Lenten Devotional: Saturday, April 20

By Dee Cole Vodicka

John and I thank God that we were led through the doors of Oconee Stree United Methodist Church! We have been so blessed by your warm and gracious welcome. You are so welcoming, in fact, that you allow a non-member to offer a Lenten reflection. Here goes!

In this season of Lent, I’m taking time to read and reflect on “An American Lent,” from the Repentance Project.  “The Repentance Project exists to encourage racial healing by communicating the systemic legacies of slavery, building relationships, and creating opportunities – through formation, repentance and repair – for a just future.” https://repentanceproject.org/

Each day, I’m challenged to read and reflect on the legacy of enslavement in the United States, and to repent on how this evil practice lives on in systems and structures that benefit me every day. I encourage you to sign up for their daily Lenten readings.

Then I started to think about other systems and structures that call out for justice, particularly the struggle to lift up and affirm the full personhood of my LGBTQ siblings. And, I’m thinking about my place in this struggle, and how to respond as a straight woman. It occurred to me that I might learn something by applying lessons from the civil rights movement for racial equality to the civil rights movement for LGBTQ equality, and that these lessons might also inform us at Oconee Street UMC as we consider “The Way Forward.”

I recently re-read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963. In it, he lays out a case for clergy, and all people of faith, to apply Jesus’ teachings to a movement demandingrecognition of the full personhood of African Americans. Please read these excerpts (and read the entire letter, when you have time), and then reflect on whether you see an application to other movements for civil rights.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

……

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

……

So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

……

And, speaking of people of faith who stood up and spoke out: Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.

Please pray with me in a prayer adapted from this week’s Repentance Project meditations:

God our creator and redeemer, you are holy and just. You love honesty and fairness. You embedded your image in all people.  I don’t know what to do with my failure to recognize this and my failure to act justly with all people – especially people who don’t look like me, or who identify differently from me, except to ask for your mercy and for the courage to be stretched to meet the challenges before me. May your will be done; your ways established; and your honesty, generosity, and freedom openly exchanged among your children —here in our town, in our state, and in our nation. Have mercy on me. Have mercy on us.

Sermon: Discerning the Body

Paul tells the Corinthians that if they are confident in their spirituality, it is OK to go ahead and eat with nonbelievers. It would be better to share in a meal rather than shun another person. Paul consistently tells the Corinthians it is more important to think of others, rather than think of what others may think of them. And we should treat others with dignity and respect out of love for them, and not so we will be recognized as good people.

As we discern our next steps as a church in regards to how we welcome and show love towards our LGBTQ friends and family, we should remember this advice from Paul. We need to reach out to those who need us, but ensure that we are serving them out of a place of love rather than self-righteousness.

Sermon: Discerning the Body

“Discerning the Body”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 10:23-33
March 31, 2019 • Fourth Sunday of Lent

Sermon: Running to Win

“The needs of the world are so great, that the only way to serve and love in the pattern of Jesus is that we require ourselves the same discipline that Jesus had … Before we rush to ensure that we are saving our own time, maybe we should pause for a moment and let God waste it for the sake of the Gospel.”

Sermon: Running to Win

“Running to Win”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
1 Corinthians 9: 19-27
March 24, 2019 • Third Sunday of Lent

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 31

by Carla Dennis

Matthew 6:5: And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be temped to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense God’s grace.

First of all, let me apologize. If you have ever received one of my voicemail messages, they are absolutely the worst and I know it! Imagine the most rambling piece of audible nonsense you’ve ever had the (un)pleasure of hearing. Yep, that’s my voicemails. Unfortunately, this awkward communication style has spilled into other aspects of my life – storytelling, joke telling, and especially saying prayers aloud.

I think excellent prayers. When I pray in my head, I feel so connected to God. The prayers just flow from my heart and it’s not unusual I’m brought to tears. Everything just seems so organic and authentic. But when I need to pray out loud, my brain takes over control from my heart. I overthink words and phrasing. I babble and sometimes even smile mid-prayer at my inadequacy of voicing my petitions. I often wonder, have I yet to fully develop that part of my brain that can appropriately put my feelings into words? It’s not that I’m worried about how my prayers are being judged by others or whether I said the “right” words, it’s more that I can’t seem to honor the feelings I have in my heart with the words that come out of my mouth.

This Lenten season has brought listening to God as a focus for Oconee Street, and frequently that’s accomplished through meditation and prayer. So what’s wrong with praying internally?  Absolutely nothing … as long as you’re not doing it because you’re embarrassed to be heard praying!

One of the strategies I’ve employed to help my external prayers be more meaningful is to write down what I want to pray about before I actually pray. The act of taking pen to paper allows my feelings to flow, and in fact, often generates additional reflections. Writing down simple concepts lets me look at the word and stirs up emotions and other thoughts. This concept works really well when praying out loud with kids as they, like us, are also uncertain about how to express their thoughts and feelings through prayer. Creating a prayer list helps prepare me to pray, but it also helps me hold myself accountable to truly pray for those who have asked for prayers in the last week.

Prayer is at the core of a relationship with Jesus, and as with any good relationship, regular communication is imperative in order to maintain it and grow from it. Therefore, if we want our kids to have a relationship with Jesus, we must look for opportunities to help them get comfortable with prayer aside from what they see and hear on Sundays. Whether it’s at mealtime, bedtime or anytime you see an emergency vehicle drive by, praying as a family is important.

This Lent, our family kept a routine of writing prayers using a Western Wall made of Legos. For those of you unfamiliar with the Western Wall, the Wall is a Jewish holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year, millions of people from all faiths and all countries journey to the wall to leave their prayers and petitions in the cracks and crevices of its massive limestone blocks. These written prayers are tucked in wherever space allows and represents voices of gratitude, adoration and desperation. The belief is that God’s divine presence filled the Temple built in the surrounding space many years ago and still rests upon the Western Wall. Once a year a local rabbi collects the notes and buries them in the nearby Mount of Olives.

Now while our Lego wall lacks the historic and divine presence of the Western Wall, it does provide a visual reminder that anytime can be prayer time. Life is so busy between work, school church and baseball that so much of our time is occupied. Rather than give something up for Lent, this is a way to support a more prayerful routine as a family – bringing ourselves as individuals and our family unit closer to God.

I’ll be honest – Matthew was a little confused at first and thought this was an opportunity to get ahead on his Christmas wishlist for Santa. But once we got past the whole praying-for-toys-petitions, I think everyone genuinely used it as a pause in their day to pray about what was on their heart. Of course, you can take written prayer beyond the world of Legos  and consider the spiritual habit of journaling, but similar to the small written notes, don’t make it too complicated! Simply write down what you’re saying to God, and write down what God’s saying to you.

Prayer: Dear God, there are times when the words I speak do not match the profound feelings in my heart. Please help me grow in my prayer routine and to remember that it’s not about the grand things I wish I could say. Whether written, oral or in my head, God, help me keep my prayers honest and simple.

Lenten Devotional: March 30

by Janet Frick

Luke 6:42: How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Things you don’t want to hear your 15-year-old half-screaming to you, in a panicked voice, while he drives on a highway for the first time: “What do you mean, glance over my shoulder? I can’t do that while I’m driving 55 miles per hour!”

In retrospect, I suppose it would have been good for me to verify that Colin understood how to safely change lanes before we were practicing driving on the loop for the first time. I had been giving little random driving lessons for a few years before that with the kids, pointing out pitfalls that can arise, and I am certain that many times, I had discussed the concept of our driving “blind spot” with the kids — that area just over our shoulders, where our mirrors and peripheral vision can’t see. It’s dangerous precisely because it’s so close to us that we forget we can’t see it. But a random lesson from mom, months earlier, is no substitute for understanding exactly *how* to deal with that particular issue, while you’re speeding down the road.

And so while driving that day on the loop, I was Colin’s extra set of eyes, to help him have confidence on when he could change lanes. When we got home, I demonstrated for him (in the safety of our driveway) how to do the quick over-the-shoulder glance, and then I stood outside the car so he could get a better feel for where that blind spot is precisely located. Once he realized how quick that “check the blind spot” glance could be, he felt a lot more relaxed about it.

As it turns out, driving is not our only blind spot. My intro psych students learn every fall that both of our eyes have literal blind spots — areas on the retina where we have no photoreceptors, because of where the optic nerve exits from the eye to travel to the brain. So theoretically, if you close one eye, you should have a small black spot in your field of vision. There are a couple of reasons why we don’t… for one thing, our eyes are constantly moving (even when we think we are holding them still, we still make little short scanning movements called saccades) and so our eyes don’t stay static long enough for us to become aware of that blind spot. But on top of that, our brain (which covers over so many of our shortcomings) helpfully “fills in” the missing information in our field of vision, so that what we see and perceive is a unified whole, even though it’s based on limited input because of that structural blind spot. (Here’s a helpful article for how to find your blind spot.)

 

That nerve-wracking day of driving practice out on the loop got me thinking about blind spots — how to discover we have them, and how to compensate for them. We don’t actually have to eliminate them, and in fact, in the two examples I’ve given here, we can’t. We can’t develop a wider angle of peripheral vision, and we can’t grow photoreceptors over our optic nerve. But we can discover we have them, and we can develop strategies for not being hindered by them.

First, how do we discover we have a blind spot? This can be tricky, because in so many areas of life, we don’t know what we don’t know. We may discover it through trial and error (a sharp car horn when we inadvisably try to change lanes on a multi-lane road) but more often, we can be told by trusted friends / loved ones with experience — not only more driving experience, but more life experience. I once received a gift of a sappy book of inspirational quotes, and most were forgettable but one stuck with me (original source unknown).

“If you want to know a person’s faults, go to those who love the person. They will not tell you, but they know.”

I believe we can discover our blind spots by listening to those who love us, by listening to those whose life experiences are different from ours, and by stepping outside of our comfort zones to live and love in the areas where God calls us.

And then, once we uncover some blind spots, what do we do next? Well, if we can’t eliminate them, we have to learn some new behaviors to compensate. It’s not easy to learn to glance over your shoulder while speeding down a highway, and in fact, that environment is not a good time to practice it for the first time. 🙂 But it gets easier with practice, to make that quick glance around us to see what we didn’t realize we couldn’t see; to be aware of things going on outside of our little incubated world; to learn how to live in harmony and community and mutual benefit with others around us who are also on their own unique journeys.

We can discover our blind spots, and learn ways of overcoming them, as we listen to God, and listen to the community of friends and loved ones that God has brought into our lives, walking (and riding) beside us.

Prayer: God, show me what I don’t know that I don’t know. And help me to find new ways of living, and loving, in better harmony with you, and with more awareness of the new eyes I need to better see the world around me. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 29

by Amanda Martin

Isaiah 42:24-43:7 (an incredibly reduced synopsis from The Message: 

But now, Gods Message, The God who made you in the first place.. The One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.  I’ve called your name. You’re mine. 
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you, When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, 
It won’t be a dead end
Because I am God, your personal God I WILL change the world for you, I’d sell the world to get you back.
You mean SO much More than you know
So, don’t be afraid.  I’ll take care of your offspring, pull them in to me from every place and in each situation.  I’ll send them home from far away places, everyone, man woman child, who is created in my image and made to look like me, each one.
Get the blind and deaf out here and ready —

The blind (though there’s not a thing wrong with their eyes)
The deaf (though there’s not a thing wrong with their ears)
Then get all diverse nations out here and ready, what do they have to say, present their testimony
But You are my witnesses … my handpicked servant … so that you’ll come to know and trust me understand that I am and who I am, I spoke, I saved. I told you what existed long before these upstart Gods.  Yes, I am God, I’ve always been God and I always will No one can take anything from me.  I make; who can unmake it?”

Our personal God speaks. We have all been designed to listen and echo the sound.

The aural sense is the first to develop in utero, it is the last sense to degenerate before death.  Hearing its mother’s voice, the new born baby will turn its head in preference to any other sound stimulus. Those who experience profound hearing loss process sense waves of sound vibration and energy distributed from an external source.   Your ear is a complex sound chamber designed to receive signal, discriminate sound waves and echo them back to the brain to process meaning, deduce understanding, and formulate a response both emotional and many times physical.  In short, your body and mind are created to receive, poised to respond, and reverberate an external signal.  Surely you’re prepared to hear God, and EVERY OTHER cacophony of inner and worldy voices.

Isaiah reminds that God has spoken into the world (WHERE?), your name, and calls you, personally YOU to not be afraid (WHAT?) for she picks you for the team!  God is willing to go to great ends to talk to you and be close to you, you look a lot alike.

Isaiah urges in this sermon, God is speaking when there are choices that effect the FUTURE (WHEN), when your kids are sick, when far from family and friends and HOME.  God urges all nations (WHO?) can be heard without defensiveness and feel safe that we are to understand God, our creator, whom has showed us the language of love in the life of Jesus.  God is speaking, the one who knows us and loves us as we are made, who calls us to the existence that is her will. Thanks be to God.

Prayer:  Loving and nurturing creator, Thank you for this design that prepares us to sense you, help us to know we are understood by you, and can deep within understand your ways, then in turn to respond with caring your grand purpose.  Amen

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, March 28

by Steve Frick

Romans 1:20 (VOICE): From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people.

While it may seem that the outward creation should be responsible for our faith, it is the interpreter of our faith. That faith has its primary sources within our own hearts, but it becomes an intelligible and articulate conviction only through what we observe around us. Hence, the inner and the outer revelation of God complement each other, making up between them one universal and immovable conviction that God IS, and that His power is not a mere blind force, or pantheistic “spirit of nature” but the power of a living Godhead. The Gospels not only testify that Jesus is God, but that He is our divine Creator. His divinity makes Him worthy our worship and praise.

John 1:3 (NASB) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.   

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Could I be an atheist if I had never been exposed to religion, and more specifically, Christianity?” For me, the answer is a resounding NO. I consider myself a person who acts on logic quite a bit, and probably too much. It is often not logical to follow what God ASKS us to do, but takes faith, which is not necessarily founded in logic. However, the logic on which I operate absolutely tells me there is a Creator. I could not be an atheist if I wanted to because creation must have been preceded by its Creator. For me, being an atheist would be no different than believing that I didn’t have a mother and father!

When I consider the Earth orbiting the sun 93 million miles away, the moon orbiting the Earth, the oceans that cover the majority of the Earth, the mountains, the forests and deserts, rivers, trees, plants – ALL working in concert to produce and sustain life … I see evidence of God. When I see the bees buzzing around in the flowers, the butterflies flitting from bush to bush, the birds flying from tree to tree … I see the evidence of God. The Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, the Universe … is not an accident. It is not something that simply happened because a fluctuation of an infinitely dense singularity burst forth without a creator.

While it may have been a big bang from nothingness, God’s OWNS that bang and the nothingness beforehand. When I consider the complexity of cells, the physics of the atom, the photons that give us light … I see evidence of God. Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy … Science – the facts, the truth. God is the author and creator of all science, and the beauty and exquisiteness of it ALL is tangibly seen in nature, in life. It is all an extension of His Being, WE are an extension of His Being. God made man in His own image. God is infinitely wise and intelligent beyond our imagination in all that He has created, and while mankind thinks He knows a lot, He only knows the tip of the iceberg – that which can be seen and studied, but much has not been revealed to us.

I realize I’ve only spoken about the physical world and what we can see, but it is the realm in which we live and as Roman 1:20 states: His power and divine identity are invisible to the eye, they are made evident from what He has created.

Prayer: Oh God of the universe and all life, we praise an honor You for Your goodness to us and for Your creation which is such a gift to enjoy. Thank you for the sustenance that you provide through your creation, and remind us daily that the beauty which surrounds us in the natural world and the goodness we find in others is all from You. I pray that the evidence of your creation will strengthen our faith and give us joy that we are made in your image.

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 26

by Meg Hines

Psalm 19:14: Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

I have been trying to listen for God.

Really, I have.

But amidst the clamor, busyness, stress and to-do lists, it has been difficult. I keep telling God that I am listening, that I am trying, but I just can’t hear anything.   I sort of liken it to the Grinch in his famous role, you know, the one where he says, “All that noise, oh the noise, all that noise, noise, noise!”

Listening is not as easy as it’s cracked up to be.  You know when we were little and we were in school and the teacher would say “listen”.  All you had to do is stop and pay attention.  It’s not so easy to do when you get to be an adult.  It is work, hard work, difficult work to stop and just listen.  There is too much crowding in your mind, body and spirit.

My Lenten work has been to keep trying to listen and in that, I have been making sure that I am doing something each day that is meditative and that maybe, just maybe, I will hear God.  It took a while, but the Grinch shell started to crack just a little one Sunday a couple weeks ago.  I was giving a lesson in Sunday School about God’s Wise Ways and working with my class to come up with images and metaphors to describe the beauty and joy of knowing and following God’s wise ways.  Here are a few they came up with …

God’s love is as powerful as … a tsunami
God’s peace is as deep as … my mother’s love
God’s rules are as fair as … Barack Obama’s
God’s ways are as beautiful as … a beach at sunset

Pause.  Stop.  Wait a minute … I think I just heard God. Right?

A Sunday or two later, I was able to doorkeep for Danny during Godly Play and hear some of the first parts of the Faces of Easter story.  During the quiet, but busy work time with the kids, I overheard Atticus in the corner working with the Exodus story.  As he moved a figure up onto a small platform, I heard him say, “I am God and I am always with you.”  There you are God … I hear you again!

During our family trip last week, staying at a hotel close by the White House, we were eating breakfast at our handy dandy little Hampton Inn when I heard the sounds of chanting outside and it dawned on me — it was the voices of students who were protesting outside the White House about gun violence.  The voices of children, speaking again!  There you are God!

At a conference last weekend, I struck up a conversation with an Uber driver whereby we compared notes on education.  He told me all about his daughter who was a teacher and how she worked in a school that was very challenging and how she had just received the “Teacher of the Year” recognition.  I talked to him about how I was a “teacher of teachers” and how I was there at a conference talking about my own work with how we must develop the talent of children in all places and spaces.  He then opened up to tell me about his own experience as a bright, African-American male growing up in school and how he always knew he was smart but just didn’t get the challenge that he longed for.  He talked about how he had to leave high school to work for his family and how after he had put his children through school, he went back to school to become a social worker.  The conversation lengthened more after that, but I got out of the vehicle feeling a bit like God was a passenger in there with us.  The chance that his life experience met my own work and that we ended up in the car together for that meaningful conversation was impactful to me in continuing to affirm the work I do in my professional life.  Thanks God! I needed to hear you on that.

What I’ve learned this Lenten season is that God is always speaking to me.   I’ve learned that God speaks to us in many different ways.  It might be through the voices of children, through meaningful protests about life’s inequitable circumstances or through strangers I’ve never even met.  I’ve learned that my work is to make the time and space to pay attention.  I’ve learned that listening takes practice and that it is important to keep my listening skills in shape.  I’ve drawn closer to God in these moments and for that I am truly grateful.

Prayer:
Loving, patient God,
Thank you for continuing to work on me.  Thank you for loving me in my selfish, busy moments.  Thank you for not giving up on me and for continuing to find ways to speak to me through so many individuals, each day.  Thank you for leading me toward times of meditation this Lenten season so that I remember how important it is to be with you and listen for you each day.
Amen.

Homily: Stop Making Sense

Days before Jesus was sentenced to death, a woman busted open a jar of very expensive perfume to pour it on Jesus. While some rebuked her for “wasting” her very valuable possession which she could have instead given to the poor, Jesus praised her, saying, “She poured perfume on my body … to prepare me for my burial.”

This woman recognized the importance of Jesus. And while her critics were noble in their criticism — recommending she sell the perfume and give the proceeds to the poor — Jesus praises her for putting God at the center of her faith. She was not concerned with “wasting” her precious resource on God.

For many of us, time is our most precious resource. And we often make excuses to not attend church, to not pray, to not dedicate time for God because we don’t have enough time. However, “the true test of our love for Jesus is the willingness to ‘waste time’ in worship.”

 

“Stop Making Sense”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 14: 3-8
March 25, 2018 • Palm Sunday

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 24

By Adrienne Bumpers

Mark 8: 22-26: They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, waking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and [the man] looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home saying “Do not even go into the village.”

I recently read through this scripture and was truly stumped. This is the first time that I remember Jesus performing a miracle in two stages. This seemed weird to me and sparked my curiosity so I started  looking at what transpired before this miracle to see if that could give me clarity. When I read from Ch. 8:11-21 (go read it!), it seemed as if Jesus was showing some frustration with the Pharisees and even the Disciples.

My first reaction was “did Jesus let frustrations pile up so much that He allowed it to distract him and He had to try twice to heal this blind man?”  I immediately laughed at my question. Sometimes I just want to see Jesus as human. I totally let frustration distract me at times, but that obviously wasn’t the reason for the two stages of healing.

So, after feeling even more stumped, I did some Google research and what I found was that you wouldn’t get the full effect of the miracle in v.22-26 without the context of v.11-21. The context reveals that Jesus is increasingly aware that everyone around him, specifically the Pharisees and even the disciples, are not fully getting it. The Pharisees wanted proof and the disciples keep forgetting, both displaying a lack of faith. Jesus ignores the Pharisees and lectures the disciples.

How frustrating that must have been for everyone.

So then Jesus’ next step was to respond to the need and the faith of this blind man in the next village. Some say the disciples were with Jesus at this time, so it makes sense to think that Jesus deliberately chooses to perform this miracle in front of them in two stages. The first stage the man can see but he doesn’t fully understand what he sees. Then the second stage Jesus allows him to see with full understanding.

I guess the thing that encourages me most from all of this is that Jesus extends the invitation for others to see clearly and more fully understand. Through my process of trying to better understand the two attempts at healing,  I feel like that same invitation was directly extended to me. Might I remember the constant invitation that is extended to me to not only see but to exercise my faith and more fully understand.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, give us the curiosity to see more deeply what you reveal to us each day. Heal us in as many stages as you need to show us the importance and majesty of your great love. Amen