Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany Year C 2010

04 Epiphany C 10
January 31, 2010

Jeremiah 1:4-10
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6 Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." 7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." 9 Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Psalm 71:1-6
1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother's womb.
My praise is continually of you.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:21-30
21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Growing Up

For Christians who genuinely pursue spiritual growth, sooner or later there is the experience of rebirth. Some call it being “born again.” Some call it being saved. Some call it being “born from above.” It is the joyful sense that one has come into relationship with a living God, an authentic deity beyond one’s own internal psychology or philosophy, something truly new and fresh that can only be described in human terms as new birth.

The sign of this event is baptism, the full immersion of the whole body in water. Emerging from the water is very much like emerging from the womb.

Some Christians experience this new birth outside the church. This is not as infrequent as you might think. Particularly when someone’s life goes in a profoundly wrong direction, and every effort to correct the direction seems to fail, that someone will call on a God he or she may have never really known at all. And God, as Peter said in Acts 8, shows no partiality. These people often do indeed get zapped with the sense of newness and rebirth. They float along on what Alcoholics Anonymous members call “the pink cloud.” Everything is beautiful. Everything is wonderful. Everything is new.

But rebirth is very much like ordinary birth. One comes out a spiritual infant. It is tempting, very, very tempting—so tempting most people are completely unable to resist the temptation—to want to stay in the high chair, happily staring about and burbling nonsense while God the Father spoon-feeds their infant selves the mashed peas of a simple gospel.

Infants are charming and delightful, and so it is with infantile faith. It can be so cute, so warm and fuzzy. Plenty of far more successful pastors than I have figured this out and make sure to keep on dishing up the cute and cuddly, the hearts and the flowers and the little baby angels.
But infants can also be pretty obnoxious. They can be selfish, demanding and imperious. Paul had that problem at Corinth. Everybody there was competing for attention, competing for power. “Look at me, I’m the cutest.” “Pay attention to me, I’m the hungriest.”

In chapter three of this same letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes:

1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely human?
In his teaching on the evolution of faith, Disciples’ founder Walter Scott did not put baptism at the end of the list of things that happen to believers. Not even next to last. After baptism, as we see so many times in the scriptural descriptions of faith development, came reconciliation with God and the rest of humankind, and then, and only then, came the greatest gift from God, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It is this gift that grows a spiritual infant into a spiritual adult.

Paul’s famous chapter 13, read at so many weddings, has nothing to do with getting married. It has to do with spiritual maturity. It has to do with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the many manifestations that gift takes in the lives of disciples of Jesus. Every gift listed in the text has to do with the mission of the church: teaching the gospel, preaching the gospel, Spirit-inspired insight into cosmic truth, interpreting the gospel to other cultures, sacrificing one’s life for the gospel. The infantile Christians at Corinth are fighting each other over which one is more important, which one entitles its bearer to the most attention, the most power. Paul is saying, “Grow up.”

Lest we fall back into the huggy-wuggy, mushy-gushy, kum-bah-yah spirituality the word “love” always seems to inspire, let’s remember that real love, agape love, real community, real communion, is the hard work of forming and being faithful to real relationships. Spiritual growth and maturity emerges from the hard work of study, prayer, forgiveness, and intentional and ongoing collaboration with other Christians in communion. It is embracing a communal life that cannot be imagined until it is embraced. The love of the Holy Spirit entails a real re-ordering of priorities, excruciatingly truthful self-examination and repentance, the giving up of many dearly-held beliefs and sometimes the giving up of material possessions, enjoyable pastimes, social popularity or even one’s life.

This sermon Jesus gave at his hometown synagogue is his first sermon in Luke’s gospel. Luke puts it there because, for Luke, and this is probably true of the other evangelists as well, the chief problem Jesus faces in his ministry to Israel is convincing them that their blessedness is not for their own sakes. To put it in blunter, more crass terms, Jesus must tell them, “this is not about you.” And to put it in even more offensive terms, Jesus must tell them, “Put on your big boy pants and grow up.”

Jesus is not bringing a new religion to Israel. Rather he is bringing its true religion, a religion that is perfectly obvious in the Old Testament, but which Israel had almost entirely forsaken. The whole point of choosing Abraham, making the promises, giving the people the land, sending the prophets and everything else God had done for Israel was in order that Israel would become God’s very presence in the world, God’s fount of blessing to all nations, God’s grace poured out to a world that had forgotten him.

Yes, you are blessed, Jesus is saying, yes, God has chosen you, yes, God loves you passionately, yes, God will be faithful to you forever. But this is not so that you can sit in your high chair and be fed pureed bananas. This is so you will rise up and shine the light of God into the darkness of the world. You have a purpose, and if you don’t want to embrace it, I will have to offer the gift to someone else.

Jesus came to save the world, but in the midst of his saving work, there is judgment. It is a very specific judgment however. It has nothing to do really with whether you’re decent or moral or ethical or pious, whether you’re a good parent or spouse or whether you take good care of your mother. It has to do with whether you are willing to bear the fruit of God’s kingdom or not, whether you’re ready to grow up into God’s purpose, whether you’re ready to love the world the way God loves it, whether you’re ready to pour out God’s blessings on the worthy and the unworthy, the deserving or the undeserving, whether you’re ready to speak truth to power, no matter what it will cost you. Jesus is saying, “Get with the program or you will be left behind, and the gifts you have been given will be given to someone else.”

This is the week of prayer for Christian unity. The divisions of the church, be they the petty squabbles in a congregation or the doctrinal splits between denominations, all boil down to the same problem. Everyone remains in their high chairs, demanding attention and status. Everyone wants to be more important to God than everyone else. To move toward unity is to grow up. It is to embrace our common purpose, which is the same purpose no matter how we do communion or dress for church or sing our songs. It is to collaborate together, to share the gifts that God has given each individual, and each tradition, for the one great purpose, the one great calling, the one great apostolate: to love this troubled world with the gracious and bottomless love of God.

The congregation says to Jesus, “Charity begins at home. Do for your own family and community what you did out there in Capernaum.” And Jesus says, “No. Grow up. Get with the program. We’re here to bless the world and not ourselves.”

Jesus says this, and the congregation is so shocked and offended that they try to throw him off a cliff.

He goes on his way, as Luke tells us. And so it will go even when he is arrested, tried, murdered and buried. He will still go on his way.

Such is the power of the Spirit.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Sunday After Christmas Year C 2009

The following sermon was written by Philippi Elder Fred Dant in preparation to preach on December 27 of last year. Unfortunately, Fred had to have surgery near that date and was unable to share the sermon on the day appointed. We are glad to post it here so as not to waste the many hours Fred put into preparing it.

GOSPEL of LUKE 2:41-52
First Sunday after Christmas
Late Service
December 27th, 2009

We just read a wonderful story from the Gospel of Luke about the childhood of Jesus Christ, when he was just twelve years old, but you know we don’t hear from Him for another twenty years.

We also heard the story of Samuel, a Prophet and Priest that ushered in the first Kings of Israel and about things he and Jesus may have had in common. Samuel both served in the Temple, making sacrifices and keeping festivals and such, and also spoke oracles in the name of the Lord.

Both of these stories teach and educate, just like when Jesus would later on have to explain to his Disciples why he used parables. We still receive the benefits of these stories from the Bible.

God’s plan is to save the world through Israel, that is, through his holy nation. We, the church are that ongoing holy nation (with Israel), the temple in which Christ dwells with his Father, through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was a prophet, priest, and now a king. He spoke in God’s voice, offered himself as a sacrifice, and because he did so in perfect obedience to the covenant with God, was raised into his kingship.

The first time we hear the words of Jesus in the scriptures was when He answered His mother in the Temple.

You should think about trying to master the story of Israel in order to know Jesus. Both Jesus and Samuel undergo a great deal of training and education to prepare them for their ministries. Colossians tells us to,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish
one another in
all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms,
hymns, and spiritual
songs to God.
We have many chances at Philippi for you to participate in the learning experiences.

Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph accompanied his parents to Jerusalem at the time of Passover. A special time of giving thanks to God for allowing their ancestors to flee from bondage in Egypt. These two young boys, Samuel and Jesus, both seen as gifts from god, were indeed about ready to transform the world in their day and ours. Jesus in the Synagogue and Samuel in Shiloh with the Priest Eli. Today’s two lessons say two important things. The signs of activity are prevalent in children that can be given opportunities to grow, question, and flourish in ways that will be benefit them and us for a lifetime. And at least Hannah knew where her son was. It seems that Joseph and Mary lost their son, at least for a span of three days.

Samuel lived in the temple as a child because his mother, Hannah, who was barren, promised God that if He allowed her to have a male child she would set him before God as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.

Now here’s a little something to think about. Sampson was also a nazirite, and if you remember the story of Sampson and Delilah, things didn’t go well for him because his hair was cut.

After he was born and as soon as he was weaned, Hannah took the baby Samuel to the Temple and gave him to Eli.

He was in his father’s house with a collection of learned scholars when he spoke these words. Although, directed to his anguished mothers’ outburst, everyone heard the words. What do you think their reaction was?

The story brings about a parents reaction to a fearful situation, and about how a child reacts to the parents when confronted and questioned about his absence.

It is also about the amazement of the listeners to this child when he spoke of the Scriptures.

So we just heard a similar story in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year for the Feast of Passover, like any good Jew would. When Jesus reached the age of twelve, he also went as was the custom when be became a “son of the commandment”, which translates to something you probably are more familiar with, “bar mitzvah.” All his life he had been brought up according to the Laws of Moses. He was a member of the synagogue and was accountable for obeying the Law of Moses, which he had been raised by.

At the end of the celebration people began to start heading home, probably in small groups to enjoy the companionship of each other. When evening came, and they set up camp for the night, Mary and Joseph then realized Jesus was not with them.

They checked with other groups that were traveling near them but to no avail. Jesus was not there. I doubt if Mary and Joseph got much sleep that night.

In the morning they began the return trip to Jerusalem, to search for their son. On the third day they found him in the temple, seated with members of the Jewish Sanhedrin. This was a group of 70 leaders who served as the high council and Supreme Court in Hebrew law.

It makes perfect sense that a twelve year old Jewish Orthodox boy be listening to the wise rabbis and what they were saying and discussing since he was studying the Torah with great diligence and learning the application of the Scriptures in the life of Judaism.

He was listening to these teachers and asking them questions. What was happening in the temple was how Jewish leaders trained young rabbis. They not only listened, but were encouraged to raise questions. Because of his contributions to their theological discussions and the perceptive questions he asked, they were amazed at his understanding and insights. So young, yet so knowledgeable of the bible and the laws of Moses. His parents raised him well in the Jewish traditions.

Enter MOM!! Mary’s frustration erupted as she announced to Jesus that she and Joseph had been frantically searching for him for three days.

Jesus was surprised. He thought it was obvious that if he wasn’t with Mary and Joseph, they would know he was about his, “Fathers Business’. (Luke 2:49)

Now I just love the way it is written in the King James Version. How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Fathers business?

Now we don’t really know where Luke got this story from, but it doesn’t really matter. Also, this is the first statement in the Bible attributed to Jesus.

So, here we are wandering around in a big city. It might be easy to lose sight of Jesus. Sometimes WE face very busy weeks and it seems that indeed he is lost to us.

But just go to the worship service on Sunday, in the Lords house, the place of the word and sacrament and there he is. He wasn’t lost at all; it was us wandering in our wildernesses who were the lost ones.

He was there all the time in His father’s house going about his fathers business all along. The new temple is built of living stones, the church, and the people of God.

You find Jesus ‘in’ that temple, His Fathers house. His parents didn’t understand, of course. What parent does understand a twelve year old?

Luke is the only gospel to provide this story of Jesus’ youth.

Jesus grew up within his community learning that the Jewish faith and heritage was important to his family and this faith and traditions formed the foundation that Jesus drew upon in his ministry and teachings.

We seek wisdom in many different places, rather than just listening to the wisdom of God revealed to us in Jesus. Continue to seek him in his house, listening to the words of his son. The answers are in the words of the love and compassion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Third Sunday After Epiphany Year C 2010

03 Epiphany C 10
January 24, 2010

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Psalm 19
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.

Luke 4:14-21
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

Member, Remember

Nehemiah and Ezra preached for what appears to be about six hours. Maybe that’s why the people wept.

A pastor named David Jones, in a sermon on today’s text from Nehemiah, relates the story from Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude in which the town of Macondo was stuck by a plague of insomnia. At first no one minded very much because they found they got a lot of things done in those hours when they were usually sleeping. But gradually they discovered an unsettling side effect: loss of memory.

They noticed first that some people forgot what common household items were, so they began to label things with their names, “clock,” “cow,” “knife,” and so on. Then they noticed some people forgot what things were for, so they appended to the labels instructions, as in "This is a cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk."

They even had to put a sign outside of town so they wouldn’t forget it was named Macondo. And right in the middle of the town square they erected an even bigger sign that simply said:
“God exists.”

The first time I went to church because I wanted to was back in the early eighties, shortly after I’d had a rather remarkable visionary experience connected with reading the bible. A friend had told me that a certain congregation, St. James Cathedral in downtown Brooklyn, was a wonderful place to worship.

The church was huge and packed with people. In the pew where I sat, I was almost literally wedged between other parishioners. There was a lot of singing, and sitting down and standing up and even kneeling going on. There were these dialogues between the priest and the congregants that everyone but me seemed to know by heart. The priest took some time to speak to us about the bible passages that had been read. And then there was the mysterious moment when everyone got up and went forward to receive little wafers and a sip of wine from a cup.

And I had the strangest feeling that I had found my home.

Nehemiah led Israel after the exile, when the people of Israel returned to their ruined homeland. After two hundred years of exile, they barely remembered who they were. Nehemiah called them all together and read the first five books of our Old Testament and preached on them. It was a sermon that started in the early morning and went on till midday. As the people realized how much they’d forgotten, how far they’d wandered from the loving embrace of their faithful God, they wept. But Nehemiah and Ezra comforted them, told them to go out and celebrate, to have a big feast. Why? Because they had been reminded through God’s word who they really were, and where their true home was.

The word “church” is translated from a Greek word ekklesia, which a New Testament dictionary will tell you means “assembly.” But this word is a grammatical variation on the basic verb kaleo, meaning “to call.” Other common Greek words based on kaleo are translated “invite,” “bring,” “summon,” “call together,” and “appeal.” The root is also used for other more troubling Greek words translated “accuse” and “provoke.” And so ekklesia might also be translated “the ones called together.”

Paul says that we are the body of Christ and each individually members of it.

The metaphor raises troubling possibilities. I would much rather be the heart than the appendix, wouldn’t you? Who gets to be the liver or the sweat glands? And I’m sure none of us would like to be one of those parts having to do with elimination. Nevertheless, whatever part we each might become, Paul assures us that no part is more important than the other. If the most disgusting parts don’t work as they should, the lovelier parts will sicken and die, and if they work as they should, they bless all the other parts with health and life.

We’ve been having some conversations about membership among the leaders of our congregation. The word “member” actually means a body part. From it, for example, we derive the word “dismember,” meaning to cut parts of the body off. But another word derived from this word member is one we use every Sunday when we gather around the table. “Remember.” Re-member. To become a member again, to become once again a part of the body.

Our wholeness as individuals, the wholeness of our congregation, and the wholeness of the church, consists in this. When we re-member, when we become again members of the one body, we remember who we really are. We are not members because we agree with one another, or because we love one another, or because we even like one another. We are members because we belong to the body of Christ. The body of Christ is our true identity, our true homeland.

We are members because we were all slaves in Egypt, but Yahweh, our God, delivered us from our slavery with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. We are members because we all forgot to walk in the ways of the Lord and so we were cast out of the promised land into exile. We are members because we all experienced the joy of being returned to our homeland and rebuilding our holy nation. We are members because we all walked with Jesus and were taught by him. We are members because we ran away when he was arrested and tried and executed. We are members because we all saw him raised from the dead. We are all members because the Holy Spirit has called us together and made us one. We are all members because we have all been anointed to the same mission, because we are all sent into this troubled world to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

The gospel of John says that Christ is the word of God in human form. If we are the body of Christ, and individually members of it, we too are the word of God in human form. We are called together to be a message from God to his beloved world.


Second Sunday After Epiphany Year C 2010

02 Epiphany C 10
January 17, 2010

Isaiah 62:1-5
1 For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
2 The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Psalm 36:5-10
5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!

1 Corinthians 12:1-11
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says "Let Jesus be cursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

John 2:1-11
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward." So they took it. 9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now." 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Wine Changes Everything

During my vacation, I had the honor of presiding at the wedding of Jason Yeager and Amanda Harris. It was really quite a lovely event. The couple invited everyone to an oceanfront hotel in Virginia Beach. We gathered in one of the function rooms where chairs were neatly ordered and flowers festooned the walls. The service was of course stately and dignified. Everyone was wearing their best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. The women were of course lovely in their gowns and their perfect make-up and high-heel shoes. The couple exchanged their vows in that choked and quiet way ordinary people often take such momentous actions.

Then the wall of the wedding room opened, and there was revealed a small ballroom with a dance floor and beautifully decorated tables. The guests quietly filed in and took their places at the table, while some lined up at the bar. We were served a delicious dinner, and while we were eating, more people lined up at the bar. Drinks were flowing all around.

And this stately, dignified and well-dressed crowd began to change. Minute by minute, as the alcohol flowed, ties were loosened, shoes came off, voices got louder, and before you knew it, people were shouting, people were dancing, people were singing.

Wine changes everything.

I have a friend, a dignified older man with several college degrees who most people might say was rather shy and reserved. But if you gather with him at a dinner party and he has a few drinks, there usually comes a moment when he changes. His reserve disappears, he becomes deeply emotional, and usually he makes speeches about how wonderful everyone at the party is and how deeply he loves them all.

It’s the wine, you know. Wine changes everything.

But then, of course, we know, don’t we, that it isn’t so much that the wine changes anything, as it is that the wine reveals what is already there but hidden? We know of plenty of quiet, polite people who suddenly become angry and violent when they take a little alcohol. And if you know anything about the effects of the drug, you know that this is because the person is in fact an angry and violent person who usually hides his anger and violence. The alcohol removes his inhibition and before you know it he’s picking a fight.

The wedding guests, while they were sitting there primly in rows during the wedding ceremony, were actually filled with excitement and joy. But this was a religious service, you know, and they had to hide their excitement. Pour a little wine into them, and the excitement and joy comes spilling out.

Of course, we know that alcohol like any other mood-changing drug can also become dangerous. Carl Jung, the great psychoanalyst, believed that addicts were people who actually had a profound spiritual sensitivity, a longing and a restlessness for a spiritual life, but who somehow find their drug of choice before they find their spiritual path. And most recovering addicts will tell you that they never felt at home until they found God. It may not be an accident that alcohol is often referred to as a spirit.

Both the wedding and the wine are metaphors, powerful metaphors that are used throughout the bible. We know that Jesus often used metaphor in his teaching, particularly in his parables, but Jesus also enacted metaphors in his life, made his life, as it were, into a living parable.
Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets often used marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. We hear it today in Isaiah.

5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Jesus himself often used the metaphor of weddings and marriage in his parables, and even referred to himself as the bridegroom, and the kingdom of God as a wedding feast. The abundance of wine, the overflowing cup, is often used as a sign of God’s salvation. Paul uses wine as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, as in the fifth chapter of Ephesians:

18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit…

Jesus uses the wine served at the end of the Passover meal as a metaphor for his shed blood, which he compares also to the blood of a sacrifice used to seal a covenant between God and God’s people.

And of course, we Disciples use the cup as the primary symbol of our fellowship.

I know a man who was lost in a big city, homeless and alone, and someone invited him to the wedding feast. He drank the wine, and everything changed. Now he serves the wine to others.
I know a man who was always in trouble with the law. And someone invited him to the wedding feast, and he drank the wine and everything changed. Now he comes every week to give thanks, he’s working hard and he’s soon to be married.

I know a woman who lost her husband to a terrible disease. Someone invited her to the wedding feast, and she drank that crazy wine, and now she sings praises to God every week.

I know a people who worshiped gods who could not speak, and their world was a terrible place full of darkness and violence. But Jesus invited them to a wedding feast, and they drank the wine, and they did all kinds of marvelous things. About forty years ago, right here in America, a bunch of them rose up and changed the world without firing a shot. They were led by a man named Martin.

And right now, more of those people are in Haiti, yes, they were there even before the ground shook, and these people dug themselves out of the rubble and are already saving thousands. They drank that wine, and everything changed for them. They were set loose.

It’s this wine, the wine of the Holy Spirit, that makes us the church of Jesus Christ. Without it, we’re just another social club in Deltaville. But with it, we see with new eyes, hear with new ears, love with new hearts.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

01 Epiphany C 10
Baptism of Our Lord
January 10, 2010
Isaiah 43:1-7
1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6 I will say to the north, "Give them up,"
and to the south, "Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth--
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."

Psalm 29
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, "Glory!"
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Acts 8:14-17
14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

The Light of the Spirit

We got a new kitten. A little calico thing. We’re enjoying all that new kitten joy. The leaps and the sideways crab-walks and the sudden turns and the knocking things over and the scratched-up hands.

And of course we have a problem. The all-important problem of the name.

Now we try to make an art out of naming pets. We named the noble border collie-collie mix Sheba. We named the obstreperous little Pomeranian Booger. We named the haughty orange cat we found in the trash bin at Little Sue Mary, Queen of the Dumpster. We named our mischievous black cat Rumpus O’Hooligan.

Now when it comes to our cats, Rumpus and Mary, the names have ended up being truly effective. Yes, it’s true, we have perhaps the only two cats in the world that actually come when you call them. We’re not sure how that happened. It seemed magical. Cats, as we all know, are rarely obedient.

Finally, just yesterday, Liz reported that the kitten responded to the name “Abby.” And so I guess our new family member has received her name. Whether she will come when it is called is another story.

God says, “I have called you by name, you are mine,” and “the voice of the Lord,” the psalmist says, “is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” The apostles Peter and John went up to Samaria, to people Jews in that day called second-class citizens and heretics, because the deacon Philip had preached to them and many had been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, but, Luke says, “as yet, the Spirit had not come upon any of them.”

And in our gospel today, we find that Luke barely mentions Jesus’ baptism. He seems to skip right by it. The obvious point of this particular story is that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove, accompanied by a voice, the voice of the LORD, who then gives Jesus his identity.

“You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth and childhood are really a prelude to the real beginning of the story of Jesus. Both Mark and John begin not with any stories of childhood, but with this story. If I was going to give it a title, it would be “The Commissioning of the Messiah.”

Angels may have spoken to Mary and to Zechariah, but no angel is here, no intermediary is needed. God gives Jesus a name, and that name lays out his mission. The point of our naming our kitten is in the hope that she will answer to it. The point of Jesus naming Jesus “my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” is to give him the mission he is about to carry out.

God might as well have said, “This is the Savior of the World.”

Now Luke also seems to suggest that all the baptized people gathered around both saw the dove descend and heard the voice. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus says to Peter when Peter makes his confession, “You are the Christ,” that “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

I know that when I began to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the my life, and this was only about six years ago, I realized that this was a very big deal. Yes, it certainly meant that I had been given direction and purpose, that my decisions seemed to show better judgment, and that things just started to work out better, but there was something much greater than all of this that had been given to me.

John says, “I baptize you with water, but there is one coming after me who will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” And as soon as they are all baptized with water, sure enough, here he comes.

I’m not sure how I can put this other than to say that while baptism set things right between me and God, the Holy Spirit revealed to me the living Jesus Christ hidden behind the prophet and teacher who died two thousand years ago, showed me his righteousness and truth, showed me how terribly important it was to know him and follow him and learn from him and live in him. My life became not about me but about Jesus. My name no longer mattered. His name matters.

We’re studying the book of Luke on Wednesday evenings, and one of the things I’ve been saying there, as I’ve been saying here for some time, is that this book, this wonderful book, is not in itself God. This book is not to be worshiped. It is not an idol. It is nevertheless the most wonderful book, because it points to the Holy Spirit of God, who in turn points to Jesus the Christ, who in turn points to our Father in heaven. It is a wonderful book, but it has no value to me beyond this, that it has led me to receive the Spirit, to know Christ and through Christ to know God.

Through this gift of the Holy Spirit, we can meet this living Jesus, and we can truly know God and God’s will for each and every one of us, for us all as a family of faith and for all the world, for the Holy Spirit is the very voice of God.

This was and continues to be the mission of Jesus, to give us and everyone whom he chooses, the Holy Spirit. It’s this gift that makes equals of us all, that brings those of us who are mighty down from our thrones and lifts up those of us who are lowly, that gives the hungry good things and sends the rich away empty, that carries those of us who must cross the river or enter the fire, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit is the power that puts the one right person in power forever, this person Jesus.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Second Sunday After Christmas Year C 2010

02 Christmas C 10
January 3, 2010

Jeremiah 31:7-14
7 For thus says the LORD:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
"Save, O LORD, your people,
the remnant of Israel."
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.
10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away; say,
"He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock."
11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

Psalm 147:12-20
12 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you.
14 He grants peace within your borders;
he fills you with the finest of wheat.
15 He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool;
he scatters frost like ashes.
17 He hurls down hail like crumbs--
who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends out his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!

Ephesians 1:3-14
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

John 1:10-18
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 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. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

(Sermon by Deacon Dennis Mann; Pastor Mike was on vacation)

Good morning!

What did you get for Christmas? That used to be the first question we as kids would ask each other after the holiday season. Did you get what you wanted or in plain terms; were you satisfied with the gifts you received? Our scripture readings today, address a multitude of issues concerning God’s love for us. But the one thing that really stood out to me was God’s incredible generosity to us, the many wonderful gifts he gives us. It all made me think, “how much does God have to give us until we’re satsified”?

When I am called upon to be a speaker, I, like most people like to prepare a consise, cohesive message that will present a clear picture of the concept I am trying to convey. I’m not so sure I have done that today; rather I have come up with a series of related thoughts that will hopefully intertwine and get my point across.

On Christmas day Becky and I made our rounds to all the children’s houses and like so many other grandparents we delighted in watching our grandkids open their presents. It was truly a joyous occasion, everyone laughing and happy. But I observed some things that amazed and troubled me a little bit. I’m afraid that we like most other parents and grandparents have succeeded in terribly spoiling our kids and grandkids, giving them much more than they need or can even appreciate, all out of love mind you and wanting them to enjoy the season and the bounty of our caring. I watched the little ones tear through gift after gift, shredding and throwing wrapping paper all over the place, scarcely stopping to look at what each box held before moving to the next. A virtual feeding frenzy of package opening! Pieces and parts of toys, and clothing were all but walked on to get to another package. Some items were almost thrown out with the trash, due to the sheer abundance of wrapping paper and bows! I had seen this same ritual many times before, but for some reason it really hit a nerve this year. After all the mountainous piles of presents were unwrapped, I watched the kids looking around with some degree of disappointment, that there wasn’t more. Knee deep in presents and gifts, were they still not satisfied? I sat there and really started thinking about gifts, gifts we receive and gifts we give.

Most people associate our practice of exchanging presents at Christmas with the gifts of tribute brought to the baby Jesus that starry night, thousands of years ago, by the shepherds and wise men. How far gift giving has evolved since then! We don’t select and give to our families and friends, simple gifts of love and caring, we have made gifting a mega fest of spending and a frenzied fight for the latest gadget or electronic gizmo!

To me the most curious thing about gift giving these days, and let me start by saying I am guilty of this too, is actually calling someone and asking them what they want for Christmas or a birthday! That’s not gift giving, that’s just taking orders!! Can you imagine how the Christmas story would have read if the wise men had called up Mary on their camel cell phones and asked “Hey Mare, what do you want for that new boy?” Instead of the gold, frankincense and myrrh we read about in the scriptures, it may have been formula, diapers, and a talking Elmo!
But seriously, we have distorted the whole idea of giving gifts of love and kindness into something much less lovely and idealistic than that first Christmas, long ago.

We get angry, upset or hurt if we don’t receive what we want, we feel cheated if we think someone didn’t spend enough on us. We feel we must match dollar for with whatever someone has given us. Rarely do we show proper appreciation for all the simple kindnesses showered on us during the holiday season. We have completely lost our attitude of gratitude.

Sadly, our attitude of gratitude, or lack of that is, has carried over into our relationship with God. God has spoiled us, even with all of the blessings he showers us with daily, we are not satisfied with his bounty, and like my grandchildren, are hungry for more. Always wanting more makes us overlook the gifts we have received and makes gratitude awkward and unfamiliar.

And how different it is with the gifts God gives as opposed to the gifts we receive from our earthly family and friends. Gifts from God are not temporal, they’re everlasting. Guaranteed by his faithfulness and eternal love. God’s gifts do not break down, the warranties don’t expire, and the batteries don’t die. Our gifts from God are not determined by if we’ve been naughty or nice, we cannot place our order with God and what could we ever do to earn the kind of gifts God sends us? Dear friends, children, loving spouses, our very lives, what could we ever do to earn such treasures?

With God, it’s not about us. All the gifts we receive are by grace. The Bible says we are saved by grace, justified by grace, made rich by grace. So, just what is grace? Being the simplistic person that I am, I like the wikipedia definition, “unearned favors from God.” That means gifts that we were not good boys and girls to get, things that we could never be good enough to earn, blessings and treasures from a loving benevolent God. No strings attached, no hidden meanings, no assembly required.

Think for a moment about the magnitude of these gifts of grace. Every form of spiritual blessing, everything we need to survive and thrive here on our earthly home, our inheritance in heaven, and most importantly, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, who redeemed us with his blood, forgave our sins and truly taught us how to love. Jesus is grace personified. John described Jesus as full of grace and truth and that from his fullness we have received grace upon grace. God’s grace is never ending and all encompassing, God has a superabundance of grace for us.

God’s grace is faithful and enduring. Our scripture today from Jeremiah tells us of God bringing the exiles back even after they had turned their backs on him more than once, and promising them bountiful food, flourishing gardens, safety, dancing and gladness, overwhelming, over the top grace. In that same way he welcomes us back from the exile of sin and blesses us with all good and wonderful things. That’s one of God’s greatest gifts of all, forgiveness, second chances; he gave it to the exiles, the children of Israel, and he offers it to us everyday. Even with all these blessings, God has more he wants to give us, but we are too lazy to receive them. I am reminded again of my little grandchildren on Christmas day. One of the youngest after opening stacks of boxes grew complacent and would not open the rest. Just like that little boy we are sometimes so spoiled by God’s goodness, that we will not pursue all of the amazing things God still has in store for us. With the way we often treat God, it’s a wonder he cares for us at all!

We go for days without talking to him, we don’t listen when he tries to talk to us, we don’t treat him as a friend, and often blame him for the troubles and bad times in our lives. Try that with your friends and family and see if you are still on the gift list next year! But even with all that abuse, God’s grace is still there for us abundant and overwhelming.

So how do we respond to the grace we have received from God? We are trained to want more, and expect more, demand more. It is so easy to be discontent. We are like that little child, knee deep in gifts and still looking for more. We need to respond with thanksgiving and gratitude, and love. We need to give God the gifts for a change. There’s no need to call him up and ask what he wants, we already know, our hearts, our love, our faith, and we don’t have to wait till next Christmas.


Christmas Eve Year C 2009

Christmas Eve C 09
December 24, 2009

Isaiah 52:7-10
7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Psalm 98
1 O sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
2 The LORD has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

Hebrews 1:1-12
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,
"You are my Son;
today I have begotten you"?
Or again,
"I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son"?
6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
"Let all God's angels worship him."
7 Of the angels he says,
"He makes his angels winds,
and his servants flames of fire."
8 But of the Son he says,
"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
10 And,
"In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11 they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like clothing;
12 like a cloak you will roll them up,
and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will never end."

John 1:1-14
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 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. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 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.

The Light in the Darkness

(Ushers blow out candles and turn out the lights as the gospel is read. Let the silence go for a little while.)

You know, the dead of winter is one of the busiest at the funeral home. There are ten families right in our own congregation for whom the Christmas season is also a time to grieve the loss of someone they love. And we know of at least six local families outside our congregation just this season who have made the sad trip to the cemetery. Every year we dust off the word “merry,” a word we don’t use for anything really anymore except for Christmas, yet the cold and bleak winter is the time when many of us experience or remember loss and sadness, and when many of us pass away.

Back on Thanksgiving Sunday, I researched the many ministries of our church around the world, the many wonderful things we, as a global church, are doing to bring a little peace, a little love, a little justice here and there. This is the harvest of the kingdom of God, the sweet grapes of the vineyard, the fine wine at the end of the meal, the bread that is baked from the gathered wheat.
And yet, I remember as I researched these things that I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I began my search with the hope of finding dramatic and powerful stories of victory and redemption. Instead, the stories that I found were, for the most part, fairly small; little stories of this or that child or this or that village or this or that family that was able to receive a little grace, a little safety, a little hope, a little justice.

And I thought, “Is this it? Is this all that we are accomplishing? With all the terrible problems in the world today, the two billion people who are starving, the thousands embroiled in war, the millions dying of preventable diseases, the thousands who labor in anonymous slavery, this is all the church can do?

(Light one candle.)

But John says tonight, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
It’s a sentence, I think, that we don’t often really think about. John doesn’t say, “The light shines and has driven away the darkness.” He says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Not much of a victory it seems. Is this little light really worth the trumpets and the halleluiah choruses?

A little light in the great darkness. A little salvation in the midst of a great disaster. He came to what was his own, but his own did not accept him. He was in the world, but the world did not know him.

One of the great themes in the bible is that of the remnant, the little piece that is saved out of the great cataclysm: Noah’s family in the flood, Lot’s family in the destruction of Sodom, the few who returned from the exile, and the little band that will escape the final, great catastrophe. The little light in the darkness, so small, so fragile, so insignificant in the big picture, and yet, so consistent, so faithful, so indestructible.

"In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like clothing;
like a cloak you will roll them up,
and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same, and your years will never end."

Jesus never travelled much more than about twenty or thirty miles from where he was born. He was at work for only about three years, or even less if you figure it according to John’s gospel. There were millions of people who never met him, thousands of sick who he didn’t heal, thousands of demons he didn’t cast out, thousand of lepers he never cleansed.

But he did do something so amazing and wonderful that even the great and terrible darkness could not overcome.

He shined the light of God into the darkness of the world.

He was the firstborn of God, and in the church that has come after him he sometimes manages to inspire this or that person to be born of God just as he was. And these “born-from-above” people might not do much beyond this or that little village, this or that little school, this or that little hospital. But as they do these things, there is something much greater and more important they are doing.

They are shining the light of God into the darkness of the world.

It’s strange, isn’t it, how huge a difference one little pinprick of light makes even in the great darkness of the night? Enough perhaps even to say:

The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

It’s also strange and amazing, isn’t it, how the darkness cannot overcome it?