Series – Finding Joy in an Anxious World
Sermon – “Do Not Worry”
Scripture Readings: Luke 12:22-31, Luke 21:34-36
Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26)
Monday January 14 — Ecclesiastes 2:24-26
Joy and happiness are two of God’s greatest gifts. We long to experience the peace and contentment that comes from knowing that God loves and cares for us. Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, describes both the futility of self-indulgence and the joy of living a life that pleases God. Mortals can “eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:24) when they learn to put their complete and total trust in God. For followers of Jesus, life is good because God is good. Where do you find the greatest joy in life? When you do experience peace and contentment? How is your relationship with God related to your joy and happiness?
• Prayer: Eternal God, thank you for the gift of life. Help me to trust you enough to experience joy, happiness, and contentment. Amen.
Tuesday January 15 — Psalm 30
The Book of Psalms is the Bible’s prayer and songbook. For centuries, the people of God have found comfort in the Psalms’ beautiful and powerful poetry. When we read the Psalms, we find the full range of human experience, including powerful emotions like grief and anger. But without exception, the Psalm-writers affirm God’s presence in their lives and look for joy, even in the most difficult circumstances. What helps you keep your faith in God when you are in the midst of a difficult situation? Consider making a habit of reading one Psalm every day to help you remember that God really is present in your life.
• Prayer: Merciful God, forgive me when I wallow in self-pity and forget that you are always present in my life. Teach me to trust you. Amen.
Wednesday January 16 — Luke 12:22-31
Worry is a seemingly universal human experience that interferes with our ability to experience joy. It also interferes with our ability to serve God effectively in the world. So, Jesus told his disciples, “do not worry” (Luke 12:11, 22, 29). He made the connection between worry and (lack of) faith, challenging his disciples to trust that their lives mattered to God and that God would take care of them. Make a list of your worries. Take them to God in prayer. Trust God.
• Prayer: Faithful God, I spend too much of my life worrying instead of trusting you. Increase and strengthen my faith in you. Amen.
Thursday January 17 — Luke 12:29-36, Luke 4:42-44
Jesus suggests two antidotes for worry. The first is simply to increase our faith and trust in God. The second is to focus our attention on the Kingdom of God. These two antidotes are related to each other, because making the Kingdom of God our priority requires that we turn the rest of our lives over to God. The Kingdom of God was clearly a priority in Jesus’ life and ministry. It should also be a priority in ours. What do you think Jesus meant when he said to strive for the Kingdom? Where and when is your life focused on the Kingdom of God?
• Prayer: God of Grace, Jesus teaches that I should strive for your Kingdom. Open my eyes to see your Kingdom in my life. Amen.
Friday January 18 — Luke 10:38-42
Faithful Christian discipleship requires that we make decisions about our priorities. In Jesus’ conversation with Martha, he challenged her priorities. Martha’s concern for hospitality was important, but it was not as important as the Kingdom of God. Because she was worried and distracted, Martha was missing an opportunity to listen and learn from Jesus. Do your worries distract or prevent you from learning and serving as a disciple of Jesus Christ? How do you keep your priorities in order?
• Prayer: Loving God, guide me as I set the priorities for my life today. Help me set aside my worries and obey your will for my life. Amen.
Saturday January 19 — Hebrews 12:1-4
It is possible to experience joy, even when we are experiencing pain and suffering. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we are not alone when we seek God’s will and find joy in our lives. Not only are we surrounded by a community of believers and follow in the footsteps of everyone who has gone before us, we have Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Despite the world’s hostility and the suffering and shame of the cross, Jesus persevered for the sake of God’s joy. By God’s grace, we can follow Jesus’ example. How do you maintain your priorities and experience God’s joy when you are suffering? Where do you turn for love and support? How can you follow the example of Jesus and not grow weary or lose heart?
• Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the courage I need to follow the example of Jesus—persevering in faith and experiencing joy. Amen.
Series – Finding Joy in an Anxious World
Sermon – Follow Jesus
Scripture Readings: Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 2:13-23 (Isaiah 65:17-19, 25)
Monday January 7 — Matthew 2:1-12
The Christian season of Christmas officially ends on January 6 with the celebration of the day known as Epiphany of the Lord. Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Magi who travelled a great distance to worship Jesus, the newborn King. Matthew’s account of their journey says that when they arrived at the place where Jesus was, “they were overwhelmed with joy”(Matthew 2:10). This is what happens when we worship: we experience joy when we are in the presence of Jesus. Think about your relationship with Jesus. Does it bring you joy? If not, what needs to change?
- Prayer:God of Wonder, thank you for the example of the Magi, who followed your star to find and worship Jesus. Help me to be overwhelmed with joy in 2019 and beyond.
Tuesday January 8 — Matthew 2:13-23
Matthew’s Gospel describes, from the very beginning, the conflict of two kingdoms: God’s Kingdom, which has come into the world in the person of Jesus, and the kingdom of the world, which is represented by Herod and everyone who opposes Jesus and his message. We have an opportunity (every day!) to choose in which kingdom we will make our home. Following Jesus seems like the obvious choice, but it is not easy. What helps you differentiate between the two kingdoms? What helps you choose to make your home in God’s Kingdom?
- Prayer:Eternal God, the Christmas story invites me to enter your Kingdom and worship you, but I’m often tempted by other kingdoms. Help me choose you every day. Amen.
Wednesday January 9 — Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus’ parable about the talents teaches us that we are stewards of God’s “talents” (don’t forget that in Jesus’ time a “talent” was a very large sum of money) and will be held accountable for what we do with everything (time, talent, treasure, the Gospel message, the mission of the Kingdom, …etc.) that God has entrusted to our care. This parable includes the commendation that we all hope to hear: “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; … enter into the joy of your master.”(Matthew 25:23). Jesus suggests that faithful living leads to “the joy of the master.”Have you experienced that connection?
- Prayer:Generous God, I am humbled that you entrust your “talents” into my care. Guide me into faithful discipleship and trustworthy stewardship of your Kingdom.
Thursday January 10 — John 15:1-12
In Jesus’ final instructions (before his death, resurrection, and ascension), he commands his disciples to stay connected to him and “abide in his love”(John 15:9). He said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete”(John 15:11). The point is: if we want our joy to be complete, we must follow Jesus and keep his commandment to “love one another as I have loved you”(John 15:12). If joy is a sign that we are fulfilling Jesus’ expectations to love one another, how are you doing this week? Is your joy complete?
- Prayer:God of Love, strengthen my relationship with you. Grant me the courage I need to keep your commandments. Make my joy complete today and every day.
Friday January 11 — John 21:15-19
John’s Gospel ends with an example of faithful discipleship – the kind of discipleship described in John 15:1-12. Jesus challenges Peter to put his love for Jesus into action by loving others (the way Jesus loves them; see John 13:34-35). Although Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21:19 point to Peter’s death: for Peter, following Jesus will require that he lay down his own life for the sake of the Gospel. But the larger point is that Jesus simply wants us to follow him – to follow his teaching and his example. Think about what it means for you to follow Jesus in the world today.
- Prayer:Gracious God, forgive me for the many ways I fail to put my faith into action and resist Jesus’ teaching and example. Teach me how to follow him in the world today.
Saturday January 12 — John 21:20-25
The final words of Jesus in John’s Gospel are: “follow me”(John 21:22). It’s a summary of what it means to be his disciple. Following Jesus in the world today is a daily challenge, but the first step is clear: we meet Jesus when we read the Gospel accounts of his life and ministry. As we read and study the Scriptures, we learn and grow and experience the transforming power of God’s grace. By God’s grace, when we follow Jesus, we experience overwhelming joy. Follow Jesus today.
- Prayer:Almighty God, thank you for sending Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. Open my heart and mind as I read and study the Gospels. Inspire me to follow Jesus. Amen.
Sermon – Hitting the Reset Button
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 65:17-19, 24-25, Revelation 21:1-7
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress….The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-19, 25)
Monday December 31 — Isaiah 65:17-19, 24-25
There are five (5) primary themes in the Biblical story: creation, covenant, Christ, community,and completion (or consummation.)The Bible starts with the creation story, but what we discover as we read through to Revelation is that creation was not a one-time event. God is always in the process of creating and re-creating. This is good news because we can count on God to do something new in the world and something new in our lives. As you prepare to change the calendar from 2018 to 2019, what new things are you hoping God will do in your life and in the world around you?
- Prayer:Creator God, thank you for the gift of life and the gift of hope for the future. Open my eyes and ears to see the new things you are doing in my life and in the world.
Tuesday January 1 — Revelation 3:7-13
Happy New Year! The New Testament Book of Revelation is a pastoral letter. It has a message from Jesus (given to John of Patmos) for seven churches in Asia Minor (see Revelation 1:9-11). The first section of the letter includes a specific message for each of the churches. The church in Philadelphia is commended for their faithfulness and reminds them of the promise of a new Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus promises that God will do something new, so they should “hold fast.”Which of God’s promises will help you “hold fast”as the new year begins?
- Prayer:God of Hope, inspire in me the confidence I need to hold fast to your teaching and live my life with patient endurance. Show me how to serve you in the year to come.
Wednesday January 2 — Revelation 21:1-7
As promised (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 3:12) the Biblical story ends with a completely new creation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, …. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”(Revelation 21:1-2). The main point of Revelation is that because we can trust in God’s faithfulness, we can worship and serve God no matter what happens in our lives. In the end, God wins, and we can live with confidence and faith. That’s the Good News. Do you believe it?
- Prayer:Loving God, forgive me for too often doubting your promises and not living with the confidence and faith that you desire. Help me to believe the Good News.
Thursday January 3 — 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
There are no better examples of how God can do new things and change lives from the inside-out than Paul, the New Testament missionary, pastor, and author. You can read about how God transformed his life in Acts 9:1-19 and, in his own words, in Galatians 1:13-17. So, when Paul writes about his ministry of reconciliation and becoming a new creation in Christ, he speaks from his own experience: God can perform miracles and God can use our transformed lives to do new things in the world around us. How might God use you to do something amazing this year?
- Prayer:Reconciling God, I am grateful that, through Jesus, you have reconciled my broken relationship with you. By your grace, I’m ready to be your ambassador.
Friday January 4 — Jeremiah 31:31-34
We know God as a covenant-maker and a covenant-keeper. The divine-human relationship is based on a covenant established by God. The terms of the covenant are non-negotiable. They are established by God and are summarized by Jeremiah: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people”(Jeremiah 31:33). Our life-long task is to obey the terms of the covenant. Even when we break the terms of the covenant, we discover that God continually renews and restores the relationship. God never breaks God’s promises. How will you keep your promises this year?
- Prayer:Covenant-Making God, let this be a year of learning and growing. Continue to teach me your ways and help me keep the covenant you have made with me.
Saturday January 5 — Luke 22:14-20
At the table of the last supper, we discover that Jesus’ death is the ultimate act of covenant-making and covenant-keeping. When we share in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we experience, in a deep and powerful way, God’s covenant with us—a covenant that is established and maintained through God’s gift of forgiveness. As you prepare to receive the Sacrament in worship tomorrow, spend some time in prayer. Confess your need for God’s grace and accept God’s forgiveness.
- Prayer:God of Grace, I confess that I am a sinner who falls short of your glory. I repent of my sin and accept your forgiveness. Set me free to live a joyful and abundant life.
Monday – John 1:1-14
The words of this scripture are familiar, comforting and hopeful. They remind us that God had a plan from the very beginning to be in relationship with us, to show us love, and to incorporate us into the family of God. In the busyness and rush of this holiday season we are invited this Christmas Eve to pause and celebrate the truth that God came to us here on earth so we would know the fullness of life with God. How can you embrace the richness of God’s love in your life today?
Prayer: God, you came and lived amongst. You have known the joy, pain, blessing and suffering of human life. Remind us today that you are with us and your love lasts forever. Amen.
Tuesday – Matthew 1:18-25
Today as you celebrate Christmas think about Mary and Joseph. Each of them made a choice to follow God’s command. Instead of choosing to abandon their faith, instead of choosing to abandon one another they remained united and faithful. How can you follow the models of Mary and Joseph and live faithfully following God?
Prayer: God of Mary and Joseph, in their example you remind us to follow your commands. Invite us today to follow you as we celebrate the birth of your Son. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Wednesday – Isaiah 9:1-7
This traditional Christmas scripture is filled with surprising darkness. It describes oppression and war. Simultaneously it illustrates the joy of living in the light of God and the gift of Jesus Christ. Four phrases describe Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. How can you encounter Jesus as each of these? How can you faithfully experience Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace in the midst of struggling and darkness?
Prayer: Jesus you are Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Help me to experience theses truths of you today. Amen.
Thursday – Luke 2:8-20
A common theme throughout the nativity story God’s reversal of power and strength. Instead of Jesus being born in wealth, he was born to a young peasant girl. Instead of being born in a proper room Jesus was born in a stable. And the Shepherds, the first people the birth of Jesus was announced to were those working the “night-shift.” This story invites us to humble ourselves before God. In what parts of your life have you found God reversing your expectations? How can God’s reversal of human expectations shift our values?
Prayer: God of Heaven and earth, in the humble hearts of shepherds you shared the story of the birth of our King. Surprise us, turn our expectations upside down, teach us to follow the king of humility. Amen.
Friday – Galatians 4:3-7
When we imagine the Holy Family, we see Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. Do you imagine yourself in the scene? Galatians 4 teaches us that because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we are God’s children. We are members of God’s family. As members of God’s family we are freed from the things of our past, the things that held us back and oppressed. How can you live in the freedom as a member of God’s family?
Prayer: God of freedom, thank you for welcoming us into your family. Help us to live each day as your sons and daughters. Amen.
Saturday – Luke 1:57-80
Elizabeth and Zechariah celebrate the birth of their son John the Baptist. Zechariah sings God praise, not unlikely Mary sings to God earlier in Luke 1. Christmas Season is a time of special music and songs. The world at large was not that way during the season just before Jesus birth – but for those in whose lives God was at work, it was different. They sang songs of joy and expectancy like Zechariah. How can you continue to celebrate the joy of Jesus’ birth even after the Christmas season has ended?
Prayer: God during Christmas we sing our favorite songs and proclaim our joy at the birth of you son. Today, we pray, that we never lose sight of this joy. Amen.
Music Sunday – “Let There Be Christmas” / Advent, Poem, Songs & Art
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:3-5, Luke 1:78-79
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
Monday December 17 — Luke 1:5-25
The first chapter of Luke’s Gospel begins with a brief prologue and continues with an extended narrative that intertwines the birth of John the Baptist with the birth of Jesus. We discover in Luke 1:36 that Mary and John’s mother, Elizabeth, are related. Luke includes the details surrounding John’s birth because John was an important character in the Gospel story and the account of his birth affirms that John and his ministry are part of God’s plan. In reading about Zechariah, do you see yourself. Do you ever have doubts? If so, you are in good company. How might the Christmas story inspire you to deeper faith and more confidence in God’s presence in your life?
- Prayer: Merciful God, I confess that I often have doubts that paralyze me and prevent me from trusting and obeying your will for my life. Strengthen my faith today. Amen.
Tuesday December 18 — Luke 1:39-45
Jesus’ mother Mary and John’s mother Elizabeth are both pregnant with anticipation of their babies’ births when Mary visits Zechariah and Elizabeth at their home. The intersection of the two mothers emphasizes the primacy of Mary’s yet-unborn son. John will be a prophet, used by God to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. But Jesus will be the Savior of the world, God’s Messiah-King. In verse 45, Elizabeth praises Mary’s faithfulness, reminding us to follow Mary’s example and trust in God’s faithfulness. How might you grow in your ability to trust God today?
- Prayer: Faithful God, thank you for the example of Mary, and everyone who trusts in your faithfulness. Give me the courage I need to trust you with my life.
Wednesday December 19 — Luke 1:57-66
Luke is clear that the birth of Elizabeth’s son John is a gift from God. (Remember what Luke tells us in Luke 1:7.) In fact, John’s birth fulfills all of the promises made to Zechariah in verses 13-14. This is one of the Gospel’s themes: God keeps promises! As we will discover, the ministries of both Jesus and John fulfill promises made by Israel’s prophets. God is the ultimate promise-keeper. Which of God’s promises are you trusting God to keep?
- Prayer: Promise-Keeping God, the promise of salvation is the greatest gift I can ever receive. Thank you for saving me from the power of sin and death. Amen.
Thursday December 20 — Luke 1:67-80
In response to the birth of John, his father, Zechariah, spoke (or sang) his own prophecy. In Christian tradition, Zechariah’s song is called the Benedictus. It celebrates God’s faithfulness and the promise of salvation through the forgiveness of sins. Its final stanzas describe the miracle of Christmas: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). How does God’s light shine into the darkness of the world today?
- Prayer: God of Light, thank you for the power of your love and the amazing gift of your grace. Shine your light in my life. Use me to reflect your light in the world today.
Friday December 21 — Isaiah 40:3-5
During the season of Advent, the Church often listens to the voices of the Old Testament prophets in anticipation and preparation for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, into the world. The 40th chapter of Isaiah anticipates the coming of God’s messenger (John the Baptist) to prepare the way for God (and God’s Messiah.) This passage challenges us to prepare a way for God to access our hearts and transform our lives. Are you ready for Jesus to come (again) into your life at Christmas?
- Prayer: God of Glory, continue to prepare me for Christmas. Clear out everything in my life that might prevent me from experiencing the miracle of Christmas this year.
Saturday December 22 — Luke 3:1-17
John’s ministry in the wilderness fulfills the promises made in Isaiah 40:3-5. As Jesus’ ministry is about to begin, John calls the people to prepare for his coming through repentance, service, compassion, and justice. John is clear that the Good News about God’s salvation through Jesus, the Messiah, requires a response – not just in our hearts and minds, but in our lives. We are expected to “bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). In what ways are you responding to the Good News of salvation? In what ways does your life bear fruit worthy of your repentance?
- Prayer: Gracious God, I am humbled by the gift of salvation and transformed by the life-changing power of your grace. Help me bear fruit worthy of my repentance.
Series: Christmas Through the Eyes of Mary
Sermon: Amazed, Astounded, and Astonished
Scripture Readings: Luke 2:33-38, Luke 2:41-51
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:46-51)
Monday December 10 — Luke 2:28-51
Amazement is an instinctive response to the message of the Gospel. On multiple occasions, Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Book of Acts, tells us that people were amazed at something related to Jesus. He tells us that when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple eight days after his birth, they were amazed at what Simeon told them. When 12-year-old Jesus “got lost” in the temple, “all who heard him were amazed” (Luke 2:47). Two different times, we are told that Mary “treasured” what she was seeing and hearing (Luke 2:19, 51). What aspects of the Gospel story amaze you? How might you allow yourself to be amazed by the Christmas story this year?
- Prayer: God of Wonder, thank you for your Son, Jesus. His presence in my life is truly amazing. Open my heart to experience the miracle of Christmas once again.
Tuesday December 11 — Luke 4:31-37
When Jesus healed the man “who had the spirit of an unclean demon” (Luke 4:33), the people “were all amazed” (Luke 4:36) by the authority with which Jesus spoke and the power he commanded. Amazement is one of the characteristics of worship. When we encounter the presence and power of God, we stand in awe and we respond with praise and thanksgiving. Think back over the past few days. What kinds of amazing things has God been doing in your life?
- Prayer: God of Power, I confess that I too often take your presence for granted and fail to notice the signs of your power at work in my life. Help me see you more clearly. Amen.
Wednesday December 12 — Luke 8:22-25
When the Gospel writers tell us how Jesus calmed the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee, they illustrate how the power of God flowed in and through Jesus’ life. It helped them make the case that Jesus was truly the Son of God – someone who commanded “the winds and the water” (Luke 8:25). The question Jesus asked the disciples in the boat is the same question he asks us today: “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:28). When you face the storms of life, what helps you keep your faith? When you are afraid, what helps you trust in God’s presence and power?
- Prayer: Loving God, when I face storms in my life, I often struggle to trust you completely. Forgive my doubts and fears. Give me courage. Strengthen my faith today.
Thursday December 13 — Luke 24:1-12
Nothing in the Gospel is more amazing than the resurrection of Jesus. People who are long-time followers of Jesus can easily forget the astounding (outrageous?) claim of the Easter message: a man who was put to death on a cross was alive three days later. Even more astounding is the claim that the same power that raised Jesus from death to life is at work in our lives – giving us new life every single day and promising us eternal life with God. All of this is a gift, freely offered to everyone. Have you accepted the gift of salvation? Renew your commitment to Christ today.
- Prayer: God of Grace, I am amazed and astounded that you would forgive my sins and offer me new and eternal life. I accept your gift today. Thank you, God. Amen.
Friday December 14 — Acts 2:1-13
God’s amazing deeds did not stop with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The coming of the Holy Spirit into the world empowered the disciples to share the Good News in the languages of the world. Those who heard them were “amazed and astonished” (Acts 2:7) that ordinary men and women could act and speak with such power. What kinds of Holy Spirit-inspired words and deeds evoke the same kind of response from the world today? What is God doing in your life that amazes and astonishes your friends and family?
- Prayer: Almighty God, I am humbled by the thought that you can use me to do amazing things on your behalf. Fill me with your Spirit; use me to change the world.
Saturday December 15 — Acts 3:1-11
The Book of Acts describes in great detail how the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus’ followers to continue his ministry in the world. For example, just as Jesus healed a paralyzed man (see Luke 5:17-26), God used Peter and John to perform the same kind of miracle outside the Beautiful Gate. Once again, the people were amazed and astonished at what God was doing. What needs to change in your life to allow God to do amazing and astonishing things through you?
- Prayer: Merciful God, remove in me everything that interferes with the working of your power. Make me a channel through which hope, peace, joy, and love freely flow.
Series: Christmas Through the Eyes of Mary
Sermon: Beginning with the End
Scripture Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Acts 1:8-14,
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (Acts 1:12-24)
Monday December 3 — John 2:1-12
Mary, the mother of Jesus appears a number of times in the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. We are most familiar with the Christmas story, but there are other significant scenes, including the first miracle story in John’s Gospel—turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Here we see Jesus and Mary interacting as a typical mother and son. But we should notice that Mary believes that Jesus can do something about the wine shortage. In other words, she had faith. How might you develop the same kind of faith in the power of Jesus? Where have you seen the power of Jesus at work in your life?
- Prayer: Eternal God, thank you for teaching me and helping me believe in your power. Help me to trust in your power and let you change my life today.
Tuesday December 4 — Mark 3:19b-35
Mark’s account of Jesus’ homecoming (see verse 19b) puts his relationship with his family in a different light. His family wants to restrain him because they think he has lost his mind (verse 21). Then Jesus seems to reject his family by saying that his true family is made up of the people who do the will of God (verse 35). It tells us that what Jesus does is so extraordinary that even his family (the people who should know him best) don’t understand. Have you ever thought that what Jesus says and does (and expects us to do) seems crazy or foolish? Do you follow him anyway?
- Prayer: Gracious God, forgive me for having moments of doubt and disbelief. Help me trust you enough to follow Jesus, even when it seems foolish.
Wednesday December 5 — Mark 6:1-6
One of the themes of Mark’s Gospel is the spiritual blindness of the disciples and the people who didn’t see Jesus as the Son of God and didn’t trust him or believe his message. In another visit to his hometown (Nazareth), Jesus is rejected by people who question him: who does he think he is? They were offended by his words and actions and ran him out of town. Read Mark 10:46-52 and see what Jesus does for people who suffer from spiritual blindness.
- Prayer: God of Power and Might, like many others, I struggle to see clearly and follow Jesus. Heal my blindness so that I might experience your abundant life. Amen.
Thursday December 6 — John 19:25b-37
In a poignant moment, John’s Gospel describes Jesus’ love for his mother as she watched him die on the cross. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Mary was warned that “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). One of the ways that Mary endured the death of her son was through the community of believers. She had been a witness to Jesus’ entire ministry and would now be part of the community of believers who would continue his ministry. That’s how we endure tragedies in our lives too, through the support of the Christian community. During Advent, reach out to someone who needs your love and care.
- Prayer: God of Love, thank you for the Church. Thank you for surrounding me with your family, where I can find help and support in painful and difficult times.
Friday December 7 — Acts 1:8-14
The first chapter of Acts, describes Jesus’ final post-resurrection appearance and his final instruction for his disciples: “you will be my witnesses …” (verse 8). One often-missed detail in this account of the formation of the Church is the presence of Mary (see verse 14). She was with Jesus throughout his earthly life and was part of the community of believers following his ascension into heaven. Before Jesus was born Mary said, “let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). We can imagine that she said the same thing many times in her life, including the day Jesus’ commissioned her. Can you pray the same prayer that Mary prayed?
- Prayer: Almighty God, I stand today with Mary and hear Jesus commission me to be his witness to the ends of the earth. Let it be with me according to your word. Amen.
Saturday December 8 — 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Mary and the rest of the early Church lived with the expectation that Jesus would return and that the promises of God’s Kingdom would be fulfilled. Many, if not most, of the first century followers of Jesus expected his return in their lifetime. It gave urgency to their mission and hope to their lives. Advent invites us to renew our own hope and live (and serve) with the confident expectation of Jesus’ return. When we pray “your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) we are asking for both the present and future reign of Jesus in our lives and in God’s world. Pray the Lord’s Prayer today.
- Prayer: Heavenly Father, let your name be holy in my life and in your world. I ask for your Kingdom to come into my life and for Jesus to reign in my heart today.
Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
The Christian season of Advent officially begins on Sunday. This is the four-week season of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. During Advent, Christians around the world, light candles on Advent wreaths, count down the days until Christmas on Advent devotional calendars, and – most importantly – spend time praying, reading the Bible, giving, and serving. Advent is a season of spiritual preparation, an intentional period of making room in our hearts for Jesus to be born once again into our lives.
My prayer is that every member of the church family will experience the joy of Christmas and mystery of the Gospel promise that God is with us. On the church calendar, and in various announcements, you will discover opportunities to prepare for Christmas and observe a holy Advent. These include: the family advent celebration tomorrow evening (December 1) at 5:00pm; Wednesday evening prayer services in the chapel from 7:00-7:30pm; and Music Sunday on December 16 – the combined choirs’ Christmas Cantata at 8:15 and 11:15 services, and a special music service, led by the Modern Worship Team at 9:45. This will be one of the Sundays that you will want to attend two (2) worship services and experience the wonder of Christmas through the power of music.
Our theme for Advent and Christmas this year is Christmas Through the Eyes of Mary.We’ll read some familiar stories and discover that there are many lessons to learn from Mary’s life. We will start with the final chapter of Mary’s life and work backward in time, finding ourselves at the manger in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. As we journey with Mary, we will learn more about the meaning of Christmas. With God’s help, we follow the example of Mary by welcoming the Christ-child and responding to the Good News of Jesus’ birth with these powerful words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”The first sermon in the series is called, Beginning with the End. The Scripture readings will be 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Acts 1:8-14.
This is a wonderful time of year – and many people in our community have an increased desire to connect with the meaning of the season. Someone you know may be ready for an invitation from you to come and hear the Good News about the life-changing power of God’s love and grace. Ask God to guide you to someone who needs to experience the beauty and wonder of Christmas this year.
The United Methodist Men (UMM) are selling high-quality Christmas trees at the church. The hours are 3:00pm-8:00pm on weekdays; 9:00am-7:00pm on Saturdays; and 12:30pm-5:00pm on Sundays. If you’re purchasing a tree this year, I hope you will support the UMM. The money raised supports projects at St. Matthew’s and in our community. If you can spare a few hours, the UMM are looking for help selling trees. Go to this link to sign-up to help.
In conjunction with the UMM Christmas Trees sales, wreaths and greenery are also available for purchase. The money raised by greenery sales will support youth summer mission trips to the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) and the Jeremiah Project (JP). You should know that as of right now, more than 60 youth and adults from St. Matthew’s and Woodlawn-Faith UMC (our ASP partner congregation) are planning to go to ASP. This is one of the largest groups that St. Matthew’s has ever sent. Please support them if you are able.
We continue to receive Estimates of Giving (EOG) for 2019 and I want to thank the 172 individuals/families who have turned one in. The total EOG’s to date add up to $732,630, which is approximately 70% of what we need to fund the ministries that we believe will accomplish our mission next year. If you have not returned your EOG, please do so as soon as possible. We need to hear from everyone who considers St. Matthew’s to be their church home. You can go to our website and use the Give link to download a form, complete your EOG, and/or sign-up for online giving. Remember: online giving saves church resources and makes sure you can fulfill your commitment when you are traveling. Many people find online giving helps them grow in their stewardship. Don’t forget that if you use our automatic online giving service, it must be reauthorized every year.
Earlier in November, we held our annual Charge Conference. The meeting, chaired by the District Superintendent, included action required by the United Methodist Book of Discipline along with reports about the ministries of the church. On our website, we have posted the State of the Church Report and each of our Pastors’ Reports. I encourage you click this link and read them all. The State of the Church report celebrates much of what St. Matthew’s has been doing over the past twelve months. It’s truly amazing to consider what God has been doing in and through the ministries of St. Matthew’s Church. This is the work that is supported by your generous gifts. Thank you for changing the world in Jesus’ name.
Finally, I am including below a Christmas Letter to the United Methodist Church from Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., who is the President of the Council of Bishops. It is fairly long, but it will be worth your time.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
A Peaceable Kingdom in a Divided World
A Christmas Letter to the United Methodist Church
from Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., President, Council of Bishops
and taken from Isaiah 11.
Living eight centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah had a vision, which over time was given a name: the peaceable kingdom. It’s a compelling vision: A shoot will come from a stump. A stump is a tree that has been cut down and destroyed. But the hope is that life would come out of destruction. We often place our hopes on a new leader, and so an ideal king would be enthroned, and would come from the family of David. A new political order would fulfill the hopes of the people. This passage may have been read on inauguration day, with the prayer that the Spirit of the Lord would guide and govern the leader.
Then Isaiah’s vision shifts from political science to art, to the creation, a vision of a new heaven and a new earth: the wolf and the lamb will lie down together; no one shall hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain. Paradise will be restored. All nature will sing in harmony. Isaiah is painting a picture: this is what peace looks like. This is the peaceable kingdom.
In the United Methodist Church, we have reflected on what it means to have a heart of war and a heart of peace. In seeking a way forward, we have been honest about the ways we have seen each other as issues to be discussed, problems to be solved and obstacles to be overcome. And we have seen the image of God in each other and listened with empathy to one another. We know what violence looks like, the harm we do to one another and the harm that we experience.
The prophet asks a different question: “What does peace look like?” This vision of the prophet Isaiah has always been inspirational. You can see it, and, of course, that is a part of what makes it so compelling. In the 1820s, almost two hundred years ago, there was a deep separation within the Quakers living in the United States over slavery. It was a church fight. Some of us have been through church fights. Conflict is present in many of our local churches, in many of our communities, in our nations, and in our global denomination. There are deep divisions within the people called Methodist as the year 2018 concludes, over our polity in relation to the LBGTQ community and the interpretation of scripture.
Edward Hicks lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and was a Quaker minister. To make extra income he painted, mostly responding to the needs of others. He painted tavern signs, farm equipment, whatever was needed, and he was good at it. Although he was self-taught, he had a gift. He began to make a fair amount of money, and this upset his Quaker congregation, who felt that he was violating their customs of simple living. Finally, he became enmeshed in a church split, between those who wanted to live more frugally, and others who did not see a problem. He gave up painting and took up farming, but he was a terrible farmer. Later he gave up the preaching ministry too, and transitioned back to the craft of painting.
Soon enough, he came to discover that he could use his painting to express his faith. He began to draw oil paintings based on Isaiah’s prophecy: The wolf shall live with the lamb, a little child shall lead them (11.6). He drew the same painting over and over again, and there are now over one hundred versions. We know it now as the Peaceable Kingdom, and it is his best-known work. One version of the painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; another is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.; another, which inspired the composer Randall Thompson, is in the Worchester Art Museum in Massachusetts; and, another is in the Reynolda House, a few miles away from one of the congregations my wife Pam and I served, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
In most of the paintings the predators and prey are together. There is a bull, a lion, a lamb, a bear, a child. They are most often to the right of the painting, congested together. For the artist the animals reflected something of our temperaments–the lion was anger, the bear was calmness. To the left there is often a separate scene, William Penn conducting a treaty with the native Americans, the first peoples. A river flows toward them, and light shines upon them. The spirit, the light placed within us by God, helps us to dwell together in peace, despite our animosities and our differences.
It could be that Edward Hicks was inspired to paint this picture, over and over again, because he was obsessed with a vision of peace. Perhaps it was due to the growing division in America between North and South over the practice of slavery. Perhaps it was due to the conflict that was present in his own community, over the teachings of his church and his lifestyle. Perhaps it was due to the inner turmoil within, over what exactly God wanted him to do with his life.
Thirty-five years ago, in 1983, Stanley Hauerwas published a book entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. His earlier works had been collections of essays in the field of Christian Ethics; this was an attempt to write an introduction to his discipline, from the perspective of character, virtue and narrative. The title was taken from Isaiah’s prophecy and the introduction included a discussion of the painting of Edward Hicks. In time, Hauerwas would become one of our most influential theologians.
In The Peaceable Kingdom, Hauerwas suggests that Christians are called to bear witness to the truth of the Holy Scriptures, noting that “this world is the creation of a good God who is known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus” (15). We believe this to be the truth of the gospel, and yet we cannot use violence in the advancement of this truth. Instead we have trust and confidence in the ultimate victory of God over the forces of evil, sin and death. In a fragmented and polarized world, this is crucial: Christians with liberal and conservative convictions are tempted to use coercive strategies for the sake of an end they believe to be just, and Christian leaders mimic the practices of our secular counterparts in seeking strategic gains through actions that are not consistent with our covenant promises.
At our best, we understand that leaders never cease being disciples. The formation of character and conscience takes place through immersion into the Christian narrative and participation in the Christian community. We discover that we are sinners, that we have a continuing capacity for self-deception. To be a Christ-follower is to move beyond individualism to see the persons God has called us to serve; in so doing we discover the needs of others to be the pathways to our freedom, as they remove the greatest obstacle to freedom, namely our self-absorption (44).
Freed from self-absorption, as individuals and congregations, we are given new life. The call of God is, in Hauerwas’ words, “the confidence, gained through participation in God’s kingdom, to trust ourselves and others. Such confidence becomes the source of our character and our freedom as we are loosed from a debilitating preoccupation with ourselves” (49).
The Present Moment
United Methodism, at the conclusion of 2018, has become a church infected by “a debilitating preoccupation with ourselves”. Many of our congregations do not have the energy or will to be in mission beyond the walls of the sanctuary. Commenting a few days after his election to the papacy, Pope Francis spoke of the “self-referential church”, which believes that “she has her own light”, and “lives to give glory only to one another, and not the rest of the world.” At a denominational and structural level, we often reflect the systemic polarization of our political cultures; our social pronouncements, even those that advance values of inclusion, protection of the vulnerable, and seek peace, are often harsh and brittle. Ironically, these pronouncements become louder as the church itself becomes more marginalized, fragmented and disconnected from the real world.
Our fragmentation, violence and disconnection are signs that “we have failed to be an obedient church,” in the language of our prayer of confession (United Methodist Hymnal, p. 8). In our individual lives, in our congregations, in the Council of Bishops, in our denomination, in our nation, we yearn for a right path, for a new and living way, for an alternative to the status quo. In the language of the hymn, there are “fightings without and fears within.”
The way forward may be the rediscovery of our core mission: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world” (Book of Discipline, 120). Jesus is the embodiment of the peaceable kingdom. To recall the words of the gospel about John the Baptist: “he was not the light; he came to bear witness to the light” (John 1. 8). The church approximates the peaceable kingdom as she stays close to the person and work of Christ. This is an act of radical self-denial. The first task of a disciple, Hauerwas notes, is not to forgive but to be forgiven (89). To confess our need for forgiveness is an act of humility, and one that calls upon the patience of God. To confess that we need to be forgiven is to give up control, and to place ourselves in communion with God’s people, who are also imperfect and, yet, who are God’s chosen messengers of grace and acceptance for us.
And so, we gather under the cross and flame, in communities around the world, to discover anew the meaning and message of Advent and Christmas. As we take the bread and cup into our hands we hear the good news:
Christ has died–making peace with God on our behalf (Ephesians 2);
Christ is risen–breathing on the disciples and saying, “peace be with you” (John 21);
Christ will come again–this is Advent….”Emmanuel–God with us–shall come to Thee, O Israel” (Matthew 1).
As United Methodists, the words of an eighth century prophet, the vision of an eighteenth-century painter, and the writings of a twentieth-century theologian can guide us, for our questions and struggles remain the same.
• How do we discover restored relationships?
• Why is it so difficult for us to ask for forgiveness?
• How do we most faithfully advocate for those who have been treated unjustly?
• How do we accept God’s will for the future?
• Where do we find the capacity to live in fellowship with those who differ from us?
• What is our vision of peace?
The ruins and devastation surround the prophet Isaiah in the eighth century, but he remains faithful: he sits still long enough, listens closely enough, discerns carefully enough, and it becomes clear. God paints a picture for him, and us. It is a portrait of anger and calmness, strength and weakness, living together. Could this vision exist, in the present moment: in our nations, in our denomination, in our local churches, in our families, within each of us?
Perhaps, in the words of Hauerwas, “we have the grace to do one thing” (149-151), meaning we live in community, we stay in connection and we engage in the basic practices of discipleship that make the forgiveness and love of God visible and tangible. This is the peaceable kingdom.
How can the United Methodist Church, in its global expression, become a sign of this peaceable kingdom?
At Christmas, if we sit still long enough, if we listen closely enough, if we discern carefully enough, all of this may become clear. Let us open our eyes and our ears, our hearts and our hands, so that we might see the salvation of God.
The Peace of the Lord be with you!
+Kenneth H. Carter, Jr.
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
John Braostoski, “Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom”, Friends Journal, February, 2000. Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom. Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_Hicks_-_Peaceable_Kingdom.jpg. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI. Pope Francis, Speech to the Pre-Conclave College of Cardinals (America, March 27, 2013). The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Hymnal. The Anatomy of Peace (The Arbinger Institute).
Monday November 26 – Psalm 118:1-6, 28-29
The first line of Psalm 118 reminds us of why we give thanks to God. We give thanks to God because of God’s love, because of who God has been in our lives and in the lives of others. This passage has a clear refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Today, wonder about how you have encountered God’s love in your life. Today, whenever you say “thank you,” remember the refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever.” How will that change your outlook during the day?
Prayer: God, today as I give thanks I remember that your steadfast love endures forever. Help me to keep those words in my heart and mind. Amen.
Tuesday –November 27 Colossians 3:1-17
This scripture from Colossians describes what it is like to have new life in Christ. New life in Christ is about compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. It’s also about living in community with love. New life in Christ is about being the body of Christ (vs. 15). The final verse in this scripture asks us to give thanks for this new life. When have you given thanks for the body of Christ? What can you give thanks for here at St. Matthew’s? This week, share a word of thanks with our St. Matthew’s community.
Prayer: God, through the gift of you son Jesus, we experience new life. Guide me as I give thanks for new life in Christ. Clothe me each moment in your compassion. Amen.
Wednesday – November 28 Matthew 26:26-28
Matthew 26 describes the very first celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In verse 27, we see Jesus giving thanks. We understand that Jesus is giving thanks to God for the gifts of the bread and the wine. When we take communion we use these same words of Jesus and give thanks as well. It is important for us to practice giving thanks. How are you developing this practice of giving thanks in your daily life? Are you giving thanks before meals? Are you keeping a gratitude journal or using an app on your phone? Maybe, your just sharing things you are grateful with friends or family?
Prayer: God, remind me today that practicing thankfulness is important. Inspire gratefulness in me and enable me to give thanks each day. Amen.
Thursday – November 29 Psalm 95:1-7
Giving thanks happens personally to God. Giving thanks happens between individuals. And, giving thanks also happens as a community in worship. Psalm 95 shows thanksgiving as a part of worship. When we enter the presence of God we should enter it with thanksgiving. Have you imagined giving thanks as a form of worship? How can you incorporate thanksgiving in your daily life as a part of your relationship with God? How can your thanksgiving be a prayer?
Prayer: God, today I ask to come into your presence with thanksgiving. Turn my thanksgivings into opportunities to worship you more. Amen.
Friday -November 30 Psalm 96:1-2
Every scripture in the Grow Pray Study Guide this week has been about thanksgiving. This Psalm is about praise. Thanksgiving is generally specific. Praise is not particular, but for the wonder and glory of who God is, was, and will be. We are called to praise God every day. How can you incorporate times of praise into your thanksgiving? Think of things you can praise God for today.
Prayer: Eternal God, I praise you today for your enduring grace and love. Lead to me to give thanks and praise each and every day. Amen.
Saturday – December 1 Revelation 7:9-12
Praise and thanksgiving to God are not just a daily activity but a constant and eternal activity. Focus on thanksgiving and making it a daily practice may become mundane; or even like going through the motions. At the heart of this scripture is a scene of “great multitude that no could count” giving thanks to God. Our gratitude isn’t limited to our lives today but is part of our life with God for all eternity. Today, invite God to be part of your thanksgiving, to inspire your gratefulness, and to increase your gratitude.
Prayer: God of every season, turn my thanksgiving into eternal praise for your grace and love in my life. Shift my limited focus to the wider vision of your love. Amen.
Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
I hope you are having a healthy and Happy Thanksgiving weekend. It’s the time of year when we are prompted to reflect on life’s blessings and give thanks to God. We have so much for which to be thankful. It’s so easy to focus on what’s wrong in the world; we fail to notice what’s good – in our own lives and in the world around us. If you haven’t done so already, take time this weekend to practice thanks-giving. And don’t let the practice of gratitude stop when the Thanksgiving leftovers are finished.
On Sunday morning, we will conclude our With Grateful Hearts sermon series. The final message is entitled Cultivating Gratitude. The Scripture readings will be Psalm 95:1-7 and Matthew 6:31-33. Please plan to join us if you are in town.
Unfortunately, we have been having some problems with our website this week. Hopefully it will be up and running soon. I apologize for any inconvenience.
The United Methodist Men (UMM) will begin selling high-quality Christmas trees as soon as the trees arrive and are set-up. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen weather and ground conditions at the tree farm, delivery of the trees may be delayed. They should arrive soon. Please support the UMM if you are able and if you can spare a few hours, the UMM are looking for help selling trees. Go to this link to sign-up to help.
The Christian season of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas that call us to prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus) officially begins December 2. But Advent programs and events start next week. In the weekly announcements and Sunday’s bulletin, you can find more information about Wednesday evening Advent services, the United Methodist Women’s Christmas Brunch, and the Family Advent Celebration. Our theme for Advent and Christmas this year is Christmas Through the Eyes of Mary. We’ll read some familiar stories and discover that there are many lessons to learn from Mary’s life. This is a wonderful time of year – and many people in our community have an increased desire to connect with the meaning of the season. Someone you know may be ready for an invitation from you to come and hear the Good News about the life-changing power of God’s love and grace. Ask God to guide you to someone who needs to experience the beauty and wonder of Christmas this year.
Finally, thank you to all who have turned in a 2019 Estimate of Giving (EOG). If you have not returned your EOG, please do so as soon as possible. Your commitment is an expression of gratitude, praise and worship to God – they represent a sacrifice you make both to honor God and to invest in God’s work at St. Matthew’s So far, we’ve received 159 EOG’s for approximately $695,000. We need to hear from everyone who considers St. Matthew’s to be their church home and hope to receive a minimum of 260 EOG’s. When it’s up and running again, you can go to our website and use the Give link to download a form, complete your EOG, and/or sign-up for online giving. Remember: online giving saves church resources and makes sure you can fulfill your commitment when you are traveling. Many people find online giving helps them grow in their stewardship. Don’t forget that if you use our automatic online giving service, it must be reauthorized every year.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.