Monday, September 19, 2016

Steps of a Disciple: Prayer

Sermon Series
"Steps of a Disciple: Prayer"
Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1; 1Timothy 2: 1-7 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 18, 2016

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:
‘Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?’
(‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?’)
‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved.’
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!
- Jeremiah 8:18 - 9:1

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
- 1 Timothy 2: 1-7

I remember the first time I began to learn about prayer. I was thirty years old and sitting in my first adult Bible study. The group was made of women from a variety of denominations, ages, and stages of life. These women were a wellspring of faith to learn from. The leader had such a presence of grace and wisdom about her. She was a person that anyone would quickly recognize as having those deep roots of faith. She would always reserve the last twenty or thirty minutes of our time together for prayer. The more the relationships and trust grew, the more the women would share about seeing God in the everyday as well as asking for God’s guidance in specific situations for specific people and themselves.

After the requests were made, the leader always led us in a time to quietly rest in God’s presence. And slowly, one by one, random voices would raise specific prayers for each woman by name and any situation mentioned. Some prayers were very short and simple. Some weaved their prayers with the words of Scripture from our study. Some prayed in silence because it was too much to say the words out loud (that was me back then). But listening to those women pray taught me so much. They gave me a foundation to keep building upon. Those women taught me that prayer is a centering source in the well of God’s grace.

Paul says in his first letter to Timothy that the goal of prayer is a centering one. Prayer empowers us to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:2). Prayer is a regular pause that composes our hearts and minds to free us from outward distractions. Prayer provides a sense of peace as we experience stillness and steadiness due to God calming our inner chaos of life. A life of prayer cultivates godliness as we develop an inner response to a life of faith. A life of prayer shapes our dignity – our moral and spiritual character - as others see outer evidence of God at work in us.

This mark of being a disciple inspires others and it reveals that God’s grace is creating something remarkable in you and me. The remarkable thing is a heart that is on fire for God.

John Calvin once drew a picture of the essence of faith. It was a hand with a burning heart in the center of the palm. His words describing this spiritual tattoo, if you will, were, “My heart I give to you, O God, promptly and sincerely.” Calvin had an urgent gratitude to draw near to God daily in prayer for God is the ultimate source of life in which we plug ourselves into. For Calvin it was imperative to create space for God to breathe new life into the embers of our faith to fan the fire and our passion to live for God.

One day last week I craved a window of time to just be quiet and still. Each morning in my devotional time I play some instrumental music on Pandora (online music website) as I read that day’s devotional entry and the accompanying Scriptures. Just as I opened my book, “Be Thou My Vision” played. It was a real God moment as I felt compelled to just close my eyes to be still and quiet. As the words came to my mind it felt like God’s Spirit was praying those very lyrics over me. When the song finished I read the devotion’s Scripture, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you, I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).

What comforting words for a disciple. And then the previous verse caught my eye. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). As I sat in the stillness of contemplating God’s Word, the Spirit was reminding to lean into a deeper trust of the Rabbi and what he is teaching us. That trust composes us so that we are not overwhelmed by the chaos. That trust guards our hearts from being troubled as we are steadied by God’s strength. To be regularly quiet in God’s presence allows us to follow Jesus one step at a time and one prayer at a time so that God may be our vision.

Jesus taught the disciples to follow God’s vision of prayer by his example and word. Jesus would retreat often from the daily grind to center himself in the well of God’s grace (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16; 6:12). Jesus prayed with gratitude and deep trust that God is always ready to listen and work in our lives in order that God’s glory would be revealed (John 11: 41-42). Jesus advised to never pray for show but to create a space set apart to connect with God (Matthew 6: 5-6). Jesus taught the importance of interceding for people and situations that break God’s heart (Matthew 25:31-40). Jesus urged the disciples to pray for and about obstructions to God’s kingdom, be it for strained relationships needing forgiveness (Mark 11:25) or those who persecute Christ followers (Matthew 5:44). Jesus knew that apart from God we can do nothing therefore a disciple must abide in God daily to lead a fruitful life (John 15:5).

Paul shares what a fruitful prayer life looks like in the steps of a disciple. He raises five marks for us to tap into.

1. Make room for the Holy Spirit to open your heart in gratitude. As you enter God’s presence be spiritually still. Do not talk. Just listen. Allow God’s Spirit to slowly open your heart and mind to what you are grateful for. Even on the worst day there will always be some blessing, some glimpse of God’s faithfulness that we might tell God, “Thank you.”

2. Pray for those close to you. Share with God your joys and concerns for your family, friends, and community. We are connected in a web of relationships. Pray for the connections that need nurturing. Pray for the relationships that are strained, conflicted, and need to be mended by forgiveness. Pray for the needs of your loved ones and your beloved community. These prayers are our supplications as we ask God to supply these physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs as they fall in line with God’s vision of kingdom living.

3. Pray for those in authority and leadership. Scripture urges us to pray for our leaders in high positions. That includes our President, military, our senators, our House Representatives, governor, mayor, and council men and women. We pray for our leaders who help our local community - our sheriff, police and fire departments. We pray for school teachers as they open our children to imagine and think critically. And we pray for our spiritual leaders – our councils and elders and ministers who walk with us in faith to help God transform the world.

4. Pray for the weak. God’s Word guides us to become more spiritually aware to what breaks God’s heart. Just as Jeremiah wept for his people who were oppressed, it is right for us to lament and pray for our sisters and brothers who are unable to protect themselves – those who are threatened by war and violence, those who have lost hope because of injustice, those who are sick, mentally ill, poor, and homeless. These prayers are global and communal. They are our prayers of intercession as we ask God to intercede. We not only pray and trust that God is already present in these hard places of life. We also pray and listen for God to direct us in how we might be the body of Christ and work with God to bring justice, peace, healing, and love.

5. Pray for yourself. I think sometimes this is the hardest prayer to lift to God. As the Holy Spirit opens and touches the quiet places of our hearts, it is challenging to allow ourselves to be truly vulnerable with God. You might ask, ‘If God knows everything, do I really need to talk with God about this or that situation in my life? I don’t know if I can say that out loud to God.’ The answer is yes. We should tell God everything. God’s greatest desire is to have an intimate relationship with you and me. And while it takes some time to build enough trust to lay our hearts bare to anyone, God is worthy.

So tell God about your day – your personal joys and your worries. Tell God what is weighing on you, what you are angry and bitter about in your life, and what you are wrestling with. Tell God your frustrations and complaints. God can handle it all. Give it to God in prayer and then take the time to listen.

As you listen for God pay attention to the whispers of the Spirit. God speaks to us in the contemplation of Scripture as we glean new insights. God speaks to us through our emotions, through conversations with others, and out in the wonders of creation. Pay attention to the spiritual nudges as God seeks to guide us in godliness and dignity.

Prayer is an ongoing conversation with God. It is also a two-way street for us to both listen and talk with God. As we think about those five marks of a rich and balanced prayer life, it is not about changing God’s mind or changing situations or changing the people we are praying for. Prayer changes us. It allows our spirits to be shaped as we ask God to be our vision, our best thought, our strength, and the light in our life.

As you reflect upon your own prayer life consider the 5 marks of prayer. Which one(s) seem out of balance? How might your feed your spiritual appetite so that it is more balanced and satisfying?

As you think about your prayer life where are you most comfortable connecting to God? You may have a special room in the house or in a tranquil garden where you settle in and quiet yourself in prayer. Maybe your spiritual house is on the move as you run or walk and talk with God as an old friend. You might enter God's presence when you're driving alone in the car as you let Jesus take the wheel. You might cultivate prayer while doing tasks in the kitchen, home, or yard. Prayer is not always about being physically still. Prayer is holy work as we strive to communicate with God in meaningful ways. Just as we make communication a priority in any significant relationship, we do so with God too.

As you and I take the next steps of a disciple consider how you might strengthen this discipline of prayer. Explore different ways to contemplate the mystery of being in God’s presence to grow in relationship with our Maker, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Prayer is a centering source for us to experience the well of God’s grace in the joys, challenges, and broken hallelujahs of life. So come to the well often to drink this life giving water and rekindle your passion for God.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Steps of a Disciple: Live by Example PRAYER GUIDE

Steps of a Disciple: Live by Example (Luke 15: 1-10; 1Timothy 1: 12-17)

As we seek to grow in the steps of a disciple, read through the biblical texts and pray through one question each day.

Luke 15: 1-10; 1Timothy 1: 12-17

1. This week pray for the Spirit to open your eyes to a deeper awareness of our connections to the body of Christ.

2. Remember who you see on a regular basis at church. Pray for them.

3. Consider who you have not seen in a while. Pray about someone who may be losing a connection with the body of Christ because of an outstanding circumstance.

4. Pray for those who are lonely or and have fallen on hard times. How might God be encouraging you to reach out to them with genuine care?

5. Ask God to help you widen the circle of Christ’s grace and compassion. Who might you invite to Van Wyck Presbyterian Church to grow in relationship with God and community?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Steps of a Disciple: Live by Example

Sermon Series
"Steps of a Disciple: Live by Example"
Luke 15: 1-10; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 11, 2016

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
- Luke 15: 1-10

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Timothy 1: 12-17

Jesus made the Pharisees nervous. The example of faith that he was setting was quite radical in his time. When Jesus would teach in the synagogues the Pharisees would scan the crowd to notice who was listening. When Jesus walked the streets the Pharisees paid attention to those Jesus interacted with.

Tradition held that Rabbis always sought the best of the best students to teach. The best were worthy of receiving such knowledge of God’s Law. But Jesus broke the mold for a Rabbi. He looked for students and followers who did not make the cut, were quite ordinary, and were rough around the edges. Jesus sat at the lunch table with the unlikely disciples, the tax collectors, the sinners, and anyone who had fallen short of God’s glory.

Luke recalls the Pharisees made quite a self-righteous comment about Jesus’ example: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). I don’t think the Pharisees understood the example of faith Jesus was setting for others. While the Pharisees criticized him, I think they were actually questioning what motivated Jesus. Why did Jesus reach out to folks beyond the Pharisees’ righteous circle?

Jesus had a special place in his heart for the lowly. According to Luke, God promised to work through Jesus Christ to humble the proud and the powerful, to lift up those who had nothing to depend on but God alone, and to fill the hungry with God’s abundance (Luke 1: 51-53). God’s promise of steadfast love would do nothing less for every generation of faith (Luke 1:54-55).

The example that Jesus was setting pointed to God as a shepherd. This shepherd was keen to observe the patterns of his flock and especially to notice who was missing. The shepherd would leave the circle of the flock to go above and beyond his call. The shepherd was willing to search the pastures and wilderness to restore even just one sheep to the whole. And let’s not forget the shepherd was the low man on the totem pole. The Pharisees did not hold the shepherds in high regard. Jesus’ parable caused some friction with the Pharisees. While the Pharisees placed more value in the circle that confined the flock, God places more value in sacrificial love and grace that breaks down cultural norms.

A few weeks ago a simple photograph brought a mother to tears because social circles were on her mind. The snapshot told the story a school cafeteria lunch hour. Kids filled the seats with lunch boxes and school trays. A handful of Florida State University football players visited the elementary school that day, dressed in their uniforms, and they even went through the lunch line. The players took the opportunity to visit with the kids.

With his tray of pizza in hand, Travis Rudolph saw an empty table where one eleven year old boy named Bo was eating all alone. Travis approached the boy and asked if he could join him. This caught the eye of a school employee who must have been looking out for Bo, as the picture was shared with Bo’s mom. It didn’t take long for the picture to go viral.

That simple interaction was life changing for both Bo and his mother. Bo often eats lunch alone every day. Kids shun him as different because he interprets the world around him through autism. Bo’s mom worries daily about her son being left out of the circle of friendships. But Travis’s simple act of compassion towards the one child who sat alone is a true example to learn from.

When Travis later learned that Bo was autistic he shared in an interview, “It’s just heartbreaking that [Bo] is in that situation, but I’m praying for him. He’s a great kid overall. I would love to hang out with him anytime.” And Travis did hang out with Bo and his mom as they received a special invitation to attend a dinner with the Florida State football team. What radical hospitality.

This reminds me of something Mother Teresa once said, “We can’t all do great things but we can all do small things with great love.”

A week ago Mother Teresa was lifted up as an exemplary model of sacrificial love. The Roman Catholic Church canonized her as a saint of the church. From the young age of twelve Teresa wanted to be a missionary [1]. At the age of eighteen she left her Albanian home to serve in Calcutta, India. She ministered to orphans, the sick, and they dying. Her published diary says she vowed to “live in the convent with kindness; to come alongside the poor with gentleness; to have a kind presence with the sick; and lastly to smile at God” [2].

Mother Teresa had a deep devotion to serve God and the lowly, even when she did not feel God’s presence in the dark valleys of life. Over the years people would come from miles and miles to walk in her shadow to find greater purpose in their lives. When people tried to follow her on the streets and live by her example she would say these words:

Stay where you are, find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are – in your own homes and in your own families, in your work places and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere – wherever you go; you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society – completely forgotten, completely left alone.

Jesus Christ strengthens us to be inspired by others and to follow his example as a disciple. Our highest calling is to allow God’s grace to overflow from us to others in faith and love. Being a disciple is not just focusing on attending to our spiritual formation here within the walls of the church.

Do not get me wrong. It is so very important to gather as a community each week to tell God “Thank you!” and to be shaped by the songs, stories, and rituals of God’s love. It is important to be shaped by our Teacher and Savior.

But it is equally important for you and me to live out the example of Christ’s love where we are – in our homes, at the water cooler, on the sports field, and at the lunch table. Christ put on the thin skin of humanity in order to live out God’s example. From the beginning God has chosen to live in relationship with us. We know the fullness of God’s example with that one word in which we celebrate each Advent - “Immanuel” for God is with us.

God shows no favoritism. God embraces us all in a gracious hospitality and is always pursuing our hearts and minds to be captivated and changed by God’s amazing grace. Jesus’ example of faith demonstrates that God is at work to widen the circles that we have a tendency to draw saying who is in the circle and who is outside of the circle. God is at work chipping away that “us versus them” mentality to make room for all to see and experience glimpses of God’s truth.

The next steps of a disciple are to live by example – Jesus’ example. With each new day Christ calls us to follow a little bit more in his radical ways by extending God’s hospitality to others. Christ calls us to allow the Spirit to open our eyes and see who is not here. Who is losing connection with the body of Christ because of outstanding circumstances? Who is sitting alone at the lunch table and wishing that someone would express genuine care? Who has fallen on hard times and needs a hand up? Who has the community forgotten? And then Christ calls us to be ready and willing to go out into our community to extend God’s grace with a humble and grateful heart.

Living by Jesus’ example is not about turning faith or church or ministry into a success. A colleague once shared with me that we are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful. May we seek to be faithful as we take steps to grow as a disciple.

May it be so for you and for me. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:
[1] Mother Teresa: Come be My Light (New York: Crown Publishing, 2007). pp. 13-14.
[2] Mother Teresa: Come be My Light, p. 166.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sermon Series: Steps of a Disciple - Being Shaped

Sermon Series
"Steps of a Disciple: Being Shaped"
Jeremiah 18: 1-11; Luke 14: 25-33 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
September 4, 2016

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
- Jeremiah 18: 1-11

Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. - Luke 14: 25-33

Her goal was to focus on the mission. At the age of 21, Jennifer Pharr Davis felt called to hike 2,175 miles along the Appalachian Trail. My family met Jennifer two years ago when her speaking tour led her to Tupelo, Mississippi to share her story. Jennifer prepared for the long journey by studying under Dr. Warren Doyle, the teacher of mastering the Appalachian Trail. As she planned her strategy to hike from Georgia to Maine, she had to acknowledge her limitations, pack smart, and trust the words of her teacher. The most important words that Dr. Doyle shared were these: The trail will ultimately change you.

Jennifer took the trail name of Odyssa, the feminine take on Odysseus from Homer’s book “The Oddesy.” Odyssa left the comforts and security of her life, family, and friends. Although she hiked much of the trail alone, Odyssa found a home on the trail among a community of hikers. She began the trail path believing she would have so much time to reflect upon her life and what she wanted to do in her future. But Odyssa quickly realized that the trail was not just a new home or even a recreational pastime. The trail required her to live in the present and to focus and discern her mission with each passing day to move forward.

With each step, the Appalachian Trail was re-shaping Odyssa – not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually. Hiking between 25-40 miles a day, she found her mission was filled with a lot of discomfort. Odyssa encountered physical hardships, emotional distress, and spiritual unrest [1]. But her deep commitment to prepare for the hike and her willingness to be shaped by the adventure empowered Odyssa to follow her call.

The steps that we take to follow Christ in the journey of discipleship require some preparation as well. That word, “disciple” in the Greek means to be a learner, a student of the teacher. To be a disciple means that one needs to acquire the mental effort to think something through. More specifically a disciple learns to follow the teacher so closely that they strive to be like the teacher in every way.

Luke tells us that being a disciple of Jesus Christ was not for the faint of heart. While the disciples grew in their relationships with God’s ways, with Jesus as Teacher, and also with one another in community, the disciples were being prepared for the difficult journey ahead. Jesus did not call a person to follow him perfectly, for none of us can. Jesus knows the limitations that our humanity brings. Jesus knew that his disciples would need to be shaped by the very hands of God and by the shape of the cross.

From the very beginning the hands of God proclaim he is our Maker and we are the works of God’s hands. As I mentioned in our children’s sermon this morning, you and I are like Play-Dough. We are all beautifully different regarding our ethnicities, personalities, and unique talents. God continues to shape us as we grow. While our decisions and life experiences can make the shape of our clay glorious and purposeful, they can also shape our clay to be rough, chipped, or even spoiled. But God is not satisfied leaving us in that condition.

Like a potter God adds life-giving water to our being and begins smoothing out the rough edges and reshaping our lives as God pleases. God works through all our life experiences for good– the ones we are proud of and the ones we would rather delete from memory. Nothing is wasted for God can use anything and everything to reveal the strength of God’s hands. Being shaped by the hands of God is to embody God’s promise of being a new creation. We can trust God’s hands to mold us and make us according to God’s will.

I have a dear friend who is a minister and a potter. A number of years ago we sat in her garage at the potter’s wheel. I had never potted clay before but I had a particular piece in mind that I wanted to create. It was a plate size prayer labyrinth to use in my prayer time.

I loved the process of shaping the clay but it was difficult to trust my hands with no previous experience. Jill taught me how to move the clay and when to add the water to give the clay adaptability and new life. We shaped the grooves for the labyrinth so that my finger could trace along the lines for a path of prayer. After the clay dried I glazed it and we fired it in the kiln. Once clay is fired it cannot be reshaped. Rather the clay prayer labyrinth would be reshaping me.

The final creation amazes me. I close my eyes and allow my finger to slowly trace along the path to the center of the plate and then back out. As my finger moves I pray and allow God’s Spirit to guide me. There are places where the clay has a bump or a rough patch. It brings to mind the current rough places in my life and that God is at work there. There are places where the grooves of clay get quite narrow and they squeeze my finger. It brings to mind those situations that are bringing stress to me or to others I am praying for and that God is at work there too. God is always in a process of reshaping us on the journey of faith if we are open to a deeper awareness to it.

The shape of the cross also guides us to follow God’s ways. As Jesus ultimately faced the cross to faithfully obey God’s plan for salvation, so a disciple must be willing to devote himself or herself to Jesus Christ to walk in God’s ways. Being a disciple costs something of us because it cost Jesus everything for the sake of God’s redemption. Remember that Jesus called ordinary people like you and me to walk in the ways of God’s extraordinary love. Jesus knew that we could not do this perfectly but Jesus did and does want disciples to consider the commitment to follow. The shape of the cross prepares us to know the steps of a disciple.

The shape of the cross is both vertical and horizontal. The cross helps us to visualize our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships through life.

Our vertical relationship with God is the most important one we will ever have. God is our Maker, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We connect with God out in the world hiking the trails, fishing along the water’s edge, and seeing God show off with those gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. But nothing compares to an intimate connection with God’s Word. God longs to speak into our lives to remind us who God is creating us to be. We hear the voice of God as a student of Scripture. We learn there how to take the next right step both personally and communally. Daily devotions and group Bible studies are spaces to gain spiritual maturity as well as to prepare for the uphill climbs of life. Nothing centers us more than prayerfully contemplating God's Word.

Our horizontal relationships through life are redefined by the cross as well. The cross questions our loyalty to extend God’s love to others. It is a compass that guides us in the directions of compassion and humility instead of judgment and pride as we walk beside others. The cross is a lens to consider the standards of our decisions and how they affect others. The cross is like a tether that channels our energy into God’s greater purposes at school, at work, and in the community. Jesus asks every disciple to carry the cross every day into every situation of life because the cross touches every area of our lives. You see the cross chips away the walls we build to compartmentalize our life and faith. We carry the cross not out of obligation but with a deep and grateful reverence for all God has done, is doing, and will do among us, through us, and in us.

The life-long journey of being Jesus’ disciple will ultimately change you and me. That is the hope. As we begin this 8 week journey of considering the steps of a disciple we are learning what to pack, what our limitations are, and how the Teacher is preparing us.

So I invite you to do some reflection today and into this week:

How are you living your life differently because of Jesus Christ?
How are your identity and self-worth being redefined as a child of God?
How is your commitment to be a student in the school of faith being nurtured and strengthened?
How are your ethics at school and work being thought through in light of the Gospel?
How is God working through your unique skill sets and endeavors to touch others’ lives for the common good of God’s kingdom?

The first step of a disciple is to have a willingness to be shaped by the Teacher. May it be so for you and me.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source Referenced:

[1] Jennifer Pharr Davis, “Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail (New York: Beaufort Books, 2010), p. 3

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon: The Intersection

"The Intersection"
Jeremiah 2: 4-13; Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 28, 2016

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?

They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?’

I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.

The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.

Therefore once more I accuse you,
says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.
- Jeremiah 2: 4-13

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence,

‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
- Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16

There is an intersection where two roads cross. At this intersection the flat Mississippi Delta spans for miles and miles. A car approaches this intersection with three young men; all prison escapees. Their names are Everett, Pete, and Delmar. You may remember them from the movie, “O Brother Where Art Thou” (2000). They stop as Tommy Johnson asks if they are going past Tishomingo and Tommy hops in the back seat to catch a ride.

Everett is driving and does all the introductions and then Pete asks Tommy why he was standing at the roadside in the middle of nowhere. Tommy replies “I had to be there at the crossroads just before midnight to sell my soul to the devil.”

Everett chimes in, “Well ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking! Pete and Delmar here were just baptized and saved. I guess I am the only one that remains unaffiliated.” Pete, still wet behind the ears with baptismal water, replies “This ain’t no laughing matter Everett.”

So Everett stands in check and asks, “Tommy, what did you get for selling your soul to the devil?” Tommy replied, “He told me to play this guitar here real good.” Pete said, “Oh son, for that you traded your everlastin’ soul?” And Tommy just shrugged his shoulders and answered, “Well, I wasn’t using it.”

Like this scene, Jeremiah describes how the people of God had also come to a barren intersection in their communal lives. At this intersection they had forgotten God’s story. Jeremiah says, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me?” (Jeremiah 2:5). Of course the question implies a negative answer. God did nothing wrong.

Over the generations God led our spiritual ancestors through the wilderness. Even as they felt lost in their forty years of wandering from Egypt, God always led the way. God’s deliverance in the book of Exodus is a hallmark story because God’s grace changes things. God’s grace led the people from oppression to freedom (Exodus 6:6-8). God’s grace was a light shining in the darkest days (Exodus 13:21-22). God’s grace was like life-giving water in the desert even when the people complained (Exodus 17:5-7). God’s grace provided a place to find a sense of identity, belonging, a hope, and a future (Exodus 15:13).

But over the generations the people and the religious leaders had shifted the focus of their spiritual eyes. They stopped looking for God (Jeremiah 2:6, 8). Instead of following the path that God was still creating on the highway of faith, the people turned onto a secondary road to follow other things.

And Jeremiah says, “My people have changed their glory for something that does not profit” (Jeremiah 2:11). God’s people had exchanged their reverence for God’s amazing grace for something that would not benefit them or give what they needed to thrive. So as the people lost touch with God’s story they replaced God with other things, other gods, other idols. Jeremiah recognizes that God’s people have gotten lost along the way.

Throughout our lifetimes we all will experience a time of getting lost. It is a part of being human. What we allow our hearts and minds to focus on often influences our next steps along the path of life.

When we focus on the fear of not having enough we shift from having an attitude of gratitude and generosity to greed. When we perceive the grass is greener on the other side then we forget to nurture and water the spot where our feet are already planted. When we tell ourselves that more money will bring happiness then we forget how to be content with what we have been given. When we believe that we will never fall to the temptations of the world then we deny our own vulnerability. When we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient then we forget to depend upon God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Fear, coveting, greed, denial, and pride cause us to lose our way as we take our spiritual eyes off God.

But there is another lostness that we may experience too. It is when we feel like we are standing in the middle of nowhere. This barren crossroads in the wilderness can be scary and isolating. We find ourselves overwhelmed by the brokenness we are experiencing. Sometimes we do not even know how we have arrived here. The compass of our faith feels shattered and we truly do not know what road or which direction will lead us out to a better place. It is tempting to stop looking for God when nothing seems to change. It is tempting to just stop believing. It happened to Israel and it easily happens to us too.

You have heard me mention Barbara Brown Taylor a time or two in the past. Taylor is a former Episcopal priest, a religious professor at Piedmont College in Georgia, an adjunct professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, an author, and a speaker. Taylor always has a way with words and this is what she says about getting lost:

Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure. When we fall ill, lose our jobs, wreck our marriages, or alienate our children, most of us are left alone to pick up the pieces. Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives. And yet, if someone asked us to pinpoint the times in our lives that changed us for the better, a lot of those time would be wilderness times.

As you and I find ourselves at the various intersections in life – the chaotic and disillusioned ones, the barren ones in the middle of nowhere, or the ones that press us to make a big decision – there is one important question that faith moves us to ask. That question is this: where is God?

So stand at this intersection – this crossroads – and look behind you and consider where God has been in your life. What situation in your past has God delivered you from? When did God shine the light of hope into your darkness? What did God’s life-giving water taste like when it quenched your thirst that nothing else could satisfy? How did God move you to follow and trust God a little more? Where is God still at work to clear a way forward in the messiness of life?

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of remembering the story of where God has been in our lives. It matters.

It empowers our faith to guide us through the wilderness to experience places of redemption and wholeness. It is a heritage of faith we pass down to our children to shape their identity in Christ. It is a lived experience we share with others to offer encouragement and hope. It is a window of seeing and learning where God is active in other people’s lives and gives us a sense of awe and wonder.

Not only does remembering God’s story reassure us of God’s faithfulness but it also gives us the courage to look down the road ahead into tomorrow’s uncertainty and say with a growing conviction, “The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.” Remembering God’s story guides us through the next intersection by the right road even when we stumble and get lost.

While each of us has a unique and different story to tell of God’s deliverance, God’s promises do not change.

God promises to break down our fears with God’s abundant love and hospitality (Romans 8:31-32). God promises to nurture us where we are so that we might thrive (Isaiah 58:11). God promises to provide and give us our daily bread (Mathew 6:11). God promises to meet us where we are and share our vulnerabilities (Romans 8:26-27). God promises a steadfast love that we can always depend on (Psalm 89:1-2). We see the fullness of God’s promises take shape in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Later on in Jeremiah God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13).

As you step back out into the world today I want you to do three things. First, notice the spiritual intersection of where you stand along the journey of faith. Second, look back into the past days, weeks, and years and remember the story of God’s presence in your life. And third, as you look down the uncertain roads ahead, ask which direction God is leading you to give you a future hope.

May the Spirit continue leading us by the right road.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source Referenced:

Barbara Brown Taylor, “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: Harper One, 2009), p. 78.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sermon: Do Not Say

"Do Not Say"
Jeremiah 1: 4-10; 1 Corinthians 12: 4-10
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 21, 2016

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’

Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’

But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.’

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’
- Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12: 4-10

Before Jeremiah was formed in the womb, God knew the gifts which would be bestowed upon him. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made as the psalmist says (Psalm 139: 14). Jeremiah has the nickname of the Weeping Prophet. He came alongside the people of God during a traumatic time in their history. Jeremiah was given the gift of words to help the people articulate their painful experience.

But Jeremiah also received the gift of prophecy. He came from a lineage of priests so maybe this was no surprise to his family. It was a tough job of being God’s mouth piece. The prophets said some challenging words to move the people from places of unfaithfulness to follow God in deeper commitment. I am not sure any individual would jump at the chance to be a prophet. While it is an honored office in serving the Lord, it is not a popular one when you are hanging out with the people and bringing words of woe and judgment held in the tension of God’s grace.

And so at a very young age God speaks in a very strong affirmation for Jeremiah to follow God’s leading in this very particular way. Jeremiah’s response is so realistic and it is one you and I can identify with. Jeremiah replies with a painful interjection, “Ah, Lord God! I don’t know how to do this! I am too young! I am just a boy” (Jer 1: 6).

Looking back into the Good Book, when God called Noah to build the ark and Abraham to go to the land of God’s promises they both did so without question (Genesis 6:22; 12:4). Somehow the human mold has broken because folks are not made like that anymore! As the history of our spiritual ancestors moved along, God’s call was met with some push back.

Jacob wrestled with God when he was called to face the conflict with his brother Esau (Genesis 32:24). Moses had a thousand reasons to get out of God’s call to lead the people into freedom. Moses said, “Who am I that I should go?” (Exodus 3:11). “What if the people don’t believe me?” (Exodus 4:1). “I don’t have eloquent words” (Exodus 4:10). Moses even said, “God please send someone else!” (Exodus 4:13). When God called Gideon to be a mighty warrior, he cowered in weakness and then asked God to show a sign to prove he was to go” (Judges 6:15, 17). When God called Isaiah to be a prophet his first reply was that he was not worthy enough (Isaiah 6: 5).

I will never forget the day I began to feel God’s call. I was an active church member and a leader of small group ministry. One particular April morning ten years ago I had a lot on my heart. I loved being a stay at home mom raising my two young daughters, who were at that time ages 3 and 5. I loved being a participant in Bible studies. I loved leading a small group for moms. I loved serving the church. I loved coming alongside others to hold the hard parts of life. But that particular morning as I was putting my youngest in the car I had a little conversation with God. “God tell me what are you doing through all of this in my life? What do you want from me? Where does all of this lead?” I can hear my mom say, "You should be careful what you pray for."

Later that very morning I ran into my pastor in the church mail room. He stopped me to talk a bit. And then he asked me a question. “When are you going to seminary?” I just looked at him like a deer in headlights. “What do you mean? Do you think I should go to seminary?” I asked. He just smiled at me and said, “Yes I do. You have a pastor’s heart and you need to go.” We talked more in that mail room. And when I left that conversation I thought that I was going to throw up.

Three days later I flew to Saint Paul, Minnesota for a week-long conference for small group leadership training. The entire conference was held in a beautiful hotel. Hundreds of people attended, both pastors and church leaders alike. Every day someone asked me if I was a pastor. It was weird. As I talked with other young clergy and listened to their call stories they sounded familiar to me. I thought maybe God is calling me. I felt sick with each thought.

That sick feeling I had was a two-sided emotion. I was terrified of taking the next step to follow God. I did not fully know what would be required of me or if I could really do what God was asking. I had plenty of excuses like Moses and Jeremiah. It was a big decision to pull up roots to go to seminary and possibly ordained ministry with a husband and young children. I said God, I don’t think I can do this. God, there are no ministers in my family. God I am not worthy enough to do this. And when it came time to preach I just said - God, please send someone else.

But I was also excited to discern just where God might take my gifts to intersect the needs of the world. I did want a theological education but I really had not imagined myself as a pastor. Doug and I prayed about it for one year. And with all of the questions and all the queasy anxiety, we had a peace about saying yes to God. We did not know how it would all work out, but God has indeed led us one step at a time over the past ten years. And when the road gets rough and even when I fail, God is always there to help.

When Jeremiah pushed back against God’s call, God said, “Do not say I am only a boy” (Jer 1:7). Do not say I am too young. Do not say I am unqualified. Do not say I do not know enough. Do not say I don’t have the right words. Do not say I can’t do that.

The Apostle Paul assures us “There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-7).

Not everyone is called to be a prophet or a pastor. But God does have a calling on each and every person’s life. The Spirit discloses to you and to me some gift of being with God and others that gives us a sense of joy in serving God. That joy is not merely happiness; it is a keener awareness of God’s grace.

That gift might be the ability to offer words of wisdom and encouragement out there in the world – on the sports field, at work, or at the post office. Maybe you have the gift of teaching at home, in schools, in the neighborhood Bible study or here at church. Maybe you have gifts of healing to serve in the medical field. Maybe you have the gift of discernment when it comes making decisions. Maybe you have the gift of music or creativity with dance, art or writing. Maybe you have the gift of empathy which gives others a shoulder to lean on. Maybe you have the gift of mercy and you can sit with that grieving friend in long moments of silence. God gives us many gifts and activities so that God’s glory might shine through us and bring about the common good of the kingdom.

Right now maybe God is nudging you to do a new thing in your life to hone your unique gifts. Or maybe right now you are reflecting back when you first felt God call you to serve in a very particular way. Our first response is usually feeling terrified and anxious.

Author Marianne Robinson says this word of encouragement:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

God knew each of us before we were formed in the womb. God knows the gifts which will be bestowed upon each of us. God knows the right timing to help us hone these God-given abilities. God will show us the next right step even when we fail. God is the only one that already knows our fullest potential to shine the Light of Christ and encourage others in the power of Holy Spirit.

When you begin to feel God nudging, then listen to the whispers of the Spirit. Do not make yourself small and immediately say, “God I am just ________.”

Do not let fear or unworthiness or insecurity paralyze you. Keep a healthy sense of humility for it reminds us that God alone equips us when God calls us to do a new thing or the same thing in a new way. Your baptism and the claim God has upon your life is sufficient for your calling.

God always has the last word in these situations. And God says, “Do not be afraid of what I am asking you to do today. Do not be afraid of where I am sending you. Pray. Trust. Confide in others for discernment. But know...know with your head and your heart that I am with you to deliver you” (adapted from Jeremiah 1:8).

May it be so for us.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source Referenced:
Marianne Williamson, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles'" (New York: Harper Collins, 1992).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sermon: In His Hands

"In His Hands"
Isaiah 5: 1-7; Luke 12: 49-56 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 14, 2016

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!
- Isaiah 5: 1-7

‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
- Luke 12: 49-56

The prophet Isaiah paints a poetic picture. God has the whole world in his hands as we sang in our previous hymn. The people of God are imaged as a vineyard and God is singing a song of deep and abiding love over them. God’s hands are certainly bigger than we can imagine. They hold the people of God with great care.

God’s hands dig deep into the spiritual earth with great joy to prepare a fertile ground for the hopes and dreams of this great vineyard. Isaiah says God’s hands created rows, fenced boundaries, and cleared the foreseen obstacles for the vineyard to grow and thrive. And then the spiritual soil was ready to receive the finest seeds that would produce the richest fruit. God creates out of a lavish love and desires for the vineyard to bear good fruit.

And then God takes two more steps in hopes that God’s dream is sustainable. God built a watch tower in the midst of the vineyard as a reminder that God is a trusted refuge. God invites a sense of community for others to keep watch in the tower to participate in discerning the vineyard’s needs and vitality. And last a wine vat was placed for the community to taste and see the abundance of good fruit coming forth.

This image of God’s hands as a master gardener recalls to my mind humankind’s story in Genesis with God forming our beginning from the dust. God shaped humanity from the clay of the earth and breathed new life into us (Genesis 2:7). God planted a garden in Eden for humanity to live in relationship with God (Genesis 2:8). Even as God looked at the work of God’s hands and called it good, we remember our spiritual parents sowed wild seeds of disobedience and crossed the boundaries of God’s will (Genesis 3: 1-7). At that moment our story to seek God’s redemption began.

History always has a way of repeating itself. As God’s heart and hands joyfully prepared for another garden of rich fruit in Isaiah's communal vineyard, the fine and rich seeds grew wild. Instead of fruit that bore justice and righteousness (doing right and living in right relationships with God and one another), the fruit bore oppression and cries of despair.

Instead of the fruit growing upwards into the Creator’s lavish and unconditional love, the fruit’s disobedience prevented it from reaching its potential. The Creator looked at the creation of wild grapes and instead of hearing God say, “It is good,” Isaiah says God was disappointed and heartbroken. God says, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?

When I was a child and growing up there was only one thing that would stop me in my tracks when I had not lived by the house rules. It was not a time out. It was not being grounded. That one thing was to hear my father say that I had disappointed him. When these moments happened my dad would take me aside to talk and he would always speak in a loving voice. Sitting in that space made me sad to know that my actions hurt others and hurt him. But that space always encouraged me to do better next time. Isaiah’s vineyard parable creates a space for us to reflect on the ways our broken human condition needs a pathway towards forgiveness and redemption.

While you and I still miss the mark sometimes, even as we experience disappointments, even as we sow wild seeds that hurt ourselves, others, and God we come into God’s House to be assured that we are still held in God’s hands. Later on in the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the way in which God turns this vineyard around with the promise of salvation (Isaiah 27: 1-6). God’s voice sings over this vineyard once again for the Lord is its keeper. God guards it day and night so that no one can harm it. God sings for the vineyard to cling to God for protection for this vineyard will fill the whole world with fruit.

Today as we come to the Table we are reminded once again of God’s promise of salvation. The lavish love of God put on the vulnerability of humanity in Jesus Christ to meet us where we are. In doing so, God fashioned a new hope that we might truly experience the very hands and heart of God in life giving ways. Christ came and lived among us to be an example of how to grow more fully into God’s intentions.

Christ’s hands care for all of God’s children with compassion that comes alongside us with hope. Christ’s heart guides us to approach each day in a new commitment to follow God’s ways. Christ’s feet lead us on the path to do what is right for the sake of right relationships that encourage us in God’s love. Christ’s example breaks down the walls that we build to compartmentalize our life and faith. Christ urges our faith to touch every aspect of our lives - our relationships and commitments - so that our families, our work, and our spirits are united in God’s hopes and dreams to bear nothing but good fruit.

Today as we gather around God’s Table of lavish love and hospitality I want you to imagine the very hands of God.

As we break the bread of life reflect where has God been nurturing your spirit? When have you heard God singing a song of joy in your heart? Where are you hungry to experience God’s presence?

As we take the cup of salvation reflect upon the places of your own spiritual soil that seem parched and dry. What in your life has become an obstruction for good fruit to take root and grow? Where might God’s hands break up and remove the disappointing rocks and weeds that are weighing upon your spirit? Where might God’s hands rework your spiritual soil to bring forth new life?

As we break the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation remember the hands of God have been stretched out upon the cross so that our brokenness may be held and reshaped and resurrected by God’s redeeming grace. These hands that hold the whole world with care and compassion create a space for us to acknowledge our brokenness. These hands encourage us to stand tall as the body of Christ and partner with God’s hope to bring about a new kingdom where justice and righteousness are the good fruit for all to taste and see God’s goodness. These hands invite us to be nourished and strengthened by the bread and cup in order to go and bring about this good fruit through and for one another.

He’s got the whole world in his hands. May we sing so others may hear and experience the song of God’s lavish love too.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.