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January 27, 2019, 12:00 AM

The Beattitudes


Good Morning, Grace and Peace to you from the Triune God. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

We had the baptism of Jesus a couple of weeks ago and then we saw him fasting and being tempted to give in to the lusts of the flesh. We read that Jesus started his ministry and what we have not read in the interim, is him calling the first disciples. Jesus seems to have gained notoriety quickly and so was ministering to the crowds gathered around, “proclaiming the Kingdom of God and healing the sick.” then in this mornings reading, we see Jesus taking a break and sitting up on a hill with his disciples and he decides to give a teaching to those who have decided to make Jesus their teacher, the disciples. If you like this is Jesus first teaching to the already converted. And so we read,

“Jesus ... went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We at times look upon those who have nothing left to help them but God and feel pity and yet what we are learning here is that if they are a person of faith, then they will have the internal peace and joy knowing that this is not the end of the story. We who are of faith, and is this not what we try to share in evangelism, but we who are of faith, know that the things of this world are but transient. The things of this world are not the ultimate prize. And the support of this world is fine but God will get us through the toughest of times even when the world abandons us. Thus we can have and inner peace and joy, even as we face situations and have no more left than our dependence upon God. 

Jesus goes on saying,  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Is it not the case that we often feel sorry for those who mourn. And yet if they have only trust and dependence on God, it is amazing the losses that people go through and all while having a positive demeanor, all while smiling, all while helping others around them to cope. This is possible for those who know God and are comforted by God in their moment of turmoil and tribulation.

Next we have this little gem, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. This is one of those that some look at and think is impossible and yet I can show you people whose external demeanor and mode of operation evidence their faith. Meek in many ways refers to gentle and that is certainly not the way of the world around us, which often values a good fight. We are taught at times in this society to take what is rightly ours. Meek also refers to humble and how many times has a person in the United States been criticized for being ok with what they have, for not being proud and boastful, or for not expecting the world to recognize them for the awesomeness we see in them. And yet we in the church world recognize the value in this and try to encourage it among others with things like the Good Samaritan Banquet.

Then we have “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, which may be the easiest to accept because we know that seeking for justice and right relationship with God are positives. It can seem though like justice will never be accomplished and we often need to remember words like those of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, who said it is the “long arc of history” which “bends toward justice.” When therefore we find ourselves down and dejected about the causes we feel God is helping us to promote and it seems like nothing will ever change we can take heart knowing the end of the story and that those who keep work for it, will be filled, will know righteousness and justice.

Now we get to one that I think many of us recognize as a positive and yet there is a piece of many of us who wants to go “Yeah, but....” and we are not given that room, that latitude when we read, “Blessed are the merciful. Lets skip that reward question for a minute and recognize that it is easy to say mercy should occur but much harder to make sure mercy happens. What I will say when you struggle with taking the answer, which shows mercy or shows compassion and forgiveness, toward those who we have the right to punish, or when we help the system to show compassion and forgiveness even when it is not required, when we do this it is often because we remember how much we have been shown compassion and forgiveness by God and thus receive the words, “for they will receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. I think this may well give us something to strive toward but is far less difficult than much of what we read in this simple statements and is largely a statement of self evident truth, at least to me. And so we move on to “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who help to bring reconciliation between humans because that is the work of God and thus you are acting like and will be know as children of God. This moves beyond those things which are right to do for those who have wronged us. This moves beyond those things which work for improving the relationship between us and others, although certainly those are included as well. This is the ability to operate in the world as an agent who can help others to get along, but also to repair the breach in the fabric of society. We are being encouraged to cultivate the skills necessary to help others to repair the fabric of society. We are being encouraged not only to practice in our own relationships but to learn the skills necessary to help others. This is a tall task but is also one that I have seen many people learn to do. It is totally possible to learn skills which help others to put the relationships around them back together and is not repairing the breach of society a very basic work of God. The evidence of this I believe is partly as simple as looking at what is accomplished when a whole people abide by the ten commandments. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is about the fabric of society and so I want to encourage you today to find ways in which you might become the peacemakers of this world.

Jesus goes on to encourage us that when this work is difficult and when the world works to get us to stop, because it is just silly or when the world starts working actively against us, know that it may simply mean that we are onto and promoting the truth. Jesus says it like this.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The beatitudes are one of the clearest ethical teachings we find from Jesus. These are the things that Jesus thought those who were his followers needed to know to live well. And so I want to encourage you to remember the support you have from God as that will bring you inner peace and joy. I want to encourage you to remember that you are not ever alone as you work to be merciful, to be peacemakers and to be gentle and humble in all you do. These are not the ways of the world around us, but they are the ways that help us to evidence Christ in our lives and these are the ways that God wants the world to be and these are both comfort in times of challenge and challenge in times of plenty. And is that not the God we know and love but the one who comforts us in our time of need and challenges us in our times of plenty. So, go forth from here reflecting the God you know and love, to the world around you.




January 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

On the Eve of Christmas Eve


Grace and peace to you from the Triune God. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God this day.

We come to this moment of anticipation. We sit here ready to …. ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, ready to open presents, ready to see the joy on the face of the children, ready to … so many things.

And yet this moment is so very important. We could easily miss this moment as we wait for the next, as we anticipate what is coming, as we are wrapped up in what will happen. And so I want to encourage you to take this day, this eve of the Christmas Eve, to pause, to think about what is happening now.

Consider our text from Jeremiah. We know there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. We know that there are problems in the world. We known that not all is going the way we and others might hope. We look at our Government, who can't seem to understand the word compromise. There is no give and take only the wailing of children who talk about not getting what they want.

And we are far from alone in this problem. Look at Britain and Europe and the whole question of Brexit. We are not alone in the inability to see a way forward. We are not alone in the inability to see the value of a compromise. We are not alone in listening to those complaining like a little child that they are not getting the toy they asked for. No, this is a condition of the world and yet I want to read to you again from Jeremiah, “A voice is hear in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children and refuses to be comforted.” When we look at the world around us there is not hope. When we look to the world to provide the solutions, we don't find them. When we look out there, as we pause, we see much pain and suffering with no answer. And we need to pause and not be so wrapped up in the anticipation that we ignore the suffering in the world around us. We need to be aware of the dysfunction. We need to be aware of all that goes wrong. Because that makes the victory all the sweeter.

I encouraged you to pause in this moment and I am doing that so that you can come to see the world for what it is. Come to see the fallen state of the world. Learn the wailing and gnashing of teeth that is a part of our time. Then know that this has been true since the time of Jeremiah and much before. The wailing and gnashing of teeth is not new, it grows, it shrinks but is does not end, because the world is all wrapped up in itself and not looking to where a real solution might be.

We also read in Jeremiah that the one who “scattered Israel will gather them and will keep them as a shepherd does a flock.” And then they will rejoice and be merry. We know the answer to the problem. We know that the joy of this season is not because all is right with the world but because all this has been redeemed. We know the “Reason for the Season.” We continue to celebrate the Savior of the World, Emmanuel, God with Us, the birth of the Christ Child, the only real way that the problems of the world will be solved.

So, I invited you to pause and consider the problems of this world, the problems of this time, the negatives that are very real, because you know the solution and thus this consideration should only make your celebration all that much sweeter. I am not suggesting that you join in the loud wailing and lamentation of our time only that you come into the celebration with a clear head, because your joy will be all that much more, when you think of the birth of the Savior when you realize how much is being redeemed. Your joy will be that much fuller when it is held in the face of the challenge. Your joy will only get sweeter for understanding what is our reality both worldly and with Christ.

And thus I want to read to you Psalm 23 but a modern translation as I think it expresses why we can look at all of this and still have joy, still celebrate and in fact must celebrate even as others lament and weep.

Jesus is my shepherd;
     I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
     he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
     bringing honor to God's name.
4 Even when I walk
     through the darkest place,
I will not be afraid,
     for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
     protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
     in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
     My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

                                                                        all the days of my life,
     and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

 

And so we will go forth from here this morning back into the world that has already started into Christmas, because it is a distraction from the problems. But we don't need it as a distraction, we need it because it is about the birth of the Messiah. We read the story of how the birth took place because we see the miracles in that story and it gives us hope, real hope, because we know how the story ends. We can have the worst day and yet still have joy in our hearts, know the answer that comes. We can be like Joseph and when things are not as we think they ought to be, listen to God tell us that the outcome is not going to be what we expect and so we return to our life and keep going. We happily keep on the path that God has laid out for us even when that does not make sense to the world around us and we do it with the joy and happiness rooted in knowing the answer.

Jesus is coming, Emmanuel is nearly here, this moment is pregnant with the possibility and so I want to encourage you to pause and consider the world, not because I want you to join in the wailing or get depressed by the challenges, or be like those who see no solution but instead because you know the solution. I invite you to pause and take stock because it will make this moment all the sweeter. I invite you to pause and take stock because it will make the joy all the more real. I invite you to pause and take stock because we know the answer to the question, we know that our Messiah has come and will return and that is why we celebrate these days.

Take that deep breath the world might miss. It is the eve of Christmas Eve, that liminal moment before it is actually here, take this moment and use it to make your celebration, your joy, and your happiness all the more real and all the more sweet. Amen.




January 1, 2019, 12:00 AM

Christmas Eve


Good Evening, Grace and Peace to you from God our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

There are icon phrases from a number of sources that help us at Christmas. Consider ...

All through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.

The Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through.

“Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.”

and a little later

 ‘’I don’t know what to do! I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see.

 

What are the themes that are important to you as we welcome the birth of the Christ child?

What are the tidings of great joy that the angels have brought to you or through you?

What are the things that make Christmas for you?

I was born in a northern climate and so long associated snow with Christmas and in fact European and Northern culture and reality have so influenced our vision of Christmas. Every where I go whether in the tropics or in the Southern Hemisphere and even as far south as Australia where it is currently summer or in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere, snow is a part of the Christmas mythology. Santa in all his winter gear and with a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer is definitely a northern reality. Evergreens decorated for Christmas is also a northern thing. Maybe it has to do with the European cultural influence and maybe it continues to have sway because the purity of fresh fallen snow mirrors something we believe about Christmas? Maybe we see the purity of the snow and we think of the purity of our hearts when washed by Jesus? Maybe we see the purity of fresh snow and it reminds us of how we ought to be? And maybe it reminds us of the purity of heart and the purity of joy we see in the little children at Christmas, filled with wonder, joy and love as they are.

And then there is the question of children at Christmas. Having children around seems for many to be a part of the joy of the season. Making sure that children get enough to have the merriment we think appropriate for the season seems to be part and parcel for many of us. There is the counter and that is the sadness I hear from parents who no longer have their children around. Thus we know that children in all their innocence and love help us to know the Christmas spirit.

There is something magical in the gift giving. Yes it is magical to receive gifts during this season but there is something more magical about the giving of gifts and double so if those gifts are given to the children around us. Just consider how many of us that no longer have children at home find some child to whom we can give a gift, even if a small gift.

Speaking of gifts that are received. How magical is it when we receive a gift that shows genuine thought and effort on the part of the giver. How magical when the gift is home made and thus we know that there is a little piece of the giver in that gift. How magical when the gift is something that shows us how it is that the other person sees us and knows us. Consider that last year my child gave me hand sanitizer that smelled like what she remembers me smelling like when she was a young child.

The quotes from movies and books move forward through time and remain because they ring true in our heads. We all know that person who is like scrooge and mostly we seem to wish that they would come to find happiness, and generosity in this season like some many of us already have. In the book about scrooge there is that line that mirrors this when his nephew speaks of how sorry he is for Scrooge that he does not get to participate in the joy and merriment. We seem to genuinely want that joy and merriment for all people in this season.

Then there is the line from the book about Grinches heart growing three sizes, which also mirrors our desire for people to understand what we already understand, as we celebrate the coming of the Christ child into the world.  And then there are the quotes like “no one with friends is a failure” that point to the communal nature of this holiday but also point to the communal nature of Christ.

So, we have love, we have generosity, we have community, we have children, we have joy and then there is the magic. We have Santa Claus, we have lines like “sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see.” These express the mystery that comes along with Christmas. How does Santa make it around the world. How did Jesus born as this small infant, dependent on Mom and Dad for everything, become that which would save the world. How come God wants a relationship with me, even when I am not doing well. So many questions and the deeper we get into understanding God the better we come to understand God, the deeper we go into Christmas the more we understand about the meaning of Christmas, and yet the deeper we go the more we find that we must just leave some of it to mystery. There are things that our finite mind can not understand about the infinite God. And what a great way to celebrate that it is ok to leave some things to mystery, especially in this age of science and instant answers to almost any question with the phone in your pocket. That's right, it is OK that there is mystery left in the world, it allows us to have new understandings to pursue, it allows us to continue to experience awe, it allows us to continue to have new journeys.

And yet there are somethings about God that are not a mystery. I got a Christmas card this year that quoted St Therese and said “A God who became so small could only be Mercy and Love.” That God is Mercy and Love is not one of the mysteries, the mystery might be, why God chooses Mercy and Love, but how good is that. I accept that God is Mercy and Love in spite of my not understanding and that is good. I believe this Mercy and Love is what brings us to the generosity and joy we see in this season.

And so I will close with this prayer, that you get to fully experience the love, the generosity, the community, the children, the joy and the mercy of God this Christmas season and that this experience might continue to echo through the rest of your year and that you may show others Love, Generosity, and Mercy, throughout the year, but especially to the Children. Amen.




December 9, 2018, 12:00 AM

God can use you to help save the world


Good Morning. Grace and peace to you from the triune God. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

You are a light and lights are designed not to be put under baskets and hidden away from the world, that is the second half of an interesting mixed metaphor in our gospel today. The first half of that same mixed metaphor is that you have an essence and if you throw away that essence then you become effectively useless. This is then combined with the story of Esther. Esther is interesting because it is the story of God putting someone in an unlikely position and then using that position to save a whole lot of people, in this case the entirety of the Hebrew people under the rule of King Ahasuerus, who seems to have been ruling much of the Middle East. So, we have the unlikely hero, using the light God gave them, by being exactly who they are and not conforming to the world. Yep, that is the God I know and love.

I could stop by simply noting that God will use the essence of who you are, especially when it seems a little out of step with the world, in the places that you find yourself, to do amazing work. You have a light inside of you from God, and an essence that is you. There are things about yourself that you might want to minimize, dilute or shift because they don't seem to be in keeping with the rest of the world. I am not suggesting that you seek to be gruff and abrasive but the reality is, if that is your natural character, I believe from all that I have read in the bible that God will use that to save other people. I believe that gruff person, who seems abrasive to nearly everyone they meet, can be used by God, in their gruffness to save someone else. I still think that the essence and nature of God points to us being kinder and gentler and that God will find more uses for that but it does not undo that if gruff is just who you are, if that is the essence of your saltiness, then God will use gruff to change the world. If your essence is a little stand offish, if your essence is huggy, if your essence is brilliance, if your essence is reserved, if your essence is artsy, if your essence is somewhere in the LGBTQIA+ alphabet soup, if your essence is musical, if your essence is …... well whatever that essence is, God can use it. That does not say we should fail to develop our character or not worry about ethical living, no those are essential traits of being a Christian, but it can take on many flavors and God will use that flavor no matter what it is to help save the world.

I could have stopped at the end of the first paragraph, with, we have the unlikely hero, using the light God gave them, by being exactly who they are and not conforming to the world. That however ignores the reality that God uses our light in the unlikely positions that we find ourselves. Esther, as one of the Hebrew people was an unlikely candidate for queen, but there she found herself and there God used her. You may look around you and think how can my position in the world ever be of any use to God and yet I will assure you that if you will stick to your life of prayer and faith you will see God use all of who you are in all of the places you find yourself to save people.

I one day made a phone call to a person I had not talked to in years, who had been my employee when I worked in another state, who now themselves lived in another state just to be friendly. What I found out some years later is that one phone call happened to be on a day when they were contemplating suicide and they are maybe alive today because I made that one call. You never know when or where God is going to use you to help save some small part of the world. You never know how God is going to use your prior experience to help save the world. You never know what weird situation you are going to find yourself in and suddenly also then start to see God use that position to help save the world. You never know what God is going to do that will allow you and others to testify to the grace that is our Lord.

I could have stopped by repeating the theme of the unlikely hero, in an unlikely position, using that oddity that helps to make them unique to save some body or a whole group of people and maybe added that sometimes we help bring about physical salivation and sometimes we help bring people spiritual salvation. I was reflecting on the eclectic group of people scattered around the globe that I consider friends. I was reflecting also yesterday on the eclectic group of people who see me as their spiritual leader. I was reflecting yesterday on the wonderful and diverse places that I have visited or lived in. And I can tell you that God has used all of this to help bring salvation to the world. It does not always bring about the body that I can see in my minds eye in the places that I can conceive of, but in looking backwards over my life, the using of the whatever it is that is your essence, in whatever position you find yourself, as the light to banish the darkness, rings true in my head.

This rings true in my head not just for who I find myself to be and the places in which I find myself but for those around me. As I reflect on the people I know, who learn to embrace the nature and essence of who they are, God uses that uniqueness to reach people that others could not. As I reflect on some of the unlikely places I have been and people I have known, I can see how God has used them in those spaces to save the people around them. As I reflect on the people I know who dilute their very essence, I see that they become far less effective. It is in our diverse positions, our diverse natures, our diverse individuality, come together, working together, helping the common good, that I have seen God work incredible miracles in ways one could not have predicted.

All of this to say you may find that you are part of the too weird for the weird kid crowd and if that is who you are, you need to embrace it and learn how to live it and learn how to be that person that you are because you are meant to be a light to shining into the darkness, knowing that light will always over come the darkness. If you are wondering why this weird and unexpected placement in the world, rest assured God will use it for the benefit of the world, if we will but let God do it. You may find that you are not where you thought you would be, you may find that your life plan did not unfold the way you preconceived it, you may find yourself living in better or lesser places than you had in the fantasy world of your imagination and yet in all of those, God will use you for the betterment and salvation of the world.

My suggestion is learn to love your little quirks. Learn not to dilute your essence and nature. Learn that the odd place you find yourself is just the very best place you can be. Because God will use the place you are and the quirks of the people around you to help save you even while God is using your quirks in the less than likely space you find yourself to help save others around you.  Thus we have the unlikely hero, using the light God gave them, in the places they find themselves, being exactly who they are and not necessarily conforming to the world. That is the God I know and love and wish to share with you today. Amen.




December 2, 2018, 12:00 AM

Hope in the face of adversity


Good Morning, Grace and Peace to you from the Triune God. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

We have Habakkuk, a book in the bible you may never have heard of. We have the disciples falling asleep at a critical moment. We have the first week in Advent, the season of anticipation as we prepare for the arrival of a savior. We have a baptism this morning. And all of this as we acknowledge the news of the world around us and all of the negativity that brings with it. I mean really my synopsis of the news this week might be: Are Trump and Putin going to talk?, Is Trump going to be dragged down by his Russia connections?, What is happening with Brexit?, Which refugees are arriving and which are being turned away at the border (and no this is not just a US question)?, What is the current Israel/Palestine situation?, And then there are the wars, rumors of wars, world AID's day, famines and simple impoverishment that are happening around the world.

So lets start with all the bad news. What are we supposed to do with that problem? There is a constant deluge, if you pay any attention to the news, of negativity and problem. Once in a very long while you will see a human interest piece and some positivity but not very often. In the Old Testament we find that the Hebrew people use a form in the Psalms with some regularity, which Habakkuk has repeated it in today's text. There is this whole back and forth between the people and God, often starting with a complaint and containing some response from God that an answer is coming. This is then closed with some sort of recognition that God is God and we are not. Thus because God is God and sees what we can not, we can maintain hope and continue to worship God. My interpretation of Habakkuk in the final part today is, I am not seeing anything at the moment that would give me hope and yet I know that you God are far bigger than any of this and so I choose to have hope and to continue to pray and to worship you.

So, we have made the decision to stick with God but there is this nagging suspicion that God may not stick with us. And for that I turn to our New Testament text this morning. Jesus took the cream of the crop the three disciples who were at the top of their game, so that they might pray with him, this is right before he is arrested to be taken away and ultimately tried and crucified. This is an important moment and so one would hope the disciples would be there right with Jesus in his moment of need. And what happens, the disciples take a nap. Jesus returns to the disciples after telling them to pray and finds them asleep. Jesus is busy asking to have his life saved and the disciples are tired from the long day and fall asleep. And yet these are the very same disciples who will later be part of launching the church, the same church that baptized thousands on the first days of public ministry. So, apparently God will stick with us, even after we fail God and this is really good news on the day you worry you have failed God.

Choosing to have hope, choosing to continue to pray and to worship, having some reassurance that God will not abandon us even when we totally fail God, is important. These are all great and leave us in a place of hope, despite the world we live in. All of that is why we choose this morning to honor the path left for us by Jesus. Jesus, told us to baptize people and teach them his ways. We are promised in that baptism that we receive forgiveness of our sins are returned to right relationship with God. We are promised that this is a once and done proposition. We do not need to be baptized again and again and again because God chooses not to abandon us even when we get it wrong. God chooses to walk with us as we bear witness in a world that seems to be falling apart. God chooses to support us and bear our burden and our pain when we face this fallen world. God chooses us and we therefore choose God.

And thus we to can practice as the Hebrew people recorded in the bible that form of going to God and lodging our complaint, receiving the answer that God is aware and working on the problem and then we in spite of not seeing the evidence of a solution, choose to continue in hope and prayer and worship of God. We can in the face of all the negatives in this world have the opportunity to tell God what we think of it, receive an answer that might not be obvious or currently visible and remain as the hope filled people of God. And, is that not, in many ways, the message of Advent that we are a people of Hope awaiting the coming savior, trusting that he came once into the world and thus trusting that he will come again into the world. So we choose to baptize another child into this faith that supports us even as the world around us falls apart. What a gift we have to be a people of hope no matter what. What a gift our baptism brings to us as we can look at all that is wrong and remain in our faith. What a gift this infant we await, born to perfectly ordinary parents and thus as God among us. What a gift that we renew each time we acknowledge our brokenness and that God can continue to use us.

I will close by simply suggesting that as we baptize this child this morning you remind yourself of the promises that were given to you in your baptism. I will suggest then, that should bring you a sense a peace, which you will have the opportunity to share. We then come together around the table to be fed with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, that we might be renewed and nourished for the journey. All of this then prepares us to go back out from this place living as a source of light and hope in the world, which very much needs us.


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