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Thirst No More – Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-42

The biblical scholars in their wisdom have tied the Old and New Testament readings together quite well. As the Israelites traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land via the Desert of Sin, they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water to drink, so they got angry with Moses and tested the LORD. A frustrated Moses implored God to help him before the people stoned him. God ordered him to take the same staff he had used to divide the Red Sea and to strike a rock at Horeb to get water for the people to drink–take elders of Israel with you to do this task (to act as witnesses to God’s power). The fact that the Israelites doubted God’s willingness to provide for them, even when they did not deserve it, does not stop God from giving people what they need (justification by grace and providence).

Growing up in the dry, rocky land of Israel, Jesus knew firsthand that water was a precious resource. He must have seen his mother and other women spend hours of their days hauling water for cooking, drinking and cleaning. When he met the Samaritan woman at the well in the hot noonday sun, he knew how hard she had to work to meet the needs of her family. Water is heavy. Remember the old adage, “A pint is a pound the world around?” So, a five gallon bucket of water weighs at least forty pounds, plus the weight of the bucket or water jar. Imagine having to carry water several times a day to meet the needs of a family and often it was at least a mile to the source of potable water. My Grandma had an old EZ washer (there is an oxymoron for you!) and there was nothing easy about washing and rinsing clothes with that machine. My brother and I carried two 2 1/2 gallon buckets in two different trips from the lake (one trip for wash water and another for rinse water) because the well water to the house had excessive tannic acid in it and it would turn the clothes orange. Do you know what a clothesline of orange underwear looks like? If Grandma decided to have an extra rinse (for either white or really dirty work clothes) to insure that the clothes were clean, we had to made a third trip to the lake 600 yards away from the house. We understand how hard it must have been to do laundry for a family without a washing machine and having to walk long distances for the necessary water.

Have you been a bit thirstier than usual this time of year? It is 10+ degrees warmer and the humidity was only 4% yesterday, adding to our thirst. Jesus knew that he needed to overcome his thirst in the heat and asked the woman to give him a drink but male Jews did not talk to women in public and Jews did NOT talk to Samaritans. In spite of the gender and cultural differences, Jesus asks because she can meet his need. Jesus has an “a-ah, relief” moment on the way. Water is necessary for survival and we in Arizona already know that but do we ever think about our spiritual survival and the living water Jesus offers through the Holy Spirit? The Samaritan woman has her “a-ah” moment coming soon.

The narrative never tells us if Jesus gets the cup of cold water he requested but there is something much more important going on. We do not know if this unnamed woman took the time to draw water for Jesus. She does stop what she is doing, because she is amazed that Jesus is speaking to her at all. By merely noticing her, Jesus has opened up a world of new possibilities to a woman weighed down by guilt and shame. Jesus has not come into her life to demand something that he needs. Surely, Jesus was thirsty, but he knows that the woman at the well is carrying a far heavier burden. He wants to give her much more than just a cup of water, he wants to offer her water that will remove her thirst forever.

·Jesus knows who the woman is and can see the painful secrets in her heart.
·Jesus recognizes her thirst for forgiveness and acceptance.
·Jesus offers what she needs even before she knows enough to ask for help.

Unlike Jesus, the woman does not even have to voice her request, “I can give you living water,” he says, “Water that can heal your spirit and ease the pain in your heart.” This water is truly refreshing.

The woman is so consumed with the daily task of hauling heavy buckets of water that she cannot grasp the magnitude of the wondrous gift Jesus is offering. She is eager to end the back-breaking work that defines her life. When Jesus tells her that he has water that will forever cure her thirst, she replies, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (v.15). Jesus is offering to open up all of eternity to her, and she is focused on making fewer trips to the village well.

How often are we ready to settle for less than what God wants to offer us? How often do we hesitate to ask for anything from our generous God who is prepared to let love and blessing and forgiveness flow over us like an ever-flowing stream?

There is no way that the woman could visualize how refreshing this water is. Jesus is not suggesting a better way to do her chore. He is NOT proposing to create a better work environment for her. He is offering to ease the burden of her troubled soul and to release her from the pain of guilt. This woman is living with a past that makes her an outcast in her own village-and she has been married multiple times, and even worse for her day, age and culture, she is now living with a man who is not her husband. She carries a burden of guilt, shame and rejection–a far weightier burden than the water she hauls every day. Jesus does not want to ease the burden of her hands and back, he wants to ease the burden of her heart–to remove the pain of isolation and disgrace. Jesus is offering the gift of God’s life-giving Spirit, water that wells “up to eternal life” to God’s people (v. 14). The Samaritan woman has exactly what Jesus needs in that moment–water–and he has just what she needs, even if she does not realize it: grace, forgiveness and the promise of new life. WOW! How refreshing! Not a bad trade for a cup of water.

In all probability Jesus will be thirsty again after he drinks the water from the woman. His living water will meet a deep need inside her. Even if we do not know for certain that Jesus received water from this woman, we get to “see” Jesus’ transforming love when it is given and received. Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah, the One that they all have been waiting and hoping for .

Jesus tells her that the time has come for true worshipers to worship the Father in spirit and truth, for God seeks such as these to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth” (vv.24-25). Jesus offered this tired, thirsty woman a chance to be transformed. She can be made clean with only one drink of the water he is offering her. The woman has been through a lot in her life and when she finally understands what Jesus is telling her, she rejoices and wants to share this gift of new life and hope with everyone she knows. The sins of the woman’s past are behind her and she takes the “living water” and runs back to her town to tell the good news to others. Every one she approaches, she tells, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah, can he? They left the town and were on their way to him” (vv.29-30).

Are we thirsting for someone who knows us as completely as Jesus does and still loves us anyway? Are we looking for forgiveness and a new start? Are we looking for understanding, rest, renewal and peace? Are we willing to acknowledge the mistakes we have made, to cast off the burden of guilt and the weight of regret? Jesus offers us all these and more if we are willing to accept the “Living Water.” I invite you to take a sip of this water and say, “A-ah!”

Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Nicodemus and Jesus Face-off: Checkmate! – John 3:1-17

Through the years as I have talked with worshipers, I have heard some interesting, thought provoking responses like every Sunday is the “same old,” same message, the order of worship gets monotonous, or I come to church to clear my slate, get my batteries re-charged and start fresh for a new week.  It seems like two opposite sides of the chess board are at work; similar to the feeling I get in a room of theologians who all have differing rationales for interpreting the gospels, especially the message as presented in John’s gospel for today.


In the on-going game of “Life,” we are surrounded by people who are like pawns on a chess board, with the goal of moving in one direction, but are constantly challenged by folks moving in multiple directions all around us. As Christians, our goal is to ultimately meet God face-to-face but our journey is arduous, and we are constantly learning to deal with everyday obstacles to accomplish our mission.  Today’s gospel reading tells us about a Pharisee called Nicodemus, who has been struggling with the message (and interpretation of Scripture) of Jesus and the way Jesus, a rabbi, lives his life:  healing, accepting, forgiving and loving people from all stations in life–even those unacceptable by the standards set by the Pharisees and their interpretation of God’s Laws.  He is in a real quandary trying to sort out what moves Jesus makes, and the Scriptures he quotes in his teaching that are directly related to everything he has been taught as a Pharisee–but why does Jesus keep breaking the Law, and speaking about the Kingdom of God; that is already here and yet, not completed–the match is not over yet!  Nicodemus, afraid to meet with Jesus in the daylight, comes to him under cover of darkness to attempt to meet his match. Checkmate!  I have often referred to Nicodemus as “Nic at Night,” a take-off on the children’s program from Nickelodeon, which sends a message to our children and is often aired at night.  Is there a subliminal message here?


Jesus’ words in John 3:3 declare that one must be born again to enter into the Kingdom of God.  In Greek that means “from above” and “again new.”  Just as the kingdom is often referred to as both now and yet to come, entering into this kingdom requires one to come into a new lifestyle and a new identity–to be born “from above,” the heavenly place the kingdom generates from. Both the Kingdom of God and being born anew have spatial and temporal components.  Jesus’ tone grows perceptively crisper as he continues to make the requirements of the kingdom clear to Nicodemus.  By v. 7 he is warning Nicodemus, “Do not be astonished…” and cautions his nighttime visitor that he cannot restrict the approaching pneuma/Spirit.  Nicodemus’ frustrated comeback to Jesus’ response is “How can these things be?”  Checkmate?  Nicodemus has met his match. His old way of interpreting Scripture as a Pharisee is about to be changed, re-focused on the message and interpretation Jesus gives to him.  Jesus seems to be resigned to the lack of understanding and stubborn refusal of his listener and proceeds to use Nicodemus as one example of the kind of attitude that will ultimately lead to the cross.  Only the “Son of Man” voluntarily descends from heaven so that he might be lifted up in sacrifice.  In one last attempt to draw Nicodemus into understanding him this great moment of revelation, Jesus used the familiar Old Testament image of Moses in the desert, of lifting up the bronze serpent on a pole in the desert–to describe what will be the work of the cross.  By being lifted up, offering his own life as a sacrifice, the Son makes new life “from above” possible for “whomever believes.”


My travels to the Holy Lands prepared my heart and mind in so many ways for this season of Lent.  Walking the places Jesus walked and visualizing the terrain, showed me many physical obstacles that made it tough for Jesus to meet people on their own turf and to try and show by personal example the intense love God had for all of them and for all of us at this time, in this place.  Standing on Mt. Nebo where Moses viewed the “Promised Land,” the destination he had been seeking for forty years, I saw a huge staff erected with a serpent entwined as a reminder of the obstacles experienced by God’s people in the desert when they refused to believe and trust God (Numbers 21:5-9).

Nicodemus was one of six thousand Pharisees, the religious elite and one of seventy that constituted the Sanhedrin, the council of authorities empowered to make judgments in Jewish religious and legal disputes.  He was not required to officiate at daily Temple services, but he had the exclusive right and duty to perform certain services:  Day of Atonement, Passover, Succoth and others.  The Pharisees worked with the consent ofthe Roman government, sharing in the rule of their country.  He was a renowned teacher, referred to for decisions requiring extra wisdom or breadth of experience, and he was master of a great fortune; yet, he walked the street, covering his face in his robe, which served for more than sheltering himself from the cold weather–the possible cold reception of his peers for meeting with the controversial teacher, Jesus.  He battled with his conscience, what he had been taught through the years of going to temple services, studying God’s Laws and going through the familiar rituals of worship, but now he was suspicious about Jesus’ power to heal, do miraculous deeds and interpret God’s Word.  If Jesus could enlighten him in the darkness of his struggle, it was almost worth coming but that confusing statement about the wind was a definite obstacle to his faith understanding.  Nicodemus was in deep in this chess game. He had grown old physically and spiritually.  The continued Roman occupation had diminished his hope for a free Israel. Serving on the Sanhedrin, hearing endless disputes over possessions and power, had pretty much stifled his love for people.  His compassion for the less fortunate had died as his earthly fortune had grown.  His wife and mother of his children had died, and her bones were waiting in the tomb to be joined by Nicodemus.  How could he start over this late in life?  How had he missed something as important as a religious leader at the center of Israel’s law, the middle of God’s revelation to the Hebrews?  Was the Pharisee’s minute and careful observing of the Law God’s goal for everyone?  Was his life’s commitment on the trail to God’s Kingdom or had he come to a dead-end? Checkmate.  Could Jesus show him a new way?  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”  Nicodemus had lost the game as he was overpowered by Jesus’ authority.  God had fulfilled his promises in this Son. Nicodemus was slow to walk, slow to change, but he left his meeting with Jesus that night, having met a greatness that was disorienting and uncompromising and sensing the certainty of God’s love.  The blowing wind of the Holy Spirit held much in store for Nicodemus.  He later defended Jesus before the Sanhedrin and helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus in a tomb, the place where Jesus would be set free at his glorious resurrection.  It is the same old story, presented in yet one more way to help us re-light the flame of our faith in Jesus’ saving power to set us free from our sin and to prepare us for the day we will be with God in glory, forever. Checkmate!  Can we feel the Spirit blowing amongst us in this familiar place?  

Amen
Categories: Weekly Sermon

Facing Temptation – Matthew 4:1-11

This past Wednesday was the official beginning of the Lenten season just before Easter, when for forty days, excluding Sundays, we remember Christ’s forty days in the wilderness.  The Arizona Republic reported that Episcopalian priests and deacons were at Phoenix transit stations to present “ashes to go” to the faithful who were too busy to get to church to participate in the ancient tradition of humbly presenting one’s self to God–a carry-over from Old Testament times when folks would wear sack cloth (burlap/gunny sack) and sit in ashes as a sign of penance for their sinful behavior.  The sign of the cross is made on the forehead in ashes made from burning the Palm Sunday palm branches from the previous Lenten season.  The primary focus of Lent is not merely giving up one or two of life’s minor pleasures, but rather on re-dedication of ourselves to the Christian life in preparation for the Easter season to come. Personal sacrifices instead of being ends in themselves, become means by which we put our whole existence under scrutiny, reject those things that have drawn us away from Christ, and refocus our lives with Christ at the center.  Lent is a time for introspection, for slowing down our helter-skelter existence and for times of quiet questioning.

The text in Matthew 4 today has been the object of much reflection and comment over the centuries.  Allusions to some of the renown figures in the Old Testament such as Moses, Elijah and Job are unmistakable.  Theological connections between Jesus’ trial in the wilderness and pivotal events in Israel’s history leap out of the narrative.  Four times Jesus’ adversary is called “the devil;” the tempter and Satan are each used once.  It is important for us to consider how Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness may have shaped his teaching on prayer, recorded in Matthew 6.

Soon after his baptism Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil which should get our attention because Scripture asserts that God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one (James 1:12-16).  Given that Jesus is God’s Son and cannot be tempted, we wonder why Jesus faced a trial with the devil.  Hebrews 4:15 tells us we have a high priest who in every respect has been tested as we are yet without sin, while he was God in the flesh.  Matthew’s account reminds us of Israel’s wandering in the desert forty years and the testing of Job.

Matthew 4:2 says that Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights.  I cannot imagine going forty hours without food or water, let alone forty days!  For Israel the number 40 triggers a host of memories:  rains fell forty days and forty nights in the Noah account; the Israelites ate manna in the wilderness for forty years; Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days and 40 nights where he neither ate bread nor drank water; spies were sent into the Promised Land forty days and when the Israelites’ faith faltered upon hearing the spies’ report, the Lord sentenced Israel to forty years wandering; both kings David and Solomon reigned forty years; Elijah reached Mt. Horeb after forty days and nights and Jonah gave Ninevah a forty day warning.  It is clear that the Spirit leads a vital role.  Besides leading Jesus into the wilderness, the Spirit was an active agent in Jesus’ conception and at his baptism, where the Spirit declared, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 1:18, 20, 3:13-17).  To mention that Jesus was famished, sets the stage for what is yet to come.

Do you think that if a single pill could suddenly, permanently make you smarter, you would take it?  So far, no such pill exists but it is under study how to increase the IQ of our yet unborn children.  Cracking the code of the human genome has opened the door to many possibilities.  The Thursday evening news showed a child crippled with a genetic  disease and in a wheelchair for ten years. After genome studies, she received medication and was able to walk the next day and surprised her entire school by walking in the door for classes within three days of medication.  Scientists are working at cracking the code for intelligence and they predict that within ten years, they will be able to boost the IQ of children by as much as twenty points.  Will having smarter kids enable them to make wiser choices?  I suspect NOT! Sometimes people, even super-smart people use their intelligence to come up with clever rationalizations to yield to temptation.

What about Paul who said, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).  Think about Jesus.  If anyone was likely to have type-free DNA, it was the only begotten Son of God, but our text finds him in the wilderness tempted by the devil.  Whatever our IQ, temptation is part of our human condition.  I ask you, even if higher intelligence could immunize us against temptation, would that be a good thing?  In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “lead us not into temptation.”  Could Jesus have accomplished what he did without this time of struggle in the wilderness?  Could Jesus have done the will of God without confronting the tempter within?  The whole point of Jesus’ temptation experienced in the wilderness was to drive a wedge between Jesus and God.  Because Jesus did not yield to temptation, that did not happen.  “Because Jesus himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18).


Temptation can lead us to an understanding of our core being and help us to assess our limits.  It can reveal to us the strength (or lack of) our commitments and values.  Jesus resisted the devil’s command to turn stones into bread to assuage his hunger.  Jesus resisted the devil’s command to jump from the highest pinnacle of the temple because God would send angels to protect him, and he would not dash his foot against a stone.  Rather than test God as the Israelites did after being rescued from Egypt, Jesus trumped the devil by saying, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the LORD your God to the test’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  Finally, when the devil shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” and offers them to Jesus if he will fall down and worship the devil, Jesus rejects the offer.  Jesus does not choose to be separated from God and responds, “Worship the LORD your God and serve only him” (Deuteronomy 6:13).

Weary after the three enticements, angels come to wait on Jesus.  He has triumphed over the devil!  Jesus later taught his disciples to pray: “Do not bring us to the time of trial [lead us not into temptation] but rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13)[but deliver us from evil].


If temptation is a road, it must have forks in it.  We are forced to make decisions.  Will we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit or succumb to the opportunities offered by the devil? Sometimes the pull of temptation is so demanding that the choice of turning at a major intersection is all we can see.  At other times, it is in small choices, slight detours that lead us to ungodly destinations.  The big problem with temptation is that we do not get to make just one big correct choice and the battle is won.  In this account in Matthew, Jesus refused to yield, but later on Peter tried to get Jesus to stop saying that he was headed for suffering and death.  Jesus told him, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me” (Matthew16:23), revealing that the temptation to turn off the road God wanted him to walk on was still continuing.  We may not be tempted by the things that tempted Jesus, but we still deal with mistrusting God’s readiness to strengthen us to face our trials.  Paul told us that God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and forks in the road are good places to remember that for ourselves.  We need to ask God for grace and power not only at fork intersections, not only at the onset of a temptation, but in our regular prayer life:  “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  We know we need God’s help every day and we who are not geniuses are still learning.  We can pray every day relying on God’s help.  Thank God.  

Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

The Rising Star – 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent officially begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday.  The gospel reports that six days after Jesus’ lesson on discipleship (Matthew 16:24-28) or after Peter confessed him to be the Christ (Matthew 16:13-23), Jesus took Peter, James and John to a high mountain.  Jesus’ face is changed, becoming radiant like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white.  Then Moses and Elijah appear and enter into the conversation, quite likely emphasizing the compatibility between Jesus’ gospel and the law given to Moses by God.  Peter marvels that it is good to be present and offers to make shelters for Jesus and his guests.  Maybe he is hoping to prolong this vision or he is trying to tie it to the Hebraic Festival of Booths, a thanksgiving celebration at harvest time (Leviticus 23:33-34).  While Peter is speaking, a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice announcing that Jesus was his beloved Son was heard.  The disciples fall on the ground overcome with fear, but Jesus touches them and reassures them everything will be okay.  As they descend the mountain, Jesus tells his friends to tell no one until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.  What happens when you say to “tell no one?”

It is interesting that we are coming down from the hype and glitz of the Winter Olympics where millions of eyes were turned to televisions to observe the festivities.  The greatest light show featuring Jesus receives very little recognition–except by Christians on Transfiguration Sunday.  My mother informed me that she thought after ice-skating and luge competitions were viewed, nothing else was very exciting on the Olympics telecasts.  I am not usually a betting person, but I would wager that tonight as the Academy Awards are presented, Mom will be watching.  It is one of the most widely watched events on television (over 40 million will tune in) to see the world’s wealthiest, most handsome/beautiful actors/actresses and directors give themselves awards.  Ask anyone who tunes in faithfully why they watch this event and they can give you a list of reasons:  red carpet glamour, taking note of who is wearing (or not) which designer outfit, there is an opening number by a host or hostess, drama of unexpected winners and unpredictable acceptance speeches.  To receive an Oscar is a cultural anointing, to win is to be instantly inducted into the Hollywood elite.  There is no telling who will win, but one thing is certain, onlookers have to cherish the moment because there is no guarantee of perpetual relevance and enduring respect.  At least with the IOC, names are remembered and recited at ensuing events, adding to the list of accomplishments of the athletes. 



Peter in today’s text is writing to Christians who had their doubts about Jesus after his resurrection.  They had pinned their hope on him but his moment of glory seemed to be over and his light and fame were fading.  As time passed from Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, as persecution of Christians intensified and it was becoming increasingly difficult to be a part of the young church, it is understandable that some were beginning to wonder if Jesus was really the biggest star that had ever shone.  Were the stories about his deity and power fact or legends?  Were the details of his imminent return inflated?  Was he a Walmart DVD Bargain Bin figure (Oscar failure films) or was he a Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep kind of star: real, enduring, bright, shining?

Peter’s response is made to assure his audience that Jesus is a lasting star with genuine divinity and is the fulfillment of the Scriptures.  Peter points to the transfiguration on the high mountain when he stood with James and John as witnesses to the bright lights of heaven shining down on Jesus, with even Moses and Elijah making an appearance.  Talk about amazing technical effects, the voice of God was heard saying, “This is my Son. Listen to him.” Peter sees this moment as one set apart from any other divine experience that a run of the mill wannabe messiah or over-achieving rabbi might have.  Jesus was no fly by night star seeking a one-time award for “Best Supporting Actor.”  No, he deserves the lifetime achievement award, the Oscar that bestows the biggest form of recognition.  Jesus’ recognition was given by God, publicly declaring that Jesus was the biggest and brightest of stars!  And standing on the platform with Jesus, were Moses and Elijah, the two men whose lives and words were at the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Their presence was a declaration that their work was Christ’s work and that they were merely the preamble to what Jesus would accomplish.  the proclamation of Christ’s divinity and of his emerging kingdom which quickly spread around the world was based on the body of work that God had been doing since the beginning of time.  Imagine, if you will, that Jesus is the co-writer, executive producer and star of the greatest story ever told!  For Peter, the transfiguration experience had set the scene.  Everything was in place for what was yet to come: betrayal, crucifixionand resurrection!  Despite false teachers, a kingdom that is seen in part but still hoped for in full, this Christ is worth hitching your hope for.  Jesus cannot fail us.  His truth captured in the Old Testament and proclaimed by those who knew him as a man on earth in what would become known as the New Testament, is absolutely trustworthy.  Go figure.  When someone tells you they will rise from the dead–and they do, you believe what he tells you!  You trust him!  And when a renown, respected figure in history like Moses or Elijah comes back from the dead to say the same thing, you really trust Jesus and what he has to say.


Peter speaks of Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophetic message and as a lamp shining in the darkness.  In John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (Speaking of eternal life)  The message of Christ is alive and well, trustworthy and divine.  The Word of God is like an opulent gift (the 2013 gift bag for Oscar nominees was valued at $47,000) that keeps on giving.  It speaks  pardon to us in light of our sins.  It proclaims that we are sons and daughters of God despite our rebellious behavior/nature.  It guides our feet on the path and convicts our hearts.  It fills our minds with peace in the face of pain and death.  These are the gifts that Christ’s enduring, divine and prophetic word gives.



Peter’s audience was afraid that their Savior’s time in the spotlight had faded, that Jesus had been played off the stage but Peter was there.  He saw Jesus in the spotlight at the moment of glory, the “Transfiguration.”  Jesus’ body of work is unmatched.  Jesus’ words are still cutting through and shining light in this world.  No one has played him off the stage or snuffed out his star.  Jesus is the real deal!  

Amen.
Categories: Weekly Sermon

Do No Harm – Matthew 5:38-48

I was fortunate to see the mountain where Jesus preached the message often called “The Sermon on the Mount.”  It was a grassy place with a gentle breeze blowing by that would have been appreciated in a warm country with lots of arid desert land.  I am certain that Jesus’ sermon could rub people in today’s culture the wrong way.  If you watch television, a large number of programs deal with growing violence.  Jesus is pretty clear on his teachings, “You have heard that it was said ,’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (vv.38-39, NRSV).  Before we look at what Jesus means by this, there is something he is NOT saying.  If you or someone you love, is in an abusive relationship, Jesus is NOT saying that you should just take the abuse!  What Jesus is saying is that when you encounter violence, do not respond with violence.  The word translated as “resist,” as in “Do not resist an evildoer” should conjure up images of armed resistance, not submission.  So, Jesus is not saying that we should continue to put up with violence.  He is not telling us to submit to it.  He is telling us to resist violence, but not with more violence.
If the violent world in which we live is to be different, it has to start with us.  We have to break the cycle.  Whether we are righteous or unrighteous, evil or good, we are all God’s children on whom the sun rises and the rain falls.  All of us.  NO exceptions.  While Jesus is most certainly concerned about justice for the weak, the poor, the marginalized, he is also concerned about justice for the powerful, the rich, and the mighty.  Here is the truth woven throughout the Sermon on the Mount:  there is no justice for one of us unless there is justice for all of us.

Let us consider some Old Testament thinking attributed to “Eye for an eye”:  If you kill my sister, my family will kill your sister.  If you attack my village, my village will attack your village.  We understand that the underlying problems that lead someone to kill or destroy will not be fixed or redeemed with an eye for an eye action.  Jesus does not call us to break that cycle of reciprocal violence to be clever.  He calls us to practice non-violence so that everyone has a chance at redemption.

Earlier in his sermon in vv.17, 19, and 20, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law of the prophets, I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.  Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”  It is not about one side winning or one side losing.  Both sides must realize there is only one side, that we are all children of God and an “eye for an eye” does not allow for that.  So…bottom line…how do we turn the other cheek, give to everyone who begs from us, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, go a second mile with the one who forces you to go the first mile, and to the one who wants to take your sweater, well, give your coat as well?  Really, where is the thrill in doing stuff like that?



When someone bad-mouths you or does you wrong, you have to decide on how you are going to react.  My professor for conflict management at McCormick used to say, “If you remember nothing else about this course, remember, “Respond, do NOT react!”  You can hit back, which may make matters worse, or you can turn the other cheek, refusing to add to the problem.  Most likely, we would agree that doing no harm is a good thing but it does not impact us the same way confrontation and discord do.  In the account of Cain and Abel, most would say that Cain was the evil guy, but from the story angle, he was the more interesting character.  Abel does all the right things and is approved by God, but without Cain there would not have been the conflict necessary for creating a good story.  Not making matters worse may be the right thing but it is hard to generate much enthusiasm about it. 


The Sermon on the Mount is not the only New Testament place where “do-no-harm” teaching shows up.  In Peter’s first letter, the apostle observed Jesus: “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten…”(2:23).  Doing no harm is not something Jesus talked about, but something he actually practiced.  Just about every day we are in situations in which we have no idea how to make them better but we are pretty clear on how to make them worse:
·       Interfere in someone’s else’s conversation or activities;
·       Tell tales or spread rumors;
·       Blame others for your own screw-ups;
·       Bore people to death by going on and on about your own problems;
·       Vent your anger on people who are not involved in your situation;
·       Disparage/put down others to make yourself look good;
·       Bear false witness/lie.


Submission is a spiritual discipline with which we view others, and in which we relate to others, and in which we relate to and treat them.  It is the willingness not to get our own way, and the ability to lay down the burden of needing to come out on top.  In some situations, submission is the freedom to drop the matter in order to let the other person have his or her say (not way).

Submission has its limits.  Most of the situations we deal with are due to differences of opinion or somebody’s self-centeredness or hang-ups showing.  Often the way we love that neighbor or relative or spouse with whom we do not see eye to eye is by first doing no harm. Sometimes we have to: say nothing, not pass along gossip; give a person time to work things out; compromise and seek the common good; think about what doing no harm means and try to put it into practice.  Jesus tells us to strive for perfection.

The Pharisees were known for their zealous and fastidious keeping of the Law of Moses.  To exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, Jesus’ hearers needed to actively live the Scriptures.  Jesus’ message for today means that doing no harm means no hitting back, turn the other cheek.  Instead of making a fuss about being forced to go one mile, volunteer to go a second mile.  Instead of seeking to hurt your enemies, pray for them!

Intentionally doing no harm is a vital practice in living a holy life; a way of loving our neighbor.  Jesus returns good for evil–that is the new ethic of God’s world.  “Do no harm” may sound unexciting but it is just one aspect of the ethics of God’s world, and it has the power to change the world in a positive way.  Strive for perfection!


Offer God’s unconditional grace making possible the love of neighbors.  
Amen.
Categories: Weekly Sermon

Baby Steps to Understanding – I Corinthians 3:1-9

Watching our children (including nieces, nephews, grandchildren) grow up, we notice particular mile-markers: cutting the first tooth, saying the first word, crawling, walking and other activities.  With today’s technology we would probably document those exciting moments, with a digital camera or telephone. It is exciting to observe the development of young children’s experiences.

    The apostle Paul, when writing to the Corinthian church, tried to keep in mind that they were a young and growing church, but he did not want them to develop bad habits or to be misled by the ideologies of those who did not adhere to Jesus’ teachings.  Paul was concerned for their souls and wanted them to be equipped to deal with the temptations prevalent in culture around them.  Does that sound like a familiar challenge for Christians today? 


    What happens when someone brings a baby into our church or fellowship hall?  People gather around to coo and jabber in “baby gobble de gook” to communicate with the baby.  If the parent is not careful, a lively game of “pass the baby” begins and the child gets handed off, hugged, smiled at and jostled until it objects or the parent appears to claim the child.  At one baptism a number of years back, a baby sat in the choir with “Aunt Ethel” until the service was over.  Showing affection and talking to our children is good.  We know that the language little ones hear is key to their development.  Using proper language establishes a healthier vocabulary early in life.  Good words properly pronounced and used lead to mature speech.  The more words and the context in which they are spoken aid a child’s speech development.  The parents’ response to the child’s speech attempts really matters if they want their children to grow up with a mature vocabulary.

    It seems that when Paul was away from Corinth, the church had begun to listen to other kinds of speaking that identified the church with various people who had come to visit.  There was confusion about the church’s leadership vocabulary which resulted in squabbling about the respective qualities of Paul, Peter, or a man named Apollos.  Paul attempted to do some remedial training with them, reminding them that the church, the body of Christ, is not divided.  Paul had come to them to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit, teaching particular cues to the church so that they could name them on their own while they matured in faith. Paul referred to them as toothless baby believers who were only responding to baby talk and baby food.  New Christians, Paul understood, need the “milk of the Word.”  Paul wanted the congregation to develop beyond the baby stage.  Paul equated the Corinthians as “infants in Christ” to “people of the flesh.”  The people had come to know words about Jesus but they had not assimilated them into practice.  They were struggling with their old ways of being and doing.  They were behaving like selfish children, with “jealousy and quarreling” making them more fit for sitting in the church nursery rather than engaging in the mission of the church.  The church needed to digress; to go back to a very basic faith formula before it could begin to chew on solid food, speak, and act with maturity.
    A church is not defined by who is in charge, but by a group of people gifted to work together for a common purpose (I talked about grace, gifts and a guarantee from God and that we respond in gratitude).  The church is a group of “God’s servants, working together as God’s field, God’s building” —a sign of God’s kingdom.  The church may be planted by one person and watered by another, but it is grown by God.  Some define a church by the conversation of the members; some focus on its mission.  Some admire the facility and others emulate the music.  Some define the church as a place where their needs are met (as if the church dispenses religious goods and services). A church can be associated with things a self-focused infant is concerned with.  They get what they need and want.
    Mature Christians know that a church is founded on the self-serving needs of people.  Their faith rests on the power of God.  Jesus said we must become like little children if we want to enter the kingdom of God–to be open to a different set of definitions and sit at the feet of a parent who will teach a vocabulary that leads to maturity, faith, mission and genuine hope for life with God forever.

    Paul wanted the Corinthian church to grow up, but he began by going back to the basics developing a solid vocabulary around what it means to be the church. It is a mission; it is about being God’s servants, about joining and working together for the harvest of God’s field, and the building of God’s kingdom.  

Amen
Categories: Weekly Sermon

The Church–A Work in Progress I Corinthians 1: 1-9

I remember back to my childhood when parents of some of my friends at Sunday school would drop them off for Sunday school and return to pick them up after church…but..they never came in the door. From a child’s understanding I wondered if they had faith in God, and what had happened in their lives that they wanted their kids to have religious training. Hopefully, they would develop faith in God. Unfortunately, that is still happening today but it is opening the gate to young people to meet God at work in their lives–and that is a good thing!

There are a few good reasons to quit the church. Top on some people’s lists are hypocrisy, violence, and intolerance. Other people leave the church because they find it irrelevant to their lifestyle, mediocre or boring. A further comment might be, “If only we could go back to what the church was like thirty, forty, or fifty years ago.” Well, folks, that just cannot happen as the world has been changing all around us and there are changes we need to make. Paul taught at Corinth for eighteen months (Acts 18:11) and he knew the people well. In his letters to the believers at Corinth, Paul addressed numerous ugly issues: sectarian divisions in which each side claimed to be more spiritual than the other, boasting about incest (I Corinthians 5:1), lawsuits between fellow Christians, eating food that had been sacrificed to pagan idols, disarray in worship services and even predatory pseudo-preachers who masqueraded as super-apostles. The most realistic way to deal with the church’s faults and failures is to name them, own up to them, repent of them, and do what we can to correct them. Losing our illusions about the church ( or disillusionment) is necessary and good. It is easy to take incredible things for granted, but after the extraordinary is accepted and expected as the “norm,” what happens next?

Think about flying. The airplane envisioned by the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina has evolved into multiple daily flights–more than 30,000 per day in the United States alone! Some folks love flying and others could produce a long list of complaints about customer services: lack of food services on flights, cancelled flights or my favorite, over ticketing, late arrivals, and on and on. Could it be that flying is less fun and more frustrating than it used to be? Do we need to be reminded that planes fly at 550mph and reduce ground travel time considerably? It is a long swim to Europe and other places we might want to experience. Things could be whole lot worse.

If we surveyed the church in Corinth, we would confirm that people were fighting for power, abusing the sacrament, endorsing false teachers and their marriages were melting down (marriages are still not made in heaven). The church of Jesus Christ is made up of people saved by, and yet still desperately in need of Jesus. The truth is that the church in Corinth is not all that different from every church today. There will be immorality that comes to light, politics at play, messy marriages and a mission that misses the mark. There are definitely rumors generating discouragement.

Before attempting to correct the mistakes being made in the church, Paul made it clear that despite all that was broken in the church he was still deeply and truly satisfied with what God was accomplishing in the church. He said, “I give thanks to my God always for you.” In spite of the immorality, gossip, immaturity and selfishness exhibited by people in the church, Paul was overjoyed at the miracle that is the church.

It would be so much more healthy if folks would pause from lamenting and complaining about God’s people and how much they are missing the mark, and recapture the perspective of being the church. There is a reason to be satisfied with the church. We need to be thankful and satisfied with the church body because we have grace, gifts and a guarantee. John Calvin wrote about guilt, grace and gratitude but I enjoy Paul’s understanding of how God works in our lives.

Grace is what makes a body of believers realize that it is not the great things done by them, but the great mercy shown to them. Paul was elated with the church at Corinth because of their gift of faith and the flood of forgiveness that had washed over them. The promise of the gospel is that no matter how messed up we were prior to meeting Jesus, once we are connected to the work of the cross, through belief and baptism we are adopted as sons and daughters and made heirs of God’s kingdom. We deserve death and destruction but God sentences us to life and love. What a sentence!

Not only did the church at Corinth have grace but it had gifts–it was equipped to be the church by the power of the Spirit. It was not without hope because it was promised a reservoir of gifts and talents that needed to be identified, encouraged and utilized. What gifts do you acknowledge that God has clearly given to this congregation? I would offer to you Spirit filled worship with uplifting music shared by our organist, pianist, choir directors (chancel, youth and handbell) and all the folks who participate in the various choirs. Think about the ministries we share in serving: the Agua Fria Food Bank (some of the poorest people in Maricopa reside in the Avondale/Goodyear area and would go hungry if we did not take hundreds of pounds of food, plus money, school uniforms and school supplies, clothing and other needed items), the Peoria Youth Pantry which provides food to high school kids at risk (who would not eat on the weekends or during holidays) New Life Shelter and Eve’s Place (working in partnership with us to meet the needs of Kellis High School youth, provide jobs for some and offer assistance in other ways). God is meeting the needs of people through our collective family of believers.

Paul found great joy in the Corinthian church because of the bright and glorious future guaranteed to each and every person waiting for the revealing of Jesus Christ, who will sustain us all to the end. Corinthian Christians had imperfections and so do we but our future is secure because Christ has promised that in the end, he will return, resurrected and find us faultless. He will establish his kingdom and until that time, he will keep his church alive. The church will endure. There is reason to rejoice in spite of the struggles, the church has a lot going for her. Not because of what we bring to the church, but because of what God has done to us and through us in Christ. Occasionally, we might experience some turbulence on the ride, but Jesus is still our pilot, keeping us on the correct flight route.

Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Does God Show Partiality? Matthew 3:13-17; Acts 10:34-43

Every year the Sunday after Epiphany we remember our Lord Jesus’ baptism. His words to us in Matthew 28:19-20, the “Great Commission,” are “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” What a leap of faith in only three weeks; from the birth of a savior to his words to us to carry on in the mission of winning souls for Christ.

The command seems simple enough when we read it but holds a lot of responsibility for us and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in a culture that focuses on personal needs–what’s in it for me and how can I gain more material possessions to satisfy my longings–instant gratification? Jesus taught us to seek righteousness, to work at being in a right relationship with God and others; to aim to be with God in eternity in everlasting life. In the balance on the scale of life, we have instant gratification versus the long term goal of meeting God face to face and basking in God’s glory forever. It is difficult to battle human nature which leans toward self-interest. Part of our inner working prefers that God be partial to you and me. We want to reap the benefit of being singled out, first in line toward a heavenly reward and we do not want to have to move over and lose our place in line.

The account in Acts recalls a dream that Peter had telling him that he should not call anyone profane, unclean, or unacceptable to God. As he pondered his dream, soldiers came to him as messengers from a Gentile, a centurion in the Roman army named Cornelius. He claimed that God had spoken to him in a dream. The emissaries asked that Peter allow the centurion to come to listen to him. What a challenge for Peter! Peter reminded the men that it was unlawful for Jewish folk to talk to Gentiles, but he had just had a dream from God telling him, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Could God be telling him that God provides and cares for all people? Could it be that Jesus’ message was not exclusively for the Jewish people, but for all people? Jesus is the Savior of all and now it was time to expand the reach of the message. In the company of Jews, Cornelius, and many other non-Jewish people, Peter professed that “Jesus Christ is Lord of all” (v.36).

Peter boldly expanded the message preaching that “Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (v.38b). Peter’s followers must have been overwhelmed by these words. Peter had been a witness to Jesus’ ministry; he was there when Jesus died and after the resurrection when Jesus came to the disciples and commissioned them to “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Peter finally heard the message himself, God is for everyone: hypocrites, pretenders, liars, every day saints–no partiality. Retirees, single parents, traditional families, youths, children, care-center residents, blended families–no partiality. Wheelchair users, cane users, dog guide users, hearing device users, scooter users, motorcyclists, minivan drivers, long distance truckers and e-mail users–no partiality. God wants us to include people from all lands, races, religious persuasions, city streets, mansions and condominiums.

God raises no eyebrows, shows no partiality, favoritism or exclusivity. “In every nation anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God]” (v. 35). The family, the realm of God, is all encompassing. Family are people to whom we matter. From the outside, people might look at the Sacrament of Baptism given to us by Jesus as a rite of inclusion into an exclusive organization. Does baptism say to outsiders, “Welcome to the holy club, the in-group church?” Is the mark of baptism a sign of exclusivity or inclusivity?

Baptism sets us apart for God. At baptism, we acknowledge whose we are. Baptism is an act of sharing one’s child when the child is presented by a parent or guardian, placed into the arms of the minister–a symbolic letting go that is a precursor to future separations. The child becomes more than an extension of parental being. The child belongs to two families: the family of nurture and the family of God. Does the family pedigree passed down genetically take precedence over adoption into the family of God, where all are united in the body of Christ?

To become a Christian requires no surrender of part of one’s given identity but the taking on of a wider identity. When a child is presented for baptism, I ask: “Do you desire (for yourself or your child) to be baptized into the faith and family of Jesus Christ?” It is your choice to renounce the evil in the world, to profess faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and to commit your life and the life of your child to know Jesus, love Jesus and serve Jesus. We promise to live as best we can according to the way Jesus lived. We promise God, ourselves, and the surrounding witnesses to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and in the way we live our lives to reflect and point to Christ.

We promise the faith community which has welcomed us with open arms, adopting us to share in ministry by faithful attendance, to celebrate Christ’s presence and to further the mission of Christ in all the world as part of a church that draws others toward growth in their own faith. Baptism may be a few drops of water but it is a reminder of God’s presence bringing the holy into the now. A few drops of water here in the midst of things awakens, creates and offers holy encouragement; it is a piece of affirmation that reminds us that God is for all of us. Praise God!
Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Is Christmas Really over -Matthew 2:13-23

Now that it is December 29, 2013, people are saying that Christ is over; finished, until next summer when commercial entrepreneurs begin to put out decorations and ads for the “coming season.”  Christmas is over at the malls—after the “After Christmas Sale,” Year-end Clearance and Year-end Inventory sales.  It might be over at local churches that do not celebrate Epiphany, “Kings Day,” when the wise men arrived to see the Baby Jesus–otherwise known as “Twelfth Night” (for which we sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”).  The white paraments and The First Sunday after Christmas on today’s bulletins are indicators of the Christmas season winding down.
It always seem like the arrival of a late Christmas card.  I still have not sent mine out, yet.  The cre’che is still waiting for the wise men and camels to be added.  We are no longer lighting the Advent Wreath.  We need to emphasize that the place where Mary and Joseph watched over Jesus has been searched by Herod’s secret police, the manger was probably overturned and the animals have scattered.  Throughout the countryside the lament of parents whose children had been slain could be heard as the result of Herod’s attempt to eliminate any baby king to compete with his reign.  Herod was so infuriated when he could not find the baby that he ordered all male children in Bethlehem and in the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger to be killed.
The real Christmas may be over, but the sentimental Christmas of our fantasies is no more.  This violent text will not tolerate it.  The text shows us that Jesus and his family had left Bethlehem.  They became Palestinian refugees in search of safety far away in Egypt.  They crossed a desert region not knowing where they would find shelter each night.  The sentimental Christmas was constructed years ago to compress and retell the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.  The Incarnation makes a radical claim.  We Christians insist that God took on human flesh and appeared in the midst of the world as we know it.  The hymn, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” tells us, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th’ incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”
The Incarnation means that God has entered every realm of human life, both to bless and even to meddle with it and convert it.  God is in the midst of our finances, our families and our marriages to bless and convert.  God is in the midst of our sufferings as well, and all suffering is to some extent the suffering of Jesus.  The writer of Hebrews proclaimed, “He is able to help those who are being tempted, since he himself experienced suffering when he was tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
How can all of that be good news?  Not an easy question to answer.  We need to read the gospel and to allow it to take root in us.  Everything in Matthew is leading us to Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.  The brutal slaughter of innocent children is but a foreshadowing of what is yet to come.  It is all through the narrative.  Jesus insisted that he would suffer, die and be raised on the third day.  He insisted that his disciples (includes us) would find life in the same way, by taking up the cross.  The gospel message is clear, even on the first Sunday after Christmas.  Clarity can be a relief.  When it is time to flee violence and seek shelter, a battered spouse needs the truth, not the false assurance that the monster kissed will morph into Prince or Princess Charming.  When cancer invades and overturns our tranquil lives, we do not want to be told that everything is okay.  You lament and seek refuge in chemotherapy or maybe palliative care.
In spite of sometimes shocking news, there are echoes in today’s gospel reading.  Christmas in not yet over, nor is the message of the gospel.  Four times we hear “getup” or “got up.”  The angel said, “Get up.  Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt…Joseph got up” (vv. 13-14).  Later, “Get up and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel.  Joseph got up” (vv.20-12).  It is interesting to note that the Greek word for get up and got up is translated from egeiro, the same word that Matthew and others use when they refer to the resurrection of Jesus, to his rising from the dead.  “He is not here because he has been raised from the dead.  He is not here because he has been raised from the dead just as he said” (Matthew 28:6).
God speaks resurrection and God gets the final word.  That is not to minimize tragedy or to say that oppression is insignificant.  But God gets the final word in today’s account, where Jesus and the holy family are preserved.  God will have the final word in our lives as well.  In Jesus Christ, God enters creation and suffers with it.  God is at work redeeming us all, so Christmas is definitely not over yet!  

Amen.
Categories: Weekly Sermon

Future Hope – Isaiah 9:2-7

Christmas Eve is one of the darkest days of the year.  It is only a few days after the shortest day, the winter solstice, December 21.  Today we have had only nine hours and twenty-six minutes of daylight, leaving us more than fourteen hour of darkness.  The world around us seems dark as well.  We have serious climate changes, a nuclear North Korea, Cyber attacks (Millions of Target shoppers’ credit has been compromised), Global terrorism, insecurity about relationships, jobs, healthy and retirement issues are all looming.  We can identify with the words of “The First Noel”…”on a cold winter’s night that was so deep.”  Deep darkness.  Some folks remind us to pray to God to free us from the dark experiences in life.  Others say that if darkness persists, pay the electric bill.  That might help.
People have been facing dark days and troublesome experiences in life a long time.  Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet, Isaiah, warned the people of Israel that they were walking in darkness.  God seemed silent to them and they were “greatly distressed and hungry.”  We are stressed today by economic insecurity, repeated news of acts of global terrorism which add to our anxiety and concern.  We are fearful of the dark times.  We need illumination.
The people of Israel saw a ray of hope and brightness in the promise of a new king, a descendent of David, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us, and authority rests upon his shoulders.  He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His kingdom shall be established with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore” (v.7).  This promised king was the Future Hope of Israel.
We have reason to hope tonight as well.  An eighteen year old named Taylor Wilson designed a new, safer, more efficient nuclear reactor.  A Kenyan teen, fearful that lions would eat his family’s livestock, built an automated security system.  Sixteen year old Jack Andraka was upset after pancreatic cancer killed a family friend, so he developed an affordable protein-based blood test that is faster and more effective than the current option; all while dealing with homework, parents and puberty.  Children are still being born who are succeeding in making the world a safer, more secure and healthier place.  God’s kingdom  of justice and righteousness is advancing one innovation at a time.  The most impressive of God’s innovators was born in Bethlehem seven centuries after the prophet Isaiah.
That would be like us waiting until the twenty-eighth century to find relief from the multiple conflicts in the world.  No doubt they wished their Future Hope would come a little faster.
Eventually, in God’s time, Jesus Christ was born to show us God’s love and to be our Savior to bring light and hope.  Isaiah said that his authority would grow and that endless peace would come for the throne of David and his kingdom.  More than two billion Christians, about 2/3 of the global population adhere to Jesus’ authority.  Jesus continues to offer us his peace in a challenging and contentious world saying, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Jesus does not offer us escape from life’s challenges but he gives us peace in the midst of the challenges, “Establishing his kingdom with justice and righteousness now and forever.”  Jesus wants justice for all God’s children: rich and poor, conservative or liberal, immigrant and native-born.  Jesus is focused on people being in right-relationships with God and each other (core meaning of righteousness).
Christmas is the time when the light of Christ enters the darkness of the world.  The birth of Jesus reminds us that children can change things for the better.  In every generation there is the possibility that people will act as counselors and peacemakers, following in the footsteps of the Savior.  On this Christmas Eve, pause to receive the light coming into the world.  Jesus enters each of our lives  to show us God’s immense love, to save us from our sins and to lead us in the paths of justice and righteousness.  Receive, accept, embrace and share the light in whatever way you can.  Reflect the light of Christ into the dark places around you.  Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.  You do not have to build a security system for livestock or develop new tests for cancer, but you can visit a lonely relative, invite a neighbor to church, tutor a troubled teenager or even plant a community garden.  Accepting and sharing the light of Christ is the best hope for our future.  Jesus is our Future Hope.  

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon