Yesterday I went to the bank, where my “universal banker” was a young immigrant from Afghanistan. When her father died, her mother was left to raise five daughters in a war-torn nation where women have few economic avenues. Her uncles in America sponsored the family’s migration to the U.S. When I commented that her language skill must be an asset at the bank, I learned that she speaks Farsi, Hindi, Russian and English, and she is working on Spanish. Her face shined as she told me how she loves being able to help other immigrants, who don’t speak English. Her story is a story of hope, despite much travail.
Today is Epiphany, the day we honor the foreign (from the East) wise ones who saw a new star appear in the night sky. Believing it to be a sign of great new hope for the world, they followed the star to Jesus. The local king, Herod, wanted them to tell him where the baby was so he could “eliminate” a potential political rival. But, being wise, they returned home by “another way” to avoid Herod; Mary and Joseph secreted the baby Jesus away to Egypt to protect him from the slaughter of the innocents that was to come. This is how hope came into the world in Jesus.
Every season is a season of uncertainty. As people living in an uncertain world, we have a choice to cower in fear, or to step out in faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). When, day by day, we see the fall of ancient cities, mass migration of refugees, racial tensions and violence, the degradation of the natural environment and depletion of natural resources, it takes faith to live in hope. And yet, this is the special calling of people of faith – to live lives of hope despite all evidence to the contrary.
My word of hope for you today springs from an unseen place, where the Holy Spirit speaks to my spirit: God is at work in our lives and in the wide world, nurturing hope, protecting promises, inspiring courage. We are part of God’s plan and promise for the world. In prayer, listen for the still, small voice, watch for the star that shines in the darkness and let them be your strength. Then, be a keeper, a protector, a reflector of hope against all odds. Find ways to keep hope alive in your home, your heart, in your conversations with the people you meet by chance. Be wise, trust the unseen presence of God, and follow where it leads.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Photo Credit: “Hope” by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass, CC BY 2.0.
Herod did his deed early this year – killing and wounding innocents in Aleppo, Berlin, and Zurich; exacting revenge in Ankara; disrupting the Christmas Market in a city still healing from the wounds of war, and the deep divide of THE WALL.
I know the place where the Berlin attack occurred. It’s a long block from the Hotel Palace, where the Council of Bishops met a year and a half ago. Our gathering opened in an ecumenical worship service at the new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, dedicated on the third Sunday of Advent, 1961. It shines as a blue beacon of peace in the shadow of the old church, which was built in 1895, bombed in 1943 and 1945, and opened as a peace memorial 1987.
“Joy to the World. . . Let earth receive her king. . .”
Isaac Watts, 1719
On the question of who’s in charge, the Bible is clear. All kinds of foolishness and evil occur in human lives and human history, but God is in charge. The one who finds the lost, forgives sin, makes highways straight, deserts bloom and shines light in the darkness. The way we know that God is in charge, isn’t because everything is fine. Bad stuff happens all the time. We know that God is in charge because the values of peace, justice, kindness are woven into the fabric of our being and an alarm sounds when the ways of the world stray too far from the way of Jesus.
And so we sing JOY! in every season because even in the darkest times, God tugs people to grace and truth, unfailingly, eternally, and will not rest until creation thrives, people enjoy abundant life, and justice is as natural and unstoppable as a river.
There’s a lot of anxiety about the recent presidential election.
- The role of fake news in shaping public opinion
- The intrusion of Russia into the process
- The statements by the FBI director
- The role of the electoral college
- The depth of dissatisfaction of Americans with government (19% in Nov. 2015)
- The depth of distrust in the President-elect (41-48% since election)
- Will the president-elect really carry through on all the promises he made
“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love.”
Truth, grace and love find their way through an uncertain time. Sing for JOY!
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. – Isaiah 43: 19
Watching scenes of Aleppo, a beautiful, ancient city, lying in rubble, with a river of refugees – young, old, burdened, lost – pouring out into the wilderness, the horror passes understanding. It is beyond belief, beyond comprehension. I search for peace to match the horror.
We will never experience peace equal to the horror if we keep tuned to the news. It is people sitting in darkness who can see a great light (Isaiah 9:2). So, turn off the news, not to avoid the harsh realities of war. Turn off the news so you can hear a different word, see a vision of abundant life, and be led along a good way. Participating in worship is a choice to be part of an alternative, intentional community of resistance to sin and death. When God’s people gather where a candle burns and music swells, the rhythm of God’s peace resonates in our hearts and finds expression through our lives and the world is changed. Not in earth-shattering ways, but in life-affirming ways.
Pray for the people of Aleppo, and every place of horror on the earth. Come, Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace. Quell warring madness so that people will no longer be forced from their homes to become strangers wandering the earth. In the meantime, show us how to become community for your lost sheep. We know this is your will. Show us the way. Make us witnesses to the peace that passes understanding.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
O great mystery,
And wondrous sacrament,
That animals should see the newborn Lord,
Lying in their manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
Was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.
O Magnum Mysterium, Matins liturgy
Last week I wrote about the star in the Christmas story. Today I’m thinking about the animals around the baby Jesus. Donkey, camel, cow, sheep, dove.
“O Magnum Mysterium,” says that the animals seeing Jesus in their manger was a sacrament! A sacrament is a sign of the presence of God, which is often hidden and spiritual. We say that sacraments are a means of grace. How do the animals fit into our theology, or our spiritual lives? Maybe they call us out of our heads, and into our hearts. Maybe they call us out of human society and into the community of creation? Or, do they draw our attention away from a distant light, shining from heaven, to the warmth and intimacy of earthy, furry, pawing, neighing relationships?
Animals keep it pretty real. The sights and sounds – and smells – of animals are very different from the sterility of the star. Earthy hay, manure, dust, grunts contrasted with heavenly light.
From the moment of his birth, we find Jesus living in two worlds: marked by a star in the night sky, and nestled in a barnyard manger. Fully God, fully human. This is the great mystery (magnum mysterium). Just like Jesus we live in two worlds. Learning to be fully spiritual people and fully flesh and blood at the same time is the challenge and promise Jesus sets before us. Hark, the Angels and the Friendly Beasts.
I’m going to try to honor both this season: to make time for prayer and music that makes my spirits soar. And to decorate our home and cook great food to delight the senses! And I’m going to receive Mollie-the-dog’s grace-filled nuzzle with a reciprocal belly rub. God breaks in from beyond, and sidles up alongside and as common kindness.
It is ours to sing glory to God in heaven, and to make peace on earth.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
By Rev. Steve Ross
Vision is the word I use to describe why a congregation exists. The big huge purpose of the church is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But that mission statement is a purpose bigger than any congregation can fulfill on its own. Vision is the particularization of the mission in a specific community of Christians at a specific time. It deals with two questions that have real, but constantly evolving answers.
- Who are the specific people we called to engage in the life of discipleship?
- What is the specific transformation we are called to bring now?
The Christmas cards I ordered arrived last week. I searched to find cards that showed the nativity with Jesus front and center bearing the message, “Blessed Christmas” embossed in gold.
But something was missing. Roll call: Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, cow, donkey, sheep. No star.
The star of the nativity marks the birth of Jesus as a world-changing God-event. The star is the glory of God shining through from heaven into the dark and harsh reality of the world. Without the star it could be any baby in the manger– oh, miraculous, to be sure, but without the power to heal, release, renew and transform.
So, I bought a shiny pen. And I am painting the star into the midnight sky on every card. The power of God is at work in our world through Jesus, who comes to us as. . .
Light (shining in darkness) | Fire (of the Holy Spirit)
Hope (of the world) | (abundant) Life
Grace (upon grace) | (steadfast) Love
Promise (fulfilled) | Peace (on the earth)
God bless you this Christmas, with light in darkness. And may you be a light to the world and all who live in it.
A l l e l u i a !
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
By Rev. Dr. William D. Gibson
Most of us desire a sense of belonging and purpose in the world. And during difficult seasons, such as our current political climate, we long for safe spaces to find hope. This season presents a unique opportunity for the church.
Many, if not all, church leaders and laity I encounter across our church hold a common thread: A large majority would love to have more young people in their churches. But does our corporate desire translate to creating space within our church families for these long-lost siblings?
By Dr. Neil Tibbott, Executive Director of LeadershipOnRamp
One of the most famous coaching references you may have heard is the story about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who spoke to his team at the beginning of a season about the basics. At the first practice, he lifted a football for the entire team to see and said, “Gentleman, this is a football.”
In training for ministry, we sometimes skip important steps that help facilitate growth. If we miss those basic steps, then churches struggle to gain a foothold in the very communities they hope to serve.
What if there were a relational way to develop leaders?
What if we could invest in people in such a way that ministries are multiplied?
Started in October 2016, the Multiplying Ministries Group continues to wrestle with these questions (and others). As we kicked off this eight-month cohort, three values emerged: