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Super Sized Faith Demo

Message Delivered on February 7, 2016

Luke 9:28-36; 37-43a “Super Sized Faith Demo”

We all know its Super-Sunday, the granddaddy of all gargantuan sporting events–super-sized, America’s high holy day of the year–at least, in the sports’ world. Super Sunday is complete with celebrities, glamour, at least 10,000+ calories per serving of nachos, million dollar television commercials, and–of course–football!

The Super Bowl (we are having “Souper” Bowl to benefit the hungry) and all of the hoopla that leads up to it for weeks, is nearly a national holiday.

This year’s extravaganza will feature the stylistic contrast in quarterbacks Payton Manning and Cam Newton, with a side-order of Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay at halftime. Behold, it is also the game’s golden anniversary, hosted by San Francisco’s “Golden” Gate hospitality. Two teams are vying for the coveted Lombardi trophy, but in many ways, it is much more than a game.

Super Bowl coincides with a biblical dazzling spectacle, that of Jesus’ mountaintop transfiguration. The transfiguration demands our attention in a way that surpasses the best football game. This year the NFL may have Manning and Beyonce, but they are no match for the celebrity posse that Jesus summons on the mountain. It is no costume change, no wardrobe malfunction, when Jesus is illumined as if a lightening bolt has struck him. Even Moses and Elijah have cameo appearances.

News flash: The 2015 Super Bowl had 114 million television viewers tune in to see Tom Brady and the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in a down-to-the-wire finish. It was a spectacle packed with food offerings, music and eye-popping pyrotechnics. It is a good thing kick-off is in the afternoon or people would be busy looking at their watches, praying the sermon will not be long. Super Bowl is an over-hyped combination of sports, celebrities and money. Super Bowl week is a seven day circus celebrating excess, tolerating stupidity and drawing all kinds of people into the mix. What is overlooked is the true cost of this event. Football players suffer brain and other injuries. Yet for all of the consequences and glory–football is just a game–even when the players lives are at stake.

Like God’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22, the transfiguration account discloses Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Any doubts are put to rest. Luke reminds us that Jesus conducted his own poll among the disciples (Luke 9:18-20), but he was equally stern in admonishing them to avoid disclosing his identity. He prepared the disciples for their own transformation by reminding them of the true costs associated with being a disciple.

After sharing all of this, Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain. It was a game-changer, an invitation to spend time alone in prayer with Jesus. It was a prayer beyond all expectations as Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white. The brilliance of his appearance was the confirmation of his divine stature. The show continued as Moses and Elijah appeared out of nowhere. There was no celebrity emcee introducing the Old Testament heroes. The disciples seemed to understand that their appearance affirmed the important continuity of Jesus’ mission with the narrative of Israel’s faithful history.

Peter was not like many church leaders. He sprang into action to propose a building project. Habitat for Humanity would love to have people with his enthusiasm. He wanted to capture the glorious moment. God’s voice thundered, “This is my Son, my Chosen.” declared God. “Listen to him!”

Peter is invited to pay attention to what is truly transformative. It is much more than a ground-shaking religious experience. Pay heed to what happens next. The disciples go down the mountain and encounter a man who begs Jesus to heal his epileptic son. It is this healing that discloses God’s glory. All are amazed, astounded, and led to greater belief, not only because of the spectacle on the mountain, but because they have responded to God’s invitation. Listening to Jesus, they begin to let his words sink into their ears.

Like Peter, we may understand the excitement generated by “mountaintop” moments of pure, undiluted spiritual energy. There is more to this than a fireworks or special effects display. God invites the disciples to not just “do something” but to stand there and listen. It is through moments of prayer that faithfulness and courage are revealed. Paul Galbreath notes, “While faith does include defining and transformational moments…Luke connects prayer to the sense of identity and a clearer understanding of God’s call. What is essential to this particular moment is the way prayer reveals a call to a deeper understanding of discipleship.”

For Luke, it all takes place the next day when the disciples are astounded by God’s glory. The journey away from the mountain could actually be as transforming as what they envisioned when atop the mountain. The pace was different on the way home: “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain,” was when ministry began to happen. Prayer on the mountaintop led Jesus to the encounter of a boy who needed healing. This is what it means to “Listen to him.”

It is easy to remember a touchdown at the very last seconds of the game, but what happens the next day may be more significant. It was at that moment, Luke reminds us, that the disciples were astounded by the greatness of God. It is in the work of coming down from the mountaintop and facing the pressing reality of human misery that the greatness of God shines–in Jesus, of course, but also in the faith and action of his disciples. Are you going to score any touchdowns for Jesus?

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Responding to the Call

Message Delivered on January 31, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30 “Responding to the Call”

As you were growing up and even now, when someone asked you to do a job that you did not like or felt unqualified to do, how did you feel? Did you make up excuses to attempt to get “off the hook?”

Imagine the prophet Jeremiah being called by God to warn the people of Judah (Southern Kingdom of the Hebrews) around 600 B.C. that they had better turn from their evil ways or face serious consequences. How does one deliver a doom and gloom message to repent–before it is too late? Jeremiah conveyed the message for forty years! When Jeremiah objected to his calling, God told him that even before he was born, he was chosen (destined) to be a prophet to carry God’s message to the people. How do you refuse to accept God’s assignment? God will equip Jeremiah and put words into his mouth as the spokesperson for God.

About 630 years later, Jesus was standing in the synagogue at Nazareth on a Sabbath, a hometown boy. All the eyes were fixed on him as he read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jesus then closed the scroll and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.

Jesus was formally presenting the assignment he had come to fulfill on earth. The Word of God is not always pleasant to hear. It does not massage the status quo at the expense of the truth. People do not want their turf invaded, not even by a hometown boy. It has been said that “one of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.”

The citizens of Nazareth considered themselves the favored people and they resented Jesus taking God’s Word of grace to others beyond Nazareth, especially to Capernaum because Capernaum was heavily populated by non-Jews. Dr. Bownell, a Presbyterian minister of another generation, said that “Jesus was favorably received by his townsfolk until he challenged the provincial, racial prejudice. Jesus dared to declare that the children of Israel were not special favorites of God.” The heavenly Father had singled out individuals in places like Sidon and Syria for unparalleled blessings and that caused an uproar. The people were angry and set out to do away with Jesus. The people in Nazareth fell into the error of thinking to destroy Jesus would also destroy the Word of truth. They failed to understand that truth is indestructible (Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.)

What the people heard that day was not what they wanted to hear from “their” Messiah. Even today there is often a wide discrepancy between the Jesus of Scripture and the Jesus propagated in American culture. Fast Lane magazine conducted a survey in which people were asked whose lives they would most like to emulate? Lt. Col. Oliver North placed first, President Reagan second, and actor Clint Eastwood (“Make my day!”) was third. Jesus Christ tied for fourth place with Chrysler chairman, Lee Iococca.

Today’s Scripture directs us to deal honestly with ourselves. Dr. Benjamin Spock stood up for his ideas even when they were not popular writing, “I got my most basic beliefs–in the sense of unthinking attitude rather than rational credos–from my stern, moralistic, unyielding mother. She was not all grim, though. She had a great sense of humor, was a hilarious mimic, and was invariably charming to outsiders as she was severe with her children. Her scorn was withering. During World War I my parents decided to conserve wool and I had to wear one of my father’s cast-off suits, almost black, floppy, cuff less and exactly the opposite of what youth were wearing. I said, “Everybody at school will laugh at me.” My mother replied, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself for worrying about what people will think. Don’t you know that it does not matter what people will think as long as you know you are right?” “When I was fifteen and peer pressure enormous, I did not believe her.”

It does not matter what others think as long as you are right may cause rejection. You may find yourself in the midst of controversy but Jesus handled the controversy by walking through it.

As you begin the transition and transformation of who you are as a church, and what you want to become as you search for a new pastor in shared ministry, there may be some disagreements along the way. You need to hold fast to the fact that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In Christ hangs the destiny of us all. He is the way, the way out, the way home, the only way that matters. If you follow the way that Jesus leads you, you will be successful in following God’s plan to find a new minister and to develop your mission plan for the future. If you follow Jesus’ lead, you will grow as a church spiritually and in number. If you reject him, it can lead to nowhere.

“Come to me,” Jesus said. Jesus is not a way of escaping the world but of loving the world. We are to answer his call and follow him even though the world calls us in a hundred different directions. A poem by an unknown author sums it up well:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement.

To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk

nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is

nothing.

They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel,

change, grow, love, live.

Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave, they have forfeited their

freedom.

Only a person who risks is free.

To that end, I say, Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Different but Same

Message Delivered on January 24, 2016

I Corinthians 12:12-31a “Different but Same”

Organ transplants have been saving lives for years and now we can check a box when applying for our driver’s license, so that our organs will be harvested upon death. Saving another’s life comes at great cost, someone has to die in order for another to have life and hope. Doctors and scientists have been working to eliminate the high costs of rejection medicines by regenerating body parts from a patient’s own tissues, thus eliminating the need for a donor and dramatically increasing the body’s ability to assimilate the new part as its own. We used to think that this was Science-Fiction!!

Scientists have been able to generate noses, ears and blood vessels in laboratories by creating a “scaffold,” a mold of sorts, in the proper shape. They place some of the patient’s own cells on the scaffold and put everything in an environment that will give the cells proper nutrition and optimum growth conditions. The cells multiply and form a new nose, for example. The results are promising with a low rejection rate and the parts function like the original part–a true replacement. Doctors are working on techniques for more complicated body parts like kidneys, lungs and livers.

Paul uses the body as an illustration for the church and seeks to find ways each part of the body will function best. In the 1960s, Avery and Marsh wrote a song: “I am the church, you are the church. We are the church together . All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes we’re the church together.” I would combine the refrain with the old finger play: “Here are the doors and here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”

A church is composed of many people with varying parts having various gifts. Some gifts are preaching, teaching, business sense, caring for family, homes and each member of the church.

Rather than ranking the gifts of the Spirit, Paul gives an example by comparing each member of the church to members of a body. A group of believers, according to Paul, is greater than the sum of its parts: a new mathematical equation defying the norm. We are a group of different parts assembled by God to represent Christ to the greater community. On the surface, we might appear to be a loose collection of people united by geography. It reminds me of a movie I saw this weekend, “The Replacements,” which took place during the football strike in the 1980s. A coach put together a “rag tag” team of players who were “has beens” and they went on to win a championship.

We all come to the same church every Sunday because it is close to our homes, or because we like the choir, or the minister does not usually give long sermons, or the food is delicious at Coffee Hour. We selectively get involved in Presbyterian Women, or Youth Group, or teach Sunday school, or work with the children in some way. Maybe you rake leaves, or trim trees, or decorate the church, or help with the annual cleaning of the facilities. You get involved as much or as little as you like.

When the church no longer seems to meet our needs, we disagree with the statements the elders, deacons or pastor has made and stop attending, withdraw financial support, or transfer to another church. Simply put, detach from the body and join another that is perceived to be a good or better fit. Sometimes folks feel that they do not quite fit in and are unwanted or rejected, like a body rejecting a transplant, they feel cut off from the rest of the group.

Church membership is different from a book club or gym membership. We do not just “show up” to have our needs met. Church membership is not like a loyalty card at Fry’s or Safeway. We do not join to receive frequent worship blessings. We are not stockholders whose time of service and financial investment necessarily give us a say in setting the direction of the church’s future.

Paul is demanding a deeper commitment from each of us. Our connection to one another in Christ is much more than to a grocery store or social club. We are eyes, ears, feet and hands, parts of the body of Christ, dependent upon each other. We function best when we realize that despite our differences, we all need to work together toward the same goal.

Paul had no idea what modern scientists would do to regenerate body parts but his idea still works today. Each of our individual gifts is necessary to fulfill the work of the whole body. Some of us are talkers, others thinkers. Some are planners and others are doers. Some of us find energy by reaching out to the poor and needy or ministering to the youth by teaching Sunday school or helping with Youth Group. Some are excited about the music that draws people here on Sunday morning or are inspired by the preached Word of God and how it can apply to their own lives. Some get excited by calling and visiting shut-ins or those outside of our walls to extend Christ’s love. God has assembled us into the body just the way God wants, to enable us to work together to serve Christ in all that we do.

Our Christian DNA makes us one (Different but Same). We have different gifts that come from the same Holy Spirit uniting us into one body. Our cells come together as the church and we are more than our individual selves. We are collectively part of a glorious organism that serves as Christ’s representative to the world. We may be shaped differently, but we are made up of the same stuff, created in the image of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and strengthened and renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Each of us needs to accept our role, celebrate others whose roles are different from ours, and work for the common good of our calling in the Holy Spirit of God. Rejoice in our differences and remember the gift of the Holy Spirit living in us. Let us vow to work together to share the love of Jesus with our community and beyond.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Message Delivered on January 17, 2016

Message Delivered on January 17, 2016

I Corinthians 12:1-11

Last Sunday I spoke about the promises God has graced us with in the Sacrament of Baptism and upon ordination and installations of officers, we renewed our baptismal promises. God has blessed each of us, called us beloved, and commissioned us to be servants of love; to offer blessings to others. The gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism change us, mark us as Christians and compel us to share with the world, to be a blessing to others.

You have or will receive a letter in the mail that I sent to announce my retirement. It was a decision I made at a retirement seminar last March and voiced to the presbytery in October, but I wanted to be with you in the Advent season, to spend one more last Christmas with you. It is my hope to prepare you for the transition that will take place as you search for a new pastor.

Sometimes the lectionary seems to wander astray but this week’s passages are timely. The apostle Paul has gifted us with the Scripture in I Corinthians 12:1-11. It is an appeal to the church in Corinth to be united and single-minded in their purpose. He discusses the particulars of how this should be accomplished, and the unity to be achieved, despite the diversity of gifts from the Holy Spirit and human opinion. All of us have work to do.

Some of our work involves pumping our own gas, booking our travel arrangements, even assembling furniture. My dad used to say that I got my apprentice carpenter’s card from assembling Sauder furniture kits while in college. In years gone by, we pulled up to the filling station and an attendant rushed out to fill our gas tanks, wash our windows and take our payment for the fuel. Remember that? The first time I ever pumped my own gas my friend, Gwen, whom you have met and cared for me during my knee replacement recovery, told me that I could do it–“It’s easy,” she said. She put on her cotton work gloves that she kept in a baggie in her purse, took off my gas cap and began to pump the gas into my car, telling me, “Okay, you take over.” Today only New Jersey and Oregon continue to have attendants pump the gas of customers. I discovered that when I visited my cousin in Oregon last summer.

In years gone by, a number of tasks were done by people we paid but now we do them to save money. That is “Shadow work.” Shadow work is the unpaid jobs that fill up our days. Those jobs take lots of our time. The DIY

(Do It Yourself) approach might be empowering but it can exhaust us. We turn to the computer and technology to assist us. I say that technology is great when and if it works! But technology forces us to interact more with computers and cell phones than with other humans and at unreasonable hours. How do we spend our time? Do we differentiate what is most urgent and what is most important? Answering e-mail, texts, twitter and face book is not as important as attending our children’s/grandchildren’s soccer, basketball, baseball or football games. We need to prioritize family and friends.

I explained last week that in our baptism we become family united and empowered to do God’s work by the Holy Spirit. My favorite ordination/installation question is “Will you seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination and love?” Almost all of you have answered that question upon ordination as deacons and elders. Once an elder and deacon, always an elder and deacon.

Paul encourages us to focus on “Spirit work” that we can accomplish as members of the body of Christ. Paul does not want us to be led astray by the worldly enticements of today, rather to be concerned with what is important; to utilize the gifts of the Spirit that equip us for service and activities that God inspires us to engage in for the building up of the Christian community, the church.

The work we have comes to us from a divine source: to work for the common good, to move from shadow work (things we do for ourselves) to Spirit work (work done for others). How does that work look? We are given wisdom and knowledge expressly for that work. New Testament scholar, C.K. Barrett, says that the “Utterance of wisdom might deal with ethical matters while the utterance of knowledge includes theological matters.” Ethics talks about what we should do and theology talks about what we should believe. Doing and believing are important work that serves the common good. (Spirit Work!) Thom Schultz, founder of Group Publishing, says that the biggest complaint people who no longer want to go to church anymore is that church people are hypocrites. No one wants to go to a church where people say one thing and then do another.

· We cannot just say we love our neighbors, we have to perform acts of love.

· We cannot simply believe in forgiveness; we must forgive those who hurt us.

· We cannot just talk about justice; we have to do justice.

If we are going to attract people to church, we need to act in ethical ways, concrete actions that give people an experience of the love of God. People come to church to be reassured that God is real, present today and active in the lives of members of the Christian community.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are tools in the believers’ toolbox. The skills range from healing to the interpretation of spiritual languages. All the gifts are activated by the one and same Spirit. Sometimes a gift of healing is simply listening to a friend in crisis on the telephone, offering words of encouragement, and keeping a friend afloat with a little financial boost. That hand-up might even be seen as the working of a miracle by a troubled friend and build up their sense of Christian community.

We need to clear away the shadow work that clutters our lives so that the gifts of the Spirit can be put to use. We need to look at each other in the eye and engage in real conversation that shows the love of God and how we can be the church in this community. You will need to discern what goals you have as a church in the next one to three years, five years and ten years. That will be important as you seek a new pastor to walk with you in shared ministry.

The good news about Spirit work is that it energizes all of you and connects you to one another. Instead of feeling exhausted and isolated (I have done all the jobs at church before and I am tired–it is somebody else’s turn), you can being to experience inspiration, community and unity.

Energy. Connection. Inspiration. Community. Unity. These are the benefits of replacing shadow work with Spirit work. Claim the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to you and put them into action with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. You will continue to be blessed and to grace others with the blessings that God has so richly bestowed upon you.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Baptized With Grace

Message Delivered on January 10, 2016

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

In today’s gospel lesson in Luke, John the Baptist worried that the Messiah to come would sweep into the wilderness like a refiner’s fire consuming human sin as if it were twigs in a tinder box. To John’s surprise, the God he expected was not the God who arrived. The “Mighty Messiah” turned out to be the gentle Jesus. Rather than a military man lording it over his subjects, we meet a modest man, who waded into muddy water, choosing to be a companion with those he had come to serve. The two conflicting images of the Holy Spirit included in Luke underline the difference between John’s expectations and the reality of Jesus. For John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit was like a ferocious fire, representing the judgment of God. But when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the Jordan River, it was like a dove–like the Noah’s Ark dove that marked the end of God’s judgment. The fire, ire of God, is replaced by the dove, the love God.

Have you ever wondered why the sinless Jesus was baptized? According to John, baptism was for repentance and forgiveness of sins. Of what did Jesus need to repent and what did he need to be forgiven for? The remarkable thing is that Jesus submitted to the waters of baptism for the same reason he was born in a manger, that he ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, that he cried and prayed and slept in the Garden of Gethsemane, that he died a painful very human death. Jesus came to be like us, so that we could grow to be like him. Jesus was baptized into our humanity, so that we can be baptized into his divinity.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, those who are baptized in the same font are considered flesh and blood, siblings. Jesus became a sibling with the crowd and with those who he was baptized in the Jordan River. When we are baptized into Christ in the waters of this font, we too become siblings with Christ and with one another. We receive the name Christian, bearer of Christ; and brother and sister of Christ.

After the remarkable transformation from the thunder theology to tender theology, after the metamorphosis of an abstract God into a fragile, flesh and blood God–after the heavenly decided to become earthly–to become concrete in bushes that burn and babies that burp, the Creator God responded in a particular way. God was greatly pleased, in fact, delighted! “You are my Son, the Beloved one; with you I am well pleased!” God speaks to the Son who has become a servant, affirming that he is precious, unique and loved–not for what he does but for who he is.

Each of us as we are baptized are blessed as the beloved. The Greek word for baptism means to dip, to immerse, to submerge, and to saturate. Baptism is the bath of the beloved, when God saturates us with grace and blessing (think of it as bubbles and lather). Jesus’ baptism encourages us to become servant of love, to offer blessing, not judgment to others.

This morning we celebrate the ordination into full-time ministry for all of us. Through baptism we are set apart by God’s love to become love in the world. Every time we baptize a child of God: infant, adolescent, teen or adult, we are reminded of God’s voice in our lives.

Remember your baptism, that you are blessed, belong and are beloved. Remember that it is a gracious God who takes delight and pleasure in who you are and who you are becoming. This profound gift changes and defines us. This gift is what we have to share with the world: to be a blessing to others. How fitting that we are renewing our baptism and ordaining and installing officers into the ministry of this church today!

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Light Has Come

Message Delivered on January 3, 2016

John 1:1-18  

The traditional lectionary for this Sunday has a reading from Matthew 2:1-12 and later in the week, John 1:1-18.  Matthew’s gospel tells the story of the magi traveling to see the infant king, Jesus, whom King Herod is greatly disturbed about when he hears the news.  Competition of another king—even a baby, angered him so much that he plotted to kill the baby.

John’s gospel, on the other hand, speaks of the Christ, who came to bring light, encouragement, and hope to an oppressed people.  In fact, January 5th marks the twelfth day of Christmas.  January 6th is remembered as Epiphany, the festival of the Light, who(Light =Jesus) came into a darkened world.  Early Christians celebrated the day by bringing candles into the darkened church or place of worship and gradually lit the flames so that the light was brilliant, a symbol of God’s light to the world in Jesus.  The New Year was begun with hope, focused on Jesus as the Savior of the world, who would set people free from sin and draw them into a closer relationship with God.  “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). What an outlook for the New Year!

John’s gospel focuses on who Jesus is and what he has come to do.  Put Jesus in the desert surrounded by people who are chronically unsatisfied, and Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Put Jesus in the midst of people who are confused, asking, “Who are you Jesus?  What makes you different from all the other rabbis, gurus and other religious leaders?”  Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep.  Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (10:7,9).

At the graveside, in the presence of grief-stricken people, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (11:25).

When people feel disconnected by life’s difficulties, Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).

Jesus repeatedly defines himself in John’s gospel, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (8:12).  John describes the person and work of Jesus in terms of light, a refreshing outlook for people who had been oppressed by enemy powers for centuries.  Not long ago—on Christmas—we heard Isaiah speak, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” –a ray of hope.

Every Christmas we light our houses, and trees—we put stars or angels on the Christmas tree to remind us that Jesus came to bring good news—light and hope into the world—a light that will never go out.  We sing in Sunday school, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  The preschool kids enthusiastically sing, “Don’t let anyone blow it out.”  Last Wednesday, one of the children asked why we sing about light and I told him that it reminds us of God’s love for us forever and that God wants us to share love with others, the light given to us by Jesus.  He was happy with that answer and said he did not want the light to go out.

Jesus as light into the world is as if creation were beginning all over again.  The Creator of heaven and earth has come to visit creation.  ”All things came into being through him.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (1:3).  Jesus of Nazareth was breaking into the world in a new way.  We sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and the phrase, “Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in his wings.”

Light and life are given at Christmas.  My mother was a church secretary.  All kinds of people passed through her office in a week.  Think about a stranger invited to fill an empty chair at the holiday dinner table.  My family always set a place for the uninvited guest (which Mom usually had met in her office).  God would send someone to our table—always did.  A co-worker of mine would set the Christmas table with straw around a placemat to symbolize the manger—and the guest who would come into the world to bring light and life.  The guest always brought joy to our dinner table.  The guest maybe had experienced hard times:  loss of job, death of a spouse, failing health—but light of the candles on the dinner table, in full view of the lit Christmas tree, with its shining star provided hope, a light to shine in the darkness.

My kids used to capture fireflies in their hands and put them into a mason jar.  I overheard giggles in the bedroom and cracked the door open to witness a child shaking the jar and ordering the fireflies, “Light on!”  What crazy parent would give preschoolers a glass mason jar?  The fireflies did their job—they lit up the darkened room and brought happiness to its occupants.

Adults know darkness as crisis in the world.  John boldly proclaims that Jesus as light brings grace and truth.  He reveals the truth of who we are and who we are not.  He shines forth the grace of a God who gives life and rebirth.  The light is more than a firefly or candle in the night.  The light of the world is Jesus, our Savior.

On a dark night, in a difficult situation, we need never fear because Jesus’ light shines eternally.  He says, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (8:12).  The light is shining and darkness will never overcome it.  Along with the children, I say, “Light on!”

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Message Delivered on December 27

Message Delivered on December 27, 2015

Colossians 3:12-17

If we were to jump into a time machine and dial back to 1955, we probably would not be flying to Grandma’s for Christmas or New Year’s.  Your bank account would have had to be substantial.  To fly from Phoenix to Chicago was $138 round trip; in today’s dollars, that would be $1868.  You would have been served a lobster dinner on real china, plus glassware, and all your drinks would have been included (even alcoholic beverages).  You could stretch out in your seat with 3-6″ of leg room and relax.

You would have been properly attired for the trip:  suits for men and dresses for women.  Well…fast forward sixty years and things have radically changed.  You have to get through security at the airport, do the TSA striptease and produce identification, something our air-traveling ancestors never had to do.  You fight for space in the overhead compartment for your carry on and wedge yourself into a seat with less leg room than prisoners get in solitary confinement.  You eat your five or six mini pretzels and wash them down with a thimbleful of soda/water.

Settled into your seat, you notice that passengers are dressed like they are headed to a punk rock concert.  85% of passengers are wearing flip-flops.  You can get thrown off a plane for inappropriate attire like too much cleavage or four letter expletives on t-shirts.  Air travel was not an option in Paul’s day, but he was still concerned about a dress code for those who would be traveling with the good news of Jesus Christ.  If it is true that you are what you wear, those who “put on ” Christ, put on clothes that never go out of style and are worn with others in mind.

Paul reminds the Colossians that if they are in Christ, then as part of the church, you are a new person with a new wardrobe.  “There is no longer Greek and Jew, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.  All who love Christ are “God’s chosen ones” who are “holy and beloved.”  Our dress, demeanor, posture and attitudes are to reflect the one who chose us in Christ, which means we have to “put to death” the “earthly” and self-serving desires that are so common in this world.  We strip off the old self with its practices and clothe ourselves with the new self.  It is not about calling attention to ourselves, but rather seeing our whole lives as pointing to the one in whose image we are made. 

Paul’s list of clothing items are: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  Wearing this kind of character clothing demonstrates to the world that we are not pushing our own personal agendas, but that our agenda is always about reflecting Christ.

Compassion is sympathy for the situations of others.  A person struggling to find a seat on a plane or is giving you a hard time at work, is likely dealing with things you have no idea about.  Most of the time bad behavior is the result of something going on in our lives that has us stuck.  Compassion would look for the opportunity to care for people where they are and to love them in spite of the situation.

Kindness is the active consideration for others and their needs.  Think of it as compassion taking action.  Look for people where they are.  Represent Jesus whose kindness drew people to him.

Humility helps us to see others as more important than ourselves… a theme woven into Paul’s letters:

  • with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love (Ephesians 4:2);
  • do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than  yourselves (Philippians 2:3);
  • do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think (Romans 12:3).

Augustine said that “pride changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes humans as angels.”  The garment of humility is infrequently worn these days.  The irony is that the garment of humility goes with anything…

Meekness involves courtesy and consideration for others, waiving rights to personal gain in order to lift up another.  Rick Warren of Saddleback Church says that “meekness is strength under control.”

Patience is the ability to become frustrated and angry when others intrude on us, but offer forgiveness for their shortcomings.  Paul says that we have tested the patience of God with our sin so “just as the Lord has forgiven you, you must also forgive” (v.13).

Love is the one piece of clothing that goes over all the others like an overcoat of love binding everything together in perfect harmony.  I Corinthians 13 says that “love is patient, kind, not self-seeking, keeps no record of wrongs and always rejoices with the truth.”  Love is the goal of the disciples’ dress code, fashionable everywhere and always welcome when boarding a plane or anywhere else that people gather.  Building  a wardrobe of love is a key task of the church.

How can we maintain a Christian wardrobe in a world where people tend to dress their lives in ways that are hostile or tempting or offensive?  Paul would say that we slowly take our character clothing to the cleaners, the church.  Worship and community are crucial; practicing love within the fellowship so that when members are apart, they are still uniformly dressed to take the gospel to the world.

A style that is always fresh is peace.  “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in the one body, and be thankful.”  We gather as  people of God to check our wardrobe and insure that it communicates peace.  What cleaning agents can we use?  Teaching and admonition.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.”  We gather to hear the word of Christ, to teach one another, so that we can be equipped with the wisdom to wear and communicate Christ-like character to those we meet.

What accessories should we wear?  Praise and gratitude.  We may or may not put on our Sunday best to come and worship, but the character we wear on Monday as a result of that worship is even more noticeable to the people we will meet on airplanes, in workplaces, in schools and in our neighborhoods.


“Whatever you do in word, or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  If you are going to wear any sort of message on your shirt, or your heart, it is gratitude.  You might not put on a suit to get on a plane to go home for the holidays, but we must always put on Christ, reflecting his influence in every word, deed and act of love.  That dress code will never go out of style. 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Christmas Eve 2015

Message Delivered Christmas Eve 7pm

Isaiah 52:7-10

People throughout history have made all kinds of announcements: A wedding, birth of a first child, mile-marker birthday like 40, 50, 70, 100, or even a retirement party.  Whatever your big news might be, how do you pick the most effective way of getting out the word?  You can go the traditional route of sending engraved announcements or invitations by “snail mail,” which shows you took a meticulous effort OR you could send out an “E-vite,” or a “Save-the-date” notice through Survey Monkey.com.  You could post the announcement on social media like facebook or twitter.  Whatever it is that you want to announce, choosing the right strategy to get the maximum impact is critical.

So…if you are God, and you have a huge announcement to make, how do you do it?  On Christmas Eve, God made the most important announcement the world has ever heard.  We have gathered here this evening to hear it once again, spoken through the words of prophets and the song of angels.  We have come to hear the announcement about the birth of a baby in a manger–not just any baby.

John writes that Jesus is “the Word” of God who became flesh and dwelt among us.  God was posting this announcement long before it actually happened.  Research shows that it takes at least six iterations of a message before people actually hear it and respond.  God has done due diligence.  God started announcing the birth of “God’s Son through Isaiah 600 years before it happened, using various media, but the message was consistent throughout, the key to maximizing the impact and spread of an announcement.

It is good to have a spokesperson who keeps the message consistent and focused.  It is clear that God goes right to the best:  prophets, angels and even shepherds. Their message is consistent and commissioned by God alone.  God chose Isaiah to send a message of peace, salvation and redemption through the lens of Jesus, God’s perfect messenger.  Jesus is the one completely accurate, worthy and consistent to take Israel’s message of hope and mission of suffering on himself, carrying it all the way to the cross.

The good news about the baby in the manger is that He is God in person, the one bringing the message, who will make it a reality.  Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  Jesus is and was a Key Message.

Isaiah offers three Key messages to the Israelites in exile:  peace, good news and salvation.

  • “Peace” was essential to a people who had been torn apart by war and captivity.
  • “Good News” was like healing balm for people who had endured nothing but bad news for so long.
  • “Salvation” meant that God would again reign over God’s people, who had been ruled by many tyrants.

Jesus’ birth announcement that the angels gave in dazzling light and song to the shepherds on that first Christmas Eve was:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14).

“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

“To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). 

The message about Jesus was pivotal to that message that he himself embodied and proclaimed:  Jesus taught his disciples to offer peace to those they met (Luke 10:5) and his first message after his resurrection was, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).  Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom of God, that God’s salvation, reign and rule was coming upon the earth.  Jesus embodied the work of salvation through his healing ministry, by casting out demons and by loving and interacting with those who lived on societies’ margins.  The Messenger was the Message.  As Christians we have work to do:

–Live and proclaim the peace of Christ wherever we go;

–Share the Good News of the Kingdom with whomever will listen;

–Live as though God’s reign and rule has already been fully realized on the earth.

When we do these things, we begin to embody both the message and the messenger.

The baby who arrived helpless in a manger will grow to be the one who turns the bad news of our sin into the good news of his saving grace on our behalf.

We know the end of the story–a Savior triumphs over sin and death.  The Big Announcement was made to a bunch of shepherds in a field in a little known village, that a baby was born in a barn.  God has spoken to us through his Son.  There is no bigger announcement than that! 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

The Force Awakens

Message Delivered on December 13, 2015

Luke 3:3-18    “The Force Awakens”

When Star Wars first appeared in movie theaters in 1977, people flocked to the theater.  “A long time ago in a galaxy far away…”  These words pop up at the beginning of every Star Wars movie, signifying that we are about to see and hear a story that transcends time and space.

In 1999, there were three additional movies following The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi; and now, after a long wait, The Force Awakens is soon to be released (December 18) for your Christmas season viewing pleasure.

Your favorite characters and some newbies will help you to experience “The Force.”  This power was defined by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as “An energy field created by all living things that surrounds us and penetrates us; binding the galaxy together.”  The “Force” has been a light and dark side and can be used for good or evil.

An even stronger force appears when John the Baptist preaches to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him in the River Jordan.  He shouted to some of them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  He described the people as being poisonous snakes, quickly slithering away to escape the danger of a purifying fire.  I wonder what his popularity rating might have been?  The only way the listeners can escape condemnation is to change their behavior and “to bear fruits worthy of repentance.”  John wants them to use the force for good!

The message about the Force reminds us that the greatest evil is the evil that comes from within, not the evil that attacks us from the outside.  Any of us can give in to fear, anger and hatred if we are not vigilant.  These are powerful emotions that can blur our senses and cause us to lose sight of what goodness is.  The crowds gathered by the River Jordan found their security in having Abraham as their ancestor, but John tells them that they can raise up children to Abraham out of the abundant stones of the desert floor.  Goodness does not come from being a branch on Abraham’s family tree, rather goodness comes from doing good.

John challenges the people to be trees that bear good fruit.  He does not want them to share the fate of Darth Vader, who fell from grace when he forgot that goodness is expressed through our love for others.  Vader started out being a generous, loyal, compassionate boy who used his power to do great good as he grew up.  He protected the innocent and opposed the wicked until he lost his way.  Over time, he became obsessed with his own passions and fears that in time, took over what made him truly human.  He lost his empathy and concern for others.  He allowed his ambitions to justify terrible actions against others and became the evil Vader instead of just Anakin.

The crowds around John wanted to avoid corrupt fate and they asked, “What shall we do?”  John encourages them to share clothing, food and necessities with others.  Tax collectors should refrain from cheating people.  Keep empathy alive, behave in ways that are fair and just–all year round, not just in the Christmas season!

When God’s force awakens in us, we are challenged to engage in concrete actions of justice, care and compassion.  We need a powerful and godly leader to keep us on the right track and to save us when we stray–the leader is “the Messiah.”

John says that he baptized with water but one who is more powerful is coming to baptize with Holy Spirit and fire.  Jesus’ baptism will include the purifying and inspiring power of God’s Holy Spirit.  We need the Holy Spirit if we are going to follow Jesus as his disciples in the world.  We need greater power than mere human effort.  Instead of killing Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker shows sacrificial love to save his father and defeat evil.  Just like Jesus on the cross, who died for us to overcome sin and evil.  God’s force equips and challenges us to bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Each of us is offered the opportunity to open ourselves to God’s force and to receive the help of the Messiah.  We can walk in the light offering food and clothing to the needy and behave ethically in the business world.  We can turn to Jesus when we need positive encouragement.

Amen

Categories: Weekly Sermon

Crisis Management

Message Delivered on November 29, 2015

Luke 21: 25-36             “Crisis Management”

As we begin the Advent season, I am drawn to the account of Jesus’ coming into the world and the Christmas story as presented in Scripture.

Luke’s gospel is the fleshiest of all the narratives of Jesus.  There is more touch, taste, and tenderness in Luke than any of the other books in the New Testament.  It has more healing stories, eating stories, children stories, birth narratives and women’s stories than any of the other three gospels.  This year during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, we come face to face with our own human story.  We become part of the incarnation–God becoming flesh in the daily routine of our own living.  The message of incarnation comes here now–into every corner and crisis of our living–and wears the skin of our own humanity.

Think back to the early 1990s, to Sarajevo, the gutted and bombed out epicenter of the Balkan War, when ethnic violence had destroyed beauty and buildings and any sense of human community.  One day a man put on a tuxedo, picked up his cello and a chair, and went and sat at the central intersection of town–in the cross-fire of hatred and brokenness and devastation–and there he played his cello for hours, defying all reason, embracing all hope, proclaiming through his melancholy melody that darkness and death never have the final word.  It is too bad that cellist is not playing in Paris and in every corner of the world where terrorists are lurking this season.

The season of Advent brings four weeks of somber, sober, waiting and brutally honest acknowledgment that the world is dark, parts of our lives are dark, and the shadows we have created obscure God’s light.  Just when we are eager to hear a bit of good news, the Scripture forces us to hear even more bad news.  When we are craving the comfort of a cradle in Bethlehem, our gospel text captures the gloomy predictions of an adult Jesus on his way to the cross.  Why is the church tradition so out of sync with the world? Why do we confront ourselves with honest reality, when a bit of cuddly, soft fantasy is what we are longing for?  The world is out of sync with the church and  the world is out of sync with God.

Today’s gospel reading is about Jesus’ second coming, not the first when Jesus embraced us with an infant’s charm.  The second coming is when the cosmic Christ assaults us with cataclysmic change.  We read about strange signs in the sun and moon, and stars falling from the sky (there was a star shower from heaven last week, right on time for Advent to enter our world).  There is a time coming when God will wrestle with the forces of evil and people will faint from fear.

The early listeners of Luke’s gospel existed when Jerusalem had been destroyed, the cruel Roman rule was suffocating the fledgling Christian community, and when staying faithful to God demanded courage amidst the apparent absence of God.  The dire predictions did not come true immediately, which does not mean that they will never come true.  The focus of Advent is that God has a plan and no matter how world shaking our crisis appears, God promises to hold onto us–both with affection and with accountability.

Where are the places where the sun is darkened in the lives of people we care about–the places where literally, all hell is breaking loose and cultural stars are falling hopelessly to the earth?  We have all seen the headlines and heard the news about what is happening in the world.  People are standing in lines at food banks and soup kitchens, millions are dying of AIDS and other diseases, and many are targeted by perpetrators who appear to have little respect for life as they pillage, rape, murder and deprive people of their future.

The litany continues as people within our community are experiencing broken marriages, scattered families, financial debts fed by the consumer seduction of our materialistic society, and bodies crippled by the relentless ravaging of cancer and disease.  We are being called to recognize a world in crisis and to acknowledge that we are not in control of the rhythms of life that can either make us hate God or cling to God as the source of comfort and strength.

Reading the words of Luke 21, we need to recognize a simple outline of a Christian Crisis Management Course:

       Step 1:  Look.  See.  Watch.  Jesus says, “Heads up!”  Look behind the curtain of Christmas nostalgia and see pain, brokenness, despair of the homeless and hungry, the lonely and depressed, as well as the falling stars of our lives–dreams that are deferred, and broken relationships as values are ignored, distancing us from God’s grace.  Step 1 of Crisis Management is HONESTY.

 Step 2:  Stay alert.  “Stay awake.  Stay vigilant.  Plan little.  Expect anything.  Accept everything.  The uniqueness of our Christian God is that God is everywhere: in birth, grief, human striving, loving, suffering, even dying.  God is in the darkness and God is in the light.  God is in the crisis and God is in the mystery. God is in the past and present.  God is definitely, irrevocably in the future.  Step 2 of Crisis Management is HOPE.

Step 3:  Give up control and then take control.  The best way to manage a crisis is to let God be God–intuitively trusting that everything depends on God–a God who tosses life and death into our lap.  God claims each of our souls.  We must keep on working, dreaming, hoping, loving and living as if everything depends on us.  This is the paradox and the power and the promise of Advent.  We are to watch as if everything depends on God.  And then, as we live between the beginning and the end of God’s saving grace, we are to work as if everything depends on us.  Step 3 of Crisis Management is FAITH in a God who works with and for us.

May it be so, for you and for me, in these uncertain times.  It has been said that the only things that change are the date and the place.  Life’s uncertainties repeat themselves in uncertain times.  With honesty, hope and faith in God, our future is secure and God’s will, will prevail. 

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon