration is simple in the face of all that glitters, flashes, inflates and twinkles to music today, just as the simplicity of their journey toBethlehem is a stark contrast to the decadent and powerful Rome that ruled the day.

As we prepare the way for company, as we prepare the way for the coming Jesus Christ, we can take heart in knowing that

John 1:4 “Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Let us pray –


God of Light,

Thank you for being a God who is faithful to show us the way of life. As we prepare for the arrival of Jesus Christ in our hearts and in our lives, be a light unto our paths this Advent. Help us to share the light of the love of Jesus Christ with people who need it. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

Watch – An Advent Devotional

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

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord
 my Lord, listen to my voice!
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!
If you kept track of sins, Lord
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?
 But forgiveness is with you—
    that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord.

My whole being hopes,
    and I wait for God’s promise.
 My whole being waits for my Lord—
    more than the night watch waits for morning;
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord!
Because faithful love is with the Lord;
because great redemption is with our God!
He is the one who will redeem Israel
from all its sin.

Psalm 130 – Common English Bible

What or who do you keep watch for?

I took the above picture along the shoreline at Donaghadee in Northern Ireland last summer. My oldest son and I were blessed to spend several days near Belfast last summer and this was one of our stops.

A lighthouse keeps watch over the sea, silently making ships aware of the presence of the shore. Keeping watch and keeping ships from danger.

This sight reminds me of how I feel as a parent of a 17 year old,  watching from the sidelines as this growing child learns to navigate life. It’s tough sometimes, watching him struggle to figure things out, but I trust that ultimately he must learn to do things on his own.

I pray that there will be lighthouses throughout his lifetime, helping him and guiding him through life’s journey.

To consider this Advent: Who has served as a guiding light in your life? How can you thank them this Christmas?

Prayer:

God of light, we put our hope and trust in you. Thank you for your Spirit that guides us, and for the people who walk alongside us in our lives offering love and guidance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Heart – An Advent Devotional

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.
Philippians 4:4-9
 
The painting featured with this post is one I made while serving as a mentor for Texas Youth Academy a few years ago. To be honest, I didn’t love the art project. The instructions were to paint the realistic looking heart as a starting point, and then we went our own direction from there. The canvas itself was still useful, so I am pretty sure I’ve painted over this image and created something new.
 
That is one of the beautiful things about a life of faith. No matter our starting point, God is not finished with us yet. We have the opportunity to forever be made new, always growing and transforming. Your heart can be transformed.
 
May you have the peace of God today knowing that you are a work of art in the hands of the ultimate Creator God. Be made new today.
 
Prayer:
Creator God,
Thank you for being a God who constantly makes me anew. May I dwell on all the things that are lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy today, trusting that you are faithful to give me a clean heart. Amen.

Waiting – An Advent Devotional

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

Waiting.

This little art piece by my favorite artist, Kelly Rae Roberts, sits on a shelf in my office. It serves as a great little reminder that sometimes we just have to wait.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
– Isaiah 40:31 ESV

Do you believe in the power of prayers to change things? I do…but I have learned that I don’t always get to expect prayers to change things the way I want them to be changed.

That’s one of the tricky things about prayers. Sometimes we pray and God’s answer seems to be a clear “Yes” or “No.” But, way more often it seems the answer seems to be “maybe” or “not yet.”

It’s hard to wait. Like an expression I’ve heard, the problem seems to be “the same as it always is – I’m in a hurry and God’s not.”

Sometimes we wait a long time. Even when the answer to our deepest prayer seems to be silence, we can still trust.

I take comfort in knowing that while we wait, our strength can be renewed.

While we wait, may we be blessed with people who come into our lives offering comfort and peace. While we wait, may we grow in wisdom and faith. While we wait, may we continue to trust.

That is our prayer. Amen.

Light – An Advent Devotional

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

Today’s word: Light.

Photo of downtown Grapevine, Texas, the “Christmas Capital of Texas”

From John 1:1-5 ESV:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Throughout Scripture, light is used as a symbol for God, faith and holiness. We are reminded in Psalm 119 that God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

In the northern hemisphere, Advent takes place during winter. The hours of daylight are limited. At my house it means the dinner dishes are barely put away and already it is dark outside.

What a perfect time of year for Christmas lights to remind us of the light of the world. No matter what kind of darkness we face – whether it’s natural disasters, financial stress, physical ailments, loneliness – there is no darkness that cannot be overcome by light.

Even the smallest glimmer of light can be a source of hope and faith.

This Advent, I invite you to look at Christmas lights anew. As they twinkle, they are beautiful. As reminders of God’s ever-present hope and faithfulness, they are breathtaking. May you pause this year to remember that.

Prayer:
God of light, in you there is no darkness at all. We pray that, whatever we may face, we can remember that you are faithful to bring us hope. Allow us to be a light to others who may need to know your love. Amen.

 

Hope – An Advent Devotional

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

Hope.

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.

A prayer:

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.

 

More Than Enough – Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

Listen to the audio here: scarcity abundance

The Parable of the Rich Fool

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

More Than Enough sermon slides

Sermon: More Than Enough

Last Monday I was driving Nate home from school, talking about his school day first, then about this upcoming sermon series on stewardship. I shared that I was hoping to bring something new to the table, some fresh take on stewardship.

“Like what? What do you mean by stewardship?” he asks.

“Well, you know, how we use our money. We’re talking about how the world teaches us that money buys happiness but that it really can’t…”

“Money can definitely buy happiness, Mom.”

Stopped me in my tracks. “WHAT?! No, it can’t.”

Maybe none of you have had the pleasure of having a debate with Nate. Nate is sharp as a tack, perhaps a lawyer in training. He is loophole finding, pedantic. He loves a literal, precise argument, and he will argue any side of any issue for fun. He has a bit of a stubborn streak too – I have no idea where he gets the stubborn streak. (smile)

Now, I’m a pastor. And there was no way this kid was going to take down his theologically trained, good-stewardship-minded pastor mom in this argument.

SO I tried talking about how money may buy you stuff that temporarily makes you feel happy, but that feeling goes away and it’s not the same as the deep abiding joy we find in faith.

“Yeah, but then I can just buy something else that makes me happy.” (pause)

Well, I am too stubborn to admit defeat, and I still know in the long run I’m right (smile). I have to admit though, this kid has been really well trained that money is the key to happiness, that money changes everything, and we may have our work cut out for us!

What do you all think? Can money buy happiness? (don’t answer!) Let’s look at this together.

This morning we are going to consider the role money plays in our faith lives as we look at the difference between a scarcity mentality and an abundance mentality.

What do we mean by a scarcity mentality? Scarcity mentality or scarcity mindset, is a term coined by Steven Covey, and is founded on the idea that, if someone else wins or is successful in a situation, it means you lose. It is based on a belief that there is a limited amount (a scarcity) of resources, so we have to constantly be on the lookout for ways to earn more, store up more, acquire more than others.

In short, the story we tell ourselves is that there’s only so much success/wealth/stuff to go around, it might run out. I don’t have enough so I want to make sure I get more, save up more, have more than others. In our American culture, you may feel this as the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak. Deep down, it’s based on a fear that we don’t have enough.

In many ways, this mentality is synonymous with pursuit of the American dream. Our success is often measured by what we acquire, where we live, what we own. Scarcity mentality is why we have a never-ending desire as a culture to acquire more stuff, and why so many of us face the constant temptation for instant gratification, temptation to buy now, pay later… and it’s almost counter-intuitive – because this mindset is based on a fear that we don’t have enough, we often end up with a tendency to rack up stuff and debt…in the book this series is based on, Adam Hamilton refers to these American problems as “affluenza” and “credit-itis.”

In today’s Scripture reading, called the Parable of the Rich Fool, God challenges the fool, challenges us, to not put our trust in wealth, but that we should trust in God. The problem wasn’t that the man had wealth. There’s nothing wrong with having wealth, but the problem is when the desire for more and more drives our lives. The faith problem is when we are not trusting in God enough and we’re hoping the stuff we acquire will take care of us.

This passage creates a tension and makes us ask ourselves in whom or what we put our trust. Do we put our trust in possessions, or our ability to take care of our self, or do we put our trust in God?

One of the biggest challenges we have as Christians in our culture is really trusting that God will provide for us. In our culture of plenty, we are often tempted to believe that we can provide for ourselves. We often believe that it’s completely up to our own hard work and accomplishment to have a sense of security.

The opposite of a scarcity mentality is an abundance mentality.

With an abundance mentality, one believes that they already “have enough resources and successes to share with others.”[1]

In other words, people with this mindset believe they have “More than Enough” (point to title slide) The story we tell ourselves when we have an abundance mentality is we are already so blessed, we have so much and know that God will take care of us. We don’t have to try to keep up with everybody else. We have more than enough, we even feel more blessed when we share and can celebrate the successes of others.

If we were to keep reading the verses that follow today’s passage, we are told that we are not to worry about our lives, what we eat, about our bodies, or what we will wear. We are instructed to consider how God takes care of the ravens of the air, the lilies of the field – we have a trustworthy God who will provide for us more than enough, who provides for us so abundantly that we have more than enough to share. If we live like we believe this, with trust in God and faith in having abundance, our hearts are changed.

What does this look like? I have seen this abundance mindset in the most unlikely of places.

One of the things I love most about when I went on mission trips to locations like Haiti, Appalachia, and rural Jamaica, places where people live in conditions that are almost unimaginable, is the amount of trusting in God’s provision I witness there. I have seen the deepest faith and the deepest joy in people who have dirt floors, homes without plumbing, leaking roofs, children playing in insect-infested puddles, or children joyfully playing with makeshift toys made from flattened bottlecaps and string. This boy was playing with a single beat up Hot Wheel car.

In the midst of this abject poverty, I was able to get to know and worship with people who truly trust that God will provide for them. These same people who have so little, go out of their way to share what they have with me. As guests, we are careful not to make an offhand comment like, “oh I really wish I had a Coca-Cola with this,” because it is likely that someone will go to great lengths, maybe spending all they have, in order to share.

It fills my soul when I am around people who deeply trust that God will care for them.  Because these are places where people are less distracted by the pressures of competition and constantly buying new stuff, there is a bigger focus on paying attention to faith, paying attention to helping meet the needs of others. It strengthens my faith to be reminded of what matters most.

But you don’t have to go to a third world country to witness an abundance mindset. I listened to a really inspiring TED Talk this week about a woman who began a community garden project in her small, Northern England town of Todmorden. In this small town, people have planted fruit and vegetable gardens in their front yards, on city land, vacant lots, anywhere there was land available. Every plant is for sharing, no matter who planted it. It turns out everyone takes what they need and there’s still plenty for others. They are eating healthier, growing locally, sharing. This small town has inspired similar projects around the world – a great illustration of an abundance mentality. Abundance thinking begins when we practice sharing with one another.[2]

Writer and blogger Seth Godin shared this thought recently:

 “There’s one view of the world that says what all people want is as much stuff as possible for as cheap a price as possible. And that’s a world based on scarcity….”[3]

“There’s a different view not based on scarcity but based on abundance that the thing we don’t have enough of is that we don’t have enough connection (we’re lonely), and we don’t have enough time.

And if people can offer us connection and meaning and a place where we can be our best selves, yes, we will seek that out.”[4]

What I take away from this quote is that we have a unique opportunity as a faith community once we change our mindsets from scarcity to abundance. When we quit worrying about having to compete with other churches to have the latest and greatest stuff, when we quit worrying about having enough, and recognize we already have more than enough, we can live out of our abundance. We can shift our focus from ourselves to meeting the needs of others.

Although this quote wasn’t meant about Christianity, I love that the quote points out that people long for a place where they can connect with one another and have meaning. That’s church! As people who trust in God’s abundance, we can offer that gift to one another, we can share that gift with a busy, over-consuming culture. We can live into our mission to love God and love neighbor.

So, As we shift toward truly trusting that God will provide for us, one of the toughest moves we could make is to learn to depend on something outside of our own self.

I have an interesting faith challenge for you this week inspired by my seminary friend Ryan Klinck and his work with the Neighboring Movement:

 I challenge you to borrow something from a neighbor.

Why borrow something? Borrowing something from a neighbor is something that really flies in the face of American cultural norms, particularly that we are supposed to be self-reliant individuals who do not need other people’s help, because if we do, then we are perceived as “weak.”

Yet, something beautiful happens when we borrow something from a neighbor, we are:

  1. relying on someone else’s resources and wisdom
  2. giving neighbors the opportunity to share
  3. growing our relationships with the people closest to us

This practice takes more time than just running to the store, so it’s an investment in our relationships instead.

Borrowing something can remind us that self-reliance is a myth that actually leads us towards isolation, which isn’t healthy. We need other people and relationships in our life, it is a healthy thing to ask for help from others.

On a faith level, it teaches us to honor the gifts other people have and giving them space to share them with us. It reminds us of the abundance God has to offer us all, it is reminiscent of the Acts community, where they had all things in common and shared all they had..[5]

It is my prayer that we can be a community of faith who knows that money cannot buy happiness – that we can be people who can share generously because God so abundantly gives to us.

To God be the glory. Amen.

 

 

 

Giving Credit where it is due:

[1] Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

[2] TED Talk “How We Eat our Landscapes” featuring Pam Warhurst.

[3] Seth Godin, “Life, the Internet, and Everything”

[4] Seth Godin, “Life, the Internet, and Everything” on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett, 9/20/2018.

[5] Ryan Klinck, The Neighboring Movement

Star – a sermon on Luke 21:25-36

scott sigrist night skyThis photo was taken by a friend of mine, Scott Sigrist, and used for this sermon with his permission. You can see more of his work at www.sigristphotos.com. (thank you, Scott!)

This is the second day of our Advent Photo Challenge and the keyword is “Star.” Since I preached a sermon with that title yesterday, I thought I’d share the text of my sermon with you today.

Scripture Reading

Our Scripture reading comes from Luke 21. Adult Jesus is talking his disciples in the temple and this is the last chapter before the Last Supper and all that follows. It’s an odd way to start the Christmas season, but we will understand why before the morning is over.

Luke 21:25-36 CEB

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27  Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28  Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”

A lesson from the fig tree

29 Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near. 32 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

34 “Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35  like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth. 36  Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Human One.”

(scripture from Biblegateway.com)

Video: What is Advent? From SermonCentral

Sermon: The Star

I love going to places where you can see all of the stars, even the stars in between the stars.

One of my favorite things about getting away from the city is being able to see the stars. I’ve even been known to pull my car over at night on an empty Texas state highway in order to make my entire family endure my making them all look at the stars. (I’m sure they appreciate it.)

scott sigrist night sky

So, I was really excited when, about five years ago, my family planned a weekend vacation at Canyon of the Eagles in the Texas Hill Country. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a nature park west of Round Rock, in a part of the Hill Country that is an official “dark sky” area. There’s very little lighting in the park to cut down on light pollution. When you walk around the park at night, they give you special little flashlights to carry around. It is home to the “Eagle Eye Observatory” and one of the best places to see the stars at night, because, of course, they are big and bright, deep in the heart of…

Canyon of the Eagles is a migratory path for eagles, so we also hoped to catch a glimpse of one of those too. (pause)

Well, I wish I had a better star story to tell you. What ended up happening was that it was cloudy and rainy the entire weekend. The mosquitos ate us alive. And although we had a nice video tour from the resident astronomer of what we could have seen if there were no clouds, it just wasn’t the same as we had hoped. (side note: We didn’t see an eagle either – total bust.)

But isn’t this picture beautiful that my friend Scott Sigrist took at Dinosaur Valley State Park? We didn’t get to see the stars like that on our weekend, but we know they were still there.

Stars are a constant – throughout history, sailors and travelers have used stars to navigate and keep their sense of direction.

When was the last time you noticed the stars? Do you have a lucky star or a favorite constellation?

Today we begin the Christian season of Advent.

The word “Advent” comes from the latin word “adventus” which means “to come toward, to draw near, to approach.” It is a time of expectation, a time of waiting.

Waiting…How are you at waiting for things?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am not very good at waiting. Just so you know that I’ll go to extremes to prepare for a sermon (smile) I spent my Friday afternoon waiting at the Department of Motor Vehicles so we could get my son’s driving permit. Oh the waiting! This time I paid attention to what people do while waiting – it’s no surprise that most people spent that time distracted by their phones or TV. A few people read books. Very few just sat there, waiting and watching.

Not all waiting is terrible – as we spend this season waiting, we can be on the lookout for what is to come. It’s the perfect time to look for signs as we wait.

Advent is an “in between” time of year. Obviously it’s in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it also marks the time between the “already” and the “not yet.” In fact, during Advent, we are waiting for three things at the same time. I’ll explain:

The first thing we are waiting for is the obvious one – the “already” – we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. When we celebrate this, we are celebrating something earth-shattering  that has already happened.

Think of it this way: imagine that you ordered a package from Amazon (not too hard to imagine.) You are so excited that it’s on its way. Then you check the app and see that, much to your surprise, it’s already delivered. You check your front porch and, sure enough, all of the great stuff you’ve been waiting for has been there all along. It’s already arrived.

The second thing we are waiting for is the “not yet.”

Our Scripture passage today talks about all of these signs of that the end is near. There will be signs in the sun, the moon, the stars, it says. Throughout history, there have been times when doom and gloom preachers have pointed to naturally occurring events like eclipses, earthquakes, and meteor showers to declare the end of all civilization. “Repent! The End is Near!” they’ll shout.

This is a really odd way to start the Christmas season, isn’t it? Here we are ready to hear the good, predictable news that sweet little Jesus is going to be born in a manger…but then the scripture is all about the end of time. What’s going on?

With wildfires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and natural disasters, coupled with human evils of wars, oppression, violence, intimidation and discrimination, dominating our news cycles, it may even be tempting to fall into “fear and foreboding,” to see what is going on and wonder, is this a sign of the end of the world? In the face of all that is going on in the world today, it is tempting to be overwhelmed by all of the brokenness we see around us.

But if we pay close attention to today’s scripture, our message is not about doom and gloom at all. It’s a message of hope!

“Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near.”

Notice that adult Jesus is talking here, pointing out the signs that something good is happening as we notice the leaves sprouting – summer is coming, not winter! As humans in an unpredictable world, we look for signs that will predict what’s coming. Yet, as people of faith, we know that there will come a time of final victory – this is the “not yet” that we wait for – a time when everything is restored and God’s reign is on earth as it is in heaven. So we wait for that day with hope.

We wait for the “already,” and the “not yet,” and the third thing we wait for during Advent is the “right now.” It’s the signs and symbols of God at work today.

It’s tempting to look at our world with fear and despair, isn’t it? But if we’re not careful, we will totally miss where God’s kingdom is breaking in to our world right now. When God’s people work for justice, for mercy, for wholeness and compassion – that is God’s kingdom on earth right now. The exciting thing is we get to be a part of that! Every time we – individually and as a community – work to restore the broken systems and people in our lives, the more we bring glimpses of God’s reign on earth, we bring the signs of hope in a world that desperately needs to be reminded.

Which brings us to the symbol of the star at Christmastime.

During Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, we often place a star on top of our trees. The star reminds us of the star that shone over Bethlehem, guiding the magi to the place where Jesus could be found. It is a symbol of something that guides us – a divine guide, a constant presence.

Especially times in uncertainty, it’s comforting to look for reliable signs to follow.

Funny thing – Do you know when it is hardest to notice the stars? During the brightness of day.

As it turns out, even during the brightness of day, they are there. It may be that the biggest challenge we face is finding God’s guidance when things are going well for us, when we are in our own bright days…when we are tempted to believe we can do all things on our own. (pause)

As we journey through advent together during the next few weeks, I challenge you to fight the pressure to rush to Christmas. Prepare for Christmas by praying, becoming aware of God’s guidance, and doing good work for God’s glory. Be the “right now.”

It is so fitting that we begin Advent with the sacrament of communion. I invite you to remember during communion today of all that God has already given you, to reflect on the promise of hope for the future, and to find ways to bring God’s restoration on earth today. Let us begin…

Be blessed,

Erin

Reflection Questions:
Where have you seen God at work recently?

What is something you are really looking forward to?

Advent Photo Challenge Day 1: Bells

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This sweet little jingle bell started as a preschool craft project for one of my big three kids. It was delightful to have our littlest one put it on the tree this year!

The jingling of bells reminds me of this passage from the book of Psalms:

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

(Psalm 150:1-6 ESV – source: Biblegateway.com)

How can you give praises to God today?

Be blessed,

Erin

Slide2

Here’s a link to the instructions for the photo challenge.

Tomorrow’s word will be “Star”