Posted in Abundance, Courage, Fear, Fears, Gifts, Holy Spirit, Jesus, parable, Sermons, Spiritual Gifts, Talent

The Parable of the Talents

Matthew 25:14-30

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This parable has so many interpretations.  Some look at it as a prosperity Gospel text – if you earn more, then God will bless you with even more.  A get rich scheme.  Some see God as the harsh master, punishing the slave that buried the coin.  But Jesus never actually says it represents God.  I’m choosing to look at the text this way.  God wants us to take courage and use our gifts, knowing that we have something to offer, and living up to our potential.  God wants us to use our gifts for the greater good, for God’s glory!

Y’all know me, I don’t like being still.  I don’t like feeling lazy.  I’ve created an indention on my bed that doesn’t match the other side – my baby tooth cracked in August and it had to be removed, COVID, fractured ankle, and tomorrow I get the implant.  Lord have mercy.  I have a definite fear of missing out and in more ways than I’d like to admit, my sense of worth is tied to my work.  I feel like if I’m not producing anything or cleaning something or washing or folding clothes, then I’m lazy or people think I’m slacking off.  Those are my own negative tapes and fears of not measuring up.  I think it was fear that made the slave bury the master’s coin in the ground.  Fear is a dangerous thing.  It can put these ideas in your head, these tapes – you’re not good enough, you’re not worthy, you’re not…and it can twist your pictures of people.  Maybe he was not a harsh master, maybe he didn’t do what the servant says he did.  Maybe the servant’s own insecurity had colored his vision.  Fear does that.  It clouds things and twists things, so we don’t see clearly.

I’ve used this before, but I need to hear it every now and then.  Marianne Williamson writes in Manifesting the Glory of God, “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 and talented?  Actually, who are you not to be.  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  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 own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Sometimes we’re afraid to let go of our fear.  It’s like stepping out of our most worn, comfy pajamas into “real clothes.”  2 Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  We need to take courage, to take heart, Jesus overcame this world.  Jesus overcame every single one of our fears and he’s ready to answer if and when we choose to listen.

 Getting over your fear is hard.  Its  journey and daily choices along the way.  It’s retraining your brain and relishing in the love of God.  As Dorothy Day writes in On Pilgrimage, “Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love. Love casts out fear.”  God is love.  In 1 John it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Perfect love casts out fear.  And there’s no more perfect love than Jesus’ love.

Perfect love, Jesus’ love leaves no room for the enemy to weasel in.  When we’re feeling down and discouraged, Jesus helps us say, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”    If we profess that Jesus is Lord of our lives. We should mean it. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If he’s Lord of our lives, Jesus can give us the strength to let go of our big and small fears, insecurities, shame – we can let go of all of the “stuff.” Once Jesus helps you let go of the fear, you can grab hold of all the gifts he’s given you!  We all have something to give.

1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-7 1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

For the common good.

I heard Quaker theologian Parker Palmer tell a story about abundance once. The way I remember it is that Palmer was a passenger on a plane that pulled away from the gate, taxied to a remote corner of the field and stopped. You know the feeling: The plane stops and you look out the window and see that you’re not on the runway and the engines wind down and your heart sinks. The pilot came on the intercom and said, “I have some bad news and some really bad news. The bad news is there’s a storm front in the West, Denver is socked in and shut down. We’ve looked at the alternatives and there are none. So we’ll be staying here for a few hours. That’s the bad news. The really bad news is that we have no food and it’s lunch time.” Everybody groaned. Some passengers started to complain, some became angry. But then, Palmer said, one of the flight attendants did something amazing.

She stood up and took the intercom mike and said, “We’re really sorry, folks. We didn’t plan it this way and we really can’t do much about it. And I know for some of you this is a big deal. Some of you are really hungry and were looking forward to a nice lunch. Some of you may have a medical condition and really need lunch. Some of you may not care one way or the other and some of you need to skip lunch. So I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. I have a couple of breadbaskets up here and we’re going to pass them around and I’m asking everybody to put something in the basket. Some of you brought a little snack along — something to tide you over — just in case something like this happened, some peanut butter crackers, candy bars. And some of you have a few LifeSavers or chewing gum or Rolaids. And if you don’t have anything edible, you have a picture of your children or spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend or a bookmark or a business card. Everybody put something in and then we’ll reverse the process. We’ll pass the baskets around again and everybody can take out what he/she needs.

“Well,” Palmer said, “what happened next was amazing. The griping stopped. People started to root around in pockets and handbags, some got up and opened their suitcases stored in the overhead luggage racks and got out boxes of candy, a salami, a bottle of wine. People were laughing and talking. She had transformed a group of people who were focused on need and deprivation into a community of sharing and celebration. She had transformed scarcity into a kind of abundance.”

After the flight, which eventually did proceed, Parker Palmer stopped on his way off the plane — deplaning, that is — and said to her, “Do you know there’s a story in the Bible about what you did back there? It’s about Jesus feeding a lot of people with very little food.”

“Yes,” she said. “I know that story. That’s why I did what I did.”

She was living out of the “abundance of Jesus.”  Being the hands and feet, walking and talking the talk.  She made ready what it says in 2 Timothy 1:14, “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”  You see we all have a good treasure entrusted to us and we are able to use it with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

We all have something to give.  If we use our gifts to God’s glory, God will give us far beyond what we ask and imagine.  It talks about “abundance” in this parable and if we all give what we have, what we are able to, that’s what it’s like to live in abundance.  To give what you can out of the blessings that God has given you.

Luke 21:1-4, “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  See, this is not a parable of prosperity Gospel.  Jesus recognizes when we’re withholding our treasures and when we are giving out of our “abundant living” all that we have.  Jesus sees potential in everyone and everything.  He sees us as we could be without the fears and the baggage.  When we let the Holy Spirit work and live within us, we don’t worry about hoarding our gifts.  We give them freely.  If we know nothing is ours, then we let our gifts freely flow through our fingers to where the Spirit needs and where the Spirit leads.   

The story is told of a team of engineers who worked for Thomas Edison in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. For many months, they pursued a line of research that ultimately led them nowhere. What had started out so promising turned out to be a blind alley. In fear and trembling, they went in to see the boss, to tell him of their failure.

Edison surprised them all by congratulating them. True, they had come up with no useful invention, but they had increased the scope of human knowledge. They had eliminated certain possibilities that would, in the future, allow others to direct their own efforts more effectively. Most of all, they had fulfilled their assignment. They had not buried their talent in the ground. They had risked much in a quest for great reward.

The problem with playing it safe is that, all too often, it means not playing at all. The call goes out, in the church, for people to pitch in and help in some way, either financially or by exercising other spiritual gifts. Too often the voice of fear in our heads wins out. “Not me,” it says. “I couldn’t do that.” Or there’s “Not now. Now is not the right time.”

Always, the immediate follow up questions should be: “If not me, who?” and “If not now, when?”  Who are you to play small?  You’re a child of the Most High King.  Who are we to play small? We are the body of Christ? Jesus’ ambassadors on Earth, We have been entrusted with a treasure, our gifts and graces and the Holy Spirit here to activate them “for such a time as this.” What are we waiting for? Are we going to let our fear, the enemy’s whispers, stop us? Are we going to bury our talents in the dirt? No, with Jesus’ help, we are going to stand up and be who God created us to be, as the new creations that the Potter wants us to be and knows that we are.

To view the actual worship service, click here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/bethanyumcworship

Posted in calling, God, Judgment, Mercy, Sermons

Shake My Head

You’ve heard the Jonah story so many times, most of you can recite to me.  Let me review where we are in the story because I’m not talking about the storm or the belly of a fish – I’m talking about God’s mercy to Jonah and Nineveh and each of us!

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh but Jonah fled to Tarshish and got on a ship in Joppas.    Lord sent a great wind that created a big storm and the men on their ship were praying to their gods and throwing off anything they could off the ship but Jonah had gone to the bottom of the ship and was fast asleep.  The captain woke him up and said pray to your God, we need all the help we can get.  Well, they cast lots and realized Jonah was the guilty one, the one fleeing from God.  So they threw him overboard and the text says God was merciful.  He calmed the sea and Jonah was swallowed up by a large fish, where he stayed for three days and three nights.  When Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance and then the fish spit him out.

Jonah was given a second chance to answer God’s calling and he went to Nineveh in the beginning of chapter 3.  The text says Nineveh was so giant of a city it would take 3 days to walk the length of the city and after only a day’s walk, he proclaimed, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” In verse 5 it says, “And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.”  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he had the entire country fast, repent and pray to God to have mercy on them.  That brings us to our text this morning.

Jonah 3:10-4:11
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.  But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.  6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

But first, let me say this, Jonah is acting like a dramatic teenager.  3 days to walk in the midst of the city and he walks for only a day, he yells this one sentence.  And lo and behold the whole country fasts, repents, prays.  The text doesn’t tell us any details about Jonah except that he is the son of Amittai, but he immediately wants to run away and the only reason chapter 2 happened, his prayer happened, was the fact that he was in a fish’s belly.  Maybe he’s embarrassed to give this news to Nineveh, maybe he mumbled, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.”  In any case, the people put on sackcloth and repented.  He was obviously not expecting that.

See why I think Jonah’s a moody, melodramatic teenager?  3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 

I was a very dramatic teenager.  I would roll my eyes like a pro and one day I ran up the stairs saying, “I hate this town and everybody in it,” and slammed the door.  So I know melodrama – exaggerated, overdramatic, and sensational – and I know what Jonah was feeling.

He says it here.  “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”  Like, I could have stayed home watching Netflix.

He then made a booth – a walled structure with s’chach (plant material, such as overgrowth or palm leaves) and waited to see what would become of the city.  At this point my parents would have shaken their heads at me.  I had dodged their first instruction and peaced out, only to come back after I was in the stomach of big fish, or like the prodigal “coming to himself” in the pig sty eating pig pods, but my parents, God our Loving Parent, and the Father in the prodigal story gives us second, third, and fourth chances.  God lets us be dramatic because we are God’s children.  God doesn’t release us from the consequences but even when we’re stubborn and obstinate, God is still there, sometimes shaking his head with a smile on his face, sometimes shaking his head with concern on his face.

I imagine God shaking his head with an exasperated look on his face when Jonah made his booth to await Nineveh’s destruction.  God gave his own eye roll because Jonah was pouting.  He didn’t want to give in and say God was right, those people deserved the same chances to make mistakes as he did.  You see when we’re disobedient it comes from us being self-focused.  We are all about us.  Blinded to our own failings.  When we get that self-righteous, woe is me, I’m worse off than you are, we can’t SEE others needs, others stories, anything.  We can’t see clearly those around us.   We make them into caricutures.  When we become so me, me, me, we can’t see.  When we become so me, me, me, we can’t be a we.  

Jonah is not thinking of God’s mercy to him.  He ran in the exact opposite direction God had called him to.  God called him to modern day Iraq and he sailed for Spain.  Only when he was in the belly of a big fish did Jonah actually have a reality check.  Only when he was in the belly did he pray.  Only when he was desperate did he bargain with God. He wanted mercy for himself, he wanted the fish to spit him out on dry land.  Mercy is great as long as it’s not extended to an enemy.  And Jonah doesn’t think Nineveh should get the same mercy he did.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own stuff as we demand all the grace in the world, BUT no matter what we say, we don’t want God to extend grace to “those” people.  We get in our heads that God’s grace is a limited quantity, that it’s the last drop of water on a hot day.  We don’t understand God has unlimited mercy for each of us.  Shake my head again at Jonah and for that matter each of us.  South Carolina fans vs. Clemson fans, Republicans vs. Democrats vs. Green vs. Independent vs. Libertarian, Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter…we are all in need of God’s mercy and grace.  We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.  And we ALL need to repent, fast, pray and put on our sackcloth and ash.  None of us has a leg up on the competition – God’s mercy and grace is the greatest equalizer.

 Jonah needed an object lesson of showing mercy and God gave him one.

“6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”” 

God asks Jonah, “Are you sure it is right to be angry about the bush?”  Jonah has dug in his heels and says, “Yes, angry enough to die!!”  Oh the defiant drama, but God is patient and used it to teach Jonah.  It was an object lesson after all.

“10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?””

He’s calling Jonah out and to account in these two sentences, ending in this question that shows that our God is a God of mercy and cares about all of God’s children.

As an aside, I’ve always used this last part to say, God cares about the animals.  Just sayin’.

God created the bush and God created the people, who was Jonah to question God when the people of Nineveh repented.  God gives third and sixth chances and never WANTS to punish us, as his children, whom God formed in our mother’s womb, but he does give us consequences.  If Nineveh hadn’t repented from their wicked ways, it would be a different story.  God showed mercy to Jonah AND to the people of Nineveh.  Our God is a God of mercy.

A. W. Tozer reminds us “Mercy is not something God has. Mercy is something God is. Mercy is infinite, boundless, and unlimited.”

I used to think that the God of the Old Testament was about only judgment and wrath and the God of the New Testament was the God of mercy and love.  That is far from the truth.  The word “mercy” appears four times more often in the Old Testament than in the New Testament.   If you view God as a Loving Parent it explains a lot.  Some of you may have not had that example, yours may not have been model parents.  But our God is.  Both just and merciful.  And it’s there for each and every one of us.

Cynthia Bourgeault, in Mystical Hope writes, “When we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional — always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Just like that little fish swimming desperately in search of water, we, too “swim in mercy as in an endless sea.” Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love.”

Mercy is something God is.  This is the first thing to remember.  The second is God can use us to bring deliverance to God’s people.  Jonah certainly didn’t choose to be a prophet.  He did all that he could not to be.  But God still used him to deliver his message.  Nineveh – 120,000 people who did not know their right from their left – were saved because Jonah delivered God’s message.  God can and will use you to send God’s children a message of God’s love and mercy.  God’s love letter to the world.  Even if we’re kicking and screaming, even when we’re a petulant, dramatic teenager, God will use us.  And that’s the point.

There’s an old story about what happened when Jesus arrived back at the gates of heaven, following his ascension. All the heavenly hosts were gathered to welcome God’s Son, to celebrate his return home. Everybody had questions. They’d heard of his exploits on earth. They wanted to hear it straight from him.

Jesus described his adventures at great length: the preaching, the teaching, the healing. They laughed when he told them how he’d tied the Pharisees’ theological arguments up in knots, and they wept when he described both the agony of the cross and the joy of resurrection.

Someone asked him, “Lord, now that you no longer physically walk the earth, who will share the good news?”

“I’ve got a plan,” said Christ. “I’ve selected 11 followers, my closest friends. To them I’ve given the responsibility of sharing the good news.”

“They must have some incredible talents, those 11,” remarked one angel.

“Well, actually no,” the Lord responded. “These are average people, with ordinary abilities. They’re vain and sometimes foolish. One of them, their leader, denied me three times.”

“But, Lord,” objected another angel, “how can you be sure they’ll get the job done?”

“To be perfectly honest, I can’t be sure.”

“What do you mean, you can’t be sure? What if they fail? What’s your backup plan?”

Quietly Christ answered, “I have no backup plan.”

We, imperfect melodramatic teenagers, are God’s plan to show mercy to God’s children.  We are to be messengers, calling the people to repent and turn from their evil ways.  When they do, we don’t look down our noses at them, we rejoice and welcome them, God’s mercy lived out.  God showed mercy to Jonah, God showed mercy to the people of Nineveh, and God shows mercy to you and me, so that we will show mercy to others and will tell them about God’s mercy, mercy lived out.

Posted in Anne Lamott, Jesus, Mercy, Romans, Sermons

We are the Lord’s

Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,

    and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

How many of you like red grapes?

How many of you like green grapes?

How many of you do NOT like any grapes?

Red grapes, Green grapes, or no grapes – we are all children of God.  

Vegetarians.

Vegans.

Absolute Carnivores.

We are all children of God.

Virtual.

Hybrid.

Fully home-schooled.

We are all children of God.

Democrat.

Republican.

Independent.

We are ALL children of God.

That last one you had some feelings about, didn’t you?

We live in an extremely divided time right now.  But Paul was facing the same thing in Rome.  He was trying to unite the body of Christ from getting stuck on surface issues, preferences or opinions.  He was trying to unite a divisive Church into getting their priorities straight.  Jesus calls us to welcome not judge.  Jesus calls us to be peacemakers not quarrel over things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.  We should put our energy in things that are life-giving not life-draining, not in winning a point in an argument that is not essential.  Paul says both in living and dying, we are the Lord’s.

The old-time preacher, Donald Grey Barnhouse, tells the story of three men cast into the ocean by a plane crash. No one knows their plane has gone down. There they are, treading water, hundreds of miles from land.

One of the crash victims is a very poor swimmer. Another is a fairly good swimmer. The third is an Olympic gold-medalist.

The gold-medalist may well judge his two companions to be less-than-perfect swimmers. He may even deign to give them a few pointers on stroke and breathing, before setting off on his impossible journey toward land.

What does it matter? The poor swimmer will drown in 20 minutes; the average swimmer in two hours or so; the Olympian in 15. All of them, left to their own devices in that vast ocean, are bound to die.

No, what these men need — all three of them — is not a swimming coach. They need a savior. They need a helicopter or ship to come by and pluck them from the waves.

If all of us — as the Scriptures affirm — are sinners in need of a savior, then what sense does it make to judge others?

There are several scriptures about judging and in one of them if we judge harshly, we will be judged harshly.  Matthew 7 says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”

Syngman Rhee says, “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”

Through Jesus’ grace and mercy, the only thing that saves us from God’s judgement, we are able to fully focus on the person, not our preconceived notions, assumptions, or judgments.

Did you know in The Book of Discipline, which orders the life of United Methodist Church’s, our Doctrinal History is all about this?

“This perspective is apparent in the Wesleyan understanding of “catholic spirit.” While it is true that United Methodists are fixed upon certain religious affirmations, grounded in the gospel and confirmed in their experience, they also recognize the right of Christians to disagree on matters such as forms of worship, structures of church government, modes of Baptism, or theological explorations. They believe such differences do not break the bond of fellowship that ties Christians together in Jesus Christ. Wesley’s familiar dictum was, “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.””

We think and let think.  We’re not to judge how “Christian” someone is just like we’re not to see who’s the biggest sinner in our friend group?  That is exhausting.  Wouldn’t it be more fruitful if we nurtured our own walk with God through delving into the Word OR we live like Jesus, showing the world what he’s like, actually being his hands and feet?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

Everyone’s entitled to God’s grace and is not for us to judge.  That’s God’s job.  Our job on Earth is to show people Jesus.

We’re not called to live in Judgment House where doors are locked and bolted; where there’s no handle on the outside of the door and you can only get in if somebody lets you in. We’re called to live in Grace and Mercy House, whose door is always open and a welcoming committee is there to greet you. And if they’re aren’t there when you enter, it’s not because you’re not welcome, it’s because they’ve gone out in search of others like you who need a place to live.

Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  And Jesus gives us a choice of living in the Grace and Mercy House in freedom or in bondage in the Judgment House?  If we’re not judge, jury, and executioner, it gives a lot more time to be real with God’s people.  When Anne Lamott first started going to her church 21 years ago, she was still drinking. So she would often show up with these extreme hangovers. She writes, “But what I would hear is these very, very old people from the South, saying: “Jesus’s only as far away as his name, he’s only as far away, call on the name of the Lord” and “He shall hear you, he shall answer, he’s only as far away as his name.”

So it might be a habit that if I said: “Jesus,” or if I just said, “hi,” there’s only one person I’m reaching to. I got into the habit of calling for, reaching out to, and then experiencing this very, very dear parental response, as a mother or father might speak in the night when the child is afraid. Say, “I’m right here, what’s up?”

We never know what people are hearing or seeing or feeling or what they’ve been through.  “We must stand not on the judgment seat, but in the witness stand, where we witness to the saving love and work of Jesus Christ.”  If we do that we’ll have a much more happy and fulfilled life.  If we do that we’ll work to welcome the weak, welcome the lost, welcome the vulnerable.  If we do that no one is put on the pedestal, except the One who should truly be there…Jesus.  Vegan.  Vegetarian.  Carnivore.  It’s all about Jesus.  

So as James says, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.”  May we stop and pause before offering words of judgment.  May we hear people’s words, stories, hearts.  May we lay down all of the hatred, bitterness, angst that’s easy to spew about other people and rest in the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus.  That’s one thing we can practically do this week.  And when the enemy weasels its way into our head, may we call on the name of Jesus’ in whom’s grace we stand united.  Amen and amen.

Posted in Darkness, Forgiveness, Light, Love, Needtobreathe, Sermons, Slumber

Love One Another

Romans 13:8-14

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

We are called to love one another and to do that we should wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus.

Wake up from our slumber.

I have always loved the Needtobreathe song Slumber: 

Days they force you

Back under those covers

Lazy mornings they multiply

Glory’s waiting

Outside your window

Wake on up from your slumber

Open up your eyes

We need to wake up and wipe the sleep out of our eyes.  Wake up from complacency.  Wake up from auto-pilot.  “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near.”  We need to open our eyes to the possibilities of spreading the Good News, of spreading light of spreading Jesus to the whole word.  We don’t need to be day dreaming about it, we need to snap out of the day dream, and trust the One, as Ephesians says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  But first we must,

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.

Notice the sins are the ones we think of us singular, personal sins such as adultery, murder, stealing, coveting, drunkenness, quarrelling, jealousy, debauchery or licientiosness.  But the “you” is plural.  It’s like y’all.  Paul is telling us all to lay aside the darkness inside each of us, not pointing one of us out.  But, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  

We are called to literally lay aside the darkness and choose the better way.  

In the 1986 film, The Mission, Robert De Niro plays Rodrigo Mendoza, a brutal slave trader from the conquistador era who has captured, sold and murdered many native South Americans. Although he scarcely thought twice about killing a native in the past, when Mendoza murders his brother in a fit of anger he is overcome with remorse. A Jesuit priest gives him a penance to atone for his sin: he must accompany an expedition of Jesuits deep into the rain forest, where they plan to teach the natives about Jesus Christ.

On the trek into the forest, Mendoza binds up his armor in a net. He ties a rope around this heavy burden and drags it along, to remind himself of the violent life he has left behind. The sack of armor slows the expedition, but the priests tolerate it because they know how important it is to the penitent man.

Close to their destination, the missionaries climb to the top of a waterfall. At the top, they warmly embrace the native friends they have come to know on an earlier journey. But then the natives spy the exhausted Mendoza, still ascending the rocks beside the waterfall, dragging his armor behind him.

They know him, and they fear him. One of the natives grabs a knife and runs over to Mendoza, holding the blade against his neck as though to kill him in revenge. Mendoza looks up at his assailant, preparing himself for death.

But then something surprising happens. The native does slash his knife, but what he cuts is not Mendoza’s throat. He cuts the rope holding the bag of armor. The entire company watches the conquistador’s burden fall away, falling end over end down the waterfall, smashing onto the rocks below.

Mendoza cries like a baby, fresh from the womb of God. A priest says, “Welcome home, brother.” Then, his real instruction begins.

Jesus doesn’t want us to carry around our baggage of sin; he frees us from that and scatters it far and wide.  It takes a lot for us to let that sink in.  Total forgiveness for our awful stench of sin.  Us hanging on to the sin can lead to darkness, if we don’t cling to the Lord’s good forgiveness.  

Lay aside the works of the darkness and put on the armor of light.  Not the heavy armor of sin, but armor of light.  To protect as from the darkness.  To protect us from the evil that so quickly creeps in.  God does not leave as defenseless and alone, he instructs us to lay aside, to put away from us, the darkness of sin and put on the armor of light.  We must truly repent and turn away from sin, that’s how we’ll be children of the light.

“Put on” the Lord Jesus through a personal connection and a community of support to help us.

A mother with two young children put them to bed and went to prepare herself for bed. She put on some old clothes and went to the bathroom. She washed her hair and wrapped a towel around her head to dry her hair. She applied cold cream on her face to remove her makeup. Just as she was about to wipe off the cream, she heard the noise of her children playing in their room. She stormed into the room, hollered and told her two small children to get back into bed, reminded them that it was time to sleep, turned out the light and slammed the door. As she left the room, one of the children, with a trembling voice, asked the other, “Who was that?” 

We don’t want others asking, “Who was that?” when they look at our lives. We want others to know Who it is Who lives, breathes, and shapes our lives. We want Jesus to be all over us!

It’s not putting on airs, putting on the ritz, or putting on your make up; but it’s putting on Christ.  It’s not just being nicey nice or putting on an act, it’s actually taking on the characteristics of Jesus.  Jesus exemplified the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  As we put on Christ, we should start with those virtues listed in this Galatians text.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Those are a good place to start!

How else do we “put on” Christ but by being in the Word, creating a spirit of gratitude, and not letting the world, or the devil, get the better of us.  

We all need encouragement and support from a community of faith.  To sing our song to us when we are down and out, to sing our song to us when we are weary and discouraged to help us sing when we’ve lost our tune.  Bishop Woodie White, retired United Methodist bishop, tells about the chaffinch bird, a little reddish-brown bird found in Europe. The chaffinch sings like a canary, but there is something unique about this popular songbird. When people take them into their homes, the little birds soon forget how to sing. When they forget how to sing, they get sick. Eventually, they become depressed and die. Unless, of course, they are taken back to be with other chaffinch, in which case they congregate and relearn how to sing and are well again.  We are like the chaffinch, we don’t need do it all by ourselves, we need to be with others to help us forge the rivers and help us scale the rocks of the mountains.  Our fellow journeyers make us stronger, the full body of Christ, not divided – ONE. 

Through putting on Christ individually and as a community of Christians that’s how we can really love one another.

It’s all about love, friends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.” 

I was hearing in my head, “when love is the way,” and realized it was from Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at Prince Harry and Megan’s wedding.

“Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty of good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.

“Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”

When love is the way we wake up from our slumber, lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and then, then we will be able to “put on” our Lord Jesus and love of our neighbors as ourselves.  

Posted in blessed, Sermons

God is on Our Side

Psalm 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side

—let Israel now say—

if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,

    when our enemies attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive,

    when their anger was kindled against us;

then the flood would have swept us away,

    the torrent would have gone over us;

then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,

    who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird

    from the snare of the fowlers;

the snare is broken,

    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth.

This scripture says to me, we have to trust God, our Loving Parent, put our hope in Jesus, our Savior, and be led by the Holy Spirit, our advocate and comforter to share with the world that God is on the side of God’s people.

First of all, we have to trust God, as our Loving Parent. 

Dear Mom,

Scoutmaster Webb told us to write our parents in case you heard about the flood and got worried. We’re all okay. Only one of our tents and two of our sleeping bags got washed away. Nobody drowned because we were all on the mountain looking for Chad when it happened. Oh yeah, please call Chad’s mother and tell her he’s okay. He can’t write her because of the cast on his arm.

I got to ride in one of the search-and-rescue Jeeps! It was neat! We never would have found him in the dark if it hadn’t been for all the lightning. Scoutmaster Webb got mad at Chad for going on a hike alone without telling anyone. Chad said he did tell him, but it was during the fire, so he probably didn’t hear him.

Did you know that if you put gas on a fire, the gas can will blow up? It was so cool! The wet wood still wouldn’t burn, but one of our tents did, and some of our clothes. Boy, Johnny is going to look weird until his hair grows back!

We’ll be home Saturday if Scoutmaster Webb gets the car fixed. It wasn’t his fault about the wreck. The brakes worked good when we left. But he said with a car that old you have to expect something to break down. That’s probably why he can’t get insurance. We think it’s a neat car. He doesn’t care if we get it dirty, and if it’s hot, sometimes he lets us ride on the tailgate. It gets pretty hot with 15 people in the car. He let us take turns riding in the trailer until the highway patrolman stopped and yelled at him.

This morning all the guys were diving off the rocks and swimming out in the lake. Scoutmaster Webb wouldn’t let me because I can’t swim, and Chad was afraid he would sink because of his cast, so he let us take the canoe across the lake. It was great. You can still see some of the trees under the water from the flood. And Scoutmaster Webb isn’t crabby like some scoutmasters. He didn’t even get mad about us leaving the life jackets behind. He has to spend a lot of time working on the car, so we’re trying not to cause him any trouble.

Guess what? We passed our first-aid merit badges. When Dave dived into the lake and cut his arm, we got to see how a tourniquet works. Also, Wade and I threw up. Scoutmaster Webb said it probably was just food poisoning from the leftover chicken. He said they got sick like that with the food they ate in prison. I’m so glad he got out and became our scoutmaster. He said he figured out how to do things better while he was doing time.

I have to go now. We’re going into town to mail this and buy some bullets and more gasoline. Don’t worry about anything. We’re doing just fine.

Love, Your son

God is our Loving Parent.  The spin cycle of sin…Romans 8:31 says, “What, then, shall we say in response to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

All kind of calamities are happening.  Fires in California, two hurricanes in the Gulf, and I’m not going to get into the global pandemic and all of the affects its having.  God is not like the Mother who gets the letter from her son.  God is actively engaged in our world today, working things for our good.  

Amy Grant, the Collection, was my favorite CD growing up and her song “Angels,” reminds me of this concept.

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.

A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.

Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,

Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.

But I know they’re all around me all day and through the night.

When the enemy is closing in, I know sometimes they fight

To keep my feet from falling, I’ll never turn away.

If you’re asking what’s protecting me then you’re gonna hear me say:

Got his angels watching over me, every move I make,

Angles watching over me!

Angels watching over me, every step I take,

Angels watching over me.

God is ALWAYS, always working for our good, even when it doesn’t seem like it.  Even when we’re under attack.  We are a BLESSED people, writes the psalmist, because we haven’t been surrendered as “prey” (v. 6). Indeed, because of the Lord’s help (v. 8), we have “escaped” (the word is used twice in v. 7).  We’ve got to trust God has our best interests at heart, ever working in the midst.  To sharpen us so that we’ll better persevere, to give us strength and sustenance on the road ahead when we’re desperately tired and parched, to give us a future with hope.

Second of all, we have to put our hope in Jesus our Savior, the only hope we have this side of heaven.   

Peter J. Gomes, chaplain of the Memorial Church at Harvard University, wrote a book titled The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus Christ: What Is So Good About the Good News? (New York: HarperCollins, 2007). He tells about a time some years ago when South African novelist Alan Paton spoke at Harvard. At the time, the apartheid regime of Paton’s home country appeared to be close to collapse, and a black majority government would soon take over. Many people feared that massive bloodshed was imminent. During a question-and-answer time, a woman asked Paton, “Given all that you have said and we have heard, are you optimistic about the future of your beloved country?” Paton replied, “I am not optimistic, but I remain hopeful.”

Gomes writes that he has thought much about that distinction between optimism and hope ever since. He recalls that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned against cheap grace. Similarly, Gomes warns against “cheap hope.” He explains: “Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don’t turn out all right and aren’t all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us. Something of the quality of that hope is found when the psalmist asks, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.’”

Such muscular hope comes with a price, writes Gomes. It’s the kind of hope that requires work and effort, with no real guarantee of when, how or even whether we will see a positive return. Citing Romans chapter 5, he states, “Paul’s sequence reminds us of this: We pass from sufferings that are not avoided to ignorance, which is the quality that allows us to keep on when it would be easier to quit. The process of enduring produces character, that inner quality not to be confused with image or reputation, that is who we are when no one is looking. It is from character that hope is produced. This is where the old aphorism comes that says, ‘Show me what you hope for, and I will know who you are.’”

Miss Congeniality was on this weekend.  Sandra Bullock’s character plays an FBI agent, gone undercover in the Miss USA as Gracie Lou Freebush.  She jokes that she’s hoping for world peace.  I’m not talking about that kind of hope, I’m talking about this muscular hope, where we actively work with Jesus to make it happen in the world.  If we’re hoping for world peace, we better be actively working for peace on our own lives in word, deed and Spirit.  If we’re actively working for muscular hope, we show that in our own lives, we radiate that hope, and we point people to the hope in Jesus.

Thirdly, we have to be led by the Holy Spirit to blow hope, peace, love and joy to a world that is so stressed out, angry, and battered.

Rabbi Hugo Gryn used to tell of his experiences in Auschwitz as a boy. Food supplies were meager, and the inmates took care to preserve every scrap that came their way. When the Festival of Hanukkah arrived, Hugo’s father took a lump of margarine and, to the horror of young Hugo, used it as fuel for the light to be lit at the festival. When he was asked why, his father replied, “We know that it is possible to live for three weeks without food, but without hope it is impossible to live properly for three minutes.”

May the world know that the church exists not to raise hell, or give ’em hell, but raise hope and give ’em hope. As Psalm 124 reminds us: “Blessed be the Lord .… Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (vv. 6, 8).  We’ve got to show people through our very lives the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” 

It’s easy to give in to anger, strife, and the ceaseless complaining of this world.  It’s much harder to be a city on a hill that stands for light in the ever-growing midst of the darkness.  Don’t give in.  Trust God to provide, cling to the robust hope in Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit guide and lead you to who you need to talk to, giving you the words to speak, and using words to inspire and create a spirit of cooperation and unity, not divisiveness and dissatisfaction.

Isaiah 51:1-6

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,

    you that seek the Lord.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

    and to the quarry from which you were dug.

2 Look to Abraham your father

    and to Sarah who bore you;

for he was but one when I called him,

    but I blessed him and made him many.

3 For the Lord will comfort Zion;

    he will comfort all her waste places,

and will make her wilderness like Eden,

    her desert like the garden of the Lord;

joy and gladness will be found in her,

    thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4 Listen to me, my people,

    and give heed to me, my nation;

for a teaching will go out from me,

    and my justice for a light to the peoples.

5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,

    my salvation has gone out

    and my arms will rule the peoples;

the coastlands wait for me,

    and for my arm they hope.

6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,

    and look at the earth beneath;

for the heavens will vanish like smoke,

    the earth will wear out like a garment,

    and those who live on it will die like gnats;

but my salvation will be forever,

    and my deliverance will never be ended.

Our help and our hope is in the Lord our God who will always be on our side.  If we trust God, put our hope in Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide our steps, we will truly be the body of Christ in the world.

Posted in Advent, Good News, Jesus, Justice, Mary Magnificat, Sermons, Uncategorized

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

Posted in Sermons, Uncategorized

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.

Posted in Campus Ministry, God made YOU, More Beautiful You, psalm 139, Sermons, Suitcases, The Help

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.

Posted in C.S. Lewis, Love, Scriptures, Sermons

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.

Posted in Anne Lamott, Campus Ministry, Fears, LungLeavin' Day, Sermons

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.