Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Prophet of Advent First Wednesday of Advent - B

"O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!"
(Isa. 2:5)

you reached into
the dusk of chaos
and brought out the sun
to warm me on a winter's day;
the moon to illuminate my path
on an evening's walk;
the stars to be my companions
during a sleepless night.

you stretched out your arms
toward the twilight of death,
rolling away the stone
covering it's heart,
so that i could be set free.

you found me huddled
in the murky corner of my despair,
and,
taking me by the hand,
pulled me to my feet,
and we went off skipping
into your kingdom.

i will walk in your light,
my Lord,
i will walk.
Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - First Tuesday of Advent B

Read Isaiah 1:28 - 2:4

You won't find some of these verses printed on a Christmas card. You won't find them used in any of the Christmas carols, or anthems sung by choirs in church.

After all, who wants to be told at this time of year that God comes with judgment. If God wants to come as a pretty, little baby - great! If God wants to come as a jolly Santa Claus - even better! If God wants to come and give us all that 'stuff' the world tells us we deserve - super!

But judgment? No thank you, God. You can just stay home if that is what you are carrying with you as you come to us. We don't like the word, and we don't like the feeling we get when we hear the word. After all, if we are judged, we know that we will be found guilty.

Fortunately for us, Isaiah (and God) never let judgement be the last word. That word is hope. Today, the word might be about destruction, about withering away, about a fire that cannot be quenched. But in the days to come, there is hope. Short-term there might be judgement, but in the long run there is God's eternal intention for peace, for unity, for wholeness.

Once again, we are reminded, as we are so often in Scripture, that God has a unique way of keeping time.

In our time, nations will continue to fight one another;
in God's time, they will no longer need to complete
their homework for War College.

In our time, we are taught that greed is good,
that spending beyond our limits is 'priceless';
in God's time, we will learn the way of compassion
and generosity.

In our time, we shall be judged;
in God's good and gracious time,
we shall be saved.

Prayer

Timeless God, may we set aside our watches, our clocks, our calendars, and wait for that good and gracious time you are bringing to us this Advent. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - First Monday of Advent B

Read Isaiah 1:10-20

Worship is a big deal in the church (why else would be fight so much about it?) Our hymns/songs have to be peppy enough to get the blood going, but not contemporary enough to boil the blood; scripture should be read, but not too much (and especially not the passages we don't like); the sermon needs to inspire us, but not to the extent that we might seriously change our lives; and the length has to be just right (so it doesn't interfere with fellowship time).

Like the people who worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem, we take great pride in the worship we offer to God. Which is why what God says through Isaiah is so distressing. Our very best efforts, for God and offered to God, are rejected!

Not just rejected - but it seems that this 'road' to God comes to an abrubt end. We stretch out our hands, and God says, 'I cannot see you.' We offer up prayers, and the response is as if God has become deaf to our words.

But as often happens in Isaiah, in the midst of words of judgment, of disappointment, of the consequences we deserve, we also hear the whispers of hope.

For there is another road, Isaiah tells us - that road less travelled. It's the road paved, not with beautiful songs, or pious words, or good intentions - but paved with good actions, with kindness, with voices lifted up on behalf of others.

We cannot pray, God tells us,
if we are not willing to plead for the widow;

we should not sing,
if we are unable to seek justice for others;

we dare not rejoice,
if we cannot rescue the oppressed;

if we do not learn to do good,
worship does us no good.

Once again, speaking through the prophet of Advent, God makes it very clear: if youwant life, live the way I show you.

Prayer

In this season of too many choices, help us to make the one which leads us to you, Advent God. Let us set aside our meanness, and pick up goodness. Let us lift up our voices for the lost, the least, the little, not just sing carols. Let us stop searching for the best sale prices, but look for the justice everyone needs. In Jesus' name. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Prophet of Advent - First Sunday of Advent B

Read Isaiah 1:1-9

Every Christmas Eve, we read the same passage from Isaiah 9:2-7, about the birth of a child, the one who is born for us: who will counsel us when we are troubled, who will be with us for all time, who will anoint us with the peace which is really the only gift we want every Christmas Day.

But before we can celebrate the birth of the Child, Isaiah wants us to understand why we need this little One, why we need to take the time during the season of Advent for preparation, for reflection, for waiting. Isaiah wants us to be able to appreciate the gift and let it change our lives, not just rip open the wrapping paper, and discard the Child as we move on to another package.

So let's invite Isaiah to be our traveling companion this Advent. He won't be the most pleasant of company at times (just like some family and friends!); he won't always say the right thing or the thing we want to hear (like some folks we know!); he'll say somethings intended to get our attention or under our skin (like other people we know).

But Isaiah will always, always point us to God. Sometimes (usually more often than we like) he will remind us of how we have not kept our part of the covenant. At other times (not as often as we need), he will remind us of God's promises to keep God's part of the covenant. We can always count on Isaiah to be honest, to be blunt - and to be caring and compassionate.

The American poet, Robert Frost, once wrote of the choice one must make between one road or the other. Isaiah, the poet of Advent, knows this is the choice all believers must make every day of their lives. He also knows that to follow God, we must, as Frost says, choose the road that is less travelled - the Advent road - because that is the one which makes the difference in our lives.

Prayer

We begin our journey once again, God of the prophets and pilgrims. Some with reluctance, some with joy,some with questions. Speak to us through Isaiah; speak to us through wonder; speak to us through those who will journey with us. Amen.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, November 18, 2005

Do you want me to read to you?

More years ago than either one of us would want to admit, my mother gave me the gift that, as the phrase goes, keeps on giving.

The gift of words.

She started out by reading to me as I snuggled up in her lap, or lay in bed, safe under the covers, and warmed by the love in her eyes, smile and voice. Then, she began to help me sound out the words for myself, and to discover that these 'things' created from 26 letters could be gateways to the world, challenges to the mind, solace for the lonely, comfort for the grieving.

I cannot think of a moment in my life when I did not have (at least) one book within easy reach. Even in college and seminary, when I should have been focusing on textbooks, I was delving into mysteries, thrillers, novels, biographies.

But my mother also took the time to make sure I was introduced to the Word. And as most folks attest, it was a transforming moment, which continues to shape my life, guide my walk, give me hope, and challenge my unwillingness to let go of my all-too-human desires.

And now, as I share words with people through my writings and preaching; as I seek to introduce others to the Word of hope, of joy, of peace; asI try to challenge the unwillingness of others to let go, I am even more grateful for that gift my mother gave me so long ago when she asked,

"Do you want me to read to you?"

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 14, 2005

Only a dream?

We were talking about prayer yesterday during the education hour, about forms of prayer, 'tools' for prayer, etc.

I mentioned my 'dream' that somehow, in some fashion, the church could offer a prayer room for folks. It doesn't need to be big and it doesn't need to be fancy (after all - a chair, a table with a Bible and a candle would be all the 'furnishings' most of us would need). But it would need to be solely devoted to the purpose of prayer.

Not a room where debates are held, decisions made, and people's toes might be stepped on. No, a room where hurts are offered for healing, where discernment is sought, where relationships are made whole.

Not a room that which would need to be rearranged (reluctantly) so a few people can pray, but then has to be put back into place right away so a meeting can be held. But a room that might sit empty for days on end, but is available and open when it is most needed.

Not a room where cast-off chairs sit, but a room where the outcast can climb up into God's lap and be loved, welcomed, affirmed.

Not a room where boxes filled with dusty records are stored, but a storehouse of prayer, of silence, of wonder, of awe.

Not a room where that old, out-of-tune piano Aunt Sadie gave to the church years ago can be found, but the hill in Bethlehem where the angels first sang; the sheepfold where the Good Shepherd protects his lambs; the living room where our Parent sits looking out the window, longing to spy all of us prodigals trudging wearily home.

Wouldn't it be nice if every church had such a room?

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 07, 2005

One of the reason I put off going to seminary (other than the deep conviction that the phone lines had been crossed when I got the 'call') was my inability with languages other than English, which presented problems of its own.

When I finally did give in to the God-who-is-like-a-tenacious-bulldog and went to seminary, you can imagine my surprise that I not only made it through Greek, but absolutely loved studying Hebrew! In fact, my study of Hebrew gave me a new appreciation for the wonder, the grace, the steadfast love of the God the Chosen revealed to us in the Old Testament. It removed any lingering questions about there being two different gods in the two different testaments.

Take the concept of 'commandment.' I grew up, probably like most folks, believing that the commandments given in the OT, especially the Top Ten, were "orders" given to us by that stern and punishing God who shook the mountains. If I took a candy bar off the shelf, God would turn up the flames in hell a little bit. If I gossiped about a friend, the dial was turned to medium. And if I wanted to sleep in on Sunday instead of going to church - well, I was toast!

Then I learned the Hebrew word 'mitzvah' (which we translate into English as 'commandment'). What a difference! Instead of an order, I discovered a honor and privilege given to us by God who has given us life. Rather than a rule, I found a responsibility that is mine as part of the covenant God has made with me. A burden that was almost impossible to carry became a good deed that I am longing to perform over and over. Grace replaced guilt, love overcame law, faith trumped fear.

No wonder the psalmist could talk about these words being a delight. God gave them to us, not so we would become lawyers, but so we would become lovers.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman