Monday, January 16, 2017

A Year to "Savor"

Have you chosen a word for the year? My word for the year is SAVOR. As a pregnant woman with lots of aversions, this word may mean more to me than it does to you. And that’s the point of it. Below is the text from my sermon on Sunday which shares about the traditions of choosing a word or words to guide us through the year. If you’re in Manhattan, you can stop by First Presbyterian and pick up one of the verses on stars, doves and crosses.  If you'd like on in the mail, send me a note! If you would like a method to choose your word for the year, you can follow the instructions suggested in the sermon. Blessings on your year!

“Starwards Bound”

Genesis 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Last week we reflected on the journey of the Magi who had been called on an expedition to find this new King of the Jews. I wonder what their motivation could have been to follow that star they saw in the heavens.  Did they travel through weather and physical challenge out of duty? Did they seek persistently out of curiosity? Whatever their motivation, they too were answering a calling to meet Jesus, to experience the living presence of God.  When they answered that call and they followed the star, they experienced an epiphany that changed their lives forever, and sent them in a new direction.

Like the Magi, we are at a precipice, approaching a new season of life. As we begin this new season, with a new President, a new school year, new experiences, we must continue to follow the star, looking for hope, looking for Jesus, beyond epiphany, beyond the journey to Bethlehem.  We continue to look for The Light of Christ, as a calling to seek Jesus in all that we do, in everywhere that we go.

When we make New Year’s resolutions, they tend to look backward. We vow to right the things we did wrong last year, or improve on our shortcomings, or somehow lessen our regrets from the past.  These resolutions fail when they are merely reactions to the symptoms in our lives, seeking a perfection of this world, rather than the life that Jesus wants to give us.  Our faith calls us to look towards the future and to do so with hope, trusting in God’s hand and God’s faithfulness.  This forward thinking enables us to set goals, so that instead of merely reacting to daily problems, we are setting goals for a longterm plan, following the star over hills and valleys, even when the days get hard.

When companies want to look towards the future and develop longterm goals, they frequently turn to consultants or look towards their leaders to develop a strategic plan.  A bit different than mere resolutions at the beginning of a season, these consultants look at the true identity of the company, what gifts they have to offer, what challenges they face, and what hope they have for the future. Many of you, I’m sure have experienced this, if not in your own business, but maybe in this church. The cards in your pews reflect some of the work of the Planning Committee and the Membership Committee as they sought to give us the phrase, First in Worship, First in Family, First in Service.   

One of my favorite methods I have used with groups or organizations follows a little book I found years ago called One Word that Will Change Your Life, by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page. They begin by sharing stories of how their method could be used in your personal life, your family, your school, your work, your church, your sports team or any of your other organizations.  They advised the Atlanta Falcons, years ago, leading them each to have a personal word to use as a guide for the year. Even their head coach, which at the time was Mike Smith, chose a word.  His word was “Finish,” because he wanted himself and his team to finish strong in everything they did.” He described the powerful impact that the word had not just on him but also his team.  

Their method is quite spiritual, as the first instruction is to Prepare Your Heart and Look In.  After unplugging from the noise and activity around you, they invite you to focus on three essential questions:
  1. What do I need?
  2. What’s in my way?
  3. What needs to go?
What challenging questions. (read them again) So often we get caught up in trying to accomplish the first one that the challenges in our way or other burdens or commitments keep us from reaching that first necessary essential.  By considering what stands in our way, and confessing the things we need to let go of in our lives, we can move forward and grasp what we need to accomplish our larger goal in life.

The final step is to "Look up, to plug in and listen up." They put it this way in the book, “Once you’ve prepared your heart, you are ready to receive your word. God has a word that is meant for you. Remember, God can use all means to communicate with us and you never know when, where and how your word will be revealed to you.”

There are several monastic traditions which tell of the spiritual giving of words from an even more spiritual aspect. At times, followers would request a Word and after prayer and reflection, a monk would deliver a word sent from God to them. Perhaps it would be a singular word or scripture.

There’s a fascinating story of a student who asked Cassian the Monk for a method of unceasing prayer, and he ended up learning about the practice of prayers from those teaching in the Egyptian Desert. They would be given one line of a psalm which would become for them a leitmotif or essential theme to everything the monk did, from daily work tasks to their daily scripture readings.  This verse would become the lens through which they saw the world. 

I can remember a similar experience I had when someone send me a verse of scripture when I was going through a particularly dark time.  I had an injury in my hand which was keeping me from playing flute, and I wasn’t quite at the point where I had to choose what to do next, but I was definitely at the start of a new season, and wondered why God had allowed this to happen to me and where I would go next.  A dear friend sent the epiphany to me in the mail, and the scripture stayed by my bed throughout that season of my life. It was the same words that were given to Joshua as he was stepping up to lead the people of Israel after Moses: The Lord said, "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Whether it is a single word or a verse of scripture, these traditions hold to these words as a guiding light to see the world and face everyday challenges. In either method, this light comes from God and draws us to God. Jesus came to be the light and to draw us into the light which shines so that all the world might have the ability to see clearly, and see beyond the darkness which would seek to overtake us.

Today I invite you to receive a Word from God.  In a moment we will pass the offering plates again and this time you will take an object rather than placing one. You will find stars, doves and crosses that have scriptures on them, and I challenge you not to read them and make a choice, but to allow the spirit to choose for you and merely take one as it comes to you.

When you take this scripture home, read it again, and put it somewhere you will see it regularly.  Read it from time to time and let the words sink into your mind, into your breath, and into your bones.  As the words return to you in your challenges and moments of Joy, may you encounter the True Word of God, Jesus, the Living Word made flesh. May the star guide you to meet him and may it continue to guide you to experience grace, peace, joy and a life full of hope.


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