Thursday, January 31, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 31

Most of us are familiar with the events referred to as "the feeding of the 5,000."  When this story is told in Mark, Chapter 6, it is preceded with a comment on Jesus' motivation.  

Jesus sees the crowd, and "he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

I hope is it not offensive to you if I point to this verse as the tag line for the work I do among you.  We are all too often like sheep without a shepherd.  We struggle to accomplish even the simplest of tasks; we stumble in the darkness looking for the light; and our hearts are burdened with worries about what we will eat and what we will wear.

But we have a shepherd.  We need not wander.

The presenting characteristic of this shepherd is his attitude toward us.  "Compassion."  We are not a burden, we are not despised, we are not the means to a paycheck.  Compassion.

The feeding of the 5,000 is in every Gospel account.  There is an urgency to tell the story of how present is God's compassion and willingness (let's rename it eagerness) to feed us and help us find our way home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 30

I apologize for failing to send out a devotion yesterday, and not giving you a heads up that would happen.  I have been out of town, participating in a retreat for campus pastors in Region 9.  I have been staying up late, and sleeping in.

The Commandments speak of Sabbath, but we don't often enough speak of this gift from God.  It is the blessed rest which allows us to be reminded of the aspects of life which are the most essential.

I have been experiencing Sabbath.  And I wanted to speak of this to you.

It may just be the nature of student life that there is always something to be done.  I can tell you it is also a feature of life for those in their post-college years.  You will only experience Sabbath if you take time for it - you won't be given chances or encouraged by the world to take it.

Sabbath is a wonderful thing.  There is a reason God established this as the theme for the seventh day of creation.  It is as essential to our health as eating well and getting exercise.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Devotion - Monday, January 28

I want to turn to I Corinthians 12 one more time.  We looked at last week's reading on Wednesday, and again at the Directing Committee Retreat.  Yesterday, the second half of this chapter served as our reading.

Paul speaks of the body's various parts and how each part needs another.  He points out that the foot needs the eye, the hand needs the stomach - that sort of thing.

Twice last week I found myself speaking of the particular message of our LCM ministry.  Twice I was helping someone who had been involved elsewhere realize that the particulars of our message are not intended to mean the particulars of another ministry are incorrect.  Twice I found myself saying that only when each of us offers our gifts will the whole Church be the Church.

There is only so much any one of us can know.  We are dependent upon others to know what is beyond our abilities.  When we realize that the foot has a role and that the foot must do that role it allowed the foot to do its thing with appreciation for what the eye can do - but not trying to be an eye!

Maybe it is fear of seeming inadequate.  But why is it so difficult for us to say - this is what I have, and I offer this; the rest of the story and message will need to be told by others.

I Corinthians 12.  A chapter full of wisdom and insight and good practical knowledge.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Sermon - 3rd Sunday after Epiphany - Year C

Luke 4:14-21    
Taking the Good News Home

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Something happens; something occurs that morning in the Temple.  Jesus tells his listeners – “Today” this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

One of the great ironies, to me, is way worship is experienced in modern-day congregations.   John Douglas Hall, in his book Why Christian, hits it on the head as he relates the experiences of a college-age seeker.  The young man goes to one congregation whose theology he finds very acceptable.  (Hall never gives a denomination, but you can tell that this congregation is the Lutheran one.)  Upon visiting, the young man notes that he likes what the liturgy and preacher had to say, but he reported “there wasn’t any life in the place.”  No one, at that church, was expecting anything to happen.

The young man visits a different church.  (Again, the denomination is not identified.  It seems to be more on the evangelical side of Christendom.)  “The place was alive with expectation.”  the young man reported.

Now, here is the real irony for me:  our mainline, sacramental churches seem to be dead; while the evangelical variety is looking for something to happen. Again, here is the irony: In an evangelical church, nothing happens unless someone in the pews feels moved to respond; while in a sacramental church something happens every time the gifts of bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Christ.

“Today (the) scripture (is being) fulfilled in your hearing.”  Something is happening; something is occurring. 

A lot has occurred in the gospel of Luke.  We are in the middle verses of Chapter 4.  “4” is a rather low number, so it should be easy for us to infer that we are still pretty close to the beginning.   In the liturgical year we are still pretty early.  I imagine that even the most severe procrastinator among us has finally taken down their Christmas tree, but we are only 5 weeks into the new life which came among us on that marvelous night.  Not that the Gospel story follows chronologically the life development of Jesus.  Far from it.  But, in order to get to the stories of Jesus’ preaching, healing, and confrontations with those who could not accept his message, you need to cover a lot of ground.  That is what we have been doing, by way of our weekly readings, these past couple of Sundays.

We began with the story of Jesus’ birth.  There were two Sundays of readings associated with those who where there with the infant Jesus.  Then we moved to stories of Jesus’ youth – the whole “lost in the temple” experience.  Two weeks ago the theme was his baptism and last week the events associated with his turning the water into wine at the wedding feast served to illustrate that he is indeed something very special. 

A lot of ground has been covered.  Enough so that we are prepared to accept the gospel writer’s assertion that a report about him (has) spread through all the surrounding country.  There is great expectation when he returns to his home town and makes his way to the Temple.

Luke tells us that Jesus reads from the prophesy of Isaiah.  Taken from the 61st chapter of Isaiah, these ancient words had been for the Children of Abraham words of hope and promise.  They listened to them over the centuries with the expectation that one day God would send among them their promised, anointed one.  The people were waiting for that arrival.  Jesus re-reads words they must have heard hundreds of times before.  Then he sits down (sitting is the posture taken by a Rabbi as he is about to instruct the congregation.)  Jesus sits down and rather than launch into a sermon intended to help them understand what these verses meant, he tells them that the ancient words have now been fulfilled.

The people were filled with expectations – but they were not expecting this.  The people came there that day so they might be on hand when something happened, but they couldn’t believe this was happening.  Jesus is telling them that he is the promise.  He announces to them the good news, their release, and the recovery of their sight.  “Today”, he tells them, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

There is a reaction to what Jesus does.  That is the content of next week’s Gospel and Pastor Jon can decide how to deal with it in that sermon.  Suffice it to say that the congregation realized the outlandish claim Jesus is making and they were none too happy about it.  I don’t think Pastor Jon would mind if you read ahead and form your own thoughts as to what that passage means.  For today, I want to keep us on these verses and consider together what it is that Jesus is saying – not just for those in that Temple on that day, but for us as well.  I think what he says, what he does, might shake us a bit when it comes to what we expect.

Jesus assures them that something is happening in that very room, at that very moment.  There is no delay or reason to look to the future.  It is present right there, right then.

There are at least two times in the course of this worship service when Pastor Jon will make a similar proclamation of immediacy.  One has already occurred, the other is yet to come.  Do you recognize them, as they happen?

The first is actually a prequel to our service.  It happens while the pastor is still at the rear of the church.  In response to our confession, the pastor announces, “I proclaim to you that Almighty God, rich in mercy, abundant in love, forgives you all your sin.”  Those words are very carefully crafted and situated in the midst of a reminder that the authority to speak those words comes are a result of a call from the Church of Jesus Christ and it is by his authority that they are spoken.  Never-the-less, they do occur.  And we believe and teach that they are true.  If we are one of those churches whose theology is acceptable yet seems rather dead to a first-time visitor, it can only mean that we have ceased to expect and/or receive the miracle which happens (HAPPENS!) each Sunday by way of a few brief paragraphs, a time for individual meditation, and the pronouncement of the one set aside for the task of public ministry.

You should know where I am going next.  To the Table and the Eucharist.  Sacramental churches, of which ours is one, believe that the bread and wine of Holy Communion does not remain bread and wine.  They become for us the body and blood of our crucified and resurrected Lord.  That miraculous transformation occurs each time we gather around this table and partake of these gifts.   I don’t know how anything more wonderful could ever happen that what does happen here.  It is enough to fill us with expectations.

Some have argued that it is the frequency issue.  “If you have communion every week you start to take it for granted.”  Maybe there is something to that.  Maybe if we are present for a miracle week after week after week we stop thinking of it as such.  Rather than be overwhelmed in appreciation for what God is doing in our midst, we begin to ask God to do something else – something more?  Something we would like to have done for us.  Maybe – but only just maybe.

Anything else which might be done - or which we might seek to have done - would be something of our own design.  It might meet our most recently identified expectation, but it wouldn’t be the thing God has chosen to do.

Those in Nazareth who went out to hear Jesus went with their own set of expectations.  What they got was not what they expected.  What they got, you and I know, was what they really needed; what they had to have.  Their expectations were not met, in part, because their expectations were too low.

A song and dance or a dog and pony show are crowd pleasers and they leave a lasting impression.  But the announcement which shakes the Temple is the one in which the claim is made that God’s promise is indeed being fulfilled, right now, right here.  “Today,” Jesus announces, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 24

This sentence is from the opening prayer was printed in my devotional guide:  We ask only for the grace to use what thou hast already provided.

I do my best to being my personal prayers with acknowledging God and thanking God.  It was taught to me that only after we lift up our praise to God are we in a position to speak to God about the parts of our life which are in need or assistance.  This is the model of prayer in the prayer that Jesus taught us.

God has provided all that we need.  What is lacking is the grace, or the will, or the wisdom, or the courage to use what God has already provided.

As is too often seen in the lives of those who hoard and accumulate excessive wealth, we too operate out of a false fear of scarcity.  There is plenty!  There is enough!  

We ask only for the grace to use what thou hast already provided. 

What need are you facing this day?  Where are the places you are asking God to make his presence known?  Do not stop lifting those to God, but remember to thank God for what has already been provided and to make full use of what God has given.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 23

Among the bible stories I would hope you know is the parable of the four soils.  This morning I read it from Mark 4.1-9 (that is a hyperlink so you can read it now.)

In this parable, the sower casts his seed and it falls on differing types of soils.  The types of soils represent the differing types of responses to the Word of God when it is spoken to us.

The soil type which touched my heart most deeply this morning is the one with thorns.  Jesus says these are the folks who are distracted by the things of the world.  Such delights chokes the word and it cannot take deep root.

The reasons why this moves me are complex, but I would attempt to explain it by saying that the cares of the world are also that which drives us to the word of God.  There are too many instances in which the lure of power or success or prominence are entangled in the snake which then turns and bites us.  In pastoral conversations, I hear of how the cares of the world shout so loudly for attention that the word of God and the promises of Jesus don't stand a chance.

This morning's devotion is a suggestion that each of us pay attention to the soil which is our lives.  I understand you have way too much to get done this day and I do understand that there are so many experiences you would love to have during your college years.  But taking a few minutes - perhaps at the beginning of each day - and reminding yourself of your core commitments and your deepest desires could be the best use of those precious ticks of the clock.

Mark 4.1-9.  And in the following verses Jesus offers an explanation of the parable.  Consider how you are attending to the soil onto which will be cast the seeds of God's word.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, January 22

The prophets have a way of speaking the truth across the ages.  They use stories and images and they confront ignorance and idolatry in a way which does not immediately result in the shutting down of deliberations.

In Isaiah 44, the prophet speaks of a ridiculous way to do things.  The character cuts down a tree.  Part of the tree he uses to build a fire.  This fire warms him, and it allows him to cook his meal.  From another part of the tree, the man carves an idol, which he falls down and worships.  The prophet asks how something which the man himself has fashioned can be looked upon as one's hope for deliverance and salvation?

And we would tend to agree.  Wouldn't we?

But what if the prophet retold the story, speaking of something other than a tree.  What if the the raw material were the industrial complex, or winged flight, or the stock market, or advanced knowledge/studies?  The prophet's words point out to us that there are things which we have fashioned with our own hands which too easily become the idols we adore.

As I hope is true of all my sermons, this is not a scolding of anyone for making the wrong choice, it is an attempt to point out a missed opportunity.  The opportunity missed is coming to the water which satisfies all thirst; it is eating of the bread which nourishes our souls.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Devotion - ML King Day

Rev King said he wanted to hold up a mirror, so America could see itself.  When that reflection met our eyes, we became angry. 

Some were angry that a mirror was lifted.  Those lashed out at Rev King.  One shot him.

Others were angry that we had allowed ourselves to become so ugly.  They joined in the marches and they promised to life their lives differently.

Looking into such a mirror today provides the same options.  

White America is not in a position to judge how well we are doing.  If white America to know how it is going, ask persons of color.  Those voices are pretty consistent.  Great strides have been made, but the most difficult steps still need to be taken.  And some of the advances are in danger of being reversed.

What Rev King preached, Jesus had already said.  Every child is a child of God.  All are precious in God's eyes.  Our brothers and sisters are not determined by blood line but by the baptismal waters.  

It begins with confession - confessing how we have been blind to the realities of others, how we have ignored their struggle, and how we have participated (even profited) from an unfair social structure.  It continues with repentance - with looking for even the smallest way in which we can turn our life around and life differently.  If we claim we don't know what we can do, we can start by merely finding opportunities to be in the presence of those who are holding up that mirror.  We too often wait for someone to come to us;  we could go to where they are.  And there we can learn together what steps might be taken.

On this ML King Day, look in the mirror and see with honest eyes.  Discover how you might alter the image.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sermon - 2nd Sunday After Epiphany - Year C

John 2:1-11    

                                                                   Just for the Hell of It

 Most of us have a favorite bible story, or a story we remember, or a story we like to hear.  I am curious whether this story from John 2 is such a story for any of you?

I always look back through old sermons.  On previous Sundays with these appointed lessons, I chose to deal with the I Corinthians reading.  Not sure why.  I don’t have any reason to avoid John 2.  I do wonder if among the reasons is the repeated opportunities I have had to speak to the story of water into wine at weddings.  This story often becomes a favorite, easily remembered, or one we like to hear as couples come before the Church to hear the promises of God upon their union.

John 2:  memorable for a couple of reasons; helpful on so many levels.

These events do take place at a wedding.  Mary, the mother of Jesus is active in this story – unlike her passive participation in the stories retold in Luke’s account or her complete silence in the events recorded in Matthew.  Here, Mary is active and an actor in the revealing of her son’s identity and role.  This story is also significant in that the events recorded here are put in proper perspective by noting that they are the first (but only the first) of Jesus’ signs.

In a sermon a few months ago, I spoke of what happened in the reading as a “miracle.”  Pastor Jon reminded me that while we tend to call them “miracles,” the descriptive word used in the Bible is “signs.”  Miracles – signs.  Perhaps only a slight difference, but perhaps a significant one.  These things which Jesus does should not be confused with a slight of hand or a ripping apart the laws of nature.  The Bible teaches us that these are events in which we are allowed to see something which we need to know.  These are occurrences which serve as a sign. They are “signs” of God – of God’s presence, of God’s love, of God’s grace, of God’s intentions toward us.

In Galilee, at a wedding in Cana, one such sign occurs.  And in this sign there is the opportunity to see and experience God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s intentions toward us.

You know the story.  It has been read to you once again this morning.  What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

It is tough to regain control when a preacher asks and open ended question and begs for responses.  So let’s do that thing where you turn to someone near you and share your answer.  What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

Turn and speak to someone near you.

I have a funny story about this reading.  Zach Parris retold the story to the students gathered over New Years in Memphis, and also put it on the podcast.  Some twenty years ago, an LCM couple picked this lesson for their wedding, and in my sermon that day I offended some of their more straight-laced guests.  I apologize in advance for committing the same transgression today.  But when I think of what this sign, performed by Jesus at the wedding in Cana, tells me – it tells me that God is deeply concerned with the living of a happy and joy filled life.   This sign does not allow someone who cannot see to regain their sight.  This sign does not feed 5,000 hungry people stranded in a lonely place.  This sign – allows the wedding party to continue and the host of the party to avoid social humiliation.  Many of the signs associated with Jesus meet profound human need.  This sign (and here comes the offensive phrase) Jesus does just for the hell of it.

What a wonderful and powerful first sign.  Right away it sets the stage for what Messiah is to do.  This, the first of his signs, communicates the reason for each of his signs.  This signs reveal the assurance God’s presence; they make known the depth of God’s love; they are expressions of God’s grace, and they make crystal clear God’s intentions toward us.

God does not want or demand quivering lumps of rotting flesh!  God seeks children who can find as much joy and pleasure and beauty in the creation as He does.  In Jesus (but not only in Jesus,) God sets aside any concern about the heavens and makes earth His dwelling place.  God does not want or demand quivering lumps of rotting flesh!  God seeks children who can find as much joy and pleasure and beauty in the creation as He does. 

Here is your word for the day:  Incarnation.  Say it with me:  Incarnation.

Earlier this week, and I am not going to remember where, someone was struggling to remember this word – Incarnation.  It means God taking on our form and our lot and being one of us.  Christians do not worship a heavenly being.  Our God takes on our form and lives as one of us.  No physicist or philosopher will be able to explain how it happens, but every Christian Theologian will teach that it does.  It is the full and final expression of God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us.  Out of love for us, God creates us, places in the Garden of Eden, and continues to provide for us from the earth’s plenty even after we transgress.

God is not some angry, vengeful, demanding master!  God is loving and caring.  God’s fight against sin and sinfulness and living in sin is a desire to have us united with God.  This is also a battle God wages because God knows how sin and sinfulness separates us from one another; in truth, how sin separates us from ourselves.

Jesus loves me, this I know.  I know it for many reasons, and today I am reminded by the retelling of the story of the first of the signs Jesus does.  Merely to keep the party going, Jesus changes water into wine.  Simply to help his host avoid social embarrassment, Jesus takes action.

What does this, the first of Jesus’ signs, tell you about God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s intentions toward us?

My hope and prayer and intention in this sermon is that it tells you that God loves you and that God cares for you and that God provides for you and that God wants for you a joyful and joy filled life.

This is the word of God.  For the people of God.  Thanks be to God.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 17

In Mark 2, Jesus heals a man who cannot walk.  His first words to the man are "your sins are forgiven."  There is a discussion among the religious snobs about whether he can forgive sins.  So, Jesus' next words to the man is for him to stand up and walk home.

This reminded me of one of the speakers we heard while at the LSM Gathering in Memphis.  He is a medical doctor, who is also a seminary graduate.  He intentionally got both degrees - much of his work is helping the Church reclaim its emphasis on caring for the sick and ill.

Charles Wesley was a doctor.  He was successful in this part of his life.  Preaching did not always bring as great a change in his hearers.

Travel and look for hospitals.  Many bear the names of religious saints.  Many were built by Christian communities.

Our speaker pointed out that it was around the turn of the 20th century that the Church stopped being involved in medical care.  Three things happened:  1) Darwin, more the debate that ensued;  2) Modern medicine brought the opportunity for profits, and when there are possible profits who wants the Church front and center; and 3) a resurgence of the non-Christian notion that we are a body/spirit dualism which can be divided, Church was given opportunity to care for spirit, body belonged to others.

Jesus heals many who were sick and ill.  He feeds those who are hungry.  Jesus understood that we are body and spirit and he attends to both.  As his followers, we are to attend to both as well.

In his presentation last night, Marion Fisher lifted up poverty as a Christian cause.  This was a huge part of the work of Rev ML King, Jr.  Caring for the bodies of our sisters and brothers is the story of Jesus.  Read Mark 2.  And then go and do likewise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 16

I have been watching the Netflix series "The Good Place."  It is the story of a young woman who dies and is greeted by a host with the news, "You are in the good place."  There are some teaching moments in the plot; but mostly it is entertainment.

One teaching moment is found in the premise.  What happens to us when we die?  Are our acts on earth graded and based on those do we end up in a bad place or a good place?

I read this morning Ephesians 2:1-10.  Paul speaks of being set free from the trap of sin.  Paul does write of eternity and being with God; but his writings do not merely address what comes next.  He is clear that being a follower of Jesus changes life now.  And that change is for the better.

Eleanor, main character in "The Good Place," is the one who exposes that doing the right thing is simply better.  Doing the right thing keeps us in a right relationship with others, with the world, with our creator.  

Paul's writings reveal that it is a trap of the evil one which allows us to think that lying or cheating or stealing or harming will somehow make our lives fuller.  It is a trap!

The way of Jesus is not some arbitrary set of rules, intended to be a buzz kill.  The way of Jesus sets us on a path toward peace, contentment, community.  The way of Jesus is the way to the good place.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, January 15

Today's gospel reading is Mark 1:14-28.  This is one of the places where a person with "an unclean spirit" correctly identifies Jesus.  He cries out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God."

In this instance, it is Jesus who silences the spirit.  He does so by instructing the spirit to "come out" of the afflicted person.  Let's not lose that aspect of the story.

In my prayers, I remembered other instances where the attempts to silence are made by the authorities.  Even the crowd tells one man to stop shouting!

Too often, we seek calm over the changes which Jesus would bring to the world.

Today is the birthday of Dr. ML King, Jr.  (For the sake of convenience, our authorities set the observance for the 3rd Monday of the month.)  Many tried to silence him.

Who is shouting now?  Where are the voices seeking the alterations pleasing to God?  If the calls for justice and fairness and acceptance are silenced by Jesus' acts of healing so be it!  But that is the only way in which silence ought to come.

Who is shouting now?  Do we even hear their voices?  

Monday, January 14, 2019

Devotion - Monday, January 14

We make baptism the center of much that we teach and do.  To speak of baptism as a sacrament is to acknowledge that more happens in a baptism than we can comprehend.  Sacraments are mysterious.  Sacraments are encounters with God.  In a sacrament, God is the actor.

When faced with hardship or temptation, Luther was said to have replied "I am baptized!"

In understanding ourselves as one immersed in the waters of baptism, we place our trust in God and we express our confidence that God will care for us.  To be baptized is to be assured that while the arrows may strike us, they will not pierce our heart.  Remembering our baptism assures us that we may be pressed, but never destroyed.

In this week of the Baptism of Our Lord, it is good to reflect on the significance of our own baptism.  If you can't immediately recall the date of your baptism, this is a good week to find that date and place it on your calendar.  Begin the practice of annually remembering your baptism; hang your baptismal certificate in your room.

"I am baptized!"  What more need I know or what more could I need?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, January 10

There are few stories which occur in each of the four Gospels.  One which does is the story in which Jesus feeds the 5,000.  In each retelling, he does so with just a few fish and loaves of bread.  

There are many reasons why this story is retold.  It is an amazing story; it speaks of God's meeting our basic needs; and it instructs us not to fear scarcity.  

Those who do not follow Jesus are inclined to remain fearful that there isn't enough.  Not enough food, not enough houses, not enough joy.  They grab and hoard and hold on to more than they need - in case some of what they have collected slips away from them.

John 6:1-14 is Holy Scriptures' attempt to set their anxiety aside.

There is plenty to go around.  We aren't going to run out.  The danger we face is the unwillingness and/or inability to share.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, January 9

John 5:1-15 tells of an encounter between Jesus and a lame man.  Jesus tells this man to take up his pallet and walk.  It is a Sabbath.  When the religious leaders seeing him carrying his bed (which was considered "work") they tell him he is a transgressor.  

I have much confidence in religious leaders; I am (sorta) one of them myself.  But sometimes religious leaders allow themselves to get focused on this or that small thing while ignoring the big thing.

The Way of Jesus will surely result in ethical living, but if ethical living were the main thing there would be no need for Jesus.  The incarnation of God in human flesh makes clear that it is not the angles and/or heavenly bodies which garner God's attention - it is those of us who live and breathe and enjoy the marvels of God's world.

God calls on us to enjoy these gifts and God's asks of us to strive for a world in which others are also able to enjoy them.  The Way of Jesus is one in which strife and hatred and fear and exploitation are eradicated.  

You will need to determine which religious leaders you will hear and listen to.  And, you will come to realize that there are conflicting presentations of what truly is the Way of Jesus.  I am a servant of God who daily asks myself if my service is pleasing to God.  I do not find fault with those who follow a differing path.  But God has lead me to speak of a Way which looks to the forsaken and the ignored and preach the Good News.  I know that the Word of God demands that we be active in the struggle to end racism and bigotry and that when Jesus welcomed into his presence the women and men of the city he was expecting us to do the same.

John 5.  Read it for yourself.  Spend some time in prayer and refection.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sermon - Epiphany of our Lord

Matthew 2:1-12                                  

                                                                    Not a Private Matter 

            Did y’all enjoy Sarah Last weekend?  I noted that attendance was down – way down.  I think Donna even left the numbers out of the bulletin – hoping not to call attention to the low turnout.  Maybe you can give me some feedback on that later.  Those who were here – wasn’t it a blessing to have Sarah here to lead in worship and preach?

Did Brandon come as well?  Did they bring Romney?  Sarah and Brandon met here, in LCM.  When Romney was born, she slept in the cedar cradle I built for our children.  When asked, “Do you have grandkids?” I reply, “Dozens!”  referring to the children of my LCM kids. Romney is in that group.  So is Lilly, and Cooper, and Noelle, and Reece.

When Sarah was pregnant, we were at a church meeting.  Her belly was sticking out there.  We were talking, and she flinched.  Little Romney was kicking.  My eyes lit up!  Immediately Sarah said, “Why is it that everyone in the whole wide world thinks a kicking baby is an invitation to touch my belly?”  She was right, of course.  And I told her I admired her setting appropriate boundaries for herself.  I hope and pray that the emotion on my face was consistent with my words, and I think I even took a step backwards.  In response to which, Sarah smiled and spoke again, “You want to feel?”

Pregnant women, and new parents, have their private space invaded too frequency.  They need their space, and deserve it. 

I wonder, in re-considering Matthew’s story of the visit of the three Wiseman, whether any similar thoughts or feelings might have been running through the minds of Mary and Joseph as these strangers from the east came knocking on the door.  It is only in Luke’s gospel that Jesus is born in a barn.  Here, in Matthew, Jesus is quite comfortable with his mother and father in the “house.”  (Check out verse 11 if you have never noticed this divergence from Luke’s recounting of the birth.)  Of course, it is entirely possible that the visit of these learned men come days or weeks or perhaps even months after Jesus’ birth.  These “astrologers,” most likely having come to Israel from Persia, come to the place where Mary is staying and assume that they have every right in the world to be there.

And, I guess you would have to say, they do.

The visit of the Magi is Matthew’s way of letting us know that this child has significance beyond what it is that we choose to believe about him.  The visit of these learned men allows the story to expose Jesus as something more than the cute little first-born of Mary and Joseph.  The Magi come, and with their arrival it is made clear that the birth of this baby is an event which has implications for the whole of God’s creation.  They have a right to be there.  As a result of this birth their lives, and for that matter the lives of everyone, will never be the same again.

We have allowed the story of Jesus’ birth to follow the path so often taken when we speak of religious life in general.  We have sat passively to one side while Jesus’ birth is turned into this privatized event or feeling.  As with the whole of Christian faith, we have begun to think of it as a matter of individual consequence – something which has meaning only because of what we do on our own when we are all alone.

But the birth of Jesus is not this kind of an event.  Maybe if we only had Luke’s version, where a poetic mother speaks of the lifting up of those or low degree.  Perhaps if the only parts of the story to be told were Zachariah’s solitude experience in the temple or the moving of Elizabeth’s fetus.  Maybe then we would be somewhat justified in thinking of this birth as some cute and quaint event affecting a few traveling peasants.  But there is more to the story.  And these other parts make us aware that the birth of Jesus is not something which we can choose to acknowledge or choose to ignore.  The birth of Jesus is not that kind of an event.

A star appears in the east.  Learned men from a foreign land observe this star.  They come to pay homage to the king whose birth the cosmos has announced.  They know that this birth isn’t something of consequence only for those who happen to be living in the small villages on the banks of the Jordan Sea.  The ruler of the universe presses the heavens into service.  The one who made the stars is announcing a birth which has implications for us all.

And so these visitors come.  And they barge in.  And they have no regard for Mary’s privacy.  They realize that this birth belongs to them, too.  The retelling of their story is an announcement that it has implications for everyone else.

We tend to allow the birth of Jesus to reinforce this notion we have that religion is a private matter.  We have moved the experience of God out of that which is communal and carefully stored it in the category of things which are between me and God and no one else.  It is common, in our day, to speak as if God has significance only for those who choose to call upon Him in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.  We have been hoodwinked into believing that God is a factor only if I choose Him to be.  The story of Epiphany is a reminder that what has happened has happened because of what God has chosen to do.  Whether we choose to believe or not – the action remains the same.  God has come into the world.  The creator of the cosmos has made use of those elusive stars in order to say to the whole of creation “I have come.”  There is nothing private about this.  There is nothing left to the whimsicalness of human reaction.

Governments and political systems remain relevant for only as long as the population supports them.  Ideologies run their course and are replaced by the next fad.  What happened in Bethlehem isn’t that kind of an event.  These events remain relevant long after its devotees have fallen away.

I am as caught up as any in the struggle to understand my faith in the context of a shrinking world.  I don’t have answers to those who ask why the teachings of Islam or Judaism should have a lesser impact upon my life than the words of Jesus.  But the story we gather this day to retell is one which says to us that these images and these occurrences have significance beyond the importance we, as individuals, may choose to assign to them.  God is the actor.  God is the one who decided the course of human history.  I struggle to understand my faith in the context of a shrinking world because while I want to respect what God has done in other places at other times I must not overlook the significance of what God did in Bethlehem.

When a cute little baby is born, the mother has her right to privacy.  She needs time alone so she can care for the child.  The baby born to Mary needed that kind of support too, but his life did not depend upon it.  God had already decided what the birth of this child would mean.