Sweet Hour of Prayer

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
                                                                                               
 

I. Beginnings

Throughout our years within the church, we have seen the narratives within the scripture, where Jesus moved throughout his ministry healing people.  He saw their wants and needs and showing them a divine love that is found only in God.  Just last week we saw a narrative where Jesus was willing to dig through the muck and the mire to genuinely see a woman in pain and a man in desperate need of a miracle.  Jesus was not only willing to provide healing, but fully see them in all that they were to affirm, restore, and transform each of them.  And this week’s narrative is no different, we see that Jesus heals over and over, seeing the needs of the people and providing healing.  But how often do we pay attention to what Jesus is actually doing?  How often do we see the actions of Jesus as a guide for our lives?  Jesus heals, but we also see that Jesus stepped into a secluded space that he might enter into that sweet hour of prayer – that moment of deep seclusion and vulnerability to connect with God – that moment where relationship is built with God – that moment where we give our praise and thanksgiving to our God – that moment where we bear our soul before God that God might comfort our moans and groans and wipe away the tears that fall from our eyes.  How often do we follow the actions of Jesus Christ and enter into that sweet hour of prayer, just like Jesus sought out to do? Jesus went out to a deserted place, out to a sacred place, alone, a place not interrupted by the chaos of the world and began to pray.  Entering into the sweet hour of prayer.  What might life be like if before anything, before we take a step out into the chaotic world, before we step out on faith, after we have achieved great things, when our soul grieves, or just throughout the journey of life, we take it before God first and enter into that Sweet Hour of Prayer.

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Jesus SEES You

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
                                                                                                   
 

I. Beginnings

Have you ever taken the time to pay attention to the movements of Jesus within scripture?  I mean it seems like we often pay attention to other people within the context of scripture, and not specifically the movements of Jesus, and the richness of what he taught – the transformational, life-changing theology, that breaks the foundations of the status quo within the teachings and life of Jesus Christ.  We know well the teachings, scriptures, and letters written by Paul and have even built certain theologies and religiosities around Paul and what he taught, but how often do we really look closely at the salvific power and liberative actions of Jesus Christ among those he came in contact with.  Now I’m not saying that Paul, was not an influential person within our faith, but how often do we take Paul’s word over the one we call Savior? It is then that we neglect to focus on Christ, taking in, only cursory glances of Jesus as a model for our lives, and ignoring the distinctly transformative message that comes in Jesus’s interaction with believers.  Within the actions of Jesus, we see that Jesus turned around social and religious norms that dramatically challenged the societal norms of the time – creating a new dichotomy of life, a transformed world through the work of a loving messiah, proclaiming the new age of a new Kingdom reigned by God. 

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What Is In A Name?

 Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
                                                                                               

 I. What Is In a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Words from William Shakespeare from the famed tragedy Romeo and Juliet as Juliet expresses her lament at her love being of the Montague household.  But what is in a name?  Our name is how we identify ourselves, if we contemplate it, it is everything that makes up who we are narrowed down to a couple of words to define who we are.  Our name uniquely belongs to us and identifies who we are and all of the things that make up who we are, both things seen and unseen, things known and unknown.  Some may have our name, or a similar name, but it is our own specific name that defines who we are, all that is unique and complex about us – our name, while simple it may be encompasses all that things that make us.  It tells a story of who we are, what we have been through. People may not see the whole story behind what is in our name, but it points to us, the being that has been through our own journey. 

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Even In The Midnight Hour

 Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
                                                                                         

I. Midnight

It has been said that the hour of midnight is the darkest point of the evening.  It is when the peace sets in, the light of day seems to be long gone, the deepness of the darkness of night seems to have the ability to consume you. When you experience the stroke of midnight, out in the country, it is only the twinkling of the starlit sky that brings any sense of light.  The darkness holds all the things we cannot see and may not wish to see. But it allows the freedom of things to roam around in the darkness, good or bad. Or if you are experiencing midnight within the city, it is the bewitching hour as many things begin to shut down, the lights from the city drown out the stars, but businesses and restaurants begin to shut down. Also there are corners and areas that become enlivened, the things that veer on the side of what some say is the side of the forbidden, the scandalous, the things we don’t like to talk about or bring attention to.  The profane that lives in the darkness comes to life in the midst of the darkness of midnight.  It is the moment of the darkness of the night, that has the ability to encapsulate and surround us, because darkness is all that is there, in the deepness of the midnight hour.  The midnight is the point in the day where that portion of the earth is furthest from the sun, so it covers the world in darkness.    A deep, cloaking, thickness of blackness that surrounds our entire being. It is the darkest moment of the day.  Quite often our perception is that there is absolutely no comfort in the darkness of midnight, only our fear and our waiting for the dawn to arise.

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Remember Your Baptism and Be Thankful

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
                                                                                 

 I. They Stormed The Capitol

It should be no secret that this week was a difficult week in United States History.  The events of this week likely left many of us pondering, how much crazier can life get, and some are even wondering if this is a sign of the final times on this earth.  The chaos that ensued this week at the Capitol Building and the processing and commentary around it, have gotten many of us questioning what is happening within the borders of our country.  And probably even has other countries, even our allies, wondering what is happening in the United States.  It may be no mystery, that it was difficult for me to pull the sermon out this week.  As I watched the television on Wednesday, in a state of shock and awe, with my jaw-dropped and my eyes wide open, I immediately went into a prayerful moment, praying over the safety of those in the Capitol, but also praying to God saying Where are you God? And What is the message you are trying to share with us?  What would you have us to do?  The sixth of January was a date in which we, in the Christian world, were supposed to be celebrating the Epiphany, the moment in which the wise men were led to our Lord by a star, bringing him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  A time where we acknowledge the world being drawn to Jesus Christ, who is the savior of the world, the acknowledgement of all being able to receive the blessing of our King. And yet January 6, 2021 held what some may say showed our need for Christ within this world as people moved with violence, hate, and vitriol as they stormed the Capitol building, seeking to thwart a governmental vote.  I wrestled back and forth with God on what God was saying in the midst of all this.  God where are you? And what are you doing in this moment?

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Where Is the King?

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
 
                                                                                   
 

 I. We Are Still In The Christmas Season

For many of us we have concluded our Christmas season, as we have celebrated Christmas day and marched into the new year.  In many households, the trees have come down, the stockings have been taken off the fireplace, the lights have gone into the box and back into the attic, all of the decorations have been put away.  Because to many the Christmas season is over.  December 25th has come and gone, Santa Clause has come to visit the children, we have all received our gifts, we have waited for the ball to drop as it signifies the ushering in of a new year, we have wished our family all the blessings that can come in the new year, we have made our resolutions that will bring about the new us in the new year, and the time has come for us to return back to business as usual.  And for some of us, we are moving into a new year, with the desire of trying to leave all things that happened in 2020 behind, shedding all the negativity, our heartbreak, our sorrow, and pain, and we are stepping into the new year of 2021with new possibilities, new thoughts, and a new perspective.
But for us Christians, the Christmas season is still continuing, and it will continue on until January 6th, which is the date in the church that we call epiphany.  And while the 6th is a few days away, this is the Sunday that we celebrate this day of Epiphany, the conclusion of the saga of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Magi, or as some of us know it as the three wise men, arrive and present Jesus with the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  The virgin Mary and Joseph have already arrived in the city of David, Bethlehem – there was no room for them in the inn – and yet they were given space to sleep in the barn.  Mary gave birth to this Holy Child and laid him in a manger.  The angels came and spoke to shepherds in the fields and told them of the new born King.  And shepherds traversed the land to visit and sit at this Holy King’s feet as he laid in a manger amongst the animals in the stable.  And now we are in the portion of the story in which the three wise men from the east have come to the see the Child who is the King.  These three kings of orient are, bringing gifts they have traversed afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.

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Love

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
                                                                                                                                   

 I. Beginning

By now, I probably don’t need to remind you that we are in the specific season of advent as we enter into the 4th week of this season. Advent symbolizes this time of expectant waiting as we wait for Christ, waiting as we follow our Christmas story, waiting for Christ to reveal himself in the present, and waiting for Christ’s return as we enter into final glory. Our scripture this morning lands in a place that precedes the scripture we referenced last week. It is the beginning of Mary’s story. Last week, we entered in at the tail end of the story, at the point of Mary’s rejoice, at the point of her praise.  But now we stand at the beginning, as God comes and approaches Mary through the presence of an angel, Gabriel.
Mary was there, an innocent girl, young vulnerable, about the age of 13, a woman of no specific status or title.  She had a modest beginning, she wasn’t wealthy, she wasn’t a religious leader, she was just a simple girl, who some would pass by without a thought, a simple woman who was in an oppressed class because of her gender and because of her heritage, because of the skin she was in, because of her religion, because she was a Jew, because she put her faith in the one true God and followed a monotheistic faith.  By societal standards she was just a plain anybody and by some standards she may have been a nobody.  Yes, now we bring value to the name of Mary, the one who we know now to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the son of God.  But Mary was just a poor girl from an oppressed class, that many would not stop to take a second glance at.  And yet, in her, God found favor – the angel of the Lord greeted her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!”  She was just a young and innocent, oppressed, poor girl, and yet God was with HER! Not someone of royalty, but her.  Remember, as we spoke last week, it is in her that the lowly are lifted up.  She was a simple girl and yet she was chosen as the one to be in partnership with God that she might birth God’s salvation for the world.

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Joy

                                                                                                               
Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 
 

I. Beginnings

We have entered into our third week of advent, the season of expectant waiting, where we are waiting through the Christmas season as we follow the story of the birth of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, we are waiting for Christ to reveal himself among us in the present, and we are waiting for the return of Jesus Christ that will take us into the future age as we meet God in the Kingdom of heaven.  But as we wait in this Advent season, we are aware that the world around us is celebrating the Christmas season.  Lights, nativity scenes, Santa Clause, trees, Christmas carols, presents, gift wrap, shopping, online shopping carts and in person shopping bags, Christmas tree ornaments, stars upon the tree, angels to top the tree, all unique markers for this season as we prepare for Christmas morning that arrives on December 25th.  We scramble around buying gifts for one another, trying to make sure that the Christmas season is the most incredible time for us and our loved ones.  We are caught up in the picture-perfect stories of Christmas fairytales and love on the Hallmark and Lifetime channels.  We lose ourselves in the Christmas spirit with thoughts of joy, love, hope, promise, Christmas magic, and Christmas cheer.  We want to have ourselves a Merry little Christmas because of course this is the most wonderful time of the year.  It is a joyous time, a joyous occasion for most of us.

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Peace

                                                                                                               
Pastor Rachel Livingston 
 

I. Beginning

Peace – Peace I bring to you in the name of Jesus Christ! For Jesus is the messiah, the one who brings salvation, the Son of God. The one who brings peace in the midst of chaos, the one who is peace himself.  Last week we entered into this season of Advent, this season of expectant waiting, this season of waiting for the celebration of the birth of that Christ-child, the season of waiting for the movement of Christ to be revealed within this season, this season of waiting for the return of our King, Jesus Christ, this season that brings the joy and the hope of waiting, but also the pain and discomfort of waiting.  We have the opportunity to grow in this time as we wait in this moment, this moment of the dark, black, richness of night, waiting in the darkness as the stars become a companion of guidance to Jesus, waiting in the darkness as angelic beings guide  with the comforting words that say do not be afraid, waiting for the revelation of the King, Jesus Christ, who reveals himself in the vulnerability of a child in a stable, laid in a manger.  But yet we are also waiting in the dark richness of the night, the blackness of our life, but it is not a darkness of depression, but a darkness of feeling the present of now and the calming presence of resting, the darkness that covers us with an internal hope of listening and watching as we wait, and the darkness that is a companion as we wait for the  joy of a morning sun that is yet to come with great possibilities and redemption.  In this moment of waiting, this season of Advent, if we have learned anything from the Christmas story we see that the rich, blackness of the dark of the night can be a moment of vulnerability that connects us to God, it can be a moment of guidance to the light, and it can be a moment of peace.  We stand in this moment, this moment of the darkness, this moment of waiting, opening up ourselves in vulnerability and resting in God’s peace, watching and waiting for the transformational presence that is Jesus Christ, revealing himself to us in the world.
As we started this season of waiting, last week, we saw that Jesus Christ is our hope, our active, living hope that has brought such transformation in the biblical tradition, in our lives today, and brings hope to our future that has yet to be. But this morning, this miraculous morning, we acknowledge that Christ is, not only our hope, but our peace.  What indeed a unique and significant statement that is, that Jesus Christ is our peace! Jesus is our PEACE in the midst of sorrow! Which doesn’t means that Jesus will take away the sorrow we have, for sorrow is a natural human reaction, but Jesus is the comforting presence that gives us peace, the one who doesn’t prevent the tears from falling but brings renewal and cleansing waters that can reinvigorate the soul.  In the midst of a heavy heart, Jesus grants peace that claims he knows our burdens and our pain, that when we cry, he cries along with us.  Jesus is the PEACE in the midst of a storm! For it is Jesus who can calm the roaring of the waves, who can calm the torrential winds that beat upon us, it is Jesus who can look in the face of the storm and say, “Peace, Be Still.”  But it is also Jesus who can bring a sense of peace, a sense of comfort, even when all that surrounds seems to beat upon us, we can go to God and know that PEACE is in God’s presence.  Even in a chaotic world, where gun violence is rampant within certain cities of this country, where brother and sister are torn against one another,  where people are distrustful of one another, where people are worried about what the future holds, where people experience the destruction of people and homes – Jesus Christ is the peace that can grant redemption and salvation from this chaos – the name above other names whose ministry and work seeks to bring peace in the midst of all things.  Jesus is the salvation that literally brings peace to the world.

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Jesus Christ Is Lord

 
                                                                                                       
Pastor Rachel B. Livingston
 
 

I. Beginnings

All Hail the Power of Jesus name, let angels prostrate fall, because Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  Because of Christ’s majesty, let us all proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Jesus is sovereign over all the earth.  Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth, that means you, and you, and you, and me too, let us all worship the Lord.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing.  Let us worship our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself up as a living sacrifice.  The one who endured the lashes, the bruises, as he faced Pontius Pilate – the one who endured being mocked and spat at – the one who bent over struggling and had to carry his cross until he was relieved of it – the one who was stretched out on a cross, stretched so wide that he had to push himself up in agony, just so that he might breathe – the one who endured so much pain that he wailed in anguish – the one who hung his head and died – the one who in death paid a price for our sin that reconciled us back to God and on the third day rose from the dead that we might find new life.  It was Christ who took an earthly symbol that represented death and defeat and used it to proclaim his reign as the salvific King of the whole world.  And just as a phoenix is able to rise from its ashes, Jesus was able to take what the world saw as destruction and turn it into victory and new life. Let us proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord over our lives.  For we know that the Lord is God.  It is God that made us, and we are God’s, we are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture. It is on this this day that we proclaim to all the world that Jesus Christ is Lord! 

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