What’s Rising Up in You While Staying at Home? (Matthew 16)

Sermon Series Bread 1110 x 624Lenten Sermon Series: Bread
This sermon series was inspired by the book Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers by Margaret Feinberg.

Message 4 of 5: What’s Rising Up in You While Staying at Home?
Scriptures: Matthew 16:5-12
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 3/22/2020 via Facebook Live for Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of me leading worship from my home office, including the message which starts around the 24-minute mark.

Elan Gale is an author and television producer best known for his work on The Bachelor. On twitter (@theyearofelan), he started a game called Your Quarantine Nickname– how you feel right now + the last thing you ate out of the cupboard. (ie snack)

I put the game up on Facebook and here are a few of the answers.
Nadine- Blessed Strawberry
Lynn- Blessed Avocado Toast
June- Sleepy Peanut Butter
Stacey- Tired Oreo Thins
Susan- Happy Biscuit
Sam- Happy Dark Chocolate
Sherrill- Chipper Almond Chips
Cheri- Tolerable Acceptance Cherry Turnover
Mine is Privileged Apple

It’s a silly game. We need some laughter and silliness right now. It’s quite fun to see what everyone likes to snack on. It’s also a helpful game. It helps us identify our feelings, what is rising up in us during this time of pandemic and physical distancing.

Let’s think of what’s rising up inside of us like yeast. A tiny bit of yeast mixed with dough makes bread rise.

Our feelings can feel big or little, but they work like yeast. Whatever feeling is going on inside of us mixes into the whole of us. It causes things to rise- our perspective, our words, our actions. What’s rising up in you?

Matthew 16:5-12, The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees
5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” 8 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9 Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11 How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

What is Yeast? According to the Food Network 
“Yeast is a living microscopic single-cell organism that, as it grows, converts its food (through a process known as fermentation) into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This trait is what endears yeast to winemakers, brewmasters, and bread bakers.

Yeast produces bubbles in beer and champagne, alcohol in beer and wine, and a light, fluffy loaf of bread.

To multiply and grow, all yeast needs is the right environment, which includes moisture, food (in the form of sugar or starch) and a warm, nurturing temperature (70 to 85 degrees F is best). Wild yeast spores are constantly floating in the air and landing on uncovered foods and liquids.”

Yeast is everywhere, it’s wild. A basic mixture of water and flour, given enough time, will rise on its own. Water + flour + time = leavened bread. Leavened bread’s been around for over 5,000 years, since at least the time of the Egyptians. Commercial yeast wasn’t invented until 1868.

Yeast is also part of a healthy mix of bacteria in your gut. It can help you absorb vitamins and minerals from your food, and even fight disease.

Yeast is everywhere. yeast is wild. Yeast is already in you.

Jesus isn’t warning us about an outside contaminant- that virus, that bread, those people, the teaching of those people. Jesus is reminding us that the same yeast in the Pharisees and Sadducees is already in us.

The Pharisees were rabbis, teachers. The Sadducees were the clergy overseeing worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. I’m a teacher and I’m clergy. I need to hear this passage. We all need to hear this passage. I have the same tendency to take a good gift of God and twist it into something controlling and not of God.

What’s rising up within you. Our real enemy isn’t what rises up in others, but what rises within us.

We may all be snacking right now, but we’re also all fasting right now.

  • Fasting certain activities- work, school, shopping, sports, appointments
  • Fasting independence because we believe it will save lives. We’re in self-quarantine. We’re not traveling. There are borders closing.
  • Fasting face to face contact- families are separated, healthcare workers are living at the hospital

What does fasting do? It removes filters and brings up what’s inside of us. It can bring up the good, but it can also bring up the junk.

What’s rising up in you during this time of unknown and isolation? All feelings are welcomed by God. Feel all the feels. Feelings can have shadow sides. They can get twisted into something that’s harmful to us and harmful to others.

Are you feeling concern or has it been twisted into worry? There’s a difference. Worry puts us into a fight, flight, or freeze mindset. Concern opens us up. Concern seeks the truth and turns it into compassion towards myself and others

Are you feeling grief/lament or has it been twisted into despair? Lament is a good gift of God. There’s an entire book of the Bible called Lamentations. This past week I had some ugly, snot running down my face, wailing moments lamenting the news that people were dying alone and grieving alone because of the quarantines. I was undone.

Maybe you’re grieving events being postponed or canceled? Weddings are being postponed. Graduations are being canceled. Many of this year’s high school graduates were preschoolers in the shadow of 9/11.

Despair is a twist of grief/lament. It’s hopelessness, “all is lost”, and disconnects us from God. Grief/Lament acknowledges the loss and disappointment but keeps us moving through it honestly. The process of grief/lament helps us release what we thought would happen so we can begin to imagine how things can happen differently.

Are you feeling brokenhearted or angry? People need access to medical testing and treatment. People aren’t able to work and need financial help. Brokenhearted, righteous anger rises up in us calling us to justice and action. This is wrong and something must be done. Our motivation is driven by empathy and compassion.

Anger can get twisted into hardheartedness and destructive anger. The world and others are a threat so I begin to blame, judge, avoid, control, and fix. This may have happened to the Pharisees and Sadduccees given the Roman oppression and apathy of God’s people to practice their faith.

Rick Warren said, “In the Bible, yeast is often a metaphor for pride and arrogance. Why? When you put yeast in dough, what does it do? It puffs it up, and if you put in too much, it blows it up.”

My quarantine name is Privileged Apple. I can work from home. I have the technology I need. I have a job. There are folks whose jobs and paychecks have disappeared. I want this to draw me to love and bless my neighbor with all that I have.

My privilege could draw me into arrogance and classism. I have the advantages which would allow me to stockpile and hoard and protect me at the expense of my neighbor. That is not the love of God. The love of God means I take care of myself in light of taking care of others. I remember my neighbor, care for my neighbor because we’re all connected. We’re all beloved of God.

I see so much goodness rising up in you. Recognizing the blessing of God, the peace of God, the joy of the Lord which is our strength. Allow it to flow through your hands and hearts to others.

If you’re feeling something else, feel all the feels, yet allow the perspective of God to move in you and through you for your good.

Philippians 4:8-9
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

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What’s Rising Up in You While Staying at Home? © 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Social Distancing, Community, and Five Barley Loaves (John 6)

Sermon Series Bread 1110 x 624Lenten Sermon Series: Bread
This sermon series was inspired by the book Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers by Margaret Feinberg.

Message 3 of 5: Five Barley Loaves- Community and Social Distancing
Scriptures: John 6:1-15
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 3/15/2020 via Facebook Live for Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of me leading worship from my home office, including the message which starts at the 26-minute mark.

The Feeding of the 5000 is one of the few stories mentioned in all four gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The story of Jesus’ resurrection is in all four gospels. This story is that important.

John 6:1-15    
1 Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.

The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake. You can see the other side of the lake no matter where you’re standing. It goes by many names in the Gospels, so if you’re confused, no worries. It’s confusing.

2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

In the previous messages, we’ve spoken about the Passover- freedom from slavery in Egypt, unleavened bread (Matzo), manna in the wilderness- so this may seem familiar.

5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus always knows what he’s going to do!

7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.

This time of year, in March before the Passover, Galilee is beautiful. It’s lush with green with grass. There are yellow and red wildflowers. You can imagine the sheep grazing in the grass. Jesus is gathering the people like flocks of sheep in order to feed them.

11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Last Wednesday feels like the tipping point in the pandemic

  • A little before 9:00 pm: Tom Hanks posts on Instagram that he and his wife contracted COVID-19
  • At 9:00 pm: President Trump announces a ban on foreign nationals traveling to the US from much of Europe
  • At 9:46 pm: The NBA announces it had suspended all games indefinitely

And the hits just kept on coming. All our common rituals and rhythms disrupted.

  • The NCAA March Madness Tournament- Cancelled
  • The Boston Marathon- Postponed
  • All the Smithsonian Museums and Broadway Shows and Disney World- Closed

Then the hits got closer to home.

  • Our schools closed which meant we were canceling all our church gatherings
  • No more access to assisted living facilities and nursing homes. We can’t see our dear ones who live there. Our faithful nursing home teams can no longer offer worship at Brookdale and Cabot Reserve.

I spoke with a friend in Seattle online. She said, “Greetings from Ground Zero.” Their schools are closed for at least 6 weeks.

That started me lamenting-

  • What about the kids who’s school is their safe place because their home or their neighborhood isn’t?
  • Are kids going hungry because they eat breakfast and lunch at school?
  • What about the parents who can’t afford to take time off work or pay for childcare?
  • What about folks who are forced to take time off and can’t afford it?

It just ripples. Imagine dropping a pebble in a calm pool and watching the rings as they expand.

The world is having this big ah-ha moment on how interconnected we are, how interdependent we are on one another. We’re having it. I’m having it. 

I was watching something on TV last week which was filmed a while ago. There was this big crowd of people laughing and enjoying being together. Then they started hugging and holding on to one another. I literally gasped. They were touching.

I’m missing touching. Will we ever be like that again or will social distancing and elbow bumps be our new norm?

Big things matter- Pandemics, Global Markets, Vaccines

Little things matter- Gathering for worship, having a face to face conversation, handshakes, and hugs

They matter because community matters.- It’s little, as intimate as a touch. But it’s also big- big as the world.

Community is tied to the word common. Common is usual, ordinary. The common good, common ground, the customary blessing of having one another.

It is a good gift from God. We as Christians believe God is One, and yet God is three. God is community. It’s in the fabric of creation, of God, of us.

As we think about John 6, there are 50 sermons, 100 sermons. But all I can see today is the community. Five thousand people gathering. Where can we do that these days?

Jesus asks how they’re going to feed all the people. I’ve preached in the past about this young boy comes forward and generously offers his lunch. He isn’t offering his lunch. He’s offering the groceries for his family. Five barley loaves and two fish.

This child isn’t a solo heroic leader. He’s not saving the day in his rugged individualism. He represents an entire community. The work of a community feeds an entire community. taste and see

This sermon series is based on a fantastic book by Margaret Feinberg entitled Taste and See: Discovering God Among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers.

I highly recommend it to you. Its foodies and recipes meet travelogue meets Bible study. She looks at the Bible through the food of the Bible. She’s the one who opened my eyes to the truth of the community it takes to bring a loaf of bread from seed to your table.

“In ancient Israel, the whole family shared the hard labor. The work began in a field, plowing the soil and planting last year’s kernels. Together, the family tended the field and prayed away famine and pests, in hope the stalks would sprout, lengthen, and yield a bounty of food.

The family endured sunburn and sweat, aching muscles and strained backs, to harvest the grain with sickles. When the yield was at hand, the work had just begun. Then they must pound and winnow (blow air) through the grain to remove the outer husk. Those who couldn’t afford access to a mill used their own mortar and pestle to grind their grain.

Since the harvest had to carry the family through an entire year, only a small scoop of the flour was mixed with water and kneaded in a bread trough, while the bulk of the flour was safely stored away. The dough was then taken to the oven—but not a family oven. Most families couldn’t afford their own stove. Instead, they used a communal oven.”

Community. Communal. Common. That’s what we need right now.

coronavirus vulnerable high riskSomeone asked if we were canceling church events because we were afraid. It’s a reasonable question. There are many folks who are afraid right now. I recognize that truth. It’s a reasonable fear about a very dangerous virus, especially if you’re in a high-risk portion of the population.

The reason we canceled all our church events is not because we’re afraid. We’re canceling because we care. We’re willing to disrupt our lives, learn new things, and do things in a different way because we believe it will save lives.

What you are doing is not a small thing. You are saving lives.

We believe in a Mighty God and we pray mighty prayers. We believe we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. But there’s an and to that. And we should love your neighbor as yourself. Social distancing is faith and action.

John Wesley’s priorities are summarized this way-
Do No Harm
Do Good
Stay in Love with God

Brainstorm: How can we build and bless our community in this time of social distancing? You’ve got cell phones, computers, Instagram, and Facebook. Be creative.

I challenge you right now to call five friends just to check-in. “I’m thinking about you. I’m praying for you. You’re not alone.” If you’re tech-savvy, make it a video call.

Just like this little child, like the disciples, our job is to do our part and to remember our part is part of a greater whole. Give of your resources and give of yourself without embarrassment, worry, or shame. Give generously. Give joyfully.

We give what we have no matter how small it may seem trusting Jesus to bless it and multiply it for the common good, for the community.

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Social Distancing, Community, and Five Barley Loaves © 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Message in Light of the Potential United Methodist Church Split (Psalm 46)

body of christ
A Message in Light of the Potential UMC Split (Psalm 46)
Scripture: Psalm 46
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 01/05/2020 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida. Click Here for a video of the entire worship service, including the message.

Psalm 46
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

In the last few days, most major news outlets ran stories on a potential split in the United Methodist Church. Hearing this news brought up many feelings and questions for me.

What did it bring up for you?

Below you’ll find a link to an article with the most accurate information. The article includes links to the actual mediation document and a frequently asked questions article. We’ll also have copies in the church office. I encourage you to read it.

United Methodist Traditionalists, Centrists, Progressives & Bishops sign agreement aimed at separation

We will be reading this article together tomorrow – Monday, January 6 – at the Leadership Council Meeting. The meeting begins at 6:00 pm in Haley Hall. You are welcome to attend.

The mediation document is a proposal, not a decision. Those who can make a decision for our denomination will gather in May in Minneapolis. This group is called The General Conference and is made up of United Methodist laity and clergy from around the world.

Here’s some background information to give you some context. It’s quoted from the Frequently Asked Questions Document
For the past 47 years, The United Methodist Church has struggled unsuccessfully to achieve consensus and compliance with regard to matters of human sexuality. The Special Session of General Conference in 2019 caused significant harm. This work is a significant attempt to not replicate the mood or climate created in St. Louis in 2019. It acknowledges that even in the midst of faithful attempts to stay together, we no longer can remain as one denomination. The divisions are simply too vast. This work is important because it provides a pathway of reconciliation and grace through separation and offers us an opportunity to bless and send one another into a new reality rather than continue to fight and rend our way into irrelevance and destruction.

This latest attempt at a path forward is new for all of us. There are still many questions. As I know more I will continue to share. Be on the lookout for upcoming times of prayer, listening, and discussion.

Hear this my dear ones:
God is faithful and true and at work. God is Sovereign. Jesus is Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit still speaks and transforms. No human decision changes this.

We are all made in the image of God. All have sacred worth.

We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. All are in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Our mission has not changed- Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World

Our vision has not changed- God is love. We are called to share that love and the hope we’ve found in Jesus Christ with all people.

No matter what is decided, people will leave and people will come.

No matter what is decided, it will not be a magic bullet to kill the church nor a magic bullet to revive the church.

God will redeem the pain and harm we’ve caused one another. Let it end now.

Our denomination is a 12 million-member global church representing very different cultures and values. Likewise, our congregation is diverse in many ways, including strong convictions on these issues and other issues. It’s been this way for a long time.

Look around this room. What do you see? More importantly, who do you see?

We are not issues; we are people, faithful real people drawn together by our need and love of Christ.

What are we to do? Love one another and serve one another. Love and serve Sarasota. In doing so, we love and serve God.

They will know we are Christians by our love, our love made real in our words and actions, in the way we honor one another and work together in the midst of our differences. The world needs to see this.

I love you and respect you no matter your position on this issue or any other issue. I will continue to serve you with every ounce of grace, strength, and skill the Holy Spirit empowers in me and through me. I invite you to do the same.

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A Message in Light of the Potential UMC Split © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

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.

Persevering in Prayer (Luke 18)

john-bunyon-prayer-quote

Persevering in Prayer
Scripture: Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 11/10/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

What can you do with a rubber band?
Rubber bands are elastic. So are Jesus’ parables- stories with a deeper spiritual meaning. They both stretch in many directions.

You can read a parable one day and hear from God. You can read them a month later or even years later and receive another important truth from God.

It reminds us the scriptures are living and active. God meets us exactly where we are in the Word of God.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
From the point of view of followers of Jesus as the widow
1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus sets up a contrast between God and the unjust judge.

The judge is powerful, probably the most powerful person in his community. He’s worldly, corrupt, slow to respond, indifferent, disrespectful, unbelieving.

God is more powerful, attentive to injustice, quick to respond, faith-full, compassionate.

Even the ungodly relent in the face of persevering. How much more will God answer you when you pray!

Followers of Jesus are to be like the widow, the person with the least amount of power in the community. Folks would have laughed at the powerless widow getting the judge to do what she wanted him to do.

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
8 when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

The widow had faith that her persevering would bring a result. Faith looks like praying always and not losing heart. Does God find you resilient and full of faith? Actively trusting in God and persevering in prayer?

How’s your prayer life?

  • Using prayer as a rubber stamp as you make plans to fix whatever needs fixing in your own strength?
  • Using prayer as a last resort when everything else you tried didn’t work?
  • Have you just given up on prayer? You’ve been praying about the same situation for a long time with no change. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose heart.

Luke 11:9-13
Luke 11:9 Jesus said, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”

A Translation Closer to the Original Intention- Present Progressive Tense
Jesus said, “Keep on asking, and it will be given you, Keep on seeking and you will find, keep on knocking and it will be opened unto you.  For everyone who continues to ask, receives, and the one who continues to seek, finds, and for the one who continues to knock, it will be opened.  What father among you, if your son asks for a fish will instead of a fish give him a serpent? Or if he asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Example of Persevering Prayers Being Answered

Name your persevering prayer. Keep praying, do not lose heart.

  • Reconciliation of relationship
  • The salvation of a loved one
  • An answer to a question
  • Deliverance from an addiction
  • The end of corruption, evil, injustice, oppression
  • Peace and plenty for all

Trust God is good. Trust God is near and attentive to your needs. Trust God will make the wrongs right. It may not be in this life, it may be in heaven. But it may be now.

Luke 18:1-8. The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Stretch the parable in a different direction, from the point of view of God as the widow and we as the judge.
2 Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

Pleading Widow by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Our gender and power stereotypes told us to assume
the judge is God, which would make us the poor widow.
But wait. Who judges? Who cares neither for God or people?
That would be us. And who continually demands
that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God?

Sorry, we don’t get the high ground here, denying our privilege,
pretending we’re faithfully imploring God
with our persistent quest for justice.
We’re the ones deaf to the cries of the poor.

God comes in the voice of the vulnerable, the easily ignored
while we in our arrogance easily ignore.

How disconcerting that in this story
the ball is in our court, not God’s!
The demand has been made, over and over.

Jesus warns us: God can outlast us.
But when God comes, will God find us listening?

Prayer and Action
Prayer is coupled with action. If we are praying for that relationship to be reconciled, what are we doing for that relationship to be reconciled? If we are praying for our loved ones to come to faith, what are we doing to create an environment where they could hear the Gospel? If we’re praying for an end to evil, injustice, and oppression, what are we doing to end evil, injustice, and oppression?

The dual truths of persevering in prayer and prayer in action stretch me. I need to pray before I act so I don’t use it as a weapon. I need to persevere in prayer because God is the one who makes things new. I need both.

And I need the Holy Spirit filling me so I don’t lose heart when it seems like nothing’s changing. Persevere in prayer. Prayer and action.

Prayer-
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you hear us. That you want to have a relationship with us. You want to bless us, empower us, encourage us, forgive us.

Help us to talk to you. To talk to you honestly, openly, and often. Help us to persevere in prayer. Help us to not lose heart. Help us to trust you.

Help to know the path we’re on with you is the path of goodness and glory. Help us to know it’s the path of truth and humility, the path of light and life. We need that assurance so we can persevere.

In our praying, help us to hear if there’s an action we are to take. Grant us the courage, grace, and wisdom to act.

You are making us new. You are making this world new. Thank you for the gift of prayer. Amen.

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Persevering in Prayer © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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