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I’m Not God, but I Ain’t Nothing Either (December 10, 2017)

John 1:6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. . . . 19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Are you one of those people that, when you see something broken, you just want it fixed? That’s me. I’m really bothered by things that don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Not just mechanical, tangible things, but life things. I want to fix people, I want to fix relationships, I want to fix the world. I want things in the world to work the way they are supposed to—the way God intends, the way God envisions. I’m frustrated when they don’t:

I’m frustrated when families have to struggle just to put food on the table for their children (and the rich tell them it’s their own fault because they’re spending money on the wrong things).

I’m frustrated when those who live in privilege—whether it’s because they’re white, male, straight, wealthy, or connected—take that privilege for granted without using it to raise up those in the low places.

God doesn’t intend God’s own creation to function so selfishly, benefiting some at the expense of those who are most vulnerable. Scripture is clear about painting a picture of God’s reign, of God’s vision, of how God intends the world to work. And the way the world is, isn’t the way God wants it.

So, in my fixation on fixing things, I want to fix what God seems to be ignoring.

True confession? I find myself trying to do God’s job when God doesn’t seem to be doing it. I long for the ability to do what God should be doing!

But I’m not very good at it. I don’t have that ability—no matter how deeply I long for it.

So in this Advent season, I need to hear the voice of John the Baptist. John also longs for the ability to change things according to God’s vision. But John also understands the abilities with which he is gifted.

When asked by the priests and the Levites, John starts out by saying who he is not: not the Messiah, not Elijah, not one of the prophets. John knows he isn’t God, and he doesn’t try to be.

Yet this isn’t self-deprecating in any way, because when asked again, he quotes this passage from Isaiah in reference to himself. He says he is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” John knows his identity, his role is part of God’s story. He sees himself within the biblical narrative. He knows who he is, and who he isn’t.

Then, understanding who he is within God’s story, he is able to identify what he actually is called to do: “I baptize with water, but one is coming whose sandals I’m not worthy to untie.” John knows who he is and that living within his God-given identity, his actions will point to Christ.

John trusts God to be God. Which frees him up to be who he was created to be. And calls others to be who they were created to be. John isn’t foolish enough to think he has to do everything.

John the Baptist comes with a message for all of us who think nothing will get done if we don’t do it. John points out to us that the abilities we long for may or may not actually be the abilities God has given us. John lives out a reality within God’s vision that each one of us has a role, each one of us is part of God’s biblical story, each one of us has an identity in God’s reign.

What John reveals to us is that:

  • We’re not God, nor are we Jesus. There are things that belong to God that each of us can’t/shouldn’t be doing. None of us are “all that.”
  • But we’re not off the hook, either. Who we are, however, is part of God’s story. Each one’s role in God’s biblical narrative is different. That is worth discovering. We need to discover who we are in Christ, claim that, and own it. It’s an ongoing process; it keeps unfolding.
  • With what we know right now about who each one of us is, and how we know at this point about how each one of us fits into God’s story for the world, when we live out of that identity, Christ is revealed.

So take a minute and ponder that.

You have a particular role in God’s story—God’s vision— of the world.

You have been created with wonderful and unique gifts that are part of that identity.

When you live out of who you actually are, using those gifts, you do point to Christ.

So, how do we get at that?

Think of a time when God felt particularly close to you (or you felt particularly close to God). Would you be able to tell that story? What did God do? Is there a story or a character in the Bible that’s similar? What might that say about what God is doing in you now? Is anyone willing to tell that story about themselves now? . . .

Think of a time when God seemed particularly active in this congregation. We aren’t everything to everyone, but we are something to someone. How were people’s gifts used at that time? What was God doing? What might that say about what God is calling us into now? Is anyone willing to tell that story about us now? . . .

Now think of what God may be trying to do in the world around you now. . . How might God be envisioning your gifts at work in that? Is anyone willing to share their thoughts on that now?. . .

This Advent, we’re called to consider how God is present in the world, and where God is leading the world. We’re called to consider who we are not; but also to consider who we are. We are part of God’s story for the world.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Sermon

 

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What’s in Our Way this Advent? (Nov 27, 2016)

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Advent: Season of preparation, getting ready for Christ to come. We get ready for Jesus because the coming of Christ means something different for the world. It is good news for the world right now. The coming of Christ is not merely hope for heaven after you die, but hope for all people in our world right now. A hope that Christ’s presence in the world will include everyone living in love, joy, grace, and peace.

If that hope for each person to live in peace and love is to be realized, there are some things that will change in the world with the coming of Christ. Some things do have to change because not all people are experiencing hope, forgiveness, compassion, and absolute love. Christ’s job, then, is to be changing the world according to God’s character and God’s vision. Christ comes to change the world, to reveal the power of God’s love, to bring peace and wholeness, to expose life coming out of death. He comes to embody that hope for each one of us.2016-advent

If the coming of Christ means hope and love and peace and grace for all of creation, then as the church, we are called in baptism to be part of that presence of Christ in the world. We are called to be part of the hope of grace and peace being realized. “God’s Work, Our Hands” in the ELCA. Whatever God is doing, that’s what we are to be about. We know it will always be based in love, in compassion, in peace, forgiveness. That’s the nature of God, and therefore, the nature of Christ’s church.

So for us as church, our call is to reveal the presence and the hope of Christ to the rest of the world. To show what God’s forgiveness, love, compassion, grace look like. To be part of that being made real in the world—to put flesh on it. To be the presence of Christ for the world and in the world.

As we look at this gospel text at the beginning of Advent, there are two things we need to come up with answers for:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

Take a look at Joseph in this text.

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in his life/world?

Joseph is recognizing God is moving toward what prophets had spoken of for centuries. God will be with us, God will save us.

  1. What’s in the way of his revealing this presence of Christ? Limiting God to customs/laws of his religion. Once opened to that possibility, Joseph could trust a dream that was crazy.

LCM:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?

I believe God is attempting to make this congregation a community where all can be safe, express vulnerability, experience trust. We haven’t always done that well in our congregational history, and it has limited us. Only in a trusting environment can God’s love be experienced and growth in God’s mission occur.

  1. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

This Advent as we wait for the presence of Christ and the love for one another that he brings, we can consider changing the things that are in the way. That is our preparation. So this Advent, we can give the benefit of the doubt, quit talking “about” people and instead “to” talk them, listen for the voice of God in those with whom we disagree, show support and encouragement for those who approach church differently in this place.

Each of us:

  1. If the coming of Christ means love, compassion, and peace, where might God be getting ready to reveal those things in our lives/world?
  2. What’s in the way of us revealing this presence of Christ?

That is what we can be doing this Advent. The presence of Christ will be changing something in our lives and the world in which we operate. Can we use this Advent season of preparation to see one thing that that might be? And then, can we spend this Advent time being opened to the presence of Christ changing something in us so that we can better reveal Christ to the world?

Blessings this Advent. As God opened Joseph’s heart to see God’s presence in a new way, may God open us to what God is doing in our world today. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2016 in Sermon

 

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4 Weeks (and 4 Characters) of Advent — Preparing for Christ Changes You

Advent 1

Luke 3:7-18

John the Baptist

John’s whole purpose was to point to the coming of Jesus. As he told us earlier today, John himself was not the arrival of God’s kingdom. He helped us get ready for it. It wasn’t about John, it was about one who would come after him, one whose sandals he wasn’t worthy to untie.

Even though he had some extremely devoted followers who thought he was the coming of God’s kingdom, even though some worshiped him, he spent his adult life lifting up Jesus, talking about Jesus, proclaiming Jesus, because Jesus is the one who reveals God’s kingdom among us. It’s the coming of Jesus that changes everything, not the status of John.

If John the Baptist helps us prepare at all, it’s in recognizing that this season isn’t about us and what we want; it’s about Jesus and what he brings.

John points to the coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God. That’s our call today as we begin our preparation for Christ among us.

How about an Advent challenge for this week? Apart from ourselves and our own lives, watch for signs of God’s kingdom breaking in.

Watch for mercy shown in places you wouldn’t expect it.

Watch for bizarre generosity.

Watch for love that moves people to deep sacrifices.

When you see these things happening, in the spirit of John the Baptist point it out to someone!  Tell them that’s what Christ looks like! Tell them Jesus is showing up there!

As John makes clear, it’s not about us. It’s about the God’s kingdom, coming with Christ.

 

Advent 2

Luke 1:5-20, 57-64

Zechariah

Patience and perseverance. Two things that Zechariah the priest had in abundance. Praying for years and years for an heir, someone to assure his lineage and bear his name.

Year after year, praying the same prayer. Year after year, waiting for it to be answered. Perseverance, year after year after year. Never giving up. Patience and perseverance.

Two of the most imporant Advent themes too. Patiently waiting for Christ to appear and make things right. Persevering in being about the work of Christ. Patience and Perseverance.

These great themes of Advent have never seemed more appropriate for us than they do now.

On Wednesday in San Bernardino, CA there was yet one more act of massive violence and death.

In the United Kingdom, our American infatuation with guns and violence was assumed as one English reporter broke the story, ”Just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic and fear. This time in the city of San Bernardino in California.”

We’ve become so immune to these stories that the first mass shooting on Wednesday (San Bernardino was the 2nd) wasn’t even reported, because only four people were injured, and only one of them died in Savannah, GA.

Patience and perseverance, Zechariah reminds us this Advent. We wait for the presence of Christ to come and remove the violence and hatred that infects our culture. And we also persevere in the struggle to live lives of love, peace, and forgiveness in the face of such violence. We do not cave in to it. As disciples of Jesus we persevere in looking violence in the face and saying, “Our God is bigger. Our love is more powerful. We will persevere in living non-violence in the midst of violence. Come, Lord, Jesus.”

For years, Zechariah practiced patience and perseverance. Though struck mute for nine months, he continued. Through doubts and questions, he continued. Patience and perseverance. How long, O Lord?

And an Advent miracle happened. Not only did Zechariah become a father, but his son was the one to announce the coming of God’s kingdom of peace. To baptize Jesus as he began his ministry of God’s love in the midst of violence.

In Advent, we practice patience as the violence continues all around us, patience in the face of a culture too broken for us to fix. Patience as we await the coming of the Christ.

And in Advent we practice perseverance in the face of violence. Perseverance in living lives of peace. Perseverance in calling out the horrors that have taken root in our society. Perseverance in being Christ’s people of love, of peace, of compassion, of mercy, and of forgiveness.

Patience and Perseverance. Thank you for that example, Zechariah.

 

Advent 3

Luke 1:24-25, 39-45, 57

Elizabeth

After prayìng for all those years to have a child, Elizabeth is finally pregnant. You’d think she would take to the streets shouting this good news to the world, wouldn’t you?

But instead, she goes into seclusion for five months.

How lonely she must have felt. She had been isolated all her life by the women around her who were already mothers.

Even her husband had been struck mute, so she can’t have a conversation with him and get his perspective.

She was not the only woman to conceive miraculously, and they would understand her situation. But they were long dead and only remembered through stories.

This was a miracle, but a lonely one. For five months she lived in seclusion with no one to share her hidden living inside her. But Mary in on her way.

Then, five months into her lonely pregnancy, there is a knock at her door. Her relative Mary had travelled all the way from Nazareth to visit her. As they exchanged greetings, suddenly, Elizabeth felt the baby in her womb leap for joy! Her hidden hopes were dancing!

All Elizabeth’s loneliness disappreared in an instant. These two women, each experiencing miraculous pregnancies, each being promised their sons would be important parts of God’s mission in the world, poured out their hopes and dreams together. Elizabeth finally had someone who would understand! Someone she could share this hope with!

In Advent, we wait for miracles. We hope for God’s presence to make a difference in our lives and in the world. Even though we long for God to do something new, we often are made to feel we can’t share those longings. “Faith is personal,” we are taught. You don’t talk about your faith to people, it causes problems. Your faith is your own, so don’t impose it on anyone else.

Like Elizabeth, how lonely we’ve made our faith and spiritual life to be! We hope for God to be present, and we have a hard time sharing our hope. Sometimes we even quit hoping, because hope can’t live in isolation.

Like Elizabeth, we can become so lonely in our hopes that we have convinced ourselves that God doesn’t work in our lives. We can become so isolated in our deepest dreams that we might even believe God isn’t really present in the world.

Elizabeth understands. She shares our secret hopes. She knows the isolation. She knows what it’s like to long for God’s intervention but be unable to talk about it. She knows that there are hopes hidden so deep within us that we can’t share them with anyone, sometimes even ourselves.

Advent is the season when Mary comes to visit. When she comes, all our hopes and secret dreams hidden deep inside us leap for joy! We can share our hopes.

Like she was for Elizabeth, Mary is on her way. What are the hopes hidden deep inside that you have never shared? What secret dreams do you have that have never been expressed? What longing has been isolated so long that you have a hard time admitting it to yourself? Mary is on her way. What needs to leap for joy inside you when she arrives?

Advent is the season of hope. And Jesus’ coming into the world means that our deepest, most secret longings hidden deep inside us are getting ready to leap for joy. With God, all things are possible.

 

Advent 4

Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph

You’ve gotta feel bad for poor Joseph. He’s really stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can either protect and care for his pregnant, soon-to-be wife, or be faithful to his God’s law and divorce her for her adultery (which it would be considered even in the case of rape). Apparently there’s no way to do both.

So he plans to divorce her, but quietly. That way he fulfills the law of denouncing a woman who, for whatever reason, regardless of who is to blame, is pregnant outside of marriage. He also does the best he can do to keep her safe from the extremists who would call for her to be put to death. He thinks he’s figured the best compromise way to handle this.

And then the angel visits him and throws everything into deeper chaos. Oh, no, the angel says. This hand of God is involved here. Though you aren’t the father, Joseph, you need to go ahead and raise this child as your own. He will be the one anointed by God as Messiah. So stick to the original plan and get married. Deal with the consequences of God’s work—for the rest of your life.

What amazes me is that the text describes Joseph going along with all this. He’s willing to risk everything to be part of what God is doing.

We tend to stop here. As if everything’s fine now. Joseph is OK with this pregnancy, Joseph and Mary will raise this child together. God is at work. It’s a miracle. All’s well.

Uh, yeah—not so fast. Yes, God is involved. And, yes, they have been called to be part of what God is doing here. But now the reality of living this out is in front of them. When God calls you to step into with what God is doing, your life is different.

Nothing would ever be the same for Joseph, and certainly not for Mary. Every aspect of their lives is now changed. This isn’t just a pregnancy, it’s stepping into the work of God in the world. For the rest of their lives.

Joseph didn’t ask for this. This is not an answer to prayer. This is God at work in the world and Joseph and Mary are called into the middle of it.

That’s the way it is with God. God calls, and if we answer, our lives are transformed forever. Because:

When God loves, and we live out that love.

When God forgives, and we live out that forgiveness.

When God is compassionate, and we live out compassion.

Not because it’s wonderful and glorious. Not because it makes us cozy and warm. But because God is doing it and has called us into it. God’s mission in the world isn’t easy, certainly not convenient, not always comfortable. Ask Joseph. But it is God at work. And therefore, as Christian people, it is us at work too.

Joseph and Mary’s lives are changed forever because they recognized God at work. Being part of what God is doing shaped everything for them—from that moment on.

Being part of what God is doing will shape everything for us—from this moment on. Because God is still at work. The mission of God is still the same: bringing peace, compassion, forgiveness, love to all people. As we recognize God at work in bringing these things to the world, we recognize that in following Jesus, we step into that work too, our lives are also changed forever. Being part of what God is doing will shape everything for us—from this moment on.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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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.

Repentance:
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:
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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Signs of Light (Advent 4)

4 ADVENT – A
Isaiah 7:10-16

Just a quick check-in on the context of this part of Isaiah. Sitting in the capital city of Jerusalem, Ahaz, the King of Judah, has just found out that two of his enemies have formed an alliance in order to destroy him.
God tells Isaiah the prophet to go talk to the king and give him a message from God to reassure him. Stay faithful, trust God, and all will be well. Ahaz isn’t so sure, so in our text this morning, God speaks to Ahaz and tells the king ask for any sign that would convince him of God’s presence and faithfulness. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign.
So, what do you think? Is it a good idea or a bad one that the King of Judah, Ahaz, refuses a sign from God? On the one hand, Jesus himself says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” On the other hand, God is the one making the offer. . .

What would you do? . . .

What would be a legitimate sign from God for you? . . .

In Isaiah 7, the sign given to Ahaz (even though he says he doesn’t want one) is that a young woman will get pregnant. That doesn’t seem to be very strong; we’re talking about invading armies forming coalitions against Jerusalem, and the sign not to worry is a young woman getting pregnant? Really?

There’s a little more to it: the baby she’ll give birth to will be a boy, and she’ll name him “Immanuel,” or, God with us. And by the time he’s eating solid food, these two kings won’t be a threat any more.

Now, what do you do with that?

Would that be sufficient for you?

Should he trust that this is a sign from God, or shouldn’t he?

In the gospel of Matthew this text is re-translated to talk about the birth of Jesus as the sign of God’s presence and faithfulness. In that gospel no one believes it except Mary, Joseph, and three foreign atheists.

The signs given here seem to be things most people wouldn’t consider to be signs. Easily overlooked. Almost normal if you didn’t know better. A young woman is pregnant, gives birth to a boy, names him, and within a couple of years he’s eating solid food.

And yet, we take it as a sign. Through this we trust that God is present in the world. God is faithful – not only to Ahaz, but even to us. And more than that, our purpose now is to BE signs of God’s presence for the rest of the world.

I think we spend too much time trying to convince people about the signs of God’s presence instead of being signs of God’s presence.

What we know from this text in Isaiah, and in Matthew’s interpretation of it, is that signs of God’s presence aren’t necessarily neon signs in the sky. They’re not always big and grand and convincing. They can just as easily –and much more frequently – be simple, normal, overlooked – but still visible.

When you volunteer at The Action Center or are involved in a build for Habitat for Humanity, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you donate money to World Hunger, bring food for Molholm Elementary, drop off toys for the Christmas Cheer project, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you are kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it, when you show compassion to someone who may take advantage of it, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you write your congressperson to support legislation benefiting the poor, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you trust the gift of forgiveness you’ve received enough to give it away, you’re a sign of God’s presence.

When you combine our small, what sometimes feels like insignificant signs, it becomes a beacon of light for the world. God is here. You are loved. You do matter. There is hope.

God is present. God is faithful. We are now among the Advent signs for the world.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Sermon

 

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