Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 25

God the Pipe Bomb
by Alys Willman

You thought God was an architect, now you know.
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames
—Jason Isbell, “24 Frames” 

You thought God was an architect.  Isn’t that what most of us are taught? We bring God down to our size, try and fit God into the limits of our own understanding. The Great Creator of the universe is reduced to a dude with glasses hunched over a drafting table. The power of the One who surpasses all understanding is focused on helping me secure a nice parking spot.

The truth is, most of probably never stop to consider how powerful God actually is. And that means we reduce our idea of God’s work to the things we consider reasonable.

This Lenten season, I am coming to believe in a God who is capable of things I cannot even begin to understand, a God who is waiting to create through me. I am coming to believe in God the Pipe Bomb. 

On Ash Wednesday, I taped a piece of paper over my prayer space. It says, “What if God is capable of anything?” When I sit with this prospect sometimes, I hear a voice whispering to me, saying things so crazy, so impossible, and yet so tantalizingly exciting I can barely stay still. What if you spent today writing poetry instead of working? What if you learned to juggle? Auditioned for a band? 

Inevitably, these whispers are met with a clamor of protests from the other voice in my head (the one who sounds like my mother, if I’m being honest). Who’s going to pay for this? Are you really going to sit around writing mediocre poems, or playing guitar, instead of picking the kids up from soccer practice? What will people think? These voices sound suspiciously to me like the ones who tempted Jesus in the desert. This Lenten season, I am trying to tell those nagging, critical voices to get behind me.  They have served their purpose and now, well, time’s up. 

I am beginning to believe that my wildest dreams and talents might just be  a gift straight from God.  I am asking myself how I would spend my time if I really believed that. Maybe, just maybe, chasing my dreams could be an act of worship. Maybe writing, singing and creating would be acts of service instead of  guilty pleasures that must be earned and negotiated. 

As we move into spring, my heart is restless at the prospect of a second chance. The resurrection is coming. May we be open to it, ready for God to burn away everything we have built that’s all for show, and trusting that something amazing  will rise from the ashes. 

Prayer: God, I confess I put limits on Your power. You send me gifts, and I send them right back. I am sorry. Obliterate me with Your love, burn away my small self and flow through me, that my life may be a prayer to You. 

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 19

by Daniel Malec

Mark 12:30-31 (NIV):  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

As I reflect on this scriptural reference from Matthew, I am struck by the order that Jesus has laid out these commandments.  Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength comes first. I am coming to realize that these commandments are likely laid out in this order for a reason.  Too often in my life, I make personal commitments to forgive and move on, yet my heart and mind seem to hold on and not let go. This leads to more pain and resentment and it seems the cycle goes on even though my intention is to let it go.

I find myself in the midst of this cycle now. Since we moved into our house over a year a half ago, we have been embroiled in conflict with our next- door neighbor. Throughout this journey of discord, pain and resentment, I have experienced tests to my faith like almost none other.  What does it mean to love our neighbor when it feels like she is constantly attacking us and making false accusations against? How do I practice forgiveness when what I really feel is resentment? Why am I still holding on to so much pain and anger when I keep trying to forgive and move on? This conflict has cut to the core of who Alys and I strive to be.  We desire deeply to be good neighbors – to help build a healthy and loving community. Instead it seems that our life commitments are an insult and an affront to our neighbor.

In my conflict resolution work in schools, I often encounter students that appear to be dripping with resentment.  I often share with them the saying that is attributed to the Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  My expectation often is that they will grasp the harm they are causing to themselves and then let go of the resentment. I have found through my own journey with pain and resentment, that this is far easier said than done.  I have gained more compassion and empathy for my students and their burden of carrying resentment.

While I have been trying to forgive and move on from this conflict with our neighbor, I continue to be caught holding the burning coal in my hand.  I can’t seem to let it go. I believe what is happening is that I am trying to do this according to my time and not God’s. My focus should be on recognizing the pain and resentment that I feel and to offer it up to God.  Once I do that, then I believe my duty is to focus on the first commandment so that God can show me how to forgive and love my neighbor according to God’s plan and not my own.

One thing we have known for sure throughout this journey, is that God is in the midst of all of this.  God did not lead us around the country for a year and have us settle next to this particular neighbor for nothing.  There is something in this that is far bigger than us, but I have not been able to understand it yet. I think that is a bit of the point.  God has invited us to trust, period. God has not provided us with the answers to all of our questions, but if I truly believe God and God’s invitation to mercy and justice, then I have to believe that the answers will come according to God’s time.  God is faithful … all of the time 🙂

Prayer:
Dear God,
During this Lenten season, I want to make room for you in my heart and mind.  I want to make space for you, but I want to be honest that you will be sharing space with some unsavory thoughts and emotions.  I offer those thoughts and emotions to you as well. I patiently wait for you to transform them into instruments for your peace and justice.  Transform my heart and mind into a sanctuary for you and your divine light. In Jesus’ name I pray.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 14

by Sarah Sumners

Corinthians 12: 9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In the wake of general conference, I find myself experiencing two disparate, yet confounded emotions: loneliness and vulnerability.  Feelings of hope, safety and security have been giving way to exposure, sadness and disappointment — manifesting as uncontrolled weeping and uncomfortable weakness.

But these feelings crowd my thoughts, serving to distract and distance me from God and from those around me, spurring on my discontent. My loneliness persists when I create barriers that separate me from God and from others. Instead, how powerful might I be if only I can risk showing my weaknesses as an offering of love?

The words of Paul and Timothy in 2 Corinthians offer me the instruction I need to understand God’s love for me, telling me to be content in my weakness. If I can delight in hardship and remain vulnerable in the eyes of God, then I can truly receive God’s love, freeing me from my unending search for love from others.

Today I will risk exposure, venturing to love others as God loves me, fully and unconditionally.

Prayer: Heavenly One,
We ask for Your forgiveness for ways in which we have filled our time and thoughts with human endeavors. Guide us towards Your salvation and use us to create space for others to join us so that they may experience the bounty of Your unending grace and mercy. Help us to expose our weakness as a witness to Your unconditional love. In Your name we pray, Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 7

Make Room for God
by Joe Gunby

Adapted from the “An Invitation to Lenten Practices” from the Oconee Street UMC Ash Wednesday service on March 6, 2019.

Luke 6:12 One of those days, Jesus went out to the mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.

In Christian tradition there are three modes of prayer: confession, assurance and petitions. These are central to what Christian prayer is all about – ways of reconnecting with God one-and-one and corporately. These practices of prayer are ancient, but they still make so much sense today.

In confession, we let go of those things we regret – things we are sorry about. We let go of them and let them slip out into the past. It feels really good to unburden our hearts in that way. In Christian belief, any time we say we’re sorry to God, we are forgiven. Assurance is when we’re reminded by the Holy Spirit that God will never abandon us. In prayers of petition, we let go of the worry in our own hearts and entrust them to God. 

Instead of giving something up this Lent, make room for God by making room for prayer. Designate room in your calendar when you will pray. Create physical room in your home where you will pray. And develop spiritual room in your heart and mind for what you will pray. Make room where you can ask God to be with you and hold you near, drowning out the noise of the things that bother you. 

Prayer: For the times when we have been too busy for you Lord, forgive us. For the times when we have filled up our lives with things, so much that we have no room for others, forgive us. For the times when we have been to busy to let our loved ones know how much we care … and to put ourselves in the world for the common good, forgive us. Help us be open to your nudge this season, to adjust to your time for us. 

Sermon: The Folly of the Cross

Church means many things to different people. But Paul keeps returning the focus of the church to the cross.

But the cross is often used by people use for their own personal gain. Paul warns about this. The cross is not something that can be humanized. It’s a gift from God that allows us to see the world beyond a human perspective.

In the midst of our path in the world, God has placed the stumbling block of the cross. When we encounter it, we might have to do something others deem foolish, but is right in the eyes of God.

Sermon: The Folly of the Cross

“The Folly of the Cross”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Feb. 3, 2019

Listen to The Word in Song: “What the Lord Has Done In Me

Sermon: Annunciation

Terrible things happen, and sometimes they happen for no reason. But something else is just as true — sometimes goodness cannot be stopped.

Jesus was born into this world against all odds, but couldn’t be stopped. He lived his life and was even killed, but he still could not be stopped. And if we want to follow Jesus, nothing will stop us. This is the miracle of the human heart.

It can easy to believe that our failings are too enormous to be overcome. But God is doing something bigger that we can imagine within us. Every one of us is called, every day, to believe that we are expressions of God.

The good news of “love beyond measure” walks side-by-side with the violence of society.

“Annunciation” by The Rev. Beth Long

“Annunciation”
Sermon by The Rev. Beth Long
Luke 1: 26-38
Sunday, Dec. 9

Sermon: God With Us

As the Advent season begins, it’s a good time to reflect on how we see God. Early Gnostics struggled to see God with human qualities? Humans are so messy, limited and full of fault.

As a human, Jesus transformed the image of God, but it was still difficult for many to grasp — and still is to this day. How can Christ be both human and divine? It leads many people to “Christian-splain” things — creating images of God and how God would act in certain situations.

But it’s really not that complicated. When we look into the faces of other people, we look into the face God. I can only imagine that when Mary kissed the face of Jesus when he was born, she was in awe and curious as to how he will change the world. We should feel that awe in each encounter we have with others.

“God With Us” by Dr. Jodie Lyon

“God With Us”
Sermon by Dr. Jodie Lyon
John 1:1-14
Dec. 2, 2018 • First Sunday of Advent

Listen to the Choir Anthem: “Come, Emmanuel!

Sermon: The Gift You See is the Gift You Get

The “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) is often one of the stories people who are disaffected with Christianity use to criticize our faith. And at a surface glance, that criticism is warranted. What kind of master gets mad when his servant attempts to save and preserve what is given to him?

But the parable is not about saving or producing wealth. Rather, the parable is about how we see God. In the story, the master does not get mad at his third servant until the servant communicates his mistrust and fear of the master. How do we see God? Do we see God as vengeful master, or as a loving Creator?

How we use God’s gifts relies on how we see God.

“What You See is What You Get”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Matthew 25: 14-30
Oct. 14, 2018

Sermon: The Great Commandment(s)

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Jesus is very clear in Mark 12:28-34 what is the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” But he doesn’t stop there. Even though the questioner was asking for the “greatest commandment,” Jesus adds another law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love is a word that is used so often that it often loses its value. But it is the central word that Jesus uses — “Love your God. Love your neighbor.” If we’re loving genuinely, we will constrain ourselves beyond the stated law. If we’re living in the love of Jesus, not only will we not steal from our neighbor, but we will make sure our neighbor has adequate food.

One aspect of love is listening, even those with whom we disagree. In society today, it’s so hard to constrain our own opinions for even a moment. “Love constrains us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.” If we are to hear Jesus, we must hear others.

The love Jesus commands us to practice is not a love of convenience. But through God and with the love of God, we have the power to practice such immense love.

“The Great Commandment(s)”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 12: 28-34
Sept. 30, 2018

Sermon: The Shouting Outside

As Jesus and his disciples were heading to Jericho, a blind man stops Jesus and asks for healing. The disciples are frustrated with the man and “rebuke” him.

Why would the disciples be so upset? By this time, they should understand how Jesus operates, healing all who need healing. They are focused on the destination, but Jesus is focused on the path.

We are much like the disciples. How often do we ignore human suffering that gets in the way of our path? Walking by the homeless person in the way of our path to work? Not listening to the person of a different political bent who gets in the way of our path to like-minded discussion. Ignoring the person who needs emotional support who gets in the way of our daily tasks.

God calls us to follow the path of Jesus. But it’s not an easy path. It’s a path in which we will encounter pain and suffering. Will we walk the path like Jesus?

“The Shouting Outside”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 10: 46-52
Sept. 23, 2018