A. Let’s read Isaiah 35:1-10. This passage begins in the wilderness. The concordance says wilderness is where cattle are driven, where we find the administered, where we are in a wide open space where you could be free—but you are not. This text calls us to watch for the power that frees us, and points to a road, a way of redemption, or claiming creation back for its sacred purpose. Verse 4 suggests Isaiah was telling his prophetic community what to say, ‘here is your God,’ and what that means is eyes are opened, ears unstopped, the lame leap, and the speechless sing—that a wholeness comes back to creation to free us from all that is wilderness. This brings us to streams in the desert, a line Isaiah uses repeatedly. Finally, in the space between wilderness and liberation, we are not only our limits, our faults, or our mistakes. We are not only our bodies and dna. We are not only our past. There is a way in creation that is here to free us to be more than what we are, to be God’s shalom. So we remember that way and watch. We remember our baptism and watch for streams in the desert. This is a recurring theme in advent—watching for green shoots or streams in the desert. Where have you seen reversals that signal hope? Where have you been met by streams in the desert?
A. Let’s prepare for Sunday by reading Isaiah 65:17-25. Walter Brueggeman says of this passage, ‘this is promissory language to break despair.’ This passage comes after the return home from exile and slavery, and God’s step by step re-imagining of creation for the city, land, and people. I love v. 18, “I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight.” The people in despair over power that has misused, abused, administered them, now are told, ‘your city and your life is being re-purposed for delight.’ Process theologians love to interchange the notion of grace and possibility like Coke and Pepsi, they are darn near the same. (Try tasting Ephesians 2:8 in a sentence: ‘we are saved by possibility, through faith. It is not of your own doing, it is a gift of God.’) What if this day was re-purposed by grace/possibility? What if your life contemplated the depth of God’s grace/possibilities? What if FUMC lived in grace/possibility? If ‘former things,’ were really ‘former things’ in your life, how might you be repurposed by possibility for delight? How does your delight bless the city? How have you seen grace/possibility break despair?
A. Let’s prepare for Sunday by reading Haggai: 1:15b-2:9.To date the text to 520 BCE is to conjure the feeling of exiles now home living with a former glory. The text addresses people of the land and the exiles to rebuild the temple even if it will never be like the glory days. The people are in a religious crisis because the faith they once had in king and temple was destroyed. Sometimes tragedy requires a new faith or mindset. AA says, ‘if nothing changes, nothing changes.’ Verse 4 is the crux: ‘work, for I am with you.’ Like the gospel of Thomas quoting Jesus, ‘chop wood, I am among you,’ the scripture calls us to do the hard work, for ‘I am with you.’ ‘My Spirit abides; do no fear (v.5).’ What hard moral visionary work is being called forth from you at work or at home? What hard, moral visionary work is being called forth at First UMC? What hard moral visionary work is being called forth from your life? Today we know the temple was completed in the spring of 515BCE and Haggai and Zechariah were the two prophets most responsible for a new center in Jerusalem. What hard work is needed today, and what we are we willing to do about it?
A. Let’s read Joel 2:23-32. There is a sleeping tiger in the first line: ‘O children of Zion, be glad.’ Zion is that place where God dwells with God’s people, and there is a gladness available to us of abundant rain, grain, wine, and oil. The prophet says it is imperative--that this gladness is a knowledge that God is in the midst of us, and once we are glad—“then” something happens that could not happen without a contented mind. When we are glad, then we are told we can dream dreams and see visions, old and young, free and poor. The contrast in the text is not just being not glad or unhappy—the contrast is shame—its shame or its gladness. The suggestion is that gladness lifts us from shame. The Hebrew word we translate as glad means to be spun around under the influence of a violent emotion, to be turned around to gladness. In your job as a teacher or nurse or plumber, how is gladness, gratitude, or gratefulness tied to sight and perspective? How does First UMC live out of a gladness that brings vision? When has blessing given you perspective?
Pull off the road here for a moment and catch a breeze. Worship is source and summit for the community of faith. Worship is response to God but also the hungry cries from the nest of the faith community. Sunday is the view from the mountain before you go down. Its an investor's meeting. It holds the last commitments before we break the huddle and head to our places on the offensive line. Worship is the threshold to beauty and also proof the Lord can do just about anything, despite the people who speak for God. Its where we bring our prayers to the heart of God and our relationships into the old pews and leave them in steady hands. Rabbi Heschel said, 'the Sabbath is a cathedral in time.'
If you want to prepare for worship, read the suggested scripture for the week. You could read it on Sunday evening for the week ahead and let the passage whisper to you at work or in the line at the grocery store. Or read it Sunday morning before you head off to church.
If you would like to respond with a comment or question, go ahead. Maybe the scripture prompts reflection on a film or media. Maybe it prompts a question you would post here for the community of faith. Perhaps it reminds you of a piece of music. Let's offer the language that best expresses the respect and care we share.
Maybe worship is the reflection on the practice of our faith in the world. Perhaps it lasts all week. I hope this space becomes one more place for the community of faith.