Oconee Street UMC Online Service
Aug. 30, 2020
Reading: Exodus 3:1-15
Sermon: “Praying With Our Feet”
Prayer / The Lord’s Prayer
Oconee Street UMC Online Service
Aug. 30, 2020
Reading: Exodus 3:1-15
Sermon: “Praying With Our Feet”
Prayer / The Lord’s Prayer
When Jesus teaches us how to pray, he gives us what is now known as The Lord’s Prayer. The prayer emphasizes three things:
Most Christians are comfortable with the idea of God as family and trusting that God will provide. And our for the most part, our requests for bread, forgiveness and deliverance are easy to comprehend. However, when it comes to forgiveness, The Lord’s Prayer commands us to forgive those who have sinned against us, just as God forgives us when we sin against God. Jesus tells us that forgiveness received is forever linked with forgiveness given.
Jesus is clear: prayer is effective and God responds. But it’s most effective when a prayer is paired with our willingness to act lovingly in relationship to others … all others.
Homework: Every single person here has someone they need to forgive … Forgive them, reach out and pray for them.
“Praying for God’s Future”
Sermon by The Rev. Elaine Puckett
Luke 11: 1-13
Aug. 4, 2019
Listen to The Word in Song, “To You I Call.“
Prayer is a practice with which many of us struggle.
It’s seems like such a waste of time to sit in nothingness. We begin to think, “Wouldn’t it be better to be more productive with that time?” Our anxieties begin to arise. Our deepest fears are unwrapped. Our saddest thoughts become present. These are the times in prayer when we just might be at the forefront of something good.
Our anxiety over the future, our frustration over our job, our concern over an ailing loved one — these are the places where we fail and fall, and these are the paths back to God. Rather than run from it, go down into the darkness a little further and see where it leads. God will be there.
Prayer is less something we do, and more something we find ourselves in doing. God must do it within us, or it will not get done: when our faith is dried up, God graces us with streams of living water in the most parched places of myself.
“In the Time of Trial”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
April 14, 2019 • Palm Sunday
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.
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.
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.
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
by Robert Foster
Isaiah 31:1: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, seeking salvation from horses and putting their trust in numbers of chariots, and riders because they are very strong. But they have not looked for salvation from the Holy One of Israel and they have not sought the LORD.
Around the same time that we learned that our focus during this Lenten season at Oconee Street UMC would be on listening, I received a request to write a little piece on the importance of contemplative prayer in the work of racial justice and reconciliation. I have been contemplating that assignment ever since and have finally had some space to write on the subject this week.
To me, contemplative prayer differs from my regular praying in that, in my regular praying, I tell God about things going on in my life and world and how I wish God would act in each of these circumstances. Contemplative prayer seems to me to reverse this process. In contemplative prayer I listen to what God seems to be telling me in Scripture or perhaps a line from a song or the content of a recent conversation or news about a recent event, and so on, with a commitment to act on what I hear from God. And, just as I find it more difficult to listen than to talk in conversations with family and friends, I find it more difficult to hear what God says to me than to tell God what I want and need from God. Contemplative prayer requires contemplation, slowing down to mull things over, until I finally hear what God has to say to me.
So, even if I have an understanding of contemplative prayer in comparison to my regular prayers, I often do not practice contemplative prayer simply because it takes more time than my regular prayers. Yet, if I am honest, maybe the major reason I do not engage contemplative prayer more regularly is because in contemplative prayer I am more likely to hear God’s demands of me. Emilie Griffin, in her wonderful little book on prayer entitled, Clinging, writes that many of us should admit that a major reason we do not pray, period, is because we have heard stories of someone who was “just praying” and suddenly found themselves selling their home and moving to Madagascar to follow the call of God on their lives. If this can happen during regular prayer, how much more dangerous might contemplative prayer be?! In contemplative prayer I commit myself to listen and then to act on what I hear from God. I can hardly imagine a more foolish act in the known universe.
Which brings me back to Isaiah 31:1. At first glance, maybe God’s simply upset that the people of God seek help from mere mortal like the Egyptians not giving due respect to God. Is the Creator of the Universe and Redeemer of Israel not enough for you? Seriously? But, as we keep reading in the following verses, the prophet takes this passage in a different direction. After reaffirming that the people should turn to God instead of consulting Egypt—or idols of silver and gold (Isa. 31:6-7)—the prophet proclaims a word of assurance:
Behold, a king will reign with social justice and princes will judge uprightly. Every one of them will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm….And the work of the just will be peace…and my people will dwell in peaceful homes and in secure dwellings and in untroubled places of rest. – Isaiah 32:1, 2, 17, 18
According to the prophet Isaiah, the downfall of Israel did not the result from the formation of bad political alliances. No, real problem that precipitated the exile of Israel was that God had hoped to find in Israel justice in the courts and, instead, God found injusticer justice in the streets and, instead, found iniquity (Isa. 5:7). The people of Israel did not need better political alliances. They needed leaders committed to working for justice in all its aspects.
And this is one of the reasons I think contemplative prayer is so important in the work of racial justice and reconciliation: I need God to remind me that the problem does not (solely) lie “out there.” When I stop to listen for God, contemplate what God might be saying to me in a Scripture from the book of Isaiah or in a line from a song by Kendrick Lamar or in a conversation with my friend Broderick or in the chained bodies of black women and men appearing in the local court system, I often enough will hear God speak to me. I hear God telling me to stand up for justice.
God challenges my commitment to ongoing work of racial justice and reconciliation. I hear God telling me, “Go,” use my words, my time, my energy, my monies, my life for the cause of racial justice and reconciliation in the world. To be fair, I often don’t practice contemplative prayer because not because I find it difficult to comprehend or that it takes more time; I simply don’t want God to confront me with my need to change. I would rather just cast aspersions on those people “out there” for their failures in racial justice and reconciliation.
Prayer: Dear LORD, Holy One of Israel, give me courage to stop speaking and, once again, to listen. Tell me what you want me to know, what you would have me to do. Speak, O LORD, for your servant is listening.
by Shannon Mayfield
Isaiah 58: 3-10:
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.
Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
A Theology that Works
Guy Clark wrote the song “Stuff That Works” about uncelebrated things in his life: an old blue shirt, an out of tune guitar, a pair of boots that fit just right, a used car that runs like a top. These, he said, constituted stuff that works. “Stuff that holds up. The kind of stuff you don’t hang on a wall. Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel, the kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.”
Unremarkable and old and used. No cache. The kind of things anyone can have. Yet they stand in sharp contrast to new and showy things which, frustratingly, often do not work and do not hold up.
The people of Jerusalem worshipped and fasted in showy ways, practicing the kind of faith they could “hang on a wall,” for all to see. And they despaired that it did not impress God. In Isaiah 58, God pulls out the theological equivalent of Guy Clark’s list. Well worn. Time tested. Still effective.
These powerful verses point us, I think, toward the conception of a God who is not moved by pious displays. They tend to hit a little close to home as we labor over our lent commitments.
The ancient Israelites wondered why God was unimpressed as they fasted and wore ash. God seems to wonder why they bother with the form if the substance is so lacking. Why fast if only to justify yelling at one’s kids? Why smudge ash when simultaneously oppressing one’s employees. It’s all show and no go.
God spells it out for them, and us, in words that deserve always to be shouted or sung:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
A theology that works for us, in other words, is a theology that works on behalf of others. God does not wish for us to heap misery upon ourselves, but rather to alleviate the misery of those who can’t avoid it. Break the chains, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, open our homes to the homeless.
That, God says, is the stuff that works. Kind of old and threadbare as theology goes. It hasn’t been new and shiny for a very long time. It doesn’t get us noticed in the fancy places. But it just happens to catch the attention of the one we seek.
“Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”
Stuff that works.
Prayer: Loving God, as we Christians use this season to develop skills to help us turn away from ourselves, let us remember that these are means and not ends. Let us approach them as exercises which build the muscle we need to break chains that oppress. Let fasting shrink our stomachs so that we might be satisfied with half a loaf and happy to share the other half. Let us rejoice that we worship a God who calls us not to suffer but to work joyfully to heal and reconcile. Thank you, God, for showing us through Oconee Street, a theology that works.
John 5:2: Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethesda, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.