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Advent 3: Love in the midst of Hate

The journey towards Christmas continues. Ten days from today is Christmas Day. Advertisers would tell us to hurry up and finish our shopping. The hustle and bustle is real and all around us. Advent is about preparing for the birth Jesus, but perhaps it has more to do with our hearts than with how many gifts we have purchased or how many packages are around our tree.

The candles of Peace and Joy have been lit and are joined this week by the pink or rose candle Love. While I am certain I didn’t talk about hate today in worship, I did focus on Love. Love can be elusive this time of the year in spite of all the smiling faces that come at us in the advertisements streaming on our devices or pictured all around us. Love is a gift and a commitment that we know first from God’s love for us.

In the Zephaniah passage, this verse is profound: God will renew you in his love (New Revised Standard Version). The Common English Bible says it this way: God will create calm with his love. On Christmas eve we sing “All is calm, all is bright” and “Son of God, love’s pure light.” Love doesn’t back down from difficulty or fear, love renews us and creates calm in our lives our hearts.

You can find today’s worship service here. I am praying for Love this week to renew me and you and create calm in our lives and hearts and spirits.

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Year of Gratitude: December, Week 2

DECEMBER                                                                                                                                          We are now less than two weeks from Christmas day. For many of us, the crush of things to do, places to go and parties and events to attend seem relentless. Where does one find the time to give thanks? Like Straight No Chaser’s song, The  Christmas Can- Can, it can feel like a mad dash to get to the end of the season. Other than a quick thank you through a text or e-mail or phone sending a thank you note may feel like one more thing to do in an already ridiculously full calendar.

Yes, indeed, I am going to challenge you to write a thank you note this week. Our focus, will be on the gift of time. This one thing, seems to be the hardest to grasp with our culture overwhelming us with things to do. And there are so many wonderful places to go, performances to attend, special worship services and events in which to participate. Time is precious and a gift in and of itself.

So this weeks challenge is to write one thank note to someone who has given  you the gift of time. Maybe they went to coffee or lunch with you, or called you or stopped by and their presence and time spent with you was a special gift. I believe I often overlook the simpliest things because I get too busy, too focused; a simple hug, a “how are you, really?” and the time it takes is a gift beyone measure.

Write one thank note, at least for time shared and given. Then sometime this week offer a gift of time to someone else. Some one you love,  someone who you haven’t talked to for a while, or perhaps, just bring a cup of coffee to their desk and see how they are doing. This week, we give thanks for the gift of time.

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Advent 2: Joy in the midst of Uncertainty

The dawned filled with sunshine. My week has been filled with wonderful activities at the church, with some deep and meaningful family time and our house filled with laugher and love. Yesterday, December 8, we gathered to celebrate my mother-in-laws unique and unrepeatable life and spirit. She had died in early November, but this weekend allowed more of her grandchildren to make the trek to Wichita for her memorial service.

Traditionally the candle of joy is the third week of Advent. This week, at least personally, it seemed very appropriate. Joy can come sneaking around the corner or burst out in the most amazing times and events. My husband’s family here, created a joy filled space and time as memory board were made and stories shared and laughter and more laughter ringing through the rooms.

In the sermon Calm and Bright, from Marcia McFee’s Worship Design Studio, the 200th anniversary of the debut of Silent Night, Holy Night is celebrated. Verse two of that well known carol goes like this:

Silent Night, Holy Night,  Shepherds quake, at the sight                                                              Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia”                                                 Christ, the Savior is born, Christ, the Savior is born.

When fear moves to awe and wonder, joy becomes part of the experience of the glories streaming and the alleluias being sung. In today’s service we focused on Elizabeth and Mary’s joy at being part of God’s grace being made real in their lives and through their participation in God’s work in the world. You can find today’s worship service in it’s entirety here.   

I am praying for new spaces and places to experience joy in this Advent Season.

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Year of Gratitude: December, Week 1

DECEMBER                                                                                                                                        Gifts: This month tends to be all about gifts. We receive and give them. There are many kinds of gifts, physical, spiritual and emotional. This month we give thanks for all the gifts we receive.

Advent begins our new year as Christians. This month the focus of our gratitude challenge is gifts. December is all about gifts. There is both the secular focus of Santa bringing gifts and the Christians focus of the Christ Child as a gift and the gifts we share out of that experience of the birth Jesus. Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights usually falls during December as well and includes gift giving as part of its ritual and tradition.

There are many kinds of gifts, and each brings its own joy. This first week, I’d like us to consider the gift of talents. Each one of us as beloved sons and daughters of God are gifted, talented in one way or another or in multiple ways. We are, using my favorite phrase, unique and unrepeatable.

This week, I would like to challenge each one of us to write a thank you note to at least one person whose talents have a made a difference in our lives. Perhaps that might be a musician whose music makes your soul soar. Perhaps its a writer, locally known or perhaps someone whose blog or book or an article has changed you or your changed your mind. Perhaps its a chef, or a friend who cooks or bakes and has gifted you their creations. Maybe you could consider thanking someone whose talent is often overlooked, a good listener, a good friend. Write a thank you note sharing your gratitude.

Then, share your talent with someone in the next few days. Bake some cookies, make a phone call, share a gift that only you can give. May the gratitude we share, be a source of light and love during this Advent season.

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Advent 1: Peace in the Midst of Conflict

Today we celebrated the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the Christian New Year. Using Marcia McFee’s “Calm and Bright” we are focusing on the beloved carol “Silent Night” for our Advent and Christmas season. Churches all over the United States is using this material to explore the 200th anniversary of “Silent Night.”

The creative juices flowed and what fun it was to figure out how to fill our vast sanctuary with stars. Our Adult council began cutting and pasting and two women cut over 300 of the stars we used not only in the sanctuary but in the chapel and in a couple of other worship spaces. Hanging stars down from our ceiling required team work with our Director of media, his family, my husband and I.

The choir sang beautifully, and it was a wonderful morning to begin the journey to Christmas. You can find the link to worship here. The video begins with announcements, the worship service itself starts at about 5:23. I am looking forward to exploring what it’s like when “all is calm and bright.”

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A Year of Gratitude

This Sunday, December 2, 2018 begins the Christian New Year. It is the season of Advent, a season of waiting, of expectation and preparation for the birth of Jesus. I am very excited about our Advent season, but I am also energized by the challenge I talked about in worship on Sunday that we, at First United Methodist Church, in downtown Wichita, Kansas embark on a thankful year. Each week I will be encouraging people to write one thank you note, and to do one thing out of gratitude and thanksgiving.

I will be publishing “prompts” and ideas each week on the theme for each month. You can find those themes here on our website.  For December, the theme will be gifts. For this week, before we actually begin, I would like to encourage you to write one thank you note. Maybe it can be for a beautiful thanksgiving meal you had with someone last week, or perhaps a coffee date, or just a note to thank one person for what they mean to you and the difference they have made in your life.

Let’s get started. I believe that a year of gratitude can change not only my life, but yours and begin the process of transforming the world. Meister Eckhart wrote, “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is thank you, it will be enough.” I believe that, but I also believe that prayer is more than words, it is a way life. I am deeply grateful for the congregation I serve, for family, for friends and for those who read my blog.

Thank you, and may all of us be blessed in this year of gratitude.

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Thankful 24/7: Thankful Year

Today was interesting day in Kansas. When I headed out early this morning, it was cloudy and windy from the north, but not yet bitter, nor was there any moisture in the air. First service began with a handful of people and ended up with over 20 in worship, which I would not have guessed given our forecast. By the time that service ended the snow had arrived. The original forecast was for Wichita to have a “trace” and by 9:00 a.m. that forecast had changed from a trace to 2-4 inches. Churches all over the state cancelled because of the blizzard and the weather was terrible.

Our second service was very light, as expected, but what a morning it was. I am well aware when the weather is bad across the state, we have many more people worship with us via KAKE TV (our ABC affliate) and our online streaming. We introduced our two newest staff members and ended our sermon series, “Thankful 24/7.”

It is one of those odd years we are not yet in Advent, so we had one more opportunity to look at what it means to give thanks and to be grateful. My challenge today was for us to have a year of gratitude. The idea is not original to me, but I have been considering for three or four years. In worship each person was given a card with each month and it’s theme. We will begin with the Christian New Year which is next week and the first of Advent. On this blog I will be giving weekly “prompts” with ideas for thank you notes and ways to live out our gratitude.

I am looking to this challenge as I strive to be Thankful 24/7 and to commit to a year of gratitude. Today’s worship service can be found here.  May this year be one of deep thankfulness.

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