It is easy for life to drift out of control and for time to slip away. Between work, family obligations, housework, and our various other commitments, sometimes it feels as if there’s never any time to sit still, just be ourselves, and enjoy a little quiet. And sometimes we get so busy acquiring and caring for the things that we think will make us happy that we forget to actually enjoy what we already have. Particularly in the fast-paced and highly driven world of Northern Virginia, I think, it’s easy to get so distracted by all the “stuff” that’s going on in our lives and by our desire for “what’s next” that we forget to pay attention to the things that really matter. Indeed, we can be so busy filling up our lives that we fail to actually live.
This is a particularly troubling problem for us Christians, because sometimes it takes effort (and time) to slow down, listen for the voice of God, and allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit. Join us this Sunday in worship we’ll be exploring what it means to pay attention to the voice of the Spirit in our lives so that we may follow the Spirit and live faithfully to God’s call. We hope to see you here.
Brian and Denise
Connect with God in Worship on Sunday, June 16, 2013 at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Annandale, VA:
- 8:15 & 11:15 AM Traditional Worship: “Paying Attention” by Pastor Brian Johnson. Scripture: 1 Kings 21:1-21 (OT); Luke 7:36 – 8:3 (NT). Joining us in worship will be the Sanctuary Choir & Peace Ringers (8:15); Chapel Choir & Tower Ringers (11:15).
- 9:45 AM Modern Worship: “Paying Attention” by Pastor Brian Johnson. Scripture: 1 Kings 21:1-21 (OT); Luke 7:36 – 8:3 (NT). Led by Worship Leader, Nelson Cowan, and the 9:45 Worship Team.
This week I had the joy of sitting in the hospital cradling a newborn baby girl, one of the newest arrivals in our St. Matthew’s family. When I left there, I went to the home of one our older church members who is struggling with cancer. I sat, holding her hand as she talked about her life and impending death. For the rest of that afternoon and several times since, I find myself whispering a prayer for these two lives, for their families, and for what lies ahead for each of them. I wonder what challenges this newborn child will face in a world whose future seems anything but certain. I wonder how this dear woman can live this last phase of her journey with purpose and meaning. I am grateful that from birth to death and beyond we are surrounded by the presence of the Holy Spirit - that we do not face the challenges of this world alone.
Spiritual formation is about becoming attentive to that Holy Presence with us at each moment; it’s about becoming mindful of God with us throughout our daily activities. Are you creating a practice, a habit of being attentive to that Holy Spirit? Begin today – even now, as you read this, pause for a moment to take a deep, slow breath and be thankful for God’s Spirit within you and surrounding you.
If you are free next Tuesday, June 11th, join us at 10:00 AM for a spiritual formation gathering. It will consist of a short reading of scripture, 20 minutes of silence attending to God’s presence and a time of contemplative listening to our spoken reflections (www.kindredproject.org). If you are not able to be present, take a moment or two on Tuesday morning to be reminded of God’s presence with you.
The Holy Spirit within us empowers us to share the love of Christ through our daily lives. On Sunday, we will hear the story of Paul who was fed by the Spirit and led in a whole new direction for his life. We will worship this Spirit who calls us in new ways and new places. At the 11:15 worship service we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism for Auden Dahyun Meserole, son of Grace Han and Chris Meserole. We will also commission our summer mission teams.
We look forward to seeing you Sunday for worship.
Denise and Brian
What a day of vast contrasts. This morning I sat watching the TV at all the devastation from the recent tornado. I wondered what deep despair it must be for those who lost all their material passions, who saw their homes destroyed or even vanished, what shocking grief it must be for those whose loved ones were killed. With those images of sadness and pain swirling in my mind, I headed to the hospital to visit Grace and Chris and welcome their newborn little boy who arrived last night at 10:45pm. It was a room full of sheer joy, mother and dad with big smiles on their face, little Auden peacefully asleep. As I held that tiny baby and prayed a prayer of thankfulness for his life I was reminded of God’s abiding presence in our deepest sorrows and our greatest joys; that there is no where we can go, nothing we can experience that is outside of God’s care and presence.
A friend posted this earlier today and I pass it along to you. May you experience God’s presence this day.
“It is surely an exercise of faith for us to see Christ in each other. But it is through such exercise that we grow and the joy of our vocation assures us we are on the right path. Certainly, it is easier to believe that the sun warms us, and we know that buds will appear on the trees in the wasteland across the street, that life will spring out of the dull clods of that littered park across the way. There are wars and rumors of wars, poverty and plague, hunger and pain. Still, the sap is rising, again there is the resurrection of spring, and God’s continuing promise to be with us always, with comfort and joy, if we will only ask.”
May 17, 2013
Sunday is the birthday of the church! It’s Pentecost – the day God’s spirit came and ignited a group of bewildered disciples into an energetic movement centered around Jesus as the Lord of their life and Savior of the world. In Acts 2, Luke graphically describes the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the church with tongues of fire and a mighty wind.
This small group of faithfully praying believers was transformed by the Holy Spirit into a group of bold proclaimers of the God’s power. They were accused of drunkenness for their exuberance, but the presence of the God’s Spirit among them could not be denied. They had been fed by the Spirit and were led out into the world to share that good news. By the end of the day 3000 people had been baptized and the church was born; a church where “all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Act. 2:44). It was a church that was beginning to live out Jesus’ mandate that, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:9).
The church was born on Pentecost and we who are here today to continue to be Spirit fed and Spirit led. This Sunday, we encourage you to wear something red as we celebrate Pentecost. (Red is the color that traditionally signifies the spirit.)
At our 9:45 Modern Worship we will welcome Jay & Amber McClain and Lisa & John Nelson as new members of St. Matthew’s. We will also share in the wonderful joy of baptizing Gracen Ellen Martin. At the 11:15 Traditional Worship we will continue to witness the Spirit of Pentecost as 24 of our youth are confirmed. These youth will affirm Christ as the Lord of their life, become members of St. Matthew’s, and join in God’s transforming work in the world.
What a wonderful day of worship it will be. Invite a neighbor and come prepared to be fed by God’s Spirit.
Denise and Brian
So it’s Holy Week. Are you taking it seriously? This past Sunday Pastor Brian encouraged us to take Holy Week seriously. How are you doing with that?
Maybe you have taken the time as was suggested to read chapter 22 and 23 of Luke each day. Perhaps you have spent more time in prayer. You may have rearranged your schedule this week to allow you to attend the upcoming Maundy Thrusday and Good Friday services.
Or maybe life is feeling pretty out of control for you. Maybe disappointments with work or with those you care about have you feeling a bit alone. Perhaps you are one of those who have great dreams for your life, for the world but nothing seems to be working quite the way you expected them too.
If you are feeling any of these ways I would suggest that you, of all people are able to take Holy Week seriously. For these may have been some of the very feelings that Jesus experienced the last week of his life. Allow yourself to ‘be with Christ’ with all that you are as you take this week seriously.
Denise and Brian
March 22, 2013
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday. On this day, we will tell the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and how, just a few days later, the same crowds that hailed him as King demanded that he be crucified by the Roman authorities. This marks the beginning of Holy Week, a week during which we Christians journey with Jesus to the cross and the empty tomb. As we delve into the mystery of the death of the One who is God with us, we remember and experience the deepest and darkest night the world has ever known. On Good Friday, we see God joining us in our brokenness, taking on the consequences of our sin, and accepting abandonment and suffering on our behalf. And then, on Easter Sunday, we see the bonds of death broken. Easter is the ultimate reversal – the ultimate celebration of God’s life-transforming (and life-creating) power, even in the face of death.
But, we can’t get to Easter without Good Friday. We can’t appreciate the mysterious and world-transforming power of Christ’s resurrection unless we first encounter the reality and pain of his death. So, this week, you have a simple task: take Holy Week seriously. Travel with Jesus from the Cross to the Empty tomb. Read Luke 22:1-24:13 a few times – perhaps even every day – and reflect on its significance. And join us here for worship on Maundy Thursday (7pm), Good Friday (7pm), and Easter Sunday (6:30, 8:15, 9:45, & 11:15am).
This is the most important story of our faith. Indeed, we Christians believe that Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is the most important week in all of human history. So, we encourage you to join us in worship as we experience these central moments of our faith. We hope to see you here.
Brian and Denise
February 15, 2013
Our Lenten journey began on Ash Wednesday as we remembered that we are dust and to dust we shall return. With the mark of the cross smudged on our forehead, we began one of my favorite seasons of the church year. Lent is the intentional time to drawer closer to Christ through the practical acts of discipline and devotion.
This Sunday we begin our Lenten sermon series: Fifty Shades of Grace. Despite our sinfulness, and the ways we fail to be the person that we were created to be, God’s grace and love is always extended toward us. We the church proclaim a powerful word of hope to our world and individual lives, that through Christ we can experience the transformational power of God’s love and grace. It doesn’t keep us from struggling with the temptations and additions in our own lives – Jesus himself was tempted. But God is already working in and among us to provide what we need for just this moment. Do you see it? Can you feel it? Lent allows us the time to observe and hunger after God’s grace and then to be conduits of that love and grace to those around us.
Around 370 CE Saint Ambrose wrote, “The Church, then, both washes the feet of Christ and wipes them with her hair, and anoints them with oil, and pours ointment upon them. Because not only does she care for the wounded and cherish the weary, but also sprinkles them with the sweet odor of grace; and pours forth the same grace not only on the rich and powerful, but also on men of lowly estate.”
As those who have experienced God’s love, St. Matthew’s will be sprinkling at least fifty shades of God’s grace to our homeless neighbors this week as we host them in our church. May we all seek ways to be open to God’s grace and share it with others.
See you on Sunday.
Denise and Brian
On Sunday, January 20, we began a new sermon series called “Scriptures that Keep us Awake at Night.” As a part of our first sermon, we talked about some strategies that we can use to help us read difficult passages from Scripture (see previous post). One of those strategies included putting the passage in context (within the individual biblical book in which it is found and within the larger story of God that we find in Scripture).
During the Fall, we explored “God’s Story of Salvation” through the lens of the “Seven Theological C’s.” Here’s a reminder of those “C’s” to help you as you work to put passages of Scripture in context:
The Triune God (the same God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ) created the heavens and the earth, and all that live within them. In creation, the love that is essential to the nature of God is poured out and results in creation – in a very real sense, the God of Love loves us into existence. God seeks to continue that love by living in relationship with us.
Though God has given us everything we need to live in communion with God, we have turned away from God. We have rejected God’s free gift of love and have instead attempted to have our own way, eschewing the path of community for the path of domination and self-interest.
In response to humanity’s turning away from God, God has sought new ways to be in relationship with humanity. These relationships take the form of covenants in which God binds God’s self to a particular group of people. These covenants are promises of faithfulness and loyalty between God and the people. The Bible tells the story of a series of covenants, particularly God’s covenant with Israel, which culminate in the work of Christ (and the new covenant).
Christ is the center of cosmic history and God’s divine love-letter to the whole world. Christ is the One who has come to us from God and lived as one of us (thus serving as the ultimate revelation of both who God is and who we truly are). Having come to us, he has taken the weight of the world upon himself in his death and defeated sin and death in his resurrection.
The Church is the community founded by Christ that exists for the sake of witnessing to what God has done in Jesus Christ. The church is the communion of saints that, by the power of the Spirit, continues to tell the story of Jesus and embody the Good News so that the world might come to know the truth and thereby be transformed.
In baptism, all Christians are called into ministry. Ministry is not the exclusive domain of clergy, but the vocation of all baptized persons. Our calling is, by the power of the Spirit, to participate in the work of Jesus Christ. In short, all Christians are called to be a part of the Mission of God.
God has not left this world on its own, but has promised to set all things right. Christ will come again to set all things right – to restore the whole cosmos to its former intended glory. This is the promise that provides the hope for all Christian action, because we know that while we are called to be a part of the work of God, we are not totally responsible for setting everything right or “building” the Kingdom of God. Instead, our actions, when they are aligned with God’s Mission, are “signposts of the Kingdom” (Lesslie Newbigin) that witness to what God has done in Christ, is doing in us, and plans to do in the New Creation. This promise of resurrection and New Creation is essential to the work of Christ and the identity of the Church.
(The “Seven Theological C’s” are inspired by the work of Dr. Fred Edie at the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation. We are deeply thankful to Fred and all the people at DYA who have inspired our preaching and helped our congregation dive more deeply into God’s story.)
Last week in worship we began a new sermon series called “Scriptures that Keep us Awake at Night.” This sermon series is inspired by the fact that, like it or not, there are some parts of the Bible that make us uncomfortable. During this series we’re going to wrestle with some of those difficult texts.
As a part of that first sermon, we presented four principles to help guide our reading of difficult passages from Scripture. Here they are, so that you can refer back to them throughout the series (or whenever you encounter a difficult text):
1) Know what you’re reading: The Bible is made up many books and all sorts of types of literature. There are letters, narrative histories, books of law, apocalyptic visions, speculative reflections on the nature of God and of justice, passages of poetry, short aphorisms, and much more. Each of these must be read differently. We learn in grade school that poetry and prose must be read differently. So too must letters and historical accounts. Before you can wrestle with a text’s message, you must grapple with its form, so that you can know how it was meant to be read. A good study Bible is invaluable for this.
2) Pay attention to the context: The Bible was not written to be read only in short, disconnected snippets. When struggling with a hard passage, read what’s around it. Get a sense for its place in the overall story – both within the biblical book in which it is contained and within the whole scope of Scripture. Remember our “Seven Alliterative Theological C’s” that we used this Fall to tell the whole story of the Bible? Placing individual biblical stories within that larger story – so, asking into which “C” does it fit - can help us understand them better.
3) Remember that reporting does not necessarily mean endorsement: This one is essential. Scripture is given to us for a reason, but that reason is not always so that we can emulate what we see in it. Much of the Old Testament, for example, is a theological account of the people of Israel. To say it another way, the people of Israel are looking back on their troubled history and attempting to see how God was present in it and through it. And the writers of these texts were incredibly honest about the less-than-pretty parts of their past. Their affirmation is that God was working through it all, but that does not mean that God wanted everything that is recorded to happen as it did.
4) Scripture is both a human document and a divine gift. We Christians affirm that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. Similarly, Scripture is both written by humans and given to us as a gift by God. Because it is written by humans, it is marked by those things that mark any human document – for one, it is influenced by and speaks in the modes of communication that marked the culture in which it originated. Paul’s letters, for example, make use of ancient Greek forms of rhetoric because he was writing in a culture in which ancient Greek rhetoric was the dominant form of speech. In addition, these documents are also marked by the more unpleasant aspects of their surrounding cultures – things like patriarchy and violence. It’s not pretty, but we have to deal with it. When we read the Bible, we must remember that its authors were people like us – flawed people who are trying to be faithful to God. And yet, at the same time, Scripture is a divine gift to us. Somehow, this collection of texts written by all-too-human authors is also, by the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit, God’s communication to us. It witnesses, from front cover to back cover, to the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ. This means that, just as every word of the Bible is authored by humans, every word of the Bible is a part God’s story of Good News. We cannot pick and choose the parts that are of human origin and the parts that are divine; we don’t get to choose our own Bible. This is the Bible we have, and all of it is God’s gift to us. This means that, like it or not, we cannot ignore the texts that trouble us. Indeed, somehow, we have to submit ourselves to them and accept them as witnesses to God’s Good News. Needless to say, this makes the task of interpretation quite complicated.