Love Drawn Here

Special Thanks to Sanctified Art for their Advent and Christmas Themes

December 24, 2018 Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20

This evening we are ushered into the great story of Christmas. Luke welcomes us into the story by sharing what it was like in “those days.” Time was tracked by the time of the current ruler, as in Jesus’ case, it was Emperor Augustus. It would be like me stating today that I was born in the time Gerald Ford was President of the United States, or my children were born in the time of George W. Bush being President.

We have all experienced birth in some form or another. Whether it be yourself or a family member. It can be scary and raise levels of anxiety. Yet, more often than not, it brings times of great joy and quite often a shift in lifestyle. It does not take long to learn that there is something different about the birth we are rejoicing tonight. In all of its ordinariness, we are illuminated by the glory of angels singing and a great light shining all around. Love drew nearer to humanity over two thousand years ago than it had ever been. In the birth of the Messiah, the light reaches to the darkest recesses to share the good news with all people.

We are reminded in our first lesson from Isaiah that there was disharmony among the people. The people of Israel were being oppressed by Assyria, and in First Century Israel, the oppression came from the Roman Empire. There is a darkness that overshadows everything, and the people are just waiting for something great to happen. They are seeking freedom from their oppressors. There is a pervasiveness that comes with the darkness that seems to extend through time; from the very beginning of creation to the world in which Mary and Joseph find themselves trying to find a place to stay.

You would think that Joseph returning to the town of his family, Bethlehem, there would still be some relatives around that would welcome in Joseph and Mary. At the least, there would have been other family members that had to make the same trek. However, is the obvious pregnancy of Mary, due any day now, turning his family away? It is possible that they were ashamed of what they saw, knowing that Mary and Joseph had yet to be wed.

The hospitality that they are hoping to find leaves them on the outside. On the outside of a warm meal. On the outside of a warm bed and a comfortable place to sleep and prepare for the birth. On the outside of the love of family that they were probably longing for. This is the darkness that they were experiencing.

We feel that same darkness when we are not welcome and are left on the outside looking in. We crave to be part of something and yet it seems out of our reach. We long for a hospitality that will embrace us where we are and as we are.

While Mary and Joseph are looking for a place to stay, the plans for them are not yet complete. While no one welcomes them, they will soon be the ones to welcome others into the glory that has been proclaimed to them. The shepherds hear of the great news and come to see for themselves. Mary and Joseph are stunned to find out what they know. In their hospitality, they have allowed others into the great wonder that is now part of their story.

We are told that, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She knew what was to take place as the angel had told her before she was pregnant. It is in the words of the shepherds that she is affirmed, and their words bring a reality to the whole thing. Those words she held dearly, as she knew that her son was destined for something much greater than she could ever imagine. As the love of God drew near to everyone close to the manger that evening over two thousand years ago, it is a love that has never left us. That love is drawn here in our very hearts and welcomes us into something great and mysterious at the very same time.

That love is here when we wonder. That love is here when we seek the truth. That love is here when we reach out to the neighbor and stranger alike in justice. That love is here this very night as we draw nearer to one another. This love that is drawn here extends out to all of creation as we welcome the birth of the Messiah, and we ourselves are welcomed into the great love of God.

Let us pray. Prince of Peace, we rejoice in your birth and the love you brought from all corners of the earth. May the light that you bring to the darkness comfort us and bring us peace. Amen.

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Draw Near to Justice

Image Credit: Daily Theology dailytheology.org

December 16, 2018 Advent 3

Luke 3:7-18

This is the time of year that many people live for. The festivities and parties. The lights and the pageantry. The giving and the receiving.  While we may be in the season of Advent in the church, many others are in the season of indulgence. Spending beyond their means so that they can attempt to bring joy to a friend or family member.

It is in light of this that we continue to wait in Advent. We wait to rejoice in the birth of a baby that is going to change the world. We wait for the light that is to be born into the world that calls out the darkness. We wait with bated breath for the hope promised to us by our ancestors.

With this,we find ourselves in the third week of Advent. How wonderful it is to be greeted by the insults of John the Baptist, “You brood of vipers!” Wow, he know show to wake us up from our complacency. He continues to call us out of our comfort zone and into the reality of this world. He attempts to pull our attention away from the office Christmas parties and the twinkling lights. Through John the Baptist we are called to live alongside our neighbors and draw near to the justice found in Jesus.

John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness. He causes us to sit up straight and pay attention because the message he must share is so much different then others we have been hearing. He speaks with a voice of resistance. A voice that is not afraid to proclaim the message he has been given to share. This resistance will eventually get him killed.

While John resists those in authority, our society tends to resist the gospel message in parts.I will be bold to say that many live lives of apathy. It is much easier to just sit back and worry about yourself then it is to step outside of your comfort zone and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the stranger. We may know we need to repent of this apathy, yet it is so much easier to sit down and relax.

The people that are listening to John are thirsty for instruction. They want to know what they should do. This has not changed much over time. The early Israelites were also asking for a king and someone to guide them and tell them what to do. It continues in the Israel of John’s time as they want to know what they should do when he calls them out of their complacency and desire to stay where they are at.

It is easy to look in the past and think that it was better then and want the same thing today. However, as John cries out in the wilderness, it is a reminder for us that we too are called out of our complacency and our drawn near to the incarnate God. The Son of God was born human so that we could connect in relationship and get a glimpse of the great mystery.

John’s message comes as a sign of grace for us in a world that is broken and needs the love God has promised to all of creation. A love that John points to in his proclamation.A love that is born into the world so that all will come to know God and be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Bearing good fruit is part of the message that John shares. We all want to bear good fruit. When those that chose to follow John the Baptist ask, “What then should we do?” he pulls his answer from the law that came before him. You must share a coat if you have two! You must not over-tax people and only take what has been prescribed!You must not extort through threats or false accusations! We too, should be following these instructions of John the Baptist.

However, our redemption does not hinge on these actions. The promise of Jesus following John the Baptist to baptize in the Holy Spirit connects us with something much greater. It is here that we encounter the grace of God that washes over us regardless of our actions. God’s love for us was made clear in the death of Jesus and we are given hope through the resurrection.

We are drawn near to justice this advent season because of Jesus. Through the grace that we receive in baptism and being fed at the table, we should desire to bear good fruit, not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we desire to encounter God in our neighbors and the stranger. The awesome thing is that Trinity does a fantastic job of this through our various ministries, including MCREST and the bags we recently filled for the Detroit Rescue Mission. By doing so, we speak boldly to the voices of injustice and proclaim more boldly with love. May you continue to be bold in your proclamation of love this holiday season.

Let us pray. God of justice, you raise up the sinner and fulfill the promise of resurrection. May we continue to be embraced in your love this season and respond in acting in justice for all of creation. Amen.

Book Review: Confessions of a Funeral Director by Caleb Wilde

“…the room went from tears to laughter at the drop of a snot.”

It is quips like this that make Caleb Wilde’s book so real. I had purchased it almost as soon as it came out last year and I am sorry that it took me so long to read it. 

As a pastor, I too see death on a regular basis and hear all of the misleading phrases that are meant as comfort and honestly do more harm than good in the long run. As he states in the book, death is real, and grief is real. The narrative that we place around death and dying is really what shapes us as humanity. To be healthy, we must approach it from a positive narrative, however, we are more prone to approach death from a negative narrative. 

The funeral director and the pastor both have a vital role in shaping this for families of the dead, and unfortunately, not all look at death as something to embrace. The stories that are shared are real. They are situations that I have personally experienced as well. They are not unique to Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. They are the stories that we live as humans and ones that are repeated time an time again. 

Overtime, our view of death has been shaped by faulty theology and ill-conceived intentions. I agree with Wilde that death is a sacred experience and not something that we can bring closure to. It is real and our family and friends that have died surround us daily in a great cloud of witnesses. His book is a way into the conversation the breaks us open to love and learning how to just be.

The book reveals how he has found life in the midst of death. How he has grown into his family business and how he has learned to walk with families at their most vulnerable moments. It is a read that may reshape your own preconceived notions of death and the life that emerges from it. 

You can follow Caleb Wilde on his blog.

Book Review: Thirst by Scott Harrison

I had first heard of Thirst, while listening to Rob Bell’s podcast, The Robcast. The author, Scott Harrison has a great story to share with his readers which speaks to our own broken human nature on multiple levels. First, it speaks to the individual brokenness that Scott does not try to hide. Second, it speaks to the brokenness of our own world and the inability that we have claimed to be able to get everyone a clean glass of water to drink. If you are looking for something to stir your soul, this book will fulfill that need.

Scott Harrison starts by sharing his story of the good Christian boy gone bad. He became a club promoter, but realized that there was something more to life that drinking all night and sleeping in until late in the afternoon. He would spend money nearly as fast as he could make it. 

As he began to listen to where he was being called he served on a Mercy Ship and out of that experience started Charity:Water. The lives that Charity:Water has touched and changed is incredible as they reach out to those that do not have access to clean water. The ups and downs of the non-profit industry resonate in the book and it is amazing how quickly it grew. 

Charity:Water is not a Christian organization, but it’s heart reflects that of Jesus Christ’s as they reach out to bring a better life to as many people as possible. This book brought me joy and a greater sense of my own call.

Draw Near to Truth

December 9, 2018

Luke 3:1-6

My previous career as a sales rep introduced me to a lot of people. Each of these people had their own personalities that ranged from mellow to off the wall. A man atone of the accounts that I called on would share stories that were so off the wall, you would think that he was making them up just to see if you would fall for it. I would start to question whether or not he was telling me was the truth. Of course, wanting the sale, I would just nod along with him in agreement.

I am sure that you have all encountered someone like this. Someone that bends the truth so much that there is no resemblance to the facts. I imagine that John the Baptist had many people questioning him. If you remember Matthew and Mark’s description of John the Baptist, they described him looking more like someone you would associate as homeless. He wore a coat of camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. He also was most likely not the first one trying to foretell the coming of the Lord. Now, his image in this drawing may make you pause. He may not be the first person you would walk up to if you had a question.

However, he knew what he was saying was true. He drew many people near him in his proclamation.And in his bold proclamation, he points to the truth that is revealed in our true Lord, Jesus Christ. In John preparing the way, we are drawn near to that truth.

Not everyone was amused with John. Can you imagine the push back he received from some when he proclaimed that he was preparing the way for the Lord who was to come after him? I am sure that he was mocked and ridiculed. I am sure that some people turned their backs on him because what he was saying they did not want to hear.They already had their way set in front of them and there was no way that they were going to follow him down the detour that he was instructing they take. There was no way this man that looked like he was probably better left out by himself was going to call people to follow him and surely, he was not talking about the long-awaited messiah.

John the Baptist was calling people out of their comfort zones. He was naming their fears and telling them to face them straight on. While we know he did have some followers, I am sure that he made just as many, if not more, very uneasy.

When someone comes to us and tells us something that we do not agree with, quite often we put up some type of boundary and block them out. We pretend that we do not hear them because we “know” our way is the only way. Please don’t re-route us,because the path we are on is the one with least resistance. We don’t want to be challenged to go over the higher mountains and through the deepest valleys. We would much rather take the easy road, not the road least traveled.

That is the problem. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to go against the grain.However, this is where Jesus found himself through his entire earthly journey. Today,it seems that Jesus is the road less traveled. If we were to truly follow Jesus words today, we would truly be living counter to our current society.

In the midst of what was happening in 1st Century Israel, John the Baptist had no reservations of calling out to those that were willing to listen. He did not care about the Roman authorities that ruled or the temple leaders that at times seemed distant from God. His voice spoke boldly and proclaimed the great things that were about to happen. He cried out in the wilderness to ensure that everyone heard the wonderful news he was about to share. The beginning of the good news of Jesus.

We too are called to listen! There is a voice crying out in the wilderness still today. It is a voice that calls all of us into God’s loving embrace. An embrace that meets us where we are at. The voice that cries out is present when we take time to sit with God in prayer. It is also present in and among our daily actions as we live out our lives. Have you heard the voice that calls you into love? Have you heard the voice that calls you to reach out and help your neighbor? Have you heard the voice that breaks through the barriers to share the gospel?

In Jesus,the crooked roads that we find ourselves on are going to be made straight and the rough roads are going to be paved over. In Jesus, our old ways are washed clean and we are refreshed and given a new road map. We are called to a new way of living. We are called to a new way of being.

The awesome thing is that when this happens, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” With every step we take this Advent season, we are being drawn near to the truth that is Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. Jesus, you are the way, the truth, and the life. May we find our way in you and be less distracted by those things on our peripheries. And may you guide us in preparing the way for others. Amen.

Draw Near to Wonder

December 2, 2018 Advent 1

Luke 21:25-36

I grew up in the city. Fortunately, the city of Charlotte is not real big, and I lived just on the edge. Therefore, you could go in the back yard and not worry about the light pollution. This meant that whenever there was a meteor shower or comet,we could usually see the event unless it was cloudy. I would lay out in the yard and look up to the stars and wonder in amazement at how it was all created and wonder what existed beyond the earth.

Advent is a time of wonder. The promise of God is going to be fulfilled in Jesus and we anticipate being able to celebrate that very coming on Christmas. In our gospel lesson, Jesus encourages us to raise our heads to look beyond our pains and adversity, so that we can live in the hope and anticipation of his coming into the world.

The problem that we can run into is that we are so distracted with our lists and things that need to be done before Christmas arrives that we forget to wonder! Some of us may have even forgot what it meant to wonder many years ago. We get caught up in work and chores and running kids here and there that we lose the sense of wonder that comes into this world as a newborn baby.

This lesson from Luke seems to be a strange selection as we open up the Advent season. We are anticipating a newborn, and Jesus foretells of the time to come after he dies. The time Jesus speaks of does not sound like one we would get in line to participate in. Who wants to live among the fear and distress of the world? Yet,the gospel also reminds us to be ready at all times. No matter, what it is we are anticipating. Jesus tells those listening to, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly” (vs 34). He was making sure that they were awakened from their own stupor. I am sure there were many that were walking around with their heads down and not paying attention to the things that were happening around them. They too, were distracted.

We are guilty of the very things that Jesus names. We worry about the day to day issues that affect our lives. We all become drunk in our own ways. That drunkenness could come in many forms. Being so caught up in one thing that we forget to do the things that truly matter. We let time slip away and with that we could spend more time with the people that we should be loving and caring for. We become drunk on those things that distract us from being in relationship with God and in turn fall short of living out that relationship with others.

In response to any distress that we may encounter, Jesus tells us that he will be present to bring us that sign of hope we are looking for. That sign that first came into the world with his birth. He calls us to raise our heads and look up to the signs and know that our redemption is drawing. It is a redemption that is found in Christ. We are redeemed through the grace of God through the blood and life shed on the cross.

While Jesus speaks of signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, we are also reminded of his presence. A presence that will never leave us. Even when the earth and the heavens pass away, his words will never pass away. His words of hope and redemption that comes to all of humanity are the ones that we look towards in wonder. A wonder that guides us and carries us through difficult times. While it seems that we will always have bad things happening around us, Jesus comes with the reminder to raise our heads and be courageous to face those adversities knowing that we are redeemed through his saving grace.

We are called into his presence to wonder. The wonder draws our heads up from the distractions and brings us closer to a loving God that chose to be born in this world so that we would know God’s love. To wonder, draws us near to the mystery of God. How are you going to wonder this Advent season?

Let us pray. God of Wonder, be our guiding star in these days of Advent as the day light gets shortened as well as our patience as we wrestle the lines at the stores. We rejoice as we begin to draw near to you in this time of waiting. Amen.

Thank Goodness, Christ’s Kingdom is not from this World

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November 25, 2018 Reign of Christ Sunday

John 18:33-37

I am old enough to remember much of the fanfare that surrounded the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in the early eighties. We have witnessed that again with Prince William’s and Prince Harry’s weddings. There is a fascination that surrounds the concept of royalty. Which, if you think about it is ironic. It was the first people that came over to America several hundreds of years ago that were trying to escape that very system of monarchy! And now you can buy collectibles to celebrate these weddings and the royalty that accompany it.

Our world is enamored with fame and the thought of being a celebrity. This can be easily manifested when we view the monarchy of our sisters and brothers in the United Kingdom. It is not just royalty that we look to, but anyone that we deem to be famous. And, it starts early! There are teenagers in the social media world that have become so popular, and have attracted so many followers, that their lives are changed and not always for the better. We like to lift people up and make them “king.” However, when we do this, we often forget that there was already one raised up for us. In Jesus Christ, we find a different way; a way that is not of this world but comes to love the world.

The idea of Jesus being made a king is not a random event in John’s gospel. In the first chapter, Nathanael is called by Jesus and Nathanael says to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (1:49) After feeding the five thousand, the people are enamored with the power and authority that Jesus encompasses. It is at this point that Jesus knows he must make his way to a different locale. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and taken him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (6:15) When Jesus makes his final entry into Jerusalem, the crowd comes to welcome him, and “they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (12:13)

The trouble occurs when we try to make Jesus into something that he is not. The Israelites did this very thing. Jesus caught them by surprise. They were anticipating a mighty warrior that was going to come and banish the Roman Empire and make all things new at that time. They were not expecting the unyielding love that Jesus bore for them and all of humanity. They were not expecting the savior of the world to go to the cross and die a gruesome death that was only used for the worst criminals.

It is easy for us to avoid the truth when there are so many other options available for us. Pilate represents the Roman Empire and he exercises his power through force. Surely, force is the only thing that is going to stop him. However, the power that Jesus comes into the world bearing is one of love. In that love, we are called to change. Our perception of reality shifts and our idea of authority is tilted on its head.

As we were reminded last week in the gospel of Mark, there will be birth pangs along the way. The shift to kingdom of God thinking is not easy. As Jesus says, his kingdom is not from this world. What a blessing that is! If his kingdom was from this world, we would not experience the evil and suffering that we do. If his kingdom was from this world, we would not hear of war, poverty, hunger, mass shootings, or the fear of others. There is hope in his kingdom not being of this world!

The disciples knew that there was something different about Jesus. As Nathanael reveals in the first chapter, there was an understanding that Jesus was the king of Israel. However, it was not a kingship like they had seen before. It is not a kingship like we have witnessed today. He expected no special treatment and did not regard himself as better than anyone else. He did not seclude himself from the people and was quite often seen eating with those in society that no one else would break bread. The Reign of Christ is one that is expressed through love. The love Christ shows for the world is reflected in the freedom that comes to all of humanity. That freedom includes the freedom from sin and the freedom from death. This freedom is everlasting and is a freedom that will not be found in any country or monarchy. It is a freedom that comes only to us through the sheer grace of God.

The grace of God comes to us born in our own likeness and walks alongside us. The grace of God brings us to the cross where we encounter the ultimate grace and love poured out for all. We are invited to be a part of this in the waters of baptism and every time we come to the Lord’s table.  It is in these gifts of the sacraments that we encounter our Lord, who is and who was and who is to come.