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.

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

 

 

A Review: Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson

TearsWeCannotHC

I am honestly not sure where to start, therefore this will probably become more of a recommendation than it is a review. Dyson uses the format of a worship service to present a flowing oratory on the current state of race relations in America today. I honestly, believe that as a white heterosexual male my response is not worthy. What I need to be doing, as well as the rest of white America, is to be listening. Listening to our brothers and sisters that have walked the road that is foreign to our own upbringing.

I do not know what it is like to be a black man in America, and I could never truly find out. I have been pulled over twice for speeding and not once have I received a ticket. I did not pull out a pour me story or try to make excuses. Both times, my son was in the car with me. I understand how much different the outcomes of those situations could have been if I were a black man in America.

Unfortunately, that understanding falls on many deaf hears throughout the country. While God has created us equal, humanity has decided to divide. This is a sermon to wake up those to the experience of black America. I will never fully understand my brothers and sisters experiences, but I know that I can walk with them and listen. I can stand beside and with them, and do better.

This is a book that should be required reading in schools. Of all of the books that I have read in the past year, this rises to the top of the list.

Freedom

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John 8:31-36

If I were to ask each of you to define freedom, I would get just as many different answers. Some of them may be very similar, while others may be unique to the individual. The dictionary has many different definitions to freedom. The first entry defines freedom as “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.”

Quite often when we think of freedom in the United States, we jump to our founding documents of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We have freedom of speech and religion. We have the right to vote and select our leaders. We have certain rights that we have come to expect as American citizens. We have had many groups within this country stand up for these same freedoms and rights from the beginning of this countries founding.

Freedom in another country around the world may look completely different however. The Syrian refugee may just be looking for the freedom to not worry about losing their life. The persecuted Christian in Asia may wish they had the freedom to proclaim the Good News boldly without fear of prison or even death. The silenced women of Iran may wish they had the same freedom as their husbands.

It was in 16th Century Germany that Martin Luther raised his concerns about the freedom a Christian had in the church and the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The grace of God seemed to be overlooked and he raised his belief in the justification of faith. As our Gospel lesson points us to this morning, true freedom can only come to us in Jesus Christ.

In the midst of this, it is hard for us to acknowledge that we are slaves to sin and are held captive by that sin. Even the Judeans, whom Jesus is talking to, seem to have forgot of their own ancestors that were once slaves in Egypt. The concept of being a slave was just as foreign to them as it is to us today. While our own country has had a negative history with slavery, we tend to forget it or gloss over it at times.  We do not know what it is like to be held in physical slavery. Yet, we are slaves nonetheless. Could I go as far to say that we are even possibly slaves to our own misconstrued concept of freedom?

Don’t get me wrong. The physical freedoms that we have in our country are incredible and those freedoms have been fought for and I give thanks for them. However, do we let ourselves get so caught up in the freedoms that are given to us in our rights as citizens, that we forget about our lives as Christians?  The true freedom that we should be seeking as Christians comes to us in Jesus Christ.

We like the truth. We want to know what is right and what is wrong. We seek out the truth to make decisions. As Christians the truth is more than that. The truth comes to us as Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life.  When we come to know the truth that is Jesus Christ, we will experience the freedom that can only come through Christ. That same freedom that Jesus promised to the Judeans in today’s gospel continues to come to us in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

As we enter into a year-long 500th Anniversary observance of the Reformation, we continue to be changed daily in our life with Christ. The reformation of the church was not a one and done event. Through Christ we experience a freedom that changes not only the church on a daily basis, but our own lives as we encounter a freedom that can only be found in Christ. In Christ we have the freedom to give ourselves as a Christ to our neighbor; just as Christ offered himself to us.

That freedom found in Jesus Christ does not make us free to sin. It makes us free from sin. May you continue to be reformed through the living Christ and encounter the truth which sets you free. Free to live a life of love and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ.