Thursday, December 11, 2014

What shall we cry?

Below are excerpts from my sermon Dec 7 on Isaiah 40. I wrote this having heard from people in my congregation - and experiencing myself - concern, even outrage, but also feelings of powerless as to how to respond to the decisions in Staten Island and Ferguson. What role can I play in the healing of the nations?

Living between "What shall we cry?" and "Here is your God."

"Comfort, comfort my people" says Isaiah.   God comes to us in the wildernesses of our lives through people who offer comfort.  True comfort, however, often requires something besides caring presence: true comfort requires the promise of change

Something very important is happening in our society.  As Christians who believe all people are God's children and therefore equally valuable, we do well to pay attention.

As the Garner and Brown cases have been brought to light, they've also brought new light to the ways, small and large, that racism is alive and well in America.  Some of you have known that for a while.  Some of you can likely add to that testimony. Others of us are just now learning how much the legacy of racism in our society is not just a thing of the past.  I wish it were over and done.  We all do. It goes against our basic Christian values to accept a society rife with racism.
But, as with many of the biggest problems in our lives, many of us feel powerless and confused about what to do. How can we be part of the change that's needed?
When God says, "Cry to the people."  Isaiah says, "What shall I cry?" He too was confused and probably felt powerless.
Feeling powerless is no reason to give up hope.  Isaiah teaches us that we are powerless to do anything in God's name unless and until God comes to us, in our wilderness, and intervenes.  This means that we have to learn to cultivate Godly patience and be honest about the wilderness life we're living.  I don't mean we should sit quietly while we watch others suffer, but if you don't know how to respond (and I confess being in that category), you can be still be faithful and prepare for change, trusting the Holy Spirit to reveal a pathway forward.  I offer these practices:
  1. Pray earnestly and intentionally about prejudice in America and ask for God's help.
  2. Confess.  None of us is free from entanglement in systems of privilege and oppression.  We do well to confess both the ways we've contributed and our befuddlement at how to move forward.  After you confess, know yourself to be forgiven. 
  3. Listen and learn from other people, especially those who testify to the way racism affects them.  Trust the stories, even those that seem unbelievable to you. 
In all of this, we can trust God to act to make a way forward.  Eventually, even in the wilderness, the path became clear. God's freeing activity was made known and Isaiah was able to say with utter clarity: Here is your God. 
Be at Peace,
Pastor Sarah

Monday, December 1, 2014

What really needs to happen in Advent?

From Pastor Sarah - While We Wait

Advent has always been my favorite church season.  It’s one where I intentionally slow down and try to live life a bit more calmly and patiently.  I savor the darkness, the candles, the hymns in minor keys, the bible passages of hope and expectation.  My internal rhythms match the rhythms of nature. Dead leaves and cold weather make it seem like growth has halted, but in ways that we can’t easily perceive, nature’s hibernation makes way for new life ahead. 

This Advent will be particularly special as I will experience it as one who, for the first time in her life, is preparing for a child.  (My husband and I are expecting, due in May).  While we’re thrilled, we also know we have a limited amount of time until our lives change forever.  We have five months left to go to the movies without planning ahead, to sleep through the night, to get house projects done.  I’m trying to take advantage of all the time I have left and it's already making me a bit frantic.  The to-do list is long and growing longer.  I already know it will not all get done.

And so it is with the days leading up to Christmas.  We make our preparations and yes, they are important, but the to-dos will never be totally checked off by the time December 24th rolls around.  

I received good advice about getting ready for a child:  In addition to outward preparations, I need to prepare my spirit for this change that’s coming.  It might not seem as important as painting the nursery or creating the perfect birth plan, but it’s actually more so.

That’s my advice to you too, this season of Advent. Take time to prepare your spirit. It’s so easy to be caught up in the outward preparations for Christmas - the cookie baking and tree decorating and shopping and party-going – that there’s little energy left for anything else.  New life, however, requires times of spiritual inwardness and rest.  Christmas isn’t just another deadline looming, it’s the birth of a new relationship.  You’ll be able to find more of the peace and joy that relationship brings if you take time, while you wait, to reflect on your hopes, fears, expectations, grief, and sense of mystery about what God's renewed presence in your life might bring.  

I’m going to try to take my cues from Mary. When the angel Gabriel announced that she was pregnant, she didn’t make a to-do list, she prayed for a world of justice and peace.  She visited her relative Elizabeth and they waited and wondered together.  She pondered things in her heart.  She certainly had plenty to do (like go to Bethlehem for the census!).  Still, she stayed connected to the Holy Spirit.

How can you make time, this Advent, to spiritually prepare for Christmas?  How can you let go of the frenzy and enjoy the simple moments?  How can you reduce the amount of time you spend shopping and increase the amount of time you spend in prayer, scripture study, and contemplation, “pondering things in your heart.”

In Advent at Peace, sermons, adult studies, vespers, and family programs will all focus on being connected to God’s spirit “While We Wait.” I hope these will help you be like Mary this Advent, aware of the Holy Spirit and full of God’s blessed presence.   

Note: the stained glass window is from the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth which I visited last summer.  I found the image on
Be at Peace,

Pastor Sarah

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