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Lectionary Notes for First Sunday after Christmas Day, Year A

Readings for First Sunday after Christmas, 12/29/13:
Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 2:13-23

Isaiah 63:7-9:
Isaiah can pack a lot into a few short verses. "I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord." Will you? What are the gracious deeds of God in your own life?"It was no messenger or angel but [God's] presence that saved them." Excellently said. God came as God's own self to save us. We see that in Christ's coming to earth, but even more generally speaking, we can say that God throughout the scriptures is always directly involved with the people. A hands-on God. No intermediaries will do what God can do and does do.Psalm 148:
I like Psalms that are simple and clear in their focus: Praise God, everything and everyone. It is a reminder to me, to us, in our worship preparations, to remember what is our focus: Praise God, everything and everyone. Sometimes we try so hard for something fantastic that we lose focus on why we put together s…

A Sung Communion Liturgy for Christmas Eve

A Sung Communion Liturgy for Christmas Eve (Tune: GREENSLEEVES)
Lift up your hearts unto the Lord. Sing unto God your praises. We gather on this holy night. We gather at this table.   Lift, lift your hearts up high! Sing praise to God, and glorify! Praise, praise, the Prince of Peace, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
God breathed in us the breath of life. God gave the gift of Eden. We turned away and sin was born; We sought for greener gardens. Lift, lift your hearts up high! Sing praise to God, and glorify! Praise, praise, the Prince of Peace, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
God called to us from age to age through messengers and prophets, When we would not our hearts give way, the Word-made-flesh God sent us. This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; Haste, haste to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
O Holy God of power and might! Hosanna in excelsis! Blessed be the one who in your name comes! Hosanna in the highest! This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds gu…

Lectionary Notes for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings for Fourth Sunday in Advent, 12/22/13:
Isaiah 7:10-16, Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25

Isaiah 7:10-16:
"Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?" This is such a uniquely worded statement - an expression of exasperation from Isaiah, perhaps. I bet we do wear God out sometimes, with all our antics.Ahaz doesn't want to put God to the test, which is, I guess, how we might feel in a similar situation. We're afraid of testing God. But who better to withstand the test? We're so afraid of being angry at God, questioning of God, demanding of God. We're so afraid it is as if we don't think God can withstand all of our emotions. That would not make for a very powerful God, would it? So test God, if you need to. Ask for signs and directions. God is up to the test."Emmanuel." God with us. So simple, so much meaning."before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good . . ." Intere…

Sermon, "Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully," Luke 1:46-55, Luke 2:8-15

Sermon 12/15/13 Luke 1:46-55, Luke 2:8-15
Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully
            It might sound strange to say, but of our four Advent Conspiracy themes, the one I find the most challenging, personally, is this week’s: Worship Fully. I spend most of my time planning and leading worship. This week, Pastor Aaron and Laurel and I sat down to do some worship planning. And so here, in the midst of Advent, we were planning for January, and Lent, and Easter, and even worship themes through the end of June. It can be a little disorienting. And it can be a little challenging, while leading worship to actually just worship. One of my favorite things about pastoring at Liverpool as part of a team is that I have regular opportunities to not preach. Preaching is one of my favorite things about ministry, but I’ve found that regularly having a week where I’m not preaching helps me prepare spiritually better for the weeks I am preaching. On top of that, I’m blessed by Aaron and Laurel and their in…

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings for Third Sunday in Advent, 12/15/13: 
Isaiah 35:1-10, Luke 1:46b-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Isaiah 35:1-10:
"the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly." Can you picture the way crocuses boldly shove up through the snow at the first hint of spring time? (I hope you live where there are crocuses!) It really is a vision of hope and life after a long, cold winter. Imagine, then, hope and life springing forth from the desert. That sharp contrast of color in the midst of a sea of uniformity, where it is not expected.Opposites - did you ever have an 'opposite day' when you were young, where everything you said meant the exact opposite of the expected meaning? That is Isaiah's vision here: blind see. deaf here. lame leap. the desert streams. dry is wet. When God come, everything is completely changed, totally altered by the experience of God."Make firm the feeble knees . . . [God] will come and save you." Go…

Sermon, "Advent Conspiracy: Give More," John 1:1-18

Sermon 12/8/13 John 1:1-18
Advent Conspiracy: Give More

In my premarital counseling sessions, I sometimes use a resource called The Five Languages of Love, by Gary Chapman. Chapman argues that one of the reasons why we struggle in relationships is because we don’t realize that we’re speaking different languages from the people we love, and so we don’t realize that they’re telling us they love us, and they don’t realize that we’re telling them that we love them. We say, “I love you,” in different languages, Chapman insists, and only one of the five languages he describes is based on verbal communication. The languages of love he outlines are Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, and Gift Giving. My mom first introduced me to this book, after she’d been introduced to it by her pastor. She figured that between her four kids and herself, each one of us spoke in a different “love language.” And so while Todd, who understands Words of Affirmation best, might have…

Sermon, "Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less," Matthew 6:19-24

Sermon 12/1/13 Matthew 6:19-24
Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less

            This Advent, our theme for worship is Advent Conspiracy. The Advent Conspiracy is a movement started by some pastors a few years ago who felt like they were somehow missing Christmas – that the folks they served were missing Christmas – that our whole culture was missing Christmas. They felt that the way we prepare for Christmas would set us up for nothing but a giant letdown when Christmas day arrived. And so they crafted their Advent Conspiracy. They said, “We all want our Christmas to be a lot of things. Full of joy. Memories. Happiness. Above all, we want it to be about Jesus. What we don't want is stress. Or debt. Or feeling like we "missed the moment". Advent Conspiracy is a movement designed to help us all slow down and experience a Christmas worth remembering. But doing this means doing things a little differently. A little creatively. It means turning Christmas upside down.” You’ve often heard…

Lectionary Notes for Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings for Second Sunday in Advent, 12/8/13:
Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

Isaiah 11:1-10:
The peaceable kingdom. This is one of my favorite passages from Isaiah. From the Bible really. We need a vision like this today, don't we? How would you describe your vision of peace? What does God's kingdom look like to you? What is your peace-picture?"a should shall come out from the stump" - good imagery. After 9/11, I preached on this passage for my preaching class in seminary and visualized what life might come out of the 'stump' - the wreckage of the twin towers and Pentagon. New life coming out of destruction and wreckage. I think we can ask all the time, not just after disaster - what life can come from the destruction we see? "He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth." - another good image. Not with a weapon of pain and physical violence, but with words of judgment, words that bring justice and equity to…

Reflections on a Black Friday

I remember how much fun my best friend in high school and I used to have taking my mom to work early on Black Friday, and then hitting the sales. We were more in the market for $10 deals, rather than big ticket electronics, but we always had a great time, and felt very adventurous. 

I know many folks are opting not to shop today (I'm too lazy to get up that early anymore!) and were very upset to see all the shopping deals yesterday. I get that. I delight in being able to spend the time surrounded by family on Thanksgiving, the chance to, for one precious day, cut away from the relentless pace of our world as a collective body, and say, "There are much more important things to do." I feel sad that we are eating away even at that small practice. 

But, I also think the issue is bigger than when we choose to shop, and so we need to think carefully about how we speak about what we see happening. I'm at a point in my life now where if I miss the sale price on Black Friday fo…

Lectionary Notes for First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings for First Sunday in Advent, 12/1/13:
Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

Isaiah 2:1-5:
"they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they study war any more." ah, I long for the day when this vision will be made plain on earth. It certainly retains timeliness, doesn't it? This is one of the verses (along with Micah 6:8) that graces the rotunda of the General Board of Church and Society's United Methodist building in Washington, D.C. ...also, about the above verse: notice that the image is not just of peace, but of turning weapons into tools, tools that help growth and creation and life. Non-war, Non-fighting is not enough. Proactive, pro-creative is where God calls us."The Lord's house . . . shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it." This is a unique visual - if you think of God as mountain-top and na…

A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season of Advent

A Sung Communion Liturgy for the Season of Advent (Tune: VENI EMMANUEL)
The Lord be with you as we gather here Lift up your hearts unto the Lord your God. For it is right to give God our praise. Let us prepare our hearts for coming days: Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
You created all things and called them good, Made us like you, but we cast off your love. You set us free and claimed us as yours, Through sage and prophet spoke to us your word. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O Holy God of power and might, Bless’d be the one who comes in your name, Hosanna in the highest, God! Hosanna in excelsis. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Holy are you and blessed is your Son, Jesus, the Light, your presence here with us. You sent him in the fullness of time, He came to preach good news to all. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
And on the night he was betrayed, Christ took the bread, and unto you gave thanks He broke the bread…

Lectionary Notes for Reign of Christ, Year C

Readings for Reign of Christ Sunday, 11/24/13:
Jeremiah 23:1-6, Luke 1:68-79, Colossians 1:11-20, Luke 23:33-43

Jeremiah 23:1-6:
Woe to shepherds who lead God's sheep astray! That's a warning to those of us who are clergy, but more generally to any of us who have power to lead and abuse it. Certainly, following November's elections, this can be a word of warning to our leaders, especially those who say they lead out of their religious beliefs.Out of David - a righteous branch is raised up - this is good language we'll see again in Advent.the name: "The Lord is our Righteousness." Our righteousness is not our own doing, our own making - God is our righteousness.Luke 1:68-79:
Instead of the usual Psalm, we have this ‘prophecy’ spoken by Zechariah at the event of John’s circumcision, when his mouth is opened, after his silence for doubting God’s promise of a child.Note again the reference to David - emphasis of the family line, the lineage of Christ's "king…

Sermon, "Immediately: Jesus on the Water," Mark 6:45-52

Sermon 11/18/13 Mark 6:45-52
Jesus on the Water

            This week I took a 56-hour trip to Indiana and back to see my brother Todd in his first grad school theatre production, Anna in the Tropics. Before seeing his show on Friday night, we sat down for dinner, and he told my mother and me about different exercises he has to do in his classes. For example, in his movement class, he and his classmates have been working on physical expressions of emotions. They spent one class session practicing different types of crying – sobbing, wailing, keening. In another, they had to jump into imaginary boxes that represented 9 different emotions and instantly embody that particular emotion – surprise, disgust, anger, joy, and so on. In another class, they’ve been studying an acting method that involves trying to make your acting as “honest” as possible. And so the actors have to practice being as honest with each other as possible in class. This resulted in a classmate of Todd’s weeping while tal…