I can’t be the only one whose head threatens to spin at the onslaught of disturbing headlines. (Am I?) Political maneuverings, distorted and abusive relationships, global posturing, cruel violence, name calling all call for our attention. So, I turn to the scripture preparing us for worship and find that, again, the news is full of disasters.
You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. Isaiah 64:5
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Psalm 80: 6
"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.-Mark 13: 24-25
What’s a preacher to say? Where’s an everyday Jesus follower to look? The day after the July 2016 disaster in Nice, France, when a truck was used as a weapon to mow down innocent pedestrians, NPR recorded a young father leaving the cathedral, “I came because I think I need to be here trying to find hope to live.” He had not been to church in many years, but the cavern unearthed in his spirit sought God in the place he remembered.
Even as we enter the holiday season of parties and feasting, our world is full of God hungry people. Some (of us) will try to fill the space with physical satisfactions. Others (of us) will seek emotional fulfillment in the stories, songs, gatherings and memories. Neither healthy physical delights nor healthy emotional experiences are bad, yet neither can fill the God-space at the very center of each of our lives. What’s your favorite distraction/idol from the hunger that only God can satisfy? What would it take to help you/me remember where real satisfaction is found?
My dear friend, the news is full of hope and promise.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. -Isaiah 64: 8
But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved -Psalm 80: 17-19
So also, when you see these things taking place,
you know that he [the Christ] is near, at the very gates. Mark 13:29
Two days after the massacre in Las Vegas, NPR interviewed a young mother out looking for a way she and her two daughters could help. But the Blood Bank appointments were full, enough snacks had been donated to the shelters… She was awed by, “so many people trying to help.” She tasted the goodness of the Lord, grace pouring out over the pain. Where could she go with the God hunger welling up in her, hunger to reach out and serve?
Is your church ready to walk with the God hungry? United Methodist Bishop Janice Huie was speaking about leadership in the changing church, when one pastor confessed, “I was trained not to change lives but to produce church members.” Ouch.
If the coming Christmas (Christ’s birth) is to be true good news, we’ll need to be ready to receive each other as more than audiences for the manger scene. We’ll need to be ready to invite one another into God’s salvation story. If you need help doing that, please get in touch with me. And may be this Advent season be preparation at the hands of the potter preparing us cracked pots to be vessels of God’s light and love.
Luke 1:5-23 Common English Bible (CEB)
5 During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah……..One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. 9 Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense.
Every winter for many years, during the coldest, iciest time of year, I’ve indulged in a few hours with daughters or friends at Soakology, a “foot sanctuary” in Portland, Maine. We settle ourselves into soft comfy chairs and submerge our cold toes in huge pottery bowls of steaming water sprinkled with fragrant minerals and botanicals. The scents of forest, garden herbs, and favorite flowers connect us viscerally with the summer that WILL come again. Silly, I know, and ridiculously extravagant (thus the once a year treat), but that mini respite is the boost that gets me over winter’s hump in its darkest days each year.
Sanctuary is a place of refuge or safety, a haven, a port in the storm, a retreat, an oasis. This word comes from the Latin sanctuarium, which is like most words ending in -arium, a container for keeping something in. Think aquarium (fish), terrarium (plants), imaginarium (creativity). I invite you to stop for a moment and think about what a sanctuarium may hold.
When we read the Old Testament, we translate the English “sanctuary” from the Hebrew, “qadash”; to consecrate, declare holy, keep the holy, sanctify, set apart, transmit holiness, wholly dedicate. (Strong’s Concordance study)
So sanctuary is both a space and a vessel for active process, God’s working out of what we are meant to be.
Sanctuary is on many people’s minds this week. We read about the many ways that people are creating sanctuary for veterans-Travis Mills’ Foundation in Rome, and Honor Flights that make space for memories to emerge and honor to be restored. We see seasonal fundraising begin for camps that help children recover from life’s traumas.
We have witnessed heartbreaking violence in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, at the hand of one who served beside honorable men and women. Like the poet who wrote Psalm 74, we struggle with how to respond, to understand, to breathe….Memories are triggered of 16th Street Baptist Church and 4 little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963; of Emmanuel Methodist Episcopal Church and its faithful elders in Charleston South Carolina, 2015. When sanctuary is defiled, we cry out to God. We lay out our expectations of what should be. We demand God’s response where ours feels inadequate.
In Luke 1: 9 the space called sanctuary is the deepest heart of the Temple of the Lord, ναὸν tou Kupiou. Scholars believe that a priest would serve in the holiest of holies only once or twice in a lifetime. In the sanctuary, Zechariah becomes living sanctuary, carrying the beginning of what will be powerful witness to God’s plan of salvation. He will be John the Baptist’s father. But first, he must be transformed as God’s vessel.
This is what we believe and what we practice, that God redeems and transforms the world as God redeems and transforms us, not by our own inclination or power, but by God’s living presence. A sanctuary is a temporary respite in God’s plan for the creation in entirety to be sanctuarium. May our places and practices of sanctuary form us to be catalysts instigating holiness in the world.
From Worship in Daily Life, c1999, Discipleship Resources.
Oh God, you have come in Jesus Christ, tending to all who are bent in pain,
To those separated by disease or bound by death’s power.
Come to us now, as tender touch, healing balm, and liberating relief.
Urge us to move in new ways;
encourage us to embrace the discomforts of becoming whole;
Remove from us the fear of relentless pain.
As Jesus spoke to so many and touched your hurting people,
Come now, speak to us, and touch us.
Restore us by your living and amazing grace. Amen.
How about that weather?
It didn’t seem like a trivial conversation starter this week. We listened in awe to the wind, rain, snapping trees, popping substations, and emergency responders’ sirens from Sunday night into Monday. (Though it was amazing how many people found Dunkin Donuts open for coffee!) We heard the silence of non-electrified homes, locked schools and businesses, and silent computers on Tuesday. Driving to a rural church conference, I ducked under 4 trees still leaning on power lines, past several utility repairs in process, and around several detours. The ladies at Bartlett Memorial UMC were waiting with a warm church and homemade lunch. On Wednesday, rising irritations became evident on social media as clean laundry ran out, freezers grew warm, and people just wanted to get back to normal. Great the generosity as neighbors “with” offered help to neighbors “without.” Great the rejoicing as utility trucks from away rolled into Maine supplementing already hard working responders here. One little guy was inspired by his lineman grandfather to dress up as such a helper for Halloween.
Challenging times are nothing new in human experience. But my generation’s expectations have been set by the season of relative abundance that we grew up in. I say relative, because not everyone shared equally in economic and educational growth. We’ve grown reliant on innovations and inventions that enrich our lives and expand our capacity. When “normal” is interrupted by weather, social discord, or disruptive changes in communication, politics, economics……. (insert your observations here), our values are tested. Our trust in God and each other is tested.
In my covenant group this morning we read from 2 Corinthians 8, Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians. This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives (2 Corinthians 8: 1-7).
Paul describes being caught off guard when a crucible of difficulty honed the essential goodness/God-ness of this young Christian community. He has only words of encouragement to add: So, here’s what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands. This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end, you come out even. As it is written, Nothing left over to the one with the most, Nothing lacking to the one with the least. -2 Corinthians 8:13-15 The Message (MSG)
By Wednesday morning I was able to walk my neighborhood river route. A neighbor’s meditation garden (open to the public) offered serene calm beside the roiling Androscoggin. Our confidence in Christ can offer that kind of deep breath in whatever challenge or chaos arises. It requires following through on our good intentions to become more like Christ each day. In other words, it takes practices of re-connecting with God in scripture, seeking Christ in prayer, and overcoming any reluctance to test and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in daily acts of grace.
May you know God’s grace in this week of opportunity.
Your Partner in Christ, Karen
Karen L Munson
A pastor and artist, I'm wondering while I'm wandering through God's marvelous creation.