Advent One, awaken us from our self-induced slumber, we pray. Numb from uncertainty and isolation, our senses have dulled. We confess it is easier to nurse diminished hope, than respond to the suffering of our neighbors, or the hurt lodged deeply within.
Yet we know that just as you came before, you will come again. You who seek to awaken our innermost self. You who come to us in the inconspicuous, the marginalized and the forgotten. You who know our fear of being released from this numbness. Yet in love you urge us on, saying, “My children, keep awake!”
So, God of All Awakening, in your mercy awaken us, we pray. Rouse us from this deadened slumber. Sharpen our senses and set us on our feet. For we want to prepared when we see you – be it in glory or in the least of these.
So we may be counted, as blessed, once more. Amen.
 Image from Kekovacs.blogspot.com
 Based on The Gospel of Mark 13:37, “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Grateful for this sheltered place With light in every window Saying, “Welcome, welcome, share this feast Come in away from sorrow”
from the Thanksgiving Song, by Mary Chapin Carpenter
As we continue to shelter in place, O God, will we ever be able to sing your praises? Will these anxious hearts weary and heavy from sorrow be lifted? Can Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas even be celebrated this year, when we’re separated from those we love?
Before you and you alone, we acknowledge these painful uncertainties. Loss of employment, housing and health, are ravaged further by inequality. Loved ones lost are unable be mourned. Events that once sustained us have been put aside. Deep divisions and threats to our democracy persist. Our planet and her peoples crumble under the weight of injustice and exploitation.
So, we cry out, when will we be able to throw our doors wide open, O Lord? When will lighted windows signify the sharing of the feast? When will the Thanksgiving Song be joyfully lifted up even as we clasp hands with others?
Yet you remind us that you are always in the face of the least of these. You come as the ignored, the marginalized and the hungry. Yours is the face lined with sorrow. Yours are the eyes who have seen too much. You come as the one who is incarcerated, the one who is sick but without adequate health-care, the one who stands outside a food bank wondering if there will be enough.
Great Redeemer, in our searching and longing for you, be with us in the light of your countenance and shine through the windows of our hearts. Let your welcoming affirmation accompany us when we bring food to the shelter, make a phone call to the lonely and write a message of cheer to the imprisoned. So that all your children – through your unfathomable grace – may come away from sorrow, seeing one another not as strangers, but as long-lost brothers and sisters who together share in the feast of gladness. May it be so. Amen.
“If I say [in my despair], ‘Surely this darkness shall engulf me and what remains of light will become as night,’ even gloom’s obscurity is no match for you; for its darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:11-12, paraphrased
It has been said that the late Howard Thurman, black activist, theologian and Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University turned daily to Psalm 139 during the course of his lifetime. What was it about these words that kept this theologian and activist going? And what advice would he give us in the wake of a joyful, historic and momentous victory – yes – but knowing full well that we face a challenging and hazardous road ahead?I
Injustice and weariness were not unknown to Thurman. He witnessed firsthand depravity’s cruelty and was no stranger to the viciousness inflicted on the marginalized and most vulnerable. Yet it was because of these things, that he could unwaveringly make the case for God’s proximity even when feeling acutely alone. Indeed, he was convinced that grief, heartache and being cast into utter darkness – especially for those in the trenches and on the frontlines of seeking justice – will not or cannot diminish this intimate connection with the transcendent One.
Such was this daily practice that sustained him through the years. Thurman’s legacy radically affirms God’s proximity whenever any of us finds ourselves in the throes of darkness. A darkness that is lifted whenever we turn to the psalmist’s profound and undefeated words, day after day, month and after month and year after year.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside everything that hinders..and let us run with perseverance the race set before us…” Hebrews 12:1
On this Election Day, fear and anxiety bests us at every turn. Threats of violence, voter suppression and yet more chaos looms. Intimidation abounds and many fear to go to the polls. Should democracy perish, what will become of us?
Yet lest we forget, we are not alone in this struggle. Those who have gone on before us are now a cloud of witnesses. No longer can they be silenced or oppressed, beaten or incarcerated. Instead, having labored for justice and emancipation, fair voting rights and equal protection under the law, a living wage and affordable health care – they stand alongside us. Cheering us on! Encouraging us onward. No strangers to intimidation or trepidation, they call out, “Be not afraid.”
So come and stand alongside us, you audacious cloud of faithful witnesses. Come, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Come, Medgar Evans and Howard Thurman, John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr. Come, so we may draw upon your courage and conviction. Come, so that together we may work towards the emancipation of this generation, and those that are to come.
Divine Maker, when will we experience your promised rest? For we are weary and afraid. Those who labor for justice are assailed on every side. Shallow and self-serving religiosity has replaced our nation’s moral compass, and expediency all too often has the upper hand. Even slumber at night is elusive and the hope of former years fails us.
In our dismay we cry out, “Have you abandoned us in our hour of need?
But just as you declared to the one called, Moses, you abide with us always – even in the darkest of hours. Though overwhelmed and hemmed from every side, you proclaim that in our struggle we find favor in your sight. Indeed, it is by your presence, we are set apart. You know each of us by name, and even the hairs on our head are counted.
For just as you revealed yourself to Moses, come Divine Maker, again, again and again. Reveal your mercy, make all your goodness known, lavish your compassion and faithfulness, and restore us once more. So that we may be the seekers and doers of justice that you have summoned us to be. Amen.
“The LORD said, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided…” 
Holy One, we are a country that may as well be two nations. For we are at war with one another. Though many call America their homeland (whether born upon her soil or journeying to her shores from distant lands), we are sorely divided. Indeed, we even struggle with those closest to us, besides the enmity painfully evident elsewhere. Before you and you alone, we confess that our predilection for division runs deep.
So, when your beloved son, Jesus asked, “Who is my mother, and my brother and my sisters,”  how could he have done so knowing that his biological family was just outside, waiting for him to return home? What could his hearers have been thinking, given the ironclad grip of familial bonds in his day? Was the One who spoke of honoring your mother and father as stated in the Ten Commandments, nevertheless spurning his own?
Yet we thanks that after making this declaration, Jesus answered his own question. And by answering it, your son testified that love of God AND the love of neighbor  applies to all humanity, O God, not just those who are immediate members of our biological family, our local church, or tribe. Instead, as our Sovereign, you created us to be far, far more inclusive than we alone can fathom. For under the shelter of your love you call forth the new family: that includes the foreigner, the welfare mother, the unemployed, the transgendered, the homeless, the uninsured, the elderly, the disabled, the indigenous, and all people of color, not just those who think and look like we do.
We give thanks that having said these words, your son then stretched out his hand toward his followers, saying, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” O God, in your love and mercy, we beseech you to mend our weary hearts and ease our burdened minds, so that we might embrace the fullness of your incarnation and be healed. For when we dare to manifest what love of God and love of neighbor actually looks like, we celebrate your kindom and the goodness of all creation. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 A depiction of the power struggle between Jacob and Esau, by Yoram Ranaan
 Genesis 25:23
 Matthew 12:48-50 (these verses immediately precede this week’s lectionary reading, setting the context for Matthew 13:1-9)
 Love of God and love of neighbor are the anchors Jesus used to succinctly illustrate what is required of us. Mark 12:30-31, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy” Rumi
Since late March of this year, I’ve been drawn to a large swath of conservation land called Winchester Fells. Covering more than twenty-two hundred acres and stretching across several communities, it is a remarkable system of reservoirs, meadows, numerous trails, and lush forest. But within it are places that make one pause, allowing us to drink in the beauty of the moment.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy,” wrote the Persian mystic, Rumi. Gazing at the clear running water gurgling over rocks and spilling now and then into small pools, it was as if a river was unleashed within me as well. A joy. Remembering the sacred text, the words, “…from our innermost being will flow rivers of living water,”  led me to ask, what does it mean to do things from one’s soul?
Our soul has been described as our “blueprint in God, what we were born for.”  But our souls aren’t merely an etheral dimension within us or an entity relegated to religion. Instead, our souls, your soul is as a sure compass, pointing in the direction of the stream’s current while gently urging you onward. Have you long dreamed of painting but were convinced you lack the talent? Have you yearned to write but felt you don’t have the time? Have you long considered rekindling a treasured friendship but just kept putting it off?
Coudl it be that seemingly such simple things – gazing at the brilliant blooms just outside your window, picking up a paintbrush or allowing the sound of music fill your senses – be the conduit to reclaiming the movement of the soul within? Could it be that our souls are greater agents of reclamation within us, and beyond, then we realize? What if when all is said and done, our Maker yearns for us to experience the singularity of joy?
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers to his harvest.Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and sent them.” Matthew 9:37-10:1
As Jesus went about the cities and villages, he looked out on the weary crowds that surrounded him. An occupied people with no recourse to the injustice they bore, Jesus looked upon them with compassion. Cut to the heart by their suffering, it was then that he turned to his disciples and said, “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore, ask that the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Suggests author, Scott Hoezee, “When Jesus told his disciples to ask God to send more workers into the [harvest of acute human need], we can assume that the disciples prayed that God would send others to support the people as Jesus requested. But what Jesus’ disciples didn’t expect, is that God would send them.” Yes, God answered their prayers. But what they weren’t expecting, is that God’s answer to prayer, was them.
What if God’s answer to prayer, turns out to be you? What if the fact you’re overwhelmed and just plain tired of the pandemic and everything else, qualifies you all the more? What if God has more confidence in uncertain, unlikely you…then you could possibly imagine?
What if God’s answer to prayer, turns out to be you?
“Today, Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught They lowered him down as a king But when the shadowy sun sets on the one That fired the gun He’ll see by his grave On the stone that remains Carved next to his name His epitaph plain Only a pawn in their game” 
When twenty-two-year-old Bob Dylan sang before the gathered masses at the Washington Mall in August of 1963, Civil Rights Activist and World War II veteran, Medgar Wiley Evers, had been buried just two months before. The victim of a racially motivated assassination, Medgar was just two weeks shy of his thirty-eighth birthday. Having just arrived home, Medgar was shot through the heart moments after getting out of his car. Still, Metgar managed to stagger thirty feet before collapsing just outside his front door. This is where his wife and three young children found him. 
While decrying the barbaric and inhuman cycle of victimization, Dylan’s lyrics also point to its pervasiveness. Chances are it is far more contagious than we’re comfortable admitting. Throughout his lyrics, Dylan points out that hatred and divisiveness are intentionally stoked by those who crave power. What better way to reduce people to pawns? Like the police who watched while an officer kneeled on George Flloyd’s neck as he gasped for breath, are we not bystanders when we fail to recognize our complicity in systemic oppression?
Are we not pawns in someone else’s game?
 Bob Dylan, Civil Rights March, August 28, 1963
 Bob Dylan, Only a Pawn in Their Game, Folk, blues
“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —” 
Just outside our window and nestled within the leaves of a cherry tree, a young robin sits atop a nest. Since it takes about a month from the time the eggs are laid up to when the fledglings leave, she vigilantly broods over her young. Throughout the dark of night, and all during the day she remains, steadfastly keeping her young warm and protected.
It was earlier this week when I first spied the robin brooding over her nest. Here I was, weary of this pandemic and its physical distancing guidelines, sick at heart as to the state of our democracy and fearful for our children and children’s future in the face of ongoing ecological degradation. But nevertheless, the little robin just outside my window continues to do her stalwart best – despite predators, harsh weather, and an uncertain outcome given the fragility of her young.
Wrote Emily Dickens, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul.” Author and Rabbi, Naomi Levy suggests that most life questions are actually soul questions. When we are lost and confused; when we feel ‘cut off’ from the best part of ourselves; when we are despairing and wonder if we’ve hit bottom; while not dismissing the intensity of the pain – could this be a manifestation of the soul’s yearning? 
It is now noon, and still the robin remains. Looking at her steadfastly atop her nest and protecting her young come what may, I realize that what she needs to do – is nothing remarkable in and of itself. But what is remarkable, is that she does it moment after moment, hour after hour, day after day. Watching her, I think of God’s face brooding like a bird over the watery abyss from the Book of Genesis. The Maker of Souls who continues to hover over all creation. Giving substance to hope, that perches in the soul.
 Image – Barry McArdle, photographer
 Emily Dickenson, “‘Hope’ is the Thing With Feathers,” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson.
 Naomi Levy, Einstein and the Rabbi, (New York: Flatiron Books, 2017)