Archive for November 2011
Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!
I have a friend who set her clock for 4 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving so she could get to the stores early before all the bargains were gone. I don’t think that is what this text means in telling us to “keep awake.”
This was the assigned reading for last Sunday, though it doesn’t sound much like Thanksgiving or Christmas. It is an Advent reading that tries to call us to a time of preparation. The church often has read texts about the “second coming” of Jesus in this season. This is one of those. Jesus is telling his disciples to be alert because they never know when he might come to them.
The trouble, of course, is that perpetual vigilance is almost impossible. I was so glad when the Department of Homeland Security finally quit the color codes at the airport. After so many years of being “orange,” I was beginning to avoid drinking screwdrivers. It is like that sign on the side of the road, “Beware of Falling Rocks.” Have you ever tried to drive and do that? Just what would you do if a rock was about to fall on you? The only thing that sign seems to accomplish is raising anxiety and spoiling the trip.
Somehow, I just don’t believe that was Jesus’ intention here. His call to “stay awake” was a summons to be alert; to resist sleepwalking through life. The fundamentalists, and even some of Jesus’ original followers, seemed to believe that Jesus was coming back any day, and then time would end. To me, Jesus kept his promise on the Day of Pentecost and will ultimately keep his promise to all of us on the day our life ends.
In this season of hectic business, though, this passage is a good reminder that we need to keep alert to life; that is to the joys and pleasures and simple gifts that are ours. We never know which Christmas will be our last, so we ought to keep awake to the joy that is ours this year.
How would you observe this season if you knew it was your last Christmas? How would you treat your family and friends? Would you really buy all that , or want all that if you knew?
Well, don’t say you weren’t warned by Jesus.
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
I had purposely picked a secluded spot in Shoup Park—far away from the playground, under the trees, next to a stream. I was the only person in sight. My assignment was to be outside and to notice the way God was present in nature. I diligently “noticed” the beautiful leaves, the sound of the brook, the flight of the birds. As I wrote in my journal, I reveled in the beauty all around me and in the peacefulness of the setting. I closed my eyes and drifted into prayer.
Suddenly the stillness was shattered by the voice of a young girl: “This is a mystery. It is a very important mystery, and I am going to figure it out.” I opened one eye. About 100 yards away from was a little girl, about 5 or 6 years old, talking (loudly) to herself as she splashed her way down the middle of the stream, skirt hiked up above her knees, and looking very much like she was on a mission. Coming toward me, she kept repeating to herself: “This really is a mystery. Where does this water come from? I am going to explore until I find the source.”
By now, both my eyes were fully open and I glanced around nervously for a parent or a babysitter. No one seemed to be with her. Hers was a solo mission, apparently. My little mystery solver continued plowing her way through the water, and I became more anxious. Where were her parents? Where was she going to end up, if she kept following the stream to “the source”? Should I stop her? Should I go with her?
Quite unexpectedly, I found myself getting caught up in her quest. Here was a child unafraid of what she couldn’t see, fearless in her exploration of what lay ahead. She just kept plunging into the mystery, full speed ahead. I noticed a yearning stirring within: I, too, wanted to follow the water around the bend, to see what was just out of sight. I, too, wanted to be unafraid and in awe.
Just then, a slightly weary but cheerful father appeared (I got the impression that this was not the first time he had had to track his adventurous little girl). “Honey, remember you need to ask me before you take off out of my eyesight.”
“I know, Daddy, but there is this mystery and I had to follow it.”
He patiently listened to her explanations and helped her out of the stream, taking her hand as she chattered away, then guided her back to the playground on the other side of the park. I decided it was time to get back to my assignment, to see if I could notice God’s presence in this place. The more I tried, of course, the more I kept hearing the little girls voice, calling me to embrace the mystery. I had come to this place thinking I would find quiet and stillness, and instead had found an invitation to wonder.
Sometimes in the midst of our tasks and our assignments, something unanticipated breaks in. Sometimes that something comes in an unexpected form, like a child. As we begin this Advent season, we remember that it was the coming of a child that brought people into a new relationship with the Mystery, which is God. This Advent, be prepared to be surprised. Be prepared to be in awe. God is more than we ever imagined. God is here. And you never know who is being sent to remind us. Thanks be to God.
As we prepare for Thanksgiving, it is traditional to spend some time counting our blessings. It is a good thing to do, of course, for it reminds us of the many people and circumstances that give our lives meaning. It helps us to value what we have, and to, at least for a time, determine to not take these things for granted. We are happier when we are thankful.
Don Postema writes about gratitude in his book Space for God: Study and Practice of Spirituality and Prayer. In his essay, he gives us yet another reason to cultivate gratitude: as an answer to the hurtful emotions that sometimes creep into our lives and divide us He writes:
“…anger and avarice move us to competition, manipulation, grabbing, clawing. I see gratitude as just the opposite — receiving, encouraging, uniting people…Anger separates; gratitude unites. Greed claws to get; gratitude receives. Could we get rid of a lot of greed and anger if we were continually grateful for people in our families, dormitories, apartments, departments, churches? Making gestures of thanks could create more solidarity in our human relationships.”
Gratitude is a spiritual practice that not only makes us feel better, it somehow changes us — and the people around us. When we remember to give thanks, to others and to God, we focus our awareness on what we have instead of what we are missing. We begin to see, really see, the people in our lives, and they can feel it.
This Thanksgiving, let’s practice being “continually grateful” for the people around us, then express our gratitude out loud and see what happens. I think it will make a difference. Thanks be to God.
Click here for today’s 11-16-11 Newsletter. This week’s edition includes the results of Mission:1 as well has upcoming events and ideas for the Holidays.
Several years ago, when riots rocked Los Angeles, television stations provided round-the-clock coverage of the devastation. In one scene, a reporter actually was interviewing the looters as they fled with their haul from a department store. The reporter asked the first person what they had gotten, and she denied getting anything. A second person told the reporter that it was none of his “blankety-blank” business. The third person was much friendlier, though. He stopped and said, “Oh, I got some gospel music, ’cause I love Jesus!”
When I was a kid, my maternal grandmother used to come and stay with us for a month or so every summer. I remember one old gospel song she loved to hear was Stuart Hamblin’s “Until Then.”
My heart can sing, when I pause to remember
A heartache here is but a stepping stone
Along the trail that’s always winding upward
This troubled world is not my final home.
But until then my heart will go on singing
Until then with joy I’ll carry on
Until the day my eyes behold the city
Until the day God calls me home.
The last time my grandmother visited us, we all knew her life was nearing its end. She was a wonderful, country woman who lived her entire life in a wooden house that had never been painted, had no indoor plumbing, and was heated by only a fireplace and her stove, which always seemed to be filled with the best biscuits in the world. Like so many saints before her,Granny had a relentless optimism because she had been given an ultimate hope.
You may not feel like a saint right now because of all the troubles in your life. Somehow, our struggles often make us feel abandoned by God, but if you can’t understand anything else about the book of Revelation, remember these two things:
• Saints are not exempt from the suffering and pain of life,
• BUT we can live with relentless optimism if we never let go of God’s promise, which is our ultimate hope.
The question now is how will we live “Until Then”?
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
In my second year theology class at seminary, we were asked to come up with as many images of “God” as we could.
Father, Mother, Creator, King, Spirit, Companion, Shepherd, Redeemer; the metaphors were coming fast and furious, as we pulled from our various religious traditions. The one I remember best, however, was the one I had never heard before: the Space Between. We must’ve all looked blank, because the student who offered this image came up front to explain it further. First, he drew a picture on the whiteboard: two stick figures with a large space between them. Then he drew a double-headed arrow between the figures. “There,” he said, pointing to the arrow. “To me, that’s God. The energy or force that manages to connect people, that takes individuals who were isolated and brings them together. That’s what God is to me.”
I thought again of this student when I read these words in a poem by Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis:
I seek God in connection,
In the nexus of community.
I pray and celebrate the betweeness
That binds and holds us together.
What a dynamic view of God! Not as a personality “out there” but as an energy that brings people together, the Life Force that creates relationships. There is a place for this vision of God in our Christian tradition. Whenever Jesus calls us to care and serve others, he is calling us into holy connection. To serve others is to serve God; the movement we feel within us that compels us to act compassionately, is the movement of the Spirit. Likewise, when we come together to serve others, when we work together for the benefit of people we might never know, we find ourselves in the presence of something very holy. Our lives are more than they would have been if we stood alone; the act of serving with others, for others, is a sacred act. God is thus a verb, as well as a noun.
This coming Sunday, Nov. 6th, we will gather to “celebrate the betweeness that binds and holds us together.” We will eat together, sing together, pray together, and serve together. How blessed we are to have this opportunity! Thanks be to the Mystery – the Spirit – the Space Between.
Please join us for a unique opportunity
Come for Worship
Come for Service
Stay for Supper
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Redwood City, CA
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