O Holy Night! the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope- the weary world rejoices…
~O Holy Night, Placide Cappeau, 1847
How does a weary world rejoice?
This is a live question for us as Advent once again breaks into our yearly cycle. Weary, to be sure! There are no shortage of events and conditions and realities that we can point to as catalysts for our weariness.
So this year, we are straying a little from the usual cycle of readings to attend to a few stories in Luke that don’t get as much attention, to ask how do we rejoice in this moment? Where does hope and resilience come from? To ask, how does a weary world rejoice?
As we move through the season we will propose some answers to the question. This first Sunday, Advent 1, we sit quietly with Zechariah (and Elizabeth) and a text that does not make it anywhere into the lectionary cycle and suggest that a weary world rejoices by acknowledging it’s weariness. And so shall we. May we too rejoice.
How does a weary world rejoice?
I think delayed Christmas cards count--
the ones with the haphazard stamps,
mailed three weeks late.
I think the way you get down on all fours
to be close to your dog
And your cousin’s baby counts;
it’s a holy routine.
I think the way you stretch your body awake
and breathe deeply when you rise counts;
that’s Yahweh in your lungs.
I think the extra second you spent
looking at the sky last night,
and not being afraid to dance counts.
So does giving up your seat on the subway
for someone’s grandfather,
helping her carry the stroller up the stairs,
and running to catch the man who
dropped his bag in the crosswalk.
Lighting candles when the sun disappears,
laughing so hard others begin to stare,
and pausing to look at trees every once in a
while to say “Good job with that one God”
all definitely counts;
as do mumbled prayers
and children’s prayers
and every measure of music.
How does a weary world rejoice?
I would guess
soul by soul
and day by day.
But if you ask me,
I bet most of it counts.
~Sarah A. Speed @writingthegood, December 4, 2021
Enter into worship this Advent Sunday, in-person online.
Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9 † Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 † Luke 1:1-23
About the Art: Annunciation to Zechariah, Lauren Wright Pittman. Inspired by Luke 1:1-23. From Sanctified Art (sanctifiedart.org). Used by permission.
From the artist:
Zechariah stands in the Holy Place wearing the most meticulous of garments. Does he expect to encounter the divine? Or is he just going through the motions, lighting the incense as an all-too-familiar scent fills the air?...
I ruminated on this image… a weary priest wrapped in layered fabrics, colors, symbols, textures, and rare stones that proclaim God’s providence and power. The contrast is not lost on me…
I often try to neglect my weariness by putting on a veneer of unwavering trust in God—while feeling like I may suddenly unravel into a pile of beautifully-curated threads, stones, and gold accessories.
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
In memory of my father,
who asked me whether to invite a beggar home with us
and waited for my answer.
~Kelly Johnson, The Fear of Beggars
Reign of Christ Sunday gets us ready to “ring in” the new year in the Christian calendar. On the following Sunday we will begin that journey toward a weary world that is centered in a stable—a substandard location for a child to be born—to find, astonishingly, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the promised one, earth’s hope, the advent of God.
This Sunday, then, functions like a check-in or check-up. It does so by way of an implicit and unexpected promise. Feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers. Clothing. Tending. Healing. Visiting. As we are doing these things, we are not only mending the world, we are putting ourselves in the very locations where Christ himself dwells, where we ourselves can be transformed and thrive.
In Matthew 5:42, Jesus tells his disciples “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” This is not a strategy for systemic change. It is an invitation to habituate ourselves out of the love of money and into the love of neighbor. “Strangerliness is a habit that has been learned slowly,” writes Kelly Johnson. “We will unlearn it with difficulty, and we will not do so without making changes, in our finances, our locations, our ways of doing business, and our encounters with strangers.”
We end the year with an invitation to orient ourselves toward the One we will encounter in the beginning of the next. And to our surprise we discover we are putting ourselves in healing’s way. We are gaining our own lives back. What a strange and wonderful thing! Our Thanksgiving belongs to God!
Enter into worship this Sunday.
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-24 † Psalm 100 † Ephesians 1:15-23 † Matthew 25:31-46
About the Art: Food for the Hungry, Drink for the Thirsty, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57571 [retrieved November 21, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biberach_Spital_Relief_img04.jpg - Andreas Praefcke.
Many of our texts as we journey through these last few weeks of ordinary time ask us to consider what we do in the waiting. Waiting isa theme we will meet again, of course, as we prepare for the birth of the baby this Advent. What kind of waiting brings us closer to knowing God’s kin-dom among us? How might we use the talents, the treasures that God has given us, in ways that contribute to the reign of peace and love for all poeple? We’re not talking about material treasures, but those gifts that makes us who we are—our passions and loves; the beauty we long to be a part of.
This Sunday, as we gather, we will consider what these treasures are. We’ll ask ourselves: What lies close to our own hearts and to the heart of the St Andrew congregation? And we will remember that we are not alone in the waiting. God has made us a people who thrive when we share our treasures—the things that are close to our hearts—and when we, with God’s help, follow the creativity and possibility that comes form such sharing. We want to respond to God’s call to the church to thrive in the communities and with the neighbors we are called to love, and so on Sunday we will also consider together how we might go about exploring what lies at the heart of our wider community.
The converastion will be richer with your particpation and so we hope you will join us. We will not worship in our normal pattern, but the elements of our worship will still be present.
We will start at our usual 10:00am time but plan to stay just a little longer, until around noon. Lunch is provided! If you can’t be with us physically, you can be present to the conversation via our live stream and we will ask you to share your thoughts in email (LearningGroup@standrewpc.org) during or after the event.
Can’t wait to see you!
Readings: Matthew 21:1-11 † Psalm 118 † Isaiah 50:4-9a † Psalm 31:9-16 † Philippians 2:5-11 † Matthew 27:11-54
About the Art: History of Our Community – YMCA Boys and Girls Club, Pearl-Cohn 9th Grade Academy, Nashville, TN. Image retrieved on November 14, 2023 from https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2009/06/11/to-build-a-better-community/.
Her eyes are closed. She is the color of all the weather and days that have past. Her hand is either protecting the flame or being warmed by it.
Is she to be dreaming of wisdom? Is she to be dreaming of the future? Is she to be dreaming of a future of peace? Is she dreaming of a future of liberation?
We don’t know, do we. We can only look and imagine.
We hear Amos this week, in one of his most convicting passages, one that every worship preparer reads with fear and trembling.
…I take not delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
BUT let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Using poetry and rhythm, Amos asks the question: Is your worship for your own enjoyment or self-importance, or is it to lead you to work for God’s justice?
How does this offer us a clear lens for our worship and for our lives as we are sent out?
One more question: If you had to pick a word to describe what you think God’s desire is for the world, would it be “peace” or “liberation?” Chew on that for a bit, and bring that meal with you to worship.
Come and worship. In-person or online.
Readings: Amos 5:18-24 † Psalm 70 † 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 † Matthew 25:1-13
About the Art: Lamp of Wisdom, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54977 [retrieved November 8, 2023]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowanbank/5815103193/.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
On a day like All Saints when we remember those who have gone before us, who have paved the way an modeled the shape of a life-affirming Christian Way, it may be easy for us to stop at the second of the beatitudes, struck by our sense of loss for loved ones. Indeed, this work of mourning is necessary for us to find our way through difficult loss to the newness that the eastering God raises in us and our communities.
But in the whole of the beatitudes in Matthew, Jesus is actually offering a template of this life-affirming Way that we should not miss. To sit with these is to sit with the kind of truth-telling that sets us free and those who follow us.
This Sunday we will take time to remember and bless those who have gone before us. Bring pictures or a token of remembrance with you as we create a visual representation of all the saints in light and the God who will wipe away every tear.
Enter into worship.
Readings: Revelation 7:9-17 † Psalm 34:1-10, 22 † 1 John 3:1-3 † Matthew 5:1-12
About the Art: Anonymous. Grief, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56330 [retrieved October 25, 2023]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shockinglytasty/15117071790 - CC BY-SA 2.0.
[Jesus] said to [the lawyer], “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Love God. Love neighbor. It seems simple enough. It is as if we could stop there. But we can’t. The scriptures continue to add on, add context, add specificity, add nuance to explore the meaning of this. And so, it seems, we must do the same. This is the heart of our faith, according to Jesus, but it requires interpretation and perspective and review.
This Sunday we are going to do this in a different way again. In the context of worship, we have a panel of folks from the congregation who will join us in conversation in the space the sermon normally occupies, offering their learnings from these past months of engagement with our neighbors and our St. Andrew community, helping us to mark and interpret where we have come in this past year. Among the participants are Nikki Gibson, Andrea Shirey, Bob Seel, Pat Sharpe, Vince Kallberg, and Laura Clawson. Jill Jones will moderate.
Enter into worship.
Readings: Deuteronomy 34:1-12 † Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 † 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 † Matthew 22:34-46
About the Art: Wooden Love Sign, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57756 [retrieved October 24, 2023]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mastababa/2398441001/.
And [God] said [to Moses], “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
Give to God what is God’s, and to Caesar what is Caesar’s… Jesus gives this response to Pharisees and Herodians—uneasy partners who, in fact, do not agree with one another on much of anything, but find commonality in their opposition to this one who threatens their hold on what, in truth, is God’s. In their desire to entrap and neutralize Jesus they find shared aims in their hypocrisy and lust for power.
Even so, there is no clear-cut way to truth. God, in God’s goodness, is gracious and merciful (to whom God will be gracious and merciful). “To whom?” indeed.
So Jesus answers the question—and doesn’t. It seems we must answer it ourselves.
The moment, like our own, leaves much to be desired. Dual and constantly fluctuating allegiance is always a fact of life. What do we owe, and to whom do we owe it? What currencies shall we render in these fraught days? And in what and in whom does our hope and future lie?
Enter into worship.
Readings: Exodus 33:12-3 † Psalm 99 † 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 † Matthew 22:15-22
About the Art: Rambusch Company. Render unto God, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57749 [retrieved October 9, 2023]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/genbug/4224456786/ - Laura Gilmore.
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son…”
The king who is hosting a wedding banquet is widely perceived to represent God and God’s son Jesus. But the king in this story is demanding and venomous. He’s more like Herod or other ancient near-eastern rulers, and seemingly alarmed that he’s losing his grip on power—a golden calf of an idol, to be sure!
Tali Hairston reminded us last week of the link between scarcity and violence. Is this story an illustration of that link? If so, what has it to say to us, amidst a sea of institutions that are similarly losing a hold on the power they have long taken for granted—religious institutions among them?
What has this story to tell us of the kindom of heaven for which we long and to which we belong?
Enter into worship.
Readings: Exodus 32:1-14 † Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 † Isaiah 25:1-9 † Psalm 23 † Philippians 4:1-9 † Matthew 22:1-14
About the Art: Hofheinz-Döring, Margret, 1910-. Worship of the Golden Calf, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55987 [retrieved September 18, 2023]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tanz_ums_goldene_Kalb,_Margret_Hofheinz-D%C3%B6ring,_%C3%96l,_1962_(WV-Nr.2756).JPG.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
The Mosaic law, summed up in the ten commandments (Exodus 20) lays out the outline of a pathway that is life-giving for all. But the story of humanity seems to so often be centered on our failure to navigate this way faithfully, leading to chaos and trouble—especially for those among us who are most vulnerable—even as they are not the cause of this trouble. We know this.
But this is not the end of the story for a God on the side of the poor, on the side of the earth, on the side of everlasting life. God always seems to be up to something new that pulls through the golden threads of God’s way of shalom—justice, peace, and well-being.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This story of salvation is one that constantly surprises us—those of us who think we have it all figured out, and those of us who long for what we know could be. To some it is received as threat, but for all it is good news. We must only learn to see it, to receive it, to welcome it and water it and nurture it. And in a time when the old models and the old institutions seem to be failing us, this requires careful and intentional listening.
Enter into worship.
Readings: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 † Psalm 19 † Philippians 3:4b-14 † Matthew 21:33-46
About the Art: Lange, Dorothea. Children in a Democracy -- On Arizona Highway 87, Maricopa County, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55632 [retrieved October 3, 2023]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:On_Arizona_Highway_87,_south_of_Chandler._Maricopa_County,_Arizona._Children_in_a_democracy._A_migra_._._._-_NARA_-_522527.jpg.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
And when [the workers] received [their day’s wage], they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
A recently liberated people who find themselves threatened once again by desert scarcity. Workers troubled by equal pay for unequal work. There is much that troubles us here, that seems lacking, but the striking truth is that in each case everyone has just what they need—their daily bread, provision for the journey, meaningful work to do.
This is a different economy, a different culture, a different system than that which dominates our present-day experience. It is one in which everyone has what they need. What more could we want?
Enter into worship.
Readings: Exodus 16:2-15 † Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 † Philippians 1:21-30 † Matthew 20:1-16
About the Art: Moore, Mike. Manna 1, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57599 [retrieved September 11, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FEMA_-_39022_-_Overview_of_Baptist_Men_mobile_kitchen_and_commodity_point_of_distribution_in_Texas.jpg.
You'll find here links to weekly worship and, where applicable archived service videos.