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 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 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.

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 Cross, Jesus, paul, restart, Sermon

Time to Restart

I started with word games, 4 different ones, so when one showed the commercial in the free version, I could go to the next one.  Evy got me into picture finds and I’ve become obsessed with them.  Every time the clock winds down, it turns red and flashing at the 30 second mark, and I have 3 or more left, I get frantic trying to find the silly little pictures.  It’s amazing how frustrated I get.  I don’t want to restart.  They give me that option every time or I could get 45 seconds, if I pay for it, and I don’t want to pay.  I inevitably have to restart.  I don’t want to.  But I have to.  I know the game gets easier, if I restart, because I’ve done it before, but something in me – does not want to.  Or how many of you have mashed the power button on a computer or copier when nothing else works?

Sometimes we HAVE to do a hard restart.  We don’t want to, we sure don’t want to, but sometimes we have to.  Sometimes our lives need a reset because we’ve worn a path pacing back and forth trying to decide whether to make a change or not.  We sometimes don’t want to move on.  We sometimes want to cling to the past like old comfy pajamas.  You know those that have small holes in them and you can’t bear to throw them out.  We dread the changes that we would have to make in our lives, all the work it’s gonna be to let go of the past.  We’re afraid to face the new realities, the new normal.  Paul knew that without God in the mix, we could never make real change on our own.  Paul knew this secret and he’s trying to teach us as well.

Philippians 3:13-14

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

For us to follow Paul’s example, we have to make peace with those around us, with ourselves, and with God.

Paul had a lot of stuff in his past.  Remember who he was.  Before he became Paul.  He was Saul.  Saul persecuted early Christians.  He tortured and stoned them.  He was on the way to do more destruction of followers of the Way, until he has an encounter with Jesus and is blinded for three days. He is saved by Ananias; he is transformed into Paul boldly preaching about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Jewish Messiah and Son of God.  Jew and Gentile alike were puzzled and perplexed by this.  On one hand you had Saul that ultimate enemy and bad guy and then you have Paul – the greatest apostle ever….

When he says, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  He means it.

Paul definitely has baggage.  Most of us don’t have the label of murderer.  Do you think the new Christians were scared of Saul, I mean Paul.  I would not blame some of them for being apprehensive, giving him the side eye, or being wary.  Paul had to have known it.  Had to have known how people would see him.  Annanias is hesitant as he says, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”  The Jews had commissioned Paul to be the angel of death, but the Lord was teaching Paul about mercy and grace.  The Lord talked to Ananias and Ananias went to heal Paul.  Afterwards, the scripture says Paul hung out with the disciples for a few days in Damascus.  Hung out?  Hung out?  He was sent there to kill them!  God makes a way for us to have peace with others.  God makes a way for us to have lives so transformed that it is obvious for all to see.  It must be God.  God was with Paul.  God was with Ananias.  God was with the disciples.  The Holy Spirit was working all around them in that situation and throughout Paul’s life.  God doesn’t leave us as God finds us.  

God worked through Paul and God can work through you and me.  

We have to believe we are worthy of leaving the past behind.  We have to throw out those comfy, holey pajamas.  We have to stop looking at our lives through the rearview mirror and look at the big, wide open windshield in front of us.  If we constantly are looking back then we can’t move forward.  Paul, I’m sure had some guilt, but he knew what he had to do.  Keep focused on the present goal.  “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Do you hear that?  It’s a call of God in Christ Jesus.  God still calls us even with the baggage, even with our pasts, even through our tears and shame.  We make peace with ourselves by acknowledging our past.  We make peace with ourselves when we say it out loud.  We make peace with ourselves by letting Jesus into our hearts and letting him heal us.  

One of the most powerful and visual images that I have participated in was a time at Camp Pee Dee.  There was a canoe lake and a fishing lake at Camp Pee Dee and we walked this big, giant, life-size cross to the fishing lake.  It took a lot of us kids to carry the huge thing to the lake.  As we took turns, I don’t remember if they told us to be somber or solemn or we were being rowdy camp kids, but I remember thinking about carrying this alone and no wonder Jesus fell a few times.  When we got to the lake, again I don’t remember what was said or who the minister for the week was, but they had little pieces of paper and nails and we were to nail our sins to the cross.  Just that image brings up so many emotions, we were all crying in the pool house after using a hammer to nail our sins into the cross.  That image has stuck with me.  The Triune God knows all about us, knit us together in our mothers wombs, knows when we sit and we rise, knows every thought in our heads and every action that we’ve done – and loves us anyway.  Pursues us anyway.  Died for our sins.  

MercyMe’s “Flawless” comes in to play here:

No matter the bruises

No matter the scars

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

No matter the hurt

Or how deep the wound is

No matter the pain

Still the truth is

The cross has made

The cross has made you flawless

When we make our peace with God, God is able to use us.  What Jesus says to Ananius to get him to go to Paul in Acts 9:15-16,“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  We may not have the proclamation power of Paul and we certainly don’t want to suffer like Paul, but Jesus uses us as his instruments, to be his show and tell in the world.

There’s a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette called “Christ You Offer Us Your Welcome.”

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.

In much the same way, Rachel Held Evans writes, “I had questions about science and faith, biblical interpretation and theology. I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake. 

“What finally brought me back, after years of running away, wasn’t lattes or pastors wearing skinny jeans; it was the sacraments. Baptism, confession, communion, preaching the Word, anointing the sick — you know, those strange rituals and traditions Christians have been practicing for the past 2,000 years. The sacraments are what make the church relevant, no matter the culture or era. They don’t need to be repackaged or rebranded; they just need to be practiced, offered and explained in the context of a loving, authentic and inclusive community.”

When we take this meal, we’re following Paul’s example, making peace with those around us, ourselves and God.  But we’re also following Paul’s example because when we take this meal, it’s like a restart.  Forgetting our sins that lie behind us and pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. In this meal, we take part in this holy mystery that should forever change us if we let it.  And that’s what Jesus wants – that’s what Paul did; he was forever changed from Saul into Paul.  He proclaimed the Word made flesh and dwelt among us!  He had proclaimed hate and was a destroyer AND then HE was the biggest big mouth and planted churches and wrote several parts of the Bible.  If Jesus can transform him, what are we waiting for? 

Jesus came and saved a wretch like me and he wants us to use our gifts, talents, imperfections and peculiarities to find the lost, the lonely, the desperate, the seemingly bad guys and show them the WAY – to show them Jesus – so that he can transform their lives just like he continues to transform ours.  Jesus wants us to be the Church joined together in this common meal, in this Holy Communion, throughout all the world, all sinners, saved by grace, all broken people, put back together again, whole.  It’s time to restart and get out of our own way.  It’s time to restart and let God use us.  It’s time to restart and go ye and tell the world about Jesus!

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 3 Simple Rules, Christian, Forgiveness, Marking, Romans, yoda

Marks of a Christian

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There’s a lot to take in here, so we’re going to use as our matrix, John Wesley’s 3 Simple Rules:  Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God.

Do No Harm.

In Elmer Bendiner’s book, The Fall of Fortresses, he describes one bombing run over the German city of Kassel: “His B-17 (The Tondelayo) was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns. That wasn’t unusual, but on this occasion their gas tanks were hit. Later, as he reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, the pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told him it wasn’t quite that simple.

On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask the crew chief for the shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck. The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks. Eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast them out of the sky. Even after thirty-five years, the event was so awesome that it leaves the author shaken, especially after he heard the rest of the story.

Bohn had been told that the shells had been sent to the armory to be defused. The armory told him that Intelligence had picked them up. They couldn’t say why at the time, but Bohn eventually discovered the answer. Apparently when the armory workers opened each of those shells they didn’t find any explosive charge. The shells were clean as a whistle and just as harmless.

Empty? Not all of them. One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was a scrawl in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured the base for until they found someone who could decipher the note which read: “This is all we can do for you now.” 

Click below….

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqY0pP6oogQ 

That’s a somewhat exaggerated clip that gets to the heart of road rage, social media angst, and our general hair trigger rage.

Oh, the harm that goes with unforgiveness to the people we’re not forgiving…and to us.

I’m up here preaching about forgiveness and unforgiveness, and those of us that truly need that message, are the ones thinking I’m preaching to someone else.  We’re not like the lady hitting the guy over the head with her purse or pocketbook, but we have the unforgiving nature that leads to the root of bitterness that leads to a critical spirit welling up and festering inside of us.  Sometimes we’re afraid to let our grudge go.  We’re afraid to lay it down because we’ve gotten comfortable with it, we think it protects us, shields us, BUT WE HAVE TO LET IT GO.  2008d3e1014e8220bd2b786f9373ba02As Yoda says, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” You will suffer more with unforgiveness than the person you won’t forgive.  It’s like a bullet, you have to take it out for the wound to properly heal.  You have to root out the bad stuff, before you can truly heal and bring about the good.

Y’all know the passage from Matthew about seeing the dust in other people’s eyes while we’re walking around with giant planks in our own eyes.  We have to be real and honest with ourselves, others and God.  That’s the only way we have a hope of living up to the marks in this passage, the marks of the Christian life.  In Romans 12:18, If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Let the peace of the Holy Spirit flow through you.  When we get angry or frustrated, we need to let it out and vent to God.  We can even hit a punching bag, scream in the shower, anything to get out our anger productively, not destructively.

If it’s more than just a tiff or annoyance and someone has actually hurt us, our Loving Parent God, will deal with it.  Paul writes in verse 19 – 21, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Leave room for God’s wrath and do not repay anyone evil for evil.  That does harm to the community, your witness and you!  And Paul hardly ever uses the word “Beloved,” so you know it’s important.  Get the anger, hurt, vengeance out of your system, and leave it for God to take care of.  Our Loving Parent has a clearer picture of the who’s, why’s and how’s of every situation.  Give it to God, so we can go about doing all the good we can.

That brings us to the second Wesleyan pejorative. 

Do Good.

Romans 12:9-13 – Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 

Fred Craddock, tells a story of a church that lost track of the importance of hospitality. Sadly, it was a church he once served, early in his ministry. It was located in the hills of eastern Tennessee.

Years later, Fred returned to that church. He brought his wife, Nettie, along for the ride — for she had never seen it. As the two of them drove to the little town, Fred reminisced about a time of controversy in that church. The nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory was expanding, and new families were moving into the area. Fred, the young pastor, urged the people of this beautiful, little white-frame church to call on the newcomers, to invite them to join them.

“They wouldn’t fit in here,” was the curt reply.

A week later, there was a congregational meeting. “I move,” said one of the longtime members, “that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in the county.” The motion passed, over the pastor’s objections.

When Fred and Nettie pulled up to the old church building, years later, it looked to be a busy place, much busier than he remembered. In his words:

“The parking lot was full — motorcycles and trucks and cars packed in there. And out front, a great big sign: ‘Barbecue, all you can eat.’ It’s a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews are against a wall. They have electric lights now, and the organ pushed over into the corner. There are all these aluminum and plastic tables, and people sitting there eating barbecued pork and chicken and ribs — all kinds of people. Parthians and Medes and Edomites and dwellers of Mesopotamia, all kinds of people. I said to Nettie, ‘It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.’”

Hospitality.  We must not be stingy with God’s grace, we have to share it, and by us sharing it, it multiplies.  We have to be the Gospel lived out.  What that means is we have to show them our real, authentic selves trying to live out what Christ commands us to do.  We will mess up.  Definitely.  But we have to aspire to do the good, be the light, and seek the higher way.

Yes, there is evil in the world, and Paul knows it. “But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness,” says N.T. Wright. God knows that “the way to overthrow evil, rather than perpetuating it, is to take its force and give back goodness instead.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross, and what we are challenged to do in daily acts of love and sacrifice.

wafflehouse

Betty Meadows, general presbyter of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery (a position similar, in some ways, to bishop) describes a summer sabbatical that transformed her life. She left her church world behind and went “under cover” for three months, working as a Waffle House hostess. To her surprise, as she put it, “the risen Christ showed up every day.”

A van broke down in the parking lot, on the Fourth of July, carrying a family from Alabama. No garage or mechanic could be found. A waitress heard of their plight and called her boyfriend. He arrived 15 minutes later and fixed their van, for the price of a cup of coffee.

“The risen Christ in the mechanic and the waitress,” writes Betty.

A lawyer set up shop in the Waffle House, offering legal help to the needy of the community, for what they could pay — or for no payment at all, if they couldn’t afford it.

“Day after day,” writes Betty, “this lawyer sat at a table, smoking his cigar, meeting client after client, turning down no one. The risen Christ in the lawyer.”

A woman hobbled into the restaurant, a cast on one leg, but displaying signs of other medical difficulties. The police had just arrested her boyfriend for drunken driving and had impounded his truck. She was turned out on the street, with nowhere to go. The restaurant was so busy, none of the staff could give her a ride to the bus station, but she called her landlord, who lived an hour and a half away. He dropped everything, and drove right over to pick her up.

“When the landlord arrived,” writes Betty, “I said to him, ‘How kind of you to drive so far for one of your tenants, for this woman.’

“The man looked puzzled. And then he said, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’

“The risen Christ in the landlord.”

“But God’s people are to meet it in the way that even God met it, with love and generous goodness.”  We have to show people Christ and that leads us to our third rule.

Stay in Love with God

An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, celebrated orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. Without hesitation he replied: “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” 

We stay in love with God, by knowing our place.  We are the second fiddle to Jesus and when we reflect Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a beautiful harmony emanates everything.  When the world sees our “goodness” we point to Jesus.  Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  It’s not by our own merit; it’s not by my own strength.  Ellie Holcomb writes about this temptation in her song, “Only Hope I’ve Got.”

I don’t wanna tell some arrogant story

Or let myself believe I’m you!

I don’t wanna be a thief who’s stealing Your glory…

Will You help remind me of what is true? 

The ONLY hope I’ve got, It’s You.

We stay in love with God, by taking care of our devotional lives.  We stay in love with God, by inputting good stuff in, and letting the bad/angsty go.  We stay in love with God by actually making God a priority – in our time, in our lives, in our hearts.  If we live out the calling in Romans 12, we automatically will fall more and more in love with God as we show to the world the true marks of the Christian life.

Do no harm.  We’re able to let go of our unforgiveness and angst and bitterness.  Do good.  We’re actually able to put more good out in the world through our being ambassadors of Christ.   And finally, we are able to stay in love with God, by reminding ourselves we are not God, and the only way to any kind of goodness is through Jesus.  Thus, we can live the true marks of the Christian life.  We can do no harm and put good in the world by staying in love with Jesus.  He’s the only hope, we’ve got and we can trust in the Triune God conquering Evil at last!

Posted in Easter, Jesus

Blah -> He IS.

I know I’m not supposed to be admitting this.  But I’m really not feeling Holy Week.

I was geared up last week for Palm Sunday, excitedly showing clips from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to get at Jesus’ suffering a “traitors” death for each of us.

But I’m literally blahhhhhhh, it’s Easter.

The bulletins are printed.  The scriptures and titles picked. The slides and videos done.

I have my cascarone eggs and olive wood crosses for Easter Sunrise and Easter.  I’m not sure what I will do with them.  I’ve come up with different angles throughout the week but I’m not satisfied.

I’m up late looking for inspiration scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, emails…I’ve thought about using Tiger Woods’ redemption, the Avengers Endgame supposed “resurrection,” among other things. 

I know to preach, “He is Risen!  He is Risen, Indeed!”  And I know and trust the Holy Spirit will show up.

Maybe it’s the desire to spend Spring Break with the kids, falling on my face on Tuesday afternoon walking the dog with scrapes on my knees, my elbow and my face, an overall malaise with Notre Dame burning, the Mueller Report and Rachel Held Evans, or hearing on the Today Show this morning that church attendance is at an all time low.

Perhaps it’s the pressure of a new place.  Or all of the Easter advertising.  Or coming up with a fresh spin.  Or wanting to get it right…perfect…the most epically awesome Easter sermon ever. 

Perhaps you’re feeling blah too.

Perhaps we need to hear the story anew and afresh.  Perhaps it can be an actual personal encounter or a real Word of Grace.

“Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live,

    and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

I died, and behold I am alive for evermore,

   and I hold the keys of hell and death.

Because I live, you shall live also.”

Because He Lives.  Even when we’re feeling blah, He IS.  Even when we’re feeling trapped, He IS.  Even when we don’t feel worthy enough, He IS.  Even when all hope seems lost, He IS.  Even when………He IS.