Read Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
                 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
                for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
                you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
                and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

 

From Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian, Wheeling, WV; Interim Pastor at Fairhill Manor Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

                Separated as we are by millennia from the time this Psalm was written and our own time, we really don’t get all the pastoral references.   We think we do.   Shepherd cares for sheep and protects them.  Got it.  These are the comforting words said in times of trial.  

                Do we recognize that much of Psalm 23 talks about the shepherd disciplining his sheep?   The shepherd takes the sheep through the routines of eating good food and not something else that would get them sick, of drinking by still waters since running water is frightening, and of gently being kept in line with the rod and staff.   There is peace in knowing someone is taking care of us through the love of discipline—limits–guidance.   We are not left bereft, in fact we are showered with abundant love.

Good Shepherd, we rejoice that you are always guiding and prodding. 
May we respond in life-giving ways.
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Read John 2.1-12

                On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”  And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.  When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”  Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.    After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.

 

From Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian, Wheeling; Interim Pastor, Fairhill Manor Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

                The best until last.   In this pre-resurrection resurrection miracle story, Jesus turns water into the best wine of the whole party.   And not just a little wine -120-180 gallons of wine.   Through this story we learn of God’s extravagant love and abundance, the “over the moon” joy of God’s saving acts,  and the joy of what is yet to come – the very best.  

                There was a saint of the church whose favorite hymn was “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.”   He loved, “I’ll be there as I have always been with just one more surprise.”   John couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen.  May we all anticipate with joy what God has in store for us in this life and the life beyond.

Gracious One, may we eagerly anticipate the resurrection –
like kids on Christmas Eve.

Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

       I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
        Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did.  Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.”
       We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents.  And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come.  So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.
      No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

from Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian, First Christian Church, Wheeling:

“[God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength.”  My heart aches as I sit with congregants who are in horrific physical, mental, or spiritual pain especially when embarrassed, they try to nullify their pain by saying, “others have it worse than me” or “God’s not going to give me more than I can handle, right?”

I find it a fuzzy line between drawing true strength from scripture and murmuring “correct” words that we do not feel.  The problem, I believe, is that we forget to read the second half of the above verse:  “but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”  Somewhere along the way, we have internalized that this “way” is something we must find and do all on our own.  The gift is that the “way” God provides us out of our suffering and pain is through the combination scripture and the company of others believers.  Our strength is not limited to what we personally can muster, but what we can gather through God and God’s people.  That strength is indomitable. 

Our Strength and our Redeemer,
help us to follow your way, and when we struggle,
help us to feel your strength and love through the Word and your people.

Read Matthew 6:19-21

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 

from Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian, First Christian Church, Wheeling:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  American media, business, and the church are all good at coming up with snappy one-liners. Put your money where your mouth is. Money follows Mission.  What’s in your wallet?  Our passage today reminds us in straight forward words to make sure we have our priorities straight.  Our culture makes it too easy to fall prey to its measures of success and security:  the influential job, the to-die-for car, the trophy spouse.  Jesus warns us to readjust our priorities to focus on God.  When our focus is on God, our lives may be lived authentically, faithfully.  Stock markets crash.  Cars rust.  Friends become fickle.  Old age comes despite creams and potions.   Unlike these earthly treasures, our forgiving God is always there welcoming us with open arms, loving us no matter what.  The most sound investment advice: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

Abundant God, help us to appreciate the treasures
 you give us through Christ Jesus and your people. 
May our hearts and minds be cradled in your loving hands.

1 John 4:7-16

             Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

             God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.   In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

             No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

             And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.  God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.  So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

            Most of us have been raised on Hollywood movies depicting Christmas as a magical time of year.  Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life form our vision of the time leading to Christmas.   We see in these fictions people who have the ability to overcome great obstacles, to be magnanimous in difficult circumstances, to be faithful when others are faithless.  In part, we anticipate this time of the year because of our possibly unrealistic expectations of a world-wide transformation of human behavior.  

            And yet the writer of the first epistle to John gives us the basis for this hope, this promise of life changed.  God is Love made manifest in God’s incarnation in Jesus the Christ.  When our faith is placed in the human/divine Jesus, we may be transformed.  The love that God showed in Jesus is ours to have and to share with one another.  When we do that – love one another – in Christ’s name, we can transform and transform the world.  It can be a transformation that lasts beyond the shopping season.  It can be our life. That’s pretty magical.  

Savior God,

may we believe that we are loved and can love

 to heal a fragmented world.

 

Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian

Wheeling – First Christian Church

Read Jeremiah 26:1-16

 

At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the LORD:

             Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house,

            and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD;

            speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word.

             It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way,

             that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them

            because of their evil doings.

 

            You shall say to them: Thus says the LORD:

            If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you,

                         and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently–                            though you have not heeded–

                         then I will make this house like Shiloh,

                        and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.

 

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD.  And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!  Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.

 

When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the LORD and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the LORD.  Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

 

Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard.  Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you.

 

“But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you.  Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

 

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.”

(NRSV)

 

from Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Wheeling

 

“Now therefore mend your ways and your doings,

and obey the voice of the Lord your God.”

 

            Why is it that bad habits are hard to break and good habits are easy to forget? Our behaviors, good and bad need constant attention.  Constant discipline to keep the good habits and to forego the bad.  And people in our lives who will tell the truth on us.  Jeremiah tells the truth on the people in the temple, and they react much as we do:  they get angry.

            But we so need fellow travelers on our journey of faith to tell the truth on us.  Not people who criticize for the sake of being critical, but people who love us, will tell us when we have wandered off the path, and who will not reject us when our knee-jerk reaction is to get angry.  

 

Giver of All Things, we thank you for loving truth-tellers.  

We ask that you help us to listen and remember that the messenger

may be the very person you sent to help us obey your voice.

Read Psalm 43

 

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people;

            from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!

For you are the God in whom I take refuge;

            why have you cast me off?

            Why must I walk about mournfully

            because of the oppression of the enemy?

 

O send out your light and your truth;

            let them lead me;

            let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.

            Then I will go to the altar of God,

                         to God my exceeding joy;

            and I will praise you with the harp,

                        O God, my God.

 

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

            and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God;

            for I shall again praise him,

                        my help and my God.

(NRSV)

 

from Rev. Magdalyn Sebastian – First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Wheeling

 

“O send out your light and truth; let them lead me . .”

 

            When I read Psalm 43, I wonder if someone might have recorded my thoughts.  On those tough days, I tend to cry out to God, “Where are you in all this mess?”  Once calmed down, I try to pray for guidance and if I have my senses together, I will remember to praise God for all of God’s blessings.  Then there is the self talk: “You are okay.  Why are you freaking out?  God always takes care of you.”

            I confess – I want to see that God is with me in the mess.—some sign.  If I remember the journey of my own life- all the ups and downs, tragedies and dramas, I see that God has always been with me.  If God has always been with me, God must be with me now, mess and all.

 

Loving One who is always close, lead me. 

Help me to remember your continual presence and guidance. 

 Light my way.