Mary’s Magnificat

Are you tired of the 24 hour news cycle or do you stayed glued to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC?  Do you read your news online?  It’s can make you depressed because inevitably they cover more tragedy than celebration.  I’ve had journalists tell me what I already know, most people prefer the bad news.  It’s like schadenfreude.  Our fascination with others misfortune.  How many times have you been stuck in traffic on an interstate for an accident with the accident on the other side of the road?  We have rubber neck syndrome.  We want to be in the know.  If we’re praying people than we know how to pray for the world, our nation, our community from news sources.  Do we live in our own personal bubbles or are we in the world, but not of it – speaking prophetically, praying intercessory prayers, being informed so we can stand against tyranny on the side of the poor and oppressed.

People often say to veteran broadcaster, Paul Harvey, “Paul, why don’t journalists and broadcasters emphasize more good news instead of tragedy, destruction, discord and dissent?” Harvey’s own network once tried broadcasting a program devoted solely to good news. The program survived 13 weeks. We say we want good news, but we won’t buy it. In Sacramento, California, a tabloid called Good News Paper printed nothing else. It lasted 36 months before it went bankrupt. A similar Indiana tabloid fared even worse — the publishers had to GIVE IT AWAY. Evidently, the positive news people say they want is news they just won’t buy.  The tabloids full of scandals or In Touch or US sale off the shelves.

Listen to any broadcast, Paul Harvey suggests, or pick up any newspaper. You’ll learn that records are crashing, it is the worst wind or the worst fire or flood or earthquake or whatever — because NOISE makes news. For example,

* On August 31, 1997, Chicago Tribune sales soared 40 percent due to coverage of a crash that killed a princess.

* The very next issue of People made it the lead story and sold more than a million copies.

* Newsweek and Time broke sales records when they did the same in the following weeks.

* For an entire month after the crash, Britain’s biggest newspapers gave 35 percent of their total news coverage to the death of Princess Di. Not even the end of World War II got that much ink.

I actually stayed up with friends to watch Princess Diana’s funeral and when Mother Teresa died a few months later, she didn’t get near the publicity.  As Harvey suggests, noise makes news — and one gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers. That doesn’t mean it is more important — just that it sells more newspapers. The heads of all the major television networks understand this basic fact, and they make sure that news broadcasts are full of noise. 

That’s why the weather report does not stop with simply announcing that today’s winter temperature fell to 0 degrees. How boring is that?! No, the forecaster goes on to say that the “chill factor” is 40 degrees below! That’s news!

Here, then, is the question du jour: Could the same be true of our lack of enthusiasm for the Christmas story? Let’s face it: Good news can be boring. God is love. Mary is his favored one. Joseph is a righteous man. Jesus is such a sweet little baby. We’ve heard the story so often, and we’ve seen the pageant so many times. It just doesn’t get the adrenaline flowing any more. 

But hold on: There’s a surprise to be found in today’s Scripture, the “Magnificat” from the first chapter of Luke. This passage is an explosion of free verse by Mary — a young woman who could have thought she was getting some bad news when the angel arrived.  I asked the children’s Sunday School last week, what angels look like because anytime they appear, they immediately say, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel’s announcement to Mary was a mixed bag of good news and bad news.  When she heard Elizabeth’s proclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  When she realized how truly awesome Gabriel’s message was, she began to make some soulful noise, and that’s where the Magnificat comes in.  She does her part to make sure it sells — she does it by itemizing the noisy good news about her Good News God.

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
Is this really “noisy” good news? Yes, it is. We should shout and sing because Mary makes a racket for all of us. There is nothing meek and mild about the song that Mary sings. Check out these headlines:

GOD TAPS NAZARETH NOBODY. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” rejoices  Mary, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (1:46-48). It is truly surprising and newsworthy that God chose a poor Galilean girl to become the mother of Jesus the Christ and the most significant woman in all of Holy Scripture.

“Mother of God,” “Heavenly nurse,” “Help of the helpless,” and “Dispensatrix of all grace” are just some of her names. She became an unbreakable link between Jewish and Christian history.  Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan sees her as the inspiration for the great abbesses of medieval times — the most powerful women in an age of powerful men — and today as the driving force behind people engaged in struggles for social justice around the world.

Not bad for a nobody from Nazareth. Her selection by God should give hope to any of us who are feeling trapped in our everyday existence.  Feeling like we’re not making much of a difference to anybody.  The great truth of Mary’s story is that God uses the small to lead the big, the weak to teach the strong, and the ordinary to carry out the extraordinary. All we need to do is to remember that it is availability and not ability that is key, and to say, along with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).

But there’s more: LORD BUMPS WALL STREET, LIFTS LITTLE GUY. “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” says the Magnificat, “and lifted up the lowly” (1:52). From tech giants to the world’s biggest oil companies, those who run the economy agree on one thing — bigger is better. But what’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with it is that God is working to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly. God is concerned more about the common good than about corporate greed. “Can anybody seriously suggest that bigger, more powerful, and more profitable corporations will help to protect the interests of workers, consumers, the environment, local communities, and the forgotten poor?” asks Jim Wallis in Sojourners magazine. “Is it right that the casino economy of Wall Street profits when the real economy of workers and their families suffers? Is it fair that the people who do the firing get a raise, while the people fired can only fear for the future of their families?” Christians who follow the Good News God of the “Magnificat” are called to look for the common good for all people.

And here’s some more noisy news: 2000-YEAR-OLD PROMISE KEPT. “He has helped his servant Israel,” Mary notes, “in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (1:54-55).

God kept his promises to Israel, from the time of Abraham to the time of Mary, and he keeps his promises today. The greatest sign of his promise-keeping was the birth of his son Jesus Christ: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,” said God through the prophet Isaiah, “and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (11:1-2). He’ll grow up to judge the poor with righteousness and kill the wicked with the breath of his lips. His kingdom will be a peaceful one, marked by righteousness and faithfulness and the knowledge of the Lord.

This is news — news of surprising selections, unexpected elevations and the preservation of ancient promises. It’s noisy news, awesome news, but better yet … it’s Good News. It’s the Good news that God has come to earth in Jesus Christ, to call us to himself and to point us toward his just and everlasting kingdom.

The sermons I’ve been doing for Advent have had a definite apocalyptic or eschatological lean, “Keep Awake,” “Repent for the One is coming”, and this one will is no different.  “Joy WILL come in the morning.”  Many places Mary is depicted as meek and mild-mannered, Saint-like with a golden halo around her head, pondering things in her heart.  To answer Margaret’s song that she sang beautifully, I think Mary DID know.  She knew just like her foremothers knew, Esther, for such a time as this, Ruth, your people will be my people, your God, my God, and now Mary, the peasant girl who utters this powerful prophecy, the first of Luke’s New Testament.  It is powerful.  A total reversal of the world order.  But do we live that?

I was “over hearing” a conversation on facebook between some FSU Wesley students last week.  One was preaching a sermon on Advent that night and asked, “Talk with me about Advent. Is this season purely about remembering the birth of Christ, or is there more to it?  (I have my thoughts, I want to hear yours)”  I had so much fun reading their comments.  Here’s some of them.  “mary’s song and a lot of the old testament passages that prophesy about the coming of Jesus talk about how he will essentially turn society upside down. the lion will lie with the lamb, he’s brought down the powerful from their throne and lifted up the lowly, etc. These texts demonstrate that Jesus is not just coming to save souls but to radically transform how our society functions, for the better of the poor and the oppressed. for me, advent is a time to remember that God came to save everything (individuals, political systems, economies, etc) and to challenge ourselves to put that belief into action.”
“I think Advent represents a thrill of hope for all weary people. The birth of Jesus didn’t necessarily omit weariness from the world, but it gave us the tools to build a table at which we can all share a meal and rest.”

“dude. Honestly if us millennial, Christians could just build enough tables we would convert the world.”

“i’ve been thinking about not ignoring the weary people around me, and how advent makes me want to be human with other humans (“we’re all passengers on the way to the grave” sort of feeling).  Advent makes me want to take my headphones out and sit next to someone at a bus stop (advise, I don’t even ride a bus) and have a small conversation that recognizes our sameness, because we’re all waiting for things to be fully healed, and we’re all headed the same direction.”

“To me, it’s a deeper reflection on the hope that only Christ can give us; that this groaning here on Earth will eventually lead to peace and rest for anyone that puts their hope and trust in Him. And yes, to celebrate and remind us of the magical and yet simple way that he entered our world as a little baby.”

“I just thought of a late night sermon that Jimmy gave when he turned off all the lights in the worship center and preached with a headlamp on. Advent is sitting in the darkness, without being too quick to jump to the light. Like we’ve got a spoiler alert that the light will come, but sometimes we need to acknowledge the realness of the dark.”

Spoiler alert.  The light breaks in through the darkness and great joy comes in the morning.  Hear me now.  The light breaks through in the darkness and JOY comes in the morning.

What are some of our dark places? What are some dark corners of our hearts and of our worlds?

I’ve asked Mike to play the song, “A Baby Will Come.”  It was written by Bill Wolf after he read Mary’s Song in Luke. “As I was researching the social climate of that time and place, I realized just how dire the lives of the Israelites would’ve been. Between the brutal conquests of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus and the obscene taxation of Herod, King of Judea…they found themselves enslaved once again, but this time it was in their very own backyard.  The Promised Land no longer felt like the Promised Land.  And into that climate, a young adolescent Jewish girl was visited by an angel of God and told that she would give birth to a baby boy and His name would be “Salvation”; his very name would “Liberation” for her and her people.  In a moment of joy and restraint, Mary sat down and wrote her Magnificat; a poem that is on one hand personal and introspective, but on the other hand, charged with social and political revolutionary language.”

We need to keep awake, be prepared, and trust that joy comes in the morning.  That GOOD will triumph over evil even when all seems lost.

The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come

To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken, in need
A baby will come

We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God, help us believe
This baby will come

The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby has come

The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our King and our Christ
The Baby has come

We’ve waited so long
God, for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the Baby has come

The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the Baby has come

Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That, God, is Yours
For the Baby has come

An Unexpected Christmas

Derek sang “O Holy Night” beautifully.  We are a weary world, but as the scriptures say, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”  We are taught on this journey of faith to expect the unexpected because we love and serve a God that does the inconceivable.

Hear this strange and fascinating story of the song “O Holy Night.”  In 1847, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissionaire of wines in a small French town. Known more for his poetry than his church attendance, it probably shocked Placide when his parish priest asked the commissionaire to pen a poem for Christmas mass. Nevertheless, the poet was honored to share his talents with the church.

In a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France’s capital city, Placide Cappeau considered the priest’s request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, “Cantique de Noel” had been completed.

Moved by his own work, Cappeau decided that his “Cantique de Noel” was not just a poem, but a song in need of a master musician’s hand. Not musically inclined himself, the poet turned to one of his friends, Adolphe Charles Adams, for help.

The son of a well-known classical musician, Adolphe had studied in the Paris conservatoire. His talent and fame brought requests to write works for orchestras and ballets all over the world. Yet the lyrics that his friend Cappeau gave him must have challenged the composer in a fashion unlike anything he received from London, Berlin, or St. Petersburg.

As a man of Jewish ancestry, for Adolphe the words of “Cantique de Noel” represented a day he didn’t celebrate and a man he did not view as the son of God. Nevertheless, Adams quickly went to work, attempting to marry an original score to Cappeau’s beautiful words. Adams’ finished work pleased both poet and priest. The song was performed just three weeks later at a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Initially, “Cantique de Noel” was wholeheartedly accepted by the church in France and the song quickly found its way into various Catholic Christmas services. But when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and church leaders discovered that Adolphe Adams was a Jew, the song–which had quickly grown to be one of the most beloved Christmas songs in France–was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed “Cantique de Noel” as unfit for church services because of its lack of musical taste and “total absence of the spirit of religion.” Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it, and a decade later a reclusive American writer brought it to a whole new audience halfway around the world.
Not only did this American writer–John Sullivan Dwight–feel that this wonderful Christmas songs needed to be introduced to America, he saw something else in the song that moved him beyond the story of the birth of Christ. An ardent abolitionist, Dwight strongly identified with the lines of the third verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” The text supported Dwight’s own view of slavery in the South. Published in his magazine, Dwight’s English translation of “O Holy Night” quickly found found favor in America.

Back in France, even though the song had been banned from the church for almost two decades, many commoners still sang “Cantique de Noel” at home. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France, during the Franco-Prussian War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. Both sides stared at the seemingly crazed man. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang the beginning of “Cantique de Noel.”

After completing all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out his hiding place and answered with Martin Luther’s robust “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”

The story goes that the fighting stopped for the next twenty-four hours while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honor of Christmas day. Perhaps this story had a part in the French church once again embracing “Cantique de Noel” in holiday services.

Adams had been dead for many years and Cappeau and Dwight were old men when on Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden–a 33-year-old university professor and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison–did something long thought impossible. Using a new type of generator, Fessenden spoke into a microphone and, for the first time in history, a man’s voice was broadcast over the airwaves: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed,” he began in a clear, strong voice, hoping he was reaching across the distances he supposed he would.

Shocked radio operators on ships and astonished wireless owners at newspapers sat slack-jawed as their normal, coded impulses, heard over tiny speakers, were interrupted by a professor reading from the gospel of Luke. To the few who caught this broadcast, it must have seemed like a miracle–hearing a voice somehow transmitted to those far away. Some might have believed they were hearing the voice of an angel.

Fessenden was probably unaware of the sensation he was causing on ships and in offices; he couldn’t have known that men and women were rushing to their wireless units to catch this Christmas Eve miracle. After finishing his recitation of the birth of Christ, Fessenden picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night,” the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. When the carol ended, so did the broadcast–but not before music had found a new medium that would take it around the world.

Since that first rendition at a small Christmas mass in 1847, “O Holy Night” has been sung millions of times in churches in every corner of the world. And since the moment a handful of people first heard it played over the radio, the carol has gone on to become one of the entertainment industry’s most recorded and played spiritual songs. This incredible work–requested by a forgotten parish priest, written by a poet who would later split from the church, given soaring music by a Jewish composer, and unexpectedly brought to Americans to serve as much as a tool to spotlight the sinful nature of slavery as tell the story of the birth of a Savior–has become one of the most beautiful, inspired pieces of music ever created.

Expect the Unexpected.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a staple around our house.  Peanuts had become a phenomenon worldwide by the mid-1960s, and the special was commissioned and sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company. It was written over a period of several weeks, and animated on a shoestring budget in only six months. In casting the characters, the producers went an unconventional route, hiring child actors. The program’s soundtrack was similarly unorthodox: it features a jazz score by pianist Vince Guaraldi. Its absence of a laugh track (a staple in television animation in this period), in addition to its tone, pacing, music, and animation led both the producers and network to predict the project would be a disaster. I love when Linus pipes saying, “I know what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!” and then he reads from Luke’s Gospel.  Did you know that almost wasn’t in there?   Shulz was asked to cut that part of the movie and he answered, “If we don’t do it, who will?” Shulz had Linus’s recitation of Scripture incorporated in such a way that it forms the climax of the film, thus making it impossible to successfully edit out.  It ended up being such a hit, that it won an Emmy, a Peabody award and it’s been run every Christmas since.  Expect the Unexpected.

Do you know which Christmas story was even more unexpected than that?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM1XusYVqNY 

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it’s worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

“I feel so far away from my kids down there.”

God almighty, God the creator of the universe, God that was, and is, and is to come – came to earth as a tiny baby.  The most vulnerable thing on Earth.

The angels asked, “Lord, how will people know he’s there, what if they don’t notice?”  God answered, “Those who are looking will find him and his mission will bring all people closer to me, even if they do something really wrong. When the Prince (of Peace) is done nothing will get between them and my love.”

That’s the point of this meal we celebrate.  We don’t earn it.  It’s a free, beautiful, undeserved gift.  The Great God of the Universe came to give us the most brilliant present of all.  God’s self.

God Creates YOU – You’re Dust

College

Okay, I confess, I sort of copped out. This sermon is not going to be about sex and dating. I know, I know. But I have a plan that doesn’t put the cart before the horse, so to speak. We will start this Sunday with God creating us and lifting up the theme of Ash Wednesday because it falls on Spring Break. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” March 9th will be all about healthy communication in community and practical advice for dealing with conflict. God wants us to live life in community. March 16th will be all about guarding your heart, no matter if you’re a single person or a dating person or you’re on your way to being a married person. We’ll wrap up with, “God wants you to have a great sex life” because God does want you to have a great sex life. We give mixed messages as a church universal about sex so we’ll delve into those. What do I mean by that? Well, you’ll have to come on March 23rd to hear it in person or listen at gatorwesley.com or read it on my blog. And then we’ll go into our Lenten series as we make our way towards the cross and Easter. Sound good?

So now that you know where we’re going, hear now the word of God:

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end[a]—I am still with you.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked[c] way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.[d]

Isaiah 64:8
8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Jeremiah 18:1-4
18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

8th grade sucked. My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year. The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet. You see, I grew to this height in seventh grade. We had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years so they were used to me being tall and I felt at home and self-confident there. When we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat. My nicknames abounded that year: giraffe, Olive Oil, stick…. A teacher at the time, used me as an example in geography class, telling the entire class to remember the country of Sri Lanka, by me, because I was so lanky. Now, I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, but I can’t believe she said that. I didn’t like Cheraw very much at the time and my eighth grade self remembers being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!” and running up the stairs to my room and slamming the door. I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville where I knew people and they knew me. I remember relying on the spiritual strength of my mom a lot that year.I later read the book Reviving Ophelia for my Teacher Cadet class my senior year of high school and my behavior makes perfect sense as the transition between girl and young woman. I now appreciate with fondness, love and treasured memories, the four years that I spent in Cheraw, SC “The Prettiest Town in Dixie.”

What came out of this, is an understanding that we’re all uniquely created and wired. God created YOU. God created ME. God even claims the dramatic eighth grade me that thought everyone didn’t like her, that she was skinny and awkward and lanky, and I still can recall as if it were yesterday the hurtful and negative things people said about me that year. Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat? Why do we carry around our wounds? Because that’s what they are: wounds.

My mom continues to give me insight on me. I don’t remember if we had ever had those conversations before that year, but she has continued to give me wisdom since then. She said since I was three years old, I’ve always taken things personally. She said I came home from preschool every day for a month saying nobody liked me. Do you remember that song, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll go eat worms?” I picture little 3 year old me, singing that song, but I digress. When she visited the preschool for the open house and asked the teacher about it, the teacher looked surprised and said everybody likes Narcie, but (blank name), the class bully, doesn’t like her because Narcie stands up to her. That’s the thing. I’ve been wired to be a people pleaser. If someone is mad at me or upset with me, I fester on that, all of my thoughts continually drift back to that, and it becomes like an obsession. Now, I have grown over the years. I don’t take people’s criticism that personally anymore. Well, scratch that, maybe I do. But was that nature or nurture? Was I born that way (nature)? Or was it put upon me by birth order or family system or gender bias? I don’t know. I’m still reasoning that one out. But I’ve also been wired to speak truth to power. I honestly try to not give my opinion, but I HAVE TO speak out. It doesn’t matter whether I sit on my hands or figuratively tape my mouth shut, if I feel like something’s not right….I can’t help but speak up. For a man this may come across as one way, but because I am female, I’m seen as bossy or worse. And I fully claim to be bossy! There’s no denying that. But is it nature or nurture? Was I wired that way?

Speaking of gender bias, John Eldredge in his book Wild at Heart and in the book he and his wife wrote together Captivating say that men and women were created differently. We used to have a Battle of the Sexes board game based on the popular book in the 90’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (and I realize that most of you were born in the 90’s) and the gender bias’ showed in the questions. Check your parents’ shelves for this book over the break. The game makes the assumption, that women don’t know anything about sports or power tools or camping or cars and the game portrayed the women’s cards all about fashion, make up, and other girly stuff. Now, I agree with some of Captivating and Wild at Heart, the essence of them both but I disagree with them both at times too. This is what Wikipedia had to say that sums up Wild at Heart, “”If Christian men are going to change from a pitiful, wimpy bunch of “really nice guys” to men who are made in the image of God, they must reexamine their preconceptions about who God is and recover their true “wild” hearts, writes bestselling author John Eldredge in Wild at Heart: Discovering a Life of Passion, Freedom, and Adventure. Eldredge claims that men are bored; they fear risk, they refuse to pay attention to their deepest desires. He challenges Christian men to return to what he characterizes as authentic masculinity without resorting to a “macho man” mentality. Men often seek validation in venues such as work, or in the conquest of women, Eldredge observes. He urges men to take time out and come to grips with the “secret longings” of their hearts.”

Wikipedia says about Captivating, “It proposes that women have three core desires: “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty”(Eldredge 8). It also proposes that God made woman as the “Crown of Creation”, an embodiment of God’s beauty, mystery and vulnerability. The book rejects the idea of an ideal woman and explores biblical scripture from the view that God desires woman to embrace her glory, rather than fear her femininity. Captivating is a companion to Wild at Heart, also by John Eldredge, and argues that its model of femininity complements men’s innate desires for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

See what I mean? It’s worth it to go through the books in small groups, like the guy’s group did last semester reading Wild at Heart together because it definitely gives you a lot of material to discuss.

My children, Enoch and Evy, are 6 and 5. I can tell you that Enoch is all Enoch and Evy is all Evy. What do I mean by that? Enoch’s first name is Daniel, but Enoch’s his name. A Daniel wouldn’t fit him. Enoch is a bundle of energy. You more often than not will see him in motion, running around Gator Wesley. He believes like Ricky Bobby that if you’re not first, you’re last. So with competitive things he is frustrated when he’s not number one. He has a sensitive heart. But strong. My mom said when he was a year old that he would either be a spy/CIA operative or a thief because he could get into anything and figure out a way to open it. Enoch called me on Friday. Although Mike had has phone locked and he has the new iPhone with all of the security measures. Enoch was able to break into it. So I answered the call expecting Mike’s voice and heard Enoch giggling with Evy right beside him. Mike said later it was the second time had broken into his phone over the past two weeks.

Evangeline Grace Jeter is Evy because that name fits her. We decided to name her that because we were obsessed at the time with the tv show LOST and I always liked the actor that played Kate who is Evangeline Lily. So there you have it. We decided to call her Evy Grace because she was born on the first Sunday of Advent. Evangeline means good news. Evy is a girly girl mixed with a tomboy. Girls in her preschool class typically flock to Ms. Davies, who loves Cinderalla, or Ms. Cardoza who’s incredibly outdoorsy and was a basketball player. Ms. Cardoza told Mike that Evy is somewhere in between. Evy is extremely sensitive. I mean she fake cries all the time because she knows she’s adorable, but I know the difference in her trying to get something and wounding. Anytime, Mike or I, say we’re disappointed in her, which isn’t that often, she immediately bursts into tears.

I can tell you that with both Enoch’s essence and Evy’s essence, they entered the world that way leading me to believe that Enoch’s strength, tenacity, and smarts comes naturally to him and Evy’s zest for life, sensitivity, and empathy makes her who she is.

The point is, we are ALL uniquely created to be US, but we’ve all been wounded at one time or another, and some of those wounds are deep. It reminds me of the Jonny Diaz song More Beautiful You:

Little girl fourteen flipping through a magazine
Says she wants to look that way
But her hair isn’t straight her body isn’t fake
And she’s always felt overweight

Well little girl fourteen I wish that you could see
That beauty is within your heart
And you were made with such care your skin your body and your hair
Are perfect just the way they are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

Little girl twenty-one the things that you’ve already done
Anything to get ahead
And you say you’ve got a man but he’s got another plan
Only wants what you will do instead

Well little girl twenty-one you never thought that this would come
You starve yourself to play the part
But I can promise you there’s a man whose love is true
And he’ll treat you like the jewel you are

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

So turn around you’re not too far
To back away be who you are
To change your path go another way
It’s not too late you can be saved
If you feel depressed with past regrets
The shameful nights hope to forget
Can disappear they can all be washed away
By the one who’s strong can right your wrongs
Can rid your fears dry all your tears
And change the way you look at this big world
He will take your dark distorted view
And with His light He will show you truth
And again you’ll see through the eyes of a little girl

There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies disguises and hoops they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you

There can never be a more beautiful, handsome, smart, strong YOU. The words remind me of what Aibileen Clark says in The Help to Mae Mobley, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” If we praise girls for only their looks and say they’re beautiful or adorable or cute, but then we praise boys for their athletic prowess, what are we doing? What are we saying? As a society, what are we prioritizing? We need to shed our parent’s expectations, our teacher’s expectations, society’s expectations, our own expectation’s, anything that holds us back from embracing our selves fully in the grace of God.

I’m not going to ask you to write anything down, but I invite you to pray in your seat as I play the song that the dance team danced to earlier. Come up to the prayer candles and light a candle signifying a decision to appreciate yourself, love yourself more. Because we cannot love our neighbors with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Hear me now saying that, We cannot love our neighbor with agape love until we first love ourselves with agape love. Mark 12:30-31 says, “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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The first step is to love God. The second step is to love your self. And the third step is to love your neighbor. So whatever your burdens are…Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God…ask God to reveal it to you…whatever baggage you carry with you…

Stop at 5:08

“Suitcases” Lyrics by Dara Maclean

How can you move when they’re weighing you down
What can you do when you’re tied to the ground, yeah
You carry your burdens, heavy like gravity
Just let them go now, there’s freedom in release

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

Can you imagine what it’s like to be free
Well, send those bags packing, they’re not what you need
Abandon your troubles by the side of the street
Just let them go now, believe me

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be afraid

There’s nothing hold you back now, just run

You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases
It’s a new day throw away your mistakes and open up your heart
Lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid

Just breathe, your load can be lifted
There’s a better way when you know you’re forgiven
Open up your heart, lay down your guard
You don’t have to be
You don’t have to be afraid.

The Four Loves

Romans 5:6-8
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for 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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

I love the smell of a new car. It’s beyond clean. Uncontaminated by food smells. Uncontaminated by dirt and grime. Uncontaminated by children’s sticky fingers on the windows. I have been driving around with the smell of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower for months because some vegetable medley got sloshed in my car on the way to fall festival. I ask people when they enter my car for the first time if they smell it and they politely say no, but I smell it every time I get into the car. And it smells quite lovely!

I love my husband Mike, who I’ve been married to for almost 12 years. He’s my best friend. He’s my companion for life. He’s the one that I can be my truest, authentic self. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I choose to love him every single day. He’s my partner in crime, but more than that, he knows me, and chooses to love me anyway.

I love my kids, Enoch and Evy. I never “not” love them. It’s innate like breathing. I love them and there’s literally nothing they can do about it. Even when Enoch’s running around Wesley hyped up on sugar from my candy bowl or Evy is “tricking” my mom into blow drying her hair last night, which she never has blow dried, though she told Mom that Mike blow dries her hair every night.

I love my job. But I like to think of it as a vocation or calling. Everyone has one; that which you were uniquely made to do. That which blends together the gifts, skills, and abilities God has given you. I love being a campus minister. I love this age group. I love providing a variety of ways that your faith can come alive: worship, discipleship, service, advocacy, prayer, leadership development, and communicating the love and grace of God.

The English word love conveys such a wide variety of things and most people are wise enough to deduce from certain context clues the real meaning of the word. I LOVE this song is much different than I LOVE my brothers. I LOVE Leonardo’s pizza is much different than I LOVE Enoch or Evy.
There are many words in Greek that are translated into love, but I’ll talk about 4. The four loves that C.S. Lewis wrote about in his work appropriately titled, The Four Loves. They are storge, philia, eros, and agape.

Storge means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents and their children. It’s rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. So I have storge for Enoch and Evy, for Josh and Caleb, my brothers, and for my mom and dad.

Philia is the love between friends. It means affectionate regard or friendship in both ancient and modern Greek. This type of love has give and take, an equal sharing. One person is not putting in everything to sustain the friendship, but both are. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. I think of this love, as a group of college friends watching Scandal, The Bachelor, Downton Abbey, Reign or Once Upon A Time together. Or the show we were obsessed with in college, it gives y’all extra fodder to make fun of me – Dawson’s Creek. I can say much about friendship that’s in essence written on the Love Campaign banners. Several people wrote about friendship when answering the “What is Love?” question. C. S. Lewis immediately differentiates Friendship Love from the other Loves. He describes friendship as, “the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary…the least natural of loves” – our species does not need friendship in order to reproduce – but to the classical and medieval worlds the more profound precisely because it is freely chosen. A couple of verses that accentuate this are,

Proverbs 17:17
A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

John 15:13
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Eros is a “physical” passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. I would say this is not always a rational love. Pure emotion and romance and “love at first sight” classify this kind of love. Romantic, pure emotion without the balance of logic could be said of this kind of love. “Love at first sight.” The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love;” however, eros does not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia, love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Two verses that accentuate this idea.

Ephesians 5:25-28
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Genesis 29:20
So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Agape love is the love we’ve been talking about all week in the Love Campaign. We’ll see the Love Campaign video next Sunday. That’s what the Romans 5 and Mark 12 texts are all about. The heart of the Romas passage is verse 8, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Agape means love in a spiritual, true unconditional love kind of way. It’s a sacrificial spiritual love, accentuated by Christ’s giving his life up for us. We’re also called to love the world with agape love. As it is written in 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.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” We’re called first to love God and to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. Sharing that agape love with all the world. This type of love is embodied in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

We’re going to watch different clips from Rob Bell’s Nooma video “Flame” about the Hebrew words for love. The Hebrew in the Old Testament has at least 3 different words for love.

(Flame – 2:11-2:48, 3:02-4:06, 4:30-10:10)

So what do we do with all of those different types of love? What do all these Greek or Hebrew words matter to our lives now? Know which flame you’re fanning. If it’s the flame of friendship, by all means keep fanning. If it’s the flame of storge or affection between you and your family members, by all means keep fanning. If it’s the flame of agape, fan ALL the time!! If it’s the flame of eros, by all means keep fanning – if it is a healthy, balanced relationship, and there’s give and take, and healthy communication and we will delve into healthy relationships next week. We will talk about protecting our hearts, we will talk about what I mean by the words “healthy” and “balanced,” we will talk about communication and we will talk about dating, marriage, singleness. I’m not sure I can fit all that I want to say into one sermon, but I’ll make a valiant attempt. May you become aware of the flames your fanning in your own lives and may God reveal to you in God’s discernment what flames you should keep fanning and what flames you should pour water on.

Facing Your Fears – LungLeavin’ Day

Today

Isaiah 41:10
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
10 do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

John 3:16-21
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

We’re going to talk about our greatest fears today. Some of you are thinking immediately, “Is she going to make us share them out loud?” And may be working on one to say out loud, as well as the real one. Others of you, may be genuinely trying to figure yours out. It’s not a test. You don’t get an A+ or an F, although that leads me to failure. I fear failure. I fear that I’ll never make a difference. I fear that I will never do meaningful work. I fear that people won’t like me. I fear making people mad. I fear that I will spend my life doing what needs to get done, and not enjoy it. I fear that I’m putting things off….I will do that tomorrow, I will do that after I graduate from college, I will do that after I graduate with my master’s, I will do that after I graduate with my PhD, I will do that after I get a grown up job, I will do that when I buy a house, I will do that when I get married, I will do that when I get my first promotion, I will do that when I have kids, I will do that by the time I turn 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and so on.

What are your greatest fears? Do you fear that you will never figure out what you’re “supposed” to do? What God has specifically called you to do? Do you fear getting older? Do you fear being dependent on others? Do you compare yourselves to others, fearing that God forgot you when God was giving out all the gifts, graces or abilities?

Kimberly Burge writes in an article “Crooked Little Faith” in Sojourners, “Anne Lamott is a 44-year-old white woman with dreadlocks who worries about her thighs. And she talks about loving Jesus as freely and fiercely as my 6-year-old self did. I may be giving myself such airs, but I think that I’m supposed to spread the Word of the Gospel, she says. I think that my work as a writer is of no cosmic importance except that I can spread the Word of God’s love and salvation. Anne Lamott is just brave, or foolhardy, enough to call herself a Christian evangelist. I can almost imagine her sitting down in the wilderness with John the Baptist to munch on some locusts and wild honey. But somewhere during the meal, she would probably begin to worry about how many calories are actually in a locust. Because she’s imperfect enough to think about such things — and honest enough to share her fears with the world, however mundane or absurd.”

God calls each of us to answer our greatest fears with, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and I’m not afraid to be honest about my doubts and struggles because it brings them to the light. Anything’s better having been in the light. Things don’t seem to have the same power once brought into the light of Christ. Or the lens of Christ.

I like this quote by William Sloane Coffin in The Courage to Love, “Fear distorts truth, not by exaggerating the ills of the world . . . but by underestimating our ability to deal with them . . . while love seeks truth, fear seeks safety.” Fear distorts the truth. That reminds me of the song by Casting Crowns, The Voice of Truth. I know it’s incredibly old, yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s super old, but the words still resonate with me. “But the voice of truth tells me a different story, The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”, The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”, Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.” If we turn our fears into prayers, asking God to reveal where the seed of fear came from and asking God to heal us and answer our greatest fears then the word of God says, God will be faithful and true, scattering our sins from the east to the west and the darkness will flee from its light.

We just finished reading book 1 of the Harry Potter series to Enoch and Evy. Enoch has seen the first 3 movies, though he tricked Uncle Aaron into showing him the third, saying he had seen it before. Rookie mistake. So he saw the dementors, these wraith-like creatures that have some resemblance to the grim reaper without the hook, as they are portrayed in the third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Professor Lupin taught Harry to combat the dementors with a patronus spell. The dementors make you cold and they strip away all of your happiness, but even the dementors flee the light. Enoch has a wand with a light on the end that he got for Christmas, and I told him that if he has bad dreams to picture himself holding up that wand as Harry did at the dementors and crying out, “I believe in Jesus and Jesus protects me.” He doesn’t need a complicated prayer, just one, he’ll remember. Oh to have faith like a 6 year old. But what have we to fear? As Romans 8 says, “38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from the love of God. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.”

Your fears are your fears. There’s nothing inherently wrong or right about them as long as you’re voicing them and as long as you’re giving them over to God. Marianne Williamson writes, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. I dream of a day society is liberated from our collective fears. Wouldn’t that be great?

Though fear is a natural part of life, even healthy sometimes, like when we face deadlines. Does anyone here NOT procrastinate? But I want y’all to remember these two scriptures, the first is 2 Timothy 1:7, “7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice (fear), but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” and the second is from John 16:33, “33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Jesus has overcome the world, whom or what shall we fear? Our parent’s expectations, our own expectations , that particular class that we’re struggling with us, if we will ever be happy again, how do we get out of that unhealthy relationship, how do we break the cycle of abuse, how do we get help or much less ask for it? God knows our fears. God knows our hearts. Give them to God.

So why are we doing this sermon on fear because Cameron Von St. James asked me to. I have never met Cameron, but he commented on my blog and followed up with email. He shares, “Eight years ago, my wife Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma; a rare cancer that kills most people within 2 years of diagnosis. She had just given birth to our daughter Lily, and was only given 15 months to live. After a life-saving surgery that included the removal of her left lung, LungLeavin’ Day was born. This will be the 8th year that we celebrate! The purpose of LungLeavin’ Day is to encourage others to face their fears! Each year, we gather around a fire in our backyard with our friends and family, write our biggest fears on a plate and smash them into the fire. We celebrate for those who are no longer with us, for those who continue to fight, for those who are currently going through a tough time in their life, and most importantly, we celebrate life! We created an interactive page mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday that tells the full story of our special day.”

http://mesothelioma.com/heather/lungleavinday

I thought about playing the song by Eminem and featuring Rihanna, “The Monster,” because that would fit, “I’m friends with the monster, That’s under my bed, Get along with the voices inside of my head” but I decided on Francesca Battistelli’s “Free to Be Me.”

We’re not going to burn plates because I’m afraid that it would set off the sprinklers or the fire alarms. But we’ll take the piece of paper and write our fears on there. Naming them so that they no longer have power over us. Bringing them out in the light. Giving them to God.

Prodigal Son Sermon a la the Ukraine

Preached at St. John United Methodist Church, L’viv, Ukraine

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Our text from Luke today is a familiar text to many of us. As soon as we hear the intro, “There was a man who had two sons…” some of us begin to think – oh, I know this story. This is a good one. It’s like those old favorite hymns – you know them backwards and forwards and they speak to you whether because of their foundational and transformative messages or because of their familiarity and the feelings and memories they evoke. I remember listening to the story as a child and being fascinated by the younger son feeding the pigs and wanting to eat what the pigs were eating. Could have been my love for animals or it could have been the funny pictures of pigs that we put on the felt board in Sunday School, but for some reason, that was what stood out to me in the story. My romanticized view of getting to sit with the pigs quickly changed as I got older and sitting in the mud with pigs stopped being so appealing.

One of things about the familiar is that sometimes it’s really easy for us to let the words and the meaning slip by us. When it comes to the routine, it’s easy to go on autopilot and miss what God is speaking to us today.

Because we know this story so well, we have lost some of the shock and horror at the behavior of the younger son. Since we know the beautiful ending that is coming and can almost hear the orchestra tuning up the celebratory music, we forget the harshness of the younger son’s words and the father’s great hurt. The broken relationship that is clearly present.

Culturally, in Jewish tradition a son was allowed to obtain possession of his inheritance, only after his father died or the son got married. As his father is still alive, he had no right to dispose of it. He’s demanding what he wants when he wants it, disrespecting his father and cultural tradition and acting like his father is dead. He’s all geared up for rebellion – no matter the cost or whom it hurts.

Several studies have shown people that have won the lottery or somehow received a great deal of money, for the most part end up right back where they started, no matter the amount, and some even worse off than they were before. There are a lot of reasons for this – an extravagant lifestyle, thinking the money will never run out, a false sense of reality, not thinking things through. The prodigal son easily could fit the profile of one who gambles it all away – the text tells us “he squandered his property in dissolute living” and “he spent everything.” Here he was a Jew tending pigs for a Gentile and longing to eat their slop. He had lost everything. Both his wealth and his integrity.

Just because Jesus eats with sinners, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t take sin very seriously. As seen in the consequences of the younger son’s actions – sitting in filth and coveting pig food. Sin does have serious consequences and can lead down a devastating and degrading path. Not only has the son been led to a physically desperate place, his sin is also seen as broken relationship with God and the community, as he is left in self-imposed isolation in his pigsty.

I like the phrase, “when he came to himself” in verse 17. It’s as if he’s been in this stubborn and disobedient state and he’s finally beginning to snap out of it. Praise God for those lightbulbs of awareness – the Holy Spirit – coming to us and helping us to realize how lost we are, helping us to come to ourselves. It’s not easy to face the reality of our disobedience, but it’s definitely necessary to move forward.

The road back is paved and well lit, because we have traveled this story many times. We forget how scary it is for the prodigal to come home. The shame, the feelings of unworthiness, the lack of hope. I read of a man who had committed a crime for which he was deeply ashamed. When he’d served his prison sentence and was about to be released he wondered if his family would reject him because of the scandal he’d caused and the shame brought on the family. He wrote his parents saying that he would be coming back by bus but didn’t want to embarrass them with his presence if they didn’t want him back. He asked them to tie a yellow ribbon on the ooak tree at the beginning of their street if it was all right for him to return home. If there was no ribbon on the tree when the bus passed he wouldn’t get off the bus. He was nervous on the bus and as he got closer and closer to his street he couldn’t bear to look so he asked the driver to look for him. But, he needn’t have worried because the tree was covered with yellow ribbons!

The father in this passage offers his son yellow ribbons, and following his lead, the community joins in the celebration as well. It is clear in this passage that the father is representing God. God does not stop us from making choices or from the consequences of those actions, but as our loving parent God is ready and waiting for us to come home. In the passage, the father also goes above and beyond to show his love and forgiveness to his son. The son had dishonored his father and the village by taking everything and leaving. When he returns in tattered clothes, bare-foot and semi-starved, he would have to get home by walking through the narrow streets of the village and facing the raised eye-brows, the cold stares, the disgusted looks of the village. So when the son is still far off, the father sees him and decides immediately what he must do. In compassion for his son and to spare him the pain of walking through the gauntlet of the town alone, he runs to him, falls on his neck, and kisses him. The expected thing for his father is to wait in the house and let the young man be brought before him. Let the boy fall down on his face before his father and grovel in the dust. The father may then reluctantly accept his apologies and put him on probation. This father does not do any of that. Instead, he not only runs to his son but also falls on his neck and kisses him.

A man was commissioned to paint a picture of the Prodigal Son. He went into his work fervently, laboring to produce a picture worthy of telling the story. Finally, the day came when the picture was complete, and he unveiled the finished painting. The scene was set outside the father’s house, and showed the open arms of each as they were just about to meet and embrace. The man who commissioned the work was well pleased, and was prepared to pay the painter for his work, when he suddenly noticed a detail that he had missed.

Standing out in the painting above everything else in the scene, was the starkly apparent fact that the father was wearing one red shoe and one blue shoe. He was incredulous. How could this be, that the painter could make such an error? He asked the painter, and the man simply smiled and nodded, assuring the man, “Yes, this is a beautiful representation of the love of God for His children.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, puzzled.

“The father in this picture was not interested in being color-coordinated or fashion-conscious when he went out to meet his son. In fact, he was in such a hurry to show his love to his son, he simply reached and grabbed the nearest two shoes that he could find.”

“He is the God of the Unmatched Shoes.”

Praise God that our God is a God of the unmatched shoes.

The great God of the universe came down and dwelt among us, took our sin upon himself, and died on the cross for each of us. Wow. Talk about grace in the face of disobedience. We believe deeply in God’s grace. God’s prevenient grace – that God loved us even before we knew it and God draws us to God’s self even when we don’t realize it. God’s justifying grace – where we realize the great gift of God’s salvation for us – that he died for our sins so that we can be again in right relationship with God. And lastly, God’s sanctifying grace – that God doesn’t leave us where we are, but we’re on a journey constantly growing and stretching in our faith and our understanding of God and discipleship. Grace. Nothing we’ve earned, but we’ve been given freely.
Before we close the book on the story, let’s look at the elder brother. The elder son was in the field and heard music and dancing as he approached the house. After he hears what has happened, he is angry and refuses to join the party. Again, the father could have easily reacted in anger, but he goes to his son, rushes out to him, and begins to plead with him. The son is extremely rude to his father. This son begins his speech with a Greek word that is often translated “Behold!” This version of the Bible has correctly caught the mood of the son by translating the word as “Listen!” His bitterness and anger are clear in his response. He sees himself as a slave working for his father rather than a son who is taking care of his own property.
Henri Nouwen, one of the great spiritual writers of the twentieth century, commented on the “lostness” of both sons in the story of the Prodigal Son. He wrote, “Did you ever notice how lost you are when you are resentful? It’s a very deep lostness. The younger son gets lost in a much more spectacular way — giving in to his lust and his greed, using women, playing poker, and losing his money. His wrongdoing is very clear-cut. He knows it and everybody else does, too. Because of it he can come back, and he can be forgiven. The problem with resentment is that it is not so clear-cut: It’s not spectacular. And it is not overt, and it can be covered by the appearance of a holy life. Resentment is so pernicious because it sits very deep in you, in your heart, in your bones, and in your flesh, and often you don’t even know it is there. You think you’re so good. But in fact you are lost in a very profound way.”

The thing is, whether we think we have it all figured out or if we have blatantly been living a life of disobedience, as Romans says, we have all fallen short of the glory of God. None of us has an edge on the sin market. We’re all in need of God’s grace. We are each part prodigal and part elder brother. As Karl Barth wrote, “If Jesus himself had not left the Father and traveled into the far country to share a table with sinners, we would still be there, eating those pig pods.”

And that is what we are to remember. Our text for today does not begin with the parable, but with Jesus interacting with the Pharisees. Our parable and the two that precede it, that of the lost sheep and the lost coin, are in direct response to this opening grumbling made by the Pharisees, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are called to do the same thing. I feel like I’ve been saying this all weekend, but we have got to share the light of Christ to all the world, to be the salt, to eat with sinners and Pharisees alike. If we share our little sparks in our daily walk with Jesus, may they become a raging fire, fanned by the flame of the Holy Spirit.

Spark by The City Harmonic

Jesus Can Use YOU to do Great Things

Preached at talk 3 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.

Greater Things picture

Mark 2:1-12
Jesus Heals a Paralytic

2 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

They were determined to get their friend access to Jesus. To have such strong determination or perseverance you’ve got to have something within you or around you that spurs you on. For some, it’s the dream, their heart’s desire, for others it’s the support of family and friends cheering at home, for others it’s the memory of someone or an important event that keeps them going, and for others it’s their faith – faith in themselves and in their own community.

This morning we’re going to look at people who went the extra mile or went the distance to help a friend. The thing that spurred them on and gave them the strength to keep going, was their faith. Faith in God. Faith in the healing power of Jesus.

Remember the leper? In Mark chapter 1, verses 40 – 45. “40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.”

The leper proclaimed his healing freely and spread the word. It reminds me of Acts 4:20 that says, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” His life was changed, and he could not suppress the Good News inside of him. The Good News that Jesus had seen him and healed him.

So, thanks to the proclamation of the former Leper, Jesus had a full house when he got home. Another section only in Mark, “So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them.”

So where is this located in Jesus’ ministry? It’s still pretty early. He’s been preaching for about a year. Luke 4 tells us that when Jesus went back to Nazareth, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, he was so thoroughly rejected by the people that he grew up with, so he left Nazareth and made Capernaum, which was a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, his home base for the three years of his public ministry.

Okay, so now we know where he was and how he got there, and we also know why the word had spread. This home was so crowded that it was standing-room-only. People in the United States for the most part are avid movie watchers. So when I was a teenager the nearest movie theater was an hour away by car, so we would pile in to my mother’s mini-van, squeezing in every person we could. The most people we got in at one time is 14 by folding down the backseat and fitting 8 people on it and the most it would legally hold is 7. It was ridiculous, but we wanted to get every person we possibly could in there. And that was for a movie. Not for getting a chance to hear Jesus speak the word. Needless to say, the place was packed.

The people were, whether they knew it or not, there to worship God and hear God, in the person of Jesus, “speak the word.” Maybe they were curious about the crowd or what all the fuss was about. Maybe they had heard about his healing of the leper and they wanted to see this Jesus, this healer. Maybe they didn’t quite understand how they had gotten there – whether with a friend or a neighbor or just randomly walking over.

While the crowd struggled to get closer to Jesus, these four men came bringing a paralyzed man on a stretcher. A friend recently visited what was then Capernaum, in his group included a couple of people in wheelchairs and he noticed that even today, Capernaum is not an easy place in which to maneuver if you are disabled. The roads are not paved smoothly, stairs and vertical rises make it difficult to get around, and you really have to rely on your friends to help you travel there if you can’t walk.

If you had been in their place, what would you have done if you had arrived at the house and seen all those people crowded and overflowing out into the street? You might think – hey we must be in the right place – what a great thing is going on here. Or would you sit back and wait for the crowd to leave? Would you think – let’s just go home. We’ll never get in. We’ll try again the next time he’s in town.

If they had quit at this point, they would have a really good reason for going home. But these guys were determined. They had heard that a healer was in town and they want to bring their friend healing. They were on a mission. They had to see Jesus.

Who do you say that I am?

These men believed that Jesus was the Great Healer, God come to earth, the Son of Man.

Matthew 11:4-5 “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

This was a bold move of faith.

These four men weren’t thinking of themselves. They did not need a miracle for themselves, but they had a friend who did. They went to a whole lot of trouble to get him the help that he needed. Because he was important to them and they cared about him.

Thoughts on friendship:

• A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.

• Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say.

• A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

A friend perseveres.

This wasn’t an easy task. It’s not like they thought – oh, cool a crowd – let’s jump up on the roof, lower him through and call it a day. In Palestine, the roofs were flat. They would be used for rest and quiet, for drying clothes and storing things. In 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah living on the roof. In Acts 10, Peter is up on the roof praying. So generally there were stairs going up along an outside wall. Although they were determined, and possibly had outside stairs, they weren’t supermen. This wasn’t easy.

They actually had to tear up the roof to let him down. I never noticed that or remembered that before from this passage, and part of that is because in the accounts of this story in Matthew and Luke, they don’t say that they had to dig through the roof. To me, though, there’s something really powerful and special about them having to actually dig through and get dirty to help make this miracle happen.

According to some scholars, the roof was usually made of beams about 3 feet apart. These beams would be filled with twigs, then packed with clay and covered with dirt. So as you can probably imagine, as these four are pulling away chunks of clay, bits of dirt, and dried leaves are falling all over those below.

And the people who stood in the room, who most likely had some small rubble or debris dropped on their heads were no doubt probably a little upset. The men had to know this when they concocted their plan. They risked a lot because they had faith in who Jesus is and what a tremendous impact he could have on the life of their friend.

I wonder what Jesus was doing during this creation of a skylight in his home? Does he stop speaking the word or does he just continue going just like a preacher does when there’s many distractions during church? Does he stop and watch maybe with an amused look on his face, or does he began to shake his head and chuckle to himself at the enthusiasm or boldness of these guys?

How would you feel if you were one of the crowd? You’re sitting there during an exhilarating afternoon listening to Jesus, when all of a sudden some crazy guys start tearing open the roof over your head and get you all dirty. You waited and maneuvered a while to get your spot in the house, and here these people are skipping all the steps to get to the front of the line. Or more appropriately, through the roof!

I think sometimes we see the obstacles and how much it will cost us or offend other people, and we go ahead and decide what’s not going to work and who’s not going to respond and what and why something can’t be done. And we’re defeated or making excuses before we even start. Before we even get off the ground. Or get up the steps carrying our friend. We decide that we know best and it totally won’t work.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t want us to use our brains or that we should not reason out the situation first, but I am saying, that sometimes the impossible is made possible. God does work miracles. Bring the dead to life. Give sight to the blind. Heal the leper. So in continuation of that, God calls us to also envision the possibilities to see miracles around our community and world. We’re called to dream and work to make miracles a reality as the hands and feet of God. Just as we did this afternoon, feeding the hungry and helping any way we can in the cause of the revolution. God’s work is done by people who believe in the power of God, who do what they can, relying on God to supply the rest.

The central ingredient is faith, and faith is so important to this story, both as the motivation of these men that empowered their determination and as the starter for Jesus’ healing of the paralytic. Four short words in verse 5, “Jesus saw their faith.” Most people would say, “You can’t ‘see’ faith. Faith isn’t in the physical, visible realm.” But it is. And Jesus saw the faith of these four men. Their faith was evident. It shone through their actions.

These four friends had the faith to believe that Jesus would welcome them and that Jesus could change their friend’s life. What a gamble. They took a bold step of faith to make sure their friend had a chance for healing.

Their friend couldn’t walk – so they carried him.
The crowd blocked their path and access to Jesus – they went around or by passed them.
The roof was in the way – they ripped a hole in it.
They are people on a mission. They were determined. Spiritually and physically they were determined.

Verse 5 says, “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” They had faith, Jesus saw it, and did the miracle and worked the healing that they had faith would take place.

Do we have that kind of spiritual determination? We all have people we know, friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members who are in need of healing. What are we doing to be present with them in that often lonely and desperate place? Sometimes we need to intercede, whether by prayer, through encouragement, or by our actions.

I wonder, if the salvation of the people around me depended on my faith and my direct actions, how much more seriously and intentionally I would take my time with God and the Christian community and to what extent would I live out my faith?

Sometimes it means doing what one writer calls, “getting your hands dirty in other people’s lives.”

James writes in chapter 2 verses 14 thru 16, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but has no deeds?…Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

God loves us so much that God took extreme measures to provide an opportunity for healing for each one of us. God loves us so much that God came and dwelt among us showing us and providing us with that healing. God loves us so much that God draws us to God’s self, guiding us and leading us.

As the body of Christ today, as I shared last night, we have to use our particular gifts that God has given each of us to show God’s love to the world. Some in the body are particularly gifted to service or prophesy or exhortation or whatever it is that God has called you. In Romans 12:15, Paul wrote, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with them that weep.” In other words, we are to care for one another. To love one another. To truly empathize and connect with the other. This connection means that we move outside of the box of our own concerns and problems and become open and present to the needs of the other, the community around us.

What a tremendous difference it would make if we would just spend a bit of each day looking for someone who has a need. How do we meet these needs? How do we intercede? By both meeting physical needs, like the feeding ministry or sorting the first aid supplies, but also spiritual needs. Our lives truly lived are how the world knows God. Imperfect as we may be, the world needs to know that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Lawrence Kushner in Honey from the Rock writes, “We understand that ordinary people are messengers of the Most High. They go about their tasks in holy anonymity. Often, even unknown to themselves. Yet, if they had not been there, if they had not said what they said or did what they did, it would not be the way it is now. We would not be the way we are now. Never forget that you too yourself may be a messenger.”

We are all new creations in Christ Jesus and the transformation doesn’t stop there. John Wesley believed in God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. In prevenient grace, God draws us to God’s self even before we know it, in God’s justifying grace, we see that Jesus died for us – for you and me – and that becomes real to us, and in God’s sanctifying grace, God does not leave us as we are. God makes all things new. Once we’re Christians, the work doesn’t end at the point of salvation. It’s only just begun. We are continually striving to be more like Christ, walking in his ways as disciples and sharing the personality of Jesus. You don’t snap your fingers and become perfect or a perfect example of the Christian faith. It’s a continual process, a life-long journey, where you will inevitably stumble and fall. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. God’s grace extends to all people, you just have to ask for it.

Ann Lamott, who is a former addict and alcoholic, writes, in her book Traveling Mercies, “It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up, I found that life handed you these rusty, bent, old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do. And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”

Do the best you can with the gifts God has given YOU and they will be MORE than enough. Wesley encourages, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” May we be lights in the world sharing Christ’s light with everyone we encounter. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.” Let me repeat that. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Let us pray…Holy God, may you give us the courage to step out in faith like the four friends did. May you give us to share our lights with all the world. May you reassure us that we don’t have to be perfect to receive your grace. We can do no thing to earn your love and grace. May we feel secure that you’re making all things new and may we feel your love and grace for each of us. May your Holy Spirit rest upon the Ukraine right now and all of us gathered in this place that we would unite with the prayers of all of the world gathered earnestly seeking your presence and your movement. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.