Friday, December 25, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Pondering Hearts


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 25

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. - Luke 2: 15-20

Inhale: " My pondering"
Exhale: "Heart"

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

Dear God, as we gather around family, friends, and cherished memories surround us with the fullness of your hope, peace, joy, and love. Thank you for the greatest gift of all that comes to us this day. The cries of a sweet child laying in a manger enter into the chaos of a weary world and gives us reason to rejoice for your Love indeed lives among us. O come, o come Emmanuel - the Word of God that we treasure and ponder in our hearts. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Making Room


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 24

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. - Luke 2:7

Inhale: "Making"
Exhale: "Room."

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

Each year on Christmas Eve we gather around God's story of the Christ Child coming into the world. We have journeyed through the season of Advent anticipating the light of God's hope, peace, joy, and love to shine brightly into the darkness.

As we peer into the manger, it is quite an ordinary scene. A threadbare wooden manger - a feeding trough - for there was no room in the inn when Mary began to labor and deliver God's greatest gift into the world. Can you imagine not making room for a weary world to rejoice in this holy night?

On this Christmas Eve reflect upon the meaning of Christ's birth in your journey of faith. Where have you experienced God's hope in your fears; God's peace in your chaos; God's joy in your grief; God's love in your brokenness? How will you make room for the Christ Child to nurture your spirit - not just this Christmas - but through the coming New Year?

Dear God, thank you for the gift of salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Open my heart and mind to make room to rejoice in Your ordinary holiness. Amen.

*"O Holy Night" painting by Carson Overstreet

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Let Your Heart be Light


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 23

Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. - Luke 1:38

Inhale: "Let"
Exhale: "It be."

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

Mary was letting the angel's words settle into her being. God was planning to work through Mary in an amazing way to carry the promise of God's eternal love that would birth divine hope, peace, joy, and love into a broken world. At such a tender age, how could she fully understand the weight of God's call in her life? The same grace that her womb would embrace would give Mary the courage and conviction to trust God and proclaim "Here I am, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

As the journey of Advent comes to a close, how have you allowed God's Word and unfolding story of grace to settle into your being? Have you heard the whispers of God's Spirit leading you to sense God's direction? How might God's eternal promises of hope, peace, joy, and love enfold you in new life? In what ways do you hear God's desire to work through your time, talents, and treasures so that others might see God's Love breaking in?

Let your heart be light today. Be intentional to pause and let God's unfolding story of grace settle into your being. Pray for the humility to serve the Lord and let it be according to God's Word that became flesh and lived among us in faithful obedience.

Dear God, thank you for your unfolding story of grace. Give me discernment to serve you and others as Mary and Jesus did in humble obedience. Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Advnet Breath Prayer: Christmas Roller Coaster


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 22

For nothing will be impossible with God. - Luke 1:37

Inhale: "God's"
Exhale: "Possibility"

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

When Gabriel shared the news with Mary that she would bear the Holy Child, I can imagine her emotions were like a roller coaster. She was a young teenage girl and not married. She even questioned Gabriel on how this could be true. His words continue to ring with God's power today: For nothing will be impossible with God.

You may be on your own roller coaster of emotions today regarding news that you are carrying. Many of us are rushing up and down and all around in the busyness of the Christmas preparations. Maybe you are taking one step at a time to walk in God's faithfulness as God leads you through uncertainty. Perhaps life has changed at a moment's notice and you are waiting to sense God's calm presence and direction in the chaos of life.

Listen for the still small voice of God. Lift your questions, confusion, doubt, and pain to God. As you pray trust that nothing is impossible for God. Faith breaks the logic of rational possibility for God came down to live in the thin skin of humanity as a vulnerable Child. This Holy Child delivers humanity into the possibility of God's hope, peace, joy, and love. God is with us on the roller coaster of life and is working to bring us home for we belong to a God who will never leave us or forsake us.

Dear God, thank you for the mystery of your presence and love. Speak into my questions and help me to see your possibility through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Do You Sense It?


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 21

And Gabriel came to Mary and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. - Luke 1:28-30

Inhale: "The Lord"
Exhale: "Is with me."

Breathe in and breathe put God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

How do you sense God's presence in your life? You may not have had an encounter with an angel like Mary did, but God speaks to us through many ways. We are awed by God's presence in the glory of nature's beauty. We listen for God's voice in our quiet time through meditation of Scripture and prayer. We hear God speak through conversations of trusted friends, family, and mentors of faith. We are moved by God's presence in music's proclamation of grace.

Look and listen for God's presence today. How do you sense the Lord is with you? Listen for God's favor in your life...God calls you and I beloved. Make room for God's Spirit to fill your heart and mind today so that you may extend God's welcome to others.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of your grace that shows your love. Remind me today that you are with me. Empower me to help others see your presence today through my words and actions. Amen.



Sermon: A Song of Love

Luke 1: 39-55, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 20, 2015
Fourth Sunday of Advent

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
– Luke 1: 39-55

Many of us have a favorite Christmas carol or Christmas hymn. In the Christian tradition music is a proclamation of God’s grace. It enfolds us in the mystery of God in powerful ways that transcends ordinary words. We felt this joyful mystery last Sunday from our own choir singing such a beautiful Christmas medley and at The Lighting of the Way; a movable feast of worship and praise among our sister churches in the Van Wyck community. We all got caught up in the joy of worship and even your pastor was clapping and swaying with the choir at White Oak A.M.E. Church! It was a good Sunday!

What is your favorite Christmas carol or Christmas hymn?

My favorite Christmas song is “Mary Did You Know.” I love the words of the first and third verses:

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you…
Mary…
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I Am.


Those words always bring tears to my eyes because we know Mary’s story from this side of the cross. This baby boy is the great I Am and is the One who will grow to understand the depths of our humanity. This Son will empower us to feel the strength of God in the midst of our limitations. This holy Child that Mary is carrying bears the fullness of God’s love to rewrite our broken past into the hope of God’s new creation. The Son of God will bear the joy of God’s salvation from a threadbare wooden manger to a rugged wooden cross.

The words of “Mary Did You Know” point back to today’s text. Luke’s story captures an incredible shift we see in this young teenage girl. Mary is moved from initial fear and shock with Gabriel’s presence and news to an urgent need to share what is happening with her relative Elizabeth. As it all settles in, Mary cannot contain herself any longer. She lifts her voice in a song of love, praising and magnifying the Lord.

Mary’s spirit is empowered by the news of Jesus Christ. And I think this empowerment gave Mary the conviction to know in part that this holy Child would indeed deliver her, the people of God, and all generations to follow. Mary rejoiced in God her Savior without fully knowing how God’s plan would play out. She had a sense that the Mighty One has done and will continue to do great things to bring about God’s divine purposes.

Think back to the time that you encountered the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It may have been a defining moment in your life. Or maybe Christ's spiritual presence took hold of you through gentle taps through the years. However you have encountered Christ in your life, it certainly brings some clarity, for we only know in part. Jesus Christ ultimately reveals to us the joy of salvation, for God so loved the world that God sent Emmanuel to reveal God is with us every step along this journey of life and faith. God comes alongside us and enters into the fullness of our humanity.

Encountering Christ also brings some clarity to the way we should live our lives. God's steadfast love, grace, and forgiveness change the way we see the world and ourselves. That love, grace and forgiveness bring a new found joy – a spiritual empowerment - that nothing in the world can provide apart from God.

As we go through life we continue to seek the joy of God's salvation. It is a journey of looking for God's presence in the ordinary moments of life. We encounter the sacred in these ordinary moments as we listen and look for God’s presence. God's holiness continues to reveal God's actions to deliver us and shape us to be the people God desires us to be. It moves us to magnify the Lord in our own songs of praise.

You and I are here today because we have heard a portion of God’s song of love in our lives. The Christ Child takes up residence in the spiritual womb of our hearts through God’s Spirit. The fullness of God’s love and promises have caused some sort of shift in our lives. In some way we have experienced the spiritual empowerment of Jesus Christ. The hope of being delivered by Christ is that our story bears witness to a life that is changed by the grace of God.

I love the way poet Ann Weems says it in her book, “Kneeling in Bethlehem:”

Each year the Child is born again.
Each year some new heart
finally hears
finally sees
finally knows love.
And in heaven
there is great rejoicing!
There is a festival of stars!
There is celebration among the angels!
For in the finding of one lost sheep,
the heart of the Shepherd is glad, and
Christmas has happened once more.
The Child is born anew
and one more knee has bowed!


As we draw ever closer to the Christ Child’s birth on Christmas Eve and listen for the familiar songs of God’s love, I ask you this: What are you seeking? What situation are you holding that needs to move from fear or brokenness to being empowered by God’s love? In what are you waiting for God’s deliverance?

Remember your past experiences of knowing the joy of God’s salvation. Hold onto the conviction that the Christ Child, the great I Am, bears the fullness of God’s love and divine promises. You may not fully know what will happen in the situation you are holding. But trust that the Mighty One will do great things to bring about God’s presence, hope, peace, and joy.

Listen to the song of God’s love through you favorite Christmas hymns and let God’s mysterious presence embrace you. Listen for the song of God’s love through the support of family and friends who reveal that God comes alongside us in the messiness of our humanity.

As you listen and look for God’s presence, lean a little deeper into trusting the strength of God’s grace as you draw near to that threadbare manger. Let the spiritual womb of your heart praise God for all God has done and will do - not just in your individual life but in our collective stories - in the empowering and strong name of Jesus Christ.

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

Sources:

Ann Weems, "Kneeling in Bethlehem" (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987), p. 26.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Trusting Great Things

Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 20

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
- Luke 1: 46-49

Inhale: "He's done"
Exhale: "great things."

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word in short pauses throughout the day.

Light the four candles of the Advent wreath and let the light of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love captivate you. Think back to the time that you encountered the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It may have been a defining moment in your life. Or maybe Christ's spiritual presence took hold of you through gentle taps over the years.

As we go through life we continue to seek the joy of God's salvation. It is a journey of looking for God's presence in the ordinary moments of life. We encounter the sacred in these ordinary moments as we listen and look for God’s presence. God's holiness continues to reveal God's actions to deliver us and shape us to be the people God desires us to be. It moves us to magnify the Lord in our own songs of praise.

As we draw ever closer to the Christ Child’s birth on Christmas Eve, what are you seeking? What situation are you praying God would act and deliver you from? Remember your past experiences of knowing the joy of God's salvation. Place your trust in God's ability to work again. This Advent we are waiting for Emmanuel, God with us, to enter the messiness of humanity. This Holy Child will bear the fullness of God's Love to rewrite our broken past into the hope of God's new creation.

Dear God, You have done great things for your people and for me. Let my heart trust your ability to continue working and let me praise You for who You are revealed in Jesus Chris. Amen.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Open Your Eyes


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 19

"Godburst," by Ann Weems

When the Holy Child is born into our hearts
there is a rain of stars
a rushing of angels
a blaze of candles
this God bursts into our lives.
Love is running through the streets.


Inhale: "Burst into"
Exhale: "My life."

Breathe in and breathe out the prayer today in short pauses.

Advent opens our spiritual eyes to see God bursting into our lives in ordinary and unexpected places. Where do you see Love running in the streets? Look for a rain of stars. Listen for the rush of angels. Light three candles of the Advent wreath (hope, peace, joy) and let the light captivate you.

Dear God, open the eyes of my heart to see you bursting into my life as we wait for the Holy Child to be born. Amen.

Ann Weems, "Knelling in Bethlehem" (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987), p. 27.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: A Little Encouragement Please

Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 18

"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." - Philippians 2:1-2

Inhale: "Make my"
Exhale: "Joy complete."

Breathe and in and Breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

As we journey towards the manger this Advent season many of us are on a search. There is something missing in our lives and superficial happiness will not satisfy our want. We are looking for a sense of unconditional love, acceptance, and wholeness that nothing in this world can buy. It is only when we draw ever closer to the manger and look upon the promised Christ Child that we find our encouragement; this is the One who makes our joy complete.

Joy is not circumstantial happiness but rather a keener sense of God's grace at work in our lives. That grace points towards God's unconditional love for each of us is called a beloved child of God. That grace points towards the mysterious way God's Spirit embraces us where we are in life and shapes us little by little to follow Christ. That grace points to the compassion and sympathy Christ showed all as he lived among us to restore our sense of wholeness through God's hope, peace, joy, and love.

Christ is the one who makes our joy complete because we find our nativity in his.

As you take steps in the Advent journey today, consider the ways Christ makes your joy complete. Where do you sense God's unconditional love, the Spirit's embrace, and Christ's wholeness?

Dear God, thank you for the encouragement we have in Jesus Christ. Make my joy complete as we anticipate his birth. Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Guide Me


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 17

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another." - Galatians 5:22-26

Inhale: "Spirit"
Exhale: "Guide me."

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

Christmas Vacation is my favorite Christmas movie. It captures the good intentions we all have for fully experiencing the Christmas season. It helps us to laugh at how imperfect our holidays are as the tensions rise with family dynamics and we rush towards December 25. We so easily fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to those who celebrate the season on a grand scale.

Today marks one week till Christmas Eve. Instead of falling into the trap of feeling rushed to cross off the holiday to-do list, pause in the chaos to breathe.

Pray for God's Spirit to guide you today. Ask for the grace to navigate through the imperfections of family dynamics with some humor. Ask for the wisdom to experience this Advent and Christmas with the fullness of God's forever things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Ask the Spirit to guard your heart and mind from comparing yourself to others. Remember the birth of the Christ Child didn't come with pomp and circumstance, but a threadbare manger filled with the most simple and yet profound gift of all - God's steadfast love.

Dear God, guide me by your Spirit as we look towards the gift of Christmas and the birth of your Son. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Doing the Right Thing


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 16

"O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

Inhale: "Do"
Exhale: "Love, Walk."

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

One summer at a Vacation Bible School I had the privilege to open the assembly with a daily power verse for over 100 children. Micah 6:8 was one of the verses in the curriculum on putting faith into action. Most every child can relate to super heroes, so one day I dressed as Wonder Woman and shared how she lived out Micah's charge to do what the Lord requires.

"To do justice" is to do the right thing. It may not be easy, but the Lord wants us to tell the truth, correct the mistakes that we make when we hurt others, and stand up for others when they are being treated wrong.

"To love kindness" is to have a desire to help others. We show kindness by sharing Jesus' love when we drop our treasures in the red Salvation Army bucket; help a friend who is going through a hard time; and give a hand up to our neighbors in need.

"To walk humbly with our God" is to always give God the credit when we put our faith into action. Doing the right thing is never about us. It is all about pointing to the love of Jesus Christ that is changing the world.

As you go through your day today how might you do the right thing; seek to help others; and give God the credit? Make room for Micah's words and Jesus' example of humble obedience to shape your faith a little more today.

Dear God, help me to find joy in walking in your ways to DO the right thing, LOVE helping others, and WALKING in humility to give you the credit. May my actions today point to Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Restoring Joy


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 15

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit." Psalm 51:12

Inhale: "Restore"
Exhale: "Joy"

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

The words from Psalm 51:12 are such centering words. Reflect back to the time that you encountered the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It may have been a defining moment in your life. Or maybe Christ's spiritual presence took hold of you through gentle taps through the years. However you have encountered Christ in your life, it certainly brings some clarity to the way we should live our lives. God's forgiveness and grace changes the way we see the world and ourselves. That grace brings a new found joy that nothing in the world can provide apart from God.

As we go through life we continue to seek the joy of God's salvation. It is a journey of looking for God's presence in the ordinary moments of life. We encounter the sacred in these ordinary moments and God's holiness continues to reveal God's actions to deliver us and shape us to be the people God desires us to be.

Jesus Christ ultimately reveals to us the joy of salvation, for God so loved the world that God sent Emmanuel to reveal God is with us every step along this journey of life and faith. The Christ Child empowers us and sustains our spirits to follow God's Ways in faithful obedience. Reflect on the gift of joy we have in Jesus Christ - the true joy of our salvation.

Dear God, restore to me the joy of your gift of salvation. Give me a heart of gratitude and empower me to follow you with an obedient and willing spirit through Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Make a Joyful Noise!


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 14

"O Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise" - Psalm 95: 1-2

Inhale: " Make a"
Exhale: "Joyful noise!"

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

Joy is something we experience with our whole being. It is not a superficial happiness that intersects our circumstances. It is something that captures the fullness of our heart, mind, and soul. Music has a way of touching the spiritual depth of our being in such a transcending way.

In the Christian tradition, music has a way of proclaiming the Good News as we anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ. The gift of a choir singing Christmas carols and favorite hymns fills our hearts with the fullness of God's grace in ways that words cannot describe. What a gift it is to be enfolded by the mystery of God in music!

What is your favorite Christmas carol or hymn that stirs your spirit and fills you with God's presence? Let that song be your prayer of joy today. Make a joyful noise! Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is about to be born!

Dear God, hear my song of joy today. Fill me with a sense of your hope, peace, joy, and love. Fill the depth of my spirit with your grace so that I might share it with others. Amen.

Sermon: A Song of Joy

Zephaniah 3: 14-20, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 13, 2015
Third Sunday of Advent

14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18 as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord
. - Zephaniah 3: 14-20

His voice was crying out for renewal. Zephaniah saw the divisions among the people. He saw the shame the people of God held. The shame stemmed from attitudes of indifference regarding the challenges around them. Greed, injustice, and violence pulsed through the culture. It was a difficult time for Israel. The prophet held the people’s lament in one hand and God’s vision for change in the other.

You and I can relate to this cry for renewal. Just over the course of the past week I have seen a collective sense of shame and lament. There is shame for the voices that infuse fear and division into the diverse fabric of our American culture. There is shame for political and religious leaders who are discriminating against the Muslim community to stereotype them as radicals. There is lament as faith communities are increasing their bravery by lifting their voices to denounce this discrimination. And these are just the laments from the national landscape.

Quite honestly, it has all weighed heavily on my heart and mind this week. For as long as I can remember I have loved the diversity among us. I have appreciated learning about many different types of faith traditions and cultures. It is overwhelming to hear the disharmony at large during a time of year that is to bring us together. It should be a time to celebrate the greatest gift that unites us in God’s love.

For many of us it has been difficult to sit in the tension of Advent this year– this in between time of sitting in the world’s mess and waiting for God’s vision of renewal to capture us again in Jesus’ birth. I have been impatient this Advent season as God’s story slowly reinterprets our experience of moving from darkness to light. It would be so much easier to turn off the news and get to the good part of Christmas. I have been asking this past week, ‘Where do we find the joy we are looking for? Where is the good news among our broken world?

A few days ago I came across a blog that described all that is wrenching my heart this week. And it shed a little light for me and I hope it sheds a little light for you.

Advent is meant to be a time when we sit with the way things really are and hold them tenderly and gently, with the hope for how things are meant to be. Advent is about saying there is this beautiful world we all want to believe in and be living in.

And there is a terrible not-yet-ness about that world.

Advent is about facing the truth of what is right now, and remembering what it takes to get to a Christmas kind of world.


Today we light the pink candle of Advent and remember that God’s presence still changes things. God shows up in the middle of greed, injustice, and violence. God shows up in the midst of our shame for the discriminations against others. God shows up in the midst of our laments for renewal. And then God does something amazing. God shines a light into the darkness with a song of divine truth.

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart...The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more…Do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you, with loud singing (Zephaniah 3: 14, 15, 17).

Did you hear it? Don’t let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is here. He is mighty to save. He remembers creating you to live in relationship with God and one another and rejoices in that. He will renew all that is broken around you and in you in his love. He will sing a song of joy over you as God’s grace makes a way forward.

God’s song of joy has implications for us as we continue this Advent journey from darkness to light. A commentary shared, “God’s presence brings a new way of life in which the way that people relate to God and to one another is fundamentally different.” *

God promises to restore us to the joy of our salvation because we are all created as God’s beloved. Zephaniah tells us this restoration will come about as God “will change the speech of the people to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord” (Zephaniah 3:9). God’s restoration is working to unite all nations because God is sovereign of all and God so loved the world. God’s greatest vision of renewal is always reconciliation. And we are to get our hearts and hands to work to bring about reconciliation and unity as well.

In our time of waiting for this divine restoration, God calls each of us to shine the light of God’s love in the darkness. We cannot let our hands grow weak. We are to remember our human connection and to rejoice that we have been created to live in relationship with God and one another. We are to come alongside one another as sisters and brothers. We are to embrace our diversity of opinions, faith traditions, cultures, and politics. We are to see one another as God’s beloved. We are all created in the image of God and regardless of race, nationality, or creed we all fall under the same judgment of God.

The Presbyterian Church confessed in 1998 how we should encounter our sisters and brothers who profess different religions or who profess none with these words:

As much as I can, I should meet friendship with friendship, hostility with kindness, generosity with gratitude, persecution with forbearance, truth with agreement, and error with truth. I should express my faith with humility and devotion as the occasion requires, whether silently or openly, boldly or meekly, by word or by deed. I should avoid compromising the truth on the one hand and being narrow-minded on the other. In short, I should always welcome and accept these others in a way that honors and reflects the Lord's welcome and acceptance of me. **

I continue to pray that God would open our eyes to see more of the friendship, kindness, gratitude, forbearance, and agreement that is integral to our faith. This type of humility and devotion is the reason for the season. It is the way Christ lived his life – in joyful obedience to God’s steadfast love. Christ came alongside others to bring words and actions that bestowed Gods’ compassion, healing and wholeness.

It all began when love came down in the simple things. God’s love was born for all people as a vulnerable child, the Christ child, in a lowly manger. Shouldn’t we live our lives in joyful obedience to share the Gospel? Shouldn’t we live in joyful obedience to honor the ways God’s steadfast love connects us to one another through Jesus Christ?

Do not let your hands grow weak. Today we light the third candle of Advent for the Lord is singing a song of joy over us. The Lord, your God, is here. He is mighty to save. He remembers creating you to live in relationship with God and one another and rejoices in that. He will renew all that is broken around you and in you in his love. He will sing a song of joy over you, over our sisters and brothers, and over me as God’s grace makes a way forward.

We have a special opportunity to see God’s grace making a way forward this evening as the community of Van Wyck gathers together for Lighting of the Way. We will all lift our voices in joy to remember that God calls each of us beloved. We celebrate our ecumenical diversity to reveal the joy of the Lord in the unity of community. We will lift our voices in song to reveal the hope, peace, joy, and love that the Christ Child is indeed bringing to a weary world.

We find our joy in trusting that God’s renewal is coming. May your hands and hearts grow stronger as we work together to bring God’s joy, grace, and compassion to a hurting world. May everyone see the light shining in the darkness and hear God’s song of joy.

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

Sources:

* Anne Stewart, Working Preacher, December 13, 2015 http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2700
** The Study Catechism, Question and Answer #52, https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/theologyandworship/pdfs/catechismfull.pdf

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Joy


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 13

"On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." - Zephaniah 3: 16-17

Inhale: "Sing"
Exhale: "Over me."

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word throughout the day in short pauses.

It can be difficult to sit in the tension of Advent. It is an in-between time of sitting in the world' s mess and waiting for God's vision of renewal to capture us once again in Christ's birth. But Zephaniah says to not let our hands grow weak. The good news breaking into the world is God's song of Joy, for God's strength and compassion are in our midst. God remembers that we all are called beloved despite the divisions we see in the world. God promises to reconcile the brokenness in and around our sisters and brothers, you, and me. God's vision of renewal will not be thwarted.

Today as we light the third candle of Advent, look and listen to your life. Where do you hear God's song of Joy around you? Where is God's mighty presence? What might lead your heart to trust that God's love born in the Christ Child is still changing the world?

Dear God, Do not let my hands grow weak. Let me hear your song of Joy today. Work through my hands to bring your compassion, grace, and joy to others. Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advnet Breath Prayer: The Next Right Step


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 12

"You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy." - Psalm 16:11

Inhale: "Show me"
Exhale: "The path of life."

Breathe in and breathe out God's Word in short pauses throughout the day.

There are many twists and turns along life's journey. Name some of your mistakes, missteps, and surprises you've encountered. What have you learned from them? Looking ahead we cannot see beyond the crest of the present. Ask God to help you take the next right step. May walking in God's strength today bring you joy and nothing less.

Dear God, show me the path of life. Open the eyes of my heart to experience your presence, guidance, and grace. Amen.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Compassion


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 11

“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.” Psalm 72: 12

Inhale: “Those”
Exhale: “Without help.”

Breathe in and breathe out God’s word throughout the day in short pauses.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God helps those who help themselves. In fact the opposite is true. The overarching story of Scripture describes how God reaches out to those on the margins who are in need. We are all created in God’s image and loved by God. The most a person desires, particularly the marginalized and homeless, is to feel accepted, respected, and loved.

How might you offer help to someone in need today? Consider the ways you might show respect and love to someone in need. This was a huge part of Jesus’ ministry. Extend God’s compassion to someone in need today.

Dear God, deepen my sense of compassion to help a sister or a brother who has no helper. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Bringing Good News


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 10

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” - Isaiah 52:7

Inhale: “Bring”
Exhale: “Good news.”

Breathe in and breathe out God’s word throughout the day in short pauses.

Every day of life brings highs and lows. Think back on the past few days. Who has offered an action, a deed, a word of good news to you? Perhaps you received a letter, a phone call, a facebook tap of encouragement, or a genuine smile by a passerby. These actions might seem insignificant in the moment but they could be the feet of a messenger who brings a word of peace to you. Give thanks to God for the small ways good news of God’s peace greets you.

Dear God, thank you for the messengers of peace you send across our paths. Give me a heart of gratitude to receive good news in the ordinary stuff. Help me to be a messenger of peace to someone I meet today. Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Glory Revealed

Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 9

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” - Isaiah 40: 3-5

Inhale: “Glory”
Exhale: “Revealed.”

Breathe in and breathe out God’s word throughout the day in short pauses.

The great outdoors holds a stunning portrait of God’s glory breaking into the rural wilderness and the urban jungles around us. When was the last time you were in awe of the world’s beauty around you? Take the time to watch God paint a beautiful sunrise or sunset before your eyes. Go for a short walk during your lunch break and let the crisp air awaken your senses.

The glory of the Lord is revealed in magnificent ways if we will just slow down and take it in with our whole being. Make room today for the glory of the Lord to break in and begin to straighten the crooked paths, lift up the lowest valleys of your heart, move the obstacles of spiritual mountains, and smooth out the rough places in our chaotic lives.

Dear God, open my eyes to see creation preparing the way of the Lord. Reveal your glory to me today in powerful ways. Amen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Seeking Wisdom

Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 8

“A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” - Isaiah 11: 1-2

Inhale: “Wisdom”
Exhale: “And understanding.”

Breathe in and breathe out God’s word throughout the day in short pauses.

It’s a funny thing to imagine Jesus growing through the terrible two’s and teenage years. But the Christ child, fully human and fully divine, did indeed grow into God’s spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear. In Christ we find the truest image of our humanity.

Consider your growing edges of faith. What things in life are you seeking wisdom and understanding? How might you pray for God to help you grow in God’s spirit of wisdom and understanding?

Dear God, help me grow in your wisdom and understanding. Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sermon: A Song of Peace

Luke 1: 67-79, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
December 6, 2015
Second Sunday of Advent


Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty Savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
– Luke 1: 67-79

The season of Advent often leads my heart and mind to reflect on the world around us. And each Advent I have noticed that the heartbeat of the world gets a little more anxious. The forty days of Advent send us on a pilgrimage towards God’s hope, peace, joy, and love breaking into our broken world. Our anticipation grows as the world’s hurts always seem more jarring this time of year. After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Africa, and lesser media driven places, a poem began to circulate across social media. The words were penned by a 27 year old Somali – British writer. Her name is Warsan Shire.

Later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
Ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered,
Where does it hurt?
Everywhere
Everywhere
Everywhere.


This time of year we hear the world ache for peace and we wonder, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

The Gospel of Luke recalls a time when the known world ached for peace as well. The ancient Mediterranean world of the New Testament was under the rule of Rome. The Roman Empire was oppressive. It controlled all politics, military, and economy. Luke’s Gospel speaks a prophetic word into this oppressed community about anticipating God’s coming kingdom. And Zechariah’s words could not come at a more poignant time.

Zechariah’s words are considered a song, or hymn if you will. You and I know that the power of a song or hymn transcends time and space and does something deep within our spirit. Zechariah’s song is spirit-filled. God lifts this priest’s voice to move the community to reflect into their past in order to see the future hope for peace which God is preparing.

Long ago our ancestors of faith began a risky pilgrimage to follow the hope of God’s promises through Abraham. God called to Abraham and Sarah and looked into their aches for belonging, safety, and family connection. God promised to work through Abraham to fashion a people who belonged to God. God promised to work through Abraham to bestow divine blessings through the generations to reveal God’s presence. And God promised to work through Abraham to grant the people of God an eternal place with the promised land of Canaan.

As our ancestors of faith took each step towards God’s faithfulness, they encountered obstacles and threats to God’s promises. How would Sarah bear a promised child at such an old and barren age? How would God’s people make it to the promised land when they encountered the oppressive Egyptian Pharaoh? God’s faithfulness continued to lead them from fear to a deeper trust as they overcame each obstacle and stood on the promises of God.

As the descendants of Abraham grew in number and spirit as God’s people, God’s promises rested in new ways upon King David. God promised to work through David to bring an eternal kingdom that would bring peace. And God’s peace would restore humanity and creation through a mighty Savior.

Zechariah’s song helped the people to remember we are standing on the promises of God for they are coming to fruition. God faithfully worked through Abraham and David and now we begin to see a new glimmer of God’s activity through the birth of Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist. John was the one who would prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.

By retracing the past story of God’s faithful promises, Zechariah lifted his voice to assure an aching community that God’s peace was coming. It did not matter how big the threat or fear was from the Roman Empire, God was good on God’s promises. But the peace that Zechariah sang about was not a peace brought by the might of John or a political Messiah or even the people of God. God’s peace would not reach up by the hands of human strength. Rather God’s peace would come down by claiming the weakness of our hearts.

The peace God chooses has a confessional nature. Zechariah says John will prepare the way of the Lord to God’s people through the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins. Peace does not begin by looking outside our windows and grumbling about what is wrong with the world. Peace begins by looking inside our hearts and recognizing the ways we have caused conflict from our own misunderstandings. Peace begins by looking inside our minds and admitting how much power we give to fear. Peace begins by looking inside ourselves to name our doubts for anything to change.

A song of peace rose up for the world in a powerful way in 1955. Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller wrote “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” The words came from a painful time in Jill Jackson’s life. She said that she wrote the song after experiencing the “saving joy of God’s peace and unconditional love.” The song has been sung throughout the last sixty years by children’s choirs. It was recently sung by a children’s choir in September at the close of the Interfaith Prayer Service and Remembrance at Ground Zero in New York. The lyrics continue to urge us to globally seek peace through mutual understanding:

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.



The second week of Advent begs us to listen for the whispers of God’s peace that has been promised long ago through our ancestors in faith. Listen for the song of God’s faithfulness in the biblical story. Listen for the song of God’s faithfulness in the story of your past as well. Where has God brought peace in your past experiences?

This second week of Advent also holds us accountable to follow in the faithfulness of the one who prepares the way of the Lord. We look to John the Baptist and remember the confessional nature of these forty days. We are called to remember our need for a Savior and to open our hearts and minds to be turned away from the obstacles that threaten us from experiencing God’s promises.

We would be bold to name them: the temptation to cave into the fear of terrorism; the complacency held as violence is normalized; being vulnerable enough to say we might be wrong; claiming our own inability to forgive and extend God’s to others.

We are to name the threats to God’s promises of peace. Our confession opens our hearts for the Spirit to deepen our trust and turn us towards God’s coming kingdom. It’s an upside down kingdom that seeks to use our limitations and vulnerability to reveal God’s strength. God’s reign of peace is seeking to focus our spiritual eyes on Jesus Christ in order to mend our brokenness and restore us. As the peace of Christ reigns in us, then the Spirit moves us to lift our voice and sing God’s song of peace to bear hope for others.

In her devotional book entitled, “Jesus Calling,” Sarah Young says this about opening ourselves to the peace that Christ gives:

Let me infuse my peace into your innermost being. As you sit quietly in the Light of my presence, you can sense peace growing within you. This is not something that you accomplish through self-discipline and willpower; it is opening yourself to receive my blessing.

You see, the key in understanding God’s peace is to first recognize that it is a promised gift of God’s wholeness. Peace is not an absence of conflict but a saving restoration that can only come through the Messiah we are waiting for. The hope and peace of God put on skin as the Christ child to show a new way to live into God’s promises. This is what makes the incarnation so powerful. God chooses to use human vulnerability to reveal God’s strength and to bring about God’s purposes. God hears the aches of our world, our communities, our families, and our very selves. But in order for God’s purposes of peace to claim the earth, we need to prepare the way for the Lord’s peace to abide in you and me.

Sing a song of peace today. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you and with me.

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


Sources:
“Let There be Peace on Earth" (song) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Let_There_Be_Peace_on_Earth_%28song%29
Sarah Young, "Jesus Calling" (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), p. 348.

Advent Breath Prayer: The Little Things


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 7

“His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” - Isaiah 9: 7

Inhale: “Uphold peace”
Exhale: “Through me.”

Breathe in and breathe out God’s word throughout the day in short pauses.

The pilgrimage towards the manger shows a path of peace that will be upheld with justice and righteousness. The peace of God is tethered to righting our wrongs and guiding us to lean more into God’s faithfulness.

Peace also hinges upon the little things.
Henri Nouwen asks “Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions.”

Dear God, guide me to offer peace in the little things today. Amen.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Preparing the Way


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 6

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins." - Luke 1: 76-77

Inhale: "Prepare"
Exhale: "The Way."

Breathe in and breathe out God's word throughout the day in short pauses. Light the second candle of the Advent wreath for peace.

The words from Luke are Zechariah's song. He lifts a song of peace to proclaim that his baby boy, John the Baptist, is preparing the way for the Lord, the Messiah, to come. John will grow up to prepare a way of confession that makes room for our hearts to be turned towards God's kingdom breaking in. The knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins allows us to unburden our hearts and to be covered by God's steadfast love and forgiveness. It is the first step towards experiencing God's peace.

What would you dare to confess to make room in your heart for Christ's peace to reign in your spiritual house? Would you name fear, grief, broken dreams, doubt, conflict? Spend some time today in prayer to unclutter your spiritual house and purge the obstacles to experience God's promises. Spend some prayerful time today to prepare the way of the Lord.

Dear God, help me to follow the tune of the song of peace and prepare the way of the Lord. Help me to make room for peace to reign inside so that I might share your hope and peace with others. Amen.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: My Dwelling Place

Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 5

"Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." - Psalm 90: 1-2

Inhale: "You are"
Exhale: "My dwelling place."

Breathe in and breathe out God's word throughout the day in short pauses.

The gift of faith is one that has been passed down throughout the generations. God's steadfast love redefines us as God's beloved. God fashions us as a community and gives us gifts to bring about God's purposes. Consider the ways God is your dwelling place. Where do you find meaning in the sense of being "beloved," "connected to community," and "gifts for ministry?" Listen for the Spirit leading you to a deeper understanding of God as your dwelling place.

Dear God, I thank you for being our dwelling place in all generations. Deepen my conviction that you are my God. Amen.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Groaning for Redemption

Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 4

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." - Romans 8: 22-23

Inhale: "Creation and we"
Exhale: "Groan for redemption."

Breathe in and breathe out God's word throughout the day in short pauses.

Karl Barth once said we must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Paul's words speak to our groanings as we see the brokenness of creation and humanity all around us and we wait for God's redemption to break in.

This Advent season we are waiting for God to deliver our world, our community, our families, and our own hearts from all that oppresses us. We are experiencing the labor pains for the Christ child to birth freedom for the children of God. Listen for the groanings in the news, on the street, and in your conversations today and lift them to God. Hold God's Word in one hand and our brokenness in the other. How might God be leading you to lift your voice to be an advocate for others?

Dear God, your world and your children are groaning for your redemption. Deliver us by your hope, compassion, and strength. Amen.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Glimmers of Hope


Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 3

“Lord, stir up your might and come save us!” – Psalm 80:2

Inhale: "Stir up your might"
Exhale: "Save us!"

Slowly breathe in and breathe out God's Word in short pauses throughout the day.

What is your heart heavy with this day? Think about the wounded places near and far that are crying out for God's healing. Trust that even into the restlessness of this day and even into the night, God's love is moving towards restoration. Look for glimmers of healing and hope. How might God be nudging you to extend hope to someone today?

Dear God, stir up your might and come save us! Let Your grace shine into the darkness. Amen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Tending Your Heart



Advent Breath Prayer: Dec 2

"Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23 (NASB).

Inhale: "Watch over"
Exhale: "My heart."
Breathe in and breathe out God's word in short pauses through the day.

Every heart needs some comfort and tending. How might you better tend to your heart and spirit today? What spiritual discipline are you nurturing this Advent season? Take the time to read God's Word, rest in God's grace and listen for the Spirit whisper comfort to you. Connect your heart and mind with some journaling. Make your spirit move with exercise, a short walk, or stretching as you pray. Taking the time to tend to your heart will lead to a growing sense of peace. Do some tending today with diligence.

Dear God, watch over my heart today. Amen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: You Are My Hope


Advent Breath Prayer: Hope, Dec 1

“For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.” – Psalm 71:5

Inhale: "You are my hope"
Exhale: "My trust .”
Slowly breathe in and breathe out God's Word in short pauses through the day.

The journey of Advent involves walking slowly in prayerful reflection. It is not only to reflect upon the present and to anticipate God's unfolding grace in the future. But it is also a time to reflect upon the past through the lens of faith. As you go through the day, reflect through the past weeks, months, and even years and consider experiences where God gave you hope. God's faithfulness still goes ahead of you today. What current situation are you hoping God will speak into? Are you trusting God is present and listening? How might God's Spirit be leading you to a new place of hope?

Lord, you are my hope and trust. Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Breath Prayer: Hope Nov 30



A breath prayer is an intentional pause
throughout the day to focus prayerfully on a
short phrase through your breathing. The
rhythm is simple:




Breathe in slow and deep as you whisper or think on a
word or short Bible phrase... Hold your breath... Then
exhale thinking on the second word or short phrase.
Repeat this for a few minutes as you relax and settle into
a prayerful mindset. Pause through the day to center upon
these words for prayerful reflection. Breath prayers are a meaningful way to slow down in this season of Advent to wait and listen for God's whispers of hope, peace, joy, and love.

Advent Breath Prayer: Hope, by Carson Overstreet

"Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up." - Isaiah 45:8

Inhale: "Let the skies rain"
Exhale: "Salvation is coming."
Breathe in, breathe out God's Word through the day.

During the season of Advent we are waiting for God's salvation to come anew through Jesus' birth. What situation are you waiting on God to deliver you from? Pause and look up into the skies. Whether you are being bathed by beams of sun or being covered by the winter rains, trust God is preparing for salvation to come to restore us. We wait for God to act not just once in our lives, but daily. Where do you see God's faithfulness raining down today? O come, O come Emmanuel.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Belonging to the Truth

2 Samuel 23: 1-7; John 18: 33-37 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 22, 2015
Christ the King Sunday


Now these are the last words of David:
The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
the favourite of the Strong One of Israel:

2 The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
3 The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
4 is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

5 Is not my house like this with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?
6 But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
7 to touch them one uses an iron bar
or the shaft of a spear.
And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.
– 2 Samuel 23: 1-7

33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ – John 18: 33-37


It was a very tense exchange of words. Pilate questioned Jesus and tried to understand the accusations against this supposed king. Pilate was the governor of Rome and wanted to know if Jesus actually belonged to his political accusers before Jesus' sentencing. In Jesus’ day the idea of belonging to a kingdom was a powerful thing. Everyone had a specific place in the kingdom. Everyone was expected to pay proper allegiance to the kingdom. And it was considered a heresy to claim you were king of the kingdom.

The first century kingdom was modeled as a political household. The king or ruler was at the top of this hierarchy of power. The wealthy and prominent ones in the temple or Roman office were next, followed by the influential business heads. The poor and marginalized were at the very bottom. It was an honor-shame society where those in power would do anything to gain respect at the expense of another. Sometimes our modern culture sounds like this too.

But Jesus says he does not belong to this world. In fact Jesus was turning the worldly kingdom of the first century on its head. He says he was born to be a king that belongs to the truth. Jesus does not belong to a political kingdom. The Jews believed the Messiah would be a political figure who would restore their renown and put them back on the map. Rather Jesus ushers in a kingdom that redefines belonging through the power of God - not the power of any human or human institution. What a counter-cultural statement.

I like the way that Shirley Guthrie talks about Christ as King in his book Christian Doctrine; a book written to help church communities articulate our faith:

[When we say that God is in control we are also saying], the lordship of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with the will of the people. The risen Christ is not president, chairperson of the board, or elected representative to whom we give power and from whom we can take power away…the good news about the power of the risen Jesus is that, unlike all other unlimited power we know, his sovereign power is the power of self-giving love.

The kingdom of God was promised to come through King David in 2 Samuel. This lineage was passed down through David’s generations and it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We find our place in God’s kingdom through Christ’s sacrificial love because God’s Spirit fills our hearts on this side of the cross. We do not belong to the kingdom of this world or to ourselves. We are not defined by our individual work, political affiliations, or possessions. Instead the kingdom of God rewrites our identity as beloved children of God.

A commentary shared that our American culture has trouble “reading the Bible and understanding the difference between the U.S. emphasis on the individual and the Mediterranean emphasis on the community. In the world of the New Testament, a person did not think of himself or herself as an individual who acts alone, regardless of what others think and say (Remember the household image). Rather, the person is ever aware of the expectations of others, especially significant others, and strives to match those expectations” (Feasting on the Word).

This type of communal belonging is a part of who we are in the Reformed tradition. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church in the household of God. Christ calls the church into being. As the body of Christ we belong to the kingdom of God and our belonging holds spiritual expectations that we strive for together. Our Book of Order, the second part of our Presbyterian Constitution, describes our belonging beautifully:
.
We belong "to be a community of faith, entrusting [ourselves] to God alone, even at the
risk of the church losing its life."

We belong "to be a community of hope, rejoicing in the sure and certain knowledge that, in Christ, God is making a new creation. This new creation is a new beginning for human life and for all things."

We belong "to be a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down."

We belong "to be a community of witness, pointing beyond [ourselves] through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord" (F-1.0301).

We respond to our identity as a community of faith, hope, love, and witness through the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. And we are privileged to do that this morning. A little later in the service Genevieve Cook will be responding to the baptismal vows that her parents, David and Krista took when Genevieve was just a baby. This congregation also promised to raise this child of God in word and deed and in love and prayer until she could profess her faith. What a wonderful day to celebrate that Christ our King is the light and life of all people in the kingdom of God!

Afterwards we will be invited to gather in God’s hospitality around the Lord’s Table. We will be invited to receive a glimpse of kingdom living through the heart of God. The bread and the cup not only embrace us in God’s story of forgiveness and redemption through the cross and empty tomb. But these ordinary elements tell us God’s great story that we find our true humanity in Christ’s faithfulness. Our King is also a Teacher and Shepherd that shows us how to follow God’s ways into the ordinary spaces of life - at bonfires, around table fellowship, on the sports fields, at schools and our places of work. The bread and cup nourish our faith and strengthen us for the journey ahead to belong to the truth.

John’s Gospel tells us that the ultimate purpose of our belonging to the truth is this: "That we may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God" – the King of our lives – "and that through believing we may have life in his name" (John 20:31). We belong to the truth so that we have a life that is devoted to seek God’s kingdom in all things and to be strengthened by the faith, hope, love, and witness of community. We belong so that we might extend God’s love and belonging to others. We belong as the body of Christ to pour out God’s self-giving love.

May each of us discover a new-found strength knowing that we belong to the truth.

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

Sources:

Shirley Guthrie, "Christian Doctrine" (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 276.
Feasting on the Word: Year B Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 336.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Power of Love

Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 12:28-34, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 15, 2015
Stewardship Commitment Sunday


4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6: 4-9


Last week we talked about Christ’s commandment to love one another in truth and action. The Scriptures revealed that love is a verb. This week we look at the power of loving God and neighbor and its impact upon our lives.

Mark describes that the kingdom of God is most revealed when we live out our core belief to love God and neighbor. To devote ourselves to God and to be an agent of God’s transforming love is to see the power of God at work among us. This core belief is our guiding compass to be stewards of God’s love. Mark gives us a sense of urgency to follow our Teacher, Lord, and Savior in the greatest commandment.

Listen for the Spirit’s encouragement in Mark 12: 28-34.

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Jim Noble had a vision for loving God and neighbor. His faith created a sense of urgency to follow it through. The past five years his vision has been impacting one of our nearby communities in a powerful way. Noble is a pastor and the owner and head chef of a local Charlotte restaurant called The King’s Kitchen. It is on the corner of West Trade Street and Church Street in uptown Charlotte. This year it was chosen as one of the top four restaurants in America for community change. I was particularly moved by their story.

The mission of King’s Kitchen is to love God and neighbor by “feeding the spiritual and physical needs of the least” in the community. It is a nonprofit restaurant that indeed operates as a ministry. Their financial gains are used to help the poor in the immediate Charlotte community.

The restaurant’s ministry is grounded in a Restoration Program that benefits neighbors who need a second chance in breaking the cycle of addiction, poverty, or homelessness. The program does this in practical and holistic ways. The Restoration Program is a year-long commitment. It entails a Bible study (5 days a week), on-the-job training, leadership classes, social skills training, and financial management training.

One of the participants in the Restoration Program is named Ronnie. Ronnie’s life has been significantly changed by the ministry of King’s Kitchen. He is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina where he lost everything. He relocated to Charlotte seeking refuge and got caught in a downward spiral. He has been homeless for over a year.

When Ronnie connected with the Restoration Program, Noble asked Ronnie to give God one year because that devotion to God would change his life. Ronnie did just that. Something amazing happened to Ronnie just after being in the weekly Bible study for five months and participating in the Restoration Program for one month. With tears in his eyes, Ronnie pointed upwards to God and said “King’s Kitchen has been an amazing thing.” He said, “As of today I have been homeless for one year and a month. After I leave this interview today I am going to get my own place.”

The power of loving God and neighbor has meant so much to Jim Noble as well. He is most impacted by “walking alongside others with the love of Christ, particularly with people that many will not even look in the eyes.”

We find ourselves in the next chapter of ministry – a time such as this - to be inspired by the vision of living out God’s love. We have an opportunity to consider how we will be stewards of God’s commandment to love. God has inscribed the great commandment upon the foundation of this church of which we continue to spiritually build upon. God has also inscribed the great commandment upon our hearts. When we spiritually center ourselves to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves, then great things happen in the name of Christ.

I love stewardship season. It gives us pause to consider the all that God has done this past year and how we have been guided by God’s faithfulness. It is a space to say thank you God! It is a space that gives us pause to look forward and imagine this upcoming year of 2016 and what God might be up to next. We look inward to put God first this year and focus on growing deeper roots of faith. And then we look outward to impact the community in the power of God’s love.

Together we are continuing to learn about the needs of our immediate community. Not only are we getting to know our existing neighbors more, but the Van Wyck community is growing. We want to be spiritually prepared to extend God’s hospitality in meaningful ways to those who are already a part of our community and those who are not here yet. In order to do that we need to go back to the core of our faith.

It is now more important than ever for us focus on our love of God and neighbor. The brokenness of the world weighs upon our hearts. There is a growing movement for people of faith to roll up their sleeves and work towards making a difference in the community and world in the name of Christ. Being the body of Christ fosters genuine community. So many of us are craving authentic community. Loving God and neighbor is greater than any ritual we might do inside the walls of the church. It takes us out into the world to see Christ in the eyes of another.

Loving God and neighbor means praying for the Spirit to lead us by the compass of God’s Word. It means praying for meaningful ways to come alongside our neighbors to get to know them and their stories. It means to extend God’s love in holistic ways that are life-giving. It means to recognize that we are connected to one another as children of God. God’s love tethers us to a shared responsibility towards each other.

There is nothing more impactful in life than to walk alongside others in the love of Christ. It is the core of our belief and being. It is the way of being stewards of God’s transforming love. When we live into God’s vision of love then we sense we are not far from the kingdom of God.

Thomas Merton once said, “The kingdom of God is not the kingdom of those who merely preach a doctrine or follow certain religious practices. It is a kingdom of those who love.”

I want for you to prayerfully imagine this next chapter of ministry with me. It will take time and it will take the dedication of us all. God has given all of us gifts to share whether we are children, youth, or adults (big kids). Let’s be inspired by those who are participating in ministries that are changing lives. Let’s be stewards of God’s grace. Risk trusting God a little more this year and let’s devote ourselves to love God and neighbor. See God’s faithfulness do amazing things through our prayers and the sharing of our time, talents, and treasures. Let’s be the church with a big heart. Let’s be the church where others recognize the power of love.

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

Love Is a Verb


Psalm 100; 1 John 3: 16-24, by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
November 8, 2015
Stewardship Sunday


Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
– Psalm 100

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
– 1 John 3: 16-24


Simon Sinek is shifting the way leaders envision the identity of organizations. He has been sharing his speech entitled, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” through websites, books, and seminars. He says:

All the great and inspiring organizations and leaders of the world, whether it is Apple or Martin Luther King, Jr. or the Wright Brothers – they all think, act, and communicate the exact same way. And it is the complete opposite to everyone else. It’s probably the world’s most simplest idea. It starts with asking three questions in this particular order: why, how, and what.

This idea explains why some leaders are able to inspire, whereas others are not. Every organization knows what they do. Some know how they do it. But very few organizations and leaders know why they do what they do. By first asking the question “why,” it is to ask what is our purpose, our cause, our belief? Why does our organization exist and why should anyone care?
*

Most of us communicate by asking Sinek’s three questions in the reverse order: we usually start by asking “what are we working towards,” “how will we do it,” and then “why are we doing this?” But all inspiring leaders and organizations communicate opposite from this. They start with why.

John’s first epistle (letter) gets to the heart of why it matters to be a follower of Christ. We find our purpose, our cause, our belief in verse 23: This is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of God’s Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Christ has commanded us.

Christ gave this new commandment to love one another right after he had washed the disciples’ feet in John’s Gospel (John 13: 5, 34-35). It was a humbling sight for the disciples to see their Rabbi and Lord lower himself to his knees and wash their dust-covered feet. It was a humbling act of self-giving love. And then Jesus rose up and said: I give you a new commandment that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.

The love Jesus talks about is not the love we find in significant relationships or the loving friendships that sustain us. Jesus talks about agape love. It is a sacrificial love. It is a love that puts others first. It is a love that meets others where they are. It is a love that takes risks. It is a love that gives up something in order to bring God’s healing and wholeness that restores.

This love that Jesus and John talk about is a verb. It urges us to respond to God’s love that was most revealed in Jesus Christ. We are invited to participate in God’s work in the world to continue Christ’s ministry as the body of Christ. But we are also to reflect and struggle with our connection to follow Christ’s new commandment. That is to love one another in truth and action.

I remember one of the first comments I read about Van Wyck Presbyterian Church. It was that we are a “small church with a big heart.” The past 131 years this body of Christ has taken risks to live out Christ’s commandment to love one another. Through the years we have been committed to grow in spirit to nurture the gift of faith. We have long extended care to members and friends in times of joy and illness, sorrow and bereavement. We are connected to the greater communities of Van Wyck and Lancaster to serve others. We took a risk to further extend God’s hospitality by building a new fellowship hall and kitchen. God’s faithfulness has allowed us pay off that debt.

Today we find ourselves in a new chapter of ministry. Together we are discerning the next steps that God is calling us to love in truth and action. In this next chapter we are praying for the Spirit to guide us deeper into our sense of purpose, cause, and belief. Our hope is that this small church with a big heart will grow more into our vision to Grow in Christ (the love of Christ) in Spirit, Service, and Number. The hope is to follow God’s invitation and Christ’s commandment to be transformed by love and also to transform the community and world in truth and action.

We gain a deeper conviction that love is a verb if we see it holistically. We learn that we might be good stewards of God’s love in 4 key areas or spiritual disciplines: through worship, discipleship, mission, and sharing.

We grow as stewards of God’s love in worship. Time and space are suspended in this time set apart to be in God’s presence with a grateful heart. We allow God’s story of transforming love to redefine our lives and purpose. We learn who God is and who God is shaping us to be. We lift our voices in bold ways to trust God is working through the celebrations and challenges among all God’s children. And then God empowers us to live out the good news in the ordinary places of life.

We grow as stewards of God’s love in discipleship. As we commit to follow Christ we continue to grow in his way of life. Our hope is for everyone to find a space to study, pray, and fellowship. We do this in Sunday School classes, small groups, socials, and personal devotions. There are deep roots of faith here in this body of Christ, but God is not through with us yet. God is still yearning to shape us into the people that God intends us to be.

We grow as stewards of God’s love in mission. When we share our time and talents to put our faith into action, then we see the truth of Christ’s love. Jesus’ ministry was relational. As he came beside others Jesus listened to their stories, affirmed their location in life, and extended his love to bring God’s healing and wholeness.

The spiritual leaders of this church are becoming more intentional about mission and ministries of compassion. In a few weeks our growing mission team will be taking Thanksgiving baskets to families in our community who need a hand up. Relationships matter to this church with a big heart. Prayerfully consider the ways God is nudging you to share your time and talents to love our neighbors. Continue to pray for our faithfulness to share God’s gifts to better this community. Continue to pray for our faithfulness to extend God’s hospitality and hope to our community and world in life giving ways.

We grow as stewards of God’s love in sharing. It is easy to think of spiritual disciplines as worship, discipleship, and mission. But our sharing or giving is also a spiritual discipline. We do not give out of obligation or duty. Rather our giving is rooted in gratitude for God's faithfulness.

When we give a portion of our treasures to God we are reaffirming that all we are and all we have are gifts from God. When we give through the formal commitment of a pledge or a tithe we are daring to trust that God will use these gifts to further God’s kingdom. We trust that Christ’s love will continue to break into the ordinary spaces of life that need God’s healing and restoration. It is a blessing for God to work through each of us to continue Christ’s ministry. Our giving – no matter how big or small – makes a difference in pointing to God's coming kingdom.

When we holistically engage the love of Christ as a verb we experience God’s presence in genuine community. We recognize that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.

Why does it matter to be a disciple of Christ at Van Wyck Presbyterian Church? First we remember Christ commanded us to love one another in truth and action. Secondly we share the vision to Grow in Christ in Spirit, Service, and Number.

How do we live out our belief, our purpose? We are striving to grow as stewards of God’s love. We are living into the spiritual disciplines of worship, discipleship, mission, and giving.

Why do you connect with this wonderful community of faith we call Van Wyck Presbyterian? May the Spirit help us to reflect and to be good stewards of God’s true and active love in this next chapter.

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

* Simon Sinek, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action," TED Talks
https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en