Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sermon - Third Sunday of Advent - Year B

Zephaniah 3:14-20                 

Announcing The Year of the Lord's Favor

Some of you have heard of my e-devotions.  Many of you have also heard of the gaffs and catachrestical errors which are regularly committed in them.  It was about three weeks ago that I was writing about Zephaniah.  My error that day was to assign Zephaniah placement as the last book in the Old Testament.  I know that spot is reserved for Malachi.  My quick look at the indexes of my bible was too quick to realize I was not looking at their order, but at an alphabetical listing.

The mistake was so enormous, I worried it prevented readers from hearing the point I was trying to make.  Like Malachi, Zephaniah does much to set the table for what happens when the New Testament story does begin.  Zephaniah lifts a promise and an assurance which we have come to see was realized in Bethlehem of Judea.  Zephaniah tells all of Israel to sing and shout!  “Rejoice and exult with all of your heart!”  The fortunes of Jerusalem are about to change – the king of Israel, the Lord, your God is soon to be found in your midst!

This is the story of Christmas.  The good news that God will no longer consider the heavens His abode.  In Jesus, God takes on our flesh.  We do not look to the skies in order to find God; we look at one who shares our meal and shares his love.

If we want to talk about mistakes or errors, forgive something as simple as getting the books of the bible in the wrong order.  Let’s call attention to the mistake of thinking we are living as in the days before Bethlehem.  Let’s call attention to the mistake of failing to see God as one who is constantly and continually in our midst.

Look back at those verses from Zephaniah.  Note how many references are made to flesh and blood concerns.  He speaks of hands that do not grow weak, of oppressors experiencing God’s rebuttal.  Look particularly at the verses at the top of Page 7 in our bulletin: “I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.”  When God is “in our midst,” life here becomes different.  The life lived by God’s people reflects the presence of our God.

This is the life we are living.  We live in the time of which Zephaniah speaks.  We live on this side of the birth in Bethlehem.  The arrival of our Lord means the changes of which Zephaniah spoke have come to pass.

Or have they?

Has the reality of what happened in Bethlehem sunk in?  Or maybe it sunk in for a while and then the luster wore off.  It sure seems as if too little of our religious life is a celebration of the marvelous thing God has already done, and too much of our attention is looking for God to do something else, something more.         

This is the story of Christmas.  The good news that God will no longer consider the heavens His abode.  In Jesus, God takes on our flesh.  We do not look to the skies in order to find God; we look at one who shares our meal and shares his love.

If we want to talk about mistakes or errors, forgive something as simple as getting the books of the bible in the wrong order.  Let’s call attention to the mistake of thinking we are living in the days before Bethlehem, to the mistake of failing to see God as one who is constantly and continually in our midst.

When God is in our midst, we live differently.  We don’t have to be anxious about what we will eat or what we will wear. 

When God is in our midst, we think differently.  We don’t have to wonder if we are loved and accepted.  We do not need to compare ourselves to others – to find others lacking and ourselves excelling.

When God is in our midst, we start to ask “What then shall we do?” 

This is the question they asked of John, and we just read what he told them.

If you have two coats, share with another who has none.

When collecting money from others, collect only that which is fair.

When God is in our midst, life is different.  It is peaceful.  There is great contentment. And satisfaction.  And joy.  And happiness.

We too often make the mistake of forgetting that we live on this side of the events in Bethlehem.  We read the words of Zephaniah as if they remain a distant hope rather than a realized reality.  Allow the good news of the birth of Jesus to sink and never let the luster wear off. 

Live your life aware that Messiah has come; and that the Lord, our God, is in our midst. 


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, December 13

This is my Christmas note to you.  There are two more days of exams, but some of you have already completed and gone home.  As you make your way, I want to say "Merry Christmas" to each of you.

The way in which Advent aligns with finals makes it difficult to observe this season.  Many of you have participated in mid-week observances and have attended Sunday worship.  There was a time when we attempted to have students share an Advent Calendar experience; but completing projects and preparing for exams was too much competition.

Christmas you will observe.  You will be free of deadlines and you will have the opportunity to step into the peace and calm.  You can remember the birth at Bethlehem and you can gaze at the heavens in search of guiding stars.  Make the most of this opportunity!

Attend to the matters of your soul and your heart.  Whether it has been a tradition or habit in your family, invite your parents (maybe one at a time) out for coffee or ice cream.  Have an adult conversation with them - one which will allow them to see the adult you are becoming and thus be proud of who you have become.  Ask them one faith question.

Give.  Give to those persons in your life who have given you so much.  Maybe it was a scoutmaster, a teacher, a neighbor, or friend's parent.  Pick up a $2.99 box of chocolates and go to that person.  Tell them you can't find a gift equal to the emotion, but you wanted them to know how much they had impacted your life.

The ending of the semester makes it difficult to have shifted into Advent gear.  But you can do Christmas right.  I hope you will.  I pray you will experience the joy and peace and happiness which comes with this season of our year.

Pastor Chris

PS:  I will be back with you in January.  The new term starts January 9.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, December 12

Most of us are familiar with the call of Isaiah.  You are likely to have sung the camp song, "Here I am Lord, if you need me.  I have heard you calling in the night...."

The call of Isaiah (chapter 6) is today's appointed reading.  It is a dramatic scene:  There are flying horses, robes and thrones and smoke.  A burning coal is touched to the lips of Isaiah to take away his sin and guilt.

If something like that happened to any one of us we would also be likely to raise our hands upon hearing God ask, "Whom shall I send?"

Perhaps your invitation to Christ's family wasn't as dramatic; but is it any less powerful?  To what do you point when you speak of your inclusion in the people of God?  Maybe it was a word of comfort (or a simple meal) during a stressful week.  Has there been a time when you could see no way forward and a pastor or teacher helped you to see one?  Has fear attempted to hold you in it's grasp only to be kept at bay by a simple reminder that you are a baptized child of God?

That which calls us may not be dramatic, but it does not lack power.

That to which we are called can be equally powerful.  We are not all called to reclaim Israel for God.  We are not all called to Reform the Church.  Our calling may be to be the one who says, "I don't appreciate that" when a racist or sexist joke is being told.  Our calling may be to speak up for the disadvantaged and forgotten.

Singing the song may be the best way to affirm our having been called.  It is also a reminder that we are needed, by God, to see that God's will is done in the world.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, December 11

The first letter written by St. Paul is Thessalonians.  He wrote this in 50 a.d.  His next letter is three years later (Galatians).  There is a simplicity in Thessalonians which should not be overlooked.  

His ending to the letter is the prefect, practical advice for those seeking to life the way of Christ.  I share these words with you, encouraging you to read them slowly, and to pick out one phrase for your day.  (I will bold the one which I most want to keep in my heart today.)

But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
I Thessalonians 5:12-19

God's blessings on your day.  

Monday, December 10, 2018

Devotion - Monday, December 10

The Opening Prayer in my guide stuck with me throughout my morning devotion.

"Lord, free us from our sins and make us whole."

Are there two requests in this petition? Or two aspects of one plea?

Too often we speak and hear of "sins" as an act or thought or word.  Sin can also refer to a broken relationship.  This latter understand would then see acts committed as an expression or result of the broken relationship.

I also found myself thanking God for the wholeness which comes from knowing that I am linked with that larger than myself.  The forgiving of my sins means I live united with God and thus my life is whole, complete.

What might be lacking in my life is of no real consequence.  The only things in short supply are things which I can easily live without.  My life is whole, my sins are forgiven, I am at one with the God who created me and who redeems me and gives me the very air I breathe.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sermon - Advent 2 - Year B

 Luke 3:1-6 & 1:68-79                                                                                   

                                                                 Historically Noteworthy

Anyone who had been assigned to read the lessons on Pentecost Sunday or at an Easter Vigil liturgy had to smile a little smile this morning when you heard me stumbling over the names for the regions presided over by Philip, brother of Herod.  “Ituraea?”  “Trachonitis?”  “Abilene” is rather easy to pronounce, but what of the guy who was the ruler of this city – “Lysanias?”  Like the readings on Pentecost, these verses contain difficult names to pronounce, of places and people we have long since forgotten. 

Why are all those names included in Luke’s text?  I had this discussion with another preacher.  I asserted that these names were there in order to document the year when John begins his ministry.  “One reference would have done that,” was the reply.  Besides, this reference only confuses the time line.  While each of the persons mentioned eventually figures into the unfolding story, their reigns don’t align as perfectly as Luke 3 would have us believe.

“No.” my conversation partner insisted.  “They are mentioned so Luke can drive home the point that all these powerful people are passed over when God has a word to share.”  Look right there at the last phrase of verse 2.  The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  The word of God does not respect the structures or preferences of human design.  The word of God goes where it will – and at the time of Messiah’s arrival - God wills it to go to John, out there, in the wilderness.

Luke will employ such a tactic many times in his writings.  And we had all better get used to it, because we are in the year of Luke.  From now till next Christ the King Sunday, we will be reading from Luke on Sunday mornings.  And throughout Luke there is a theme of God passing over the rich and powerful in favor of the lowly and powerless.  Such a message was an added “good news” to Luke’s readers.  Remember that they were not members of Rome’s ruling majority nor were they Pharisees, Sadducees, High Priests, or scribes. 

I guess it is yet to be determined whether we will consider this aspect of Luke’s presentation as good news.

Emperor Tiberius, Governors Pontius Pilate and Herod and Philip; high priests Annas and Caiaphas – the word of God is spoken to them, but not by them.  The word of God is spoken by John, the guy living out there along the river bank.

Or I should say, it will be spoken by John, eventually.  Did you notice or realize that John doesn’t speak in today’s readings.  He is spoken about, but he does not speak.  Others speak about him.

The first to speak about him was his father.  Zechariah’s song is in Luke 1.  (Luke 1:68-79) These verses are the appointed Psalm for today.  The “Psalm Substitute” captures much of the same message.  The message is clear and straight forward – God has looked with favor upon His people and is sending to them one who will save them “from the hands of our enemies.”    

Zechariah’s speech is notable for other reasons.  Do you remember that when a messenger from God told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child; Zechariah doubted that such a thing was possible.  Elizabeth was old and considered barren.  When Zechariah doubted it was possible for God to send them a child, he lost his ability to speak.  It is only at the naming of the child, when Zechariah affirms that he is to be named “John” that Zechariah regains the ability to talk.  And Luke 1:68-79 is what he says.

Zechariah’s song affirms that God does see us and God remembers His promise to us.  God comes to us, giving us reason to hope - and then fulfilling our hopes.  Zechariah sings:  The dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

That is what Zechariah has to say about John.  In Chapter 3, we read what Luke has to say about him.

These lines are also borrowed from elsewhere in our bibles.  Do you remember where?  Luke quotes from Isaiah 40:  The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the Lord.  Again, high hopes and welcomed promises.  Luke remembers the words of Isaiah, spoken to people who had lived through some of their darkest days.  Luke repeats Isaiah’s assurance that God will come and set them free from the hands of those who hate them, the tyranny of those who oppress them.

In Luke’s day, it was the ruler of Rome – all those folks mentioned in verse 1.  In the time of Isaiah, it was the Babylonians.

If you turn in your bibles to Isaiah 40, you might have footnote, similar to the one in my bible.  Isaiah 40 begins what is sometimes called Isaiah II.  There are three sections in Isaiah: the first section which speaks to the time just prior to their being overrun and carried off into exile; the second section (the one that begins at Chapter 40) which is offered during the time of transition in their fate; and a final section which speaks of the rebuilding of their lives and their religious practices.  Isaiah 40 was an assurance that God had not abandoned His people.  They were sitting in darkness and may have feared that they had lost their status in God’s eyes.  “Not so,” God assures them.

Same situation, same message, some six-hundred years later.  In Luke’s day it was Rome who rules over them.  Tiberius and Pilate and Herod and Lysanias and Annas and Caiaphas – these are not your liberators or redeemers.  The one who can save you is the one whom God is sending.

We are too often enamored with the power structures of our world.  We come to rely on the alliances we have made and the systems we have put into place.  They usually function very well – particularly for those who created them, because in the creation process we tend to make them favor us as much as possible.  But the message of Luke 1 and Luke 3 is to remind us that we cannot find our salvation, or our hope, or any reason to be encouraged in such structures.  The word of God goes to the wild-eyed guy living in the wilderness.  It goes to the one who cares not what happens to the rulers of the state or to the rulers of the religious structures.  It goes to the one who isolates themselves from all of that and listens for the word of God.

Is Christmas about what God did back there, in that place and time; or is Christmas the perpetual arrival of the One who turns the tables in the Temple, angers those in authority, upsets the social norms, and is eventually executed at the insistence of the crowd who had once welcomed his word but turned on him when they learned the ramifications of accepting that word?

I join the majority who like the way things are.  I live rather comfortably in the configuration as it is.  But all week I have struggled with the question of whether the rest of the world’s populations would accept my complacency. 

That list of difficult to pronounce names were the who’s who of Luke’s day.  All of them are gone.  The only reason their names are remembered is because they are included in someone else’s story.  The nations and regions they fought so desperately to control – wiped off the map and given different names by new rulers who were themselves eventually overthrown.

But the word of God continues. 

The word of God comes to those who listen for it and to it.  The word of God comes to those willing to allow their world to be turned on its head and re-established with God’s vision of justice enthroned.  The word of God is like no other word we will ever hear.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, December 6

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.  Nicholas was known for his acts of generosity.

One story involves his actions to save three young girls from a horrible future.  Using cover of night, he placed coins so their father would have a dowry for his daughters.  When locals would ask who the benefactor was for such acts, reports would emerge of someone in a red cape (Bishops were red) slipping away from the home and into the darkness.

Not all origins of our Santa Claus can be traced to St. Nicholas, but enough of them can.  Christians should reclaim this Bishop and his ways.  

One I would life up is the difference in his behaviors:  He gave to the poor and needy while we tend to lavish gifts on those who lavish us back.  (Sorry, don't let this become a downer.)

Christians need to know the story of St. Nicholas and we need to retell it.  We need to be about efforts to help December 25 be a celebration of God's birth among us, the Light which no darkness can overcome.  Social and cultural traditions are meaningful and nice, but cannot or should not overtake our attention to what it means to be the children of God and members of God's household.

Renew your knowledge of St. Nicholas.  And celebrate with all of Christendom those who help us observe the way of Christ.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, December 5

"The Lord shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not life up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more."
Isaiah 2:4

I wonder, during these days of Advent, if our society desires the dawning of the vision articulated in Isaiah 2 or if we oppose it.  War typically happens when one group wants to impose their advantage on another or when one group fears being robbed of they have come to think is their possession.  I wonder - how you individually hear the prophet's words about an alternative world-view.  And I wonder how we as a society hear those words.

My fear is that we are scared, worried, nervous.  That we are inclined to lock ourselves inside our fortress and stand ready for battle.

Isaiah's word will be read and repeated in many of our Advent texts.  His oracles are God's invitation to come to the Holy Mountain and to receive the gifts of God's justice.  Isaiah calls upon all the societies of the earth to be united in following the way of the Lord.

I wonder.  If we can trust in God's way - giving up our own way.  

I wonder.  If we can see the bounty of the earth as enough for everyone and thus cease to hoard.

I wonder if the sense of wonder spoken of during this season of the year might find its way into our conversations and our attitudes and our moods and our self-understanding.

I wonder, and I hope, and I invite you to do the same.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, December 4

In I Thessalonians 2:12 Paul writes:  "Lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory."

During a coffee visit Sunday afternoon, I was exploring with my guest how differently we find ourselves responding to different worshiping communities.  There seems to be an undertone which evokes emotions from us.  She was sharing her reaction to an undertone which involved a plea to bring others into the fold.

What is the undertone for the community we share?  What is the end toward which we are moving?

I hope it is these words from Paul.

The reason we are here is because we have been invited.  More than invited, called.  We have been sought out and claimed and given a name and an identity.  We do not need to fear or be afraid of not having a place or a people or purpose.

"Here," we are encouraged to live.  To lead a life worthy of this call.  My years of ministry have brought me to the conclusion that transgressions are seldom born out of rebellion; they arise out of fear.  We become fearful of the worthiness of the call and we act in a way which we (mistakenly) think might bring us some pleasure or comfort or acclaim.  "Here," what we are called to do is live.  A life worthy of the calling which is ours.

Undertones are often difficult to parse out.  They are also too often part of ourselves which remains un-examined or unstated.  We can't easily speak of that which is taken for granted and assumed.  The visitor or new new arrival is often better at helping us hear our own undertones.  Being clear about them avoids confusion or conflict.  Consider them, and allow your emotions to inform you actions.  Make sure your spiritual life is being nurtured by that which lies at the heart of the communities where you gather.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Devotion - Monday, December 3

We have entered the Liturgical season of Advent.  These are the four weeks prior to Christmas.  There are two aims to this season; both are essential for our journey of faith.

First, Advent is that only season of the year when we kinda-sorta don't have Messiah.  These weeks are a time to anticipate what the arrival of Messiah might mean.  Pastor Jon preached yesterday about the "second Advent" as the arrival of Messiah in full majesty.  Advent is that time for us to look at our lives and at our world and ask, "Where is there a need for Messiah?"  How might the world be different?  How ought the world to be different?  What does the arrival of Messiah mean?  In Advent, we learn to ask God to do this amazing thing which God has promised - "Come, Lord Jesus!"

Second, Advent is an opportunity to explore how we might respond to the arrival.  Do our lives reflect the arrival of the first advent - the birth in Bethlehem.  While we wait for the full culmination of the Kingdom, the world has already been irrevocably altered by the dawning of the light which darkness cannot overcome.  This is a call to faithfulness and to discipleship.  During Advent we can ask ourselves if we are so fixated on a future visit of Messiah that we have failed to live fully into the new order brought into being by Mary's first-born.

Advent may be the most difficult season for college students.  It comes at a time when exams and final projects compete for our time and attention.  Remember, you are a student, that is your God-appointed calling.  But find a way, make some time to feed your faith and to nurture your response to God.  Do not miss the new thing which God is doing and the invitation from God to see your life transformed.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, November 29

There is a weird story in Luke 19:11-27.  It is a variation of the parable told in Matthew 25.  A nobleman gives money to his servants and goes away.  When he returns, he asks for an accounting.

Those who made a profit with the money are given more.  The one who simply protected and preserved the money is condemned.

I call this a "weird" story because it elevates profit making in a way seldom seen in the Gospel story.  This is one of those sections of scripture which challenge my preconceptions and assumptions.  One of the lessons with which I am challenged has to do with God's interest in how we handle money.  In this story, it matters a lot.

Our program last evening was on money management.  It wasn't intended to be a theological presentation or a bible study; it fits into the category of programs aimed at "life skills."  But as Mr. Barry spoke, we came to realize he wasn't simply talking about money, he was encouraging us to see how we craft a life and how that life reflects what is most important to us.

Students are fond of saying, "I have no money." but that simply isn't true.  Your flow of funds may not fit perfectly with the concept you have of those who are out of school and employed.  But you do have resources and you do decide how to use those.  Read Luke 19.  And you are free to challenge the details of that particular story.  But begin to develop an awareness that God is interested in more than  your piety - God is seeking to be involved in every aspect of your life.  And that includes how you handle your money.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, November 28

The ordering of the books of the Bible is an interesting topic.  Christians order the books differently than Jewish communities.  We arrange them so that the final book of the Old Testament is Zephaniah.

Zephaniah is one of the Minor Prophets, and I am not sure it ever comes up in our regularly appointed Sunday morning readings.  I wonder if you have read it?  I know that I have never, ever offered a bible study on Zephaniah.

The reason it is the last book in the Christian arrangement of Old Testament books is the way in which it prepares the stage for the arrival of Messiah.  It speaks of one who will come who presence will signal a return to the glory of Jerusalem.  This glory is in order that the will of God might be experienced by the world.  

There is considerable battle and victor language, but Chapter 12:9-10 speaks of what it means to be the blessed people of God:  "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, to that, when they look on him whom they have pierced they shall mourn for him, as one morns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born."

The way of the world too often seems to be conflict and confrontation; the way of the One to come is compassion and supplication.

I encourage you to read Zephaniah.  Let's plan to make it our book for SCS this Sunday (9:55 am, Spill the Beans).  And develop with the people of ancient Israel a hope for the day when the inhabitants of God's cities will embody the spirit which the Promised One has poured out upon us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, November 27

In Luke 18 there is an interesting story.  As Jesus is passing, a blind man begins to cry out to him, asking for mercy.  The crowd tries to silence him.  Jesus does hear him, invites him to come near, and restores the man's sight.  Then an interesting thing happens.  As the man once again speaks, this time giving glory to God, the people also give "praise to God."

It interests me to wonder how many voices are silenced which if heard might lead to seeing reason to praise God?

The man's intentions and his motivation does not change.  From beginning to end he is calling out the name of the one in whom he has confidence and trust.  What changes is Jesus hearing his voice and Jesus' doing so changes the mood of the crowd regarding this man's message.

What voices do we silence, or ignore?  Which of those voices does Jesus hear?  And how might we change so as to hear the words which are pleasing to him?

There is much encouragement to listen to those who say what we want to hear or have become accustomed to hearing.  How do we hear differently?

It is an interesting story in Luke 18.  One worthy of reading and remembering.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Devotion - Monday, November 26

My prayers this morning reflected the place in which you now find yourself:  You have had a bit of a break, but have started to realize the tasks and hurdles which these next three weeks will bring.  The bit of a break may make you eager for the longer break between semesters.  Depending on how heavy the workload you face, there may be a desire that these three weeks will move at a snail's pace.

My prayer for you is that you will retain enough of the break's mentality so as not to forget the larger matters of life.  Take time to be thankful; and start to prepare for those joyous gatherings with friends and family.  Be conscious of the necessity of building a life; of crafting a meaningful life.

I will also pray that you will realize such a well-crafted life is built one stone at a time.  Attention to the details, to the matter most immediately in front of you is how you arrive at the place of thankfulness and joy.  The things that face you these weeks need to be done.  So do them.

Maintaining such a balance is not a simple matter.  That is where God and faith and spirituality come in.  The practices of the faith community create a mechanism by which we anticipate the struggles and keep them in perspective.  Confidence in the One who Created me and all things allows me to stand firm when the world is swirling around me.

I am glad you are back.  And I look forward to seeing you.  Use me to dump those negative emotions or experiences and come near me when you need a boost.  These are the resources given to me through my attention to the means of grace, and I will gladly share them with you.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sermon - Christ the King Sunday

John 18:33-37    

                                                 Christ the King 

“So, you are a king?”

This is a very troubling question.  Or is it really a statement?  There is a question mark at the end of the sentence, but it seems as if Pilate is reaching a conclusion.  He had previously asked Jesus if he was “the King…”  It is after a bit of back and forth that Pilate again attempts to get to the heart of the matter regarding who Jesus is or at least who Jesus thinks he is.

Is Jesus a king?  
Is Jesus “the” king? 
Is he your king?

Christ the King Sunday is positioned at the end of the liturgical year in order to confront and challenge church-goers to answer this question.  Christ the King Sunday comes after fifty-one weeks of hearing the Jesus story.  In these fifty-one weeks we have gone from looking for a savior, to speaking of a spectacular birth, realizing that many won’t want to follow, seeing the one in whom we were beginning to find hope hung on a cross, receiving the witness of some who saw a resurrected Jesus, and then twenty-six weeks of looking more intently at the stories which flew by too fast between Epiphany and Easter.  Fifty-two weeks.  And now it is time to decide. 

Is Jesus a king?  
Is Jesus “the” king? 
Is he your king?

There is nothing more which can be told you on this Sunday, there is no new information or insight to share.   It is simply decision time.

And I will be the first to acknowledge that it isn’t an easy or simple decision.

It has never been easy, or simple.

The Church has not always had a “Christ the King Sunday.”  It is really a rather recent addition to the liturgical calendar.  Anyone able to recall the year when the “Feast of Christ the King” was introduced?  Well, it was 1925 when Pope Pius XI instituted this observance.  He felt that folks might need help in deciding, or at least acknowledging, who they looked to for their ultimate hope and assurance.

1925 – the mood of the times was one of rising nationalism and autocratic rulers.  Pope Pius XI saw the need for the Church to confront itself as to where it finds its most compelling allegiance.

Understandably, Christ the King Sunday has its critics.  In the most recent years, it has been the need to interpret “King” language.  I realize that most of the sermons I have preached on Christ the King fall into the category of trying to draw a distinction between the types of persons the world identifies as a king and the type of king Christ seeks to be.  The kingdom of Christ is marked by compassion and service, with self-sacrifice and self-denial.  “Christ is no ordinary king!” has been a popular refrain in many sermons.

Another criticism is rooted in the well-worn notion of two-kingdoms.  The critic being that there are kingdoms of this world, then there is the heavenly kingdom.  Preachers fixated on this notion will often minimize our engagement with temporal or present day kingdoms; telling us instead to look to the kingdom to come.  “What does it really matter?” they may ask, “How the kingdoms of this world configure themselves?”

What have you heard, over the years?  Of course, those of us over forty-four years old might remember a time when there was no Christ the King.  It wasn’t until the 1974 COCU Lectionary (forerunner to the Common Lectionary ((1983)), which preceded the Revised Common Lectionary (((1994))) ) that Protestant Churches regularly included Christ the King.  Think about 1974 and 1983 and you can start to understand why most presentations regarding Christ the King were attempts to speak of an alternative “kingdom to come” in the “sweet by and by.”

And thus, we might have missed the challenge inherent in Pope Pius’ efforts; we might have successfully avoided the questions set before us by Christ the King Sunday.

Is Christ a king?  
Is Christ “the” king? 
Is Christ your king?

For the record, let’s acknowledge how confusing all of this was for the earliest of characters.  Pilate knows full well the challenge which Jesus presents to his authority and reign.  Never ever forget that it was on a Roman Cross that Jesus is crucified.  He may be handed over by the Temple leaders, but Rome is the one who condemns him to death.  While it may not have been lawful for the religious types to condemn someone to death, they do it.  Remember the martyrdom of Stephen, in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ Resurrection.  That execution was carried out by the folks in the Temple, without concern for what was legal or lawful.

When Pilate interviews Jesus (our Gospel lesson for today), Pilate asks him “Are you the King.”  I want you to look at your bulletin, and if you have a pen or pencil, I would suggest you go through this reading and everywhere you see “Jew”, strike it and write “Judean.”  One of the difficulties in reading the story in English (even Latin for that matter) is the failure to remember that “Jew” and “Judean” are two separate Greek words.  Pilate asks Jesus if he is the “King of the Judeans.”

The “Judeans,” to Pilate, were the folks with political and social clout living in and around the region of Jerusalem.  The “Judeans,” to Pilate, were a political entity rather than a religious affiliation.  Pilate isn’t asking if Jesus is the spiritual leader of a religious people.  Pilate is asking if Jesus is seeking to be known as the ruler of the people of Judea.

What we know, from having just completed fifty-one weeks of readings from the Gospel of Mark, is that Jesus is a Galilean.  In the north, in the region of Galilea, he has some bumps along the way.  But it when his message comes into the territory of Judea that the religious types began to condemn his presentation of the faith of Abraham and point out how he isn’t living in accordance with the traditions of the Judean Jews.

Pilate doesn’t care. “Pray to whomever you want!” may have been the unspoken thought.  But he won’t tolerate Jesus setting before the residents of his territory those questions which bedevil any who hold power and want to continue to hold power:
Is Christ a king?  
Is Christ “the” king? 
Is Christ your king?

Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the followers of Jesus that ethic identity or country of origin was of little consequence to us.  We are citizens of a kingdom established on Golgotha; our allegiance is to the teachings and doctrines of Holy Scripture and the Creeds of the Church.

The Kingdom of Christ is a kingdom which does differ greatly from the kingdoms of this world.  It is also a Kingdom whose time has come and is as much a part of our daily existence as it will be when we are gathered with the saints of old.

I want you to hear me say that I know it is tough to choose the Kingdom of Christ over the kingdoms of this world.  I will confess how difficult (and at times seemingly impossible) it is for me to choose rightly.  You have called me as your pastor.  You have given me the luxury of studying theology and church history.  In faithfulness to that call and in attempting to share what I have learned, I set before you those three telling questions:
Is Christ a king?  
Is Christ “the” king? 
Is Christ your king?


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, November 20

As The Revelation reaches its ending, the characters in the story join in praising God.  The ultimate joy and happiness comes when they have opportunity to worship.

Remember that it was likely a display of devotion which resulted in John being sent to the prison on Patmos.  What a reversal it would be for him were he allowed to openly and continually give thanks to God.

Our depictions of heaven too often include more of the best of what we like most.  In scripture, the images of heaven are opportunities to give God the glory.

There is something in this which we all need to hear.  We all need to remember that a grateful heart is a heart already full and overflowing.  When I am satisfied, all that remains is giving thanks for what I have received.  Otherwise, eternity is self-centered and self-gratifying - traits which separate us from God and from our sisters and brothers in this life.

Be diligent in your offering of thanks.  Speak openly and proudly of your gratitude to God and of your desire to praise God.  Have a joy-filled and overflowing Thanksgiving Break.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Devotion - Monday, November 19

Jesus gives instructions about giving a banquet in Luke 14.  He instructs us to "invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind...."  He tells us to include on our guest list those who could never return the favor of inviting us to a lavish feast.

We gathered our family this past Saturday for a "Thanksgiving" gathering.  There will be a smaller event this week, but we will gather once more.  Perhaps you are also making plans for a gathering in the days to come.  Who will be invited?

Part of giving thanks is to become aware of our abundance.  Part of looking to God is acknowledging how graciously God has looked upon us.

In a world where we are too often pulled in many directions and seldom have meaningful time with family, Thanksgiving events provide such a break - and perhaps need to be held and treasured as family gatherings.  Certainly this is true for parents eager to welcome you back after being gone for many weeks.

But hear the instructions of Luke 14 and consider the guest lists of  your life.  Where is there room for the poor, the blind, the lame, the forgotten?  You don't have to go searching for them - there are many such persons in your apartment complex, in your classrooms, and in your daily path.  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, November 15

When asked to serve as a reference for one of you, the questions often include one similar to "Accepts critiques well".  I understand why a potential employer would want to know this.  It is helpful to be able to share places where improvement would be beneficial.  Helpful both to the job and also to the person being reviewed.

I was reading Zephaniah 3 this morning.  The prophet says, "Woe to her that is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city!  She listens to no voice, and she accepts no correction."

Among the "one another" sayings of Jesus is "Admonish one another."  Jesus asks this of his followers, so that we might each aid the other in more accurately reflecting the faith that is in us.  Jesus assumes that any of his followers who prefer to know, when their actions/words/attitudes were hurting or harming others.

Accepting criticism - being open to admonish - these are good characteristics to have.

It is tough - even for your campus pastor - to know whether my suggestions to you will be received well.  We live in a world where criticism is too often harsh and demeaning.  We are encouraged to live isolated lives and be subservient to no one.

Do not allow yourself to become like the defiled city in Zephaniah's prophecy.  Be open to and accept and request input from others.  Ask them to help you live the way of Jesus, in which we help one another discover the ways in which our lives to not reflect the faith that is in us.  And we alter the way we act/speak/think.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Devotion- Wednesday, November 14

Happy Thanksgiving!  Today is our LCM Thanksgiving Celebration.  With classes cancelled next Wednesday-Friday, this Wednesday becomes our opportunity to gather and give thanks.

And we do have much to be thankful for.

We have each other.  We have a gathering of persons which becomes a community.  We have a place and a time and a location where we can just show up and there will be others there waiting for us.  We can come every time the doors open, or only occasionally as our schedule permits.  But there will be others there.  And while we may not find ourselves at the center of this sub-grouping or another, we do have a place and we are a part.

We have others.  Others who are looking out for us.  Richard Delap will cook our turkeys tonight.  He started doing this when his daughter was in LCM.  That was about 10 years ago.  We have him and dozens of others who give of their time and energy just so they can be around you and with you as your journey through these years.

We have those intangibles.  Things like peace and joy and confidence.  The community of Jesus is the reservoir out of which these gifts flow.  They are always available.  They are handed out freely and continually.  

Yes, we have many reasons to be thankful.  Thankful for the opportunity to be in college and for the chance to expand our world and our worldview.  And so, we will gather to give thanks.  This evening, and every day of our lives.  God is good and God is good to us.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, November 13

I do enjoy reading The Revelation.  This morning I am in the 14th chapter.  Image after image reminds the reader that God is the one who reigns in the heavens and that God's justice finds its way into the earth.

In reply to one of my less-then-cheerful devotions, a friend replied "Are you alright?"  There have been some troubling days of late; troubling to me mostly because of my deep love and concern for you and your generation.  This friend's email redirected my attention to the affirmations of The Revelation - we may be pressed but never destroyed; we may be injured but never defeated.

The graphic images in The Revelation remind us that the way may be difficult and the opposition strong, but they are no match for God's Word and for God's will.

I don't know the tone of your day thus far, but I share with you the gift given to me this cold and rainy morning - God's angles will proceed from the Temple and from around the altar.  They will carry out God's will and they will bring to us the gifts of the God who loves us and cares for us and provides for us.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Devotion - Monday, November 12

It seems to finally be turning cold.  Fall has been very warm this year; I have longed for cool mornings and signs of frost.

Winter is a season of rest; a time when the tress and grasses can replenish and renew.  Winter is a season of slower activity and a time when the fruit tree isn't expected to be producing.

It is a good time of the year.  For these reasons.

Unfortunately for you, this season begins as you are hitting these last weeks of class.  While the earth is becoming dormant, you are cranking up.  I lament this for you - and realize it may prevent  you from receiving the gifts associated with a season of rest.  So, I write to you of such things.

And I remind you that none of God's creatures were designed to be constantly working.  Each evening's sleep is the most immediate reminder of this.  You have have similar reminders when you become burdened or overwhelmed.  You may long for the rest of a dormant season.

There is no solution I can offer you.  I wish I could give you a ticket to a place of rest.  I will remind  you of the importance of rest and renewal and I would support you as you find opportunities to give your body and your spirit the breaks needed.  At the very least, be mindful of this.  Make one of your walks between classes a mini-Sabbath by observing the dropping leaves and the approaching winter clouds.

It is cool this morning.  A good reminder of how God has made this earth and how God cares for that which has been created.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sermon - 25th Sunday after Pentecost - Year B

I Kings 17:8-16 & Mark 12:38-44   

Giving All That We Have 

            They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation. (Mark 12:40)  Isn’t that a horrible image?  It is the kind of verse I hate hearing, let alone having to read in public and then preach on (or try preach around.)  “They will receive the greater condemnation.”   How is that possible anyway?  Isn’t condemnation condemnation?  What could Jesus possibly mean?

            Considering that the gospel moves immediately from Jesus’ announcement of the greater condemnation to story of the widow and her mite, I would sure be nervous if I hadn’t already figured out what my pledge was going to be for the coming year.  What if I give too much?  Putting me in the category of those who put on a great show and receive that greater condemnation?  What if I put in too little, thus failing to meet the standard established by this poor old widow?  These verses will no doubt be in the back of your mind as you place your offering in the passing plate.  And I would be really careful - if I were you.  Condemnation is bad enough - I hate to think what greater condemnation must be like.  Too much and you might be grouped with the showy scribes, who like to walk around in long robes.  Too little and you may fail the test of the widow’s mite, giving instead out of your abundance.

            Of course Jesus isn’t concerned with our plan for giving.  He’s not actually concerned with the amount we put in the offering plate.  The thing which matters to Christ is what is etched into the fabric of our lives.  That is what he is observing, as he sits next to the temple treasury.  He sees, not the amount of the gifts placed in the pot, but what the gift says about the person who gives it.

            If you watch what people do, you can learn a lot about them.  Observing behaviors reveals to you what a person is made of, how they are put together, what they consider to be important.  Watching differs greatly from making assumptions.  We can make assumptions quickly, but watching takes time.  Observing behaviors over a period of time allows you to see folks commit not only one act but several. 

            We don’t want to jump to conclusions as to how we are to interpret this gospel lesson.  Jesus’ condemnation is not of rich folks.  Jesus is not saying that the wealthy should withhold their abundant gifts.  I have to point out - if for no other reason than the sake of my own livelihood - that much of what God hopes to accomplish in the world can only be accomplished when those of us in the wealthiest quarter of the human population give generously of what we have first received.  So don’t jump to the conclusion that Jesus is condemning all rich folks.

            Don’t make assumptions; don’t jump to conclusions.  Watch, watch and learn, and then comment on what is observed.  This is what Jesus does as he sits next to treasury in the temple.  He watches, he learns and he makes comments on what he sees.

            What he sees allows him to speak of the difference between those for whom God is a sideline or hobby and those for whom faith in God forms the core of their existence.  Jesus observes that many who come into the temple behave as if they could take or leave this whole God thing.  They make no sacrifice unto the Lord; they view their gifts as little more than charity, cast in the direction of the less fortunate. 

            As he is watching all this, Jesus sees the widow entering the temple.  She has a much different attitude.  She comes, bringing all that she has, and presents it to God.  For her, God is no sideline or hobby; God is the one upon whom she is utterly dependent.

            What would Jesus see, learn and comment on if he were to watch us as we make our way through a typical day, or week?  What would Jesus deduce were he to follow the ushers along each row and watched, as each envelope was placed in the offering plate?  It doesn’t bother us too much, to read what went on in some temple in ancient Israel.  But think of the risk of having him look over our shoulders here, today.

            This is not a legalistic question.  Jesus doesn’t watch to see what folks place in the treasury and then calculate whether that gift equals a tithe of one’s income.  Jesus merely watches, sees what we do, and comments on what the gifts say about the giver.  What do our gifts say - about us?
             What value do you place upon your faith?  Do you think of your church involvement as fire insurance?  When we take out a fire insurance policy we figure out the minimum coverage needed so as minimize our premium payment.  Do you think of your gifts to the church as a retainer, similar to that you would give a lawyer so you can have access to their services?  Only in this case we are retaining access to the church should we need a wedding, baptism, funeral or something of the sort? 

            Our relationship with God is not fire insurance.  Our offerings are not a retainer.  Our relationship with God forms the core of our existence or it is of little value.

            When Jesus watches the worshipers place their gifts in the treasury what he observes is the value each person places upon their relationship with God.  The widow’s two copper coins are a powerful statement about her attitude toward the one called Lord.

            I wonder if this widow had heard the story of the widow of Zarephath - the story that we read as our first lesson for today.  In that story the widow is sought out - Elijah goes looking for her.  When he finds her, she is gathering firewood in order to cook her last meal. 

            She does not resist Elijah’s request to feed him first. She obeys, even though she has no reason to trust his promise that the flour will never give out.  She makes him a cake first, and then she feeds herself and her son.

            We are not told how long Elijah stays with this widow - but for as long as he is there, the jar of meal was not emptied, and neither did the jug of oil fail.  So long as she was providing for Elijah, the woman was able to provide for herself and her son.

            The wonderful twist in this story is the way in which God takes care of this woman.  God provides for her by sending to her someone that she could care for.  She provides for Elijah.  She trusts that God will take care of her.  So long as she takes care of Elijah; God takes care of her.

            I think I am about to decide that the greater condemnation is being trapped in the fear that we have to take care of ourselves.  Might the greatest of all condemnations be being alone as we face a bleak future?  If we stand alone in our prosperity, we will certainly feel alone in our distress. The widow of Zarephath did not face a very promising future, but she was willing to take on the burden of caring for another. I am about to decide that the greater condemnation is the fear which leads us to think that our primary task is to take care of ourselves.

            I love the post-communion prayer, included in the Now the Feast liturgy.  It reads, “Gracious Lord, give us courage to share our bread.”  It does take courage to share our bread.  It took a lot of courage for the widow to put her two coins in the treasury. 

I don’t intend to leave you with a guilty conscience this morning - what I really want is to persuade you to pray for courage, for the courage it takes to share.  I remain convinced that those with such courage never experience want.  Like the widow of Zarephath so long as we care for another we are also cared for.  Pray for this courage.  And I promise you that condemnation (the common everyday kind or the kind Jesus calls the greater condemnation) will never come into your life.