Posts by Carolyn Matthews

  • Advent Devotion – Friday December 14

    December 14, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Friday, December 14, 2018

    The Rev. David Roberts, Retired American Baptist pastor, member, Board of Trustees, American Baptist Seminary of the West, ABSW ‘73



    Where is there hope in the land?


    Amos 8:4–12

    4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
    and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

    saying, “When will the new moon be over
    so that we may sell grain;
    and the sabbath,
    so that we may offer wheat for sale?
    We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
    and practice deceit with false balances,

    buying the poor for silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

    The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
    Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

    Shall not the land tremble on this account,
    and everyone mourn who lives in it,
    and all of it rise like the Nile,
    and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

    On that day, says the Lord God,
    I will make the sun go down at noon,
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.

    10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
    and all your songs into lamentation;
    I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
    and baldness on every head;
    I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
    and the end of it like a bitter day.

    11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
    when I will send a famine on the land;
    not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.

    12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
    and from north to east;
    they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
    but they shall not find it. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)


    Where is there hope in the land?

    A little more than half way through this season of Advent, preparing for the coming of the Messiah, and we are confronted with the words of Amos. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases vs. 4 as “Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak, you who treat poor people as less than nothing.”

    This is being written shortly after the mid-term elections in which $27 million was spent in one congressional race in the state where I reside. After such expenditures, who will have the ear of the elected one? The homeless person with her cardboard sign sitting by the side of the road? The mentally ill person babbling as he pushes a cart down the sidewalk? The corporate CEO billionaire whose warehouse workers make minimum wages with few, if any, benefits?

    Where is there hope in the land?

    God says through Amos that things were so bad in that time that God was threatening a walk out. “Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”

    With such immense issues facing our nation, it is tempting to say, “But what can I do?” Perhaps a place of beginning is to revisit yesterday’s devotion and create an empty space within our lives where we might have opportunity to hear the word of the Lord. Then we may be able to walk in the world as the people of God. That can make all the difference.


    May your Spirit enable us to walk with you, Holy One, in this world. We desire to hear your voice. Help us to be courageous in our hearing and in our doing. Amen.


  • Advent Devotion – Thursday December 13

    December 13, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Thursday, December 13

    The Rev. Dr. Sam Park, Professor of Preaching and Director of Doctor of Ministry Program at American Baptist Seminary of the West, and Pastor of Albany United Methodist Church, Albany, CA.


     Finding an empty space


     Isaiah 12:2-6

    Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
    for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

    With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

    And you will say in that day:
    Give thanks to the Lord,
    call on his name;
    make known his deeds among the nations;
    proclaim that his name is exalted.

    Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
    let this be known in all the earth.

    Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
    for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)


    The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that we mold clay into a pot, but it is the empty space inside that makes the vessel functional. As we journey through this season of Advent and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah, it is essential that we turn our attention from what we see and hear outside of us to the inside and make an empty space. Yes, we will later join the crowds to be part of the biggest celebration of the year: Christmas. But now, it is time for us to pause and reflect on what is inside of us and clean it up.

    Both prophetic books of Isaiah and Amos were written in the 8th century BCE when the nation of Israel was faced with crises both inside and out. Internally people turned their backs on God.  Oppression of the poor and neglect of orphans and widows were the defining reality of the day. Outwardly the nation was on the brink of collapse by the impending military threats from the surrounding super powers of the region. In those moments of urgency, God spoke to the people through harsh words of Isaiah and Amos and urged them to turn their attention to their insides and make an empty space. Certainly, God was unhappy with the way things were and God wanted them to turn around. But what strikes me is this; even in this harsh language are these words: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid… With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

    The same is true with Paul’s words to his beloved saints at Corinth: while there was disappointment and concern with people’s unfaithfulness to his teaching and his own leadership, Paul’s love for them is unchanging when he says, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

    The mid-term election was over a few weeks ago. But as the cultural war continues, we feel numb inside and out. It is time for us to pause and make an empty space inside; it is time for us to wait for the Word, the Word in Flesh.


    Gracious God, hear us as we come to you out of the busyness of our lives, when we try to squeeze one more thing into an already hectic schedule. We so often allow our minds to overrun our hearts. Listen to our hearts this day. Hear our desire to create an empty space where we may meet you and be known by you. Amen.

  • Advent Devotion – Wednesday December 12

    December 12, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Wednesday, December 12, 2018

    The Rev. Michael A. Smith, McGee Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA, ABSW ‘2010; President of the Berkeley Black Ecumenical Ministerial Alliance (BBEMA) and the Executive Director of The Center for Food, Faith &  Justice.


    The Shifting Sands of Restoration


    Isaiah 35:3–7

    Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.

    Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
    Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
    with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”

    Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

    then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
    For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;

    the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
    the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)


    Several years ago during an Advent Bible Study lesson, I noticed a friend uncharacteristically subdued as the group began engaging a lively discussion about the themes of anticipation and expectancy. Later I facetiously asked, “Where is your joy?” She exclaimed “What’s wrong with you? Have you looked at the world lately? Who can be happy in times like these?” My friend’s cynical outburst led me to take a harder look at joy as opposed to happiness. For many people happiness is fully dependent on whether life is “all good.” Happiness goes up and down based on our perception of the difficulties we encounter at the time. Problems rise; happiness goes out the window. Troubles begin to go away; the happy scale starts to climb. Conversely, joy is not held hostage to situation and circumstance. In fact, joy can become strongest when trouble comes.

    Unlike happiness which is often temporal, Joy locates God’s promise within every human lack, every deficit and every desolation. Joy locates God’s promise within a complex history of oppression and redemption, failure and faith. This is the message of Isaiah 35. Prophesying about joy to an oppressed people in exile may appear empty on the surface. Like my friend, I can envision people screaming at Isaiah, “What’s wrong with you?” Yet, Isaiah stands in the moment looking back on what God has done and proclaims what God will do again. Take a moment to read again vs. 5–7 above.

    The future time of Isaiah’s vision is also a shift from the past of despair to the present of restoration. The Joy of  Advent lives in the knowledge that our God is the one who moves us from pain and sorrow to peace and singing. Tell them, says Isaiah, “Be strong, do not fear.” And the prophet gives a reason, drawing attention now to the one source of strength and salvation. If you open your eyes and look, you will see that right here is your God (35:4a). Lord as we anticipate and expect your coming joy lives in our souls despite life’s disillusionment, despondency and despair, O Come, O come Emmanuel!


    Come and dwell within me that I might know the everlasting joy that comes from you, my God. Amen.


  • Advent Devotion – Tuesday December 11

    December 11, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Tuesday, December 11, 2018

    Dr. Nancy Hall. Associate Professor of Ministry and Congregational Music, Director of Contextual Education, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Berkeley, CA


    Finding home


    Psalm 126

    When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.

    Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
    then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

    The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

    Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.

    May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.

    Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
    shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)


    Although we who observe and treasure Advent are filled with wonder at the beauty of this season, we cannot become so set-apart from everyday life that we forget those who are in exile. Psalm 126 speaks with poignant longing for God to act, to restore life as that community once knew it or, perhaps, as they have only dreamed it could be.

    Right now, people in exile are standing at the gates of our nation. Their longing for a home, for safety, for freedom, is not unlike our Advent yearning for a savior who will bring justice and release from all that oppresses.

    The hymn writer Ruth Duck has paraphrased Psalm 126 in three stanzas that can be sung to the tune REGISTRATION. In her poetic reworking of the text, Duck emphasizes the goodness of God but includes (stanza 3) a clear reminder: until those beaten down and suffering are restored to their full humanity, we are called to continue praying and working for justice.


    When God restored our common life, our hope, our liberty,
    at first it seemed a passing dream, a waking fantasy.
    A shock of joy swept over us, for we had wept so long;
    the seeds we watered once with tears sprang up into a song.

    We went forth weeping, sowing seeds in hard, unyielding soil;
    with laughing hearts we carry home the fruit of all our toil.
    We praise the One who gave the growth, with voices full and strong.
    The seeds we watered once with tears sprang up into a song.

    Great liberating God, we pray for all who are oppressed.
    May those who long for what is right with justice now be blest.
    We pray for those who mourn this day, and all who suffer wrong;
    may seeds they water now with tears spring up into a song.


    Hymn text © 1992 GIA Publications, Inc. (OneLicense #A-716222)