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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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A Different Perspective on Advent (Dec 1, 2019)

Luke 1:46-55

Mary said “yes” when an angel announced that would become pregnant outside of marriage. Because she said “yes,” her whole community assumed she was lying about the pregnancy, or worse. She would endure judgment, criticism, ridicule, shunning, and loss of respect. She would be seen by her family and friends as a sinful girl, condemned to live outside of God’s righteousness. Her pregnancy, and eventually her illegitimate baby, would be living reminders of her great shame.

That would be one perspective on Mary. A perspective based on the way the world around her worked.

Another perspective would be that by saying “yes,” an entirely new life opened up for her. That one word moved her directly into the path of God’s redeeming activity for the world. She became caught up in God’s mercy and love which was changing everything. God’s purpose of redemption and love became the center of her life, and everything was made new. Her perspective, her worldview, her priorities, her day-to-day living.

In that one “yes” her heart was opened to a clearer, completely new understanding of who God is and what God is about. And that new awareness of God’s purpose in the world overwhelms her, and pours out from her heart when she meets her cousin Elizabeth in this text today.

Mary’s Magnificat is an outpouring of praise for the God of love and mercy who has now filled her heart and her life. Her joy cannot even be contained. It flows from her, a river of meaning, fulfillment, and joy. Her life is entirely new and wonderful.

That is another perspective on Mary. A perspective based on the nearness of God.

The season of Advent presents us with some different perspectives on our lives and our world. Some are based more on how the world around us works. Others are based more on God coming near to us. But because of what Advent is, the differences in these perspectives can be quite stark. And, the opportunities that lie before us in this season are quite contrasting.

For instance, informed by the world in which we live, this time before Christmas is pretty chaotic, stressful, and sometimes pretty lonely. We sprint through store after store stressing out as we try to find the perfect gifts for everyone. We spend way more than we should for gifts that may not even be needed. We fill our calendars with all the holiday parties we have to attend with people we don’t know even though we really don’t want to go. We shop till we drop loading up credit cards that will then take months—if not years—to pay off. Not to mention digging out the house decorations, putting up the tree, inviting the guests, hosting the dinners. We have to put on a happy face and pretend we’re enjoying all this stress, because we’re supposed to. Even if what we’re really experiencing is just plain loneliness or heart aching grief.

We’ll then make it to church Christmas Eve, but we’ll be exhausted. We’ll hear the story of the manger, we’ll hold a candle and sing Silent Night, but in all honesty we’ll just be glad when it’s over.

That’s one perspective. One that doesn’t include all the opportunities for heart-filled joy of this season.

Another perspective would one that is informed by the nearness of God whose love for the world is about to bowl us over. Advent can be the time to follow Mary, say “yes,” and move directly into the path of God’s redeeming activity in the world. To get caught up in God’s mercy and love which change everything. To get to know God in surprisingly new ways that make our whole lives new. To experience the joy that Mary couldn’t contain, the pouring out praises to the God of love and mercy. A God whose story—we are reminded—is one of coming so close that the world could actually touch God. In Advent we can be filled with meaning, fulfillment, and the joy of Christ that make our lives entirely new and wonderful.

That’s another perspective. One that helps us re-discover that which has been missing for us. A perspective based less on stress and more on that which fills the empty places in our hearts.

We can begin today. We can join Mary as she says “yes” to God’s justice and mercy, as she pours out her Magnificat of praise from the depths of her being, as she opens her heart to be filled with God’s love for the world.

There are a lot of different perspectives on Advent. We have the opportunity to experience this season from the perspective of God’s love, mercy, and justice that is sweeping into the world. We can step directly into the path of God’s presence with us. We can experience God’s newness and life. We can have our hearts opened again to God’s purpose in the world. We can pour out our praise to the God who comes near and makes all things new. We can say “yes” this season. Yes to pouring ourselves out in worship. Yes to being made new. Yes to re-discovering that which has been missing. Yes to full and joyful hearts.

God comes near to us. Of course, that’s just one perspective.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2019 in Sermon

 

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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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