What Then Did You
Expect To See?
Crescent Hill Baptist Church
Advent Devotion Book 2013
2800 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY 40206
Table of Contents
Keep awake therefore, for you do not
Know on what day your Lord is coming.
These Advent calendar activities may be used as examples of how we can all find ways to be more cognizant of the needs around us. In varied ways, these simple daily reminders might help us to become more patient, repentant, creative, and faithful. Use this calendar as a family or individually to enrich your lives and others during this wonderful season of love, peace, hope, and joy.
Presented by the Social Justice Team
1 Make eye contact and smile at those you meet today
2 Bring flowers to someone
3 Let your teacher know you appreciate him/her.
4 Donate coats, hats, and gloves to a local charity.
5 Eat lunch with someone you don’t know well.
6 Send someone an anonymous small gift
7 Run an errand for someone
8 Let someone go before you in the check-out lane.
9 Let another car merge into traffic
10 Send a home-made Christmas card to a shut-in
11 Collect canned goods for UCHM
12 Ask someone about their culture
13 Give away your parking space
14 Drop off books or magazines at a hospital or nursing home
15 Hold the door open for someone you don’t know
16 Call or visit someone who is sick
17 Give toys to children in a shelter
18 Purchase an extra bag of pet food and take it to an animal shelter
19 Send a thank you note to someone who has helped you.
20 Bake cookies and give to a neighbor
21 Shovel snow for a neighbor
22 Give a genuine compliment to someone
23 Be respectful of others
24 Be creative
25 Say please and thank you
26 Hug your family members
27 Make hot cocoa to share
28 Cook a meal and deliver it to someone
29 Take pictures of family and friends
30 Talk through a disagreement instead of arguing
31 Make 3 New Year resolutions that will help others.
MOST UNEXPECTED WAYS
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 15:5-7 NRSV
Participating in worship on Children's Sabbath at our church I was struck with how we are blessed by the number of children that we have in our midst. That day the choir loft was filled with boys and girls. As part of the service some of the children shared poems that they had been working on in Sunday School based on the style used by Margaret Wise Brown in her book The Most Important Thing. In these poems the boys and girls listed what is important to them about church. These are some of the lines from the poems and the names of the children that read them:
Lue The Dah Thaw:
The most important thing about church is that God is there.
The important thing about church is God always forgives you.
Hser Eh Say Ku:
The most important thing about church is people coming together.
Day Day Htoo Po:
The most important thing about church is having Sunday School to learn about God.
The most important thing about church is that we learn more about God and we sing.
I was awed by the ability of the children to name some of the same things that we as adults would mention if listing the things that matter the most to us. In years past several of us have worried that we did not have young families in our church that could be nurtured and would in turn give our community hope for the future.
God works in most unexpected ways. We have amongst us now many new families with young children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents. We have been given the opportunity to learn from each other, including the children, and to work together as we walk in the Way of Jesus.
Thank you that we can learn from each other to know what is important. Amen
IN A LITTLE WHILE
This is what God Almighty says: "In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory.
They kept asking, "What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying."
Mama said: "We’ll see." Mama meant: "Maybe but probably not." Mama said: "Let’s play Quiet Mouse." Mama meant: "You’re talking too much." Mama said: "In a little while." Mama meant—well, like the disciples, I am not sure what that meant. Mama’s reply carried as many meanings as“τό μικρόν” had in the first century. No doubt, Haggai’s listeners were just as confused by it.
Like the Psalmist, we ask, "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1) "When will the lab results be back?" "When will I ever find a job?" "When can I expect to find love?" In a little while. It’s hard to hear. If we knew how long "a little while" is, we could deal with it; we could manage it; we could set a timer. But not knowing means waiting. And waiting means being patient. And being patient in the midst of unknowing is awfully hard to do.
When his disciples were confused, Jesus compared being patient while suffering to a woman in labor. He said sorrow is taken away and anguish ends for the mother looking into the face of her child. The message? God turns our sorrow into joy. How it happens is a mystery, for certain. But, it is a fitting metaphor for Advent. For a little while, we pass this time. Let us make the moments count: filling pregnant hours with waiting, watching, and working for the Kingdom.
O God. Let us hope for you in our waiting; let us seek for you in our watching; let us live for you in our working. And, above all, let us love all, in your name. Amen.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah, has been one of my favorite musical compositions for a long time. Throughout my life I have had both intellectual and emotional doubts involving God, theology, religion, faith, and my part in it all vs. God’s part. So many times my ideas and thoughts have been a gigantic struggle to know what it all means. From my youth until the present day, I have taken comfort from the aria from Elijah, "If With All Your Hearts." No matter how dark the night, the words, "If with all your hearts you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me," have calmed my troubled heart and restless mind. Relying on these words takes great patience because, being an impatient person, I like quick results and answers; but quickness doesn’t often occur when dealing with the important issues of life – it takes a lifetime to learn to live with the questions and still have faith. I still have to listen to Elijah every once in a while to be reminded of God’s time and truth. Remember God’s promise, so appropriate for expressing the hope of Advent, "If with all your hearts you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me. Thus saith our God."
Help us to remember that your ways are not our ways. Help us to wait with patience for your faithful promises to be fulfilled. Amen.
HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME?
So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Patience is often not one of my virtues. Teenagers are frequently seen as group that shares this trait of being impatient. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to youth ministry.
I have found however, that many kids in our CHBC youth group are very patient people. Our children and youth often spend up to two hours on a bus round trip to attend church events like lock-ins, outings, camps, VBS, Academic Academy and other activities. Every Wednesday, our drivers take routes over an hour each way to transport our youth to and from homework help and youth activities.
You might think these teenagers would pour out of the vehicle grumbling impatiently about the long ride when they finally arrive at church, but this is not the case. The duration of the trip does not dampen their spirits. They arrive full of energy and excited to get inside our building.
Recently, I took three youth home on the church van after our youth work day. Two were destined for Payne Street, just a few blocks from church and the other was going to the south end. You would think our Payne street kids would be glad to be dropped off first, but alas they wanted to make the hour round trip with me and be dropped off last.
While I would expect them to value getting home and resting after raking leaves for three hours, instead they wanted to spend time riding with their friend and seeing the city.
We can tell so much about people and what they value from how they spend their time. How do you spend your time? What do you value most? Are you taking time for what really matters?
God, help us in this season of Advent, to spend time on the important things. Give us the patience to enjoy the moments we are tempted to rush through. Help us to live each day with patience and to share our time with people we care about. Amen.
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT
Sara Jo Hooper
The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
For centuries the Children of Israel waited and hoped for the Messiah, the king who would return their nation to the glories of David’s kingdom. They dreamed of an earthly kingdom marked by material wealth, military power, the trappings of a great nation. Time and again they started over; exile, destruction of Solomon’s temple—nothing extinguished their hope of national greatness.
Finally, a child was born. But this was not a royal son; his parents were peasants from Nazareth; he was born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem. This was not the Messiah for whom they had waited for centuries. Jesus’ life and ministry was nothing like what they wanted from a Messiah. They rejected him.
Like the Hebrews, I can wait patiently when I have hope that everything will ultimately be all right. But I must never lose sight of the reality inimitably sung by the Rolling Stones, "You can’t always get what you want." My kidneys will never again be healthy, but dialysis promises a moderate level of normalcy in living my life. I will face serious challenges, including the temptation to give up in despair and bitterness. The Stones speak to that too, "But if you try sometimes, you might just get what you need." My focus now is to work to take advantage of this life-giving process to shape a full life that witnesses to God’s presence with me through whatever happens. My confidence is in God’s presence, not any specific outcome.
God, we want what we want, and we don’t like getting what we need instead of what we hoped for. Give me patience with the fact that I’m not in charge of all the details of my life and the confidence to lean into your embrace as I deal with them. Amen.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has
Come near." This is the one of whom the
Prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
"The voice of one crying out in
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight.’"
THE WORD AND THE WORLD
In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God…Through him all things came into being.
Advent is a time when we think of beginnings: a new baby, the beginning of a movement, the beginning of a new year just ahead. We also have a vision of the end of time and are told that Christ will come again and have faith that we are redeemed for an eternal life after death.
But eternity is not just an "after" event; it’s also a "before" event, and although the gospel writer speaks of a "beginning," one can also make the case for "time" having no beginning just as it has no end in our concept of "eternity." But if there’s no beginning, then how do we deal with creation and "things coming into being?" Some posit that the universe is cyclical, but the way the universe works is still a mystery. Regardless of how "things come into being" the "things" that we experience with our five senses co-exist with God and the Word. This spiritual world is what we celebrate during the Advent season for it was the coming of Christ into this particular period of time that shows us the loving and life-giving character of God.
Were it not for Christ’s coming to walk among us, we would be caught up in endless philosophical arguments about the moral ambiguities of life. Jesus, the being who combined both the spiritual and the physical most perfectly, "humbled himself" and became like us so that we could become like him.
God, thank you for sending Jesus to walk with us so that we know you’re continuing to work with us to encourage hope, peace, joy, and love to thrive in this world. Amen.
DEBT FREE LIVING
L. Lee Whitlock
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Every seventh year on the Jewish calendar, Shemitah (Sabbatical), is holy. The word is literally "release." In the Sabbatical year all debts are forgiven. (Deuteronomy 15:1-2) In the Christian faith, we have a stronger understanding of forgiveness. We know that all have "fallen short" of the righteous life. The most common word for "sin" in the New Testament, used 151 times, is hamartia, an archer’s term that means "to miss the mark." We carry the burden of not always living up to the faith we profess, but what I expect to see, is that the coming of Christ releases me from the debt of my "fallenshortness." The daily Christmas gift is that I am justified by His grace. I am debt free.
Paul wrote Romans around the mid-50’s AD. Over two decades had passed since the resurrection. Churches were formed. Jesus’ message was spreading over the Roman Empire. The people had been enthusiastic about the message and the promise, but the promised second coming seemed to be delayed. Christians were beginning to wonder if it would ever happen. The message that Paul and other epistle writers emphasized was that God through Jesus was always with us. The Christmas event is here to remind us that even though we continue to miss the mark, we have forgiveness of debts. We rest in the knowledge that Jesus came to seek and to save and daily redeem those of us who asked for forgiveness. This is not wishful thinking. This is the Christmas promise.
Our Father, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Remind us during this season that we are justified by grace, and we can live debt free lives through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Amen.
LOSS AND GAIN
It had happened before, but that didn’t make it any easier. Six inches of muddy water from a torrential rainfall in early October swamped eight boxes of family memorabilia in our basement. I "forgot" to even think about the damage for a week. Then I began the task of separating sodden pictures, newspaper clippings and letters – pile by pile, box by box. I was overwhelmed.
Five hours into this work I came across a slip of paper. My mother had written this scripture:
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
The blessing was reassuring. It grounded me as I continued the work, which included incorporating a narrative Mother had written years ago, which I had found after the flood, as I labored to finish her biography.
The Holy Spirit is alive and well.
Thanks be to God, for this latest Gift. Amen.
WHAT THEN DID YOU EXPECT TO SEE?
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land:… and they reply: "We will buy the destitute for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the worthless grain we will sell."
Amos 8:4, 6 NABRE
So many times the prophets chastised the leaders and the wealthy of Israel and Judah for their lust for wealth and their contempt and lack of care for the poor. Later, during His ministry, Jesus would tell one young man to sell all his goods and follow Him, and when the young man failed to do so, He said "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (from Matthew 19:21-24 NABRE)
What did we expect to see? A land flowing with milk and honey? The lamb lying down with the lion? Swords beaten into plowshares? Or did we expect to see a government effectively working for all people, not just the wealthy?
Owners and CEOs ensuring their workers receive a living wage? Incomes of average workers rising at the same rate as their productivity? A Supreme Court protective of our right to have our voices heard equally in the public square? Justice? Kindness? Humility?
Did we truly expect to see those things? Or was it only a dream, something for us to continue to struggle for and work toward and pray for?
Creator and Sustainer, look with pity on your people and grant us the justice and kindness and humility you asked of us all so long ago. Amen.
TRUST AND FAITH
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."
Revelation 21: 1-6
We were in the midst of pulling together dinner one
Monday evening earlier this fall when Kate's phone rang. Her doctor informed her
that she had tested positive for a rare, incurable, very serious, although
likely treatable, liver disease.
A few weeks later, after more tests, deliberation, and prayer, Kate, Millie Lou, and I found ourselves at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. We arrived there late on a Sunday night. Early the next morning, we made our way through the underground tunnels that connected our hotel and clinic to our first appointment. Although bleary eyed and anxious, our fatigue and concern quickly dissipated when we entered the voluminous, breathtaking main lobby of the clinic that morning where hundreds of people were either passing time or passing through en route to their appointments, tests, or surgeries.
That space was a thin one. Many in that space had one foot in this world and one already in what's next. Their presence combined with the beautiful physical surroundings made that place one where the separation between this world and God's shores came so close to one another that it felt as if you were catching a peek of what awaits us on the other side of this life.
Morning sunlight poured through the glass walls that
extended four stories high and stretched the length of a football field. A
magnificent Chuhulily glass installation hung overhead. A woman gently played
"How Great Thou Art" on a piano. Many gathered around her. Some hummed
along. Others danced as she played. Everyone spoke peacefully and in a subdued
manner. Everyone made sure that everyone who needed a place a rest, had a place
to rest. People unreservedly embraced and cried and laughed all at the same
We received unexpectedly wonderful news up there. Although she previously tested positive for the condition, it was determined that Kate does not, in fact, have the rare, potentially life threatening disease. The best doctors in the country could not fully explain why the disease had disappeared, but they were confident that it had. Thankfully, we left without a positive diagnosis and a treatment regimen, but we took away with us a glimpse of heaven on earth and a reminder of the goodness and surety of the promises of our faith.
Lord, as we prepare to celebrate the Word becoming Incarnate, may we put our trust and faith in the promise that your Word will come to us once more to make all things new, wholly beatific and completely peaceful. Particularly for those for whom death lingers near this Advent season, may they find hope and courage in the birth of our Savior and promises of our faith yet to come. Amen.
Greg Robertson and Brian Williams
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Almost every Sunday since Brian and I joined this church in 1988 we have said these words together, "...thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven...." We are so thankful that over the years our understanding and experience of these words has become larger and more inclusive.
Greg and I both remember learning the song "Jesus Loves the Little Children...Red and Yellow, Black and White..." You see, we were taught one vision of the kingdom of God but we saw another.
For young men who were beginning to come to grips with the fact that we were gay, we knew that we really did not have a place in the kingdom, which we had seen and been a part of since we were children. Yet, in our hearts we knew God had to have a place for us.
The very Sunday Brian and I joined this church, Monaei Schnur came to our home to visit and welcome us - the kingdom of God was brought to us. I began to usher and welcomed the folks as they came here for the first time with Jackie Pendergraph - the kingdom of God was coming to the stranger.
I began to assist Marcia Hemingway and Merle Ford with a worship service at St. Matthew Manor - the kingdom of God was coming to the widowed and the sick.
The AIDS crisis came and the Solidarity Sunday School class listened to our story of caring for persons living with AIDS, gave Brian and me a safe space to tell our story of being gay, and then they started preparing meals for the persons living with AIDS at Lyndon Lane Nursing Center and more importantly, sitting down with them and sharing the meals with them - the kingdom of God was coming to the outcasts.
The church began to welcome the immigrants and assisting them in beginning a new life here – the kingdom of God coming to the foreigners.
While we know there have been many wonderful and powerful sermons preached in this church, it has been the actual ministries of this church that have taught and shown us that the kingdom of God can and has come on earth as it is in Heaven. This church has helped us find our way and given us a safe place, a place in God's kingdom. This church has embraced our gifts and helped us grow in love and grace and has supported us, as we have ministered through our professions.
One Sunday last year, we watched this church gather and then come forward for communion. We saw a community of faith that was, Red and Yellow and Black and White, young and old, gay and straight, rich and poor. I started to cry thinking we are part of a church, just like that song we learned when we were children, just like God's kingdom!
I think it was the very next Sunday that the congregation gathered on the front steps for the church photo, it was like the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. This hope of God’s kingdom coming is why we gather here, this is why we give of our time, and this is why we give our money!
Since that day when many of us gathered on the steps, Greg and I have been praying, that we, CHBC, will quit selling ourselves short and see the kingdom of God in our midst and the witness we have to share with the world.
So God's kingdom may come here to Crescent Hill, to Louisville, to Kentucky to the world and finally one day perfect in heaven.
God’s kingdom of love and grace and justice! Amen.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoioce with joy and singing.
THE NEW BABY
And the time came for her to be delivered….
‘Twas the night before Christmas – the party was over and everybody had gone home. The happy young couple had started to relax and have a cup of warm milk before settling in for a long winter’s night.
No sooner had they gotten ready for sleep when the first pain hit! "What?! It’s too soon – is this what I think it is?" After all, it was her first. And then she knew. She said, "Call your mom – and let’s go to the hospital." The phone chain got going – we all jumped into cars, cameras ready, coats on and sleep forgotten.
What a night it was. The greatest gift a family can expect was on its way – nobody thought of the stuff under the tree; something far more precious was coming. The family gathered at the hospital and were allowed to go into the room with the parents-to-be. In a short while we were ushered back into the waiting room where the rest of the night would be spent waiting, pacing, napping, eating stuff from the vending machines and clock watching. Finally, in the wee hours of Christmas morning the doctor came to say: "The wait is over – the time has come for her to be delivered – a fine baby girl – a Christmas baby." A collective sigh of relief came from all of us. We had a new baby girl – a Christmas Baby. Just like that one so long ago.
Dear God, Thank you for continuing to have faith in us, your children. Please bless this child and all children as you blessed the Baby Jesus. Amen.
A LITTLE HELP
…do not keep needy eyes waiting…
do not add to the troubles of an angry mind
nor delay your gift to a beggar.
Sirach 4: verses 1 & 3
Oxford Annotated Bible
"Can you help me," he asks from where he sits on the beach
been here three days
car won’t run
I want to go home
I look at him. I see pale eyes, a pinched face, uncombed hair and rumpled clothing,
"come with me," I say
wipes sand from his trousers
walks with me near the water’s edge
We enter a restaurant
"Prepare a sandwich for my friend," I command
The cook says, "Ma’am, we see people like him in here every day."
"Fix him lunch son," I reply.
"It’s not like I’m buying him a car."
Dear God, Help us to see those in need around us. Help us to be kind to those around us. Amen.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Sunday School, at the tender age of ten
God is color blind,
Here we are black
and white, and all
When we get
it won’t be
we will not
we will all
God, I know some of the things they taught me weren’t well thought out. One thing is clear: I really don’t know what to expect, and if you really are good, and kind, and true, it will all turn out just fine, no matter what they said; no matter what color I am, what side of the closet I’m on, or how many closets I’ve lived in. I trust you’ll help us figure it out one step at a time, and not let what we expect stop us from seeing what is, or get in the way of our being authentic. Help us expect good things, and live with love. Amen.
CREATING A MOMENT
Dorothy Poole Spurr
I am come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.
Each Fall when I drive by Crescent Court I remember the first time I actually drove through it, down the hill, all the way to Grinstead Drive. It was in early October, 2004. A few days earlier I had reminded Dr. Henlee Barnette that the flu shot clinic at church would be the following Wednesday and offered to give him a ride. So that next Wednesday, after receiving our shots we decided not to stay for supper since neither of us had made a reservation. It was one of those golden Autumn days, when the clear blue skies and the slanting rays of the sun make all of earth’s colors seem deeper and more vibrant.
As I drove up Frankfort Avenue toward Stilz, my usual route to Dr. Barnette’s house, he said, "Dorothy, don’t go up that far, turn at this next street." On entering Crescent Court I saw a scene that could have been designed for a movie set in 1904! My first response was to exclaim, "Oh, I love this!" Dr. Barnette simply said, "I thought you’d like it."
Driving slowly, I stopped the car several times to look more carefully at the large, closely spaced, middle-class, family homes. Though most were similar in style and period, each was distinctive. With just a few exceptions, they were substantial, two or three story, frame, with clapboard siding, many having scalloped or fish scale shingles on the upper levels, gables and dormers. All had a front porch with rounded columns. There were quite a few with wrap-around porches. I remember most vividly the colors of the houses. They were in pale, muted, various shades of green, blue, yellow, tan, or grey, trimmed in white. There were no two house colors exactly alike, but all seemed to be part of a perfect, harmonious whole. I thought, "These houses are cared for, even cherished." The casually parked cars and recycling bins in front told me that people do live there now.
Looking back on that day I call it my, "Crescent Court Moment," with thanks to a thoughtful servant of God who told me to take another way home.
Father, We thank you for giving moments of abundance in the ordinary circumstances of life. Grant that we may be creators of such moments for others. Amen
MORE THAN SIMPLE
Be fruitful and multiply…
Several years ago I read this statement in a Chinese fortune cookie, "We were not put here just to survive but to create."
That captures some of the meaning of the modern Christmas. I was once a part of a religious community that didn’t believe in celebrating any of the various liturgical holidays such as Christmas or Easter, because the early church didn’t do that.
But the Christmas story and even the advent of Santa Claus have inspired millions of people to create music, paintings, drama, and books, just to name a few of the creative endeavors. The giving of gifts has boosted many an economy and fed many workers’ families. There’s a lot of creative energy, and I give thanks for it.
Since we’re talking about expectations this Advent, I imagine members of the early church, which met in homes and practiced the simple commands of loving God and the neighbor, would be amazed at the extravaganzas that modern day churches promote during this season. They would have been awed by the gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages and the ever increasing repertoire of Christmas music. But they shouldn’t have been surprised. Didn’t Jesus tell them they "would perform even greater works?" (John 14:11) All of these artful creations act to glorify God and the Son, and God is at work in all these activities.
So, while we understand that the gospel is really very simple and God’s demands on us are modest (Love God, love your neighbor, act justly, love mercy), we celebrate those who thrill us with their gifts of beautiful music, writing, architecture, painting, drama, and the wide variety of worship experiences
Thanks be to God who inspires us in finding creative ways to embrace and find meaning in the spiritual aspects of life. Amen.
GOD LOVES EVERYONE
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
1 John 4:7
My ability to find God in the lives of immigrants and natives of various countries has deepened my faith in God. I grew up with children and grandchildren of German, Scandinavian and French fur-trader immigrants. I also knew Native Americans from Mandan and Sioux Indian tribes.
My family and community taught me God loved people from all backgrounds. The first time I had a visual lesson that not everyone worshiped as my family did was when I saw a cross near an Indian church that had four arrows stuck in it. My parents told me the Indians worshiped God in a different way than my Baptist family did. That image of the cross with arrows has influenced my idea of God’s inclusive love all my life. When I did my Ph.D. nutrition research in India, I worked with Hindu and Muslims researchers and saw their love of the God(s) they knew.
Recently, I taught a Sunday School lesson to children whose parents are Karen members, refugees from Burma. I emphasized that God loved children who had different color hair, skin, clothes and who ate different foods. After a Bible story and activities on that theme, we had a play time. One boy left his puzzle, poked me, and showed me a green goldfish cracker. I said "Yes, God loves boys who like green goldfish." Another boy pointed to the red shirt he was wearing. I said "Yes, God loves boys who wear red shirts." I like to think this is helping them know God’s love is universal.
God, thank you for your inclusive love. Help me to continue to see God in a variety of people. Amen.
She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
At present we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but one day we shall see clearly, like face to face. My knowledge now is partial; but it will be whole, like God’s knowledge of me. There are three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of the three is love.
1 Corinthians 13: 11-13
It’s November –
LONG after blooms, colors, new life have faded…
Just as my Spirit, my laughter had faded.
It’s Soon to be Thanksgiving.
But how can I feel thankful - Be thankful
For the emptiness of two lives gone – Gone TOO soon.
I cry for hope, for assurance.
Exhausted, I drag home from school –
My eyes cast downward.
Somehow – But for a split second, I gaze upward –
Maybe just to steady my step…
But there – Waving at me from old, tired hydrangeas –
I SEE- Two, new, vibrant blue hydrangeas – Side by side.
But – IT’S NOVEMBER ! !
Blooms aren’t supposed to BE in November! ?
So – like Thomas – I touch.
Yes – they ARE real - Alive. Truly present.
Such a Grace - That I actually noticed –
With my eyes, AND with my heart.
For me, a gift, an assurance – A miracle.
Life, as my soul was Crying, Dying.
Two blue hydrangeas –
Blue, the color of heaven.
Two young, blue hydrangeas Side by side
Smiling, Waving at Me – In November.
Assurance! Assurance of Faith, Hope, Love. Most of all, Love. Love that never dies.
Heavenly God. We do wait expectantly for many things. Some big, some small; some inconsequential, some life-changing. Sometimes the wait is short, sometimes it seems interminable. We are grateful that you understand about waiting and that you wait side by side with us. Often we are puzzled. We do not see clearly or understand and lose faith, lose hope. We are grateful that you are patient with our impatience; that you send assurance. Assurance that helps us have faith and to have hope. Assurance of love so great that you sent your own son. Assurance that love IS the greatest of all and that it endures.Amen.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."
These four verses follow twenty previous verses about how God has targeted, tormented and abandoned the writer. The book of Lamentations poetically grieves over the destruction of Jerusalem. The writer struggles to come to terms with all that has been lost. It seems that everything has been taken away from him. Yet these four verses are a statement of faith and hope.
There was a time in my life where I could quote the writer’s lament as my own: "He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is," the author writes in verses 16-17. These words bring to mind the summer of 2004.
On the night of July 13th, during a power outage, our house caught fire and was badly damaged. Late in the afternoon on July 14th, my best friend Jenny Goodhue and my friend Sam Adams were killed in a car accident in Kansas. So on July 15th, I found myself cowering in the literal and figurative ashes of the life I knew, unable to come to terms with what had been lost.
In many ways I will never "recover" from these events. I suspect the writer of Lamentations never did either. Verse 20 says "My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me."
But I have found in the nearly ten years that have passed since that dreadful summer, that although my soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me, I have not lost my faith. I certainly have not found God to be unfaithful. I have found God to be a constant companion in these years of grief. Indeed it is not my faith that surprises me; it is the faithfulness God shows to us. God’s mercies are new every morning. I have felt God beside me and closer to me than ever before and I know that
God continues to grieve with me, ever faithfully.
Thank you God for loving us so much that our broken hearts break yours. Great is your faithfulness and you are greatly to be praised. Amen.
Give us this day our daily bread…
…That we may share it with others…
I was 22, fresh out of college, and like every other graduate, looking for full-time work. I learned of a Social Work opening at Central State Mental Hospital in Norman, OK and decided that could give me some good experience.
Though I do not remember the name of the Director of Social Services, I clearly remember the first thing he said, glancing over my application and resume.
"I have only known one other person with that last name – Mrs. Schmidt. She owned a bakery and helped feed our family during the depression. We may not have had much to eat, but we always had bread – thanks to Mrs. Schmidt’s willingness to run an account for us."
Yes, that was my grandmother.
And, yes, I do remember calling her to thank her for the loaves of bread that helped launch my career as a Social Worker.
I did not know what to expect walking into the interview – but I can tell you –
I never expected to land my first full-time job based on a giving grandmother, who "paid it forward," baking bread for those who needed it, almost 40 years earlier!
For the gift of Christ’s birth and for family, both living and departed, we thank you, God!
I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you….In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary…And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God…
Luke 1:3, 26; 2:13
Whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin is irrelevant to the Christmas story or to my faith. But the angels are real. Angels come and go throughout the Bible narrative frequently. Angels not only appear to Mary and the shepherds, but they guide Joseph’s escape to Egypt and instruct him when to return. After the period of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness the angels again "appeared and looked after him."
We talk about guardian angels and wonder where the guardian angels were when bad things happen to good people. Admittedly, the presence of these angels in our lives is a mystery, but it’s refreshing to hear the doctor Luke speak with such certainty about their appearance. Also, in the book of Acts, Luke doesn’t hesitate to speak of angels and gives them credit for freeing Peter from prison. Amy Grant’s song "Angels" describes Peter’s experience and resonates with my feelings. And who does not find inspiration from the angel Clarence in "It’s a Wonderful Life?"
Angels are another example of the spiritual aspect of our life that we often neglect because we get so wrapped up with the metrics of life – what we can measure and count.
One of the more memorable funerals I attended this past year was Nolan Howington’s during which two of his sons sang one of his favorite tunes, "Angel Band." "Oh bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home." It’s romanticized, but the sentiment speaks to our being surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses and the angel band.
Dear God, Thank you that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Amen.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
The faithfulness of our Lord amazes me in my walk with him as I look at my life. There have been many times I walked into experiences which challenged my faith - some difficult, but as I went through those times, they became invitations to respond to the love and faithfulness of our Lord. I realize the whole of my life is full of His surprises wrapped up with an "I told you so". Christ has taught me that faith is action and when I doubt, I look back and remember those who taught me of God’s faithfulness in my life - a certainty of His everlasting love and care which I want to share with others. What then did I expect to see? The gift of faithfulness which draws me to those who are followers of Christ who encourage one another, listen, share the gospel message and walk in faithfulness.
Father God, Maker of the universe, help me to be
faithful in all that you ask me to do and be. Amen
WALKING TO SCHOOL…
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
These words came to me during Advent 1996, a few years after I felt I could no longer find fellowship with this church or any other. Though I have since learned I was wrong, the poem retains a place in my experience of this season of preparation.
Walking To School in Early December Dark, in Morning
You, Above All,
know I’ve lost
my former faith.
But at this time
of year I find
to address Your
I do believe in deep blue.
I trust the moon.
I feel the frost.
I welcome every
child into our world.
And despite my lapse
I am quite glad
that at least one birth
caught our fancy
long enough to reveal
some hope beyond
God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder the source of which is beyond all reason.
Prayer from Dag Hammarskjöld. Markings. Trans. Leirf Sjöoberg and W.H. Auden. New York: Knopf. 1964