Advent 1: Getting On the Path

Following the Path to Christmas….  Let’s walk with one another and We will walk with God. Join V. Hare for an easy way to learn this vibrant, joyful tune from Eswatini (Swaziland):  

Reflect  Due to heightened uncertainty and the constant shifting of guidelines, mandates, and practices; because of the rising level of anxiety in many areas of our lives, we can follow a different path to Christmas.  This year we seek a path for reflection, for quiet, for listening, for breathing. Now is the time to take the first step, to get started on this path which will wind its way to the hillside outside of Bethlehem, down to the humble feeding trough which held the Son of God, and into our hearts, enabling us to receive anew the Light of the World.

Pray

Stop first and quiet your mind.  Close your eyes and take a deep breath in.  Hold it for a moment.  Then let that breath out very slowly.  Now….

Lord of light, we stand at the beginning of Advent, facing an uncertain season ahead. Do we try to prepare for a Christmas as we have in the past?  Do we create alternative activities and traditions? We could follow any number of paths in front of us.  Some paths lead to feeling frazzled or overwhelmed.  Some paths lead to depression or melancholy. Lord of light, guide our feet to take your path, to walk the good way.  As we walk your path in this Advent season, give us rest for our souls.  Help us to set aside time to breathe, to notice your handiwork, to appreciate the little things. Lead us on your path to Christmas.  Amen.

Light Light one candle, saying: “We are following the path to Christmas

Read

As you walk through this week, carry these words with you from the prophet Jeremiah:   “Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”   Jeremiah 6:16

Feeling frazzled?  Feeling down? Time for an affirmation break!  Join Eva for a three minute experience:  https://youtu.be/wKB2GSSXTSc

We can learn from our Buddhist brothers and sisters. Try a quiet breathing, meditative exercise with Thich Nhat Hanh.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MGgK8eulKo 

TAKE TIME TO PONDER— by Janice Sabb           

  As I made the decision to accept this assignment for the Advent season, I began to reflect on the significance of prayer and meditation. What is the difference between the two expressions? In my mind, I see prayer as talking to God, just like having a conversation with someone very dear to you who never judges you and accepts you just as you are. In my heart, I feel meditation gives you a direct pathway to hear God speak, so that you can listen to God. It is akin to having a personal audience with Mother/Father God speaking directly to you in your quiet time. The biblical definition for meditation is to mutter, to speak or to ponder. Let us examine the word ponder as we consider Jeremiah 6:16 during this season of Advent. We are given several directives:

   1.  To stand at the crossroads and look

    2.  To ask for the ancient paths

   3.  To ask what the good way is and walk in it

The prophet Jeremiah ends by letting us know that once we have finished these instructions, we will find rest for our souls. Jeremiah concludes this passage by saying…

But you said you will not walk in it!                                                         

 In this time of Advent, we are preparing for the coming of the Christ. I encourage and invite you to take time to ponder, that is, to think carefully about how you prepare for Christ’s coming and what the time of Advent represents in your daily life. Give yourself a time out to silence your mind and ponder the words of the prophet Jeremiah as he directs us to stand and look at (examine) whatever crossroads we find in our lives. Use this opportunity to look within as you tap into your spiritual center in this quiet time of meditation.  As we allow ourselves to release the clutter and noise of the world, it is here, in this place that we can fully access and listen to the still small voice of God speaking to us. It is inside our spiritual center in the silence where we find the ancient path and where we can embrace the good way. It is through meditation and hearing the voice of God speaking to us that we develop the courage to walk in “The Good Way”.

Mother and baby giraffe from Kenya, home to several HRPC Members

         Just as the prophet Jeremiah promises, the key to finding rest for your soul is letting go of the clutter and noise of the world and welcoming in the voice of God.  When we take time to connect and be with God in our moments of quiet meditation, he speaks to us in a clear, audible voice. It is then that we began to comprehend the true significance of rest for our souls.

         I challenge you today:  Are you willing to ponder and think carefully?  Are you ready and willing to renew your spirit and your commitment to God through prayer and meditation?  In this Advent season, you do not have to plan a vacation or even a staycation, pack a suitcase, spend extra money that you do not have, board a plane, get on a cruise ship, take time off from work, or even ask Siri.

Make the decision to seek rest for your soul by spending quiet time alone with GOD, just you and the Holy Spirit; up close and personal, One-on-One.

Seven Reasons to Give Back to God

Mark 12:38-44

Let’s start off this morning by being very clear:  all things come from God, the amazing creation we are a part of is made by God, and God is sovereign over all, which basically means God is the source and God is in charge.  So, it may be more appropriate to talk about how we make decisions as to which of God’s gifts we are planning to keep for ourselves instead of which of God’s gifts we are planning to give back to God, who is the giver in the first place!

I am sure you have heard before this old, old chant composed by Beethoven.  It is not in our hymnbook, but it is used by many churches at the time of the offering. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given Thee.”  God gives it and we give it back. Some of it, anyway. Like those rich people at the temple, we hold on to the parts we think we need, or the parts we know we don’t need but we want.  We are ok to give back from the stuff we are not invested in, from the leftovers, forgetting that it all really belongs to God.  That is not the mindset Jesus praises. It is too common among human beings.

That is perhaps the first hurdle to understand giving to the ministry of the church.  When we begin to think of our time, our gifts and our financial resources as God given resources that we are expected to manage, we begin to look at those resources through a different lens.

For a long time, I have known that stewardship is not a short season in November when church members are reminded about the ministry of this particular church, both within the building and outside the building.  Stewardship is really more of a lifestyle than a season.  It is more of a decision-making framework than a budget in an excel sheet approved by the session.  A steward is the one who cares for all of the household—the people, the buildings, the work.  Stewardship implies being interconnected as a household of sorts. The Greek word for steward, oikos, is the base of multiple words in English, like ecumenical, ecology, or economy.  If you think about it, each of these words points to interconnectedness, whether it is among worshipping communities, or the intricate web of life where all creatures are dependent on other creatures, or the buyers, sellers, producers, and consumers who make up an economy. We are the stewards, or the managers, of that which God has entrusted us in the various “households” of which we are a part—nuclear family, extended family, church, community, and globe. 

            With the comparison of the poor woman and the rich people, I would like to offer you seven reasons to be a faithful steward at Hunting Ridge.  You might get a pen and paper to jot down the list if you like. Basically, why be a giver to the ministry and life of this congregation?  When I say “giver”, I mean a giver of any resource you have, and maybe even some resources you didn’t realize you had.  Your resources include, but are not limited to, your time, your energy, your passions, your income, your skills and talents, your hands, your mouth, your feet, your heart, your mind.   You can give for many reasons.  I hope you do not give because you feel guilty.  I hope you do not give out of duty.  You can give for many reasons.  You may identify with one or two on this list.  You may be challenged by another.  You may cross some off your list entirely.  Listen.

1.  You can give in joyful response to God’s goodness and generosity. Think about the way God cared for, guided, and loved God’s people through the scriptures.  Think about the amazing earth we inhabit.  Think about your family or friends.  Listen to the words from the psalmist in Psalm 85: “Lord, you’ve been kind to your land; you’ve changed Jacob’s (Israel’s) circumstances for the better.  You’ve forgiven your people’s wrongdoing; you’ve covered all their sins.” In gratitude to God for God’s goodness and generosity toward you, you give as a response.

2.  You can give as a way to obey God’s commandments.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” Jesus said to his disciples.  In various places in the Old Testament, we can find commandments regarding giving to God, expectations for tithing to the work of the temple, giving ten percent of one’s resources.  We are familiar with thinking of tithing as ten percent of our income.  In the book of Leviticus, the income was crops or animals.  Listen to the instruction from God through Moses: “All tenth-part gifts from the land, whether of seed from the ground or fruit from the trees… and all tenth-part gifts from a herd or flock …will be holy to the Lord.”

What if we set a goal of giving 10% of our time to God?  Is that another way to tithe, to obey God’s command?  What would that look like for you?  Perhaps in a week we have 16 waking hours each day, totaling 112 hours each week that we can decide how to use.  So, can approximately 11 hours and 14 minutes of each week be dedicated to God—preparing for and attending worship, prayers or devotions at home, serving others in some way, recognizing and appreciating God’s gifts in nature, in your family, etc.  You can be a giver by following God’s command to give.

3.  You can look at your gifts of time, talent and financial resources as holy gifts, gifts of love that are a part of a stewardship lifestyle, not a one-time commitment. You give gifts to people all around you.  You give the gift of a listening ear, a tangible gift, a ride somewhere, something you make or something you buy, taking out the trash unexpectedly, and so on. Big and little things are gifts of love for the people you love and care for.  Anytime.  Giving gifts from the resources we have at our disposal can be an ongoing practice through out the year.  Anytime.  You are giving by living a life full of gifts of love.

4. You can give as an action that illustrates our covenant of love with Jesus Christ. Last week we explored the book of Ruth as a story of covenant between Ruth and Naomi and between Boaz and Ruth.  Covenants often come with a sign or symbol.  Giving your time, your talents and your financial resources can be a visible sign of your covenant with Christ who lived, died, and was resurrected for you and for me. You can be a giver because of the commitment you have made, the relationship that you have built with Jesus.

5.  You can give because we are a connectional church, and you know that we all are in this together! Presbyterians stress the connectional nature of our church family.  Not only here in this place, but with other churches in our Presbytery, and Presbyterians across the country.  We are connected to one another.  We count on one another.  We draw strength from one another.  You know the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  I heard Senator Corey Booker use that proverb at the Reparations Hearing on Capitol Hill that is our homework before the upcoming B’More Human event next Monday evening. 

We are connected to one another. When churches close in our Presbytery and the buildings are sold, a portion of the income goes into the Enduring Witness Fund, which is available to congregations who have a large capital expenditure or are starting new ministries in their neighborhood.  Because of other Presbyterians who lived as givers, we were able to receive a grant this week that will pay more than half of the cost of our sewage pipe repair on this old building. 

Our church sees God at work not in loners, but as we live and serve as a community.  The amount of our gifts varies from person to person.  One is retired and can give more time.  One is a gifted musician and can give more music.  One received an inheritance or a settlement and can give more money.  But none of them can do it all!  We are healthier and stronger as a church when we share the load, when all of our offerings of time, gifts and money are combined.   

6.  You can give because you believe that your giving changes the lives of people, that God works through us in this community. When you give to Hunting Ridge Presbyterian Church, you are making a difference in the lives of other people.  You are helping to pay the expense of hiring a plumber who is just starting his own business to replace that sewage pipe. You are supplying food that puts Thanksgiving dinner on the table for 50 families in Rosemont.  You are providing a bit of well cared for green space in the city of Baltimore. How many different ways can you list where lives are changing because we are here?  Are you giving, sharing, managing your resources in such a way that you are helping to change lives?  You may be and you don’t know it.  You pass our link to zoom worship to a friend.  You wrap gifts for children at Christmas. We are changing lives in little ways through any interaction.   I love a quote from Presbyterian singer-songwriter, author and peace activist David LaMotte. He says, “You are changing the world whether you like it or not…so what changes will you make?”  You can be a giver because you are excited about what this congregation is doing in the world.

7.  And finally, you can give so that you can use your God given gifts!  Each of us is  called to discover and use our abilities.  When we have the gift of hospitality but we never take a turn at hosting a special event or fellowship opportunity at church, we are not being good stewards of that gift.  When we are willing to try being the lay reader even though we are super afraid of speaking in front of others, we are exploring the possibility of sharing the gift of evangelism.  We bless others by serving, volunteering, witnessing, inviting. Remember that we are stewards, or managers, of all gifts and resources that we have at our disposal.  Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth in his first letter:  what is expected of a manager is that he or she prove to be faithful.  That is the best compliment that we can give one another, or that we can hear from God:  you are a faithful steward of your time, your money, your gifts.  There are lots of reasons to give.  As you look for a letter in your mailbox this week, take time to ponder the ways you can be a giver of your time, money and gifts in this congregation at this time.  Thanks be to God that we can be givers.  Amen.