What’s On Your Bucket List?

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

—Luke 2:23-38

One of the things I love about this passage is the visualization I get when I think of Anna and Simeon holding the baby Jesus. Old hands embracing a newborn child. An old religion embracing the coming of a new one. That is what Luke is trying to tell us.

Anna and Simeon represent the faithful of Israel: those who keep the covenant day and night, those who worship God with praise and prophecy. Both are rewarded for their faith with God’s promise that they will see the coming of the Messiah.

Simeon says, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.” The long awaited promise has been fulfilled and now he may die at peace.

A movie called “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out a couple of years ago. These two men facing terminal cancer make a list of items they want to do before they “kick the bucket,” from which the list is named. We all have things we want to do before we die. Perhaps they are listed in some journal or are set back in your brain. Regardless dust them off and get to it.

What is on your bucket list? What will make your heart satisfied that you have really lived? Don’t worry that some of the things you list will never be accomplished, just listing your desires in life is living. So what are you waiting for? It’s never too late to start appreciating all the life around you, and live.

***

Rev. Jeri Wilkerson is a native to Florida and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Nursing from the University of Florida before expanding her call into ministry and completing her education at Claremont School of Theology. Jeri is passionate about preaching, worship, and the arts, where she finds that people can explore their faith as they find new ways of experiencing God. She is appointed at First United Methodist Church of Mesa where she has been instrumental in the church’s involvement in homelessness programs and other mission activities. She currently serves as the youth leader, expanding the program to include a missional focus.

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Mindfulness

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

—Luke 2:15-20

Of all the passages about Mary’s reaction to her pregnancy and the birth of her son, this is probably my favorite. It is no big surprise that the shepherds are beside themselves with the news; it’s not every day you receive a direct command from angels who appear out of nowhere. When they arrive, they have to explain why they showed up, so they tell the amazing story of how a ragtag group of shepherds heard about a baby born in a barn. Naturally, their story causes a great deal of excitement. All who heard it were amazed, the Scripture says. But then comes the “But.” All were amazed, BUT Mary took it further and “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” By this point, Mary is used to angels appearing and making proclamations. What she knows is that her baby has now arrived, and the stories that cause such wonder and amazement are simply moments of her already special newborn’s uniquely special first days.

In our world, thanks to our 24/7 news sources, we have many opportunities to live into the excitement of others’ lives. Our voyeuristic obsessions with Real Housewives, the Kardashians, or a millionaire matchmaker add to the chaos of our own busy-ness and sometimes to our own disillusionment. We ponder the amazing events in the lives of others and compare our lives to theirs. However, each December I watch White Christmas and nod in agreement when Bing Crosby sings, “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Sometimes counting blessings seems nearly impossible, but when I really look, I find that my life is full of wonder and joy of which I should be mindful. I pray we all will find that to be true. Maybe in the new year we can take our cue from Mary and spend more time in quiet reflection, pondering our own wonders and filling our hearts with those moments of true awe.

***

Courtney Jones holds a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University and is currently an M. Div. student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA. Originally from Arkansas, she is an active member of Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, MA. Her academic and personal interests are focused on LGBTQI theology, and she feels called to a career of pastoral care and counseling.

New Years Paradox

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. [S]He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, [s]he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

—Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

New Year’s is probably my least favorite holiday. After the anticipation of Advent and the joy of Christmas, New Year’s feels like a harsh reality check. In addition to seeing the clean slate of a brand new year, I can’t help but see the ways in which the past year has and has not met my expectations. Call me a pessimist, but with each passing year, January 1 calls attention to how quickly our lives pass. I go to the parties and ring in the New Year dancing and making merry, but when Auld Lang Syne (which is a really sad song!) begins to play, I lose myself in a reverie of “if only”s. If only I’d stuck with my diet, I would be 30 pounds lighter. If only I’d realized my calling sooner, I could be further ahead in my career. If only…well, you get the idea. It can be endless!

I do not say this to be a killjoy. For me, New Year’s is an occasion that incites an emotional paradox. It just seems to me that there is a time to mourn as well as a time to dance, and sometimes the two are one and the same. As Dolly Parton’s character says in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!” Sometimes life is not as clear cut as the author of Ecclesiastes would like us to believe. God has made everything suitable for its time, but sometimes it feels like the time for everything is now. Our lives, and the lives of those we encounter, are often paradoxical. Because “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil,” I have to believe that even when it feels like everything is happening at once, God calls us to embrace those moments of paradox, to take pleasure in life even when life is not easy.

Much like the emotional paradox it creates in me, New Year’s encompasses both the known past and the unknown future in a single day. The Scripture says that God “has put a sense of past and future into [our] minds.” As we enter a new year, filled with hope and possibility, we can reflect on the past as well. God meets us in the instant between past and future, offering us opportunities to co-create new and unimagined futures. God calls us to honor our time and to be partners in “what God is doing from beginning to end.” How can we respond in ways that honor the past and do justice to the potential the future holds? May we take great pleasure in life this year, and may we be faithful listeners who can embrace paradox and respond in compassionate ways.

***

Courtney Jones holds a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University and is currently an M. Div. student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA. Originally from Arkansas, she is an active member of Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, MA. Her academic and personal interests are focused on LGBTQI theology, and she feels called to a career of pastoral care and counseling.

Stop Stoning Yourselves

John 7:53-8:11

Now, there’s a cheery passage for reflection on the Eve of New Year’s Eve!

This story has seemed barbaric to me since I first read the passage in my teens.

The Pharisees, in their never-ending parade of attempts to challenge Jesus with “What-ifs?” and “What-abouts?” involving their interpretation of law, bring some poor woman before Jesus as Exhibit A. “What about this one?” they seem to ask. “Surely you won’t tell us she doesn’t deserve stoning.”

No surprise, of course, that Jesus tells them exactly that. Yet, in a metaphoric way, isn’t this what we sometimes do to ourselves around this time each year?

As we look back on the past year, as we set resolutions for the next, don’t we sometimes stone ourselves with self-criticism and self-judgment?

And in response, don’t we sometimes set resolutions based on unrealistic expectations? And within a few weeks (or even days) when we cannot meet them, we begin the cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism again.

What resolutions can we make and realistically keep that will help us feel better about ourselves?

Can we be nicer to ourselves?

The best New Year’s resolution I ever made–and perhaps the only one I ever kept–was the year I resolved to spend more time in Balboa Park.

Can we show ourselves grace and forgiveness when we fall short of our own expectations?

As for the gym, after more than two decades, I have conceded that I am not going to keep a gym habit. This year, I’m turning in my gym membership, ending my charitable contribution to the proprietors and resolving not to beat myself up about it. I’ll find other ways to exercise and stay healthy, but I’m freeing myself of this perpetual guilt.

Can we see ourselves through Divine eyes?

As for my other shortcomings, the ones too private for a public blog, I choose to see myself as beautifully human in my imperfections, always working to be better and celebrating my life as it is now and my life as it will be. I choose to see myself through the Divine eyes of unconditional love.

This year, if we resolve nothing else, can we resolve to stop stoning ourselves?

***

Rev. Karen Clark Ristine is a minister at Mission Hills United Methodist Church. After more than 20 years as a journalist, she entered seminary in 2006 and has been working in ministry ever since. After a lifelong tradition of sending out scores of Christmas cards each year, she was surprised to discover the irony that, as a minister, she no longer seemed to have time to continue that tradition. 

Spreading the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

—He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
William Butler Yeats

In a few days we will ring in the New Year. When I read this poem, I wonder to myself: Have I treaded softly on the dreams of others this past year? More importantly, have I spread the cloths of heaven under the feet of those who need it most? And what might that look like? Does this mean that I have focused on creating the kin-dom of God on earth—as it is in heaven? Have I helped the marginalized? As Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (NRSV, Matthew 25:42-45) I wonder if I had fed anyone that needed food or drink or welcomed a stranger, or clothed the naked or visited the sick or those imprisoned this past year?

Prayer:

Lord, as I get closer to beginning a new year of my life, may I remember to recognize the blessings of being on this earth and serving you, by serving others. May I never forget to include helping the oppressed in my New Year’s Resolutions. I recognize that I may not have done everything that you have called me to do this year, but I will remember that receiving your grace allows me to give grace, in return. I recognize that my blessings are meant to be shared. I will clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick and imprisoned—whether physical or spiritual. For I am your servant, and I must spread the cloths of heaven for you. Amen.

***

Summer Albayati-Krikeche is a woman who speaks inside and outside of the church. She is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Unitarian Universalist church, and serves as an intern chaplain at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. While studying in seminary, Summer felt that all of the sacred scriptures called us to help the oppressed.  Shortly, thereafter, she decided to help those considered the most marginalized in any society—orphans. In 2009, Summer founded Orphan Whispers, a nonprofit that helps orphans in conflict and post-conflict societies, and is currently focusing on the orphans in Iraq.  

The World Prayed for Me

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

—Isaiah 52: 7-10

Christ is here. We celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God with us! As we celebrate God’s presence among us, the incarnation of our Lord, we are charged with spreading the Good News. “Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born!” we sing, but many of us would like to be silent. After the busy-ness of Christmas is over many of us would like to climb into the protective shells of our beds, pull the covers up over our heads and hibernate until Easter. But God calls us to be ‘messengers.’ That means we GO and TELL!

But, we should be relieved to know, we are not the only messengers proclaiming the glory of God! God’s amazing work is everywhere! In the ruins of Jerusalem, in the eyes of all nations, to the ends of the earth. Let us proclaim the love of God to the world, and as we do, may we be witness to the world proclaiming Gods’ glory to us!

i went to the top of the world
to offer up my prayer.
i came with a collection
of concerns and worries
problems and everyday pains
i went to the top of the world to pray
and instead the world prayed for me.
i heard it in the wind
pounding in my right ear
and a gentle guitarsong whistling in my left.
i heard it in the language of the crickets,
calling and answering from either side of the path.
i heard it in each footstep that followed me,
or was I following them?
i heard it in the passing of the cars on the highway.
i heard it in the silent tears of strangers.

i went to the top of the world to pray
and instead,
the world prayed for me.

***

Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens is a native of Southern California, where she began her work experience as an artist. She achieved her Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art from Scripps College in 1994. Her call from God occurred rather suddenly in 1998 and God provided a path to attend seminary. Krista is a proud graduate of the Claremont School of Theology achieving her Masters of Divinity in 2001 and her Doctor of Ministry degree in 2007. Her doctoral thesis was centered in Ethics and pertains to the disciplinary rule for single pastors to be celibate and is titled: A Choice for Whole Love: Single and Celibate in the United Methodist Church. Krista’s previous appointments include an Associate Pastor position to the congregation of Kailua United Methodist Church in Kailua, Hawaii and a Senior Pastor position to the congregation of Westchester United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. She was ordained as an Elder in the California-Pacific Annual Conference in 2005 and has been the pastor at Hamburg’s International United Methodist Church since 2007.

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

1 John 1:1-9 
John 21:19b-24

Here we are on the third day of Christmas. The gifts have been unwrapped. Families are departing from Christmas Day gatherings back to their respective homes. Some of us have returned to work. The radios have stopped playing Christmas tunes. Yet, for Christians, the celebration of the presence of the Eternal Word has just begun.

As the ladders go up to pull down the sparkling lights, the first epistle of John reminds us that the light of Christ that we celebrate at His birth remains. “In him there is no darkness at all,” the first epistle of John reminds us. Yet somehow we still scurry to pull down the lights and get back to our day-to-day existence beyond the day of Christmas.

What is it about the light of Christ that has us packing away our Christmas gear so early into the 12 days of Christmas leading to the Epiphany? The day of Christmas can be filled with such seeming innocence—a celebration of the birth of a little boy who brings the hope of salvation to the world.

Yet how quickly do we realize that the light of the Son of God threatens to expose us? When we find ourselves in the light of God, there is nothing left to hide. We are vulnerable, exposed, and naked before God. And in that vulnerability, we are expected to trust a baby that fully depends upon other human beings. Others must nurture him so he might survive. He must depend on others that he might survive one day save us.

I love how this Gospel passage, the close to the testament of the life of Jesus according to John, ends. Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me.”

Peter knows that Jesus is calling him to an uncomfortable place, a place where he can no longer conform, a next stage in his life where he must take responsibility for his personal convictions and beliefs. The spotlight is on Peter.

Peter, rather than agreeing to follow Jesus, asks of his nearby friend, “What about this other guy? What is he supposed to do?”

The final words of Jesus are, in essence, “What’s it to you? Follow me!”

The light of Christ exposes us, makes it clear that God takes us personally, that we can no longer hide from the responsibility of faith. And we have the promise that we won’t have to go it alone. If God incarnate had to rely upon other human beings for survival and growth, so must we.

Perhaps this year, you might leave up those sparkling lights a few days longer. Be reminded that Christmas is not just about the day of Jesus’ birth, but is a call to dwell in Him who is light and life.

Jesus’ light exposes, enlightens, and calls you. Where might Christ’s bright, shining, expository light lead your life during this Christmas season?

***

Rev. Allison Rainey English serves as Associate Priest at St. Wilfrid of York Episcopal Church in Huntington Beach, California. Allison graduated from Claremont School of Theology with a Master of Divinity in 2008. Her passions for work in the church include liturgical development, pastoral care, youth ministry, and responsible social engagement/community building among the church.