Posts Tagged ‘lectionary’

Advent 3: Give thanks in all circumstances

This selection was not read at our church on Sunday, but it was one of the lectionary (“suggested”) readings in our church calendar.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

should we be grateful for this pile of mail?

There is a joke going around online about “First World Problems.” A first world problem is a difficulty only experienced by middle- or upper-class people, such as, “Starbucks ran out of cinnamon dolce lattes so I had to have vanilla instead.” Some of the jokes people submit are crude, but others demonstrate razor-sharp humor.

It never fails to amaze me that during a mission trip, the first-world participants will invariably talk about gratitude. Some give thanks for the comforts they enjoy at home and are currently doing without… and others go to a deeper level, noticing the ways that the people we are visiting give thanks. Sometimes,we even have the awkward experience of the mission trip participants feeling like the people we were helping weren’t thankful enough.

Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful for an experience I had in Guatemala five years ago. We visited a village devastated by a hurricane, and the pastor was not very happy to see us. He was not receiving adequate compensation for his services and travel, and he demanded to know how much I and the other trip leaders were paid in our calls back home. (Pardon me if I’ve told this story before.) The village church presented us with a request for money and we truly had a “first-world problem moment.” Everyone felt wounded, because we had taken our spring break to go all the way to this little village and they didn’t appreciate us.

Later that night, we snapped back into reality (and we owned up to our pouting.) The students realized that even though they were tied down by school and student loans, they knew people who weren’t. We all knew someone who could help. So, to make a long story short, we shared the plight of the village when we got back home, and now they have a great relationship with some good Christian folks who provide all kinds of help. When our college group returned two years later, the village was physically and spiritually renewed. Gratitude was everywhere.

I like how Paul juxtaposes the direction to “pray without ceasing” along with encouragement to rejoice and give thanks. Sometimes it really does look like there is no reason to express thanks … but given some patience and prayer, God can help us turn things around.

I wonder how Mary and Joseph felt as they prepared for the birth of their son. Certainly they were in an awkward and vulnerable place. It would be years before Jesus’ public ministry began, and even then, he would not be universally appreciated. Yet the weary parents carried on, plodding along toward Bethlehem. I wonder if they gave thanks, and for what.

May the Spirit of Christ give us patience for the journey … patience enough to wait for when the gratitude shines through.

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Advent Week 1: “Tear Open the Heavens”

Last year, I set out on an ambitious project to post something about spiritual disciplines every day during Advent.  I did it, but whew!  What a task.  Those posts are still on this blog if you’d like to read them.

That project turned into an ongoing theme in our campus ministry program.  Several times a semester, if not several times a year, our group talks in a very direct way about spiritual growth and discipline.  Listening to young adults talk about prayer, meditation, and their spiritual experiences has truly changed my life.

This year my thoughts are still with young adults, but in a different way.   I’ve noticed over the years that here in Greenville, people in their late teens to early thirties actually show up for worship on Sunday mornings.  Crazy, I know!

However, we don’t talk much during the week about the worship experience was like.  It seems that we just go back to the same old routine every Monday morning:  our work, classes, clubs, and Thursday night campus ministry program.  So this year I will write during Advent about the Scriptures we read on Sunday mornings during church, the hymns we sing, the sermon, and anything else we do during worship.

I have no idea what seeds might be planted this Advent.  For me, if blogging about Sunday worship gets me to carry the Sunday message throughout the week, I’ll be more than satisfied.

All that being said, here’s Week 1.  You’ll see some thoughts from today’s worship service, and some further reflections throughout the week.

“Tear Open the Heavens”

I could have sat for an hour this morning and meditated on Isaiah 64:1 (“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence …”)

Don’t we wish that God would just get down here and fix some stuff?  That God would slay evil, abolish suffering, and … well, take away our pain with a sweep of his mighty hand?

In this morning’s sermon, Bill stated the case:  we miss God.  We have come to know and love our Creator, and it hurts to be separated from God.

Yet we also know that God has plans and promises.  That’s why we miss God so much when the promises don’t appear to be working out.

During the worship service on the first Sunday of Advent at First Presbyterian, we try to witness to those plans and promises in a tangible way.  The service combines the stark prophetic texts with the joyful “Greening of the Church “, which is a procession through the sanctuary with the elements of the season, such as light, greenery, and banners.  It feels sort of like a pilgrimage, in which we “travel” to our place of worship, singing along the way about who God is and who we are because of Him.  Too bad we don’t parade around the city as well!

I always get the sense from this service that God has truly arrived.  God is in residence, keeping office hours, and ready to get to work.  We, in turn, set out our pretty decorations as a way of saying that we’re here too.  We are ready to sojourn with this Immanuel, the Word made flesh.  We just might even be ready, should Immanuel tear open the heavens this very minute.

More this week on the texts and worship from the first Sunday in Advent.