Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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Devotional: Seeing Dimly

[Written for the Memorial UMC 2015 Advent Devotional. Side Note: Our son was born on December 3, 2015]

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Ever since we found out we were having a baby it has been hard to wait. What will our child look like? Who will s/he become?

Pregnancy is a surreal experience. It is hard to believe that the child we have only seen in black and white blurry images on an ultrasound machine will soon be born and cradled in my arms.

In this season of Advent, it’s hard to wait for Jesus to be born, and for Jesus’ return. What will the Kingdom of God look like? What will our world become?

Being a Christian is also a surreal experience. It is hard to see God at work amidst the suffering and violence in our world and in our lives. Where is the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed?

I am thankful that God gives us glimpses of the Kingdom every bit as blurry and exciting as a sonogram. I see these blurry, exciting images in the community on Wednesday Nights, in the love and support of Sunday School classes and small groups, and in the joy and curiosity in our children.

These glimpses of the Kingdom remind me that God is actively working in our world to bring an end to suffering and to make all things right. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray, “God of hope, give me eyes to see your Kingdom around me so that I can share your hope with others.”

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Advent Devotional: God with Us

[Written for the Memorial UMC 2015 Advent Devotional-December 2]

But now, says the LORD— the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you. I am the LORD your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior. I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place (Isa 43:1-3)

Throughout life, bad things happen that we do not expect: A job transition, a medical diagnosis, conflict in a relationship, the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, Scripture never promises an easy life for those who follow Jesus. In fact often it promises the exact opposite. The comfort for me from Isaiah, however, is the word, “when.” The prophet knows that life has seasons of overwhelming floods and fear inducing fires. This is just something we should know up front. We are not called to expect God to eliminate this reality, what we can expect is that in the midst of it all, God will be with us and that God will not let us go.

In the season of Advent, we look forward to the coming of Christ. We remember the entrance of God into our world. God became human knowing full well the difficulty of life on earth. In His life, Jesus experienced rejection, pain, grief, injustice, betrayal, and more. For me this is a comforting reminder. When I am wondering where God is in the midst of a crisis, Isaiah’s words remind me that God is with us through it all. Having experienced everything life could throw at Him, we can be assured that when things in life come our way, we do not have to be afraid. God is with us. Jesus Christ, God in human form, has been there, conquered that, and will help us to weather the storms of life.

Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for never leaving me or forsaking me. When I feel like I am drowning, or the fires of life make me afraid, help me to remember your presence beside me and give me the grace I need to continue walking with you each and every step of the way. Amen.


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Sermon: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

[Side Note: Little did I know that four days after I preached this sermon, our son Malachi Emmanuel would be born. God is good, unexpected sometimes, but always good.]

Scriptures: Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36

Several months ago, the worship planning team was thinking about what to focus on for advent, and I made the half-joking suggestion that we should do a series called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” At that point, Jessica and I were several months into our pregnancy and that classic book had become a regular part of our reading. The more the team thought about it, the more the idea came together. Both pregnancy and advent are times full of expectation and anticipation, and both are counting down to one particular day. For a baby you count down forty weeks, whereas Advent only lasts four. As so many of you have told me, having a baby changes your whole world. The child who is born at the end of advent changes not just the life of His parents, but also the whole course of history and every life that has ever lived. And so over these next four weeks we will be going through the process of preparing for the birth of Christ.

One of the things I have learned about pregnancy is that there is not a lack of information. In our living room is a bag full of pregnancy books with detailed accounts of what to expect at each stage of pregnancy. What a woman may feel. What her body is doing, how the baby is growing. Week by week, trimester by trimester, it tells you what to look forward to and what you should do. Every single possibility is laid out and described in very detailed ambiguity. You may feel this, or you may not. Some women experience this, others do not. Every book tries to answer every question, touch on every possibility that they can think of.

For this reason, one of the first things the doctor told us when she recommended books was that we should not read ahead. The same advice does not apply to the season of advent. The first Sunday traditionally always jumps straight past the birth to the very end, the second coming of Christ.

Whereas reading ahead in a pregnancy book could cause unnecessary fear and anxiety, reading ahead in the Christian story and knowing that Christ will return gives us a sense of comfort and hope. Because we know the end of the story, we can live through difficulties in the middle with confidence and assurance that God will see us through.

Both of our texts for today are set within dark and difficult times in Jewish history. Jeremiah lived during a time when Judah was caught between large and powerful empires who were vying for control. Jeremiah tries to advise the rulers and the people on how to faithfully navigate between them, but they do not listen. And so, in the year 587 BC, the Babylonians entered Jerusalem. Their army slaughtered the leaders in front of the people, they destroyed the Temple, and captured many of the people and shipped them away as exiles. In the wake of their brutality, the Jewish people who remained were demoralized, shaken, and unsure of what their future would hold.

For most of the Jewish people, these events were completely unexpected. How could the God who made a special covenant with them, who brought them out of Egypt, and gave them the Promised Land allow them to be so utterly destroyed, the very symbol of their covenant laid to ruins?

It is into this thinking that Jeremiah speaks this Word from God, ”I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. I will raise up a righteous branch…” In the middle of the broken forest, Jeremiah tells the people that God has not given up on them and that God is working on their restoration.

Over six centuries later, as Jesus is speaking to his disciples, the Great Temple in Jerusalem has been rebuilt, but the worst is yet to come for the Jewish people and the followers of Jesus. Knowing this, Jesus’ words to his disciples are again words about the future.

Jesus describes the end of the story, the Son of Man (CEB-translates this Human One) coming on clouds with power and splendor, bringing everything under His rule and control. This image of Christ’s victorious return has helped Christians throughout the centuries to persevere in persecution, to face lions, fires, and gun barrels with hymns of praise, and through it all to share the Good news of Jesus Christ with everyone they met.

Before the second coming, however, Jesus paints a bleak picture as he describes what the world often looks like in this in-between time. All the earth will be turned upside down. Nations will devolve into chaos, and nothing on earth or in the heavens will be constant or secure. In other words, we are to expect the unexpected.

In many ways Jesus could be describing our world today. The attacks in Paris a couple of weeks ago were a violent reminder of the fragility of life and the illusion of safety. The normal lives of people enjoying a sports game, concert, and drinking at a coffee shop brutally interrupted by extremists bent on shaking the very foundations of Western society.

In many places around the world, fear is a regular part of daily life. For people living throughout the Middle East, drone strikes, suicide bombs, and hostile check points keep people constantly on their toes. Families in Nigeria worry each day if their children will come home from school. In our own country many racial and religious minorities describe their fear when those around them do not understand who they are or where they come from, and many women are nervous to go outside because of the catcalls and inappropriate looks they receive from men on the street.

As I read these passages this week, I realized that in addition to terrorist attacks, there are things inside of us that also turn our world upside down. The death of a spouse, a parent, a child, or a friend can also shake the ground beneath out feet. The loss of a job, a divorce, a diagnosis, or an illness can call into question the foundations of how we understand ourselves and the world around us.

In these moments of crisis, when what we had expected is gone and pain and uncertainty are all we have left, we look around for something that will help us get through the darkness.

Could it be that in these times when chaos and fear are swirling around us, Jesus is calling us to look for the signs of his coming?

I believe in the second coming of Christ. I believe that at a certain point in the future, Jesus will return, the Kingdom of God will come and at that time, all things will be brought under the reign of God. This is the truth that the Scriptures teach us, and I am confident there will come a day. However, Jesus also told his disciples, “Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matt 28:20). In four weeks we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom we will call, “Emanuel, God is with us.”

The reality of Jesus’ second coming does not have to be separated from the reality that God in Christ is here with us today. In a world fractured with violence and filled with fear, Jesus’ second coming reminds us that this world is not as it should be, and that God is making it better. The reality of Jesus’ presence with us now as Emmanuel is a daily reminder that God does not leave us alone in the meantime.

Every day, Jesus comes into the lives of people and communities and shares their grief and suffering, experiences their depression, and despair. And, while it may not be as dramatic as riding in on clouds, Jesus nonetheless enters into those situations with power and splendor to bring forth comfort, peace, joy and hope.

The world in which we live is one where things do not always go according to plan. People suffer for no reason at all. As many of you know, I am experiencing this in my own life. Several months ago, when our child was diagnosed with a serious heart defect the news was entirely unexpected. Since then, there have been times of sadness, grief, anger, and fear, but there have been many more moments of great joy, excitement, and hope.

Conceiving and bearing children is a beautiful thing, but it is also something that is incredibly difficult. Many families have stories of infertility, miscarriages, the tragic loss of a child, as well as many other complications of pregnancy. These stories are but a few examples of the brokenness and suffering found in our world. But they are also not the end of the story. For many of those same families adoptions, medical treatments, mentorships, and unexpected friendships, conclude their stories of pain and loss in ways that were inconceivable earlier on.

As people who have read the end of the story, we know that God’s work in our world does not stop at suffering but continues through to life and hope.

We know that violence and fear are very real and present in our world. All of us have seen the power of suffering in our world either in our own life or in that of someone close to us. The violence and suffering in our world is a symptom of its brokenness. The message from our texts today is that fear is not the end of the story.

Jesus’s description of His second coming calls on each of us to turn these symptoms into sign posts to the Kingdom of God. To confront the evil and injustice in our world with the confidence of people who know the end of the story.

So often we turn our attention away from the brokenness and pain of our world. Some people use alcohol, drugs, or other substances to dull the pain and divert their focus. Others insulate themselves by focusing on their work, their hobbies, sports team, or even celebrity news. In this holiday season, how tempting is it to distract ourselves from the cares of the world with the cares of our to do lists, our shopping and decorating, and gift giving. Jesus warns us against this: “Take care that your heart’s aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life.” When we are distracted and distanced from the broken and hurting people and places of our world we are at risk of missing the coming of Christ into those very people and places.

By paying attention to the brokenness of our world. By being vigilant in our prayers for our others and for ourselves, we are able to bear witness to the fact that our world is in the process of being remade. We are able to speak God’s word of hope and assurance so that the world may know that even in the darkness, God provides light. Even when everything has been cut down, God provides new growth, and even when fear threatens to overwhelm us and the ground beneath our feet is unsteady, God stands firmly on the clouds bringing order to the chaos and reminding us that our redemption is near. Amen.


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Advent Devotional: Prepare the Way…

[Note: This devotional was written for the annual Trinity UMC Advent devotional book. If you would like to receive the rest of them through Epiphany, click here and sign up for the “Daily Scripture E-mail.”]

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1–2 NRSV)

Something I have been doing a lot recently is packing. It is the hardest part of getting ready for a trip. It is tough deciding what you need and what you need to leave behind. However, the best part of the process is imagining what you will be encountering, so you know what to bring. This is what is happening in this passage. Malachi’s messenger proclaims the Kingdom of God and tells us to get packing. Because we hear Jesus’s declaration that the Kingdom of God is drawing near (Mark 1:14), we can begin to imagine the day with no poverty, war, injustice, pain, or death. It is this vision we receive which orients our lives; which actions and habits we need to keep, and which we need to leave behind. Do our priorities today mirror God’s ultimate intention for the world? Are we preparing ourselves and our world now for the Kingdom of God?
Prayer: God of Grace and Love, you have made us your children through the life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. As we celebrate his birth and await his coming again, let our celebrations turn to actions so that Your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Little John Wesley being used as a sermon illustration at Bearpark MC

Little John Wesley being used as a sermon illustration at Bearpark MC


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Morning Prayer, Monotony, and the Joys of Advent

LJW does his Morning Prayer.

LJW does his Morning Prayer.

One of the most significant parts of life in Cranmer Hall and the Wesley Study Centre is the regular pattern of prayer. At Duke I was an infrequent attendee of Morning Prayer. It was not because I do not love beginning my day with prayer and Scripture; it is just that I prefer to begin my days with a few more minutes of snooze-button enabled sleep.

Because Cranmer is primarily here to train Anglican students for ministry, Morning Prayer is a requirement for their students. Methodists (much to Wesley’s post-mordem disappointment) are not required to attend every day, however it is strongly encouraged. Because I am living in college and breakfast is only served before prayers, my motivation to get out of bed is significantly higher. As such it has become a much more significant aspect of my daily life.

This means that the lectionary readings for the daily office have made the pattern of the liturgical seasons all the more prominent. For most of the daily services we use the Church of England’s Common Worship. During Ordinary Time, it has different services for each day of the week. Each service provides enough similarity to provide continuity throughout the week, while also having enough change to keep things from becoming monotonous. However, After All Saints Day, the service changed. Gone were the variety and in came one liturgy for the entire month before Advent. Even though many of the students who led the prayers tried to add in various things to mix up the service, by last week I was awaiting Advent not for the emphasis on Jesus as the Light into the darkness, but just so that I could turn to a different page each day!

Therefore on Monday with words like, “…the dawn from on high is breaking upon us to dispel the lingering shadows of night…” ordinary time was over and the preparation for Christmas had begun! As I thought about it, I realized that this is the point of Advent. In the midst of the normal routines of life, the season of Advent breaks in all around us both with explosions of garland and bright colored lights, as well as the reminder that so many years ago, God broke into the normalness of the world in the person of Jesus, illuminating a world filled with darkness and reconciling all of humanity within himself.

Now that is something we can celebrate!

LJW celebrates Advent at Sacriston Methodist Church

LJW celebrates Advent at Sacriston Methodist Church


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Christmas (and) Time

On this Christmas Eve, I share with you my contribution from the Trinity UMC Annual Advent Devotional. Thank you to Jim Cook, who asked for my submission and for all of the work he did on it this year!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 1:8, 22:13)

Advent and Christmas are peculiar times of year because they are all about time. We count down the number of shopping days and we sing of the twelve days. In worship, we mark this time with candles as we wait expectantly for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. All of these things serve as a reminder of our place in this time. We are reminded of the finite nature of time, and how much more of it we wish we had.

However, there is another aspect of time which many people become acutely aware of. As we go through the familiar rituals that come during this time of Advent, we are unexpectantly brought back to our past. As we gather for family dinners we become acutely aware of those whose seats are now empty. We note the absence of that special laugh, or particular casserole. As we watch the glee of young children ripping open packages on Christmas morning, do we not harken back to our own excitement? In these moments we seem to live in two times at once, then and now. Found in both the first and last chapters, this passage from Revelation both proclaims this and lives it out the transcendent nature of God who is beyond time. This reality of God, however, takes on new meaning in the story of Christmas where we celebrate God breaking into time, taking on finite human nature as seen in the smiling baby lying in a manger. I think we fail to comprehend the amazing mystery which that baby represents. That God would “empty himself taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:7), and yet remain the eternal God. So, in the times of celebration and remembrance, joy and sorrow, newness and nostalgia, remember Immanuel—God is with us. And remember that as we live in the tension of yesterday and today, and the reality of our limited time, that God enters into that time bringing the peace and presence which can only come from the one who is the timeless creator of time.

God of grace and mercy, you have given us this time on earth to be Your people and to live into Your Kingdom. Help us to marvel in your infinity and wonder at your love, the love which enters into our today to prepare us for tomorrow. Give us Your peace, Your wisdom, and Your grace so that we may share that grace with those we come in contact with. In the name of Your Son, our Savior, Amen.