Monthly Archives: January 2020

It’s More Important than Ever that We Love the World (Jan 26, 2020)

Matthew 4:12-23

Normally when this text comes up, we talk about Simon and Andrew, James and John, and Jesus calling them away from their nets to fish for people.

I’m actually going to look elsewhere in this text. Specifically, the first two verses of it. “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum”.

So what? What’s that about? Jesus heard John the Baptist had been arrested, so he moved. Why does that matter, and what does it have to do with us?

In this text, Jesus has just been baptized and tempted in the wilderness. This move to Capernaum is, in fact, his first act as the announced “Son of God.” And so, in this gospel, moving the 30 miles from Nazareth in Judea to Capernaum in Galilee makes a major statement about the nature of Jesus’ ministry. Here are some things that would catch people’s attention when they heard that:

Capernaum was in the region of Galilee, which was about as far from Jerusalem as you could get in Israel — way on the north end. Away from the political power, away from the religious center. It was largely ignored by the rulers and the priests. Moving away from Jerusalem to Capernaum is like moving from NYC or Washington DC to Jackson Hole, WY

Galilee was surrounded by Gentiles and pagans. Phoenicians on the west. Syrians on the northeast, Samaritans on the south, and the sea of Galilee on the southeast. No good God-fearing people anywhere nearby. Kind of irreligious.

Unlike Jerusalem and other cities in Judea, Capernaum was a crossroads for major foreign trade and travel. It had been invaded and conquered over and over. Different people, ideas, ways of thinking, cultures were constantly being introduced. Foreigners had flowed in and sometimes even took over. If there was anything weird going on in Israel, it probably started somewhere in Galilee. Pretty rowdy and radical place.

Although Galilee was Jewish, it was a forced Judaism. It had been in all kinds of different Gentile hands for about 600 years, but in a previous war the Jews had revolted and all the residents had been converted at the point of a sword. So their loyalty to the established religion in Jerusalem had always been questionable.

To bring God’s vision and reveal the reign of God, the first thing Jesus does is move from his hometown, not to the religious center of Jerusalem that everyone knew, but to a place completely different and far away from the Jewish Bible Belt. A place surrounded by people who didn’t know God, or even want to. A place whose culture was anything but ethical, and a place about as outside of God’s vision of peace and mercy as was possible.

I guess it’s like someone said to me a couple of weeks ago, “If you want to heal people, go where the sick people are.” That’s what Jesus did. In a place where the vision was God was most lacking, it became more important than ever that he reveal it. He went to a place where the reign of God would be seen because it was so different.

As declining church attendance around the country is revealing, fewer and fewer people in our country actually follow Jesus. Therefore, it’s more important than ever that we do.

As fewer people take seriously Christ’s example of showing compassion, of sowing mercy, and of striving for peace, it’s more important than ever that we do.

As fewer and fewer people exhibit Christ’s love for all people, regardless of history, background, identity, or expression, it’s more important than ever that we do.

Jesus deliberately moved to Capernaum because that’s where the signs of God’s justice and grace would be most visible. The good news for us is that we don’t have to move anywhere. We don’t have to move to Capernaum because Capernaum has come to us.

There are people right outside our doors who need to know they are loved for who they authentically are. We’re here to love them with Christ’s love. It’s more important than ever that we do.

There are people right here in our neighborhoods who are feeling unwelcomed and unwanted. We’re here to include them with Christ’s welcome. It’s more important than ever that we do.

There are people in our schools and workplaces who are frightened for their safety because of the color of their skin or their place of birth. We’re here to stand with them with Christ’s justice. It’s more important than ever that we do.

If you want to heal people, go to where the sick people are. If you want to reveal the ways of Christ, go to where it isn’t always visible. If you want to follow Jesus, you end up in Capernaum. In our world, in our neighborhoods, in our culture today, it’s more important than ever that we make Christ visible. Perhaps that’s what Jesus means when tells these first disciples that if they follow him, they will fish for people.

God’s love in Christ is captivating, it catches us and holds us. Now, being caught by that love, we love with that same love, share with that same generosity, stand up with that same sense of justice. If you want to heal people, go to where the sick people are. Follow Jesus there, reveal his love to people who don’t know unconditional love. Show his grace to people who’ve given up on grace. Show his compassion to people who are in desperate need of compassion. Follow Jesus there, and we can’t help but catch people.


Posted by on January 27, 2020 in Sermon


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“What are You Looking For?” (Jan 19, 2020)

John 1:29-42

Jesus asks the two people following him, “What are you looking for?” It’s a great question and I wonder how seriously we take it? What are we looking for? Are we just looking for a comfortable life? Is that all? Are we just looking to stay busy, to keep our calendars full of some kind of activity so we don’t feel we’re wasting our time? Is that all? Are we just looking for love? Are we just looking for acceptance and respect? Is that the core of what we’re really looking for? Or is it something bigger? More substantial than an easier life for ourselves.

In 1845 a British Arctic expedition set sail to chart the Northwest Passage around the Canadian Arctic to the Pacific Ocean. Neither of the two ships and none of the 138 men aboard returned.

Captain Sir John Franklin prepared according to what he was really looking for. This expedition was likely to be a two to three-year grueling journey through one of earth’s most hostile environments. His packing list reveals what he was—and what he wasn’t—looking for.

He packed a 1,200-volume library, a hand-organ, china place settings, cut-glass wine goblets and sterling silver flatware. What does it sound like he was actually looking for? Perhaps he was looking to impress his friends back in England. Years later, some of these place settings would be found near a clump of frozen bodies.

The ships sailed into frigid waters and became trapped in ice. It coated the decks, the spars and the rigging. Then water froze around the rudders and the ships became hopelessly locked in the frozen sea.

Sailors set out to search for help, but soon died of exposure. The crew was not prepared for the cold or for the possibility of the ships becoming ice-locked. On a voyage which was to last two to three years, they packed only their Navy-issue uniforms and just a 12-day supply of coal for the auxiliary steam engines. The frozen body of an officer was eventually found wearing his uniform of fine blue cloth, edged with silk braid, a blue greatcoat and a silk neckerchief — clothing which was noble and respectful, if that’s what he was looking for, but wholly inadequate for the reality of their situation.

I think that most people actually see what they’re really looking for. Can you imagine how, for instance, our government would be different if we were truly looking for ways to lift people out of poverty? Can you imagine what the church in the US would look like if we were really looking to include those left out as Jesus did?

The answer to that question matters, which means we really need a good answer to that question. “What are you looking for?” Because whatever it is, that’s what we’re likely to see.

Jesus asks two of John the Baptist’s disciples that very question. He notices they are following him after John makes a pretty big deal about Jesus being the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, the Lamb of God. So when Jesus sees them following him, he asks them that really important question, “What are you looking for?”

There’s more at stake in our answer than just getting a bigger house, a promotion, acing a test, getting into a better college. There’s more at stake in our answer than just winning elections or making sure “our people” get into power. Because if that’s as far as we’re looking, then that’s about all we’ll see.

Don’t you think that the answer to that question ought to at least brush up against the priorities of the One who created us in the first place? Shouldn’t the vision of God at least be on the table when we consider how we’ll answer Jesus’ question? Doesn’t it make sense that we should be looking for a world not centered around me and my priorities, but God’s?

That’s the whole point of spiritual practices: worship, prayer, scripture, holy conversation. It’s so we can grow in our awareness of what God is actually up to, so we can be looking for that.

This text in the gospel of John points us to an answer that is fairly significant. “What’re you looking for” Jesus asks the two followers? They answer, “Where are you staying?”

Could the answer be that simple? Just looking for where Jesus is staying? Just looking for where Jesus is spending their time? What would we be seeing if Jesus is what we were looking for?

We’d see Jesus hanging out with those he always hung out with: the homeless, the victims of abuse, refugees and immigrants, those pushed out of power, those on the margins. On this Martin Luther King weekend, and as the whitest denomination in America, we need to acknowledge those we’ve historically excluded in a variety of ways.

We’d see Jesus doing what he always did: working for peace, seeking justice for all people, calling out the abuse of those in power. On this Martin Luther King weekend, we need to recognize Jesus present with those who’ve been short on justice for 400 years of American history.

We’d see Jesus living as he always lived: generously, prayerfully, compassionately, showing mercy to all.

What are we looking for? If we’re looking to follow Jesus, that’s probably who we’re going see. And it’s probably where we’re going to go. And it’s probably what we’re going to do. And it’s probably going to change our lives. And looking for the presence of Jesus is probably going to change the church.

What are you looking for? How we answer that question makes all the difference in the world.

“Where are you staying,” they asked? “Come and see,” Jesus said. Look for Jesus, come and see where he is.

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Posted by on January 17, 2020 in Sermon


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Jumping in a Hole (Jan 12, 2020)

Matthew 3:13-17

This time of year is enlightening. This time between Christmas and the beginning of Lent offers us some helpful insights. In the birth of Jesus, God identifies with all humanity, esp poor and marginalized. God jumps right in.

Today, in the baptism of Jesus, God identifies with all those far away from God, esp. the helpless. God jumps right in.

This may or may not have actually happened, but it’s absolutely true:

A young adult was walking along and accidentally fell into a deep hole. The sides were so steep that they couldn’t get out. They struggled and worked to find a way up out of the hole, but couldn’t.

Exhausted from the effort, they could see up above a doctor walking by, so they yelled, “Hey, Doc, I’m stuck down here. Can you help me?” The doctor threw some medicine down the hole and said, “Try and avoid an infection.”

Later a pastor walked by, so the person in the hole yelled up, “Pastor, I’m stuck down here. Can you help me?” The pastor wrote out a prayer and threw it down into the hole. “I wish you well,” the pastor said as she walked on.

A little later a friend walks by. The person in the hole yells up, “Dear friend, I’m stuck down here. Can you help me?” The friend stops, looks down, and jumps into the hole.

The young adult says, “Why did you do that? Now we’re both stuck down here!”

The friend answers, “Yes, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

That’s what the baptism of Jesus is actually about. Jesus jumping into our situation, joining us there, and leading us out.

It’s not that God waits for us to climb up out of our holes into being good, moral, ethical, righteous people. God isn’t standing up there until we get all our beliefs in line. God isn’t withholding comfort and compassion and mercy just because we’re stuck in a hole. No, the baptism of Jesus reveals that God actively jumps in with us even before we do anything right or good. God meets us in our weakness. God lifts us up when we can’t pull ourselves up. God doesn’t wait to be invited, asked, or received. In Jesus, God simply jumps in.

You can see evidence of this jumping in by Jesus. Take a look at how younger people are much more accepting of racial and sexual differences in our culture. Many of them simply cannot understand why sexual orientation or gender expression is even an issue. Many are much more aware of the harm inflicted by racism than in previous generations. The youth of our society seem much further along in revealing and living God’s unconditional love for all people than at any time before now. Jesus has jumped into our culture and is meeting us in our weakness.

Today, our text makes this just as clear. Jesus jumps into baptism—specifically John’s baptism. Now John was doing a baptism of repentance—people come, confess their sins, and try to do better. “I’ll quit lying; I’ll give more money away; I’ll go to church more often; I’ll quit stealing from work. I’ll find a way out of this hole.” Basically, John’s baptism called on people to say, “I can do better, so I will try harder to get out of this hole.”

But then Jesus comes along and says, “Hey, John, baptize me too.”

John answers, “Why? You’re already out of the hole this world has dug. You don’t need to repent of anything. I’m the one in the hole. I should be baptized by you so I can repent.”

“No, John. I’m jumping in. I’m entering into people’s confessions. I’m coming into people’s repentance. I’m letting myself down into the lives of people who are trying to do better. Do you know why, John? Because although people want desperately to do better, and they try really hard to climb out, there are times when they really can’t. They may work at overcoming some frailties and weaknesses, but as soon as they do, they realize that there are countless others that are still keep them down. No matter how hard they try, sometimes the walls are too steep. What’s worse, their own world seems to keep digging the hole deeper—racism is rampant; war is still present; people created in God’s image live each day hungry, homeless, victims of violence and abuse. People are sometimes helpless to become the people they were created to be. They are quite helpless to change the brokenness of the world. So I’m jumping down into the hole with them. Since they often are so powerless to make things better, I’m jumping down into their powerlessness. I know the way out.

“By jumping into their repentance, I’m entering into their inability to make themselves right. I’m jumping into this kind of thinking that tells them that they simply have to be more, they have to find a way out of the hole they’re in. And I’m changing it. I’m jumping down into their efforts because there are times when they’re helpless.”

And Jesus does just that. He jumps down with us in our attempts at trying harder. He jumps in with us when we don’t have the strength, the resources, the skills, or the ability to climb out on our own.

Today, in the baptism of Jesus, he is jumping down in. He’s offering to lead us when we are helpless, to take our hand when our lives are out of control, to show us the way when the brokenness of our lives and our world overwhelm us. He’s jumping in. And thank God he is. For even though we are powerless to do it ourselves, Jesus knows the way out.

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Posted by on January 10, 2020 in Sermon


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Go Another Way (Jan 5, 2020)

Matthew 2:1-12

We’re all pretty familiar with the basics of this story, right? Magi see a star, follow it to Bethlehem, bring unusual but expensive gifts, find Jesus, and worship the newborn king.

But the part of the story around king Herod is interesting. They go to Herod’s royal palace to find out where this new king can be found. Which makes sense. Where else would you go to find where a king is? The religious scholars find a prophecy in Micah revealing Bethlehem as the place and share that information with the Magi.

Herod plays along even though he’s now frightened that a new king may mean he doesn’t stay in power. So he lies to the Magi, saying that they should report back to him so he can pay homage to the new king too. His plan, as we discovered last week, was to get rid of this threat to his throne and kill this one the Magi are calling the newborn king.

At the very end of this story is this amazingly relevant little piece of information. “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

The magi met Jesus by following a star. Studying the sky was familiar to them, a part of their lives. But because of new information, of recognizing the truth of how things are now different, they had to return “by another way.” This is part of their Epiphany: the new king is born, but also that as a result, things are different, and they can’t go back the same way they came. Although they went back to their own country, they returned by another way. Symbolically, this doesn’t just mean that they avoided Herod. It means they returned as different people. They were changed by this encounter and can’t go back to the way things were. There was a lot at stake in returning by another way—their own lives, and certainly the life of Jesus and his family.

That’s part of having an Epiphany: with new awareness, new eyes to see, things are different, and you can’t go back to the way things were before. You have to go a different way.

I’ve been deliberate the last few years in listening to experiences and perspectives of Black friends and reading Black authors. This has created a slowly dawning Epiphany as to the depth of racism and white privilege that are embedded into our American culture. I can no longer see things the way I used to. To go back to my life means I have to do it by another way. To pretend everything was the same, to deny this epiphany would be unfaithful, unloving, and contrary to the direction of the Holy Spirit. My life is certainly different. Because of an epiphany, I left to return to my own country by another road.

I am confident that God is providing us with an Epiphany now. God is revealing to us that we can’t return to the familiar ways of operating as the church that we’ve traveled for centuries. We are experiencing an Epiphany, an awareness of God doing something new, something different that we didn’t know before. And because of this, we need to return to our ministry by another way.

There are some who are predicting that the ELCA will cease to exist sometime before the year 2050.That this denomination that began in 1989 with five million members will decline to 67,000 by 2050, and only 16,000 in worship on an average Sunday morning by 2041—twenty-one years from now.[1]

With this potential epiphany, we cannot return to our familiar church country the same way we got here. Although the mission of God is the same—which is the country we are returning to, the way God is doing it is most definitely different. We need to return to our church identity by a different road.

To ignore what God is doing and continue in the same way is done at the peril not only of the ELCA, but of the world—the world we are called to reveal Christ to.

Some of these studies seem to be warning us that a lot is at stake. For the magi, what was at stake was the life of Jesus. For us, believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior or being a member of the Church have been the emphases we’ve always had since the 4th century. But now, there is a dawning epiphany that we can’t go back the same way:

Rather than returning to church identity by the road of telling people what to believe about Jesus so they can go to heaven when they die, a different way would be to show them what it looks like to follow Jesus here and now—in a culture that doesn’t yet get it.

Rather than returning to church identity by the road of Sunday worship based on robes, candles, music styles, and personal preferences, a different way would be to use Sunday worship to be empowered to live more compassionately today and seek ways to do God’s justice today—in a culture that doesn’t yet get it.

Rather than returning to church identity by the road of membership as an exclusive club that bears the name of Jesus, a different way would be to understand church membership as belonging to a community absolutely committed to God’s mission of extravagant love and generosity—in a culture that doesn’t yet get it.

Be ready. The star of Bethlehem is shining in our lives. God is revealing God’s way—an epiphany. Which means we return to life as a Christian in a different way. Watch for God’s presence to be revealed differently in your life, which means we are given a new perspective on compassion, mercy, generosity; a whole new life. Then watch for God to call into new ways to live that life, because we are being warned to return by a different way. An Epiphany.


[1] Dwight Zscheile, Vice President for Innovation at Luther Seminary. Source: ELCA Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation

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Posted by on January 8, 2020 in Sermon


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Rediscovering the Difference We Make (Dec 22, 2019)

Philippians 2:4-11

Last October, a woman came into my office. She sat down, started to cry, and told me her only brother had recently died in Mexico. Her family is poor, she told me, and so she sent most of her paycheck to Mexico to help with funeral expenses. She wouldn’t get paid again until a week after her rent was due. Is there any way I could help? Did I know a place where she could get some temporary housing funds?

I wrote down a few places that sometimes have funds for housing assistance, gave her the money I had in my wallet and sent her on her way.

A month later, in mid-November, she came back. None of the resources I suggested had panned out, as they were out of funds for the year. She had, however, borrowed rent money from a neighbor, so she had been able to pay November rent.

But now her neighbor needed to be repaid in order to pay her rent. So this woman sitting in my office was in the same boat she was in a month earlier. Was there any way I could help her?

I told her that I’d given her all the information on resources I had, and I didn’t know what else to do. I emptied my wallet again, which was nowhere near enough to cover the part of her rent she needed. She started crying again, and just kept repeating, “Pastor, is there anything you can do?” “Pastor, is there any way you can help me?”

I felt so helpless, so I sat with her while she cried. Every once in a while she’d catch her breath and ask again, “Pastor, can you help me?” Each time she asked if there was anything I could do, I would apologize and gently tell her no. Finally she left. I felt terrible. I said all the right things, but the bottom line is that because she was generous and I was not, her housing is insecure at best.

A few days later, it occurred to me that there is probably still some money in this congregation’s Pastor’s Discretionary Fund. Since her rent wasn’t due until the end of the month, I would have had time to get a check sent to her landlord.

Great idea, except I didn’t have her name or any contact information. She had told me her name when she came in the first time, along with all her rental documentation and proof of employment. Her accent was so heavy that I couldn’t understand her multi-syllable name, and even if I could recall her first name, I have no way of getting in touch with her.

Paul writes at the beginning of today’s text. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . . who emptied himself . . . humbled himself . . . became obedient to the point of death.” “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others,” Paul writes.

I certainly wasn’t operating with the mind of Christ that day. I was of no help to this poor woman at all.

We have opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives every day. That’s the mind of Christ Paul talks about. Showing love and kindness to even one person. Having the mentality that is paying attention to those opportunities. Looking at the world seeking ways to insert compassion into it. And doing this as a way of life.

We’re not called to change the whole world. We’re just called to see the world the way Christ sees it. And then do one thing to act on that. Just one small act at a time. Individually, it doesn’t seem like we can do too much. But collectively, when we pool all our kindness, compassion, and mercy together, the world is different. That’s why we gather as a congregation—because we can see what we can do together. That’s why we are part of the ELCA, so we can see even more the difference we make.

The needs are so great that it can seem overwhelming sometimes. There’s so many people who are hurting that it’s easy to turn it off, ignore it, acknowledge that my little contribution of compassion doesn’t matter. I think that may have been my attitude with the woman in my office last month.

But when we find ourselves thinking that the little bit we can do doesn’t matter, I find it helpful to think of a giant library, several stories high with long aisles. Rows and rows of books. All kinds, all sizes, all colors. There’s one volume in there that’s mine. Included in that one small book are the ways that I have lived in the mind of Christ. Each page has some contribution of kindness, compassion, of looking to the interests of others. I imagine my little volume is in Row MM, twelfth shelf from the floor, the seventh book in from the aisle. I don’t have to create the whole library, I just have to add one more page to my volume. Every little page, every small word of paying attention to the interests of others, of helping someone in some small way, of seeing the world through Christ’s eyes, contributes to the massive work included in this enormous library of the mind of Christ.

And every little volume matters, because it’s part of the whole work. Every page contributes. Every word is included. I have my little volume in there, and so do you. There’s one shelf in that section that’s labelled “LCM.” It’s a collection of each of our small volumes, all lined up together, and part of this whole collection. This imaginative library is the record of the world being changed according to the mind of Christ. It’s still expanding, pages are still being written.

Add a page. Check the announcement sheet for opportunities for generosity. Increase your offering on Christmas Eve/Day which we will give away to help immigrants and refugees. Find a way to write one more page this Advent.

As to the woman in my office:I hope she comes back one more time. I’d love to have her story included. If not by me, then by someone. I hope she meets someone with the mind of Christ. There are a whole lot of us, and a lot of pages left to be written.

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Posted by on January 8, 2020 in Sermon


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Rediscovering Relationships (Dec 15, 2019)

John 1:1-5, 9-14

I have a file in my filing cabinet that I’ve kept for about 25 years or so. Once in a while I add something to it, but I never take anything out of it. It’s the most important file I have. I brought a few things that I keep in there. . . .

(drawings, notes, hand-made cards – all from children)

If you put monetary value on these gifts, they’d total less than $5.00. Yet they are priceless. Because these were gifts and notes from children who took the time to make them themselves. For me. Specifically. Personally. No one else will ever get a gift like any of these. They were made for me.

Which would you rather get for Christmas? A bracelet that someone picked up on their lunch break, or a macaroni and glitter picture of each member of your family, their names spelled incorrectly, but carefully and lovingly made just for you?

No choice as far as I’m concerned. Not even close. A gift’s real value isn’t be measured in dollars, but in the amount of love it expresses. Personal expressions of a caring relationship are so much more meaningful than even the most expensive technological gadget. Because these thoughtful declarations of love come from someone’s heart, they are like a heart connection between the giver and the receiver. One person opens their heart to give it away, and the other person opens their heart to receive it. And both of them end up with bigger hearts, even more filled of love.

We’re conditioned to play down the significance of these personal expressions of a relationship. Instead, we’re conditioned to express our care with dollars spent. If we don’t spend as much as we can on someone, we are made to feel that they will think we don’t care. Dollar amount equals love amount. We’ve been falsely conditioned to believe that the person who spends the most on you is the one who cares the most about you.

But our experience tells us that’s not true. The gifts that touch us most deeply the ones that are the most personal; the ones that celebrate a relationship. The price tag is usually irrelevant.

Aren’t those the best Christmas gifts? Isn’t that the very heart of Christmas anyway? Christmas is the celebration of God giving the most personal, most thoughtful, most loving gift to the world. God gave God’s own self to us, entering into our world as a deep expression of personal love. God opened God’s own heart to give us Jesus, and in that gift, our hearts are opened to receive him. There isn’t a more personal celebration of the relationship God shares with us than the gift of Jesus.

Our text for today calls that out: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Can you imagine if God decided the best gift God could give was a really nice sweater? Good thought, I guess, but that hardly expresses the depth of God’s love for us, does it? The gift God gives is the very presence of God’s own self, coming into our world, becoming one of us.

The greatest gift God could give us was also the most personal. The deepest expression of love God could pour out on us came from deepest place in God’s own heart. And this Advent, we can re-discover this aspect of gift-giving: a personal expression of a loving relationship.

Lois has a nephew stationed in Oahu. He and his wife just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and they named him Calvin (Cal). The only problem is that Cal was born several weeks too early and weighs just over two pounds. He will spend many weeks in intensive care, and has a ways to go.

His parents are first-time parents and have no idea what to expect. They are obviously stressed, worried, and feeling really helpless. So what do you think will be more significant to them? A T-shirt that says “I’m a new mom” or a baby blanket made with love and care by LCM quilters and covered in prayer last week by this congregation? They are in Honolulu, thousands of miles away from any family. But such a caring, personal gift doesn’t count the miles. It’s our heart to theirs. Their heart to ours.

Two weeks ago, we re-discovered what has been missing: Mary’s Magnificat revealed her new heart poured out in praise as she stepped into God’s activity of love and justice.

Last week we re-discovered contentment as we recognized that we can take power away from wealth and consumerism. We actually can spend less and in so doing, recognize the power of Christ among us.

Today we re-discover that we can actually give more—even if we spend less. When we give from our hearts, when we celebrate the love we share, gift-giving actually looks like God’s gift of Jesus.

We can do this. We can give gifts that celebrate our relationships, that reveal God’s love in Christ. Instead of a video game, give someone twelve lunch coupons, redeemable once a month for lunch with you. Give a collection of photos of places or things that remind you of that person, with a note for each photo telling why.

It will take thought, it will take imagination, it will take time. But if we give more deeply instead of more expensively, we are actually sharing the gift God gave to us, the giving of God’s own self. The gift of love. The gift of Jesus.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we are opening our hearts to God’s heart. As we give gifts to others, we can actually reflect the gift of God entering our world as one of us. This is the gift that changes the world.

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Posted by on January 8, 2020 in Sermon


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Rediscovering Contentment (Dec 8, 2019)

Matthew 6:19-24

Christmas morning was always the best time of the whole year. My sisters and I would count the minutes until we could get downstairs and open all those presents under the tree. Each day we’d recite a litany about how many days until that most glorious of all mornings. “Tomorrow we can say, 45 days until Christmas Eve!” Each day we recalculated to make sure we had our countdown correct. Until, finally, we got to that last night, the hardest and longest night of all—Christmas Eve. “Tomorrow we can say, today is Christmas Day!” With all the excitement on that night there was little if any hope of getting to sleep at all. I’d lay in bed and watch the reflection of car headlights shine through my window. They would move across the wall as the cars came down the hill and turned the corner adjacent to our house.

I’m pretty sure I took all this too seriously. For me, the measure of success was in receiving more presents than last year; more money spent on us than the year before. Bigger and better presents was the key!

We all knew it was Jesus’ birthday. As a good Catholic family we all knew the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, and the baby being born in a stable. Set up our little nativity scene every year, right along with the wreath and the tree and the lights and the stockings—hung by the chimney with care, of course.

We knew about baby Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried. And who rose again on the third day. We knew all that. We talked about it, learned it, and had it pounded into us at church. That’s all a family can do, right?

No matter how much we spoke of Jesus, we kids also knew that the real event of Christmas was the haul we pulled in on Christmas morning and how much money was spent ln us. We were kids, after all. There was Jesus, and then there was Christmas morning. Surely we could do both? All the money spent on gifts is fine, as long as you talked about the baby Jesus, right?

I’ve carried much of those attitudes into my adult life with our children. I have to admit, it was fun to get them the biggest and most exciting presents we could pay for. To see how wide their eyes would open when they saw the piles of gifts under the tree every year.

Our children knew all about the nativity story too. We’d even reenact it with the Olivewood figures of the nativity scene. Even better because it came from Bethlehem. We put the whole manger story right in the middle of all the other Christmas things. That’s all a family can do, right? All the money spent on gifts is fine, as long as we talked about the baby Jesus, right?

It works great. Until we get a text like this one this morning. In the context of Christmas morning, this passage sounds quite different. More real. Very real.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and wealth.

I wonder if we’re trying to serve two masters with all our Christmas traditions. Can we serve our consumer-driven celebrations alongside the newborn Savior? Jesus is saying in today’s text that one of them is going to win out over the other. I’ll admit, as a kid, Santa trumps the baby Jesus every time. But is that the way it needs to be? Despite our best intentions, when we put the manger and the presents side by side in our Christmas traditions, we actually are trying to serve both God and consumerism. It can’t work. And, it looks like consumerism is winning.

I think there’s a way through this. Let’s look at this from the perspective of these two different masters—Christ and consumerism.

–Consumerism’s priority is about what we can spend.

–Christ’s priority is about what we can give.

Both of these two ideals seek our following. In following Christ, we can do more than talk about Jesus in the manger at Christmastime. We can imitate him, serve him, follow him. We can deliberately choose to spend less and give more. Spending less takes power away from money and consumerism, and recognizes the life-giving power of God who gives away everything to come into our world as a baby.

I read about a family in Austin, TX who decided to follow Jesus instead of consumerism more closely at Christmas. They decided to significantly cut their spending budget on presents. Of course, they wondered how their children would react, whether or not the kids would understand or feel ripped off. Here’s what they said,

When we first talked with the boys about changing our Christmas budget, they were a little disappointed. But looking back, I don’t remember seeing any of that on Christmas Day. [We] are so grateful . . . We knew things didn’t feel right, that there was something askew with our Christmases—but we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong. I remember thinking something must be missing. Maybe there was something more . . .[1]

They discovered there was more joy, more meaning at Christmastime. That’s what Christmas really is. A celebration of the birth of Jesus, the gift of God with us. That is the source of joy and meaning in our lives. That is something we can celebrate: God’s gift of love to us. This Christmas, we can share that gift of love with more purpose and more meaning by spending less so we can give more.

[1] McKinley, Seay, Holder, Advent Conspiracy, p. 71 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018)

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Posted by on January 8, 2020 in Sermon


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