January 1, 2017 / GOODBYE AND HELLO / Sara Wolbrecht / Psalm 139:1-6
Where our kid’s message has begun, we pick up and continue now. The wonder of the Jesus’ story, the Christmas story, is this stunning reality we live in – that, as John’s gospel says: that God put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. That Jesus is our God who is with us, our Emmanuel. And for many of us, we’ve heard this our whole lives, and so the sheer ridiculousness and profound beauty of the incarnation has become old hat, normal, to us – which isn’t bad. But what we can do together, is become people who continue to point toward the wonder, mystery of the Christmas story – and who keep saying – ok, what are we gonna about this?
Our time together today is aimed at doing that, by intentionally embracing that today pivots as the day we welcome a new year. And again – well done y’all for being up and with us this morning to do this.
What this is going to look like, we’ll walk through a few exercises together, a process I learned from a podcast I listen to called, Lead Stories, with two amazing female pastors, Steph Williams and Jo Saxton. They call the exercise, Goodbye and Hello, a way of moving from the year that has ended, into the new one that is before us. At Salt House, we love to do practices like this, moments when we stop and look at our lives and listen for God.
Sound good? Please pull out a pen (raise your hand if you need one). And pull out the two pieces of paper that are in your bulletin (and again, raise your hand if you need one). You’ll need the insert that is mostly blank on the back, first.
For folks watching online – Happy New Year! This process can be for you just as helpful and practical, so I encourage you to sit down grab a pen and engage with this experience with us.
Now that we’re ready, let’s begin by hearing again Psalm 139:1-6. This time we’ll hear it in The Message paraphrase (different than what’s in your bulletin). I invite you to close your eyes and listen, to take a deep breath, to hear this intimate description of the closeness of our Immanuel, as a word of prayer for us.
Psalm 139: 1-6 (The Message)
God, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!
With these sacred words echoing in us, we begin with a look back at 2016. A REVIEW of our lives. Take out the bulletin insert, and use that empty space for brainstorming your 2016 review. We invite God to guide our reflections as we think over this last year. Here are a few areas to consider:
Joy & Sorrow. What were some moments of joy and what were some moments of sorrow?
High & Low Points. Where were the high points and the low points?
Disappointments. What disappointed or frustrated us this year?
Beyond hopes and dreams. What surpassed our hopes and dreams?
Lessons learned. What lessons have we learned?
God’s presence. How has God been present this year?
It’s always good to write things down. Use the back of the insert – this is the draft – feel free to be messy. I find it helpful to go chronologically through the year. And we’ll take a few minutes to create some space for us to just brainstorm and write down our responses that describe 2016.
Let me pray for us… God, one of the ways we can grow in our faith, in our trust, in our hope, is to be people who look back, who remember, who notice, who tell the stories of what you have done in our lives. And so we do that now. May we dare to be honest, even raw and vulnerable with you now about this year. Give us eyes to see where you have shimmered in our stories, providing what we need, meeting us in our pain, leading us into great joy, connecting us with others, holding us in love. And give us words to capture that, to name what our lives have been. We listen for you now… (Two minutes)
Having made a list, written down our observations, now is a chance to hold all of this past year and prayerfully ask God to reveal what to say goodbye to from last year. What to say goodbye to from 2016?
This is not simply so that we can make a New Year’s resolutions list. While those can be helpful (and well on ya if you have resolutions), the point is to listen to what God might be asking us to let go of from this past year. They may be concrete ideas like quitting a group you are a part of, or getting rid of something you own, or ending a relationship. However, more likely, expect God to speak about matters of our heart as well - for example, saying goodbye to shame.
When we listen for God like this, God will often bring up pictures or images for us. Memories. People. Or there may be specific Bible verses or passages that speak directly to our situation. So listen with an ear to knowing that God can show up creatively in this exercise. We’ll take a minute to ask God to reveal what we can say goodbye to.
As your goodbye list takes form, we pray now, taking a moment to release those things on our list (remember, we can add more later – remember this is all a draft and can continue to change). I invite you, as you’re ready, to close your eyes or to keep your eyes on the list, and to open your hands, palms up on your lap if you would like, a sign of the release we will practice and pray. Let’s pray:
God, it is the dawn of a new year, and before we step fully into it, we intentionally take a moment, we open ourselves to you, holding open all that has happened in 2016. The good, the not so good. The beautiful moments, the ones we wish we change. And we release it all to you, Jesus. Our Immanuel, who has been with us through all of the year. We let it go – loosening our grip on the past, letting the good and the bad – neither of them – have definitive say over who we are and who we are becoming. We loosen our grip on our past, knowing that you are our God who is always writing a new story. And so we release it all to you – knowing that you enfold all of who we are, all of what this year has been, in your incredible, everlasting grace, abundance, and peace. Thank you, God, Amen.
As it is the dawn of a new year, with practicing our letting go, our goodbyes, now we have room in ourselves for grabbing hold, for new hellos.
So now, we ask God to reveal to us what to say hello to as this new year begins. Hello! Here’s the trick, though: this is more than a list of what we’re adding to our life. While that can be helpful, the point of THESE hellos is to listen to what God might be asking us to embrace as we enter this year. Maybe they’re concrete ideas like asking someone to be our prayer partner or joining a thrive group or taking time for Sabbath. However, expect God to speak about matters of our heart as well – for example, saying hello to accepting God’s love and forgiveness deep in our bones. Or hello to deeper hope or trust.
In answering this, I would also invite us to turn a particular ear toward how God is inviting us to embrace our capacity for creativity. That’s what we dove into on Christmas Eve – (again), if you haven’t’ heard the sermon yet, please take time to watch or listen online, as we’ll continue to reference it in the weeks to come.
We named that as we found ourselves at the manger again, the great good news for all people, is the invitation into the creativity we are made for. Jesus arrived as a baby, who would grow up to show us over and over again that the work of the Messiah, the presence of God here on this earth is the creative, surprising, turning upside-down of all the ways in which things are not how they should be. And Jesus hands this work off to us. To use innovation and imagination in all the places in our lives where it is needed. So please have an ear for that in your hellos, too – where is one place in your life you can say help to creativity?
Write down what you hear as you listen. These may correlate to what we’re saying goodbye to, or they might not. Perhaps there are specific Bible verses or passages that speak directly to our situation. See if there are pictures or images God might give you, as well.
Let’s pray: God, thank you that you are always doing a new thing – and that we get to be people who say hello to new possibilities in us and the world. That we continue to be a work in progress which is such a good word of mercy and grace and hope. And that’s what we carry in us into 2017. And for what we have seen in 2016, oh Lord, we are in need of grace and hope – thank you for that. Thank you for the hellos you are helping us to say yes to, continue to speak to us.
Friends, the next movement is to respond. Let’s name a few ways to respond to what we’ve been doing and what God is saying. First, I wonder – first, are there things you feel led to say good bye to that you are open to sharing? Are there things you feel led to say hello to that you are willing to share? Would anyone like to share, just from where you’re sitting?
Thank you. Second, here are two questions that can move us forward into response: Who will I share this list with? – a friend, parent, spouse. What is the next practical step in moving forward? As you look at these goodbyes and hellos, what is next for you? Be specific.
Holding those questions of how to respond, we move into the final piece of our Hellos and Goodbyes. Which is: writing it down. Recording it all. You have another sheet of paper in your bulletin with two columns. It’s your space. Write out your list for your Goodbyes and your Hellos. AND TAKE THIS HOME WITH YOU, put it somewhere that will remind you of this process. Please let this exercise be one that guides you through the year! Post your notes at home, read through your notes in a month, change them if you need to. Then again each quarter of the year.
It’s interesting because New Year’s Eve is an arbitrary human-designed event. On the one hand, we don’t need a date on the calendar to tell us to listen for God and to be met with God’s grace in leading us into who God is calling us to be. And yet. A date on the calendar can also be a moment to grab hold of, to let God move through it as an opportunity. And that my friends, is why we do this. As yet another way to engage with a life of wonder – wonder at the movement of God and how God can heal our past and birth a new future, wonder at hope even when times seem darkest. And wonder at recognizing our God who is with us always.
God, it is a new day, a new year. A fresh moment to see how you are at work in us and the world. With hope, with intention, we lay before you all you have spoken to us – our goodbyes, our hellos. And we ask for your Spirit to be at work in us to make these goodbyes and hellos possible.
And as we sing and listen and pray now – we ask that you would form us through 2017 and beyond to be more and more in your image – of love, of generosity, of grace, of justice. Come, Lord Jesus, Come…