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

 

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Emptying Power

Risen Christ,
with adoration and awe, we stand before an empty tomb
with thanksgiving and gratitude, we bow before an empty cross.
Help us to recognize the barren cross and the open tomb
as symbols of your victory over suffering and death.
Grant that we may know the power of your resurrecting love
breathing life into our dying,
sprouting seeds of love within our barren hearts,
and sweeping away the cobwebs of resignation and apathy in our minds.
Risen One, show us in the emptiness of our lives,
the fullness of your glory.  Amen.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2015

Ripe and Falling

fig

Jesus answered him, “Because I said, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?  You shall see greater things than these.”     John 1:50

For Nathaniel’s sake, I hope the figs weren’t ripe and falling.  We had a fig tree in my back yard when I was young, and the ripe figs squished between my toes when I ran bare-footed through the grass.

Being seen by Jesus under the fig tree, changed Nathaniel for the good.  Perhaps, Nathaniel was smiling or dreaming; maybe he was weeping and lost.  No matter.  Jesus saw.  Because Jesus saw Nathaniel, Nathaniel would see.  Nathaniel would see even greater things.  Nathaniel would see even greater things because the sight of God is sight shared, not sight hoarded.

I, too, am seen.  Even when I do not wish to be seen.  Even when I long to be blanketed by unknowing.  I have no invisibility cloak for this life.

Neither do you.

Like Nathaniel, we are seen.  We are seen not through the indicting stare of a self-righteous judge.  Rather, we are seen by the inquisitive and inviting eyes of a welcoming God, a welcoming God who will share God’s sight with us.  Then, we shall see.

Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree.”

Well, Jesus, you might as well have said –

“I saw you furiously washing the dishes and resenting every single popping bubble.”

“I saw you sleep deprived and blindly probing every corner of the crib for that blasted pacifier.”

“I saw you praying over urine, when the minus never became a plus.”

For all of life that we thought was unseen, because we believed the moment was too private, too petty, or too ordinary to cross anyone else’s line of sight, a compassionate God has witnessed all of it.  ALL of it.

For Nathaniel’s sake, I hope the figs weren’t ripe and falling; but just in case they were, something tells me that Jesus would not have been put-off by someone covered in ripe fig guts.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2014

An All Saints Prayer

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Laity Sunday in worship at Saint Andrew United Methodist Church.  The laity of our church organized and led worship while I bore witness to their faith as it was proclaimed through the reading of Scripture, in song, the preached word, and during prayer.  Sitting in the pew, pondering the gift of working alongside the saints of the church, I was awash in gratitude, gratitude for the many saints of the church who have shaped and formed me in the way of Christ.  How would I know the love of God if someone had not loved me in God’s name?  How would I know the humility and generosity of Christ if someone had not graciously served me, as a child in Sunday school, as a teen in youth ministry, and as a young adult discerning my way in the world?

On Laity Sunday, the pastoral prayer was written and prayed by St. Andrew’s incoming Lay Leader Vivian Juarez.  As an ordained person, I have been the default “pray-er” for many fellowship dinners, Sunday school gatherings, committee meetings, sick rooms, and celebrations.  When I heard Vivian’s prayer, with thanksgiving I remembered those who taught me how to pray as Jesus did.  For all the saints who from their labors rest, let us give praise to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Vivian’s prayer:

Gracious and loving God, You are whom we seek.  You are our comfort and our shelter.  We find refuge in you; you give us strength and unconditional love.  Without you, we could not stand.  We praise you for the wonder of your mighty love; we sing for joy at the work of your hands. Lord God, there is none like you!

We are blessed beyond measure.  Your son and our Lord gave his life that we might live eternally with you.  We are called to be your people, to show your love and light in this world. Yet, sometimes we forget to follow Christ’s teachings – we worry about things we shouldn’t, we act possessively over our little area of the world, we forget to treat others with kindness, we talk when we should listen, we hold grudges, and we don’t forgive.  Lord Jesus, we need to mend our ways.  You forgive us for our mistakes and wrong doings. Because we are a forgiven people, we have to exemplify your grace by forgiving others; we must let go of the grudges we hold, the possessiveness we feel, and the worries that we hold.  Help us to trust in you that just as the flower in the field and the bird in the sky, you will take care of us. Help us to understand that everything is yours; we own nothing. Give us courage in the face of illness and devastation.

We lift up to you the names of those we have mentioned. . .

May your spirit and your love be with each of these persons and families.  May your healing presence bring peace and comfort.  We give you thanks and praise for the joys in our lives, and we remember to pray as Christ Jesus taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

© Vivian Juarez 2013

The Prodigal Pain

“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.”                          Mark 14:35

Walk toward the pain, and you will find life.  Swallow the shallow thinking that bids you turn and run.  Refute the fear that declares you are not strong enough to endure the crucible of this moment.

Walk toward the pain and let it unveil the particulars of your life so you may see with clarity and dignity the reality of this moment.  Walk toward the pain and offer it your attentive ear as it relates what you most need to hear.

Pain is merely a messenger of the Spirit of God who wishes to convey wisdom.  Pain is a child of your heart which can be held and comforted and healed under the gaze of God’s love within you.  Pain, attended to, will be transformed.  Pain bathed in grace can be an instrument to resurrect what lies putridly decaying in your soul.

So, Friend, look to the Pain of your heart, comforted and guided by the life of a suffering Christ.  Listen to the Pain of your existence; and as he comes down the long road home to you, call out to him, “Welcome!”

In compassion, run with open arms toward him and embrace him.  Bring out the finest robe of your acceptance and clothe him.  Adorn him with the splendor of surrender.  And in celebration of what he has to teach, feast at the table of Pain’s wisdom.  Once Pain has disclosed the whole sordid, aching story, how will you respond?

For you had lost him, and now he has been found.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

*photo from Makezine.com 

God in the Stranger

a prayer based on Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan

Merciful God, many are the times that we have been known
to pass by on the other side of the weary and wounded.
Numerous are the days, Stranger God, that we have chosen the road of convenience
over the road of conviction.
Faithful One, enliven within us a Samaritan spirit,
that we might respond with courage in the face of our fear,
that we might risk our certain agendas for unexpected grace,
that we might give ourselves over to a generosity more bountiful
than the smallness of our single-minded self-preservation.
Break open our chained hearts and draw back the drapes of our darkened eyes
that we may go and do as you have done.  Amen.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2013

Healing

When the blister heals, water stings the opening.
I itch after the sunburn eases.
As the scrape on my right foot heals,
I feel bumpy scabs tighten across my skin.
And I’m wondering, Healing God,
about the pink and purple
and yellow and green
dyeing my healing bruise.

By what change, what beauty
what discomfort, what surprise,
will you heal me, God?

On second thought,
like the vaccination needle
maybe it’s better
if I don’t know
what’s coming next.

Great Physician,
Compassionate Nurse,
Ever-present Attendant,
do what you think is best.
Comfort the fever of my resistance.
Dress the wound of my pride,
And cover the nakedness of my deepest pain.
In and through Christ, I pray.  Amen.

© Amy Persons Parkes 2011

Written as part of my final project for the Two Year Academy of Spiritual Formation #30