God Comes Home to Us!

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December 24, 2016

Luke 2:1-20

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (Titus 2:11). Amen

Who among us does not love a wonderful homecoming story? Books are written about them. Movies are made. Songs are sung. Many revolve around the Christmas season.  You could have turned on the Hallmark Channel this season and been inundated with them. On Friday, there was a story in the Detroit Free Press about a girl who had lost her beloved bear at Detroit Metro. Through the power of social media, the bear was found and returned safely to her after he had an exciting day at work with an airline employee. Christmas can be a season of homecomings for all of us, even stuff animals.

Children come home after being away at college. Families gather together for a sort of reunion which can bring joy and celebration to many. The journey to get home can be as easy as driving across town to one’s parent’s house, or as lengthy as flying half-way across the world.

Coming home may bring struggles and challenges all of its own. Unfortunately, not everyone is welcome home. There may have been an argument or disconnect at some point that harmed relationships.  Perhaps, the means are not available to get home. Perhaps there is not a home to return to.

Tonight, we experience a homecoming. Our gospel lesson brings us the wonderful story of Joseph and Mary returning to the land of his ancestors. I think it would be safe to assume that they most likely had challenges in their travels. How would you like to travel 90 miles either on foot or on donkey while being nearly nine months pregnant? Not only was it a long journey, Joseph was returning to his ancestor’s homeland with angst and an unsureness of what was to come.

When Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem, there was no place for them. There appears to be no family in the area and they get turned down when looking for a bed to lay their weary heads and tired feet. Was this the homecoming they expected? Was this how Joseph really wanted to start his life with Mary? They eventually settle for a stable as shelter and a feed trough that will have to make do to lay their newborn child.

They were longing for a place of comfort and rest. We too long for home. We long for loved ones that will greet us when we walk through the door. We long for a place that is familiar and full of love. We long for a place that will give us peace. There is a Simon and Garfunkle song that speaks to this longing. You may have heard of it, it is titled, Homeward Bound. The refrain is:

Homeward bound,
Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

Do we long for Christmas, as much as we long for home? Not just the presents and family, but do we long for the Christ child that comes to be in our midst? The child that lies in a manger that is changing the course of the world. The child that angels speak of. The child that shepherds in the field are compelled to go and see for themselves. Do you long for Christ this same way?

It is God’s desire for us to long for Jesus. The longing does not begin with humanity. The longing begins with God. It is God that longs for us. It is God that has created and has loved and has kept busy over the world that we live and breathe in. It is God that is with us in the darkness and in the light. God wants that relationship.

It is in this longing that God made the decision to come and be with us in the newborn baby, Jesus. In Jesus, we experience God with us, Emmanuel. God with us in a way that the world had never experienced before.

God coming to us in the form of a newborn baby, is a homecoming like no other homecoming! It is a love that comes down to earth that brings light to the darkness. It is a love that brings a promise of peace and joy. The awesome thing is that this love that comes to live among us, and within us, is a love that is for all people. The joy that we celebrate this evening is one that is with us at all times and for everyone. For in Jesus’ coming down to earth, we are promised salvation and a grace and love that knows no end.

As God comes home to us, may we celebrate in this Christmas season a love that is beyond measure. And may we too celebrate our own homecomings. Welcome home!

Glory to God in the highest heaven!

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Old Scratch: a Review

A Review of Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubter and the Disenchanted by Richard Beck.

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Before I picked up this book, I had never heard of the term Old Scratch when referring to the Devil. Richard Beck, a psychology professor, introduces the term after being reminded of it while leading a Bible study in a prison. The appearance of Satan, or the Devil, or Old Scratch, is alive and well in the prison system. It comes in the realization of the crimes that one has committed. It also comes with the fear of turning your back to some of the fellow inmates. It is also found within yourself.

The thought of a physical devil has always seemed to turn me off. While there is sin and brokenness that persists in our world, I believe that the “devil” is present in that and at times we fall to it. Beck appears to back up this understanding to some point, while not disregarding the fact that some people do truly succumb to demons within their lives and perhaps even need to be exorcised. Becks says, “a satan is more of a relationship than a person. Anything that is facing you in an antagonistic or adversarial way–working against you as an opponent or enemy–is standing before you as ha satan, as an adversary, as a satan” (pg. 8).

His whole thesis is that we need to get to a point where we are at spiritual warfare with those forces within our lives that are satan. While we are surrounded with the negative, God’s presence is also constantly around us, giving us comfort and support. It is true that the world is suffering, and has been from the time of creation, “and in the face of that suffering Jesus went about doing good and healing all those under the power of the devil” (pg 83).

It really comes down to the point that our world in counter-cultural to the one that Jesus brought into view with the Kingdom of God. At this time in our country, this really speaks to our current political state and the division within. “All of this is simply to say that the confession that Jesus is Lord of all turns the world upside down. But much closer to home, that confession turns my world upside down. Idolatry isn’t just about the nation-state. the kingdom of God uproots all the idols of my life, petty and great” (pg. 170).

The spiritual warfare he speaks of must be more than just saying we are going to pray for something. We must be called into action, to live and be with those that are struggling, and realize our own inward struggles. We must be up to “angelic troublemaking,” and provide a resistance to whatever gets in the way of the kingdom of God. Spiritual warfare is living the kingdom of God.

Beck takes the reader on a great history of thoughts on the devil and comes to a conclusion that speaks to the wholeness that God calls us to as God’s children. While his call to action may not be entirely new, it speaks to the greater need for humanity to be in touch with the greater spiritualness that surrounds us in our lives. It is a call to resistance to speaks to us in a bold prophetic way in our current time.

 

Are you the one?

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Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

It does not take long for our circumstances to change. One minute we can feel as though we are at the top of the world. Being part of some amazing things that we think are going to make difference in our community or even globally. The next minute we are caught off guard and are in a place that is unfamiliar and stirs within us questions that we did not even know exists.

That question for John the Baptist is, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Let’s hear that one more time, “Are you the one to come, or are we to wait for another?” Perhaps, we are left asking this same question ourselves at times, if not variations of it. Questioning who Christ and God are and our role in this great mystery.

What is it within John that stirs this question? Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, our lesson from last week, John is confident in his preparation for the one that is to come after him. The one that will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Jesus walks onto the scene at this time, and through his baptism, he knows that he is the one. However, for some reason, John seems to be second guessing himself. His expectations of the Messiah, are not yet being fulfilled.

While Jesus should be bringing about the Kingdom of God, why is John anxiously waiting in his prison cell? Everything should be made right with the coming of Jesus into the world and yet brokenness seems to persist. It is ancient Jewish thought that when the Messiah comes everything is going to be made right. Right at that moment. Not later, but now. However, we have been told to wait. Advent is a season of waiting. And preparing. In our culture when we want instant gratification, perhaps this is when we find ourselves asking the same question that John boldly has brought to Jesus. We want to be able to understand in the midst of the brokenness and hurting, and yet we are left with more questions.

These questions become even harder for us during the holidays. The holidays are a time when many people are celebrating and having a joyous time with friends and families. There are parties everywhere during this season. The annual office party brings co-workers together for a time to relax and not think about the daily tasks of careers. Families gather to share presents and be with one another. The streets are decorated with lights and tinseled ornaments. Houses around town gleam with lights stating that there is something different about this time of year.

And yet, some are shut behind closed doors, drawn curtains and blinds blocking out the very joy that others exude this season. For some, the holidays bring more dread than joy. For them, they can find it easier to relate with John in the cell, then those rejoicing and celebrating. In recent years, some churches are even having “Blue Christmas” services. These services get their name from the feeling some are left with during this time of year and usually occur on December 21, the day of the year with the least amount of daylight.

In John’s question, he is looking for an answer and reassurance that what he proclaimed was not for naught. Did he truly fulfill the calling that God had laid upon his heart? Did he prepare the way? Is God with him, in his blues?

In our own doubts and blues, don’t we sometimes ask ourselves the same things? Did I make the right decision? Did I share the love of God as it was shared with me? While we may not be in prison as John is, we still hold ourselves captive and in bondage to our sins. We feel tied-up and helpless when it comes to death and disease.

It is in Jesus’ words that we are directed to the grace of God that is all around us. He tells John’s disciples to go back and tell John what they hear and see. The blind see! The lame walk! The lepers are cleansed! The deaf hear! The dead are raised! The poor receive good news!

What do you hear and see as you are walking about this creation that God has given to you? Where do you see Jesus at work in the lives of all people?

I have seen Jesus abundantly at work in the midst of our community these past few months!  While we may not have made the blind see or the lame walk, we have still played a role in the kingdom of God. We have given the homeless a roof over their heads and soup to warm their tired, achy bodies. We have fed the hungry and starving, not just in the greater Blue Water Area, also around the world. We have made it possible for children in Detroit to have a great Christmas by filling these bags. This coming Saturday Trinity will host Second Hand Christmas, and parents will be able to get gifts for their children that they would not have been able to get before. This is what I have heard and seen just in the past few months!

What have you heard? What have you seen? There are signs all around us that God is with us, Emmanuel.

It is in these signs, the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus is brought into our midst to share with those we serve. In this we know that Jesus has come, and will come again!

 

 

 

A Call from the Wilderness!

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Matthew 3:1-12

May the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, and the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord come to us in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is usually around this time of year when the weather starts turning cold that I find my mind fixating on the summer months. This is the time of year that my family enjoys going camping and we find ourselves in the wilderness. To be separated from our familiar surroundings of home bring about a peace that is hard to leave at the end of the week. I think of the wilderness as a place of renewal and an opportunity to get even closer to God. Amazing revelations can occur in the wilderness!

John the Baptist comes to us this morning in the wilderness. A place that the people of Israel are quite familiar with. Their ancestors were wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The wilderness can be untamed and wild. It can be foreign. In the wilderness, some are left feeling scared and perhaps have a heightened sense of anxiety. In the wilderness, we do not always know what is going to happen. John the Baptist comes to us in the wilderness disrupting our daily lives as he proclaims a gospel that is counter-cultural. It is in this disruption that we are called to repent! It is in John’s wilderness that we are awakened and promised a sign of hope!

The season of Advent breaks into our everyday lives with the reminder that Christ is coming and now we have a prophet speaking from the wilderness pointing to Christ. We could not have asked for a better time for this inbreaking. We are stirred to our senses in this season and reminded that through the prophet John the Baptist we live through judgement into hope! It is John the Baptist that calls us to repent and thus we feel a sense of judgement. It is in his calling the Pharisees and Sadducees nothing but sneaky slimy snakes that it echoes down to our generations as well. John the Baptist is speaking to the brokenness in our lives and the world, knowing that at times we can be far from Christ. If only we were to concentrate on bearing fruit worthy of repentance, then we would find and truly experience the Christ that comes to live within us.

Last week on the first Sunday of Advent we were asked, “Are you Ready?” Are you ready for the coming of Christ that John the Baptist points to? John the Baptist calls us to preparation this second Sunday of Advent as we are told to repent. As the kingdom of God comes near, we are to be prepared. In our repentance, we turn around and start anew. In our repentance, we act out of awe and reverence to a loving God, instead of being afraid.

As we come upon the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the reformation, Martin Luther even had a thing or two to say about repentance. It is the beginning of the 95 Theses, which lays the groundwork for the Reformation. Thesis 1 reads, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be of one repentance.” In other words, when we are called to repent, it is not a one and done thing.

St. Francis starts his life anew seeking his own repentance. Where the sight of lepers had previously made him nauseous, he sought repentance and asked for forgiveness as he began caring for those very lepers. He brought to them the love of God.

St. Francis and Martin Luther both realized it was ongoing, and we are called to live a life of repentance in which we are constantly turning ourselves towards God. As we turn around, we are caught in the awe that God enters into our lives.

As we turn around, we find Christ in the most glorious of places, bringing us a reminder of the life that he gave for us so that we can experience the true grace of God.

We turn around to find life anew in the waters of baptism. We are washed cleaned and receive the promise of a new life in Christ.

We turn around and find Christ in the bread and wine of communion, which restores and renews us as we continue to be God’s hands and feet in the world.

As we turn around in the wilderness, God is with us, Emmanuel. The wilderness awakens our senses to a new and glorious thing that is about to take place. A call is placed upon our hearts to be prepared and ready for the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. And in this we experience good news.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Are you Ready?

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For those of you with children, you may be able to commiserate with me for a moment here. How many of you have had the experience of telling your children that you are going to be leaving by a certain time and when that time arrives they are not ready yet? Now, let’s not just blame the children, because there are some adults that do this as well. There are still bags to be packed, coats to be found, and shoes to put on before we even get out the door.

If we cannot even expect to be ready when we are told what time we are leaving, how can we expect to follow the directions of Jesus this morning? Jesus instructs us that we do not know what time the Son of Man will return. Therefore, we should keep awake and be ready at all times. Are you ready?

Most likely we are not. We are caught by surprise as many things happen around the world. In a perfect world, we would like to live where everything goes just the way that we want it to go. We want everyone to be healthy. We want everyone to have what they need to live. We want peace. In the midst of our hopes and dreams come disruption!

Jesus is aware of the disruptions that we encounter. He shares the story of Noah to highlight this point, everyone was “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark.” They were not prepared or ready for the flood of water that was about to cover the world and therefore only Noah and his family survive. They were caught up in themselves. Our lives too are disrupted when we least expect it, and often times when we appear to be least prepared. Our lives are disrupted by natural disasters that we have absolutely no control over. The people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina that occurred over 10 years ago. Families are disrupted on daily basis around the world as wars are fought and lives are lost. The lives of Wayne State University Officer Collin Rose’s family were disrupted as he was shot and died earlier this week.

The disruptions that enter our lives are a lot of times beyond our control. They can tend to disorient us and we become loss. Not all disruptions are necessarily bad though. This morning we find ourselves in the midst of the first Sunday of Advent. Advent breaks into our lives in the church year to disrupt our comfortableness that has come to us since Pentecost. It breaks in to remind us of the coming of Christ. We raise it up at times as a beacon that leads us to Christmas. Christmas comes and goes. Christ does not. God continues to be with us in the midst of the disruptions as Christ comes to lead the way.

In the midst of this, are you ready? Karoline Lewis comments that, “”Are you ready?” is the question usually asked by people who are certain that they are and even more certain that you are not.” I am sure that you can think of certain people that believe they have it all right, and perhaps you may have it all wrong. This is not the point of view I am coming from.

I believe that part of the are you ready question ties into our families, friends, and neighbors. Are you ready to be in relationship with those around you and to reach out with love and compassion at all times during the year? Not just during the season of Christmas. Being ready may mean being with people that you are at times not comfortable being with. This includes reaching out to those that are less fortunate that may need a place to lay their heads at night or a meal to fill their hunger. It may even mean sitting down to have a Thanksgiving dinner with family members that have differing political viewpoints as yours.

Are you ready to be in relationship and enter into dialog with those whose viewpoints may be different, and yet through listening, you may come to understand? We are all created in the image of God, and as we are, God wants to have a relationship with us. Entering into relationship with one another prepares us for the Kingdom of God that is coming.

In this season of Advent, we are disrupted. We are startled awake by those things happening around us. We are disrupted by the story of Noah and the devastation of the flood. Yet, today we are also reminded of the power of water in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. We are called to attention and encouraged to reorient our lives toward Christ. Jesus coming, being named Emmanuel, is a promise that God is with us in the midst of it all.

And as Paul writes in Romans, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”