For the Sundays on each side of Christmas this year Leann Williams and Amber Joplin agreed to prepare messages to be shared in meetings for worship at Spokane Friends.
First Day Message for Sunday, December 23, prepared and shared in Meeting for Worship by Leann Williams
Any country music fans here today? Thursday as I drove to work my car radio,
scanning for a clear signal, tuned into a country station. I just caught the refrain of
a song that contained the words “If I could just sit down and have a beer with Jesus.”
It’s amazing to me the myriad ways in which the longing of the human soul for contact
with the divine is expressed. Christmas answers that longing. Christmas is summed up
for me in a name, a promise, Emmanuel.
In Matthew 1:23 an angel appears in a dream to Joseph quoting from Isaiah he
announces, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they
shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Micah 5:7 records, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in
Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” That last phrase,
“whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” got me thinking about
the activities of Jesus prior to him taking on human flesh, pre-incarnate appearances
of Christ. Emmanuel, God, has been working among us since the dawn of human
Colossians 1:15-18 tells us Jesus has been involved with us since creation.
The Message version reads, “We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.”
Some days that’s had to believe. The headlines of the day and the events
of our lives resound with cosmic dissonance. Where is God? How could God let this
happen? There is no doubt that God’s intentions are not being lived out in many places
on the earth. Such as been the situation on our planet throughout human history. We
disconnect from God’s intended purposes and find ourselves broken, wondering and
wandering through life, wrestling with God in one form or another. Those are exactly
the conditions in which we find Jesus active at work among us.
In the distant past appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ, in his earthly life and ministry, in our lives. In Genesis 16 Hagar, the servant of Abraham and Sari, is asked to serve as a surrogate to bear the child they have been unable to conceive. When Hagar becomes pregnant she becomes an object of distain and is mistreated by her mistress. Hagar runs away and is met by the Angel of Jehovah, whom many believe to be Christ.
He asks, ”Where have you come from, and where are you going?” If this is indeed
Christ, he does not lack this knowledge, he is giving Hagar the chance to speak of her
condition. She tells her story and responds with using the name for God, El Roi, You-
In Christ’s ministry on earth he took the time to notice and ask of needy persons, “What do you want?” Emmanuel, God with us, today sees you and wants to hear your story. As the visible expression of Christ on the earth today do we take the time to see and hear the stories of the needy souls around us?
Abraham and Sari were visited by strangers in Genesis 18. After being shown
hospitality one of the visitors whom the text refers to as “the LORD”, states that
Sari will have a son within the year to come. Sari is caught in her moment of doubt
and disbelief as she chuckles at the thought. In John chapter 9 we read of a father
who brings his son who has been possessed by a spirit to Jesus for help. The father
states his own condition when he says, “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief!” We
find ourselves in this double-minded condition of belief and unbelief and our God,
Emmanuel, is with us in our faltering faith. Will we walk with others as they journey
to and through faith and faithlessness with the compassion and grace of Christ?
In Genesis 32 Jacob, who has been running from the consequences of his
deceitfulness encounters a man and wrestles with him through the night. Later Jacob
states that he met God face-to-face and is fundamentally changed by the experience.
Time does not permit us to name all those transformed by Christ’s presence as he
ministered during his earthy life. Fishermen were given a new calling, a tax collector
gained new values to live by, women who held little significance or value were given a
new place in community, the blind, lame, and unclean were healed and made whole. 2
Corinthians 5:17 tells us if anyone is in Christ, that person becomes a new creation;
old things pass away and all things become new. Will we leave room for God’s grace
to transform those around us? Will we accept God’s grace and be transformed
In Exodus 3 Moses encounters the pre-incarnate Christ in a burning bush and receives
direction for the next work of God in his life. Exodus 13 tells us the Lord went
ahead of the Hebrews in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night providing
guidance through their desert wanderings. Today, as God’s children, we can expect
the guiding presence of God with us, Emmanuel. Will we hone our skills in listening and
wait to act until we are assured of God’s guidance?
God’s work among us is not limited to the faithless, frightened, or faltering. There’s a very encouraging passage in Daniel chapter 10. Daniel had been in mourning over the condition of Jerusalem when he had a vision and heard these words, “Do not be
afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to
humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response
to them.” God comes to us, Emmanuel, when we turn our hearts toward him and seek him.
So, if Jesus, Emmanuel, was already at work among us, why was it necessary for
him to come as a baby in Bethlehem? Hebrews 1:1-3 in the New Living Translation
reads, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through
the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God
promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the
universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.”
Apparently, God spoke. We didn’t get it. So, God came in a way that we could observe
and learn the heart and nature of God. Jesus came to be with us, Emmanuel.
Today God has chosen to speak into this world through us. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 says, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” Amazing! God is depending on us to incarnate the love and desire for relationship of God to the world in which we live.
When we leave this building, as we celebrate Christmas, God coming to be with us, will our lives draw others to God? Will we give evidence of God with us, Emmanuel?
First Day Message for Sunday, December 29, prepared and shared in Meeting for Worship by Amber Joplin
Your values are your current estimations of truth. They represent your answer to the question of how to live.”
Introduction: As I am speaking out of the open worship, I would like to keep this time open for your thoughts.
We have shared a difficult year in 2012. It has been a year full of challenges, conflict and uncertainties and it has been a year full of the voices – and advertisements – of those who are absolutely certain. What has been especially frustrating for me is how difficult it has been to talk with my friends, neighbors, family and others across these areas of uncertainty, from State of Washington election issues of liberalizing drugs and marriage, or national issues about taxes or gun control, or international issues of war, money, or climate change. (Is it ok for me to say the words climate change in this group?). It seems we can only talk with – or trust – those who basically agree with us. We are no longer people exploring issues and considering all possible options. We are becoming a people who are RIGHT! We fight (or quietly plot against, or at best, pray) against those who are WRONG.
And what’s wrong with that? Well, as my therapist always asked, “How’s that working for you?” Look around. We aren’t solving our problems in families, in workplaces, in meeting houses, nationally, internationally. Wait, did I say solving our problems? We aren’t even admitting that some issues exist – or deserve to be considered.
In my previous life – before I moved to Spokane in 2007 – I worked as a psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner. A psychiatric rehabilitation practitioner is essentially a physical therapy assistant for thinking habits. Greater minds than mine diagnosed mental illnesses or brain injuries, and then I worked directly with individuals and small groups on a weekly basis for up to two years to help these individuals select goals and build meaningful lives beyond simply coping with mental illness or brain injury. This work was a blessing to me as I learned many important concepts and strategies to apply to my own life. I would like to share with you one of the most useful concepts I learned, the concept of values and consequences of values.
What are values? Here’s a definition: “the accepted principles or standards of a person or a group”. That seems like a good thing. We need values like freedom, justice, or simplicity. What could be the down side of values? I suggest the down side of values is related to the powerful connection between values and emotions. Here’s an example,
- Your friend tells you they are getting a divorce. – “Oh, no, that’s too bad! Marriage is ordained by God! Marriage is a commitment!“
- “My partner has been abusing me.” – “Oh no that’s wrong! You have to leave!”
- “Yeah, and we’re three months pregnant!” “Oh, no, the child needs two parents! “
- “It’s ok, there’s welfare.” “Oh, no! You need to work! Wait, you need to be home with the child! Wait, your partner needs to ….
That would be a very upsetting conversation. How many good values were violated in one short story? To start with, values of obedience to God, commitment, safety, fairness, family, and personal responsibility. And here’s another value that was violated: “Oh, this should never have happened!” (Values of proper behavior, correctness, or success) Really? Nobody gets to do anything that might come out wrong. And we can tell what will go wrong because we can foresee the future and look into other people’s hearts….
It turns out that if I have a powerful emotional reaction to something you say or do, you are violating my values. (In the last example, values of realism, humility and faith.)
Here is a more useful description of values: “Your values are your current estimations of truth (stevepavlina.com).” Your values “represent your answer to the question of how to live (stevepavlina.com).” They are personal “priorities that tell you how to spend your time, right here, right now (stevepavlina.com).”
Wow, Truth! That is important! What could be more important? But, what is truth?
Jesus talks about truth and sources of truth in John 14:
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Wouldn’t it be useful for us to be able to somehow substitute “Jesus” for our personal values. I don’t know how to say that or how it works, but if Jesus is the truth, than that must override “my values.”
Identifying major personal values is a bit tricky because we resonate to so many values: friends, family, fun, freedom, and or love, joy, peace, patience, and justice, security, and wisdom, and on and on. In fact Steve Pavlina, Internet Personal Development Guru, lists 418 values, from Abundance to Zeal, in a list he calls “partial”.
In Psych Rehab we elicited values by asking questions such as “What makes you really happy? What makes you really angry? What makes you really proud? What makes you really sad? What breaks your heart? What makes you cry? Let’s take a few minutes to think about these questions. In fact think of these as queries and feel free to speak as led by the spirit.
(List of questions provided on insert in bulletin. Discussions of what individuals share.)
Lets go back to the original definition of values: “the accepted principles or standards of a person or a group”. Are there then some values that I am being challenged to adjust? How about love? That’s a good value: Jusus stretched that one out so far we don’t recognize it
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” He noted. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Here was a new ethic.
Paul wrote in the Letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. Eph 4:31
New International Version (NIV)
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
John 8:32-36 New International Version (NIV)
32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”