Posted in Darkness, Epiphany, Isaiah, Light, Sermon

Arise, shine; for your light has come! – January 2nd

It’s beginning to not look like Christmas.  How many of you have put away your Christmas decorations?  We haven’t even begun to.  I’m not going to technically feel bad about it because it’s not Epiphany yet.  You see, not only do we observe Christmas, but the Christian calendar gives us twelve days of Christmas to span the time between Christ’s birth and the wise men coming to witness the birth not just of Israel’s deliverer, but of the whole world.  

These words from Isaiah were spoken to a specific people coming home from exile, but the words of Isaiah are quoted all through the New Testament in multiple ways to speak to all types of situations and the beauty with all scripture – it has a way of speaking to us afresh and anew if we let it.  The Word is open and alive for each of us.

Isaiah 60:1-6

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,

    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

    and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

    and his glory will appear over you.

Nations shall come to your light,

    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

    they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

    and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

    your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

    the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

    all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

    and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

An epiphany is a sudden manifestation or perception of the meaning of something or an intuitive grasp of reality through something usually simple and striking.  My simplified explanation is it’s an ah-hah moment.  Well, I’ll give you the three epiphanies or ah-hah moments or take-aways and lo and behold, they’re all 3 about Jesus.

Jesus dispels the darkness.

Jesus shines in our hearts.

Jesus calls us to be lighthouses shining God’s glory in and for the world.  

Jesus dispels the darkness.

Darkness is never easily dispelled. The Israelites could have said, “We’ve heard that before!” At the beginning of the book of Isaiah they had heard: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). That promise seemed like a quick fix before the darkness returned; and we know the feeling. We have heard these promises at Advent and Christmas, year after year. Does anything really change?  Did Covid-19 suddenly disappear or our loneliness in isolation or did we instantly drop the 19 pounds most of us gained during the pandemic when it turned into January 1st?  Nope.  It’s never as easy as waving a magic wand.

But have we ever really listened to the promises? It says you must “lift up your eyes and look around” (v. 4a) All the light in the world is no help if you don’t lift up your eyes and take a look around.  We have to look up to see the light.  It may be a speck on the horizon, it may be the light that we look for when the world is caving in on us.   What Isaiah saw was a glorious restoration for Jerusalem, a great homecoming for the Jews, a great ingathering of the Gentiles. But the reality – the hope of a glorious return with banners waving and confetti filling the air is far from what they found.  Enormous construction tasks and apathy at best from the ones who had stayed behind were beyond discouraging.  It would have been easy for them to give up, but they clung to God’s promises as we have to do too.   

Jesus shines in our hearts.

I’ve had a quote at the end of my email since I created it in 2012.  It’s from Archbishop Desmond Tutu – “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.”  But if I don’t truly believe that Jesus dispels all the darkness in our lives, if I don’t truly believe in the promises of God, then those are just empty words on a tagline.  I’m not talking about momentary bits of doubt or discouragement, that the Lord will lead us through with a song, a piece of scripture, a call from a friend, a sunrise, we have to look up and around to see all of God’s workings in our lives. 

Isaiah 60:19

19 The sun shall no longer be

    your light by day,

nor for brightness shall the moon

    give light to you by night;

but the Lord will be your everlasting light,

    and your God will be your glory.

But the Lord will be YOUR everlasting light, and YOUR God will be your glory.  We realize, don’t we, that they and we did not choose this on our own.  This is a unilateral action on the part of God, that is available to each of us, because God sent his Son to be the light of the world.  This new identity as children of the light was given by God; not achieved by them. This new identity is also God’s free gift to us through the light of the world, Jesus Christ. Our new, God-given identity is not given by others’ perceptions. It is given by God in Jesus Christ.

As Matt Maher wrote in the song the began played, “One star burns in the darkness

Shines with the promise, Emmanuel

One child born in the stillness

Living within us, Emmanuel

We’re singing glory, glory

Let there be peace, let there be peace

Singing glory, glory

Let there be peace, let it start in me

If Jesus shines in our hearts, then we will have peace.  It may not always seem like it, but we can have God’s peace, Christ’s peace and love and joy ever in the midst in all of life’s storms.

    Jesus calls us to be lighthouses shining God’s glory in and for the world. 

One of the most prolific songwriters of the nineteenth century was Fanny Crosby. She was the daughter of John and Mercy Crosby from Putnam County, New York. Fanny was born on March 24, 1820. At age six weeks she became sick with a cold, causing inflammation of her eyes. The family doctor was out of town so a doctor unfamiliar with the Crosby family came. He recommended the use of hot poultices, which destroyed her sight. Growing up in a sightless world did not deter Fanny Crosby; she would not let anyone feel sorry for her. At the age of fifteen, she entered the New York Institution for the Blind, where she earned an excellent education. She became a teacher in the Institution in 1847 and continued her work until March 1, 1858. She taught English grammar, rhetoric, and Roman and American history. During this period of her life she began to develop a passion for songwrit­ing and poetry.

Fanny Crosby wrote over 4,000 hymns in her lifetime. She had a intimate relationship with Jesus Christ since childhood, and it shows in her hymns. She wrote the songs, “Safe In The Arms Of Jesus,” “Rescue The Perishing,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour,” “Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross,” “Blessed As­surance,” and more. Another of her hymns, “To God Be The Glory” is one that the prophet Isaiah could have related to very well. Sing with her words:

To God be the glory, great things he hath done!

So loved he the world that he gave us His Son,

who yielded his life an atonement for sin,

and opened the lifegate that all may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,

to every believer, the promise of God;

The vilest offender who truly believes,

that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things he hath taught us, great things he hath done,

and great our rejoicing thru Jesus, the Son;

but purer, and higher, and greater will be

our wonder, our transport when Jesus we see!

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord;

let the earth hear His voice!

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord;

let the people rejoice!

O come to the Father thru Jesus the Son,

and give him the glory — great things he hath done!

Fanny Crosby may not have been able to see the glory of God with her eyes, but she was a lighthouse of God’s love to the world!   She was one of my lighthouses when I went through my cancer treatments and did this little art project.  (Thanks, Beth Bostrom!)

We can all shine the light of God’s love. We can all be lighthouses.  We don’t have to burn ourselves out shining everywhere, lighthouses don’t do that.  Lighthouses shine the light to guide ships home.  And as we have the opportunity to do that with others it’s only because we are a reflection of the True Light of the World.  Jesus dispels all of the darkness, shines His love into our hearts and gives us the love, grace, strength, and peace to shine God’s light in the world as God’s Lighthouses.  “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!”  Amen.

Posted in Covenant, John Wesley, New Year

Wesley Covenant Prayer – January 1st

Following the lead of the Moravian Brethren who began having “watch” services in 1733, John Wesley, created watch night services, sometimes calling them Covenant Renewal Services.  They would typically happen on New Year’s Eve to give people an opportunity to look back over the past year, confessing their sins, remembering God’s blessings and renewing their commitment to Christ for the new year.  Typical services often included prayer, scripture, song, proclamation, and sometimes a Moravian Love Feast, but always included a time of personal covenant.  The Wesley Covenant Prayer is a practical description of what Jesus was talking about when he said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). 

“I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things

to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

  • Wikipedia and http://www.umc.org were used for this post. For more info, as well as a contemporary version of the Wesley Covenant Prayer look at wikipedia.
Posted in Mary Magnificat, Sermon, Waiting

4th Sunday of Advent – Waiting at the Threshold

We finally made it to the week of Christmas. 

Hallelujah!  

When we were little we gathered for Christmas at my grandparent’s house.  I remember not being able to go to sleep that night and us reading “The Night Before Christmas” in my grandmother’s house.  The house was packed with aunts, uncles, and cousins.  We would gather at Greeleyville United Methodist Church for the Christmas Eve service.  When we went to Cypress Gardens Assisted Living and were singing Christmas carols, I heard Annette Goins’ strong alto singing voice, and it brought back a wave of memories of me standing between my mom and grandmother singing alto.  I remember most of the alto parts of “Joy to the World” and “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” but that’s about it.

We were the only grandkids back then and my uncle Jim (Bubba) had this fancy new video camera.  (It was back in the 80’s.)  We had to wait on the stairs until they got the cameras set up.  It took FOREVER.  It was like a million years to a kid, but probably more like 5 minutes.  My grandfather loved to see our faces and used his principal-voice to keep us from bursting through the door.  Waiting on the threshold seems like it’s taking forever, but we’ve come so far.  Waiting all year for Santa Claus to come.  The eager anticipation.  Because you know something good is waiting for you on the other side.  In this text, we see Mary as she finds out the news from Gabriel and then she sings her song of praise.  It’s not cheesy Hallmark greeting cards or Christmas movies.  It is powerfully prophetic, muchless from a teenage girl.

Luke 1:26-38, 46-56

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor 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,

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.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Bill Wolf wrote one of the songs we’re going to sing on Christmas Eve, “A Baby Will Come,” while he was preparing a sermon on Mary’s Magnificat.  He writes, “As I researched the social climate of Israel in the late first century B.C., I was overcome with how dire the lives of the Israelites had been. Between the brutal conquests of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus and the obscene taxation of Herod, King of Judea, the Israelites were enslaved once again, this time in their own backyard.

These were God’s people clinging to God’s promises, and yet life seemed to get harder and harder as the weight of oppression grew heavier and heavier. The Promised Land no longer felt like the Promised Land. Doubt began to set in.

It was into this climate that a young adolescent girl was visited by an angel of God and told that she would give birth to a baby boy. She was told His very name would be “Salvation” for her and for her people.

In a moment of joy and restraint, Mary sat down and reflected on what the angel had told her as she began to pen this poem. It is the first Christmas song ever written. It is a beautiful song; a poem that is on one hand personal and introspective, but on the other hand, charged with social and politically revolutionary language.

This was not a timid, scared little girl.

I had this phrase in my head, “The kings of the world have torn it apart. But take heart, a baby will be born.” How absurd of a thought is that? A baby? Yet that is the promise Mary was given. That is promise we have been given.”

And the baby grew to be a man that fulfilled his mother’s song.  The man whose mother, Mary burst out with a spontaneous song of praise, sets us captives free. The people of Israel waited for the promised Messiah and that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. We are waiting still, for Jesus to come again, we’re standing on the threshold for the time in Revelation 21:3-4 describes, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

I did a funeral for a 20 year old yesterday.  The chapel at Parks funeral home was packed as was the Summerville Cemetery when I did the graveside.  He was the youngest of 4 brothers.  The daughter-in-law who read the words of her mother-in-law, had experienced her own loss.  She had a son born with a heart condition.  He died a week after his first heart surgery.  How to offer comfort and peace to a grieving family who’s been through so much?  It’s a simple name.  Jesus.  Fully human and fully divine.  Because I live, you will live also.  That’s our hope, that’s our joy, that’s our peace, because of God’s abundant love, God sent Jesus to earth and Jesus took on our sins and defeated death, so we might live through him.  Hear the Good News in that?  It’s revolutionary.  Jesus flipped the script.  Evil thought it had won, but Jesus came.  A baby was born.

It may be hard to find the good these days.

“Daniel Tiger” is a PBS spin-off from the prior Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. On the show, the characters say this phrase over and over again to each other and to the young children watching: “When something seems bad, turn it around, and make something good!” 

In one episode, Daniel goes to the bakery and chooses the best birthday cake in the shape of a tiger just like him. He helps mold it until it looks stunning. He carries it home, but it gets jostled about a bit, and when he opens the box, the cake is sunken and misshapen. And his friends will be there any moment!

Daniel is devastated. His cake is ruined. But his father reminds him, “When something seems bad, turn it around, and find something good!”

“Daniel, can you find something good still in this cake?”

Daniel at first has a hard time….but then he realizes, it still tastes good! He samples it to see. No matter how it looks, it’s still a great cake, and he shares it with his friends.

I don’t know about you, but the further we get into this pandemic, my default, my resting place, is negative – tinged with bitterness.  If I were Daniel Tiger, I might have looked above and shouted, “What else can go wrong?”  We need the Holy Spirit to blow peace into our hearts, minds and lives.We all need those reality checks of God reminding us…..look further. Taste and see that the Lord is good! The Lord is faithful. As we await the gift of Christmas morning, let us eagerly anticipate Jesus’ second coming, with hearts wide open to sharing the good news that the angels sang about.  Good news of great joy for ALL people!  As we wait in the threshold, we won’t be disappointed because the gift as scripture tells us in Ephesians 3:20, “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.” We need to share that gift of Jesus, our Emmanuel, with everyone so they can come and know our Savior.  It’s like this Advent candle, we need to carry our lights of hope, our beacons of love, our fires of joy, and our flames of peace to a hurting world to tell them about a Savior that came down to earth, to set us free from our sin, and we can be with him, now and forevermore.  Our very lives depend on Jesus, our Emmanuel, our God with us.

Posted in Advent, God, Joy

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

    because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

    to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

    and release to the prisoners;

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

    and the day of vengeance of our God;

    to comfort all who mourn;

3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—

    to give them a garland instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,

    they shall raise up the former devastations;

they shall repair the ruined cities,

    the devastations of many generations.

8 For I the Lord love justice,

    I hate robbery and wrongdoing;

I will faithfully give them their recompense,

    and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations,

    and their offspring among the peoples;

all who see them shall acknowledge

    that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,

    my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,

    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise 

to spring up before all the nations.

Evy doesn’t like us to decorate before her birthday, November 30th, but we talked her into decorating early because we and the world need so much joy right now.  We’ve cleaned up our mess, now we get to enjoy our decked out halls.

Why do we decorate our homes, our sanctuaries, our offices or cubicles, even our notebooks, we want the world to know who we are.  We want to invite them in.  We want to celebrate with them.  We want to put our best foot forward with a complete, clean picture.  At first glance, this Isaiah passage does that.  It’s all happy, happy, rah, rah, renewal, bridegroom decks himself with garland and the bride adorns herself with jewels, but is the whole book of Isaiah like that.  No!

Isaiah answers when he heard God say, “Whom shall I send?”  “Hear I am; send me!”  He’s what they call a major prophet.  Not just for the size of his book, but for his words and importance in the life of Israel.  He was a prophet that defended the people of Israel more than anyone and the people of Israel were in the midst of their spin cycle of sin.  You know how it is.  God is faithful, a covenant making God.  The covenant with Noah to not flood the Earth again and the covenant with Abraham to make his descendants like the dust of the earth by day and the stars of the sky by night.  The Israelites will be God’s people and Yahweh will be their God.  Hadn’t he delivered them from Egypt?  Hadn’t he provided manna and quail for them to eat?  Hadn’t Moses struck the rock and water streamed forth when they complained of being thirsty?  They follow God for what seems like a second and then turn away and disobey.  Then God sends a prophet to speak to Kings and to the people.  Sometimes the prophets break through and repentance happens but more often than not, they don’t.  Most of the book of Isaiah he’s warning them and despair and destruction are happening.  He mixes messages of hope of things to come with messages of anguish.  Like Isaiah 9:2-3, “The people who walked in darkness

    have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness—

    on them light has shined.

 You have multiplied the nation,

    you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

    as with joy at the harvest.”

And later on in the same chapter:

For a child has been born for us,

    a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

    and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually,

    and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

    He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

    from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

God gives them hope, about One to come.  But they, like we, are easily discouraged.  Even during this pandemic, I wish I could snap my fingers and everything would be back to normal.  It’s hard crafting a new normal, a new rhythm, a new way of being.  It’s hard when all that’s around you is changed.  I watch movies now and wonder why they’re not social distancing or wearing masks, but the tv show Monk was ahead of its time.  It’s hard to not get down in the dumps or in a funk during these strange times.

It’s hard going back to a ghost town.  I used to take the scenic routes to South Carolina when I lived in Florida.  I would see these once thriving, bustling communities on the railroad route or these textile plants which have long since shut down and wonder what it was like 100 years ago.

This is nothing compared to the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was deserted. The strong walls, which had held back invading armies for years, had been pulled down. The HolyTemple, the house of God, had been desecrated and was now only a shell. The Babylonians had destroyed the city and scattered the people to a distant land.

After years in exile, the people were returning home to a land that was devastated. They were resolved to begin the task of rebuilding, but they were getting discouraged, and TIRED, just as we are.  They want to snap their fingers and go back to their normal lives.  They’ve been in exile, now they’re back.

The story is told about Betty Hutton, a former movie star and box office attraction of the late ’40s and ’50s. Hutton fell on hard times and battled alcoholism and depression. A few years ago she encountered God and invited him into her life. God turned her life around and headed her in a different direction. She started on the trail to a comeback. Hutton joined the cast of the Broadway musical Annie, playing the role of Mrs. Hannigan. Those who were in attendance at the first performance noted the extensive biographical sketches of the members of the cast. However, under the picture of Betty Hutton there was no elaborate sketch. Instead, there appeared five words which Hutton had written herself. Those words were: “I’m back. Thanks to God.”

God has Isaiah sprinkles these promises in because God doesn’t ever want us to ever want us to be discouraged and despondent; God wants us to cling to God’s promises in the dark days, in the days when doubt and despair overwhelm us.  God promises joy in our mourning.  Isaiah says,

“God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

    to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

    and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

    and the day of vengeance of our God;

    to comfort all who mourn;

to provide for those who mourn in Zion—

    to give them a garland instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

It echoes Psalm 30:11, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;

You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.”

God didn’t abandon God’s people and God doesn’t abandon us.  God loved us enough to send God’s own son, Jesus to make our joy complete.  Joy is not happiness, it’s rooted in something much deeper.  It’s roots go all the way to our hearts and it is rooted to our very beings.  Sometimes its hard to imagine how we are going to feel any joy again. 

In the darkest days of my second brain surgery, my mother recounts the first time I laughed. We were sitting in the den all together and he said something, as he is want to do, and I laughed. That’s a simple thing. Even babies do it. But that was SUCH A BIG DEAL. In those dark days, when I couldn’t speak, when I had to read a paragraph at Speech Therapy in tell him what it said, and I lost my right arm and hand movement, so I couldn’t even shave my legs…things that we all take for granted, my laughter gave my mom some much-needed hope.

We have to let ourselves feel the peace, love, hope, and joy of this Advent season.  We have to start living. We have to live into the new reality of NOW. The Israelites came back to a new reality, but with God’s help they got through it and decked their halls and with God’s help we will get through whatever we’re wading through and deck our halls.  My prayer for you this season, is whenever joy comes into your life, you will cling to it, you will grasp it with both hands.  “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;”  Joy in Jesus is just foretaste to Heaven. 

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King!

Posted in Deliverer, God's love, Good News, Jesus, Light, Lonely, Love, Messiah, pain

Love Has Come – God with Us

A song I’ve heard recently on the radio is by We are Messengers and its called “God With Us.”  It could have been written now during the pandemic, but it was actually written in 2016.

He is with us in the season

When silence fills the home

When the lights that you once loved

Leave you aching and alone

He is with us in the distance

Between two shattered hearts

When you’re standing in the same room

But half a world apart

He is with us always

In our joy and in our pain

In the lonely midnight keep looking up

Love has come, God with us

Love has come, God with us

He is with us when the evening falls

And all the laughter fades

When the emptiness comes creeping back, creeping back

And just steals your joy away

He is with us always

In our joy and in our pain

In the lonely midnight keep looking up

Love has come, God with us

Love has come, God with us

Come on hold on now

Won’t you just stay strong

No matter how it feels, He is with us

And what you’re facing now

Know you’re not alone

Let this be your hope, He is Emmanuel

He is with us always

In our joy and in our pain

In the lonely midnight keep looking up

Love has come, God with us

Love has come, God with us

This week was filled with sickness, grief, and mounting death tolls, reminding us that we need a Savior that comes and meets us where we are, Emmanuel, God with us.  The scripture on our Advent calendar for today comes from Romans 8:38-39 and is one of my favorites, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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 this world throws at us will be able to separate us from that love.  No amount of pain or suffering can ever separate us.  God always wins.  Light always prevails.  No matter what, good always conquers evil….albeit eventually sometimes, but it does.

I experienced the joy of the Living Christmas Story last night.  Villagers, Angels, Mary and Joseph, Gabriel, Shepherds, Wise Men, King Herod, the Innkeeper and his wife, the Census takers, the Roman Soldiers, and of course the animals.  Spreading the joy of the Christmas Story.  I encourage you to come out and see it tonight from 6:30 – 8:30 or tomorrow night from 5:30 – 8:30.  Participate or come see the greatest story ever told.  Follow the star, look to the star, it points to the coming Messiah, our Deliverer.  How God loves us so much that God sent God’s Son to come dwell among us, in all of our human frailties and all of our sin.  Jesus took our sin upon himself, was crucified and then was resurrected on the third day.  Because he lives, we live also.  He set us free from sin and death.  Praying, giving thanks, serving, and singing praises are often ways to dispel the darkness around us and within us.  The world desperately needs hope, joy, peace and love this Christmas and it’s up to us, moving in and with the Holy Spirit to show those Advent blessings, to bring light and to deliver the Good News that love has come, God with Us.

Posted in Emmanuel, God's love, Jesus, Just Because, Love

Love Came Down – Wednesday Night Advent Service

1 John 4:7-12

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Love Came Down

I would listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas albums as I decorated my Ganny’s tree and decorated her house for Christmas from my freshman year at Winthrop 1998, when she broke her back, through Evy’s first Christmas in 2008 when she was weeks old until Ganny died in September 2009.  We celebrated at her house that one last Christmas.  Ganny and I had a special relationship from our love of books and tv shows to the latest snack food.  We were kindred spirits.  We were both oldest daughters with two younger brothers and had similar tastes in everything, even our love of knick knacks.  I grew closer to my grandparents during these times of decorating and on the trips I took in college to stay with them.  They showed me their great and unconditional love.  

This scripture passage tells us much about God’s love.  God is love.  God sent God’s own son Jesus, not because of anything we did or did not do, just because.  Have you ever had a “just because” love?  No matter what, no matter what you did or you didn’t do, no matter what you were loved.  Just because….you were YOU.  You were fearfully made for God’s purpose.  God knit you together in your mother’s womb and knows every hair on your head.  My Ganny and Gandaddy loved us grandkids enough to count every hair on our heads, to kiss away our boo boos, and to show us that “just because” kind of love.  Just because we were their’s, just because we are God’s, God’s love for us knows no bounds.  Even when we frustrated the heck out of them or they were disappointed in us, we still had their unconditional love, just because.  It was never a question.  Ganny said at my Gandaddy’s visitation, “Walk around and let the people see y’all.  He talked about y’all all the time.  People talk about someone being the “apple of my eye,” well, y’all were his very eyeballs.” 

In verse 12 of our passage it says, “12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  I saw God and God’s love, I felt God’s love, I KNEW God’s unconditional love in my Ganny and Gandaddy.  And you know what, I can see them again, because of God’s great love for us.  God sent Jesus to atone for our sins on the cross so we can live with Him for eternity.  That shows and proves God’s great love for us.  On her first Christmas album, Amy Grant wrote “Love Has Come” with Shane Keister and Michael W. Smith.  They get more and more excited as the song goes on and by the end they’re blaring out, 

“Love has come
For the world to know
As the wise men knew
Such a long time ago
And I believe that angels sang
That hope had begun
When the God of glory
Who is full of mercy
Yes, the God of glory
Sent his Son

And they throw in, “Don’t you know?”  and “I believe that!”  It was the 80’s.  It fit.

But isn’t that the point – that we show God’s love to others and they turn and show it to others and so on and so on.  It’s the biggest show and tell in history and we GET to be a part of the story.  We get to be ACTIVE participants in the Greatest Story Ever Told.  Sharing God’s love all over the place – love is baked into the desserts we make for Katie’s Krops, love inspires us to write a note of encouragement to a friend in need, love leads us to pray for the sick, the hurting, and the broken, LOVE HAS COME to DWELL AMONG US.

Our Advent verse today is from Psalm 26 verses 2-3, “Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.”  Your steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in faithfulness to you.  The Triune God’s steadfast love is before our eyes, how can we not walk in faithfulness?  If we don’t show the world God’s great love for them, who will?  If we don’t tell them about Jesus, our Emmanuel, who came down to Earth, the Great God of the Universe, a helpless baby, Jesus came and dwelt among us, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  He transforms everything and makes us new creations if we but put our hope and faith in him.  My grandparent’s “just because” love is just a taste of our Savior’s love.  The depth of God’s love is unfathomable and we rejoice in that when we take part in this Holy meal.  “For God so loved the world…”

Posted in Darkness, Flashlight, God's love, Jesus, John the Baptist, Joy, Light, Love, Prepare

Clean Up Crew

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

    who will prepare your way;

3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight,’”

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark read this passage at the Advent service last Wednesday.  It’s a very familiar passage this time of year.  Mary and Elizabeth her cousin were pregnant at the same time.  Luke 1:13-17, “13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Further down in Luke, Gabriel was talking to Mary and said, “36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And even further down in the 1st Chapter of Luke, “39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

The child leaped for joy!  John leaped for joy after hearing Mary’s voice?  Do you think women nested back then?  Tidying up, organizing, preparing….John comes to prepare us for Jesus.  As we make preparations to Welcome Jesus and Welcome one and all this Christmas!  We prepare our hearts to Welcome the One who knows us intimately and still loves us with an abundant and steadfast love. We need a clean up crew to prepare a place in our hearts for Jesus and to prepare to show the world the love that Jesus has for them.

We put up the tree after church last Sunday.  We may have bitten off more than we can chew.  It’s taken us all week to put up the Christmas decorations.  We first have to unpack the Christmas decorations to store the “regular” stuff we have away.  Enoch and Mike tackled the outside and discovered the lights in a whole section were blown.  Evy and I tackled the tree and we discovered the lights had different plugs so Evy decorated the banister with those lights.  Stuff was piled up everywhere…all week…they had virtual school…it never seems like we have another hour in the day.  We’ll have no parties at the house this year, we have no family coming in, we’re preparing for ourselves and most importantly for Jesus.

The first lines of Joy to the World – “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room.”  Let every heart prepare Him room.  

How do we prepare our hearts?

Focus – It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle, even this year, we can fill our to-do list up to the top and not leave Him, Jesus room.  I always love any Amy Grant Christmas song, particularly her “I Need a Silent Night.”

I need a silent night, a holy night

To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise

I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here

To end this crazy day with a silent night

We need to intentionally, carve time out time to be with Jesus – our wonderful counselor, everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.  Our Old Testament reading for today is

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 Every valley shall be lifted up,

    and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

    and the rough places a plain.

5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

    and all people shall see it together,

    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!”

    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All people are grass,

    their constancy is like the flower of the field.

7 The grass withers, the flower fades,

    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;

    surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers, the flower fades;

    but the word of our God will stand forever.

9 Get you up to a high mountain,

    O Zion, herald of good tidings;

lift up your voice with strength,

    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,

    lift it up, do not fear;

say to the cities of Judah,

    “Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord God comes with might,

    and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,

    and his recompense before him.

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;

    he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,

    and gently lead the mother sheep.

God comforts us.  God if our good shepherd.  God carries us in God’s arms.  Maybe this Christmas it’s hard to feel any kind of Christmas Spirit – the hope, the love, the joy, the peace.  Maybe you’re experiencing grief of a loved one, a job loss, a change in health status, maybe you’re feeling bbllllaaahhhhhhh, maybe you’re feeling discouraged, maybe you’re feeling frustrated, maybe you’re holding all the fear and worry wrapped up under a facade, Jesus knows.  Jesus is our Emmanuel.  God with us.  Do y’all know how important that is?  The Great God of the Universe  came down to dwell with us.  Love came down at Christmas.  Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.  We can lay our burdens down Jesus’ feet.  We can cry out to Jesus because he knows our pain intimately.  We can even question God, like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He knows.  He knows the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity. Jesus has a purpose and a calling; he embodied God’s love and wants us to do that too.  

Father Gregory Boyle tells the story of a young man named Pedro. Caught in the gang life on the streets of Los Angeles, Pedro was filled with rage and resentment that he covered up with addiction to crack cocaine. Whenever Father Boyle would offer to take Pedro to rehab, he would decline.

Until one day, Pedro changed his answer and began the long, hard journey of returning to himself. Thirty days into Pedro’s rehab, his younger brother, caught up in similar demons, took his own life. When Father Boyle called with the news, Pedro was devastated.

Father Boyle later was driving Pedro to the funeral when Pedro began to tell Boyle about a dream he had the night before. In the dream, Pedro and Father Boyle are in a large empty room, alone. There are no lights, no windows. It is complete, total darkness. In the dark silence, Father Boyle takes a flashlight from his pocket and turns it on. Slowly, deliberately, he shines the flashlight around the room until its narrow beam illuminates a light switch on the wall. No words are spoken, no explanation offered, just a beam of light revealing a switch on the wall. In the dream, Pedro stands up slowly, with some trepidation he makes his way to the switch, takes a deep breath, he flips it on. The room is flooded with light.

At this point in the retelling of his dream, Pedro is sobbing. With a voice of astonishing discovery, he said, “And the light is better than the darkness.” As if he did not know this before. Then he said, “I guess my brother just never found the switch.”

Boyle writes, “Possessing flashlights and occasionally knowing where to aim them has to be enough for us. We all find ourselves in this dark, windowless room, fumbling for grace and flashlights. You aim the light this time, I’ll do it the next.”

We do not have to do it on our own.  The Holy Spirit prepares the way and intercedes for us when we are in the darkness with sighs too deep for words and also gives us a community to lean on and to depend on.

Richard Rohr writes, “But after any true God experience, you know that you are a part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you; you are about life. You are an instance of a universal and even eternal pattern. Life is living itself in you. It is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution of the mind, and a monumental shift in consciousness. Frankly, most do not seem interested.

Understanding that your life is not about you is the connection point with everything else. It lowers the mountains and fills in the valleys that we have created, as we gradually recognize that the myriad forms of life in the universe, including ourselves, are operative parts of the One Life that most of us call God. After such a discovery, I am grateful to be a part — and only a part! I do not have to figure it all out, straighten it all out, or even do it perfectly by myself. I do not have to be God.

It is an enormous weight off my back. All I have to do is participate! My holiness is first of all and really only God’s, and that’s why it is certain and secure — and always holy. It is a participation, a mutual indwelling, not an achievement or performance on my part.

After this epiphany, things like praise, gratitude, and compassion come naturally — like breath and air. True spirituality is not taught; it is caught once our sails have been unfurled to the Spirit. Henceforth, our very motivation and momentum for the journey toward holiness and wholeness is just immense gratitude — for already having it!”

Love lived out is showing compassion, empathy, kindness, bravery, patience, and humility.  Just as John paved the way for Jesus 2,000 years ago, we have the direct calling to pave the way for Jesus today!  We each need to pick up our brooms and sweep away our doubts and fears.  We need to pick up our shovels and shovel out love to the world.  We need to vacuum complacency and apathy and use windex to wipe away our tears so we can see clearly that we have a story to tell.  It’s not a picture perfect Stepford story, but it’s real, with all the twists and turns of life.  We’ll show the world love in active, practical ways – as we worship, as we pray, as we serve – whether it be helping with Living Christmas Story, or the Angel Tree or baking cookies for Katie’s Krops, or bringing food to the Blessing Box.  We WILL prepare the way for Jesus by a GREAT Big Show and Tell.  We will Show our love with our actions and we will Tell it by sharing God’s great love.

Rachel Held Evans writes this prayer that pretty much sums up our calling. “God, go with us. Help us to be an honor to the church. Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word, to be clear in our task and careful in our speech. Give us open hands and joyful hearts. Let Christ be on our lips. May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion. Let no one come to us and go away sad. May we offer hope to the poor, and solace to the disheartened. Let us so walk before God’s people, that those who follow us might come into God’s kingdom. Let us sow living seeds, words that are quick with life, that faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts. Amen.”

We need to prepare the way for love.  It’s like we walk down a dark, windy, steep path leaving bread crumbs along the way so our fellow travelers know which way to go.  We know the way, because love came down at Christmas, and showed us the way, the way that leads to love, peace, joy, and hope.  The way that leads us home.

Posted in Abound, Hope, Jesus

Abound in Hope – Advent Devotion

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

Abound in hope.

Abound is a verb.  It’s ACTIVE.  It’s meaning in Middle English and Latin is overflowing.  Abundant, overflowing HOPE.

It’s hard to feel that hope, when the Covid numbers are creeping up, some of us are experiencing loss of job or sickness, and some of us are walking through the valley of the shadow of death and are absorbed with grief.  

There are three things in this verse that point to what we need if we are going to abound in hope.  It says 1. God is the one who fills us with all joy.  2.  God is the one who fills us with all peace.  3. And this may be the most important one – we have hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A woman, who was seen on video, arrived at the Holy Jesus Child Church in Richmond Hill, Queens, on Monday with a newborn, who was left behind in an empty manger scene.

For a few moments, the sight could have been confused for a miraculous arrival ahead of the Christmas season: A newborn baby, hours old and full term, appeared within a nativity scene at a Queens church on Monday.

But the story of how the baby got onto the stage inside the Holy Jesus Child Church in the Richmond Hill neighborhood was much more earthly, the police said: A woman, seen on video, had arrived with the boy wrapped in a towel, his umbilical cord still attached, and departed without him.

On Tuesday afternoon, detectives were seeking to speak with the woman, who was believed to be the child’s mother. …

The parish priest, the Rev. Christopher Ryan Heanue, 28, said he could think of no better place to leave a baby. He said that rather than seeing the mother’s actions as sad, he found them inspirational. “I think it’s beautiful,” Father Heanue said. “A church is a home for those in need, and she felt, in this stable — a place where Jesus will find his home — a home for her child.”

We find our hope in Jesus.  The One who came to set the captives free and those captives are each of us.  We are captive to the sin and fear that shackles us but Jesus in his perfect love and sacrifice gives us the grace and mercy to set us free.  Even when our belief falters, the Holy Spirit intercedes and gives us the Holy Spirit power to give us the joy, peace, and most importantly the hope, that even when it may seem like the darkness has taken over, hope springs forth from sometimes unlikely places – like 2 teenagers and a baby born in a stable…HOPE is born…and his name is Jesus.

Posted in Advent, Hope, Light, Mark

This Place is a Mess!

Mark 13:24-37

24 “But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

    and the moon will not give its light,

25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,

    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

There’s never enough time to get the house ready.  Boxes from Amazon need to be broken down, cooking, vacuuming up Duke’s treat crumbs that he gets all over the floor, filling up all the diffusers, washing and folding clothes, getting the dog hair and dust…there’s not enough time to do everything.  You eeeeek out every last second to get ready.  But you never know when the guests will actually arrive.  You may have an hour’s worth of work to quickly squish in 5 minutes, but the guests WILL eventually arrive.

We are to be ready, at any moment, at any time and that’s what this text is about.  Whether it’s 3 am or 4 pm we are to be ready for the Master to come.  Jesus says to each of us, “Pay attention!” “Stay focused!” “Heed the signs!” “Don’t get distracted!” “Stay true to Me.” “Stay rooted in who you know God to be!”

“Don’t let your faith falter!”

The word in Greek is blepete. Its equivalent in Hebrew is “sim lev!” In Hebrew, it means, “pay attention.” But its etymology means, “put your heart into it!”

“Sim lev!” “Put your heart into it!”

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.” said God through the prophet Ezekiel. “I am with you to the end of the age,” Jesus promised.

 Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day. Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.

“God? Are you really there?” Jimmy said out loud.

To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. “Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for you?”

Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, “God? What is a million years like to you?”

Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. “A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute.”

“Oh,” said Jimmy. “Well, then, what’s a million dollars like to you?” “A million dollars to me, Jimmy, is like a penny.”

“Wow!” remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. “You’re so generous… can I have one of your pennies?”

God replied, “Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute.”

Little Jimmy wasn’t ready for that response was he?  “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” Isaiah cries on our behalf. We know you are present; our faith tells us that you are here, but we sometimes don’t understand Jesus’ delay in coming.  On the other hand maybe God knows, we need a few more minutes to get ready.  To get our inner lives prepared and our outer ones as well.  God is not looking down on us from a distance, Jesus is with us til the end of the age and he is our Emmanuel – God come to dwell with us. 

The story is told of John Henry Newman, who, in the 1800’s, was an Anglican minister in England. His religious pilgrimage ultimately took him to Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. He ultimately would become a cardinal in the Catholic Church and the most preeminent leader of that church in Europe. If you go into almost any Catholic church today you will find a Sunday school class called the Newman class as well as Newman campus ministries. 

While serving as Cardinal, he received a message from an English priest from the tiny village of Brennan, a dirty little mill town north of Birmingham. It seems that an epidemic of cholera had decimated the village and the priest was asking for the help, for another priest to assist him in the giving of the sacrament, administering the Last Rites, and to do funerals; so many people were dying.

Newman read the letter and he spent the next hour in prayer. Finally a secretary came in and said: Cardinal Newman. We must give an immediate reply to Brennan. Your eminence, what shall we do? Newman answered: The people are suffering and dying. How can I send a priest to do this work? I must go myself.

I must go myself.  At Advent God looked upon his dying people dying from sin and distraction, pride and preoccupation. How, under the circumstance could he send a substitute? God came himself—in the person of Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” He who promises is faithful.

Jesus IS coming and Jesus IS coming back.  We don’t just have to be ready for Jesus, we have to be ready to show our world who this Jesus is.  This Word made flesh who dwells among us.  We have to welcome an unbelieving world to this too good to be true idea of a savior who walks right beside us, one that we can put our faith and hope in.  We have to welcome them with a great hospitality that really shows Jesus’ love.

Let me tell you a story of my Papa Mac. Cinda Baldwin was interviewing him for her book Great & Noble Jar:  Traditional Stoneware of South Carolina and she had been at it all day.  You see Edgefield is known as the birthplace of the alkaline-glazed stoneware and it’s accentuated in a slave potter named Dave.  Papa Mac owned more of Dave’s pottery than anyone at that time.  I remember walking through the kitchen where they originally made the Pottersville pottery as a child and it being a museum with roped off portions and everything.  We were never, ever allowed to cross those ropes and my grandfather after a while wanted Ms. Baldwin to leave.  In the South, we don’t say anything directly.  We say, “Bless her heart,” when we actually mean something quite a bit different.  So he invited her to dinner.  You know when a Southerner invites you to supper, you’re supposed to get the hint and make the polite exit, but she, a Yankee, didn’t realize that it was not Southern hospitality, after the 6th time he offered, she accepted.  Dad was a witness to this and he doesn’t remember what he fixed; he just remembers him grumbling the whole time and after she left, he was complaining about it.  And Dad told him, “Well, Daddy, you asked her for supper!”  He replied, “I never thought she would have accepted, I just wanted her to leave.”  I will never forget that story.  Oh, bless his heart!  And I do really mean that.

In the 1950s, Charles Swindoll served a stint in the Marine Corps. He had the opportunity to tour the Pacific and to visit Japan.

Before the men on his ship were allowed to disembark in Japan, the company commander lined them up and gave them a sober lecture. He wanted to remind them that they were walking into a totally different culture, that their customs and habits may not be welcome in Japan. Their behavior would be closely scrutinized by the Japanese citizens. It would be imperative to maintain good behavior because, as the commander said, “They know nothing of your homeland except what they see in you.”

As Christians it is our responsibility to represent our true homeland, the kingdom of God, here on earth.  We are to be like a walking and talking Jesus.  We may not always get it right, and certainly not perfect, but Christians are not perfect, but forgiven.  We have to put our hearts into it!  Put our hearts into welcoming one another in Christian love – in Christ-like love.

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette writes a hymn “Christ You Offer Us Your Welcome” that gets at the heart of this. 

You have given us a mission — to invite our neighbors in —

and your call to love and listen is a place we can begin.

We need more than open houses; we need, first, to give our hearts.

By your Spirit, make us servants; that’s the way your welcome starts.

May we set a welcome table, may we find a common ground

where no one will feel they’re labeled, where acceptance can be found.

We don’t need to entertain there, or to do things that impress —

just to hear folks’ joy and pain there, and to love so all are blest.

To love so all are blest.

The world needs that.  We hope beacons.  We light beacons.  We Jesus beacons.  “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”  Oh, but God did.  Jesus, our Emmanuel, came, lived and walked among us. Jesus shows where his heart is and his great love for us – through his dying on the cross.   And he gives us the greatest hope of all, eternal life with him.  Because I live, you will live also.

So we will tidy up and get ready for Christmas.  We will put our hearts into it – sim lev!  Company’s coming and we need to be ready to welcome Jesus and welcome guests into our midst!  Hope came down at Christmas.  Amen.

Posted in Faith, Healing, Jesus, Mustard Seeds, Prayer, Thankful, thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Sermon

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly, they ran for the nearest fence. The raging bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make the fence. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!” John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.” “But you must!” implored his companion, “the bull is catching up to us.” “All right,” screamed John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.’ ”  Ha!  Lord have mercy!

Our passage comes to us from Luke 17 where Jesus is instructing his disciples as he heads towards Jerusalem.  It opens with Jesus teaching the disciples about the way to live of Christ and them asking him to increase their faith.  What follows is the story of the mustard seed.  If they had such a minute amount of faith the size of a mustard seed, they could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. The mulberry tree is a deeply rooted sycamore. It is not easily transplanted anywhere.  Jesus is trying to tell them they just have to do it.  They have to believe.  They have to not only talk the talk, but put their money where their mouth is, walking the walk.

Luke ends the section of the story by Jesus coming across the 10 lepers.  They were yelling at him because under Levitical law they had to be 50 yards, half a football field away from him because they had leprosy.  Also under Levitical law they had to report to the priests.  Leviticus 13:1-2, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: ‘When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a leprous disease on the skin of his body, he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.’ ” Jesus, in instructing these ten lepers to appear before the priests, does so with the UNDERSTANDING that they will be healed before they reach the priests.  

These men and by extension their families had lived isolated lives.  All 10 of these men had to announce their sickness and they had to do so loud enough so that no one would accidentally rub up against them or touch them in any way.  Again in Leviticus 13:45, “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’.” It truly would have changed their lives and the lives of their families and their families families.  It would have transformed them into full members of society.  For such a transformation, why did only 1 go back?

We may think to ourselves, I would have gone back.  The other nine were so ungrateful.  Jesus had given them their lives back, how dare they not go back to thank Jesus?  How dare they be so ungrateful?  

But would we?  Or do we take for granted God’s blessings.  Do we somehow forget to say thank you because of our busyness, our ambivalence, or our nonchalance about Who truly brings the great good to our lives?

We are much like the little boy who was given an orange by a man. The boy’s mother asked, “What do you say to the nice man?” The little boy thought about it and handed the orange back and said, “Peel it.”

We forget to say “thank you” to God quite a bit.  We think that we’ve earned our blessings or we somehow deserve them, don’t we?  Just like we’ve earned that piece of pie after a hard run?  Just like we think we deserve that glass of wine after a hard day of work and parenting?

Hate to break it to us, what we have, everything we are, all of it is because of the Triune God – God, the creator, Jesus, our redeemer, the Holy Spirit, our comforter.  And the Samaritan knew that.  “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”  And what did Jesus say to him,  “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  He exemplified what the psalmist wrote and we read earlier tonight in Psalm 138, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart.”  He knew for sure and for certain that nothing he could ever do and nothing he could ever pay, could earn him or buy him Jesus’ transforming healing and power.

Robert C. Morgan in his book, “Lift High the Cross,” tells about a woman who has a gift shop on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. Her name is Frieda Hannah. Frieda is a Palestinian Christian. She makes beautiful embroidery and cross-stitch work. Her specialties are altar paraments, clergy stoles, and Bible markers. She is a very frail woman. She has been in business at the same spot, the sixth station of the cross, for more than thirty years. Her eyes are beginning to fail her. She must wear thick glasses. If you go by Frieda’s shop you will see her smiling and greeting the tourists. She has made friends with thousands.

A teacher tells about being in her shop one day with a group of students. Another large group of pilgrims from America were in the shop, too. All of the members of this second group had their Bibles under their arms and crosses hanging from their necks. They were pushing and shoving, demanding to be waited on. A group of little Palestinian beggars had followed the group into the shop asking for money. These “Christian” tourists were indignant. The teacher said they made comments like, “Get these dirty kids out of here.” Or, “Why don’t they stay in Jordan where they belong?”

Frieda overheard these remarks. The teacher was embarrassed and apologized for his fellow Americans, even though he did not even know them. Frieda’s response was, “Oh, that is all right. I learned a long time ago that many of those who [take] the Bible literally don’t take it seriously.”

Frieda certainly takes the Bible seriously. During the last thirty years, using the earnings from her little shop, she has given over 1,000 Palestinian youth a higher education in North America or Europe. She has built and supported the operation of three medical clinics in the West Bank. She has built and operates two orphanages. There is no way of determining the good that this Christian woman has done over the years.

Frieda Hannah is a modest person. She is always embarrassed to talk about what she does. When asked on one occasion where she gets the energy and determination, she responded, “God did not place me in this world just to take up space. It is not enough just to go along. God wants me to make a difference where I can.” 

All of our blessings were given us by God.  God entrusts us to be good stewards of God’s gifts just like Frieda.  Let the blessings flow through your outstretched hands and let the Holy Spirit to guide them to the right place.  Let the blessings flow and be thankful.  

I couldn’t help but have the song “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw come to mind as I was writing this Thanksgiving Eve sermon.  It was written by Lori McKenna for her husband and their five kids as her list of all the things she wanted to make sure she’d told them.  

You know there’s a light that glows by the front door

Don’t forget the keys under the mat

Childhood star shine, always stay humble and kind

Go to church ’cause your momma says to

Visit grandpa every chance that you can

It won’t be a waste of time

Always stay humble and kind

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you

When you get where you’re goin’

Don’t forget turn back around

Help the next one in line

Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door say please say thank you

Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie

I know you got mountains to climb but

Always stay humble and kind

When those dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you

When the work you put in is realized

Let yourself feel the pride but

Always stay humble and kind

We, as Christians, get to not only be humble and kind, but to spread the joy, praise, and thanksgiving that the leper proclaimed!  We GET to do that.  We have the BLESSING of doing that!  A sour attitude spreads like spilled sour milk getting into the nooks and crannies and infects us, but if we believe in the faith of a mustard seed and a faith that the Great Physician, can even make us sinners, WELL, and we’ll be on the path to not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.