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Sermon transcript for December 15, 2013

What Isaiah Saw--Everlasting Joy
Isaiah 35:1-10
Belmont UMC—December 15, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

If you are just joining us in the Advent Season, the theme for this season is “What Isaiah Saw” and we have been exploring the visions of the prophet, the visions of God for the future of creation and for all of us. We are invited to live toward these images given by the prophet.

Isaiah saw miraculous and redemptive reversals: a dry desert will blossom with flowers because there will be streams of water there, the weak hands will be strengthened, the feeble knees will be made firm, the fearful heart will be calmed, the eyes of those who are blind will be opened, the ears of those who cannot hear will be unstopped, the lame person will leap like a deer, those who are exiled will find a way home because God will create a safe highway for their passage, and sorrow and sighing will be turned to everlasting joy. (Notice this subtle reversal--that even “sighing” will flee away.)

Isaiah saw hope that God was coming and God would bring healing and redemption to a broken world. That is the message of Advent:  Behold your God is coming and the God of divine reversals will turn things around. God will make a way when it appears there is no way.

Most scholars agree that there was more than one Isaiah because of the time span covered and the different writing styles found throughout this book of the Bible. Scholars think Isaiah 35 belongs to Second Isaiah or later, which would mean that the chapter has been placed earlier than it belongs. Why does it appear in this place? Barbara Lundblad imagines, “The Spirit hovered over the text and over the scribes: ‘Put it here,’ breathed the Spirit, ‘before anyone is ready. Interrupt the narrative of despair.’” (

Interrupt the narrative of despair. What narrative is that? Looking back to chapter 34 and we find vengeance, destruction, and environmental chaos. “Edom’s streams will be turned to pitch, its dust into sulfur, and its land will become burning pitch. Night and day won’t be extinguished; its smoke will go up forever. From generations to generation it will lay waste; no one will ever pass through it again.” (34:9-10) 

Interrupt the despair with these words of hope in chapter 35: “Waters will spring in the desert and streams in the wilderness. The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground, fountains of water.” (35:6b-7a) Interrupt the despair with these words placed out of time.

There are plenty of images of despair in our world today and you don’t need me to list them here for you. Pick up any Sunday paper and you’ll find enough despair to go around.

And here, out of place, out of order, comes a message that brims over with hope. Here, deep into Advent, comes a message that sounds like springtime after a dark winter, like Easter at the end of a long season of Lent, like the ultimate divine reversal, like resurrection!

In this season we remember that Jesus was born into a world that was bleak, as the people of Israel were living under the oppression and domination of Rome. Luke tells us that at the time of John the Baptist, the people were on tiptoe with expectation; they were on the edge of their seats, anticipating the arrival of a Messiah, the arrival of hope, the arrival of one who might interrupt their despair.

How do we live into the language of this Isaiah text? How do we live toward God’s dream of a world of reversals, of a world where those who are lame can leap like the deer, and those who are deaf are able to hear or those who are blind are made to see? We might begin to look at those who are disabled in a new way. Some use the words “differently abled” and I like those words.

Chuck Campbell taught preaching classes at Columbia Seminary in Georgia. He required students in one of his classes to lead worship at the Open Door Shelter for homeless people in downtown Atlanta. One day he was leading worship in front of the shelter, amid the noise of rush-hour traffic. After the call to worship and a song, Chuck’s plans were interrupted. He said, “I noticed one homeless man waving to me and pointing to himself. I was surprised when I saw him for the man can neither hear nor speak and is normally reserved.”

But there he was, eager to do something. He stepped into the middle of the circle, bowed his head in silence and began to sign a hymn for us. It was beautiful, like a dance. . . In that moment our notions of “abled” and “disabled” were turned upside down. The rest of us had been shouting to be heard, but the noise was no problem for our friend. . . Our worship became a token of the resurrection in the midst of the powers of death, a glimpse of God’s beloved community.” Even Isaiah couldn’t have imagined the glory of that moment in downtown Atlanta as the hands of the speechless were singing for joy.” (Charles L. Campbell, The Word before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching, 123-124)

In one church I served a family arrived with a son who suffered from a severe form of autism. He did not communicate, seemed to be in his own world, and sometimes he was a bit out of control. When he was having a bad day, he would make loud outbursts. They had not felt welcomed in the church they had previously attended because of Eric’s outbursts. I watched this community of faith as they reached out to this family with love, with offers of help and with patience.

The boy would be very calm when he came up for Holy Communion and as he received the bread and dipped it into the cup. A couple of Sunday mornings his mother called me and said, “We’re having a difficult morning. Could you take a minute to serve Eric communion in your office this morning?” I recall one Sunday morning when the mom brought Eric into my office. She was pulling the reluctant boy by the arm and he was resisting. Eric was often completely lost in whatever world he was experiencing. But when he saw the chalice and the bread on the table by my desk, he became calm and received the elements and looked me in the eye. In his eye I experienced the presence of God. It was a holy moment and I couldn’t find words to describe this experience but Isaiah did. It felt like waters breaking forth in the wilderness and like streams flowing in the desert. It felt like burning sand becoming a pool of refreshing water, and springs of water bursting out of thirsty ground.

In Isaiah this hope always comes in the midst of despair. And in Isaiah hope always looks like people being welcomed home again. It looks like the hospitality that only the beloved community can offer.

In The Bible Makes Sense, by Walter Brueggemann, he explores recurring themes of the Bible. In the chapter “From Death to Life” Brueggemann writes that the Bible’s notion of life and death are very different from ours. He writes, “Life means to be significantly involved in the community of caring, meaning, and action. Death means to be excluded from such a community or denied access to its caring, meaning, or action. (109-112)

Brueggemann notes that in the Gospel of Mark there is a story (Mark 5:2) about the man who is called Legion because he is so lost in mental illness. He is assigned to live among the tombs, among the dead, his healing comes at the hands of Jesus and what does Jesus do to complete the healing, he sends him home. His homecoming is a resurrection story; it is the ultimate divine reversal; it is like blossoms in the desert; it is everlasting joy in the face of sorrow.

Where do we hear God calling us in this Isaiah passage?

May we as a church hear the call to be a word out of place--a joyful, hopeful word that interrupts the narrative of despair in our world!

And if we consider the context of the environmental chaos of Isaiah 34, may we hear God’s call to live in ways that care for creation, that reduces our carbon footprint and be advocates for systemic changes that help recreate a healthy planet and reduce global warming!

This passage speaks to our hospitality to those who may be differently abled and calls us to we see each person as a gift from God, from whom we can learn and grow and come to know God better.

Isaiah saw people returning from exile; he saw this, “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way.” (v. 8a) May we be that safe highway on which those who have felt exiled  from their peoples, their home and even their churches, can find their way home. A few months back, we asked the question, “Where do you go when you can not go home?” May we, Belmont, be a home to those who have no other place to call home!

And then, my dear friends, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.”

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”


Sermon transcript for December 8, 2013

Belmont UMC—December 8, 2013
What Do You Really Want?
A Sermon on Isaiah 11:1-10
Rev. Dr. Pam Hawkins

Audio - MP3

There is a story about a pastor who went on retreat to a place called the Magic Monastery. It goes like this:

There’s a monk there who will never give you advice, but only a question. I sought him out.
“I am a parish pastor,” I said. “I’m here on retreat. Could you give me a question?”
“Ah, yes,” he answered. “My question is, What do they need?”
I came away disappointed. I spent a few hours with the question, writing out answers, but finally I went back to him.
“Excuse me. Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. Your question has been helpful, but I wasn’t so much interested in thinking about my congregation during this retreat. Rather I wanted to think seriously about my own spiritual life. Could you give me a question for my own spiritual life?”
“Ah, I see. Then my question is, What do they REALLY need?”

Let us pray:
O God of the prophets,
Of Isaiah and Jeremiah,
Of Ezekiel and Micah,
Of Deborah and Elijah,
Of Martin and Nelson,
Of those prophets among us,
For them, we give you thanks,

As beautiful as are the words of our reading today from the Book of Isaiah, at the time that the prophet speaks them, his beloved city of Jerusalem is in ugly shambles. Tensions between power-mongers of the 8th century lead from one destructive war to another. Hope is waning for a future without fear, restlessness, and anguish, because the people of Jerusalem, worn-out from years of oppression and conflict, are giving in to the ways of their oppressors.

If we were to read the chapters in Isaiah before our passage for today, we would learn that the abused are becoming the abusers right in front of Isaiah’s eyes, and in the transformation of their souls from contagious hope to contaminating despair, the people of Israel begin to lose themselves in self-interest and self-gratification.

In the past, God’s covenant people were known for their faithful, humane, and peaceful life together. But now, they are just like their aggressors – fickle, corrupt, and greedy. Once they trusted God to provide for their needs; now they distrust anything and anyone that comes between them and what they want, which may make our prophetic reading from the 11th chapter all the more relevant for us in a season when our days and nights are punctuated by the question “What do you really want for Christmas?” And we make our lists and notes, spending hours online or in line trying to pinpoint and satisfy the wants of people we know to no end.

In the background of our Advent living, God’s prophet Isaiah warns the people of Israel about the seductive power that want can have on the human spirit if “want” gets out of control. And in Jerusalem, God’s people are out of control because they want what they want no matter the cost to anyone else – especially, according to the prophet, the cost to the weak and vulnerable and expendable in the community.

What Isaiah sees before he gives us the beautiful words of today’s reading is God’s vision of the kingdom on earth coming undone, off-kilter, out of balance right before his eyes. The people are forgetting and neglecting God’s vision where the needs of every human life are to be equally valued. What Isaiah sees is a marketplace with enough for all, stripped bare by the-ones-who-can. He sees inns with room for everyone, filled up by privileged first-come, first-served. He sees children staring out from the safety of their homes at other children who are homeless. After all, we just never know what some homeless child might try to do to us.

What Isaiah sees as he looks around his beloved city of Jerusalem is heart-breaking for anyone who remembers God’s holy covenant with the people of Israel. It’s heart-breaking, and according to the prophets of the time, it’s making God angry because God will not tolerate injustice and oppression. Nor will God tolerate corruption from within the community of faith, which is exactly what unfolds around Isaiah.  And so, just a few passages before our reading, as one Biblical scholar writes, Isaiah “gives expression to God’s anger, aroused by social injustice. . .” and then our prophet testifies in verse after verse that there will be “a coming judgment where accounts will be severely settled.”

Yet, it is into this messy, devastating, life-eroding circumstance that Isaiah brings another word to us. It is as though the prophet takes a big, deep breath, or flings a door wide open so that light and air can rush in to us again when all was beginning to seem hopeless and doomed for God’s people. “A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; . . .”  Isaiah is not giving up hope. . . “a branch will sprout from his roots,” . . . the prophet still believes that God will keep the promise of the covenant despite the infidelity of Israel. Isaiah predicts a new leader will come, a new future rooted and grounded in God’s covenant with David.

“The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD. . .” Line after hopeful line, our prophetic reading for this day unfolds. At last, the needy will be judged with righteousness. The suffering ones will finally receive equity for their losses. Wolf and lamb; leopard and goat; calf, young lion, and child – all will be at peace together. It is a beautiful, peaceable, desirable vision of a kingdom, is it not? And it has become one of the most beloved Advent messages of hope that we pass down from generation to generation, as it should be.

But beware – before we get lulled into an Advent nostalgia and romanticism about this peaceable kingdom of God – take note that for God’s kingdom to arrive in trustful rest, where even prey and predators live in peace, we, you and I, must first be “destabilized.” “God’s promises [for a new world order] constitute a deep threat to the way we have organized the world,” writes Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.  For the way we have organized the world is based on what we want, rather than on what God needs.
You see, God needs to usher in a new creation, which is just what Isaiah’s prophesy describes:

God needs a new ordering of our social reality
in which privilege will attend to poverty;
in which power will submit to pain;
in which advantage will be given up for compassion;

in which old priorities will be repositioned in order to let in people long kept out of God’s beloved community as we have wanted it to be.

And for God to do this new thing in our midst, we must stop doing some of the old. We must stop using privilege to get what we want.  We must stop wielding power to cause harm. We must stop taking advantage of weakness. We must stop keeping people out or down or uncertain of their place alongside us on God’s holy mountain or God’s holy sanctuary or pew or pulpit or street corner or school roster.

For God’s new creation to be fulfilled, we must stop asking for what we want and begin doing what God needs. And in this season of Advent, God needs us to help “birth a new wonder”  in the world,” a new social order, a new future of hope for all people. May our response to God at and through Belmont United Methodist Church stand as a signal to the peoples that we believe in a God of timeless, endless, prophetic hope for all people on earth.

May it be so.  Amen.


Adapted from Tales of a Magic Monastery by Theophane the Monk (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1981), 42.
Source unknown.
Walter Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 87.
Adapted from Walter Brueggemann, The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness, ed. Charles L. Campbell, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 60-61.
Brueggemann, The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness, 61.


Sermon transcript for December 1, 2013

“Going Up To the Mountain of God”
Isaiah 2:1-5 Advent Theme: “What Isaiah Saw”
Belmont UMC—December 1, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

Let’s begin today with some thoughts about the theme of our Advent Season and that theme is “What Isaiah Saw!” First let me give credit for this theme to Barbara Lundblad. Several of us had the honor of hearing her speak in May of this year and she introduced the idea of focusing on the visions of Isaiah during Advent. You will note that the words of the doxology we are using throughout the season were written by Barbara Lundblad and the words change each week. She has given us permission to use these words.

The text today begins with these words, “The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. . .” (verse 1) It does seem odd; the idea of seeing a word, rather than hearing a word, but the word Isaiah saw is gathered up in images and visions and ones mind has to see it to capture what it means and where it is taking us.

Throughout the season you are invited to participate by photographing images that relate to the themes of each day. Those are posted on our website and are found in the Advent guides. These images can be shared on social media sites and they will help all of us to engage in spiritual reflection.

I would also encourage you to read the texts each week and reflect on them. What do you see as hear the words that Isaiah saw? Take your time. Use lectio divina, reading each passage three times, pausing and reflecting on one image between each reading. Use this practice as a respite during this season that can become hectic and frenzied. My friends, we need Advent. We need to take our time on the way to Jesus’ birth. We need to spend some time with Isaiah in order to fully appreciate what his birth means to us.

And then, as you read these texts, ponder this idea:  If this is what Isaiah saw concerning God’s vision, God’s future, where do you hear God calling you, where do we hear calling us as a church. The text today invites us to follow the vision: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. . .” (v. 3) “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (v. 5) Are we willing to go where the visions take us?

What did Isaiah see? Isaiah saw that in God’s future there will be a mountain, a high and holy place, and all people are streaming toward it. See them making there way up the mountain, people of every nation, culture, and language—a new community being gathered there. From the mountain they are able to see what God has in store for them.

It is a place of divine instruction—the people of Isaiah’s time are in need of divine instruction and direction and tired of false teaching and false direction from their culture’s gods (sounds contemporary, doesn’t it?)

Marcus Borg suggests that one those cultural gods is individualism, the kind that that says “I am self-made!” but these images from Isaiah are images of a diverse and peaceful community moving and working together. In our culture we are tempted to climb the mountain by ourselves, go to the gift shop and buy a t-shirt that reads I CLIMBED THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD! But in God’s future it’s all about living in community. (Patheos, The Progressive Christian, blog, “The Cultural Captivity of Christianity:  The Poisoning of the Church” November 19, 2013, Marcus Borg)

Even during this season we struggle to move toward God when our culture calls us to the gods the marketplace and to rampant consumerism. We are always let down by culture’s lure.

In Tennessee Williams’ play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” the Southern patriarch Big Daddy says, “A man buys and he buys and he buys and the reason he buys is because he hopes one of his purchases will be eternal, which it never is.” (from an unreliable source: my memory)

From the mountain of God we experience God’s justice, God’s arbitration, and all people are drawn toward the mountain. “And they shall beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools and nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.”

What do with do with this beautiful image of God’s future peace when we live in a different reality? These hopeful words from Isaiah are carved into the wall outside the United Nations Building, but what do they mean to us in a present world where hundreds of thousands have been killed in Syria and central Africa? Even as I speak people are falling victim to the violence of war. In chapter 1 of Isaiah there are images of violence, bribery, desolation and trampling on the poor.

Is Isaiah speaking of something that is only in the far off future, the sweet by and by? They are images of days to come, but the invitation of Isaiah is in the present. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord, now, come now. We pray for peace and justice in our world and we work toward peace and justice in our world now because God has invited to begin living toward God’s future. 

During this Advent Season I would invite you to look for places where God’s vision for the future is becoming a reality. I follow Shane Claiborne on facebook and twitter. Shane is the author of The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President and was the Belmont All Church Retreat leader a year or two before I arrived here. He posted photos from around the world of weapons, rifles and pistols, being refashioned as shovels and spades and used in agriculture. He posted images of women, mothers, whose children had been victims of senseless gun violence, using sledge hammers to beat pistols into spades.

Barbara Lundblad reminded us of the killing fields of Cambodia, where in 1996, 4,320 people were killed by land minds. Now dozens of programs are ridding the country of these minds and farmers can be seen in the fields where there are now rice paddies, green and lush.

She reminded us of the work of Marion Wright Edelman and The Children’s Defense Fund and their refusal to be quiet on the issue of gun violence in our country. (Lecture, Festival of Homiletics, May 2013) And a new group, Moms Demand Action, formed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, seeks sensible gun laws in our country and is unrelenting in their effort to turn weapons into iron plows or into the local police stations. These groups are living toward God’s future vision.

Paul Simpson Duke reminds us, “At St. Louis University is a small Jesuit chapel that is creatively lit. The light fixtures are made of twentieth-century cannon shells, converted. Emptied of their lethal contents, they now hold light for people to pray by. In such light we pray and live. And having laid our own weapons down, we bear witness to the promise of greater transformations in the days to come.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4, p.7)

What did Isaiah see? What do you see? During this Advent Season look for signs of peace in the world, glimpses of God’s future. And may we together hear God calling us, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”


Sermon transcript for November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving, With a Conscience
Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9
Belmont UMC—November 24, 2013
Ken Edwards, preaching

Audio - MP3

We knew the holidays were rushing toward us when we saw Christmas items for sale sometime before Halloween. And a little over a week ago my family began posting on Facebook the items that we would be bringing to a Thanksgiving gathering. We used to just show up with food. The truth is we bring pretty much the same thing every year anyway and we are expected to bring everyone’s favorite dishes, so the Facebook page serves as some pre-holiday internet fellowship and not much more.

I like Thanksgiving Day. I know it comes with some historical baggage that makes some of us uncomfortable. We do remember the Pilgrims who in 1621 had a larger harvest than they had expected and spent three days eating and drinking themselves silly to celebrate. Many in the Native American community see this day as a day of mourning because of the way these new settlers displaced native peoples and shifted the course of their history.

But I like coming together with family for any reason. I like the familiar foods, the fellowship, the catching up, seeing how much the little children have grown since our last visit together, and the sharing of stories around the table. And we are not there around the table to thank the Pilgrims but to thank God who loves us in spite of our flaws and failings.

As a people of God, thanksgiving and deep gratitude are in the fabric of our beings, so much so that we are invited in the scriptures to give thanks in everything, even when our mouths struggle to form the words because of hardship and calamity. This means so much more to us than simply “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.”

In a Thanksgiving sermon Peter Gomes said, “God is. We are. In spite of our fumbles and because of God’s grace we are not daunted by the troubles of this age, nor are we fearful of what is to come. We do not bless God for our wealth, our health, or our feeble wisdom. We bless God that God is, that we are, and that his promise and love shall be with us when time itself shall be no more.” (“Thanksgiving: Redeeming the Familiar,” Sermons-Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, p. 234)  We are God’s people and we are thankful people. We are blessed to be the people of this unfailing God.

We have another Thanksgiving table around which we gather. It is this table (the communion table). The thanksgiving meal we share at this table is called by at least three different names: The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion and The Eucharist.

Calling this meal The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples the night before he was crucified. It was the Passover Meal at which Jewish people prepare symbolic and meaningful foods and tell their story. “Why is this night different from all other nights?” someone asks, and then the story of liberation from slavery and hardship in Egypt is retold and the people remember the faithfulness of God and give thanks.

The name “Holy Communion” reminds us of our fellowship and kinship with all people everywhere who share in this common meal. It reminds us of the blessing of the local and global community of the faithful.

Until I was an adult I had not heard the word “Eucharist” but I like this word because it comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. It reminds us of The Great Thanksgiving we pray before sharing in this meal. And what do we do in that prayer? We tell our story again—the story of the creating and faithful God and the specific story of one night when Jesus gathered with his disciples. Our story begins like this, “On the night in which he gave himself up for us, Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body which is given for you.” And then he said, “Remember.” “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The thanksgiving/communion table in my home church has these words carved into the front of it, “In Remembrance of Me.” Remember; don’t forget! Thanksgiving is remembering the faithfulness of God.

Thankfulness and deep gratitude are transformative. They cause us to be more attentive to the world around us. I think I shared a spiritual practice that I do once in awhile. I write down three things for which I am thankful in my journal every day for several months, and they have to be different everyday. It challenges me to be thankful for simple and particular things, not the only the broad sweep of creation, of family, of health and of friends, but for the kind text message I received from an old friend late one afternoon, or the way the sunlight plays on the yellow leaves of the ginkgo tree outside my office, or the taste of good coffee on a quiet Saturday morning. 

C.S. Lewis and a friend were talking about worship and gratitude as they walked in a forest with a small stream running through it. Lewis said that prayer should begin with summing up “everything we believe about the goodness and greatness of God, by thinking about creation and redemption and all the blessings of life.” But his friend, objected to this abstract approach, turned to the brook beside them and splashed his face and hands in the little waterfall, and asked, “Why not begin with this?” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, p. 116)

There is something about deep gratitude that makes us fully aware of the world around us, attentive to what God is doing and better able to hear where God is calling us.

And gratitude and thanksgiving transform us in other ways as well. As people of faith we are not able to gather around tables of thanksgiving feasts without being fully aware of those who will have little to eat. As we gather around the dining room in my parents’ home on Thursday I will be aware of tornadoes that went just north of their home last week. I will be thinking about people in Washington, Illinois who lost their homes during that same storm, and have no table to gather around this year. As I embrace my wife and am thankful for her, I think of Jimmy down the street. His wife died suddenly this summer and I need to go by and check on him again.

We may see this level of thanksgiving as a curse as much as a blessing. We cannot escape our conscience that has been enlivened by the Holy Spirit. This is not about upper middle class guilt but what the Apostle Paul refers to as having the eyes of our hearts enlightened. I like the Common English Bible version here. “I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call.” (Ephesians 1:18)

I recall a dear friend named Bea who was part of a small Bible study group I led on Wednesday nights. We had taken a break for the summer and had gladly come back together. We went around the room and shared stories from our time away, stories of adventures, trips, gardening, of time with children and grandchildren. Bea told us about a trip she had taken to the Caribbean. She said their guide took them through some of the poorest areas of Jamaica and she exclaimed, “Why would he think we would want to see all of this suffering on vacation?” And then tears formed in her eyes and rolled down her face and she said, “This summer I learned that we cannot go on vacation from our faith. Our conscience goes with us and I have not been able to get this suffering out of my mind. We’ve had long conversations at home about how we can help the poorest among us.”

Our youngest son will be home in a few days and we look forward to seeing him. Our sons have been blessed to grow up in a home where they have had many opportunities. They attended art classes, they went to summer camps, took swimming classes and piano lessons. They played soccer, basketball and lacrosse. They went on nice vacations and school field trips. We made sure they had opportunities for enrichment.

Deep gratitude for my children may have something to do with my love for ministries like Project Transformation, which provide learning and enrichment opportunities for the underserved children of our community. We have learned from Brighter Days after school program and summer program how much this enrichment means to these children, who would spend countless hours inside apartments and homes being idle and bored. I imagine that the kingdom of God looks a bit like Project Transformation where childhood illiteracy is reduced and children are equipped to learn and grow. The kingdom looks like empty inner city churches revived by the life of children who have come together for this wonderful ministry. The kingdom looks like young adults serving children and discerning where God is calling them in their lives.

It’s an accident of timing that Thanksgiving Day comes so close to Advent and Christmas. We will be making some decisions over the next weeks about purchasing gifts and how much we will participate in the consumerism of the holidays. I doubt I can talk some of you out of that, but I would invite you to think of how you will live out of deep gratitude over these weeks. Maybe this kind of real thanksgiving will allow us to see God in new and profound ways through this often hectic season. Where will this gratitude take you over the weeks ahead as we prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth?



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