Josh looks at three passages from this week's Lectionary, and we are reminded that to embody the life of Jesus, we are called to repentance and are given an identity. The Creator Spirit that hovers over the waters in Genesis leads us to go low. In Mark, we see Jesus standing in line to be baptized by John who is calling people to repentance. And immediately, the heavens open; the Holy Spirit descends; and the Father calls Jesus, "His Beloved Son." We too are the Father's beloved sons and daughters called to repentance and given the Holy Spirit to live out the new life of unity in Christ. We also heard three more testimonies from the RCC family regarding how the Lord blessed them in 2020. Genesis 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11.
Josh shares from Ephesians 1 and reminds us of the blessings we have seen as a church family over a challenging year like 2020. Like the church in Ephesus, we have many things to be thankful for, and we recognize that all blessings flow from God to us, and from us to others, and then those others praise God for the blessings they've received. And that cycle of blessing and praise continues. We heard from many in the RCC family today testifying of the blessings they've received. Ephesians 1:3-14.
Josh shared three quotes today:
1) Allen Hilton: "Christians in Ephesus may have thought their decision was more a shift in religious focus -- no big deal. Just changed habit of worship. Then his letter, read after a meal, and they discovered that their small steps into a new community had been planned by God before the beginning of time. That the steps amounted to God's adoption of them through Christ. That they were part of a plan to bring all separated fragments of creation together in unity through Christ and that this would all end in a glorious inheritance."
2) Thomas Steagald: "We are those chosen for praise to God, destined for worship and appointed unto doxology. If we cannot yet see all that will be we can already sing it. We sing of what will surely come by the grace of God. In doing so, we prove that we are marked by the seal of the Holy Spirit. The spirit serves as a kind of retainer, or sustainer, until the fullness of time. In the day to come, all will sing and give thanks to God; until then, we have received the lavish blessings and redemption sung on behalf of the rest. If the origin of the message of Christmas is that the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, the culmination of the season is that our flesh becomes the praise of God who makes us all one."
3) James McTyre: "God has set in motion an irresistible cycle of gifts and thanks, of which we are destined to be a part of, but certainly not the end. Rather than being entitled by God's spirit of adoption, we are obligated by its purposes. The mark of 'the seal of the promised Holy Spirit' is not that we believe and then stop, satisfied of our own salvation. The mark of the Holy Spirit is seen when we continue to place this imprint of love upon our neighbors, our friends, and even our enemies. By the mystery of God's will, they too will continue the cycle of gift and thanksgiving. What plans do we have, what plans do our churches have in the coming year to live into the mystery of God's will? How do we propose to continue to write, say, and give thanks? How will we continue to share our spiritual, physical, and financial gifts? Will we live another year as people with possessions, or will we live as people with gifts? Will we cautiously parcel out our gifts, or will we heap them lavishly, as God has given them to us? Mercifully, even if we missed the opportunities of Christmas, there are always second Sundays, second chances to begin anew. Our lives can be grateful, again."
Kara looks at Luke 2 and John 1 to remind us that Christmas is more than a single day to be celebrated. The purpose of the season is celebration. We have a hard time sitting in celebration. And the twelve days of Christmas are an invitation to celebrate the Emmanuel Jesus. Scripture describes a season of 400 years of silence from God -- of people waiting to celebrate the Messiah's arrival. Simeon and Anna were worshiping God in their waiting into very old age, and they witness Jesus' presentation at the temple. The testimonies of Simeon and Anna serve as a reminder that God did what he said he would do. He is true to his word. And we can celebrate that in our own times of waiting.
As we celebrate the fourth week of Advent, focusing on the theme of love, Josh shares from Luke 1 and the story of the Annunciation of Mary. In response to the angel's news of her role in the incarnation of Jesus, Mary sings a song of praise -- the Magnificat. Jesus continues to break into our lives today. And we have an opportunity to respond to the change and transformation that comes when Jesus breaks in. What will your magnificat sound like? What stories do you have to tell of what Jesus is doing in your life? Luke 1:26-56.
Josh shared a couple of quotes today:
1) Gail Ricciuti: "People are always puzzled that this pregnant woman who before giving birth speaks of her Offspring approaching Mission as if it's already accomplished. The way in which she sings her song calls a Future Vision into the present. The resulting Synergy reveals a vibrant now in which God's realm is complete and dwelling Among Us. The end is where we start from so that the end precedes the beginning. If so, then the saving justice of God's rain is as good as accomplished among those who can articulate its outlines. We are not used to seeing the realities around us in this way. Realists we call ourselves ignoring the Deep implications of incarnation no less than Resurrection, the new thing God has already done that sleeps below the surface of our perceptions. Now challenges to cultivate the ability to see God's promises as already having come to pass."
2) Debie Thomas: "The Magnificat is a song of too much hope. Of course it is, because "too much hope" is precisely what we're called to cultivate on this fourth and final Sunday in Advent. Can you do it? Can you find your voice and share it with a world more desperately in need than ever? What does your Magnificat sound like this year? How is God magnified through your unique perspective and vision? What stories of divine favor do you have to tell? What glorious reversals do you see heading our way? What words will you choose to describe the Good News of the Messiah you carry? Don’t wait. Sing it. Sing it now."
The Advent Choir's special song is also included in the podcast.
As we celebrate the third week of Advent, focusing on the theme of joy, Josh looks at John the Baptist again but from the perspective of the Gospel of John (different "John" by the way). While John is in the wild baptizing people, the Pharisees send some men to ask him, "Who are you?" And John has to look inward before he looks outward. He could choose to open with how he's the witness described by Isaiah to prepare the way -- to push himself into the forefront. But he doesn't. His first response is one of humility. He tells them that he is not the Christ. He has a purpose -- like we all do -- but it's not to be Christ. He points them to the light. Whatever else we do, our first and primary responsibility is to point others to that same light. Psalm 126; John 1:6-8, 19-28.
Before his message, Josh also shared some important announcements related to our church staff.
At the end of the message, Josh asked us to consider three questions this week:
1) How has the Father used this season to enrich and shape you?
2) In what ways can you share your story? How can you testify about His goodness?
3) Whilst in a season of waiting, how can you celebrate Him right now?
As we celebrate the second week of Advent, focusing on the theme of peace, Josh shares from Mark 1 and Isaiah 40 -- both of which discuss "preparing the way of the Lord." What does that look like? Mountains brought low. Valleys lifted up. Uneven ground becomes level. A people in the wilderness reminded that the presence of the Lord is coming. Hope is coming. Peace is coming. Joy is coming. Love is coming. Comfort is coming. John the Baptist prepares the way of Jesus, calling people to confession and repentance. That is how we, in our pride, are brought low to be lifted up by and through the grace of God. Mark 1:1-8; Isaiah 40:1-11.
Josh shared a quote from Debi Thomas this week: "To locate ourselves at the outskirts of our own power is to acknowledge our vulnerability in the starkest terms. In the wilderness, we have no choice but to wait and watch as if our lives depend on God showing up. Because they do. And it's into such an environment -- an environment so far removed from power as to make power laughable -- that the word of God comes."
Josh shares a message from Isaiah 64 for the first week of Advent -- the week whose theme is hope. Isaiah is crying out to God and is tired of waiting. Where are you, God? We need you! Do the things you did before. But God is doing a deeper work in Isaiah and the people of Israel. Many of us today feel like Isaiah did then. And the good news is that the waiting we're experiencing isn't empty waiting. The Advent season helps remind us that something is coming. We expectantly wait for the new things God wants to do in and through Christ in us. Isaiah 64:1-9.
Josh shared two quotes from Patricia de Kong today:
1) Her comment on Bonhoeffer: "What Bonhoeffer discovered was that the hiddenness of God is not a cloak of humility temporarily covering an awesome, powerful glory (a kind of Clark Kent/Superman act), but rather is a reflection of the divine character, a divine determination to relate to the world through the vulnerable path of non-coercive love and suffering service rather than through domination and force. God's refusal to replicate a Red Sea-type deliverance does not mean that God has abandoned Israel (or the church).
"Our hope does not rely on God's acting today in the same ways God acted in the ancient stories, but it does rely on God's being the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow -- a God who hears our cries, a God who does not abandon us, a God who will finally redeem all that is lost in a new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 65:17). The tradition of biblical lament does not invoke the past as nostalgia, nor does it dismiss the present in despair; rather, it draws on the collective memories of God's people as a source of hope for the future."
2) "I recall a comment that our country has changed over the past years from one that wanted to be good to one that wants to feel good. We see some of this desire every Christmas season as people run from store to store and shopping mall to shopping mall, searching for the things that will bring them and their families some sort of fulfillment and happiness. Peace, the kind of peace that the world is hungering for, will not come from trying to fill ourselves up with material things. We try to stem our hurt and pride by running away from pain and caring only about what is ours. We cannot create peace through selfishness, but by opening ourselves to hope. Hope is what is left when your worst fears have been realized and you are no longer optimistic about the future. Hope is what comes with a broken heart willing to be mended."
The song that Josh shared at the end of service was "Voice of God" by Dante Bowe. You can see the video of that song here: https://youtu.be/hP5u4BUcq_U
Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns looks at Exodus 35 and shares a message about the Creator Spirit ("Veni Creator Spiritus"). During this Covid season, the church has had to be creative. The Creator Spirit that inspired the many hands to fashion and craft the tabernacle in the time of Moses -- a portable and tangible place of habitation for the presence of God -- continues to inspire us to create beauty out of chaos through the variety of work we do. We have an opportunity to call on that Creator Spirit to provide wisdom to participate in those new creations using the skills we've been blessed with. Exodus 35:30-35.
Dr. Johns shared a song by Graham Kendrick called "Creator Spirit (Veni Creator Spiritus)" at the end of service. Here is a link to that lyric video: https://youtu.be/l2VWG0n26K0
You can find sheet music, a lead sheet and a chord chart for that song at Graham Kendrick's website: https://grahamkendrick.co.uk/songs/graham-kendrick-songs/other-recordings-new-songs/creator-spirit
Dr. Johns' most recent book can be found here: https://amzn.to/3pRLviN
Josh shares a message from Jeremiah 29 (not just the verse everyone knows) and Hebrews 12, inviting us to reexamine how we practice our faith. We've been given a rich history from which to draw but often settle for bumping into Jesus when we can. The life of St. Patrick and the Christian community he was a part of illustrates a different way to walk out what the writer of Hebrews describes for us as children of God. Jeremiah 29:1-14; Hebrews 12:1-17.
Kara shares her heart for community looking at a passage from Mark 2. There, a paralytic man's friends lower him through a roof to receive healing from Jesus. The man's faith was strengthened and his life transformed through the faith of his friends, and it offers us a glimpse of what it means to live in community with our friends and neighbors. Choosing to be rooted in community is the way towards a deeply formed spiritual life. Mark 2:1-12; Acts 2:42-47.