Prepare the Way of the Lord (Isaiah 40)

Sermon Series christmas messiah 1110 x 624

Sermon Series:
For Unto Us A Child is Born, Messages Inspired by Handel’s Messiah

Message 1 of 5: Prepare the Way of the Lord
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-5
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 12/1/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

First three songs of Handel’s Messiah are based on Isaiah 40:1-5, KJV
Comfort Ye and Ev’ry Valley
And the Glory of the Lord

The first 39 chapters of Isaiah are heavy. God is speaking reality through Isaiah about the consequence of sin. In chapter 40, the message turns. The Prophet Isaiah looks past the situation in front of him, the people of God taken into exile and returning from exile, down the highway of time to the coming of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ and past that to the second coming of Christ and the completed victory of God.

Isaiah 40:1-5, NRSV
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.”

How are you preparing for Christmas?

Steve Garnaas-HolmesPrepare the Way
We prepare outwardly for Christmas: we hang lights and put up decorations; we bake goodies and wrap gifts. How will you prepare inwardly? The coming of Christ means that God will be incarnate: embodied, lovingly present, in the flesh in your life.

As the carol Joy to the World says, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” There was no room in the inn, but there can be room in my heart.

Following the first London performance of Messiah, Lord Kinnoul congratulated Handel on the excellent entertainment. Handel replied, “My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertain them. I wish to make them better.”

Handel’s desire in setting the scripture to music was that it would bring a change in us, that it would bring transformation. Prepare the way of the Lord is about transformation.

Prepare the Way of the Lord = Prepare Your Way In Me
Click Here for the first week of the Advent/Christmas Devotion which accompanies this sermon series.

We prepare inwardly by setting aside time for regular, quiet reflection with God. Here are two classic reflection questions to ask yourself.

A. This past week, when did I feel closest to God?
This is a question of consolation, of comfort. It’s when we experience the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the in-breaking of God into our life. All of a sudden we’re awake, we’re alive in Christ and we notice it.

Isaiah 40:1-2
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her

When did you experience God speaking comforting, tender words? God literally “speaking to the heart.” This is God’s voice of love and assurance breaking through the pain and confusion.

God is whispering, like the whispering of a lover into the beloved’s ears. It’s that intimate, personal, close. God isn’t whispering sweet nothings. These words are designed to remind you what is good, to strengthen you and help you and remind you how much you are loved.

B. This past week, when did I feel farthest from God? When did I blow it?
Which question is easier for you to answer?

This second question is classically a question of desolation. The sorrow, pain, guilt you are feeling is the Spirit calling you back to the path of life. Don’t let the feelings derail you, let them guide you.

Hear the good news and believe it. Isaiah 40:2 is Grace, Grace, Grace.
that she has served her term
You’ve been in prison and chains long enough

that her penalty is paid,
Jesus paid it on the cross

that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins
Yes, there are consequences for our sins. But this is not saying God is handing out a double punishment. It’s actually a reference to God’s grace. We sin, and God returns to us mercy, forgiveness, and grace. What God supplies is far more than what we deserve. It is double grace, greater than all our sin.

Isaiah 40:3-5
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.”

The “all” includes you, even in the wilderness of your soul and the wilderness of this world.

Jan L. Richardson, Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas
The wilderness does not merely give us a path: empties us enough so that a path is made within us. Through us. Of us. A road for the holy to enter the world. A way for the Christ who comes.

Prepare the Way of the Lord = Prepare Your Way Of Me
Our internal life leads to an external life. God’s word, “Comfort, comfort my people” does not equal us being comfortable. (no troubles, no worries, I pay no attention to the troubles of the world)

The comforting of God is the strengthening and encouraging of God. We are prepared in order to share. There is an expectation of prayer and action.

This passage is full of God’s call and command.
Verse 1, Comfort, Comfort my people! 
Make sure this happens!

Verse 2, Speak… cry out
To those in chains, to those exiled

Verse 3, Cry out in the wilderness
Those lonely places, harsh places, broken places, unjust places

Verse 5, The Mouth of the Lord has spoken 
This is not a suggestion. This is a command. God prepares us so we can be part of the way making.

Prepare the way of the Lord!
Isaiah is preparing the way. Down the road, John the Baptist uses Isaiah’s words to prepare the way for Jesus- The Way, the Truth, the Life. Down the road, it is now us.

Enjoy the season. Feel it fully. Be fully present and go deep. Spend time with God. God, prepare the way in me and through me. We are making the way and we are mending the world.

God breaks into all the systems and places and pain; breaks in to create something new. The mountains where what’s needed is too high, out of reach, brought low. The valleys where there are much darkness and pain are raised up. There is a plain, an evenness, an equity, a justice for all.

Messiah premiered in Dublin on April 13, 1742, as a charitable benefit for 3 charities- prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. It raised 400 pounds, split between the 3 charities, freeing 142 men from the debtor’s prison. 142 households were instantly transformed.

How will you make a difference this holy season? For making the way where there seems to be no way, for bearing God’s light into the world.

PRAYER:
The time is now, for you have called
The place is now, for you have spoken

Yes, it is a wilderness, a desert even
So dry, so rough, so uneven
Yes, the gap is so very wide between the high and the low

But, you have called, O God. You have spoken.
Not an if or when or maybe. Not even a try.

You have spoken shall

Every valley shall be lifted
Every mountain shall be made low
The uneven shall be made level
The rough shall be made smooth
It shall be done in us and through us and of us.

By the power of your Holy Spirit,
we will persevere in this wilderness of preparing
We will not forge a path or blaze a trail but make a highway
A highway for your coming
For your glory, O God shall be revealed in this place
And all shall see it
All shall see it together
Shall, by Lisa Degrenia

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Be sure to also check out Rev. Magrey deVega’s stunning reflection on this passage in his blog post, Is God on your Christmas List?

Prepare the Way of the Lord © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern, incorporating verses of America the Beautiful

mlk prayer pilgrimage

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1957 ‘Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom’.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern
ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, first verse

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

ONE:
Lord of All,
As we draw near another Independence Day,
we confess our dependence on you.
Thank you for extending abundance, mercy, and protection
to our nation through the years.
Every resource, freedom, and opportunity we have is a good gift from you.
Without you, we are lost.

ALL:
In humility, we seek your face.
In repentance, we turn from our ungrateful, destructive and selfish ways.
In faith, we call on your power to forgive our sin and heal our land.

ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, second verse

O beautiful for heroes prov’d in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov’d, and mercy more than life.
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness and ev’ry gain divine.

ONE:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on those who govern our land,
Leaders of our nation, our state, and our community
and all who are running for office.

Grant them a love of justice.
Open their minds with wisdom and compassion,
so all people may be treated fairly and with dignity.

Open their ears to the cries of the desperate and powerless
so cycles of poverty, disease, and abuse may be broken.

Open their eyes to see how best to respond
and open their hearts with courage to do the right thing,
even when pressured to do otherwise.

Dawn a new day of integrity and servant leadership upon our land.
Shower down your Spirit of collaboration for the common good
that there may be lasting peace and plenty for all.

The congregation is invited to lift up their own prayers for our nation

ONE:
We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, Amen.

Option: We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, who taught us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven….

ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, fourth verse

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

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For other prayers suitable for Independence Day try A Prayer for our Country or Independence Day Prayer or A prayer of examen for our national holiday, all by Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

America the Beautiful by Katherine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward.
Public Domain.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Leave a comment for posting and publication considerations.

Sermon based on Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss (Matthew 23)

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Sermon Series: The Gospel of Dr. Seuss
Message 4 of 6: Yertle the Turtle

Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 2/10/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

How do you define power?

  • I can do anything I want whenever I want with whoever I want with no consequences. No, this isn’t even possible.
  • Our actions and words are always tied to others. They ripple.
  • Power is Influence

Everyone has some power and influence. We’re all interconnected and it all ripples. It might be massive or small or somewhere in-between

  • Imagine the power and influence of a world leader next to a teacher
  • an inventor
  • a farmer
  • a parent/grandparent
  • an author
  • a police officer
  • a child

Who influenced you?

  • A family member, a teacher, a coach
  • Maybe someone you never met. Someone you read about in a book or they wrote a book or created a piece of art which influenced you.

Power is influence. Others are using their power which is flowing towards us and we are using our power which is flowing towards others.

How will you use your power and influence?

Reading of Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Suess  

yertle the turtle collage

How will you use your power?

  • Think about how one person has the power to bring goodness, healing, and change
    • Like little Mack’s burp
    • Sometimes we think “I don’t have the power of the leader of a company or city or nation.” You have power. Often it’s the little things done with great love which change the world.
    • Example: Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus because it was an injustice and how it rippled through an entire system of injustice
    • Examples: Mr. Rogers, Gandi, Dr. Seuss
  • Think about how one person has the power to bring pain, injustice, oppression, and harm. How one person’s actions can ripple through a family, a school, a community, or even the world.
    • Yertle is modeled after Hitler

Yertle the Turtle is such a simple story and yet it beautifully contrasts the power of one. The power of one to do good in Mack using his voice, in doing a small thing which ends an injustice. Yertle using his power and twisting it something it was never meant to be.

Power is a good gift of God. It is neither good nor bad. It is a gift. How will you use the gift? Will you use it for good, healing, grace, and hope or will you twist it into something it was never meant to be.

Jesus had a great deal to say about this. We’ll read one the times he spoke about it.

Matthew 23:1-7 
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

  • Jesus had many encounters with the scribes (lawyers), Pharisees and rabbis (teachers), and priests (clergy)
  • One way to twist the gift of power is to twist it with hypocrisy. You lay down the rules but you are above them and don’t have to practice them yourself. How frustrating and unjust.

4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

  • Power misused brings burdens on others.

5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

  • Practicing faith in order to be seen, to show off
  • Self-centered, prideful, arrogant
  • Demanding respect, demanding the place of honor

C.S. Lewis Quote from Mere Christianity
As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Jesus is saying there is another way to wield the good gift of power. Look at the way Jesus wielded power himself. Look at the humility of Jesus, the grace, the welcome.

Jesus wielding his power to heal. Jesus wielding his power to give voice to those who have no voice. Wielding his power to be in solidarity with people others had labeled outcast, insignificant, and other.

Jesus wielding his power as a servant, never demanding title or position. Jesus wielding his power to the point of death, the point of blood and torture and sacrifice and generosity and wielding his power to take up his life again in resurrection.

This is the other way to use the good gift of power and influence.

Matthew 23:8-12 
Jesus said: 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus said, “I have not come to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

How will you use your gift of power and influence? 
Will you let go of your ego? Will you let go of your willfulness and surrender wholly to God’s self-giving passion for the love and salvation of the world?

Will you take up your cross for the oppressed, the outcast, those yet to follow Christ?

Will you carry in your heart and prayers the sorrow of another?

Will you speak truth? Will you stand alongside those the world labels do not count and have no voice?

Will you mentor?

Will you welcome?

Will you use your power and influence for good and for the glory of God?

Little things can make a huge difference if they are done with love and grace. If they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Worship Resources
An Invitation to Christ by Dimitri of Rostov
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins
kindling my heart with the flame of thy love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there.
For you alone are my King and my Lord.

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Yertle the Turtle Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Growing in Resilience: The Way of Peace, based on Isaiah 59.8

peace be with youGrowing in Resilience
Day 20, Read Isaiah 59
Reflection: The Way of Peace,
based on Isaiah 59:8, NRSV

The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths. Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace.

You
You are the Way
Your way is Peace
An unbent highway of life-giving words
Truth, Dignity, Encouragement
We will know you
We will walk in your ways

You
You are the Way
Your way is Peace
A shining path of justice
Integrity, Impartiality, Redemption
We will know you
We will walk in your ways

You
You are the Way
Your way is Peace
An unbroken road of sanctuary
Safety, Belonging, Becoming
We will know you
We will walk in your ways

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Click Here for more on the Growing in Resilience Reading Plan sponsored by Bishop Ken Carter and the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

The Way of Peace © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Growing in Resilience: Breathe in Breathe out, based on Isaiah 56.1-2

work restGrowing in Resilience
Day 17, Read Isaiah 56
Reflection: Breathe In Breathe Out, based on Isaiah 56:1-2, NRSV

Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy 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.

Lord of Hosts
Your deliverance is near
Keep our hand to plow, steadfast in your saving work
Strengthen us to do what is right even in the face of great opposition
Empower us to stand and speak and strive for goodness and justice
Build in us faith that works and perseveres
Renew a right spirit within

Breathe in… Breathe out…
Lord of the Sabbath
Prince of Peace
Lead us away to rest from your labor

Breathe in… Breathe out…
Our world is so fast
So noisy
So needy
So full
Help us to wait and rest even when every bit of us screams to act

Breathe in… Breathe out…
Increase our faith in the blessing of Sabbath
Reveal the fears that drive us
The pride and shame disguised as sacrifice
Free us to trust and follow in the doing and in the ceasing

Breathe in… Breathe out…
We surrender to complete rest in you
Renew a right spirit within

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Click Here for more on the Growing in Resilience Reading Plan sponsored by Bishop Ken Carter and the Cabinet of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

Breathe in Breathe out © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.