February 24, 2019
As I was preparing for today’s sermon, I was introduced to a short story by Flannery O’Connor. For those of you that do not know who Flannery O’Connor is, she grew up in Savanah, Georgia and was shaped by the thoughts of the south in the early twentieth century.
The short story that I encountered is called Revelation, and it details the visit of Ruby Turpin and her husband Claud to the local doctor’s office. The conversation that ensues among those waiting to see the doctor are ones that you may expect to hear in the south in the middle of the twentieth century. There is also much self-talk as Ruby looks around the room and nearly rejoices that she is better than almost everyone else that is waiting. For this she is thankful, and she could not decide if she had to choose, whether she would be better off being born as white trash or from African descent. I will admit, reading this story in 2019 made me a little squeamish, yet I also remembered when it was written. The scene in the doctor’s office concludes with Ruby being attacked and called a “wart hog from hell.”
As I read this short story, I was feeling almost as confused as reading our gospel lesson from Luke. Jesus challenges his listeners by telling them the very thing that they least likely want to do. I am sure that we could agree with this. You want us to love our enemy? Offer to let someone to strike the other cheek after they have assaulted us? Give to everyone who begs? These commands seem nearly impossible.
However, the grace and love of God tips the world upside down as we are challenged to do the very things that do not appear to come naturally.
In spite of this, we are still challenged. The news as of late has been rampant with things that we should not approve of, however, we are still supposed to love those people. Those that appear racist and benefit from their own perceived superiority? How about those that sexually assault others; are they supposed to get a free ride? We can review history and point out all the ill-fit leaders that killed millions and ruled with iron fists, and yet are these are still the people that Jesus wants us to love?
It is easy for certain pastors to fill stadiums to preach sermons that are easy to listen to and sound more like self-help lectures. If Jesus were to preach like this, the course of Christianity as we know it would have been drastically changed. Jesus does not sugar coat it though. He addresses what we need, not what we want to hear. The trouble arises, when we think we are all good. Like Ruby, praise be to God that we are who we are, and we are not that person over there.
Jesus’ words should wake us up. “These words cut across the grain of the natural response to perceived enemies of those who may curse what we value. ‘Do to others as they do to us’ may not be golden, but in reality it is the rule by which life should be lived.” Jesus has set the bar too high! How can we expect to reach the commands that he has preached?
Jesus calls us to love! What if we did not look at this sermon from Jesus as commands, but rather as a promise? A promise of what is being done in this world. A promise of the kingdom of God coming and residing in our very world. A promise that we do not have to hold grudges or keep score of who did what to wrong us.
When we cannot live up to the expectations of a command, we quite often find ourselves living in fear of not being able to follow the command. Fear of what may happen to us. However, with a promise, we encounter grace and love that is unbounding. It is that same grace and love that Jesus wants us to share with others. We are to forgive. David Lose shared in his commentary this week, “each time we forgive each other, are we not interrupting the cause and effect laws of this world. I mean love deserves love, hate deserves hate, deeds both good and bad should be repaid in kind, force must be returned with force, violence begets violence, and so on and so on. And yet when you forgive, you interrupt this endless cycle and create something new.” Within that forgiveness lies the love of Christ.
The love that Jesus speaks of here does not mean a romantic love, liking, or even friendship. This love, agape, is a whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other. In this love we do not hesitate. We do not worry about what it is going to cost us, and we do not worry about being paid in return. In agape love, our desire is purely in the well-being of the other. While we may dislike our enemies, because after all they are our enemies, Jesus challenges us to still desire their well being and in that, maybe a true relationship will be planted.
Ruby frets over the pronouncement by a random stranger, a perceived enemy, that she is a “warthog from hell.” A church going woman, how can someone call her such a thing. She then has a vision. A vision of a parade marching to heaven with those that she assumed were lower in importance than her getting into heaven first! She was in line as well, but at the end. How could those she looked down upon get into heaven first? It is here that Ruby found what it truly meant to love and experience the grace of God. For that, all she could hear were the shouts of Hallelujah.
pray. God of grace, you call us to love our enemies and at this we often grit
our teeth. May we immerse ourselves in your Son, Jesus Christ, to truly learn what
this means and be changed through your endless grace. Amen.
 Charles Bugg. Feasting on the Word, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C Volume 1. (pg 382).
February 17, 2019
“Some years ago, on the day before All Saints’ Day, the country’s best distance runners met in Central Park. These included two old friends, Ryan Hall and Ryan Shay. Ordinarily they would be racing in the New York City Marathon, which was to be held the next day, but like other elite runners, they were competing in the marathon trials for the U.S. Olympic team.
The two men started side by side, and three miles into the race, both were near the lead. But this day belonged to Ryan Hall. Over the last few miles, he ran all alone in front, pumping his fists with joy. As he reached the finish, he raised his arms in triumph, knowing that his victory meant a berth in the Olympics.
It wasn’t until the press conference that Hall learned that his friend and mentor had collapsed at the five-mile mark. Shay had died of a heart attack at the age of 28.
Friends remembered a remarkable man who had grown up near the ironworks of northern Michigan and had retained that iron hardness. Teammates recalled how Shay had chided and pushed them to excel. The heart that had pushed them, and has in particular pushed Hall to greatness, had not been built to last. Long ago, Shay had been diagnosed with an enlarged heart. As his father noted, “The thing that made him such a great runner may have killed him.”
Blessings and woes lie close to each other. In ancient times, good fortune was often taken as a sign of divine favor. But in this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus stands that on its head. We might just as well assume that the poor, hungry and grieving are God’s beloved.”
Jesus speaks truth to injustice and reveals to us what the kingdom of God will look like when we move beyond trying to one up the other.
To move to that point where humanity is living in equality is a sign of the kingdom of God. In the meantime, we are far from that! There are massive differences between the rich and poor which just seems to be growing greater. There is a renewed sense of racial hatred. I have witnessed this in Richmond as people have made disparaging remarks about our Latino neighbors. When beliefs do not line up, it seems to be an on-switch to become verbally abusive. To find Jesus amongst these practices and beliefs is nearly impossible.
These are the same issues that Jesus is addressing in his day. He knows that people have lost their way and are taking advantage of one another. It is through his sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel that he begins to truly irk the authorities. What he has to share, they do not want to hear. The truth can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Jesus’ words are harsh when they fall on ears that are not open to the gospel message of love and grace. These words are meant to challenge us. They are meant to raise us up to a greater awareness. These words are meant to be counter-cultural.
So, what do we do when we are of this world? A world that has become more secular and the good news does not seem so good to many. How do we live as Christians in a world where Jesus’ message puts us on the outside? Outside of the wealth. Outside of the perceived power. Outside of endless blessings.
The first step has already been taken by Jesus. He was born incarnate in this world to bring the message of God’s love and grace to a world that has lost its way. Jesus comes to jar us out of our complacency. Jesus comes to remind us whose we are, and as God’s beloved children, we are already blessed beyond belief. That does not mean our blessings do not come without woes. We are still living on this side of the full in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
Ryan Shay started that race feeling blessed for the God given talent that he had, however the woe that came to him, his friends, and his family through his untimely death was incomprehensible. However, God was there to pick up the pieces and remind them of the saving love of Jesus Christ. We too will have woes. We never know what they will be.
Do we bring some of them on ourselves? You bet!
Are some out of our control? Yes!
But Jesus comes to us. He comes to a level place as the gospel tells us. He draws us even and reminds us that we too are loved. We are not called to stand on mountains and have power over others. We are not to stay in the valleys and wallow in self-pity. We are called to be in that level place with Jesus where the kingdom of God is breaking in. Where love and grace rule the day. Not wealth or poverty, feast or famine, health or sickness, have or have-not. We are called to live into that place where all are equal, and the kingdom of God shines bright.
Let us pray.
Lord, you challenge us. Your words and promise bring us to points that are uncomfortable
and different from many other noises in society. We pray for your guidance as
we try to be part of your movement to bring the kingdom of God closer to
 Lawrence Wood, Blessings alongside Woes, Sundays Coming, The Christian Century
February 10, 2019
God comes to each and everyone of us in different manners. Jesus shows up when we are least expecting him and calls us to a life of letting go. You may have a story to share of that very moment, or you may still be waiting for such a moment. Sister Grace, in early twenties and contemplating making final vows in her spiritual community, wondered how the women ahead of her in the formation process could be sure they were ready to make this commitment. One Saturday morning, she was discussing this with a friend who was planning to make final vows in a few months. Her friend said to her, “Have you tried asking God about this?” Grace replied, “I hadn’t thought about that,” and actually went to her room to pray. When she prayed, asking if God wanted her to make final vows, she experienced her bedroom suddenly filled with light, more than the sun streaming through the windows could account for. And she felt deeply loved by God. However, this surprisingly immediate response to her prayer and the intensity of God’s love and presence frightened her and she fled her room.
Her friend noticed her pacing one of the corridors and commented, “I thought you said you were going to pray.” Grace responded, “I did, and God is in my room right now!” Her friend asked her the next logical question, “Then what are you doing out here? Don’t you think you should go back?” Grace replied, “I’ve got enough of an answer for now!”
Jesus has been traveling around the country side healing and teaching. Luke shares some of these stories before the calling of the first disciples. He had to establish himself and build some credibility. The call to Simon comes as Jesus borrows his boat to speak to the people gathered along the lake shore. It is morning and all the fishermen were coming in after a night of work and I am sure that Simon and his group are not only tired, but also quite frustrated and angry. They did not catch a single thing while out that night. Now Jesus wants to commandeer his boat. He says yes, perhaps with a bit of reluctancy.
When Jesus instructs him to let down his nets, Simon reminds him that the night was not productive, but okay, I’ll humor you. Jesus surprises him a second time as he pulls in a net full of fish. So much fish that he must call his partners over so that they can fill their boat too! At this point, we would expect him to thank Jesus. Right? Nope! He more or less tells Jesus, “Go away Lord, get out of here! I am a sinner and not worthy of this generous gift!” Like Sister Grace, he cannot handle the presence of God and wants to get as far away as possible.
We are living in denial if we say we have never done something similar. The power and presence of God can be overwhelming! Sometimes, when we want to experience that power and God seems distant, we get even angrier and tell God to get lost for a while. This is our attempt to manage God in our lives, and let me tell you, it usually does not end the way that we want it to. “God, you may enter some parts of my life, but not that part!” However, we do not have a say where God shows up!
We must be open to Jesus showing up in the weirdest places that we would have never expected! We should not be surprised, because he did it time and time again throughout the gospels. He eats with tax collectors. He has conversations with prostitutes. He welcomes the sick and the dying. He speaks with gentiles and shows his love for them. His presence among the least of society is one we can easily witness in the gospels today. For Simon, he still probably didn’t quite know what he was getting into. However, he knows that he is a sinner and yet Jesus still wants him to follow him. First, he leaves behind the thought of that bed that he was going to get in after an unsuccessful night of fishing, and then once they make their way back to the shore, he leaves the boats of fish behind to follow Jesus. He left everything!
What is in your boat that you are being called to leave behind?
For Sister Grace, it was her doubts and her reluctance to truly invite God into her prayers. For me, it was a life of complacency where I would have been a store manager. Now, for some, that may be their calling. For me, I knew that God was calling me to something different. Something weird! It is in the weird that I found Christ calling me to something much fuller and richer that spoke to the life that God had created in me. Each of us need to find that same thing.
Jesus does not only call us, but he also equips us for the journey ahead. For Simon and the other disciples that follow him, he will teach them to be the fisher of people! He will continue to teach them and will prepare them to share the good news once his mission is complete. While we are sinners too, we also are equipped by following Jesus and his teachings. While Jesus may show up when we least expect it and calls us to let go of the worldly things in our lives, he will never leave us to carry out his message alone.
Let us pray.
Jesus, you call us to places we would never venture without your prodding. May
we be open to the Spirit empowering us to listen to where our journey may lead
 Janet K. Ruffing, Spiritual Direction, Beyond the Beginnings, pg. 37.
January 27, 2019
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we came out of the womb with instructions on how to live our lives and what we needed to do to fulfill the calling that God has given us? Some of you may find the possibility of that a relief, while others may find it a burden.
In our baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, yet our individual gifts still elude us. This is all a part of the journey in which we are led. We are however, shaped by the experiences that come are way, even if they are not quite what God had intended. I did not enter seminary until I was in my thirties, however, as I looked back on my previous career in the retail industry, there were many things that I had learned that could benefit me in my calling as a pastor. I also learned the hard way that I could not do everything. I had to learn how to delegate and learn when to step back as I sensed the need to take a deep breath. I would like to say that I have mastered these skills, but it would be a lie. It is part of that constant learning process.
When we are born and start going to school, we start getting ideas of things that we want to do when we grow up. Some kids want to be firemen, chefs, or astronauts. For me, I wanted to be a lawyer! That would eventually evolve to doing something in the business world, which is where I would first end up after graduation from college. It took a while for me to hear God calling me to ministry. Out of the many career routes one could choose to take, we need all of them to function as a society. Being created in the image of God, we are each called to use our gifts and talents to make a whole relationship with one another.
We get into trouble when we think that we can do everything on our own. We either find out that we just simply do not have enough time to do everything required, or we rush through it where you can tell that it was done without care and respect. And let’s admit it, we do not know everything, even if we want to believe we do. There is also the possibility of pushing ourselves to extremes which can lead to burn out and sickness.
We need various parts to function. As Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? …. If all were a single member, where would the body be?” When we fail to communicate with other parts of the body, we can end up with utter chaos.
We witness it played out time and time again in government as different parties fail to listen to one another and decide that their way is the best way without allowing the opportunity for discussion and compromise. Instead we look at others and say, “I have no need of you.”
Paul addresses the Corinthians with these same words when he sees that there are disagreements occurring within their community among those that are following Christ and those that are not too sure yet. His call is for them to work together as one body. They are going to have a hard time living into the body of Christ if they choose not to get along. Their arguing and disregard for those that think differently breaks the body apart.
While we are individual members of the body of Christ, God wants us to live out our calling with one another. We are called to share our gifts and talents so that we can move forward to be God’s hands and feet in the world. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls them to strive for the greater gifts. Those gifts that God has given them individually. Those gifts, when combined with the other gifts of the people in the community, will lead them closer to living the kingdom of God in this world. As they do so, Paul will continue to walk with them and show them even greater ways through Jesus Christ.
As we come together this morning as a community of Christ, we each bring our own unique gifts that have been given to us by a God that loves us dearly and wants us to use them to learn to work together and live into relationship. We are reminded of the various gifts of the congregation by looking at our annual report and seeing the varied ministries that take place during the year at Trinity. As we use these gifts to share the love of God with our neighbors, we do our best to be a living example of Jesus Christ in the world. Some of us may still be trying to find the gift that meshes into the fabric of our community, and that is ok. We are not handed a description of what our gifts are on a note card. We are encouraged to enter into prayer to discern those gifts and together we will work to find the most excellent way, as Paul would say.
Working together as one community is how Trinity Lutheran can live out our mission to celebrate God’s Word together and open our arms in service to all. As we live out God’s Word, and open our arms, we share God’s love with all.
Let us pray. Loving God, we give thanks for the varied gifts of this community. We pray that your presence is felt in the continual discernment of those gifts. May we use them to be your hands and feet in this world. Amen.
In her latest book, Nadia Bolz-Weber, opens up a topic that many in the church attempt to stay clear from. While the entire basis of our life on earth is contingent upon our ability to have sex, it has often times been a taboo subject within the church. Many times the church has went to extremes to steer clear of the topic or at its worse, to speak of the evils of it.
I did not grow up in the church and therefore was not too aware of the purity movement that happened within it. I heard a few things along the way, but at that time it didn’t affect me so I did not pay too much attention. It is the purity movement that she directly addresses in the beginning of her book and bringing to the forefront the harm that is has caused over the years.
Like many of her other books, she brings in many stories from her parishioners that help support her thesis. She also speaks of the holiness of being with God and each other. As she compares the two she says that “holiness is about union with, and purity is about separation from.” I believe that it all comes down from this as we are a holy people that are called to live with union with one another.
To attempt to say what is holy and not holy of others is in direct competition with God. God has created each of holy. Every sing part of our bodies. To be with another person in being welcomed into a holy experience. There is nothing that we should be ashamed of. We should not let others make us feel any less.
There is no shame to be felt in our bodies. “God is made known: in the miracle of our infant bodies, so recently come from God that you can smell God on their heads; in the freedom of our child bodies as they were before shame and self-consciousness entered into them; in the confusion of our pubescent bodies and the excitement of our teenage bodies as they become familiar with desire; in the fire and ice of our young adult bodies as they connect with each other; in the goddamn mind-blowing magic of our baby-making bodies; in the wisdom in our aging bodies; and in the so-close-to-God-you-can-smell-God beauty of our dying bodies.” God wants us to be one with our bodies and to know them intimately as they are created in the image of God.
This is a tough message to share as we have avoided the conversation for far too long. It is about time that someone like Nadia brings it the forefront. She has also included some great resources for individuals and congregations to reach out and learn more.
January 20, 2019
One of the greatest barriers that we encounter in our lives is self-doubt! Even as you speak it, you can hear how it is directed internally. It is not doubt that is poured onto you by a boss, neighbor, or family member. It is doubt that we heap upon ourselves. It is a barrier that we construct when we are hesitant and reluctant to move forward.
I am no stranger to self-doubt. I still battle it from time to time. It usually rears its ugly head when I feel that I am possibly in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if I am not quite sure if the words that I have to say really matter in the whole scope of a conversation. I struggled with it in seminary as I was surrounded by classmates that grew up in the church and knew a lot more of the Bible than I did. I wondered if I was in the right place at the right time and would have to take a moment to pause and give thanks for the many possibilities that I had been given. Even at a time of hesitancy, Jesus takes a moment to pray and listen to how God is guiding him in his walk with humanity.
This morning, we must venture outside of Luke’s gospel to hear the story of the wedding at Cana. In the gospel of John, the turning of the water into the wine is the first sign that Jesus performs that points to his glory and divinity. Yet, as we listen to the gospel lesson, there appears to be a bit of a reluctance on his part to move forward.
First, there is the conversation with his mother around the wine running out, and his response, “What concern is that to you and to me?” It almost seems to be a get behind me Satan moment that we will encounter when Peter questions Jesus. He then tells her, “My hour has not yet come.” What exactly is he waiting for? We are left wondering why this hesitancy. Why this reluctance to help with hospitality. He truly has the power to make or break this wedding party. If the wine runs dry, then so does the wedding celebration. A wedding celebration in the time of Jesus would last for an entire week. Imagine what would happen if you ran out of wine in the middle of the week. Most likely, there would be a bit of shame.
While Jesus shows a bit of reluctance, could there have just been a tinge of self-doubt? This is the first sign that he will perform, so maybe he won’t get it right. Perhaps, he is just beginning to understand the ministry that lays in front of him and his hesitancy is a result of this. The words of Jesus’ mother are simple, “They have no wine.” She is pointing to the need at hand and putting the ball into his court to see what will happen next. The divine mystery at work.
Our world today, is not immune to need.
In a world where for so many there is no clean water—let alone fine wine—where is the extravaganza of God? In a world where children play in bomb craters the size of thirty-gallon wine jugs, why the divine reluctance? In a world where desperate mothers must say to their small children, “We have no food,” why has the hour not yet come? [In a time when we argue with those we disagree and call them names, why not a little divine intervention?] No matter how we rationalize divine activity, we still want to tug at Jesus’ sleeve and say: “they have no wine.”
There is something much greater that is realized in our gospel lesson. While Jesus may seem a bit reluctant, he does pause and listens to God. While he thought it was not his time yet, he must have sensed that the Spirit was working through his mother to call him into action. In that action, he does not hold anything back! He goes all in!
As we hear, he instructs the servants to fill the thirty-gallon jugs with water. And, they fill them to the brim! There is a great abundance that Jesus pours forth for all to experience that are celebrating at the wedding feast. While, the first wine may have been of a decent quality, perhaps like Mogen-David, this wine that Jesus has called forth is even greater! Perhaps a nice cabernet, or even a port! He does not hold anything back to be shared with the people.
This is a precursor of the ministry that he is going to begin with the disciples. He will be sharing the abundance of God with everyone that he encounters. It is amazing that this first act of Jesus is not a healing, or a sermon, or even an exorcism. His first act is to share the abundance of God with all that are gathered. This is a foretaste of Jesus’ ministry, and a foretaste of the kingdom to come. It is here that Jesus will welcome all people into his embrace.
Each and everyone of you are called to share in this ministry with Jesus Christ. Are you possibly a little hesitant and reluctant like he appeared to be? Are you afraid to lift your voices over the noise and distractions of your daily life? If so, you are not alone. I am with you in my own hesitancy and reluctance at times. But more important, Christ is with us as we are called to walk along our brothers and sisters in humanity. Jesus comes to us with vessels that flow over the brim with an abundant love from God. May you be filled with that overflow of love and grace and be a sign for others seeking God.
Let us pray.
All encompassing God, we give thanks for the signs of Jesus that reveal is
glory to all. May we learn to embrace these signs in our own lives and live
into the grace that only comes through you. Amen.
 Carol Lakey Hess, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, 263.
January 13, 2019
The art of the handwritten note is one of those practices that has been diminished by easier, quicker options to communicate. I know that I am guilty of it, even though I set the intention to send personalized notes. When we can email, text, or contact through social media, we are able to express our thoughts in an array of quicker, more immediate options.
There is just something about a handwritten note though. It is the next best thing to having the person that wrote it standing right next to you. It can convey a simple message in the voice of the person writing it. It reminds us that someone took the time to reach out to us and remember us. It is something you can keep.
One of my most prized Christmas gifts is an ELW. Yes, you heard me right, an Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal! Just like the ones in the pews in front of you. Why does it mean so much? It is because it was from my pastor a couple years before I started seminary and I was in the midst of starting the candidacy process. It is a prized gift because he wrote a personal note in the front cover. Reminding me that where ever the Spirit may lead me, I am blessed and am a blessing!
I have another note that I have kept for nearly 25 years that I received at my high school graduation from my fourth-grade teacher along with a dictionary. In it, she reminded me that I am part of a very special family. God does the same for us through scripture as we are called and named by a loving God that has come down to earth to accompany us in our daily walk.
Notes like these can touch us and help guide us in times of uncertainty and fear. They give us reassurance when self-doubt creeps in. As we are reminded this morning of Jesus’ baptism, we also rejoice in ours. However, let’s be honest, it is often easy to forget those words that were spoken to us in our own baptisms and as we reaffirm them on different occasions. When we look at the world around us and the evil that persists, we can easily be baptized in fear. A fear that drives us away from everything that Christ stands for. We forget everything in those moments that we are baptized in fear. We forget our heritage. We forget our names, who we are called to be. We forget our purpose. We even forget those resources in which we have been entrusted.
The people of Israel that the prophets spoke to also were no strangers to fear. In Isaiah we are presented with a story of our ancestors living in exile and anticipating a return home, if not for themselves, at least for the generations that follow. They are gripped by fear and a feeling of isolation. Wondering where to turn next and wondering if things will ever get any better. The story in Isaiah spans a couple of hundred years from the time they are taken into exile in Babylon until the time they return to their homeland. They went from an independent people to ones that were conquered. No wonder, they are living in fear and uncertainty.
Amid their exile, they are reminded that they are loved. The beginning of this chapter in Isaiah can be read like one of those personal notes. It reminds them that they are special and that they are very much a part of God’s glorious creation and are personally called. This passage from Isaiah brings hope to a nation that is in turmoil. It gives hope for the time to come.
It not only speaks to those living in exile, it also reaches across millennia and is an incredible reminder for today. We too, are called personally into a life with God. We too have been created. We too have been formed. We too have been redeemed. We too have been called. In these actions by God, we are reminded that we are precious and honored. These are all words that we should be reminded of and listen to daily. Each one of you has been created and called by God and are worthy of the love of God. In this love, you are called to live into a relationship with God that has come down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.
We should not be overly concerned about what happens when we die. We should be concerned about how we are living our life today! Isaiah reminds the people who they are and whose they are despite their sins. We too should remember who and whose we are when we are confronted with the fears of society and be reminded of the love of God that came down to earth for us in Jesus Christ.
In his baptism, Jesus hears the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In the water of our own baptisms we too were reminded that we are children of God and we are loved, now and forevermore. May these words wash over you every chance they get, so that you remember you are beloved and with you, God is pleased.
Let us pray. God of the waters, we fall prey to shortsightedness every time we let fear guide our thoughts and actions. May you guide us with your love as we affirm our baptisms and walk in your light. Amen.
January 6, 2019 Epiphany
My family likes to play games. From card games, board games, and even more recently role-playing games. Doing so, we have the opportunity to enjoy one another’s company, share in laughter, and grab bragging rights for the next time that we play.
However, there have been times when we have played that someone has joined us that does not like to lose. They attempt to change the rules midstream so that they also end up on top and will never be the loser. The desire to win often times brings frustration and confusion to the other friends and family that are attempting to play the game honestly. Even when this is brought to the attention of the arrogant player, they still seem to be in the dark. In their desire to remain on top, they alienate themselves and wonder why they are left in the dark as everyone else moves on to have a good time doing something else. Where does the joy come from when one must trick others to guarantee yourself a winner?
The magi have no desire to be left in the dark as they transcend their role to pay homage to the newborn king. The magi are a reminder for us that Jesus, the newborn king, brings light to the world for all to see.
The magi are a living example of what it means to live in the time of Advent. In the gospel this morning we are told of the gifts that they shared with Jesus, but they have also been able to utilize the gifts of waiting, seeking, and discovery. They were waiting for the light to appear, and the star that has risen in the sky is a sign for them to seek out the newborn king. With this new information, they are able to venture out into the vastness that lies between them and Jesus to discover the light born into the world in the form of a child.
Herod, on the other hand, is the antithesis of Advent. In the story of Herod, we receive a message of rejection, fear, and refusal of the light. While Herod is Jewish himself, he was made a client king by the Roman rulers, so that they could appease people in the hopes that he would connect better to the people of Judea. By the time word of Jesus’ birth comes to his ears through the magi, he has been ruling for nearly forty years. His time ruling has been plagued in fear of losing the kingship and the executions of his own family to ensure that he remains in power. In the magi’s message, Herod is once again gripped by the fear of a change that could come to Judea. A change that could result in him losing his authority as king. We can nearly sense the refusal in Herod’s reactions to see the light that has come to the world in which the magi are now seeking.
When we become fearful of change, loss, and even comfort, we can be hindered in our daily lives from opening our eyes to the light of Christ all around us. At times we struggle with putting our fears aside so that we can experience the light that God offers to us. We much rather cling to false hopes and self-preservation instead of seeking the light in others. When we refuse to see Christ in our sisters and brothers, we walk the same line as Herod!
There is an incredible message waiting for us in Matthew today. It is a message of welcome. It is a message that God does not stop at any barrier. God breaks down stereo types and reaches out to shine the light far and wide. The shepherds were sent an angelic choir to sing the praises of the newborn king. To the magi a star appears in the sky to guide them to the light of the world that illuminates the darkness. Even Herod is given the sign of the magi that are going to share gifts worthy of a king; only his jealousy blocks the light for him to see.
Jesus’ ministry will be one of reaching out to those that are on the outskirts of society. Those that have been frowned upon and those that others will not give the time of day. He chooses to eat with the poor, the excluded, the sick, the lonely, prostitutes, and even tax collectors!
In the bearing of gifts worthy of a king, the magi and all of humanity receive something much greater, the light of the world. That light is revealed to us through our own epiphanies. Perhaps, we see it in the eyes of our significant other, in the first cry of our own children when they were born. Perhaps we have even seen it in the last breaths of a loved one as they have come at least to peace in the hands of a loving God. Do we share these experiences and spread the good news?
The magi receive word in a dream that they must not return to Herod and report what they have seen. Instead they go a different route. What route has Jesus called us to follow as we listen to the Word today? We have moved through Advent into Christmas and now Epiphany to experience and be the light. May you all find the route Jesus is calling you to follow as you enter this new year with hope and a promise of the Light that has come into the world.
Let us pray. God of light, may we be guided as the magi were guided to find and pay homage to your newborn son. May we be bearers of this same light in our lives so that others may experience the love of Christ through our words and actions. Amen.
December 24, 2018 Christmas Eve
This evening we are ushered into the great story of Christmas. Luke welcomes us into the story by sharing what it was like in “those days.” Time was tracked by the time of the current ruler, as in Jesus’ case, it was Emperor Augustus. It would be like me stating today that I was born in the time Gerald Ford was President of the United States, or my children were born in the time of George W. Bush being President.
We have all experienced birth in some form or another. Whether it be yourself or a family member. It can be scary and raise levels of anxiety. Yet, more often than not, it brings times of great joy and quite often a shift in lifestyle. It does not take long to learn that there is something different about the birth we are rejoicing tonight. In all of its ordinariness, we are illuminated by the glory of angels singing and a great light shining all around. Love drew nearer to humanity over two thousand years ago than it had ever been. In the birth of the Messiah, the light reaches to the darkest recesses to share the good news with all people.
We are reminded in our first lesson from Isaiah that there was disharmony among the people. The people of Israel were being oppressed by Assyria, and in First Century Israel, the oppression came from the Roman Empire. There is a darkness that overshadows everything, and the people are just waiting for something great to happen. They are seeking freedom from their oppressors. There is a pervasiveness that comes with the darkness that seems to extend through time; from the very beginning of creation to the world in which Mary and Joseph find themselves trying to find a place to stay.
You would think that Joseph returning to the town of his family, Bethlehem, there would still be some relatives around that would welcome in Joseph and Mary. At the least, there would have been other family members that had to make the same trek. However, is the obvious pregnancy of Mary, due any day now, turning his family away? It is possible that they were ashamed of what they saw, knowing that Mary and Joseph had yet to be wed.
The hospitality that they are hoping to find leaves them on the outside. On the outside of a warm meal. On the outside of a warm bed and a comfortable place to sleep and prepare for the birth. On the outside of the love of family that they were probably longing for. This is the darkness that they were experiencing.
We feel that same darkness when we are not welcome and are left on the outside looking in. We crave to be part of something and yet it seems out of our reach. We long for a hospitality that will embrace us where we are and as we are.
While Mary and Joseph are looking for a place to stay, the plans for them are not yet complete. While no one welcomes them, they will soon be the ones to welcome others into the glory that has been proclaimed to them. The shepherds hear of the great news and come to see for themselves. Mary and Joseph are stunned to find out what they know. In their hospitality, they have allowed others into the great wonder that is now part of their story.
We are told that, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She knew what was to take place as the angel had told her before she was pregnant. It is in the words of the shepherds that she is affirmed, and their words bring a reality to the whole thing. Those words she held dearly, as she knew that her son was destined for something much greater than she could ever imagine. As the love of God drew near to everyone close to the manger that evening over two thousand years ago, it is a love that has never left us. That love is drawn here in our very hearts and welcomes us into something great and mysterious at the very same time.
That love is here when we wonder. That love is here when we seek the truth. That love is here when we reach out to the neighbor and stranger alike in justice. That love is here this very night as we draw nearer to one another. This love that is drawn here extends out to all of creation as we welcome the birth of the Messiah, and we ourselves are welcomed into the great love of God.
Let us pray. Prince of Peace, we rejoice in your birth and the love you brought from all corners of the earth. May the light that you bring to the darkness comfort us and bring us peace. Amen.
December 16, 2018 Advent 3
This is the time of year that many people live for. The festivities and parties. The lights and the pageantry. The giving and the receiving. While we may be in the season of Advent in the church, many others are in the season of indulgence. Spending beyond their means so that they can attempt to bring joy to a friend or family member.
It is in light of this that we continue to wait in Advent. We wait to rejoice in the birth of a baby that is going to change the world. We wait for the light that is to be born into the world that calls out the darkness. We wait with bated breath for the hope promised to us by our ancestors.
With this,we find ourselves in the third week of Advent. How wonderful it is to be greeted by the insults of John the Baptist, “You brood of vipers!” Wow, he know show to wake us up from our complacency. He continues to call us out of our comfort zone and into the reality of this world. He attempts to pull our attention away from the office Christmas parties and the twinkling lights. Through John the Baptist we are called to live alongside our neighbors and draw near to the justice found in Jesus.
John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness. He causes us to sit up straight and pay attention because the message he must share is so much different then others we have been hearing. He speaks with a voice of resistance. A voice that is not afraid to proclaim the message he has been given to share. This resistance will eventually get him killed.
While John resists those in authority, our society tends to resist the gospel message in parts.I will be bold to say that many live lives of apathy. It is much easier to just sit back and worry about yourself then it is to step outside of your comfort zone and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the stranger. We may know we need to repent of this apathy, yet it is so much easier to sit down and relax.
The people that are listening to John are thirsty for instruction. They want to know what they should do. This has not changed much over time. The early Israelites were also asking for a king and someone to guide them and tell them what to do. It continues in the Israel of John’s time as they want to know what they should do when he calls them out of their complacency and desire to stay where they are at.
It is easy to look in the past and think that it was better then and want the same thing today. However, as John cries out in the wilderness, it is a reminder for us that we too are called out of our complacency and our drawn near to the incarnate God. The Son of God was born human so that we could connect in relationship and get a glimpse of the great mystery.
John’s message comes as a sign of grace for us in a world that is broken and needs the love God has promised to all of creation. A love that John points to in his proclamation.A love that is born into the world so that all will come to know God and be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Bearing good fruit is part of the message that John shares. We all want to bear good fruit. When those that chose to follow John the Baptist ask, “What then should we do?” he pulls his answer from the law that came before him. You must share a coat if you have two! You must not over-tax people and only take what has been prescribed!You must not extort through threats or false accusations! We too, should be following these instructions of John the Baptist.
However, our redemption does not hinge on these actions. The promise of Jesus following John the Baptist to baptize in the Holy Spirit connects us with something much greater. It is here that we encounter the grace of God that washes over us regardless of our actions. God’s love for us was made clear in the death of Jesus and we are given hope through the resurrection.
We are drawn near to justice this advent season because of Jesus. Through the grace that we receive in baptism and being fed at the table, we should desire to bear good fruit, not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we desire to encounter God in our neighbors and the stranger. The awesome thing is that Trinity does a fantastic job of this through our various ministries, including MCREST and the bags we recently filled for the Detroit Rescue Mission. By doing so, we speak boldly to the voices of injustice and proclaim more boldly with love. May you continue to be bold in your proclamation of love this holiday season.
Let us pray. God of justice, you raise up the sinner and fulfill the promise of resurrection. May we continue to be embraced in your love this season and respond in acting in justice for all of creation. Amen.