You were bought with a price – An offering from Rev. Lil Smith

21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.[a] 22 For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 24 In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters,[b] there remain with God.  1 Corinthians 7:21-24

I visited the Holy Land this time last year, and now, I  often envision Paul by the sea…in prison…at Caesarea.  What strikes me is that Paul is in chains.  Yet, Paul’s letters don’t sound like Paul is in chains.  Paul has freedom despite the chains.  Despite the chains, Paul is free.

Friends, this is the true freedom that is the gift of God.  It is not the false freedom the world wants to possess. True freedom, despite our circumstance in the world, allows us to take a deep breath and choose to follow the One who creates, the One who redeems, and the One who encourages.

Holy God, may we embrace this precious freedom that comes at such a price.  Send us the gift of your freedom and Holy Peace that sets us free…even when we live in the chains of the world.

(c) 2018 Rev. Lil Smith
Spiritual Director and Supervisor
Retreat House Spirituality Center

An offering from Lil: With all my heart…

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  – Mark 12:28-31

Love first. Because I was first loved.

(c) Bonnie Oden

(c) Bonnie Oden

Love God.  Because God first loved me.

Love with my heart.  Because my heart is God.

Love with  my soul.  Because my soul is Spirit.

Love with my mind.  Because I choose the mind of Christ.

Love my neighbor.  Because I am one with my neighbor.

Love yesterday.  Love today.  Love tomorrow.

And the greatest of these is love.

(c) 2015 Rev. Lil Smith

An offering from Nancy Kate: Death allows some amazing reunions…

He is risen… Easter LilyHe has conquered death for all… I still wait to know what all this means, but I get pieces of the meaning from time to time. Recently I got news of a friend’s death, and very soon I was talking with another friend about how death allows some amazing reunions. Like when my mother died. “Now she’s with Daddy and our brother.” And we all counted on that reunion being one without hidden agendas, without old grudges, without any of the secret things that get in the way of perfect reunions. Because of Jesus, death brings together more than it separates. I like this story.

(c) 2015 Nancy Kate Dunkerley

An offering from Brian: Christ is risen!

He is risen, indeed!

He is risen, indeed!jesus mafa stone rolled away

‘Christ is risen’ is a spiritual truth in my life, not because of any archaeological proof from a tomb in ancient Israel, but because when life seems to cave in, Christ’s light leads the way to new life!  I often wish that the path to new life did not have to include the way of sorrow or suffering, but it seems that it does.  The cross of death and the empty tomb of new life go together.  A seed has to die and fall in the ground, Jesus says.  All I can say is that whenever it feels like I am at the end, God makes a way. So I am a walking witness that Christ is risen; he is risen, indeed!

I invite you to pray over Matthew 28:1-7 today.

(c) 2015 The Rev. Brian Hardesty-Crouch

Director, HeartPaths DFW

An Advent Offering from Nancy: Imagining an Interview with Joseph

DSCN1134Matthew 1:18-25… an imaginative retelling

 

I found Joseph still in Nazareth, taking a rest among his projects. His assistants were off on break, so we had time to talk. My publisher was very interested in Joseph’s son who was rumored to be risen from death, and my assignment was to find out whether there was anything of interest about his beginnings.

 

Interviewer: Joseph, thank you for letting me come see you about your son, Jesus. It seems everyone in the country is suddenly interested in everything they can find out about him. Until now you haven’t said much about his beginning. What can you add to the stories they already have heard?

 

Joseph: Well, his story makes even more sense to me when I remember how it all started. Our families had already arranged for Mary and me to be married. We’d had a nice betrothal ceremony and our families and friends were all abuzz about what we’d be like as a married couple. But she was still in her father’s house, and, though some of our peers were okay with sex before the actual wedding, we were still virgins.

 

Interviewer: So you hadn’t had sex yet?

 

Joseph: Well, I knew I hadn’t! But then word got back to me that she was pregnant! Some of the women found out and they gossiped about it till one of my friends told me. I was pretty upset. I felt betrayed and confused and ashamed and angry that she would have an affair when we were already betrothed. I thought I knew her better than that! And then what would this do to my business? My livelihood depends on having a good name in my community!

 

Interviewer: So what did you do?

 

Joseph: it took a while, but I arranged to have some time alone with her and I confronted her with what I’d heard. She was pretty tearful, but she admitted it was true. She was pregnant. I was devastated at first, but then she begged me to hear her out, so I did. She said she was pregnant by some mysterious power of God, by some incredible holy spirit.

He paused when he remembered that conversation.

You know, I really liked her back then. I’ve grown to love her more and more over the years, and she has become increasingly precious to me. But in those days we were so young and in a lot of ways not yet aware of God’s ways.

 

Interviewer: What do you mean, you weren’t aware of God’s ways?

 

Joseph: Well, I was trying really had to be a righteous man, to be upright and fair in all the ways of my faith. I obey Torah, and I keep Sabbath.  I knew I had a cultural right to have her punished, but I didn’t want to make her suffer that way. I decided I would just tell everyone I’d decided to call our marriage off. That way her family could help her with this pregnancy and they could decide what to do with the child. So, I left and went home.

He paused, leaned forward a bit, and his tone became more intense.

But, see, then I had a dream, one of those really life-changing kind of dreams. I still feel something when I remember that dream. It was awesome!

I don’t know how you feel about dreams, but I’m named for my ancestor, Joseph, and I’ve always heard stories about how the one true God came through to him in dreams way back when a lot of our people were still just getting used to understanding they had been chosen for something special in the world. That Joseph was always a hero to me, and my family always spoke of him with great pride.

So, when I had this dream, I just couldn’t ignore it. It was as if my ancestor was right there saying I should pay attention and do what it told me to do.

 

Interviewer: So, what was the dream about? What was so special about this dream?

 

Joseph: In the dream, I’m alone in my house and this unbelievably bright light appears in the room with me. I can’t quite see what the shape is, but I have a sense it is like a person, more like an angel. And then I hear it speak to me. It knows who I am. It calls me by name.

His voice deepened.

“Son of David, Joseph, don’t be afraid.” Then this voice tells me that Mary was telling the truth, that the child growing inside her is really from a holy spirit. And it tells me I am to name him.

 

Interviewer: And in our law, that would make him legally yours! Our law states, “If a man says, ‘this is my son,’ then he is so attested.”

 

Joseph: Exactly! Even in the dream I knew that God was asking me to say yes to this child the same way Mary said she had said yes to an angel that came to her! When she’d told me that story it seemed so fantastic that I was sort of concerned about her mental state. I thought she was making it all up to cover up her own mistake. After all, remember she was pretty young and naïve then.

He looked at me intently.

But, see, the dream changed all that for me! When I woke up I knew I had a choice to make. The situation was pretty much a mess, it seemed a scandal that could have ruined a lot of us, but the dream was saying God was involved… What can I say? I didn’t really have any proof except that dream and the promises of my ancestors before me that God is trustworthy!

 

Interviewer: Remarkable! What has it been like for you since that day?

 

Joseph: Hmmm. Well, for one thing, I realized later that there was a promise fulfilled, that one about a virgin conceiving a child who would be called “God with us,” Emmanuel.

He grinned now.

But I want to tell you, none of us in the family called him that when he was growing up! People might call him that someday, but we weren’t about to have him get some big head about being any different from any other little boy. We loved him way too much for that!

 

Interviewer: Anything else?

 

He leaned back a little and closed his eyes a moment as if to reflect on his own story.

 

Joseph: Well, people don’t come around asking about this very much. You’re one of the few who have ever asked me what it all meant to me. But I’ve lived long enough now to think that there are lots of times in life when the situation seems out of control, times when we might just sort of sweep things under the rug… You know what I mean? Like when you lose a job or someone you love dies or your kids let you down or any number of personal troubles, not to mention all the bad news that everyone says is a sign of doom. There is so much bad news all around us. These are times when I know its pretty hard to believe that a good God in fact is in the midst of the mess.

 

And I do not know the how. There is no formula to make any of us believe the impossible. But I can tell you that when that day I let myself believe, when I claimed the scandal, and gave it my name…then I found the dream was true and God was born in the very midst of it all.

 

I left him there with his reflections, and I began to have a few of my own. I won’t forget this man who is a lot like me, but who is also a witness to me. He reminded me that the impossible good news can happen. It does happen. I hope I can be like Joseph and  believe the unlikely proclamation of an angel, find that God is with us. And holy is his name.

Peace,

Nancy

Nancy Dunkerley

 

An Advent Offering from Lil: Greetings favored one!

Luke 1:26-35

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

BVM and JesusGreetings favored one!  The Lord is with you.

Perhaps you, too might be perplexed if an angel came to you in the name of the Lord.  For our daily experience with God is not as direct as this encounter between Gabriel and Mary.

But there is much for us to glean from this miraculous encounter:

What is it to be a favored one?  The Greek word in scripture is charis which means “a divine influence of God on the heart.”  Mary did absolutely nothing to earn the privilege to be the chosen one of God. It was all by the power of God.  God placed the divine influence on her heart.

What is the response of a favored one?  “How can this be?”  It is a very natural response knowing the pattern of birth and life in the world.  For this new creation is something beyond the natural order.  The new creation is by the power of the Holy Spirit.    This new creation is holy.  And Mary’s response will be, “Yes, Lord.”

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are favored ones with “a divine influence of God on our hearts.”  For Mary’s story is not just about Mary.  Mary’s story is for each one of us.  There is a miracle on your heart waiting to be born this Christmas.  There is a miracle on my heart waiting to be born this Christmas.  There is a miracle on your neighbor’s heart waiting to be born this Christmas.  The question is: will you hear the words of the angel and will you say, “Yes, Lord!”

Believe you are a favored one.  Listen for the angel God is sending to you.  Say yes.

Peace be with you,

Lil

The Rev. Lil Smith

The Rev. Lil Smith

An Advent Offering from Diana M.: God for Me Speaks the Loudest in Silence

Zechariah’s Song

68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn[c] of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

80 And the child grew and became strong in spirit[d]; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

candle    Zechariah had prayed for many years that his wife would have children. Zechariah’s prayers were answered, and his faith wavered. However, God was indeed answering his long awaited prayer and not as he expected. In the event of his disbelief Zechariah was muted.  Zechariah who was a great teacher, preacher and servant of God also needed to “Be still and know that God is God” and listen.

I have learned that God for me speaks the loudest in the silence. It is when I quit trying to say what I think God wants me to say and sit with God in silence, I too feel like singing of God’s wondrous grace and love. I think this story tells us that God will surround our fear and our doubt with grace. I was reading Richard Rohr’s devotion adapted from his book Contemplation in Action. Rohr said,

One good thing that silence and waiting has taught me is that our lives are always usable by God. We need not always be effective, but only transparent and vulnerable. Then we are instruments, no matter what we do. Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching, and using me—even before I perform, or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing.

God takes it from there, and there is not much point in comparing who is better, right, higher or lower, or supposedly saved. We are all partial images slowly coming into focus, as long as we allow and filter the Light and Love of God, which longs to shine through us—as us!

 These words spoke to me during my quite time and made me think, God used the silence and waiting on the birth of Zechariah’s child to prepare a space in his heart for the Holy Spirit to spring forth  to shine bright. Rohr words on silence are words to remind me to slow down and of the importance of preparing my heart for the upcoming celebration of my Savior.

Blessings,

Diana M

An Advent Offering from Evelyn: Faithful Waiting

Luke 1:5-13 NRS

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense.  Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.  Then there appeared to him and angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.  You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.  He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit”

candleLuke 1 is the story of Zechariah. Waiting, surprise, and expectation are key elements of his narrative, just as they are elements of Advent. He is a priest who with his wife Elizabeth has a close relationship with God. They have no children and both are getting too old to have children. However, God has heard Zechariah’s prayer. Faithful waiting is noticed. Imagine Zechariah’s surprise at seeing an angel who tells him that Elizabeth will bear a son – and not just any child, but a child with a special purpose.  This child would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth.  They are to name the child John. This child is sent to prepare the way for Jesus.  Another part of God’s prophecy is fulfilled.  Preparation is part of John’s purpose.  It seems that waiting and preparation are linked.  And joy and gladness result from faithful waiting.

As you reread the passage, what “sparkles” or stands out for you?  After holding those words before God do any insights come?  .

Perhaps these questions will help in your reflection:

For what are you praying?

How long have you been waiting for an answer?

Is waiting part of God’s preparation?

Have you ever been surprised by God?

Do answers from God look different from your expectation?

What is your expectation for this advent season?

Peace,

Evelyn

An Advent Offering from Nancy: The Peaceable Kingdom

Isaiah 11:1-10 … The Peaceable KingdomEdward_Hicks-peaceablekingdom

 

Edward Hicks was a Pennsylvania Quaker who supported his family by his self-taught painting of signs and decorative pieces. He painted pictures for friends and family too. Most of us have seen at least one of Edward Hick’s versions of his painting, “The Peaceable Kingdom.” A number of them can be found online or on Christmas cards, and they have some common features, but no two are quite alike. He constantly turned to a theme from Isaiah 11:1-10.

I keep wondering what was going on in his spirit that drew him back to paint something on this same theme over and over again for almost 30 years until he diedEdward_Hicks-peaceablekingdom 8 with another one, unfinished, on his easel. (Some people think he drew it over 100 times, though I think there are but 61 that we can find.)

It doesn’t seem that he was so much unsatisfied with his own work as he kept thinking about what difference it makes to have a vision of something that seems so far-fetched as Isaiah describes:

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.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord…
Edward_Hicks-peaceablekingdom 7

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Edward_Hicks-peaceablekingdom 6

Eventually, Hicks started including details in his paintings about the world as he knew it living in Pennsylvania about a generation or so before the Civil War, a time of brewing unrest and political conflict. He was distressed on many levels with the disruption of relationships, by injustice, by problems within his church. Quakers were experiencing a schism among themselves, and he felt they were becoming too distracted by materialistic desires and secular anxieties. His world, including his church-world, was anything but peaceable.

Sometimes he included a scene of what he thought a movement towarEdward_Hicks-peaceablekingdom 5d peace in his world might look like, William Penn and his companions signing a treaty of respect and peace with an Indian tribe. In the foreground is always the sign of the child who is promised.

And the hope of peace was also for each person individually. He sometimes talked about a kind of wildness that is within us that threatened our own inner harmony and peace. Wild animals mixing comfortably with domestic ones was an image of each person being transformed within, of being one who could really walk the walk of peace as well as preach it or march for it or petition for it.

Even over a century later, these paintings challenge me to meditate on Isaiah’s imagery. I wonder where to look to see the peaceable kingdom breaking through around us? And how important it was to him to keep imagining it, thinking about it, longing for it, waiting for it. As William Arthur Ward is often quoted, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.

 

Edward_Hicks-peaceablekingdom 3Daily news reporting doesn’t paint the picture as vividly as I need. Isaiah and Hicks do a better job for me.

Peace,

Nancy

 

Edward_Hicks-peaceablekingdom 2

An Advent Offering from Lil: Steadfast love

DSCN1218Psalm 89:1-4

1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. 2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. 3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: 4 “I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’ “ (Selah)

Two phrases really jump out at me today as I sit in contemplation, allowing these words of the Psalmist to wash over me.  First is “faithfulness to all generations.”

  • In a world so full of division, I seek the faithfulness of God to all generations.
  • In a world so full of hatred, I seek reconciliation with the body of Christ that has been excluding.
  • In a world so full of narcissism, I seek the community of generations gathering together to wait for the Lord.

The second is “steadfast love.”  For as God’s faithfulness is revealed in the world, my heart sings with steadfast love.  During this Advent, I sit with anticipation that the steadfast love which Christ taught us will again come to the earth bringing new life and love to all.

  • In a world so full of idolatry, I seek the steadfast love of God to fill the world.
  • In a world so filled with pain, I seek the healing love of God to overcome suffering.
  • In a world so filled with fear, I seek the Advent love of God which transforms the lowly, the voiceless, the powerless, the hungry.

Come, Lord Jesus!  The world is in need of your steadfast love.

Peace,

Lil

The Rev. Lil Smith

The Rev. Lil Smith