Rev. Sarah Buteux

Worship for January 9, 2022

Note: We met via zoom, because we were all craving connection over perfection this morning. Here are the words and prayers from this morning’s service.

From the Welcome

Covid keeps throwing us curve balls, and I can’t predict exactly what’s coming next and how we’ll respond. But I have to say that the not knowing is at least thematically appropriate, because we are now in the season of Epiphany, the season of unexpected reveals and reversals. 

Epiphany is all about finding the light and the truth and love in unexpected ways and places and people.

It’s a season where we find ourselves on roads we did not intend to travel like the magi, 

It’s a season when we are faced with people we did not expect to see asking us to do things we weren’t expecting to do, like John being surprised when Jesus shows up to be baptized by him rather than the other way around.

It’s a season of unexpected blessings, like water being turned into wine at a wedding, unexpected fulfillment, like Jesus reading the scroll of Isaiah in his hometown and telling people that he was the messiah, and unexpected callings, like Jesus choosing fishermen to be his disciples. 

Epiphany is a season where God comes to us in unexpected places and people in unexpected times and ways, maybe even over zoom. This is the season to keep your eyes, your mind, and your heart open because God might just surprise you. 

Invocation

O God, we are here. 

I don’t exactly know where here is anymore 

because we’ve been in this wilderness for so long. 

All I know is that we are here, 

and thanks be to you, 

we are at least here together.

God, we’ve come so far, 

we’ve been through so much, 

and we still have so far to go, 

but for today, for now, for this moment, 

I pray that you would invite us into 

 that cathedral of time known as sabbath. 

I pray, as we enter, 

that we would feel your hand resting gently but firmly upon us, 

inviting us to lie down, 

lie down in green pastures and beside your still waters, 

that you might restore our souls. 

Because we are tired and weary and worn, O God. 

We feel sad and disconnected and overwhelmed. 

There is so much about these days and these struggles we find ourselves in that is beyond our control. It can all feel very heavy.

And so I pray that we could find the grace 

to give at least some of the weight of it all over to you. 

Hold our worries and our concerns. 

Hold our fears and preoccupations.

Hold us in all our unknowing, 

until we know once again, 

deep down in our hearts of hearts, 

that this “here” we find ourselves in is, has been, and will always be,

 You.  Amen.

 

As you listen to this passage from Isaiah, keep in mind that this was written to a people in exile. A people who had lost their homes and their land and their whole way of life. They had been swept away by the tide of war. They felt burned and abandoned by God. They had no hope that things would ever go back to the way they were – back to normal – and they feared that as a result their faith and their traditions and their identity as the people of Israel would die out. It is to these people, that the word of God comes through the prophet Isaiah.

 

Scripture

Isaiah 43:1-7

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

And from the gospel of Luke:

Luke 3:21-22

21Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 

Meditation and Time for Reflection

  1. Have people think about how they are doing these days. If you could describe yourself in 1-3 words, what would they be.  And then, if you are willing, go ahead and type them into the chat.

So, my friends, as we enter a new year there are two seemingly conflicting themes in all the podcasts, posts, and resources I’ve seen.

There’s the “New Year, New You” camp that is setting New Year’s resolutions and intentions for themselves and their churches; choosing star words, one word, or three words, to help shape their goals and aspirations. Reminding us all that if we don’t know where we are going we might not get there. 

I imagine that for these folks, their January will be dry, their fit bits will be busy, they’ll finally get all of their church boards on slack, and who knows, the next great American novel might just get written this year. God bless those folks.

And then there’s the nope, “not today Satan!” crowd that is going to ground hard this January. They are exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. They have pulled out their stretchy pants, canceled their gym membership, and cleared their calendars of all unnecessary activities for the foreseeable future. 

When it comes to the whole “New Year, New You” vibe, they are pushing back. Hard. 

Glennon Doyle, Abby, and Sister over at the “We Can Do Hard Things” Podcast, Nadia Bolz Weber,  Sarah Bessey, and many other wise ones, have all determined that the whole “New Year, New You,” mantra is nothing but a capitalist scheme dreamed up by the wellness industry to make you feel bad about yourself so you’ll buy more stuff or sign up for more stuff to fix all the stuff about your self you’ve been conditioned to believe is not good enough or thin or healthy or productive enough.  

These lovely and wise ladies are here to remind you that you’re not broken. 

They are here to remind you that there is nothing inherently wrong with you, at least nothing that one more pair of yoga pants is going to fix. 

You are beautiful and wonderful and ENOUGH just the way you are, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you otherwise, especially if they are trying to sell you something. 

And all of that is true. I think it’s the truth at the heart of our scriptures today.  The truth that before you do anything your primary identity, the truest thing about you, is that you are a beloved child of God. 

Your belovedness is not conditional.

It cannot be bought or earned. 

It is not based in your outward circumstances, your accomplishments, your understanding or even your faith. 

Think again about those words from Isaiah:

 The Israelites were exiled and hurting and had all but given up on God. They had messed up royally and were suffering what they assumed were the consequences. 

But God assures them that contrary to all appearances, God still loves them, has not given up on them, and is coming for them. 

“I have called you by name,” says God. 

“You are mine,” says God. 

You are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you. Do not fear for I am with you.” 

It might not feel like it, because life is so hard, but God insists that it is true.

And then we have Jesus, right after his baptism – before he has started his ministry or done anything of any significance at all – we have Jesus who is declared beloved by the Holy Spirit. 

“You are my son, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

 So everybody, today’s message is simply this: you are a beloved child of God because God loves all of God’s children. Period. Full Stop. You, my friends, were born beautiful, beloved, blessed. You are pleasing in God’s sight, right now, just the way you are. 

This body you are in, is actually pretty awesome. To quote Barbara Brown Taylor, this body is your soul’s address. Your body is good. It is a gift. It doesn’t need to be smaller or larger or more productive for that to be true. 

And the same goes for your life, which is also a gift. When you look at your life, at the the work before you or our church, at your home or your kids or any of the things you worry about and feel compelled to improve, maybe take a breath, right now, hit pause, sit back and just give thanks that you have what you have, you are who you are, you live where you live, you are blessed to know the people you know.  

That being said, we’ve all been through a lot.

Covid has put us all through the wringer. Whether we caught it or not, and we all have healing to do. 

So maybe this new year does not need to be about perfecting our selves or resolving to do more or better, so much as tending to this person God loves. The body you are in, this frame that houses your soul, might require some gentle buffing and lots of hugging and tenderness right now. It does’t necessarily have to get stronger or thinner or better, but it might appreciate some flowers or a new haircut or a long nap or some nice wool socks and a book, or a mental health day or coffee with a friend. Now is the time to be super good to yourself. 

“It seems to me that we’re all desperate for some gentleness, compassion, and kindness right now. Not only towards our own bodies but our whole selves and each other, too,” says Sarah Bessey. 

Friends that’s my only goal for me, for you, for us right now: Gentleness, compassion, kindness, and acceptance. Amen? Amen.

  1. So now I want you to think back to the words you chose at the beginning of this meditation. Given how you are feeling, again in 1-3 words, think about what your soul really needs right now.  What words capture what you need to heal, nurture, soothe, or carry you through the next few weeks. And then we’ll take some time to share and reflect. 

Pastoral Prayer

O God, as hard as it is to be stuck in the wilderness of this never-ending pandemic, my heart is still somehow full of hope and gratitude. 

As hard as this is I am deeply thankful for the people out here with me, grateful for the fact that we can make church happen in this way, grateful for this particular incarnation of the body of Christ and the way we keep showing up for one another, 

even after all this time, 

even after every set-back, 

even when our hearts aren’t in it. 

I thank you that when we can’t, others can, 

that when we forget others remember, 

that when we falter, we as a people do not fail, 

because we keep finding ways to come alongside one another and lift each other up.

I thank you that that there is still light and life among us and that, 

as bruised as our wicks might be, they have not gone out. 

As we enter this season of epiphany, blow on the embers of our hearts, 

blow on that spark that has not yet died, and breath us gently back to life. 

Hold us in our grief, O God, comfort us in our despair, heal us in our hurt, and speak tenderly to us in the midst of all the lies that would have us believe that we are anything less than your beloved children. 

As we move through this day and this week may we continue to 

find ways to help and hold and heal one another

May we be a comfort to the weary and present to the lonely. 

May we be recklessly generous with those whose livelihoods are hanging in the balance.

And may we be extravagantly patient, 

not just with our families and our friends and our co-workers, 

but with ourselves.

O God, only you know the prayers, the names, the hopes and the fears that weigh on every heart. And so I ask that you would hear us now as we lift those prayers to you….

Protect our friends and loved ones, O God. 

Protect all those who are going out every day to treat and heal and serve us: 

our doctors and nurses, our teachers and care givers.

Pour out your Spirit upon us,

that we may face these days with a reasonable and holy hope.

Call us up out of this valley and into your Kingdom, the kingdom you taught us to long for when you taught us to pray…

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not into temptation but deliver from evil.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen

Benediction

A NEW YEAR BLESSING FROM REV NADIA BOLZ WEBER, author, speaker, theologian, and founding pastor of the House for all Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado.

A blessing for the new year:

As you enter this new year, as you pack away the Christmas decorations and get out your stretchy pants…

As you face the onslaught of false promises offered you through new disciplines and elimination diets…

… as you grasp for control of yourself and your life and this chaotic world…

May you remember that there is no resolution that, if kept, will make you more worthy of love.

There is no resolution that, if kept, will make life less uncertain and allow you to control a pandemic and your children and the way other people act.

So this year,

May you just skip the part where you resolve to be better, do better and look better this time.

May you give yourself the gift of really, really low expectations.

May you expect so little of yourself that you can be super proud of the smallest accomplishments.

May you expect so little of the people in your life that you notice and cherish every small lovely thing about them.

May you expect so little of the supply chain and service industry that you notice more of what you do get and less of what you don’t and tip really well anyhow.

May you expect to get so little out of 2022 that you can celebrate every single thing it offers you, however small. 

Because you deserve joy and not disappointment.

So, I wish you a Happy as possible New Year.