Subway Prophet

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


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Light in Darkness Sermon

(This sermon was given on Sunday, December 18 at Trinity UMC in Fernandina Beach, for the Memorial UMC Service of Light in Darkness.)

When I was a kid, there was a show on TV called, “Are You Afraid of the Dark.” It was basically a child-friendly version of Twilight Zone. After an episode the night was full of monsters and villains and my imagination would populate the unknown around me with so many forces of evil that I would keep a flashlight beside my bed to ward them off.

There is something scary and unnerving about the dark. In the daytime we can see what is coming. We know what to expect. There are very few surprises during the day. At night, however, everything changes. Familiar streets get cast in unfamiliar shadows. It is impossible to see someone coming your way until they are already next to you. Sounds fill the air all around you, but you can’t see their origins.

Physical darkness, however, is the easiest of the darknesses that fill our world. There is no flashlight that will drive away the darkness of grief. There is no candle to ward away depression or anxiety. There are deeper darknesses in our world which stand in the way of the light and cast long shadows over our lives. These dark places often get lost amid the lights of the Christmas season. With such an emphasis on joy and peace, the realities of sadness, distress, and worry often get pushed to the side. However, if we look at the Christmas story there are both light and dark places.

We see the light in the angelic visions, but often miss the fact that the angels appear to Joseph and Mary in the dark as a dream. The Shepherds are watching their flocks by night when the heavenly host appear in all their glory. And the star the wisemen follow to the new-born King was like every other star, only available to them when the brightness of the sun no longer shone in the sky.

What do we make of this shadow-side of the nativity?

I believe the darkness is there because it is a part of the world we live in. From the very beginning when God separated the light from the darkness, each one was given a name and a space in creation. I remember when I lost my grandmother, in seminary, I was thinking about my grief and tears and I realized that the pain I felt at her passing was rooted in the very love that I had for her when she was alive. Even as difficult as grief can be, I cannot think of anyone who would give up the love they have for the one they lost in order to make it go away.

Darkness can obscure our vision, cast doubts about our future and our purpose. The loss of a job, adjustment to retirement, the change from one way of living to another is disorienting and confusing. Our once familiar life and purpose is covered over by a new reality that remains to become fully present.

Walking with a loved one through the shadow of death can be darker for the caregiver than the one who is in the middle. Watching a loved one slip away, we are forced to live in the tension between how they are now and how they were before. In some cases, our memories of them are stronger than theirs are. With the loss of the spouse, friend, or relative, we also loose the future we had hoped to live with them.

In other ways, darkness has a way of focusing our attention. In the daytime there is a lot of distractions. The myriad of colors and shapes which surround us each day all merge together because we cannot take it all in at once. In the dark, however, those colors mute and the shapes soften. It is then that other things come into focus. The stars, for example do not appear in the evening. Instead, it is only when the brightness of the day has faded that we are finally able to behold their steady beads of light. When life gets difficult, it brings other things into perspective. I have spoken with so many people who have a terminal illness that after their diagnosis they didn’t worry as much about their work, their business, their money, or any of the other things that had previously filled up their lives. They began to cherish the time spent with family, the long chats with good friends, walks on the beach, and spending nights laying out on a blanket gazing into the heavens.

I do not know everything about the darkness that you have brought with you today. But I do know that Scripture is clear, darkness is a temporary phenomenon. Psalm 30 declares that weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

In the nativity story, John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, sings a song of praise to God which proclaims that:

Because of God’s deep compassion,
The dawn from heaven will break upon us,
To give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.
(Luke 1:78-79)

Before Jesus was even born, the prophet knew that the night was almost over—a light was coming. This can be hard to see in the midst if the darkness. When all around you are shadows, it is easy to forget that there is a light. It is easy to get lost in the darkness, however, the story of Christmas is that a light “did come into our world.” That light did not wait until our eyes had adjusted to the dark. It did not ask us to leave the darkness and come into the light, it came to us instead.

Hear again John’s declaration about the light:

“What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.,,,The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
(John 1:3b-5,9)

This is the core of the story. Even in the dark world the light appeared to Mary and Joseph, to shepherds, to wise men and now to us. And that Light cannot be overcome by our darkness, but instead, that Light enters into where we are and makes his home among us so that we know that no matter how dark our lives get we are not alone.

As you go throughout this holiday season, as you see the lights on houses and trees and everywhere else, I pray that you would be reminded that Jesus has come to be with you in the darkness and lead you forward wherever you need to go.

(Note: I am grateful to Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” for being a helpful thought partner and a general good read.)

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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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Happy Birthday Jesus?

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When I went to my DCOM meeting this year, a nice elderly lady gave me a cupcake for dessert with a candle prominently displayed: “It is for Jesus’ birthday!” she told me, proud of her creativity. This Birthday theme has been rattling around in my head since then. It was on the Baptist Church’s sign on our way to Church last night, and then came up again in the children’s sermon.

Is it really appropriate to say “Happy Birthday Jesus?”

Now, I don’t want to sound like a Grinch, but I think that there is a difference between a birthday celebration and the celebration of Christmas. But isn’t Christmas the celebration of Jesus’ birth?

Yes. Christmas is a time when the Church commemorates the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus, however, this is different. As most scholars have determined, Jesus was not born in December (the exact date is unknown), therefore, why would we say Happy Birthday, months late? (how rude!).

When we celebrate a birthday (mine is Nov 17, FYI), it is celebrating the day a person was born. It is a time when we can show people that we care they survived another trip around the sun.

Christmas is more than that. Where as birthdays emphasize the day, Christmas emphasizes the birth. It is a celebration, not of the day Jesus was born, but that Jesus was born. Therefore, this morning as we open our presents and perhaps read the Christmas story, let us remember that the day is not important, but it is the birth behind the day.

Therefore, I leave you with my favorite birth narrative, from the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:1-5, 10-16 NRSV)


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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. 


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O Christmas Tree

Since I have been in school, we have always waited to get a Christmas Tree until I got home. What this usually means is that we get the dregs off the tree lot. This year, however, between the death of  my grandmother and me trying to finish my exams, it got until to day and we had no tree. Our usual lot had been sold out for a few days with even the dregs being snatched up.

My mom, insisted that we needed a tree for Christmas, but to me it seemed a waste of money to spend premium prices  for a tree for a holiday which would be over before we even knew it.  That was when I got my brilliant idea.

Over by the garage, sat a lonely Umbrella tree. Neglected unwatered, and half dead. It was perfect. I drug it into the house, and presented this tree to my mom as an alternative.

She was not impressed.

After much logical reasoning, interspersed by laughter, she agreed that it would work with a little bit of trimming. So I cropped off the dead limbs, puled out a few lights and bows, and in my most Charlie Brown/Linus moment created, what I think is a rather beautiful centerpiece for our family celebration.

And if I may wax theological for a moment, I cannot think of a more appropriate Christmas Tree. In a way it is a celebration of every person who is neglected, forgotten, dried up, and in need of a Love which can make even the most ridiculous stone, the Cornerstone. Merry Christmas!