Invite Wonder

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Photo Credit: Amy Persons Parkes

In an effort to be intentional about celebrating Advent and Christmas more fully, as outlined by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, Discipleship Ministries (United Methodist Church), in the United Methodist Worship blog post Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/16 , my congregation will begin to observe Advent Sunday, November 15. The “new” fourth Sunday of Advent will be December 6.  We are following the lectionary for these Sundays, as they already exist. Using the Gospel Lessons, Gayle (the Chairperson of our Worship Committee) selected key phrases from different translations of the Bible and paired the phrases with two words that will be used for silent meditation at the beginning of worship. Using these phrases and two-word meditations as inspiration, I am writing Advent Wreath Lighting Liturgies for our Advent observance.  If you would like to use them in worship, please feel free; however, I do ask that you acknowledge Gayle Youmans and Amy Persons Parkes as the authors of the material.

December 6, 2015 (Advent 4)
Luke 3:1-6, key verse v. 6 (CEB):  “And all humankind will see God’s salvation.”
Two-word meditation:  Invite Wonder

Leader:  With wonder and humility, we look to the heavens, mindful of our small place in the vast universe you have created, O God.  We marvel at your attention to the details of our lives, amidst the expansive nature of existence.

In a universe containing some 70 billion trillion stars, you see our pain and longing. In a world encompassing the astounding paradox of creatures like the 400,000 pound blue whale and the 1/2 inch krill upon which it feeds, we are confounded by the interconnectedness of creatures great and small. How miraculous that the largest animal which has ever lived, only does so because one of the smallest creatures exists and multiplies and migrates day in and day out. With amazement, we ponder the infinite mystery of our own bodies whose cells contain enough strands of DNA, that laid end to end would make over 70 roundtrips from the earth to the sun.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we light these candles, at last, holding only to the promise of your coming. Gazing toward the heavens, we are stunned by your greatness. Turning inward, we are mystified by the intricacies of these bodies you have created. Our hearts and minds fall short in contemplating the ways in which your salvation will be made known to all humankind.

People: We wait actively for your coming, Lord.

Leader: We practice discernment until we see and know the Truth.

People: We allow the discomfort that accompanies the birth of a new heaven, a new earth, the fullness of the Kingdom of God among us.

Leader: We invite wonder to soothe our longing and to nurture the embers of hope lying dormant yet

alive within us.

People: For you, O God, know the stars, feed the blue whales, and are well acquainted with our DNA.  In you, O Lord, the heavens and the krill live and move and have their being.

All:  With wonder, and the hope it engenders, we believe, “Come! Come, Lord Jesus, Come!”

Gayle Youmans & Amy Persons Parkes © 2015

Allow Discomfort

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Photo Credit: Amy Persons Parkes

In an effort to be intentional about celebrating Advent and Christmas more fully, as outlined by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, Discipleship Ministries (United Methodist Church), in the United Methodist Worship blog post Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/16 , my congregation will begin to observe Advent Sunday, November 15. The “new” fourth Sunday of Advent will be December 6.  We are following the lectionary for these Sundays, as they already exist. Using the Gospel Lessons, Gayle (the Chairperson of our Worship Committee) selected key phrases from different translations of the Bible and paired the phrases with two words that will be used for silent meditation at the beginning of worship. Using these phrases and two-word meditations as inspiration, I am writing Advent Wreath Lighting Liturgies for our Advent observance.  If you would like to use them in worship, please feel free; however, I do ask that you acknowledge Gayle Youmans and Amy Persons Parkes as the authors of the material.

November 29, 2015 (Advent 3)
Luke 21:25-35, key verse 25 (KJV):  “and there shall be signs…”
Two-word meditation:  Allow Discomfort

Leader:  The reflexive grin appearing on his lips each time she walked into the room was a sign of the proposal to come. The heavy sigh with each morning walk through the doors at work was a sign of the depression settling down. The intensity of her questions was a sign of a student gratifyingly engaged in her subject. The anvil shaped cloud was a sign of the rain and wind and thunder moving east.

The sign of childbirth is pain. The sign of attraction is an aching longing. A sign of peace at last may be death.

On this third Sunday in Advent, we light the candles of the wreath acknowledging the signs of God’s continual work in the world. We light the candles as a symbol of our desire to watch and wait for the salvation of God. Though the signs of this salvation may cause fear in the hearts of many, we will stand up and raise our heads as Christ draws near.

People: We will look for the signs.
 

Leader:  Though others may tremble and fear, we will in trust in God’s goodness.

People: Though signs of distress and anxiety abound, we will allow the discomfort to reveal the birth of a new creation that will never pass away.

 
Leader: “There shall be signs.” (Luke 21:25)
 
People: Help us, O Christ, to see and faithfully interpret the signs of your coming as ones who have no reason to fear or dread.
 
All: Come, with healing in your wings, Lord Jesus. Come!
 
Gayle Youmans and Amy Persons Parkes © 2015

A Prayer for Leaders of the Community

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Photo Credit:  Amy Persons Parkes, St. Andrew State Park, Bay County, Florida -the Pier at Sunset

a prayer offered as the invocation for the Annual Luncheon of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance, Bay County, Florida

God of us all, our Guide and Guardian,
your love never fails,
your courage never shrinks from the face of evil,
and your wisdom is never infected by fear.

God of us all, our Guide and Guardian,
your compassion outstretches our pain,
your justice overwhelms our injustice,
and your imagination and creativity exceed and encompass all perceived limitations.

As the palms and pines tremble in the gulf winds,
as jets crisscross the skies above us,
and as the wakes of ships ripple across the bay,
we ask for your inspiration this day.

As critical thinking is advanced in the classrooms surrounding us,
as state of the art technology is employed throughout our community
to heal bodies and to stream millions of gigabytes of information,
we ask you,
Source of Knowledge and Seat of Wisdom,
to give us the discernment to see a future yet to be unfolded for Bay County.

With your knowledge and in your wisdom,
empower the leaders of this gathering
to boldly step toward a future in Bay County
where every woman, man, and child is able to live meaningful and productive lives.

With your imagination and creativity,
reveal to these leaders possibilities,
where others may only perceive closed doors,
so that, no one within their sphere of influence is underemployed nor triflingly employed.

God of us all, our Guide and Guardian,
place the mantle of your Spirit on these
who offer their leadership for the betterment of the whole people of our county,
and give them the strength to bear both the heft and hope of this great responsibility
and summon within each of us the ability to work as one body,
for the good of all.  

All this, we pray in the name of Christ.  Amen.

Amy Persons Parkes © 2015

Practice Discernment

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Photo Credit: Liz West, Bifocals

In an effort to be intentional about celebrating Advent and Christmas more fully, as outlined by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, Discipleship Ministries (United Methodist Church), in the United Methodist Worship blog post Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/16 , my congregation will begin to observe Advent Sunday, November 15. The “new” fourth Sunday of Advent will be December 6.  We are following the lectionary for these Sundays, as they already exist. Using the Gospel Lessons, Gayle (the Chairperson of our Worship Committee) selected key phrases from different translations of the Bible and paired the phrases with two words that will be used for silent meditation at the beginning of worship. Using these phrases and two-word meditations as inspiration, I am writing Advent Wreath Lighting Liturgies for our Advent observance.  If you would like to use them in worship, please feel free; however, I do ask that you acknowledge Gayle Youmans and Amy Persons Parkes as the authors of the material.

November 22, 2015 (Advent 2)
John 18:33-37, key verse 34a (NLT):  “Is this your own question…”
Two-word meditation:  Practice Discernment

Leader:  For hundreds of years, our Jewish ancestors waited for the promised Messiah, the one who would come in God’s name and power, one in the line of kings, one who would be greater than David, one who would restore Israel to it’s former glory.

John the Baptist, in the order of the prophets, called on the people to confess their  sins, to repent, and to look to one who was more powerful than he. But the ways of God are mysterious and unfathomable to the human mind. While we searched for one who would lead an army, sit on a throne, and reign over a nation, God was putting two microscopic cells together in a woman’s womb. While we were combing through the genealogies of heroes and palace families, God was spreading a little straw in a splintering manger. While we were seeking power from above in places of power here below, God was lifting up the anonymous and silencing the authorities.

As we light the candle for the second Sunday in Advent, we remember how we have often followed a misguided majority rather than a faithful few.

People: We remember Jesus saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Leader:  Like Pilate, our hearts—when we listen for God’s spirit within—tell us what we know is right.

People: Like Pilate, we brush up against the Truth of the Gospel; and we seek answers from Jesus.

Leader: On this second Sunday of Advent, we embrace the need for us to practice discernment, to recognize the nagging questions arising within us, and to be wary of where the crowds may lead us.

People: We will listen for the truth. We will heed the voice of Jesus.

All: Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come!

Amy Persons Parkes  & Gayle Youmans © 2015

 

The Obit

*I have asked my ex-spouse, with whom I have a congenial relationship, for permission to publish this piece. However, due to the nature of the content and the unfortunate possibility that some might post inappropriate comments, I have turned off comments for this reflection. Thank you for understanding.*

The book of eulogies I have written would not welcome an obituary on my marriage. But if the book would share a page for two, I would start with the end. I would choose the inspirational scripture, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” It’s a Proverb. And, true, for me.

Then I would write of all the virtues gained in a marriage lived and learned; and I would leave out the distasteful parts, the hidden arguments and the tension which ran into our gutters, stewing and restless, sloshing in the sewer of committed relationship. I would remind the gathered congregation of all this is good to come from such a union, and I would bid them make their peace and release into the hands of God the possibility of healing in that life. I would offer them the school pictures of my children and ask them to focus love and hope and kindness on a future yet to unfold. I would ask them to put aside any wandering curiosity to know the nature of the disease or the ill effects on the deceased. Rather, let it go, dears; let the mortality of the marriage be what it is. Decaying, the shell of what once gave life, now returns to the dust on my TV and the sand on the front stoop. From this dust, I believe, God made Eve and her Adam.

Wait Actively

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In an effort to be intentional about celebrating Advent and Christmas more fully, as outlined by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, Discipleship Ministries (United Methodist Church), in the United Methodist Worship blog post Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/16 , my congregation will begin to observe Advent Sunday, November 15. The “new” fourth Sunday of Advent will be December 6.  We are following the lectionary for these Sundays, as they already exist. Using the Gospel Lessons, Gayle (the Chairperson of our Worship Committee) selected key phrases from different translations of the Bible and paired the phrases with two words that will be used for silent meditation at the beginning of worship. Using these phrases and two-word meditations as inspiration, I am writing Advent Wreath Lighting Liturgies for our Advent observance.  If you would like to use them in worship, please feel free; however, I do ask that you acknowledge Gayle Youmans and Amy Persons Parkes as the authors of the material.

November 15, 2015 (Advent 1)
Mark 13: 1-8, key verse 8b (NIV):  “These are the beginnings of birth pains.”
Two-word meditation:  Wait Actively

Advent Wreath Lighting Liturgy (First Sunday)

Leader:
As any expectant parents know, preparation for the life to come begins long before a baby is born or an adopted child is brought home. The cries of a newborn are the harvest of seeds sewn from our inscrutable longing for life to continue after we die.

As she enters the front hall of her new home, the first smack of light-up superhero shoes on the laminate floor is not the beginning of new life for an adopting family.  Those brave, expectant steps were preceded by hours of interviews, reams of paperwork, and thousands of prayers to the Almighty for a way to open up, for a social worker to approve, and for relatives to accept.

So, too, on this first Sunday of Advent, we wait actively for Christ to come again to make all that is wrong, right. We wait actively for a new creation – a new heaven and a new earth – to be brought forth from this broken and imperfect place we inhabit. In a world where hunger pains ache in the stomachs of millions, where the thirst for power outstrips our desire to provide clean water for the parched lips of entire nations, we long for Christ to appear and with finality heal the wounds of God’s whole creation.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we light a candle reflecting the disciples’ question, our question…

People: “Tell us, when will these things happen?” (Mark 13:4a)

Leader:  We light this candle as a sign that we are preparing, even now, for all things to be made new in Christ’s final coming. We do not sit and wring our hands over what cannot be done. We wait actively by refraining from evil, doing good, and seeking God in worship and prayer.

People: We wait actively.

Leader: We light this candle to remind us of all that is yet to be fulfilled, of the frustrations and challenges that lie ahead, remembering what Jesus said:

People: “These are the beginnings of birth pains.” (Mark 13:8b)

All: Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Amy Persons Parkes © 2015

Which Bird Will Fly?

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“What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’
“‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.
“The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.
Which one of these two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first one.” Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you.
                                                  Matthew 21:28-31 (Common English Bible)

We have no greater threat to our life with God than this: an inconsistency between what we say and what we do. We cannot afford to be mockingbirds who blurt out melodies of faith arising from pretend experience.  Let what we say be naked doubt or pylons of assurance, but may we stray far from an impostor’s song.

The greater threat to a life lived in peace with God is not whether we confess belief.  Rather, the greater threat is whether or not we act consistently with our confessions.

“Are you able?” Jesus asks.

“Yes, Lord, we are able!” we answer, right alongside of Peter and Judas and the other ten who, in fact, were not able.

I like words.  I want words.  I want to hear them pass across my consciousness and disrupt the quiet unease I feel when no word is there.  I yearn for the distraction of a word, the engagement of a word. I fear, too quickly, I jump full sail into the words which dribble from my loose lips, but no paper towel can whisk away the mess I often make with my words.

If I am to say a word, may the word be full – full of my heart, full of my mind, full of my body.

If I am to form a word and let it fly out of me into the wide open world, let it be like this:
The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.