A Question That Keeps Our Heads Up, Hands Out, & Hearts Open In The New Year | “What Do You Think?”

Good morning! And Happy New Year’s Eve!  

Here we are – just hours away from 2024! A collective “Congratulations!” are in order – it’s no small feat to have made the journey of the last 364 days – and whether you arrive on the cusp of this new year feeling bedraggled or full of pep – or somewhere in between – here we are.

For me, there’s something sweet and comforting about being here on the threshold of a new year with all of you this morning.  To show up alongside one another  – with all of whatever our years have held – and still have an inclination to discover the love of God, the gift of community and the joy of living *TOGETHER.* Still trusting that somehow the Spirit of God is here too – and that somehow this matters as we teeter into a NEW YEAR.  I’m so grateful for that.

Five Sundays ago we began our Advent season with an interactive service where we populated the envelopes along the Sanctuary walls. “Cussing, Silence & Prayer” were three big categories that we invited you all to consider as you scanned the state of your hearts – and let’s just say, after spending time reading through these envelopes – “Cussing” takes a sizable lead.

My guess is that over the last five weeks this hasn’t changed much. There are things in our personal lives and in our public & global spheres that grieve us – make us angry, frustrated, and mournful… it’s why resolutions and intention setting to mark a new way forward can be so meaningful.  

I think New Year’s resolutions can be like prayers. They touch a deep longing in us – sometimes for freshness, sometimes to shake off and say “goodbye” to all that has been heartbreaking and painful  –  resolutions package our hopes into something that feels a little more do-able  – a ‘next’ good step or practice. And some of us love to set resolutions, goals, new rhythms … and some of us, as a friend reminded me, are still processing the year 2016, and 2018, and 2020, and 2021, etc.. 

I’m a mix of all of all of that…. and in the last few days as I’ve thought about this new year ahead.. I did as I often do, when things feel complex and non-linear – I turn to the poets.  I’ve been reading one of my favorite contemporary poets – Andrea Gibson. They are a Maine native – so I already have a soft spot for them, as a Mainer myself.  As a poet they spend much of their time reading. Their head down in books, essays, articles – words of literary experts & mentors of theirs – both for inspiration and creativity – but also for learning and knowledge…

Recently though they learned that their Stage IV cancer was back, and in the wake of this news – I heard them say,

“you know, I just don’t want to spend my time looking down. I just want to spend my time looking out at the world – even if it’s not guaranteed, even if I might lose it – because there’s so much to learn and love.” 

This really resonated with me – we don’t know what 2024 will bring…and the tendency to make some of it predictable whatever means that takes – often leads me to keeping my head down, and my heart busy. But this poet and the invitation of Jesus is to have more days than not where our heads are up, our hands out, and our hearts open – and to not be so afraid of getting it wrong, or fumbling, or being messy – or whatever it is – that we forget to live! 

Heads up, hands out, and hearts open – this could be a helpful posture to greet whatever 2024 might bring. And I want to offer us a question that I think will help us sustain this posture – one that Jesus asks Peter in scripture that we’ll look at today – it’s a simple one,

“What do you think?”  

I’ll share a couple of stories that get us going in that direction – and then we’ll see where scripture and this question, “What do you think?” takes us.  Let me pray for us.

Thank you Jesus that you are the one who is always here. Always with us. And here we are, God – here on the cusp of a new year – with hearts that brim  with a pleading hope – oh god – for more of you if anything in the days ahead. More of you in our silent moments, more of you in our anger, more of you in our aches, and more of you in our celebrating, in the unknown, in our awe – more of you, Oh God – in all the manner of our days… Could you make your presence known God and convincingly true? So that we can lay our heads on our pillows each night and wonder,  ‘what manner of love is this?’ “what manner of love?” And say as we do this morning…“Thank you God, Thank you.”

A few weeks ago – I came home from work on a Sunday. It had been a full and busy day and it was rainy, and cold, and yucky outside… And my whole drive home I just couldn’t wait to get into my sweats and sit on the couch. Over the years it’s been a bit of a known agreement in our house – that for at least one hour – on Sundays I come home and I do not move. I don’t drive anyone around, I don’t do errands, or get anyone anything. And the way you love me the most – is by letting that happen!

But you know – nothing’s perfect. And this particular Sunday my son had plans to do something with a friend of his, who would be driving him. I hadn’t met this friend, and I’m not super comfortable in general with “other kids driving my kid” around. And I was taking in all this information, just as I walked through the door – and was quickly realizing this would require my energy and movement. I wanted to introduce myself,  and say something like, “don’t speed” – And all of it was making me a bit grumpy. 

A few minutes later I was sliding on someone’s slippers that were near the door, and shuffling/jogging out to the rainy sidewalk to meet this friend.  Hands in my pockets. Head down.  My son leading the way to the parked car on the street. I looked up for a split second and realized there was a big puddle right in front of where the car was, and as I was trying to negotiate in the moment… “whether I should go directly to the driver’s side – or introduce myself across the big puddle?”… but it didn’t matter because I tripped!

Yep – I tripped on a lip in the sidewalk and fell alllll the way down – face down, splashed right in the edge of the puddle… soaking wet – fell out of those slippers. Totally embarrassed, I tried to ‘hop’ up as quickly as possible, look not in pain – find my slippers…  and make my way nonchalantly to the window of the car… both my son and his friend were as you might imagine in shock…  

Resolution for the New Year – don’t run with your hands in your pockets… It’s not even a resolution – it’s just a good, normal, baseline tip! 

Jesus said,

I have come for you to have (and live), life – and have it abundantly.” 

I was grumpy, I was tired, I was cold… my body posture – head down, hands in pockets -was a signal of how little I wanted to engage in this moment. What drudgery it was to pivot, and to show up anyway. . . In love.

And really what does a moment like that matter anyway? I was ok, nothing big was at stake – it was a small moment. Inconsequential. My son knows I love him  – I don’t think his friend cares if I love him or not. . . I could have shown up or not shown up.  What do you think?

Should we resolve to KEEP THINKING about WHY LOVE MATTERS – in circumstances, with people, in moments that are not mountain-top experiences? 

I think it would help us if we could.

Love can become a word that loses its depth – it can fall into disrepair in our human landscape.  We need to be deeply convinced at a feet-to-the-ground, face-to-face-neighbor level that love can be readily found in all of our spaces and somehow it does matter – puddles and all.

THE CONTENT of our lives – OUR LIVED LIVES – is how and where we learn about God.  I love reading someone’s pithy/hot-take on scripture – or a good story – or someone’s life work on theology, or an essay or a podcast of interesting, inspiring voices. They mentor me, they provoke me in good ways- but to look up and see the widest pages of life all around us, is also where it’s at.  When I’m too in the weeds with research, or doubting myself and trying to find some “expert voice” to back me.

The detriment is that I mute the convivial listening with the world and with Jesus – who I believe is always asking

“Well Ivy, what do you think about that?” “why does it matter”?  “How does it make you feel?” “Who does it affect?”

… and this is detrimental – because “What do you think?” is an intimate question of Jesus to us –  and one that is the authentic means to not only KNOWLEDGE but to LOVE. 

I was reminded of this as I was riding in a car with a long-time friend one Christmas. She was talking about her own journey in her faith community, excited about the idea of forming a “women’s ministry” – and hanging in the air around the conversation was perhaps the (unspoken), larger question of just what a woman’s role in the church should be.

Her faith community currently has no women on the Board, as deacons, or as preachers.  And it was interesting because,  our conversation bounced from what her male Pastor thought about women in leadershipto the reality that there are a lack of women mentors in the community … to the seminary books that she was harkening back to, that offered her interesting thoughts and truths to wade in and consider a woman’s rightful place.

It was clear to me that the question, “What do you think?”, was not a comfortable question – external knowledge found in books and other’s voices was more credible.

I wish in the moment I had paused to get a little more curious, and ask –

“well, what is your lived experience as a woman?” 

What do you notice about women who are not given platforms for their voices to be heard?  Why do you think there might not be women mentors in your community?  What do women around you who are pastors …ehm….. LIKE ME! In this CAR! … with you RIGHT NOW!!!!….what do they think? What have they experienced? How have they engaged with scripture?

“What do you think?” is a bold and direct question – slices right to the heart, if we let it, as much as the head.  And if we frame it as a question that helps us lift our head and look around and engage with the life around us, it becomes not a question that rests on a separate doctrine or theology (where we might think only Jesus is found),  but becomes a generative question that is born and explored from exactly where you stand  – and where lo’ and behold Jesus is too.            

Conceptual and Relational Belief
(McLaren,  Spiritual Migration

The interesting thing about what we think – is that it can quickly be tied into systems of belief. That can take on a life of their own – sometimes as an immovable creed or doctrine.

Here, I think it’s helpful to talk a little bit about conceptual and relational beliefs. 

Conceptual beliefs are beliefs that are often easily expressed as statements or propositions – and when expressed in a sentence- are often right alongside the word “that”. My long-time friend in my previous story might say,

“I believe that women can not be in church leadership.”  ‘

Or

“I believe that the headship of a church is only represented by the male gender”

…  it’s a stake, a claim that something is real, true or in existence.

In contrast, relational beliefs are often followed by the preposition in.   And they are less statements – and more birthed out of a personal authenticity, lived experience that offers a confidence and sense of loyalty which permits thoughts like, “I believe in you”, “i believe in scripture”, “I believe in peace”… 

It can get complicated pretty quickly – religion or churches for example, often demand statements of conceptual belief as proof of belonging.   And also – might offer rewards or punishments based on conceptual beliefs.

This gets us into the territory of replacing conceptual beliefs as a construct over our own thinking caps. Placing a thin, invisible barrier in our minds between the beauty and the goodness and the value of the world around us  –  and constricting our own experience of God’s love. 

But relational beliefs – allow for this question, “What do you think?” – in fact to some degree they are built on this – and therefore the freedom and the health that this affords an individual and a community- allows for a foundation of LOVE.  It allows us to stay in the car together – and see the passenger next to us, sort of speak! 

Without freedom of thought, we offer and experience only an impoverished love. 

Jesus invites us to love.

And much of his ministry is spent trying to expand the systems of his day – beyond the conceptual beliefs that so many of the religious experts of his day rest on…. At one point he says to these religious experts,

“how terrible it will be for you…. You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the more important matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faith. You blind guides! You filter out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24)

Oh, how I love it when Jesus talks about gnats and camels!

Here maybe we can see the conceptual beliefs for these religious experts is to uphold the belief that one should give away a tenth of their belongings to God… but it comes at the expense of a relational belief in people!  Where real issues of  justice, mercy, and faith play out.

You can’t have conceptual beliefs – and X -out all the relational beliefs and say you are truly “loving” God. Lest we choke on camels of pride and power.

Is love present?  Is love felt? In a system that erases the eye for our world…  What do you think?  And how do we think in this vein – if we don’t engage an active, living posture to the world around us? 

This is what Jesus keeps prompting us with – through all his provoking and quirky words, stories, and actions,

“Can we imagine a Christianity of the future that gathers around something other than a list of conceptual beliefs?” (McLaren,  Spiritual Migration

Let’s take a look at  this scripture I keep mentioning: 

Matthew 17:24 – 27 (New Living Version)

24 On their arrival in Capernaum, the tax collectors for the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?”

25 “Of course he does,” Peter replied.  

Then he went into the house to talk to Jesus about it.

But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, 

“What do you think, Peter? 

Do kings tax their own people or the foreigners they have conquered?”

26 “They tax the foreigners,” Peter replied.

“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free!  However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line.  Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a coin. Take the coin and pay the tax for both of us.”

Here’s a little bit of context: 

Peter has just come down from the mountain with Jesus, where he’s witnessed the transformation of Jesus.  He watched as Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes turned white – and a voice from God, booming from the clouds said,

“This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him”

(Peter fell on his face in awe –  I imagine it was a good falling on his face, with his hands out of his pockets in praise!)

It’s a pinnacle moment – confirming his loving relationship to Jesus, the human who he’s walked alongside – and linking it to the mysterious love of God.

It’s a moment for Peter, that maybe is akin to one of your more moving spiritual moments in life – where you have felt as though you are on a mountain top – so close to God and God so close to you – that  that love and that experience feels almost unbelievable.

Only of course to be interrupted by the real facts of life. A phone call, a time constraint, someone tugging at you –  needing something from you – or as in Peter’s case a tax collector…. 

A tax collector asking for payment to the temple in Jerusalem that most Jewish men are meant to pay for its upkeep.

This moment of intimacy and love of God, felt by Peter on the mountain top, likely dissipates pretty quickly.

And we see here in these verses, I believe the dynamic again of conceptual belief and relational belief  on the table with the question at hand – should Jesus and his followers have to pay this tax?

Peter’s impulsive answer is

“Yes – of course my teacher pays the tax. I believe that all Jewish men should pay the temple tax.”

An answer that Jesus doesn’t seem to disagree with. But what follows in the text, I believe is a deeply powerful move, that demonstrates Jesus’ love and value of each of us – to keep THINKING.  To keep thinking about the conceptual beliefs that we impulsively answer to …. and to also hold, and not cut-out, the relational wonder-land of Jesus’ love in front of us…. 

He asks,

“What do you think, Peter?” 

It’s an invitation I believe that is going to help Peter see that the mountaintop experience is available in all his settings – even the most mundane and annoying.

If GOD’S LOVE, at its core is about connection of all things (neighbor, self, earth) – that this is what allows for our sense of belonging….then my hope is that the intersectionality of where I encounter God and where I encounter people is all the content and all the knowledge, that I need for an experience of God’s love.   

After I fell in the puddle, in front of two teenage boys (you know every middle-aged mom’s dream), I did go to the window – determined to introduce myself, and give the directive of “don’t’ speed!” that I wanted. But all that came out, as I made my way to the window of the car, was “OW, Ow, ow, ow, ow….”

And my son came over quickly and said “are you ok, are you ok?” And the dude in the car, was stunned and unbuckling to help me – and saying the same – “oh my gosh, are you ok?”  And after a few minutes of really figuring out that I was ok – we laughed, and laughed and laughed as we replayed the video that captured all of this  – from our video doorbell on the porch… 

We are all yearning and eager to be seen and known and included. I wanted my son to show me that love – by honoring my “hour of sitting on the couch.”  But I was shown even greater depths of love as he came to my side in the rain, and paused his plans to attend to me…  *this isn’t to suggest that we should all fall on our face, to experience the love of GOD*

I realize again and again in moments like these – on sidewalks, in the rain, in the most inconvenient moments of life – that I can find a living, breathing sanctuary in the form of another human being, in the midst of the most expansive sanctuary – our Earth. And this is where I want to keep thinking (with all of who I am) – where I go for knowledge… in these everyday, sacred spaces. It’s here that we rediscover our faith as a series of stories and as a series of encounters… as quirky and as insignificant and as messy as they might seem… but as powerful and sacred as all the prayer and scripture and spiritual practices we could muster for a new year. 

Paidrag O’ Tuama, an Irish poet says that

“belonging creates and undoes us both”

likely follows the same sentiment of love…. It creates and undoes us both.

Jesus wants Peter to be undone by his love….in all of life. 

Peter’s quick reply to the tax collector, might have signaled to Jesus that the tendency of his thinking might veer more conceptual than relational and that a mountain-top experience could be compartmentalized in Peter’s mind as a distinct experience, under special circumstances. 

It seems by Jesus’ next move, that a conceptual God is not the image that Jesus is interested in putting out in the world. 

Not only does Jesus ask Peter this most loving question,

“What do you think?”

as a way to bridge the conceptual and the relational systems.

Jesus also nudges Peter a bit.  He helps him get up off the couch and get to really thinking… he says,

“GO OUT.” “Go to the lake, go to the shore – go fishing.” 

A place Peter, as a fisherman knew incredibly well. 

And there Peter encounters a miracle – finding the exact tax needed for both him and Jesus – in the coin in the fish’s mouth.

The places we know so well where we work, live and play – it seems, are teaming with not only God’s deep love – but also miracles. 

Jesus I think says –

“Oh yeah, that’s the treasure… that’s the coin in the fish’s mouth –  discovering all of this in your EVERYDAY fishing zones.”

I wish my friend could have asked me in the car:  

“Ivy, what do you think about the role of women in the church?”

Maybe we could have discovered the treasure//the miracle in the midst of us. Sharing our stories as women, sharing our vulnerability, just how much it hurt at times – and trust that that conversation could have unearthed something we both couldn’t have known ahead of time.

As we THINK, As we become awake with our hearts, and minds and souls – with lived experience as our data and content. We start to perform the miracles of today…. By not only inhabiting  – but experiencing – each day as a sanctuary free of walls, full of God’s love.

May we resolve to fall in love with Jesus again and again in 2024. And may we receive his question,

“What do you think?”

as a way to discover our very lives with our heads up, hands out, and hearts open.

 

Christmas Eve Service

I’m Steve, the senior pastor of Reservoir Church. We welcome all people, without exception, to discover the love of Jesus, the joy of living, and the gift of community. We’re so glad you’re with us today. 

So good to be with you! One of my favorite places, with many of my favorite people, on one of my favorite days of the year – couldn’t be more pumped!

It’s been a very dynamic and exciting year in the life of this church, and I’m so glad to celebrate the birth of Jesus together today…

To our regular friends and members, thanks so much for sharing another Sunday together. And thank you for sustaining this community – all that we are and do – with your lives, your stories, your help, and your regular financial support. If any of you aren’t already part of the giving team that sustains the community, we don’t pass offering plates in our services but you can find out about giving at Reservoir and give online at our website – reservoirchurch.org

If you’re not a regular part of the Reservoir Church community, a particular welcome to you. You can learn more about this community at our website, reservoirchruch.org, or by following us on social media. 

Most Sundays we gather for worship in person at 9:30 a.m. and over YouTube at 11:00. Our kids and youth and adults are all worshiping together, as we will on next Sunday, New Year’s Eve. Our Sunday programs for babies through youth will resume during the new year. We also have over 25 groups that meet together throughout the week for connection and support and a variety of other ways to connect and serve the community.. If you’d like more information on our groups or any of our programs, or would like to sign up for our weekly newsletters and announcements, just fill out one of the connection cards I mentioned or email us at info@reservoirchurch.org 

Alright, friends, let’s get to it. This is our Christmas Eve service of story, song, and candlelight. Today we’ll celebrate Christmas together with story and song. Along with readings of the Christmas story from the Bible, we’ll meet a few Reservoir families who’ll react to the story as well. At the end of our time, I’ll come back and share a few words of Christmas reflection and encouragement. And we’ll close with the singing together of Silent Night. 

Let’s now light the Christmas candle. As we do so, I’ll lead us in prayer with the words of Howard Thurman, pastor to America’s civil rights movement, with his poem, “I Will Light Candles this Christmas.”

I will light candles this Christmas,

Candles of joy despite all the sadness

Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,

Candles of courage for fears ever present.

Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days, 

Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,

Candles of love to inspire all my living,

Candles that will burn all year long.

Story – The Annunciation and Visitation

Luke 1:26-38 (Common English Bible) 

26 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee,

27 to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary.

28 When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”

29 She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

30 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.

31 Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.

32 He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.

33 He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.

36 Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant.

37 Nothing is impossible for God.”

38 Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

 

Luke 1:39-46 (Common English Bible)

39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands.

40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.

43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.

45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

46 Mary said,

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored

49         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.

50     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.

51 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

52     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.

54 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,

55     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.

While a child holds Mary and Joseph and an angel and says, “The angel told Mary and Joseph that they were going to have a baby and to name him Jesus. They were scared, but they were happy too because Jesus, God’s son, was coming to save us.” 

Story – The Nativity and Shepherds  

Luke 2:1-20 (Common English Bible)

1 In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists.

2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria.

3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled.

4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.

6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.

7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night.

9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people.

11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.

12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said,

14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.”

16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.

17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.

18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.

19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully.

20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Mary and Joseph stand beside the manger. A child holds the baby Jesus and says

“Mary and Joseph had no hospital and nowhere to stay. While they were staying in a shelter, surrounded by animals, Jesus was born. Life was very hard, but God kept reminding them not to be afraid.”

Story – The Adoration of the Magi and Flight into Egypt 

Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible) 

2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem.

2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him.

4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born.

5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
        by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
            because from you will come one who governs,
            who will shepherd my people Israel.[a]

7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared.

8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.”

9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was.

10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy.

11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

 

Matthew 2:13-23 (Common English Bible) 

13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.”

14 Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt.

15 He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.

16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi.

17 This fulfilled the word spoken through Jeremiah the prophet:

18 A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and much grieving.
        Rachel weeping for her children,
            and she did not want to be comforted,
                because they were no more.

19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.

20 “Get up,” the angel said, “and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

21 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

22 But when he heard that Archelaus ruled over Judea in place of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he went to the area of Galilee.

23 He settled in a city called Nazareth so that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: He will be called a Nazarene.

A child holds one of the Magi and says “Life was hard for the baby Jesus. But his mom and dad always remembered that after he was born, important people from very far away came to visit them and bring them gifts.”

 

I spent part of last Sunday with some of Reservoir’s youth, talking about merry Christmases and blue Christmases. 

A merry Christmas is when you celebrate the holiday with optimism, joy, and good cheer.

And a blue Christmas is the opposite – where Christmas comes, and you’re lonely or anxious, or you’re sad or angry. 

I asked the youth if they were coming into the holiday in more of a merry or a blue Christmas state of mind. And more than half of them thought they were somewhere in between. A little bit of both.

Me too.

This Christmas I have a lot to celebrate – a great year in the life of this church, and even more hope for the year to come. Friends and family I love and that love me too. A very loyal dog. Life’s pretty great.

But I’m blue as well. Worried about people I love. Heartbroken and angry over things in the world near and far. Tired out by some of this year’s stress. 

We all contain multitudes. We are people of paradox.

The Christmas story has room for it all. 

It begins with hope. 

Two women laugh together over unexpected joys. They cheer each other on as they dream about all their babies will become and all the wonders God will do in their lifetimes and beyond. 

Christmas after all invites us to dream again. If God is with us, who can be against us? What isn’t possible for God?

But the Christmas story ends in sorrow. A petty, narcissist politician hunts for the baby of Bethlehem. He can’t find Jesus. But there is collateral damage as they say. Rachel weeps for her children who are no more, as so  many mothers and fathers weep for their children today. 

Christmas is a story of immense hope, but it’s hope streaked with tragedy.

What do we do with this story of paradox?

What do we do with our merry/blue lives of paradox this Christmas?

Well, one option is that we stay where the story ends.

Our final reading ends with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph finding somewhere safe to live, escaping to the small, off the radar town of Nazareth. 

For Jesus, for a time, this is good. Nazareth is a hilly town away from trouble. 

It’s a place for Jesus to grow up and see many birthdays. To take his first steps, and wobble and fall, and get back on his feet again. 

To learn to speak Aramaic, to call his mother Ema and his father Abba.

Nazareth is where Jesus has the time to study Torah, to develop an uncanny knowledge and insight of the ancient holy texts of his people. 

It’s where he is safe to walk outside at night, look up at the stars and talk to God and wonder about his place in the world.

Nazareth is where Jesus would learn to catch and cook fish, where he’d apprentice to a builder and learn a trade. 

It’s good for Jesus to be safe, to have a place to grow and get ready for what’s to come. 

We need our Nazareths to flee to as well – the people and the places where we can go when trouble comes, when the stress and despair of life is too much. 

I have a park I walk to when I need that, where I can sit on the grass, lean back against the trunk of a tree, and be still for a bit. 

I have friends, in my case fellow pastors, who I meet with a couple times a month, where we smile and laugh and cuss a little, keeping it real about our joys and troubles. It’s good to spend an hour or two together, in privacy, in confidence, in that circle of listening and encouragement and support.  

I wonder if some of us need to find safe people, safe places for the year to come. Where can you go when you’re blue? Who can you be with when you’re stressed? What will you do to find your peace again when you’re afraid?

If we’re going to believe in peace on earth and good will to all people, we’re going to need to know how and where the peace can start with me. 

And this is good for us, for a time. To go to our parks and our prayer circles and our peace practices.

But we don’t spend our lives there. 

I get up from under the tree and walk back home.

I leave my little pastor buddy huddle and go back to work. 

Jesus grows up safe and secure in Nazareth, as every child should have the right to do in some city or town. But then he leaves. 

He heads east to the region of Galilee. Galilee was a complicated place. Multi-religious, multiethnic, it was heavily taxed, heavily oppressed, and a land of heavy anger and resistance. Of longing for a change to come. 

Jesus steps into this land, makes friends and followers among its people, as he teaches the way of a loving God with us, and as he teaches and lives a better way of being alive together, a healing path of truth and freedom and living like there’s always more than enough for us all. 

It’s the beginnings of God’s help, of the remembrance of mercy, his mother Mary dreamed of.

But it is not safe. People hate change, even the changes that set us free, and this was true even then in Galilee too. So Jesus found foes. Some people, including some very determined and very powerful people, came to hate Jesus. 

Which gives him the choice – to head back to his safe place in Nazareth if he can find it again, or to keep moving forward with his part – his very big part – in seeing God’s peace and justice get bigger in the world. 

So Jesus goes forward. He pulls back now and then. He withdraws to places and people and practices of peace. But then he keeps moving. 

What about us, my friends?

What hard work calls out to us in this year to come?

What relationships or communities of tension or despair do we live among, where we have access to bring words of blessing or peace? 

What complacent systems do we live within, where we  might be truthtellers or changemakers, sharing our story or our gifts? 

When the angels speak to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and it seems like anyone who has ears to hear, again and again what they say is: Fear not. 

Fear not. Don’t be afraid. 

I don’t think they mean: don’t you dare ever be afraid. 

Don’t get nervous. Don’t feel anxious. Don’t have stress.

Maybe for the angels, but not for us.

To be human is to feel these things.

But I do think they mean: don’t stay there.

Don’t hang out forever in your safe place. Don’t go back to Nazareth.

Go forward. Love big. Speak the truth. Live your call. Do the work. 

Remember what Christmas tells us.

That God is with us, this day, every day, in every place, forever.

And that God has the desire, and the ideas, and the strength to give us hope and to help us walk in courage in the middle of our fear, and to do the hard things that grow peace and justice in the world. We can join Jesus in this work, friends, moving from our safe places to our brave spaces where we partner with God and one another in the transformative healing of creation. 

Today it’s Christmas Eve today, tomorrow’s Christmas. It’s not a time for working. 

Take a moment of peace. Give a present, or open one, or both. Light a candle. Eat a good meal. Sleep a good sleep. 

We all deserve some peace. We all deserve secure places to rest and grow. 

Soak in the story. God is with us. Reclaiming every bit of our lives and every bit of creation as sacred ground again. If God is for us, who can stand against us? And if God is for us all, who dares stand against one another? 

But when you get up the day after Christmas, or the day after your vacation, before you go back to normal in the new year, perhaps pray the words of Thurman’s Christmas candle prayer with which we began today.

I will light candles this Christmas,

Candles of joy despite all the sadness

Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,

Candles of courage for fears ever present.

Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days, 

Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,

Candles of love to inspire all my living,

Candles that will burn all year long.

Where can you join Jesus in his campaign of peace and good will, grace, hope, love, and courage? How will you welcome the light, and how will you and I join the light, be the light? 

Friends, if there is anything in that makes you just a little bit afraid, that’s OK. Ask God for courage to keep walking, keep shining, keep going forward. 

Together, we can do it. We can do it. 

Pray with me, friends, as we close.

Light of God, light of Christ, shine among us. 

Tender mercy and help of our Ema, Abba God hold and keep you this day and all the days of your life. 

The courage of Christ hold support you in your fear, and push you forward in courage. 

And may you know the light of God, shining upon you, within you, and through you and this day and forever more.

Amen.

 

The Good News Of Jesus

Matthew 1: 1-17 (New International Version)

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

1 This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

4 Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

6 and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14 Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Well that was a mouthful. 

Would you pray with me?

God of love, 

We first give you thanks for the breath of life. We give you thanks for the force of love that sustains us. In our gratitude, we also grieve the hardships of our lives in small and big ways, the hardship of those around us near and far. We’re sometimes at odds with the joy and heartbreak that is life. And yet, Lord, we know that all are in your hands. Every hair, every life, every tear, every laughter. As we look to your word this morning together and ponder upon the ways we think about and talk about you, God, would you break through our hearts and minds with an understanding of your love, of your will, of your heart? Would you remind us of the great power of your love revealed through a little baby in a manger today we pray in Jesus’ precious and holy name Amen.

So if you ever have trouble sleeping, just pull out the Bible and start at the New Testament. the Old Testament starting with the creation story is too dramatic. Start here, with the genealogy of Jesus.

First things first. What’s up with the number 14? 

there were 14 generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and 14 from the exile to the Messiah.

I Googled it so you don’t have to. 

Seven represents completion. Thus, 7 + 7  = 14 means double completion.

And the name David, broken down into its consonants D-V-D in Hebrew has a numerical value of 4-6-4, totaling 14.) Thus, in repeating the number 14, Matthew is demonstrating that Jesus is, in fact, the Son of David

And that’s called Bible math. 

This is what I mean when I say that the Bible is, a series of texts that are far away from us culturally. And some of us might think, see? So what’s it to us? I don’t know Zerubbabel and what’s it got to do with me? 

I think the best thing about the Bible is that it is a book that persisted as a text throughout history for a span of about from 1000 B.C. to 1600’s. That’s 2600 years of history.

Reading the Bible is like, you know when you first go to therapy. They’re like, let’s talk about your mom. And you’re like, why, I have problems with my dating life right now. But then you start getting into family systems theory and actually do the family tree and you start realizing, Yo my family is MESSED up and OHHHHHH that’s why I’m having problems with dating! 

I heard from Lisa Sharon Harper’s The Freedom Road podcast, a guest of hers said,

“How you read the Bible says more about you than about God.” 

What are we to gain from this story about Jesus from the Bible? Why do they tell this story and they say I should read the Bible but like why? What’s it to me? Why do we care about baby Jesus and go all deck the halls to celebrate this story? 

Many of us know the simple answer. Jesus is God. And shows us who is God. So who is this God that we see through Jesus? And why does that God matter to me now? What does that God have to say to our world today, through Jesus? 

To get at that I’d like to zoom in on some of the tiny blips of the list, the five women included in the list and as well as a few women that are not included. 

According to the Women’s Bible Commentary, here’s the five women. 

“Tamar, taken by her father-in-law Judah to be a prostitute, Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who protects the Israelite spies; Ruth the Moabite widow, whom Boaz marries after their potentially compromising meeting on the threshing floor; the “wife of Uriah”, Bathsheba, who commits adultery with David; and Mary, pregnant before her marriage.” 

All stories of mishap and rerouting, of making do. Why are these names included, especially when it could contribute to the illegitimacy of Jesus’ lineage, and that’s clearly not the point of the list.

My takeaway is that God’s way is not your way. God’s way is not our way.

God’s way is not clean. It’s not legitimate. It’s completely unexpected and surprising. And you find hope in places where you exactly expect to find the opposite of hope. 

I’d like to reprise the quote,

“How you read the Bible says more about you than about God.”

And it is true that many Jewish and Christian scholars have used these characters to conclude in literally opposing views, where Gentiles are used by God for Israel or that Gentiles are included in the grand plan of God. And I know that can be triggering in the backdrop of what’s going on in Israel/Palestine right now, but again, every person, every theology, every national identity or whatever has a choice to use the Bible as a weapon or a lesson. And we know that people throughout history have used it for both, even now. 

Even within the feminist/womanist critiques of these texts about female characters, they’ve wrestled with, her deceit, her obedience, compliance, sin AND  righteous (sometime for the same action, i.e. bearing children, keeping secrets, having sex, refusing sex). Regardless of the disputes, there seems to be something very interesting about the reason why Matthew included some of these female characters, who are socially vulnerable, in the list of Jesus’ genealogy. Maybe Matthew’s purpose was inclusion, at his best. 

And it makes me curious about the names that are also not included. For example, we know Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What about Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah? Furthermore, have you ever heard about Bilhah and Zilpah? 

Here’s a little story about them. There were two sisters named Leah and Rachel. Leah was the older one but Jacob loved the younger Rachel. Leah and Rachel’s dad Laban tricked Jacob into working for him for seven years for Rachel but gives Leah in marriage first since Rachel’s too young and then he works seven more years to finally get Rachel. Bilhah was the slave that was given to Rachel by her father Laban. And Zilpah was the slave that Laban gave to his daughter Leah. For their wedding gifts. There’s a longer story here but Bilhah and Zilpah, as slaves of Leah and Rachel, both bore many children for Jacob,

“whose bodies were used to produce a full third of the 12 tribes of Israel.” 

When I read about Bilhah and Zilpah in the book Womanist Midrash on the Torah by Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, a womanist scholar, an Episcopal priest, I was struck by how I have never heard of them in all my years in Christianity. Gafney calls them womb-slaves, which is accurate for they were surrogates but also, not just surrogates as you might imagine, but sexual slaves. I had to gasp for air as I read this paragraph about Zilpah:

“Zilpah is presented as another pawn in the war for Jacob’s attention and affection. The battlefield for that was the bodies of Bilhah and Zilpah. Through the sexual and reproductive occupation of their bodies, people who would be known as Israel came into being. Through the wombs of Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah, Israel’s people were birthed by choice and by force. The text says nothing to suggest that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Bilhah, and Zilpah. They are casualties of nation building. But their children, their grandchildren, and their descendants will claim and be claimed by the God of their patriarchs, and some of us who claim the God of Israel, including through the life and teaching of Mary’s child, Jesus, also claim Zilpah, Bilhah, Hagar, and all of the unnamed womb-slaves in what has become our spiritual ancestry.” 

This is the family tree of Jesus. This is the dysfunctional family dynamics we’re descendants of. And yet also, this is the inclusive legacy that we are so joyful triumphant about. To be sure, the Good News Jesus brought was a different one from the Good News of Caesar, Evangelion, which was a practice of spreading the good news after the war, which meant what it really means is now we’ve established “security” at all cost, “security” without peace or justice. I mean Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were literally relocating because of King Herod’s decree in

Matthew 2:16 “kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.”

It is in that environment that we are celebrating a homeless baby and claiming the Good News, a new kind of “security”, with baby Jesus as king, not after war but after a childbirth. Do you see the paradox of Christmas joy? Because that is what Christmas is about. Triumph from a baby in a manger. I don’t know what a manger is. I’m not a farmer. But I can imagine, yes a baby in a dumpster bin. A baby in rubble. A baby at a place where babies are not supposed to be. We see the commercialized dainty shiny nativity scene and go, “awww”! 

If we are to take the Bible not as a weapon but a lesson, I wonder if we could imagine what even a fuller list might be. What would it mean to include names, heritages, nationalities, religious backgrounds, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary, Ziplah, and Bilhah, and more, to the work, bearing, and birthing of true Good News. Not the good news of the world, and smart moves, legit, accepted, honorable.

  • But what of those we’ve casted aside and made nothing of?
  • What about the untraditional, illegitimate, those who don’t have the right credentials, could we all be a part of the story?
  • What if they were not casualties to the end product but heroes that are a part of the story, critical names that are the foundation of the faith we stand on?

I’m sorry to talk about casualties and sexual slaves amidst beautiful Christmas carols and celebration but there’s a zing to our joy. The light is so beautiful because it’s so so cold and dark here. And you know, that’s true joy. Everlasting joy. 

In our Advent devotional for this Week Three is about Blessing. In Day Two, we meditate on

Ephesians 3:14 where it says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” 

And so I’d like to end with a blessing for, “every family in heaven and on earth”, especially those who are forgotten, by calling their name. Dr. Gafney said,

“calling the names of familial and spiritual ancestors is a womanist practice with roots in a number of African societies. In ritual practice, the affirmation “Ashe!”(which means “power, authority, affirmation”)  from the Yoruba tradition, originated in the country of Nigeria, concludes the name-calling of ancestors.”

And she says,

“Mother Bilhah, Mother Zilpah, womb-slave of Israel, we call your name Ashe!”

Who and what name do you call upon to bless now? 

Ashe

Ashe

Ashe

Let me pray for us. 

God, we bless your holy name, precious Jesus Christ. Conceived out of wedlock, born as a fugitive, born in a manger, and yet or maybe because for that very reason you call him your beloved son in whom you are well pleased. Give us the eyes to see like you see, the wonder and beauty in every being, especially those who are persecuted, rejected, on the run, that there we might find great hope beyond understanding. Life. Joy. Peace on earth we pray with faith and expectation in this season of Advent. As we wait on you Lord, come now, Amen. 

 

The Voice of God In The Absence of God

Welcome again to the season of Advent, my friends. 

Advent, these four weeks before Christmas, welcomes God with us in the person of Jesus. It’s a season of presents and parties and singing and prayer and family, for some of us the most wonderful time of the year.

But for some of us, so much not that. 

Advent is colder and darker days, sunset at 4:00. It’s busyness and debt and hard family situations and reminders of losses and griefs old and new.  The most ambivalent, or even painful, time of year. Not so good for a song.

This advent, I’m spending part of the evening along with Grace in our church’s beautiful Advent devotional Bless Us. You can find that online at our website. We’re entering Week Two. Highly recommend. 

But in the mornings, on my own, I’m looking at another Advent devotional by Kathy Escobar. It’s called A Weary World. This is a guide for those of us who are less in a Merry Christmas space, and more ready for a blue Christmas. It’s a guide into Advent for those of who are anxious, sad, or lonely. 

Advent, this season of longing for God with us, does not start with where we wish we were or where we want to get. Advent, like we explored in our liturgy last Sunday, advent starts wherever we are right now. 

And so, to help us toward the presence of love, joy, and peace that we may seek in this season, it might help to start by noticing where we feel the absence of those things. 

To see and find the communicating presence of God, Advent is a good time to notice all the places we sense the absence of God.

Where God is not, best as we can tell, is a good space to start. 

Our sorrows, our losses, our pains of waiting – this is where we long for God. 

Or as Fleming Rutledge puts it: Advent begins in the dark. 

Advent begins in the dark.

Friends, I don’t know all the public griefs and anxiety and weariness of our world that is heaviest to you in this season, although I have some sense of that. And I’ll end our sermon on longing for God in public darkness, and we’ll pray and lament together, specifically around the enormous suffering and death of people, especially of children, in Palestine right now. 

This isn’t a taking sides moment. As I’ve shared, I was crushed by Hamas’ violent, brutal murders and kidnapping of Israelis in early October, and I grieve with my Jewish and Israeli neighbors. I continue to do so, in multiple ways.

But in the two months since, Israel’s war on Hamas has resulted in many thousands of deaths in Gaza, and in great suffering for Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. Jesus of course was born in Bethlehem, which is behind the Wall now in Palestine’s West Bank. And we are living through a kind of massacre of infants as collateral of war in this land. So our team felt like we couldn’t celebrate Christmas without grief and solidarity. We’ll end the sermon there.

And before then, I want to speak to whatever more private griefs or loss or anxiety or weariness you may bring into this season. I know the stories for some of you – for some of us, they are so big, so heartbreaking. 

I too know some of my own grief and anxiety in this season. So we’ll start there.

If at any point in the sermon, you become aware of your own sense of where God seems absent, I encourage you to bring that into this space of worship intentionally. We have papers and pens around the chairs for you. 

I ask you to name a private or public grief, anxiety or sadness on it. Name it as a word or phrase, or name it as a prayer – God, speak to me in XYZ. 

During communion and at the end of service, you can place those prayers, those experiences of weary world in the envelopes on the walls as a prayer for God to speak to you, right where you are. 

Let’s practice. 

Pray with me. 

God, please speak to me in my anxiety over my children. 

God, speak to our world in the deaths of children in Palestine. 

Our loving God with us, please speak to us all in our griefs, our fears, our big, wide messy, weary world. Help us begin again in the darkness.

Amen. 

We’ve got two scriptures for today, both from the first two weeks of our Advent devotional guide. The first is from the very beginning of the Bible, in the tragedy of Adam and Eve. 

Genesis 3:8-9 (Common English Bible)

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 

This year’s theme for Advent is the voice of God.

And some of the times God seems to speak most clearly are when people are walking away.

Some of the best interactions with God seem to happen just while people are giving up on God.  

In the life of Jesus, two friends are walking away from Jerusalem. They’re traveling home on what was called the Emaus road. They are in despair over the absence of God. Where they wanted God most, all they sensed was the failure of God. And Jesus appears to them and speaks. 

Here, in the creation epic, Adam and Eve’s totally beautiful life is turning absolutely tragic. They have listened to the voices of scarcity and fear in their hearts, in their society, when the truth was there was plenty and nothing to worry about. Caving to that constant sense of never enough will break us all. 

And they mismanage their garden and their relationship and descend toward shame and blame and hardship. 

But on the way, God comes looking for them. The poetry of the old story is beautiful. As Adam and Eve are lost in their failure and shame, God’s out walking among the trees of the garden. And God speaks.

In both of these stories, God doesn’t start with a lecture or a statement or a lesson. No, God talks the way God loves to talk with us. 

God asks us a question. 

To the two friends walking down their lonely road, Jesus just asks,

“Hey, what are you talking about?” 

To this couple in despair, God says to them,

“Where are you?”

This is mostly how God speaks to us friends. Not looking so much to declare or teach or explain, but to engage us. To know and be known. To find out where we are, and how we are doing, so God can meet us there. Maybe to help us figure out where we are going and how we are doing so we can find God in those very places.

A psychologist whose work I follow once pointed out that religion tends to focus on the process of humans knowing God.

  • Where is God?
  • What is God like?
  • What does God do?
  • What does God command? 

And fine, this is interesting to us, sometimes helpful.

But for our well-being, our sense of belonging, our finding ourselves at home in our lives – and all the growth and health that comes from that, more important than what we think we know about God, is our faith and our experience that we are known by God.

God pays attention. 

God sees, God hears.

We are not alone. We matter to God. And everywhere, always, God is with us.  

Maybe this is why God leads with questions, because God wants to know us. God doesn’t want to talk at us but engage with us. God wants us to know that we are known. 

Friends, I teach this with you. I mostly try to live what I teach, really.

But as I said, I’ve had my own private spaces where I sense God’s absence. Some of those are old stories in me, but there have been some fresh anxieties for me in this season. Maybe two big ones in particular.

One of them has had to do with my work here at church. I’m not going to share the details, because objectively, this thing I found myself anxious about is going fine, actually going well. But I got my head in kind of an intense place about this that wasn’t helpful. My faith, my motivation, my hope all felt weak, which is some of what the absence of God looks like. 

And the other has to do with a couple of people I’m close to that I worry about. And these stories are private, they aren’t really mine to tell. But let’s just say I come honestly to the anxiety here.

And here too, I’ve felt stuck. I’ve sensed the absence of God. 

Then about a month ago, I started breaking out in hives every day – really red, itchy skin – different places every day. Total drag. 

(By the way, I share this in public at some risk. Friends, I am not looking for medical advice. I have seen a doctor – two doctors. I have a plan, it’s working.)

But before I found my plan, my wife Grace asked me:

Maybe it’s because you’re stressed, do you think?

Now this isn’t what my doctor thinks, but at the time Grace’s question was provocative for me. I didn’t feel defensive, which I can. But this time, I felt curious. I was like: I think I am stressed, why is that?

That question, which came to me through my best friend, I feel like that question came from God too. 

Where are you, Steve? Can we talk? Why are you so stressed?

Other questions emerged. I found myself emailing with two of you at church – a Board member, another trusted leader – about the church thing where I sensed God’s absence, and neither of them asked me a question, but something about opening up the topic, bringing my concerns out into the light was clarifying. 

This is the way life works, mostly. 

In secrecy, bad things grow and thrive. Whereas in honesty, in the open, the light gets in and clarifies and heals.

And so it was. As I was writing one of those emails, this wave of insight just kind of came over me. 

What are you feeling, Steve? And what is this really about?

And I thought: oh, it’s not about what’s happening at Reservoir in 2023 at all, is it? 

This is tapping old stories in my life. This is little Steve Watson, growing up in North Shore in the 70s and 80s, getting activated.

Old family stories of failed plans, and crushed dreams, and never enough money, and things falling apart – those stories were getting activated in me. 

And seeing the truth about where I was at – pretty stressed, old anxieties getting reactivated in me – that clarity about where I was helped me know what to do. 

I know what to do when I’m afraid of failure or not enough money or not enough whatever. I go to gratitude to ground me in truth that there is enough for me in God, and there can be enough for us all in this world. 

So I read and thought about gratitude. I preached on it here two weeks ago. I wrote some thank you cards, did one of those Asha thank yous I told you about where you write a thank you note to someone and read it out loud to them. 

This gratitude made my heart very full. Very full.

Because like I’ve said, it’s hard to be grateful and anxious at the same time. The gratitude shifts things. 

And I started paying attention to the voices of encouragement in my life. Encouraging emails from a couple of you. Encouraging words in my daily Bible reading. Encouraging words I sensed for me from God as I prayed. 

Encouragement strengthens you. It strengthens me. 

It’s not what we call spiritual bypassing. That’s using God, or prayer, or church or religion to avoid bad feelings. It’s encouraged sometimes in the church.

Avoid experiences, realities, truths that are sad or hard. Just look on the bright side. 

That doesn’t help or heal. It only pushes our problems underground for a while, until they show up again bigger and more unruly.

This is different. Telling the truth about where we are, but hoping even a little bit that God is still there, that God has something to say – or at least something to ask – and then waiting and responding to what comes.

That’s faith. That’s Advent, that’s Jesus, that’s the Spirit of God doing its thing in the dark. 

Friends, if you sense God’s absence somewhere, don’t avoid that. Face it. Tell the truth. And hold it before God, and before friends if you can too, in the light, and see what happens.

The whole write it on the paper and put it on the wall today in church – that exercise is a way to start.

Friends, I mentioned that our sense of God’s absence, and God finding us there, isn’t just private, it’s connected to the big public world we experience together.

And I want to read one more scripture to take us there. It’s from the second week of our guide, also from the big, beautiful 8th chapter of the letter to the Romans. Our bit goes like this:

Romans 8:22-26 (Common English Bible)

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor,

23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what one already sees?

25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. 

This is to me one of the truest and most beautiful bits in the Bible.

What is all of creation doing but suffering?

We see this in Israel, generations of trauma re-evoked by the most violent attack in its history this October.

We see this in Palestine, whose occupation and lack of freedom are often forgotten and neglected by much of the world, but before us now again as thousands of civilians, including thousands of innocent children are killed in Israel’s war on Hamas.

This is big and important. It is the land of the birth of most of the world’s faith. The land of the birth of Jesus. It matters greatly. 

But truthfully, it is also one great suffering that has our attention now, amidst so many sufferings in creation. Deaths of children, degradation of the environment, the suffering of so many people and animals and other creatures. 

It feels so much like the absence of God.  

We’re told here, though, to listen for the groans that come out of suffering. 

For me, in Palestine and Israel, I’ve tried for two months to listen to the grief. And for me, voices of grief I particularly trust are those of The Parents’ Circle – Palestinian and Israel parents who have had children killed in the conflict, and who now work toward just peace by grieving together. 

Two men from this circle who I have met and embraced are a Palestinian Muslim named Basim Aramin and an Israeli Jew named Rami Elhanan. Basim grew up in the West Bank and as a teenager, the only Israeli Jews he ever saw were occupying soldiers. He had seen a solider shoot a child, watched that child die. He understandably hated them. As a teenager, he’d throw things at Israeli soldiers – sticks, rocks, bottles, once at 17, an old hand grenade he and friends found in a cave. It didn’t explode. No one was hurt. But he was arrested, he did seven years in an Israeli prison. Prison mostly radicalized him toward greater resentment and hate, as prison is good at doing, actually. 

But a set of interactions with a single guard began to change this. This one guard treated him with respect and dignity, like a human. This guard acknowledged he was not a settler, but had rights to land and freedom. Basam’s journey toward the humanization of the enemy continued more and more over time. He eventually earned a university degree in history, with a specialization in Holocaust studies, as he sought to advocate for his people, while having empathy for his enemies. 

All this was sorely tested when Basam’s daughter was killed by a rubber bullet, fired by an Israeli soldier into a crowd. 

The same was true for Rami Elhanan. When he was a young man, he served in the military, as all young adults in Israel do. He served in the early 70s, during war time, and most of his friends were killed in that war. He had a great deal of anger and hatred within as a result. 

Years later, his daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. His anger, his hatred inflamed so  much more. And he stayed in this place for a couple of years, until he began to meet a few Israeli Jews older than him who also had lost children in the conflict, but who had decided this created an urgent need to struggle for peace. Through them, he met dozens of Palestinian Arabs who had lost children as well, and grieved with their Israeli Jewish counterparts. This so surprised and shook him, that he was drawn to join this movement of grieving parents who seek just peace together. 

I listened to them both in an online seminar last week, as Basam continues to insist on the need for freedom and safety for Palestinians, just as he insists upon the same for Israeli Jews. He says – one state, two states, five states, I don’t care, but none of us are going anywhere. We need to see the humanity of one another, and insist upon human rights and dignity for us all.

And even as Rami continues to grieve Israeli losses from October, and the grief of hostages taken, he says – hard as it is now, we need to step back and look at the causes of all this. Hamas is awful, he says, but Hamas did not create the conflict or the occupation. The occupation and the conflict created Hamas. We need to end the occupation, and we need to make peace for us all. 

Hope is hard to find around this conflict right now, because justice and peace can not be seen. Not even hints of it maybe. But in these men, in many others, I hear at least the foundation of some hope. 

Could their groans also be labor pains? This longing, this groaning for better – could there be a birth of more justice, more peace, more shared human recognition of dignity that creates the conditions for peace. Maybe, all we have is a maybe, but sometimes that’s all we get to struggle for what’s good. 

And with the Spirit’s help, perhaps we can hope with them, with groans too deep for words. 

After all, all of creation, the scripture tells us, is hoping for two things – for adoption, for us all to know and be afforded and live within the full dignity of children of God, who are treasure, who belong. And redemption, that good can always grow out of evil, that even the hardest ground can birth something good again.

Friends, I want to lean into these groans, these groans that hope for adoption and redemption to be manifest. 

We’ll do so with this lament over the suffering of Palestine, in hopes that it will be what it is, and that it will perhaps keep teaching us to groan in hope amidst suffering, to yearn for the light to shine amidst the greatest darkness, and to look for the communicative, loving presence of God where God seems most absent.

You can listen if you like. Or pray these words aloud with me. 

LAMENT

To Be A People of Blessing | Participatory Liturgy

Scripture: Luke 1: 26-50

Song: “Wherever Your Heart Is” by The Lone Bellow

Voice: John O’ Donohue 

WELCOME 

Good morning! I’m Ivy, a pastor here, I use she/her pronouns – it is a delight to have you all in this space together this morning, the first Sunday of Advent. 

Advent is the season before Christmas, marked by the four Sundays leading to Christmas.  It’s a season where we long and wait for the coming of Jesus – and revisit all that it meant, and consider all that it still means for us and the world today.

And today we are holding a participatory liturgy service to start this season.

I’ll explain this service, and your involvement in it, in just a moment .. …but first a couple Advent -related announcements: 

Our Advent focus this year is the God who speaks – and this guide will help walk you through scripture, reflection questions, and invitations of exploring how that might be true -through our listening, imagination, our encouragement, and blessing.  Grab one on your way out – and explore it with a community group or others if you’d like! 

  • 12/17 – Christmas Choir
  • 12/17 – And an after-service Nativity experience with our elementary school kids.
  • 12/24 – And on Christmas Eve, we will have special candlelight services in person at 10:00 a.m. and online at 7:00 p.m. (Note the different times for that holiday!)
     

TODAY

Today, you are about to engage and experience a participatory service. 

We offer these types of participatory liturgies about two times a year – and each time I’m excited to see what will unfold with the Spirit of God. So much of what is to come really is a choreography of your story and God’s story intersecting – with familiar prompts of scripture, prayer, and communion – but with a less front–of-the-stage-centered focused “teaching.”

We trust the Spirit of God to be our great teacher today, the one who guides us in communal and creative ways to deeper experiences of God’s love.

We realize that these services take a little more “work”… The word, “liturgy” in Greek roots, means work of the people. And so much of the experience, this morning –  as is often true – will rest on your willingness to lean in and engage, participate and create.  All of which we will give space for… and all with freedom.

*If you need a little space please take it, there are chairs setup around the edges of the Sanctuary – the prayer team will be available later in the service if you need it as well… but please do participate to the degree you are comfortable, as I trust you’ll find a rich return from that. As always we hope that you will experience the love of God, the gift of community and the joy of living – from exactly where you are at this morning, and know that you are welcome in this place – without exception. 

BLESSINGS
The focus of our Advent season this year is the ‘God who speaks.’  And we will get to wonder together how God is speaking still, how we discern God’s new possibilities for us, and how we join God in speaking good into being.

One way God speaks good into being is in the realm of blessings.  “The Bible is full of blessings. They are seen as a communication of life from God.” And one way we join God in speaking good into being is by blessing one another. 

In this service we are going to explore what it is to “be a people of blessing” – not in a soft/platitude – hashtag#I’m-blessed-sort of -way.  But in an empowered –  ‘standing in the darkest month of the year, standing in a (dark) world that is breaking over and over again – kind of way’… believing and embodying that there could be something so lovely about rediscovering our power to bless one another. In a way that could heal and renew one another – could rekindle a ‘little bit of fire’ in us – where we remember what and who we care for, who and what we are passionate about and love – and are called to love.

Throughout this service you’ll be invited to explore the power of blessing – through individual reflection, communal response, and movement.  I’ll guide you through what these “more communal” moments will look like and how to respond to one another in your groups.  You will be companioned by Mary’s story and song found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1 – as well as Irish poet and priest John O’Donohue.    

Let me pray for us, and then lead us into the first portion of our time.

Oh God, the one who blesses us – from the beginning until the end – help us to bless one another, to be a people of blessing.  We sit here with you now – maybe eager and maybe slightly anxious – of what this morning might bring.   And so I ask you now to remind us of your promise to us, that you are always with us –  that by and by you are by our side – that you will never leave us or forsake us.  And as we join with you today, may your deep, unending, love for us – be revealed at even greater depths.

Amen

Ivy:  Now we will move to our first Movement: Blessing Wherever Our Heart Is  – 

Let’s get started. 

1

MOVEMENT# 1 |  Bless Wherever Your Heart Is

1- Song | Band 

1st two stanzas and refrain

🎵I’m getting real good at talkin’ to strangers

Good with the silence, cussing and prayer

It’s a long way to our house, we should get started

I’ve seen the signs of tall tale dangers

Why do you say when the words are not there?

It’s a long way to nowhere, we should get started

We should get started

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is🎵

1- Scripture | Grace

Luke 1:26 -35 

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

Mary said to the angel, 

“But I am a virgin – How can this be?” 

How can this be?” 

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be… 

 

Let it be…  

1- Song | Band 

🎵🎵🎵

I’m getting real good at talkin’ to strangers

Good with the silence, cussing and prayer

It’s a long way to our house, we should get started

 

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is🎵

 

1- Ivy | Words & Invitation to Sharing
I wonder where Mary’s heart was when the angel greeted her?

I wonder if her heart skipped a beat and she lost her breath?

I wonder if she cussed – a million holy cusses – under her breath?

I wonder how much silence she needed to gather herself?
I wonder how much silence she needed to unravel herself?

I wonder how she prayed? What she prayed? 

I wonder if she wondered why she should even pray?

I wonder if God was searching for wherever Mary’s heart was? I wonder if in that searching her heart was blessed?

“Cussing, silence & prayer.”

You’ll find three strips of paper that have these words on them in your envelope – please take them out. 

I’m going to invite you to write on these strips of paper – and also scan your own heart, as you spend a moment with each of them.

There may be things in your personal life, or in your community, or in the world that light up ONE or all THREE of these words – cussing, silence and prayer – and there may be, even more words that reflect better the state of your heart today – but we are going to take a moment with these three.

1 Let’s start with silence.

  • Silence could be holy/connective/generative  – altogether good silence.
  • Silence could also could also be loneliness – emptiness – numbness…

How does silence resonate with you? Jot some thoughts or reasons ‘why’ down as they come.

2 Next is cussing:

  • Cussing could be a reveal health – an outlet – a relief valve for deep feelings
  • It could also be a state of unwanted surprise, dead-ends, despair, anger, fear, frustration

How does cussing resonate with you? Jot some thoughts or reasons ‘why’ down as they come.

3 Next is prayer:

  • Prayer could be alive, good, it could feel like action – movement.
  • Absent, like work, rote, or a longing 

How does prayer resonate with you? Jot some thoughts or reasons ‘why’ down as they come.

SHARE & WALL

Now what I’m going to invite you to do now is to share one thing that you wrote down that you are comfortable sharing with the group about “wherever your heart is.”  (After you share your name and your pronouns if you’d like).

The group will only say one thing in response to your sharing, and that is

We bless you, wherever your heart is.” 

Take turns – and after you’re all done – you can take your three strips of paper to the wall and place them in an any-shade-of-green envelope.

2

MOVEMENT # 2 | Bless Those Throughout Your Life

2- Song | Band 

2nd stanza & refrain

🎵You always told me, go where the light is

Nobody showed you, how to get there

It’s a good time for trying to walk through the darkness 

We should get started

 

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is🎵

 

2- Scripture | Grace

Luke 1: 39 – 45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth, her cousin. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, 

“Blessed are you among women,

“Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

2- Song | Band 

2nd stanza & refrain

🎵You always told me, go where the light is

Nobody showed you, how to get there

It’s a good time for trying to walk through the darkness 

We should get started

 

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is🎵

2- Ivy | Words & Invitation to Reflect & WALL

I wonder if Elizabeth’s blessing changed the atmosphere in that room? In Mary’s heart?  Jumping in darkness and light, from overwhelm to movement, clenched heart  – to – open.?

I wonder if Elizabeth’s blessing despite the signs of tell-tale danger of Herod the Great, showed Mary how to walk?

I wonder if Elizabeth held some of Mary’s doubt until she could enwomb her own infinite possibilities? I wonder if it shirred up her dignity and belief in who she was meant to be.

The people throughout our lives – they have the capacity to shape, break, and save us. 

Likely this is true for you whether you are 15 or 80. 

You’ll find in your envelope three square cards.

1-One reads: “Blessed be those who have loved us, into becoming who we were meant to be.”

2-Another reads: “Blessed be those who looked for you and found you, with their kind hands. When desolation surrounded you.”

3-And the last one reads: “Blessed be those who have crossed our lives with dark gifts of hurt and loss. That have helped to school our minds in the art of disappointment.”

  • You aren’t going to share out loud in your groups this round – but take a moment to write the names of people throughout your life – who come to mind. And if you can – next to their name write how you knew or know them. 
    Example: Sally Powell, piano teacher *OR* Holly Potts, 5th grade lunch lady.
  • And when you are ready you can put these cards on the wall. You’ll find little tabs of red tape that you can stick them up with.
  • One exception is the person/people in your life that have hurt you – you can put that card in the envelope that you have, seal it, and put it on the wall if you’d like.

I’ll call us back in a couple of minutes.

As a body we’ll now communally bless all of these people who are represented on the cards and sealed envelopes. I’ll  read the blessing – and then we can all say the response that seals that blessing together (it will be on a slide). 

1- “Blessed be those who have loved us, into becoming who we were meant to be.”

RESPONSE: May those who love us be blessed. 

2-Another reads: “Blessed be those who looked for you and found you, with their kind hands. When desolation surrounded you.”

RESPONSE: May those who search for us be blessed.

3-And the last one reads: “Blessed be those who have crossed our lives with dark gifts of hurt and loss. That have helped to school our minds in the art of disappointment.”

RESPONSE: May God, Bless the space between.

3

MOVEMENT #3 | Bless the fire in you 

3- Song | Band 

2nd stanza  

🎵Feels so good to know

That there’s a little fire left

There’s a little fire in left in you

 

Feels so good to know

That there’s a little fire left

There’s a little fire in left in you🎵(repeat as many times as makes sense)

 

3- Scripture | Grace

Luke 1:51-55

And then Mary praises God, and with a little fire in her belly she sings;

He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones

    and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things

    and sent the rich away empty.

He has come to the aid of his child Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

3- Song | Band 

3rd stanza  

🎵Feels so good to know

That there’s a little fire left

There’s a little fire in left in you

 

Feels so good to know

That there’s a little fire left

There’s a little fire in left in you🎵(repeat as many times as makes sense)

3- Ivy | Words & Invitation to Share

Elizabeth’s words flame the embers of knowing in Mary. Something Mary knew deep down, these ancient, yet prophetic words of Isaiah… and she sings them anew for herself and for the world. 

It’s the little bit of fire left in her… as she stands in the face of all that is overwhelming.

This little bit of fire – that keeps her in it – that keeps her searching to see the world as God sees it. 

And some days this is all we can do, keep trying to see the world as God sees it – even if our reality defies it at every turn. Even if the powerful are still on their thrones, and have their hands full of riches – and even as the poor and powerless are still in the trenches – hungry and suffering. Even if our embers of hope for justice and love are cold. Some days all we have is the mystery and promises of God that feel so ancient – but that reside deep within us… A found little fire left in us – – that in and of itself might be a blessing.

I wonder if Mary’s ancient song is our song too?

  • What do you think? Do you have a little fire left in you? And if so – what is it for? 

Are there things you care about and for? 

Things that keep you up at night that you are passionate about?

  •  The health of your family system
  • Local neighborhood issue
  • Hope of the world
  • Events of the world
  • Your work/vocation
  •  Share in group

 

  • Take a minute to sit with this question – you should have one last card in your hands.
    You can jot your thoughts down – and as you are ready you’ll share one thing you feel  comfortable sharing in your group.
  • The group’s response this time will be: “We bless the fire in you”

 

DON”T GO TO THE WALL  – SAVE IT FOR INTERLUDE

*Ivy words before interlude

Everytime we have said a blessing today  – we have used the word, “MAY” –  “May you be blessed”…”May those who love you be blessed.” etc. This is because the word “May” is a spring through which the Spirit of God is invoked to come forth with full presence and effect. It is not of our own power. The Spirit of God is the presence and secret energy behind every blessing here and in your days. (xvi)

To be a people of blessing is to move around our days, walk upon this earth – bumping up against people – like all these envelopes on these walls – wherever their hearts are –  in grief, in joy, in stress, in numbness – and yet as best we can we are called to notice, pay attention and care for the people around us.

But to live our lives in this manner – we need sustenance. We need to return to and draw from God, the source of all blessing. 

So during this next time – you are invited to continue to search for wherever your heart is – and the hearts of those around you. 

And here are your options:

  • Take your fire paper to the wall, stick it in a green envelope & take some time to read a few green envelopes.  
  • In the red envelopes are blessings – that you can take for yourself, or move to a green envelope that you think might need one.  
  • You can take communion – the source of all nourishment.
  • You can receive prayer from the Prayer Team. 

 May you find the sustenance you need along the way.

*INTERLUDE* | Searching

*Song | Band 

3rd stanza …….into 4th stanza

🎵Feels so good to know

That there’s a little fire left

There’s a little fire in left in you

 

Feels so good to know

That there’s a little fire left

There’s a little fire in left in you🎵

 

4

MOVEMENT #4 | The Blessing of God

4- Song | Band 

4th stanza – on repeat****

🎵Feels so good to know that

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by I am by your side

 

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is🎵

 

4- Scripture | Grace

Luke 1:47-50

And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger.

And she said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.

    Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name;

indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation – because by and by he’s by their side…

  from generation to generation – because by and by he’s by our side.

And Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 

 

4- Song | Band 

4th stanza – on repeat****

🎵Feels so good to know that

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by I am by your side🎵

4- Ivy | Words  

The span of history  – from Abraham – to the immediate descendants of Abraham – to our ancestors, to us, and to every generation in between – and to the next generation, and the generation after that – we are blessed to know that 

God looks upon us with favor,

The Might One has done great things for us

God’s mercy is for all of us… for everyone… 

By and by  God is by our side. 

  

These are the found blessings – things that are just true of God 

It feels so good to know – that By and By God’s by our side.

So we are going to invite all the generations in this room to sing this refrain together …..

 ***Song | Band  – Lead this part…

If you feel like you are in the older generation sing with us:
🎵Feels so good to know that

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by I am by your side🎵

If you feel like you are somewhere in the “middle” generation sing with us:
🎵Feels so good to know that

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by I am by your side🎵

If you feel like you are somewhere in the “young” generation sing with us:

🎵Feels so good to know that

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by I am by your side🎵

 

Then Band leads congregation the whole song from top to bottom:

🎵
I’m getting real good at talkin’ to strangers

Good with the silence, cussing and prayer

It’s a long way to our house, we should get started

I’ve seen the signs of tall tale dangers

What do you say when the words are not there?

It’s a long way to nowhere, we should get started

We should get started

 

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is

 

You always told me, go where the light is

Nobody showed you, how to get there

It’s a good time for trying to walk through the darkness

We should get started

 

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is

 

Feels so good to know

That there’s a little fire left

There’s a little fire in left in you

Feels so good to know

That by and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

By and by, I am by your side

 

I’m still searching for wherever your heart is

We should get started, wherever your heart is

I’m still searching for wherеver your heart is

We should gеt started, wherever your heart is🎵

Ivy – Prayer/Benediction
Oh God who blesses, blesses and blesses us – so that we can in turn bless bless bless one another – May we treasure all the words spoken, shared, and those tucked away here today and ponder them in our hearts. And may they shape the blessings we become as we move about our days  – searching for your heart Jesus in this world. AMEN