Monthly Archives: December 2014

Luke 1:46-55 — The Magnificat and White Privilege

(My) Left half: Hear this text from the perspective of being poor, pushed aside, ignored by anyone with any influence, being helpless.

(My) Right half: Hear this text from the perspective of being rich, influential, privileged.

(Read again)

For those on (my) left, what did you hear?

God’s mercy is for those who fear him . . . God has . . . lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things.

Mary’s song, “the Magnificat,” is a song of hope, justice, the end of days when God will make all things right.

The gap between the suffering and the content will be closed. The divide between the helpless and the powerful will be bridged. When the promises of God are fully kept in the coming of the Messiah, everyone will be made equal. Everyone will have enough, and no one will have more than they need.

For those on (my) right, what did you hear?

God’s mercy is for those who fear him. . . . God has scattered the proud in the he thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones . . . . God has . . . sent the rich away empty.

The gap between the suffering and the content will be closed. The divide between the helpless and the powerful will be bridged. When the promises of God are fully kept in the coming of the Messiah, everyone will be made equal. Everyone will have enough, and no one will have more than they need.

I think that one of the reasons Christianity is hard for so many people in North America is that texts like these–which are the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ–are not heard as good news.

I am a white, middle-aged, middle-class, heterosexual male. I have virtually every privilege ever known to anyone is human history. The Magnificat, and so many other heart-and-soul themes from scripture, indicate that when God’s will is done, my privilege will change. It’s not just that the poor, and the excluded, and those without privilege will be raised up. Not according to God’s promises. It’s that the hungry will be filled and the rich will be sent away empty. The lowly will be lifted up and the proud will be scattered. Yes, the lives of the poor and disadvantaged will change for the better, but the lives of the influential and privileged will change too.

Nowhere is this great theme of scripture modeled more clearly than in the person of Jesus. In his epistle to the Philippians Paul writes that Jesus gave up the glory of heaven and came among us in the flesh. He didn’t live in glory and privilege, but in poverty. Instead of being exalted, he was killed. Soon we will celebrate his coming among us at Christmas–not being born into royalty and privilege, but in a barn, outside of a nowhere town where no one would make room for him.

We know God’s will is being done when those among us with nothing have enough. When the hungry among us are full and homeless among us sleep in a warm bed. We know God’s will is being done when those among us whose voices aren’t heard have influence.

But the other part of God’s will being done is when those of us with more than enough give away our extra. We know God’s will also is being done when those of us with plenty to eat give away the food we don’t need. We know God’s will is also being done when those of us with homes larger than we need downsize, giving away the profit. We know God’s will is also being done when those of us with influence go to bat for those who have none, even if it doesn’t seem to benefit us.

Because here’s the thing: this actually is good news for the poor and for the privileged! There is joy in Christ. There’s joy in being part of that work, that purpose. There’s joy in having enough, and there’s joy in extravagantly giving away what you have. The way of God is the way of joy. For the rich and the poor. For the proud and the lowly.

My prayer, my hope, is that all of us, regardless of our circumstances, would truly experience God’s joy down to our very souls this Advent. May our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.

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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Sermon


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Taking Advent Seriously (Mark 1:1-8)

John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance.
• Repentance = ??  Turning around, changing direction, thinking differently. In other words, change from one way to another way. In this case, from sinfulness to the way of God.
John is dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey.
• Why in the world does Mark take the time to describe John’s dress-code and eating habits? He’s described this way not to question his sanity, but to connect him to the Old Testament prophets–who called people to do much the same thing.
The difference is that Jesus, who will show us God’s way, is right there behind him, waiting in line for this baptism. Rather than just tell people what God’s way is, rather than just warn them to follow it, John points to Jesus, who brings God’s way right into our midst. In Jesus, we know most fully what God’s way is, what God’s intentions are, what followers of Jesus are made to be and to do.

2nd Week of Advent:
Review of last week–huge gap between what the world is like now and what God’s final vision is. There is suffering, pain, unfairness, selfishness, violence, and mourning today. The promise from God is that on the last day that will be no more. Moving toward that day is God’s path. That is what Jesus comes to bring among us. That’s what God created the church for: to make clear to the world by our presence that Jesus brings God’s way of peace, forgiveness, love, and mercy right into the midst of a suffering and dark world. God’s grace and hope come into the midst of our own pain.

Since it means turning from sinfulness to God, as John prescribes, that means turning from things that are not part of God’s mission to things that are part of God’s mission. We’re not talking about a moral imperative to say you’re sorry. Mark’s gospel talks about repentance meaning things like turning from self-centeredness to mercy toward others.
What else might turning from our paths to God’s path look like?
• From hoarding money to generosity.
• From resentment to forgiveness.
• From violence to peace.
• From asking “what’s in it for me?” to “how can I show love to you?”

Advent is the season to prepare the way of the Lord. John’s call in this gospel is to do that by repenting, by turning from our own paths to God’s path, shown to us in Jesus. We prepare for God’s presence by being part of God’s way, God’s path, God’s mission. That’s what Jesus does. That’s who Jesus is. That’s why Jesus comes: to bring God’s presence and hope and direction and mission—God’s straight path—into our world. Into us. That’s what our baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is about: God brings that path of love, peace, generosity, compassion into us, and invites us and empowers us to be on that path.
What do you think about taking that part of Advent seriously? How about we use this season for repentance? Why don’t we figure out one or two ways that our own attitudes and preferences are off God’s path of compassion, generosity, and forgiveness?  Use the colored sheets in the chair pockets for our repentance. On one side, list a couple of ways you are off God’s path. On the other side, list what you’ll do instead, ways that make God’s path straight.
Then, all during Advent, let’s commit to turning those ways back to God’s path. Together, let’s spend Advent preparing the way of the Lord, making God’s path straight! Let’s see how that changes the way we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas

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Posted by on December 7, 2014 in Sermon


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The Great Divide and the Promise (Mark 13:24-37)

This is only the first Sunday of Advent, and I’m already feeling a bit hectic. At home our trees (yup, we put up two of them) aren’t even pulled out of storage yet. Our friends complain that we haven’t sent a Christmas card in several years. No presents are bought. The mandatory events that some call “Holiday Parties” are filling the calendar. We miss those whom we won’t be able to spend Christmas with this year. On and on and on.

In the midst of a very chaotic time of year, we get this text about end of time when all will be made right, when God’s reign comes in its fullness.

In the midst of the fast-paced world  we live in, especially this time of year, it can be easy to forget our purpose in the world as church is to reveal God’s presence and love and peace. That which this text describes as coming someday—who knows when.

Such a huge gap between that time and now, between God’s will for creation ultimately and where we actually are today. It can be discouraging. No matter how hard we try to be agents of forgiveness, love, grace, mercy, compassion, generosity, and peace in the world, some days it seems like we take one step forward and two steps back. That day of peace seems further away than ever. We still live with:

  • Ferguson, MO and the racial and violent unrest it exposes.
  • Fear from terrorist groups and all the tension of Middle East.
  • Ebola and civil unrest in different countries in Africa.
  • Hatred, bigotry of all kinds—both open and beneath the surface.
  • Self-entitlement, self-centeredness, self-justification, blaming and scapegoating.
  • Churches that bear the name of Christ but are more focused on their own benefit than with their purpose in Christ.

There’s a large divide between what God desires and where we are. For some, this is not a joyous time of year. For some there’s grief and mourning, there’s clutter, there’s pressure, there’s chaos, there’s the anxiety from over-spending on things we don’t need. These things seem to be on one side of a great divide, and God’s grace, peace, and fullness seem to be on the other.

Jesus tells us we better not fall asleep because we don’t know when God’s reign will come across the divide.  Be on alert!   Keep awake!   Beware!

I don’t know about you, but that’s really not my most pressing concern.

There’s more to this text than a warning to be paying attention. No, this is an invitation. No matter how hectic the world is, or how large the gap may seem between our lives and God’s peace, God’s peace is coming. The master of the house will come. God will not abandon us but will keep the promise to make all things new.

It’s not a warning that if you’re not watching, Jesus will pass you by. No! It’s a joyful reminder that God will keep the promise to make everything right. God’s peace and joy cannot be stopped. It’s a reassurance that God comes to us. We can celebrate while we wait. Let’s stay awake together, celebrate together, watch together! The promise will be fulfilled! The divide will be no more! The peace and joy of God are assured. Even in this violent and selfish world. Even in us.

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Posted by on December 3, 2014 in Sermon


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