Saturday, December 31, 2011

for everything there is a season

Good morning sisters and brothers,

At least the first part of this reading is familiar to many of us, whether from the Bible or the song. The passage not only talks about how everything happens in its time, it also talks about the limits of our understanding. As the New Year turns, we look forward to what God will do with us in 2012. I'm excited to see where our ministry will take us and how we will grow in faith. Enjoy the day/evening's festivities and please be safe.
God bless,

Ecclesiastes 3:1-17
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

9What gain have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. 14I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. 15That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

16Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.

Friday, December 30, 2011

reflecting on our limits

Good morning brothers and sisters,
The next two days we're reading from Ecclesiastes to help us reflect on the passing of one year and the beginning of another. Ecclesiastes is a book full of reflections on life. It sometimes feels pessimistic, but on balance it is realistic about the hardships and frustrations of life. At the same time, the conclusion the writer eventually comes to is that, while humans are limited in what we can do, and life is often frustrating, we can still find joy in following our calling and worshiping God. So for the morning reading, follow the Teacher's reflection, but take it with a grain of salt and more than a hint of joy.

God bless,

Ecclesiastes 1:1-9
The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?

4A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.

9What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

praise and power

Good evening friends,
Maggie and I are safely back in Rochester after a lovely few days with my family and an easy flight home. As we get ready for New Year's and continue to celebrate Christmas, we think about the limits of human power and God's wonderful love for the powerless. This Psalm reminds us of these things and encourages us to trust God while we give him praise.
Blessings on your evening,

Psalm 146
1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

5Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free; 8the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
9The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

praising God

Good morning sisters and brothers,
I chose this Psalm of praise for today so we could spend some time just praising God. Christ is born and rather than moving on to learning something else in scripture I'd rather dwell in the amazing love and surprising grace we see in the birth of our savior. So read the Psalm slowly and give yourself a moment to just sit in praise. Our God is amazing and full of love.

God bless,

Psalm 147:1-11
1  Praise the Lord!
     How good it is to sing praises to our God;
     for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2  The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
     he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3  He heals the brokenhearted,
     and binds up their wounds.
4  He determines the number of the stars;
     he gives to all of them their names.
5  Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
     his understanding is beyond measure.
6  The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
     he casts the wicked to the ground.

7  Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
     make melody to our God on the lyre.
8  He covers the heavens with clouds,
     prepares rain for the earth,
     makes grass grow on the hills.
9  He gives to the animals their food,
     and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
     nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
     in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Good morning brothers and sisters,
Our reading this morning is a psalm of praise to God. God's goodness and wisdom are amazing. One thing that jump out at me in this passage are that God always remembers his covenant. God keeps his covenant, even when we can't imagine how. I also appreciate the reminder that wisdom begins with seeking God, not with education or success or any of the other things we tend to value first. As we live into the miracle of Christmas, let's begin our wisdom with God and see where God leads us.

God bless,

Psalm 111
1  Praise the LORD!
   I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,
     in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2  Great are the works of the LORD,
     studied by all who delight in them.
3  Full of honor and majesty is his work,
     and his righteousness endures forever.
4  He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
     the LORD is gracious and merciful.
5  He provides food for those who fear him;
     he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6  He has shown his people the power of his works,
     in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7  The works of his hands are faithful and just;
     all his precepts are trustworthy.
8  They are established forever and ever,
     to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9  He sent redemption to his people;
     he has commanded his covenant forever.
     Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
     all those who practice it have a good understanding.
     His praise endures forever.

Monday, December 26, 2011

like a mother's love

Good evening friends,
Isaiah gives us a touching image of God's love for God's people. Many Israelites felt like God had abandoned them. Isaiah lets the people know that there's no way God could ever forget God's people. That's a promise we can hold onto today as well. God loves us more than we can imagine; be not afraid.

God bless,

Isaiah 49:13-18
13Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
14But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me."
15Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
16See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
17Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you.
18Lift up your eyes all around and see; they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, says the LORD, you shall put all of them on like an ornament, and like a bride you shall bind them on.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas messengers

Merry Christmas sisters and brothers!
Today Isaiah helps us rejoice about good news: the good news of God's redemption. John sets Jesus' birth in its cosmic place. Jesus is not just the anointed king, not just the son of God, but truly God who created the world. Even though the dark forces of the world can't accept Jesus, even though they try to extinguish his light; Christ's light and love keep shining. Thanks be to God; Alleluia!

God bless,

Isaiah 52:7-10
7  How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
   who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8  Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy;
   for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion.
9  Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
   for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations;
   and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

John 1:1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

shepherds and angels (oh my)

Good morning and Merry Christmas (Eve),
Our last night of living nativity was a lot of fun and I'm excited about Christmas Eve. Just a reminder, our Christmas Eve service will begin at 7pm tonight (Saturday). I'm looking forward to seeing friends and family and new faces. Feel free to bring a friend to hear the good news of God's love appearing in a manger. Of course, that's the story we read together for our morning reading. Jesus is born, and right away God sends an angel to tell the shepherds. Jesus' birth means good news for everyone, including you and me.

Blessings this Christmas and every day,

Luke 2:8-20
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Friday, December 23, 2011

in a manger

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Tonight is our last night of the living nativity from 6-8pm. If you've never seen it; it really brings the story of Jesus' birth to life. Come and bring a friend. In addition to the characters it would be great to have a couple of people helping Mike with hospitality. We'll be setting up hot drinks and cookies in the narthex beginning about 5:30. The evening is a great chance to welcome people to our church and, more importantly, to the story of Jesus.

That story is our reading for this morning. It's a familiar story for many of us, but it never stops amazing me. As you read, open your heart up and try to welcome Jesus into your life in a new way.

God bless,

Luke 2:1-7
1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.

5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prince of Peace

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading looks forward to the coming Messiah who will rescue Israel from trouble and despair. The Messiah won't save with military power and violence; instead God's chosen leader will put an end to war. We look forward to the child born in Bethlehem, the anointed one who is the Prince of Peace. As we look forward to Christmas, we also pray for Christ's return and the fulfillment of God's promise. Come, Lord Jesus.
God bless,

Isaiah 9:2-7
2  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;    those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.
 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; 
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood 
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace 
for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.    The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

one in Christ

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's reading is a slight departure from our usual pattern. We're reading an excerpt from the Presbyterian Church's constitution, in particular from our Form of Government. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a beautiful constitution, but at times it is challenging to read because it is somewhat dense. Today's reading talks about how the church is one church even though that doesn't always seem to be the place. Because we believe we are all one church through Jesus Christ, we are called to work for greater unity in the church. One way we do that at Laurelton is through our local ecumenical association, the North East Church Cluster. With this group of Christians from different denominations we will celebrate a service for Christian Unity in January.

Blessings today,

PC(USA) Form of Government F-1.0302 a.
Unity is God’s gift to the Church in Jesus Christ. Just as God is one God and Jesus Christ is our one Savior, so the Church is one because it belongs to its one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Church seeks to include all people and is never content to enjoy the benefits of Christian community for itself alone. There is one Church, for there is one Spirit, one hope, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:5–6).

Because in Christ the Church is one, it strives to be one. To be one with Christ is to be joined with all those whom Christ calls into relationship with him. To be thus joined with one another is to become priests for one another, praying for the world and for one another and sharing the various gifts God has given to each Christian for the benefit of the whole community. Division into different denominations obscures but does not destroy unity in Christ. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), affirming its historical continuity with the whole Church of Jesus Christ, is committed to the reduction of that obscurity, and is willing to seek and to deepen communion with all other churches within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

better together

Good afternoon friends,
I chose today's reading as a reflection on this week's prayer theme, community. We are stronger and wiser in community than we are alone. That's true for us as individuals and for our congregations. We work best together. Tonight at 7 we'll have our final Urban Presbyterians Together Advent service at New Life Presbyterian Church (Monroe Ave and Rosedale St.). It is a service focused on community support and hope. I'm very much looking forward to it. If you feel in need of a boost of hope and community it would be great to see you there.
Blessings on the evening and the season,

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
9Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Monday, December 19, 2011

seek the welfare of the city

Good morning friends,
This reading is a classic passage for those of us who love urban ministry. God has sent his people Israel into exile in Babylon, into a big city. It would be tempting for the people to withdraw into their own cocoon, depressed about their defeat and the challenges around them. God calls them to do something different; even though they are far from home, even though they are in the land of a nation that conquered them, God calls them to work to make the city better. We too can be tempted to retreat, but instead God calls us to invest in community, to seek the welfare of our city. In that work God brings about wholeness and blessing for us and for others.

God bless,

Jeremiah 29: 1-14
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2This was after King Jeconiah, and the queen mother, the court officials, the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the artisans, and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem. 3The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah son of Shaphan and Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom King Zedekiah of Judah sent to Babylon to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

It said: 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. 10For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Good morning friends,
I'd like to thank everyone who helped or stopped by to see the living nativity last night. We had a great time sharing the story of Christ's birth with our neighborhood. If you missed it last night, or if you saw it but want to play a part this time through, we'll be back in the manger on Friday at 6pm. Our passages today talk about community and God's amazing comfort for us. The Psalm talks about the beauty of Jerusalem, a city that symbolized for Israel the home of God's temple and the community of faith. The passage from Isaiah proclaims God's incredible forgiveness for Israel and for the world. God reaches out to us and calls us to come home. God also calls us to proclaim the good news of hope to others. With all our faults and failings, we are the ones who will share God's love with people in need of that good news. For whom might you be exactly the right person to introduce them to God's love?



Isaiah 40:1-11
1  Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
   that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
   that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3  A voice cries out:
   “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4  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.
5  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together,
     for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6  A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”
   All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7  The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; 
surely the people are grass.
8  The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

9  Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
   lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
   say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
   his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms,
   and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 122:1-9
1I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!"
2Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3Jerusalem-built as a city that is bound firmly together.
4To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD,
as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
5For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.
6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May they prosper who love you.
7Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers."
8For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be within you."
9For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

the good news for everyone

Good morning brothers and sisters,
This morning we will be putting together and delivering Christmas baskets and angel tree gifts. If you've chosen a child to buy a gift for, please bring it in to the church by 9:30 this morning. The morning of assembling and delivering these baskets is a lot of fun. If you're free you can join in the joy; it will remind you what Christmas is about.

Our passage from Isaiah talks about how God's redemption isn't just for Israel, but for everyone who seeks the Lord. Even those who think of themselves as less than others find a true place in God's sight. God's love and calling are for everyone, shepherds and angels, kings and peasants, people of Israel and Iraq; Afghanistan and the US. We are all God's people, on family joined together by God's amazing love and called to reach out to others with that love. May the love and peace of Jesus fill your heart today.

God bless,

Isaiah 56:1-8
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.

3Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” 4For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

6And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

Friday, December 16, 2011

God's word doesn't return empty

Good morning friends,
Thanks to all who participated in the prayer vigil. It was a great experience for me; I hope it  was a blessing for you too as part of your Advent journey. Today's reading is God's invitation to us to come home. God is just longing to forgive us and restore our lives and world. I love the image of God's word never returning empty, but watering the earth and bringing redemption wherever it goes. I pray we would be part of sharing and showing the word to the world around us, this Advent and always.

God bless,

Isaiah 55:6-13
6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the water of life

Good morning brothers and sisters,
The 24 hour prayer vigil has been a real blessing for me; a chance to visit with a few members of the church, a chance to sit in silence with God, a chance to reflect on our life together and where God is calling us now. Quiet in this season is a rare gift that reminds us of the true gift of the season, the mystery of the Christ child "veiled in flesh" as the hymn says. Today's reading reminds us to seek the things that really matter, to come to God for the free gift of life. Christ is the promise that one day everything will be right: everyone will have enough to eat, peace will reign on earth as it does now in heaven, and we will truly know the God who loves us so much. As we wait for Jesus to come into the manger, we pray for his peaceful, loving kingdom to come in our time.

May your waiting and prayer be blessed,


Isaiah 55:1-5
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

justice and prayer

Good morning brothers and sisters,
There are still spots available on Thursday from 1-5am and from 11am-noon for our prayer vigil. Let me know if you can sign up; it will be a great chance to boost your prayer life and our church's ministry. As you think about prayer, please continue to keep the Ipacs family in your prayers as they mourn the death of John Ipacs, Char's father in law. Calling hours are today from 3-7 at 570 Kings Highway and the service is tomorrow at 9:30 at St. Stanislaus.

Our reading today presents again God's call to justice through the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah has hash words for powerful people who take advantage of the vulnerable. God has a special place in his heart for those in need, which we see most powerfully in Jesus' birth in a stable. God's love is overwhelming, and he always calls out to us to come home.

God bless,

Isaiah 10:1-4
Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, 2to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey! 3What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth, 4so as not to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain? For all this his anger has not turned away; his hand is stretched out still.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

supporting each other

Good morning sisters and brothers,
We still have some spaces available in our prayer vigil for tomorrow through Thursday. The available times are 7-8pm tomorrow and 1-5am, 8-9am and 10am -noon on Thursday. This is a great opportunity to lift your prayers for our city and world. Please email or call me with questions or to sign up. THere will be someone in the building all night, so you won't be alone.

Today's reading comes from Deuteronomy, a book of sermons and final instructions for Israel before they entered the Promised Land. The topic today is care for the poor, which generally happened through loans from their neighbors. Those loans had no interest attached and all debts were to be cancelled every seven years. How does God call us to care for the poor among us today?

God bless,

Deuteronomy 15:7-11
7If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hannah's song

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Today's passage echoes Mary's song of praise that we read yesterday, but comes from the Old Testament. Hannah was one of two women married to Elkanah. Hannah wasn't able to have children, but the other wife, Penninah was. Penninah made fun of Hannah for not having children and Hannah became distraught. One year when the family went to God's sanctuary in Shiloh to offer sacrifices, Hannah went to the sanctuary to pray for a son. She was so devoted and upset in her prayer that Eli, the priest thought she was drunk. She promised that if she had a son he would be devoted to the Lord. Sure enough, Hannah conceived and sings this song of praise to God when she dedicates him to God's service at the sanctuary. The son grew up to be the famous prophet Samuel who anointed both Saul and David as the first kings of Israel. Like Mary's song, Hannah's is a powerful statement about God's tendency to turn things upside down.

God bless,


1 Samuel 2:1-10
Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. 2“There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 3Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. 5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.

6The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. 8He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. 9“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. 10The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Good morning friends,
Soon after Mary heard the angel's message about her calling to be the mother of Jesus, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She was probably hoping for some wisdom and support from this older woman who was also a part of God's amazing plan. When she got there Elizabeth heard Mary's voice and felt her own baby jump for joy. She praised God for the wonderful thing God was doing.

Mary responds with praise of her own. This passage is sometimes known as the song of Mary because it is beautifully poetic. It is also called the Magnificat because in Latin that is the first word Mary says (it means magnify or praise). Mary's words of praise are a beautiful expression of God's love for the oppressed and desire to bring justice to the world. This is a passage that rewards rereading because of its beauty and because it crystallizes how God's love in Jesus turns the world upside down.

God bless,


Luke 1: 46-55
46And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the LORD, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

the Spirit of the Lord

Good morning friends,
This is a favorite passage of mine from Isaiah. Isaiah reflects on his calling from God to be a prophet of hope and challenge: hope to those who are pressed down by injustice and challenge for those who are comfortable with the way things are. We also see something of a dialogue: Isaiah thinks about his calling and God proclaims that the future will be hopeful as justice grows and flourishes. The setting for the passage is probably when the people of Judah returned from the Babylonian exile to find their cities destroyed. It offers a word of hope for us as we seek to build up our troubles city in the power of God's justice.

One more thing I love about this passage is from the New Testament. During Jesus' ministry we often read that he went into the synagogue on a Sabbath to teach, but we only once hear much about his teaching: Luke 4. Jesus is teaching in his hometown of Nazareth and the beginning of this passage is the one he reads. As the first thing we read about his ministry, it is something of a mission statement: preaching good news to the poor and oppressed and comforting those who mourn. Jesus tells the crowd, "Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." May we follow in his footsteps.

God bless,


Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

8For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

10I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hagar and Ishmael

Good evening or morning brothers and sisters,
Today we continue our theme of mothers and children looking at the trouble story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Both before and after God called Abraham and Sarah to leave their home for the promised land, Sarah was unable to have children. That was a problem not only because wanting to have children and being unable to is heart-breaking, but especially because God had promised to make Abraham's descendants into a great nation. That promised felt like a dead end without any kids. At one point Sarah proposed the idea of having Abraham sleep with Sarah's slave Hagar so they could have children that way. The trouble was when Hagar did conceive she and Sarah stopped getting along. When God's promise of a son through Sarah finally came true, Sarah wanted to make sure her son wouldn't have a rival for his inheritance. That's where our story takes off. God's love works even when our injustice seems worst.

God bless,


Genesis 21:9-21
9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” 11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. 12But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. 13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”

14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.

17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. 20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

raised from the dead

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Our story of Elijah and the mother of Zarepheth continues this morning. Jesus refers to this story when he speaks in Nazareth early in his ministry. He makes the point that God often works through people who are unexpected, not even part of Israel. He uses this woman who lives in Zarepheth, which belongs to Sidon, not Israel, as an example. Perhaps not surprisingly, Jesus is almost killed for his message. The story itself is a weird healing story, but a powerful one too. God's healing power shows that the prophet speaks for God.

God bless,


1 Kings 17:17-24
17After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?”

21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” 24So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

prophets in the wilderness

Good morning brothers and sisters,
This morning we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the US into World War II. We're grateful for the courage of our service men and women then and now. We also remember where we have fallen short as a nation. I recently talked with a Japanese American couple whose families were interned in prison camps during the war. Racism and irrational prejudice against immigrants continues to be a tragic national sin, and we need God's gift of repentance.

Our reading also speaks of a time for national repentance. During the Prophet Elijah's ministry Israel had fallen into idolatry to the point that Jezebel, the Queen of Israel persecuted the Lord's prophets and supported prophets of other gods. God called Elijah to invite Israel to repentance, which meant he spent much of his life on the run. As part of his witness for God, Elijah announced a three-year drought and famine in Israel to remind the people that God is in charge. During the first part of the drought Elijah was fed by ravens at a stream in the wilderness, but then the stream dried up. God's next move to support Elijah also reveals God's special care for the most vulnerable in society, in this case a widow and child. It's also a good reminder that the people hurt most by bad national policy are usually those who are already struggling. May we never forget our past so we can follow God into a more just and faithful future.

God bless,


1 Kings 17:8-16
8Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, 9“Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” 11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

13Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

a baby and a dragon

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading is a little off the beaten path for many of us as it comes from Revelation. Revelation is a strange book, but it's strange in some logical ways. Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature: literature that speaks about God's power and love in dramatic ways, especially in revealing how that power will overcome seemingly impossible odds. Apocalyptic literature is usually written when God's people are in situations so challenging that it's hard to imagine God's will working through the everyday world.

In the case of Revelation the overwhelming challenge to God's people was the power of the Roman Empire, which demanded not only political allegiance, but often sought to claim people's worship as well. Apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic so the group for which it is written can understand while the threatening outside power is left in the dark. Today's passage is an apocalyptic retelling of the birth of Jesus. The dragon stands for Satan, but is also closely related to Rome. For Christians Jesus' birth is a defining moment in the constant struggle between God and the powers of hatred and evil. I like this passage because it reminds us that Jesus' birth is powerful by stripping away the familiarity that sometimes threatens to domesticate God's amazing story.

God bless,

Revelation 12:1-6
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. 3Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.

Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 5And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; 6and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.

Monday, December 5, 2011

family visit

Good morning friends,
After Mary's surprising visit from the angel Gabriel, she went to see her relative Elizabeth. Gabriel had told her that Elizabeth, too, was pregnant in a miraculous way. It makes sense that Mary would have wanted to spend some time with an older relative as she reflected on the amazing change coming into her life. It also makes sense that she would have specifically sought out Elizabeth as another woman touched by this amazing piece of God's plan. We don't learn a lot about the visit, but the interaction between the two women is touching and powerful. Even though it takes Jesus' disciples half of the Gospel to figure out who Jesus is, Elizabeth knows right when Mary comes in the door that he is the Lord. Praise God for the strong faith of these two women.

God bless you as you begin your week,

Luke 1:39-45
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."