Author Archives: Dee

About Dee

I am a working wife, geek, and mother of two with opinions about just about everything which I plan to share here.

Lent Musings 11

I smelled spring today
working in the yard
and I wondered
how You could have put
so much thought into creation
that the changing seasons
have their own smell
the light is different
the birds know
and plants start to poke up
tiny new shoots
a promise of new life
Your fingerprints are
everywhere

Lent Musings 10

You have a starmaker
living in your heart
the creator of the Pleiades and Orion
speaks to you, speaks FOR you!
cares about you, died on the cross
so that you could come home

you have music
living in your heart
the creator of songbirds
sings to you in wind
that whistles in trees
where those songbirds
make their nests

maker of stars,
singer of songs
make your home
in me
let my life
be your song

Lent Musings 9

your feet walked
in pastures I long to see
your breath gave
the gift of life to me

my sin grew
and darkness hid your face
still I hear your voice
a song of love and grace

a hungry lost child
I stumble through my days
help me find the path
please teach me your ways

interrupt our thoughts
wake us from this sleep
call us from this shallow faith
baptized in waters deep

to love how you would love
to see how you can see
not who we are left on our own
made new in you and free

complete what you began in us
we sing your praise like living stones
you breathe on us and change our hearts
you bring life to these dry bones

until your kingdom saturates
this ground of weeds and thorn
let us be salt, let us be light
til resurrection morn

Lent Musings 8

it’s crazy
at a deep level
we have a need to journey
back to you
we arrive so very vulnerable
and spend our lives trying to be
not that
we stack up the blocks
decide what rules
will make us feel safest
and crawl into our forts
strong, independent, adults
we say we need you
but the walls are thick,
the rules are comforting
and yet
you have ways to get
to us
if we pay attention

Lent Musings 7

Teach us kingdom thinking
help us keep our hearts from sinking
we are needing more not less
you bend to us in our distress
Your spirit lives in jars of clay
we long to hear what you will say
but all around there is the sound
of broken people, sin abounds
and masks the message you would give
to love, to heal, to feed, to live
we think we have the truth to hold
we beat it, mash it, fit the mold
but you would choose to die for me
the gift of grace that sets us free
how an it be? how can it be?

Lent Musings 6

My father taught me to swim
I feared he would
drop me in deep water
Jesus invites me
out of the boat
the little girl
still fears the deep
but Jesus whispers
“My grace is sufficient”

1st Sunday in Lent

Sermon March 1, 2020 Lent

Lectionary readings:

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;

2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;

3:3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”

3:4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;

3:5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

3:7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Romans 5:12-19

5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned-

5:13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.

5:14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

5:15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

5:16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.

5:17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

5:18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

5:19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Matthew 4:1-11

4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

4:2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

4:3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

4:4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,

4:6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

4:7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;

4:9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”

4:11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

_______________________________________________

SERMON

I could give you the bible in three words. Creation, devastation, restoration.

I don’t know about y’all but time seems to go faster and faster the older I get. Wasn’t Christmas just last week? We were putting up decorations and we were singing songs and telling stories about the birth of Jesus and now we are embarking on the road to the cross. Today’s texts give us some clues as to what we should be pondering. I love that word – ponder. Do you remember? In Luke 2:19 when the shepherds came to see the baby Jesus and told all that the angels had said to them, people were amazed “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Christmas is busy and noisy with bells and carols and kids. But as we walk into the season of Lent, we slow down and while the birth of Christ causes us to want to draw near, it’s human nature to want to avoid pain and it’s a little more difficult to examine our own sin than to sing Joy To the World. We don’t like being in the wilderness.

Maybe to see where we are, we need to look at where we were. We started in a perfect garden, created in God’s image, stewards over all creation. What that must have been like, walking with God, fully known, every need provided for. No crime, no poverty, no disease, no war. And then, we believed a lie . And no matter the words that the serpent used with Eve, the actual lie was that you can’t trust God. That God is withholding something good and desirable from us. In Eve’s case it was the temptation of the fruit of a tree they had been told not to eat. For us, it could be anything, but it will still come back to not trusting God. Not trusting that His plan is better than anything we can imagine. That His Word is trustworthy and true. Temptation is just an enticement to try to get you to do something that is not Gods’ will.

Adam and Eve do not take up much space in the bible. Their story is dramatic but short and their time in the garden ends. But the consequences of sin are woven throughout the rest of the bible and weigh on us to this day. A short time in creation, a shorter time in devastation, and the rest of the bible is our restoration story.

We started in a garden and ended up in a wilderness. We jump from the ending of Adam and Eve’s story in Genesis in the Old Testament and then in the New Testament and we read the story of the temptation of Jesus in the book of Matthew. In the middle of these readings, Paul takes us deeper into the meaning of how God has a plan to get us back to the garden – restoration.

Two temptation stories but with very different outcomes. One, the end of innocence, the second, the beginning of a ministry that brings salvation.

There is so much in the readings today and no way we can look closely at all of it so I would encourage you to read it again on your own. Read what comes before and after. because temptations come don’t they? 

I heard a young preacher say that if you are reading about Jesus interacting with other people look for three things: the context, the character, and the crazy. What is the context? Mark is writing to a community of Jewish Christians during a period of reconstruction after a revolt. It’s important to him to remind the people that Jesus is connected to but better than, David. Better than Abraham, and better than Moses. When Jesus quotes scripture, they would recognize the words. When they hear forty days, they will remember the rain fell for forty day and forty nights during the great flood. They will remember that Moses was up on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights. Moses people that wandered for forty years and Now? Jesus has just been baptized. Who are the characters? Jesus and the enemy. What’s the crazy? In human terms, if we had super powers would we not choose to use them?

As we get older the temptations change and they may slow down as we mature in our faith, but they come. There are always choices and how we face those choices makes all the difference.

In Matthew we read that the same spirit that had just descended on Jesus  led him out into the wilderness. 

Wait…. I think I have seen this before…In Exodus 14, Moses takes the Israelites through the Red Sea. Pharaoh thought they were slaves but they were God’s people – God decides who we are – not the Pharaohs of the world. They were given their identity. And once they had come through the sea did they go immediately into the promised land? No! They wandered for forty years in the? Wilderness!

In John 1:23 it says of John the Baptist” I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'” And John baptized with…WATER!

I’m seeing a theme here.

When a baby is conceived, the child grows in the womb surrounded by …water. A doctor may do an ultrasound and often can already tell if the baby is a boy or a girl. They already have an identity. When a baby is born they usually cry….maybe because after all these months of being in a safe warm place, they have been rudely thrust into…the wilderness! The wilderness is life!

Now Jesus is in the wilderness right after being in…the water!

God takes us from the water to the wilderness.

This reading in Matthew starts immediately after Jesus baptism which is a big deal. One clue that it’s a big deal is that when Jesus was baptized, the spirit descended upon Him and the voice of God spoke. This is the one time in the whole of the New Testament that the entire GodHead is present – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus was baptized not for his sins, he was sinless – but to show that He identifies with us (the ones He came to save) in our sin.

Jesus had fasted in the wilderness for forty days. He was probably weak and very hungry. The enemy watched and waited till the right moment. He didn’t offer riches. He suggested Jesus use his powers to feed himself. A basic and very important need. But Jesus had been preparing for forty days. The wilderness isn’’t so much the problem as who is waiting for us there! And this is not the first time hunger was used as a temptation. Remember the people wandering for forty years? Why did they grumble against Moses and Aaron? They said it would have been better for them to have stayed in slavery in Egypt…

Jesus had a plan and maybe there are some tools here, that we can use when we find ourselves in a wilderness of temptation.

Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry. Have you ever started a new thing, dreaming and planning and then just as you begin, all hell (literally) comes after you? The sun had barely had time to dry Jesus’ robe and He found himself in a wilderness, hungry and the enemy dangling the one thing he physically needed in front of him suggesting He take the easy way. Sometimes you have worked on something and you are almost there – your goal is in sight. And things or people fail you. Remember in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked His disciples to stay awake and keep watch while He prayed. Guess who napped?? 

Sometimes it is helpful to know where you are at. Genesis tells us that the serpent was craftier than all the other wild animals. I’ll come back to that but for now just think about how the serpent is crafty – the serpent waited and watched for the perfect moment. 

When are you most susceptible? 

Know where you are – spiritually. Jesus was physically hungry but made a choice and every decision He made was for your benefit and mine, rather than His own. The things we do today, determine the stories our lives will tell tomorrow. How we choose to live is for the next generation and the one after that. 

The serpent used scripture to attack. It is so easy and sometimes so attractive to make scripture say what we want it to say and often how we use scripture probably says more about where we are in our own journey, than what it actually means. I am repeatedly amazed at how a text that I read in the past, now has a completely different meaning for me than when I first read it. But notice that at the baptism of Jesus, the Word came down on Him and when He is tempted, The Word comes out of him. 

The Word of God is our defense but you can’t have something come out of you if you didn’t put it in, in the first place!

We talked about the text in Genesis at Monday Morning Lectionary bible study and I confess, in the past, I never caught it. The serpent was craftier than all the other wild animals – the serpent was created by God so who do you think is the boss here? Jesus said “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.”

Know where your help comes from! 

Wearing ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday and fasting for the forty days of Lent is not required of us. It doesn’t mean we are a part of an exclusive club and know the secret handshake. But maybe it gives us an opportunity to pause, to take a second look. At ourselves and how we fit into this path from creation to devastation and finally to restoration and to remember that as Jesus started His journey to the cross, he did it with all of us in mind. The power of sin entered the world through one man and because of that we all carry that burden but God’s power is greater and He will never allow us to be tempted without giving us an escape. And with Jesus, the power of sin and death will be defeated for ALL of us! THAT IS GOOD NEWS because whoever the son sets free is free indeed!

Maybe Lent is supposed to be a time when we, like Mary, treasure up all these things and ponder them in our hearts. Amen.

Lent Musings 5

I tried to write
a poem or a prayer
and the words
were hidden
behind my need
for clarity
and so I write that
because you are big enough
for all my questions
and frustrations
and confusion
today you say “hush”
“just trust”
so I will sit at your feet
until you speak

Lent Musings 4

we mourn for the children of Abraham
lost in a wilderness
of their own making
we mourn for the loss of the garden
for the lies we make truth
we mourn for ourselves
as we stumble back to you
stone bruised and world weary
we cling to the hope
that our stones will be rolled away
and there will be rejoicing
just beyond the horizon
in heaven and on earth
as your resurrection people
dance out of their tombs

Lent Musings 3

A repentence
from smallness
trying to fit my feet
into your footsteps
sometimes all I see
is your shadow
I’m sorry for focusing
on the wrong things
while you were busy
just to the side of my vision
I’m sorry for my dreams
that are too little
and would fill
a dimestore postcard
that says “wish you were here”
when you are painting a sunset
that sings
“I AM”

Lent Musings 2

I see creation
both beautiful and terrible
and my questions grow
I come to you for answers
and echoes of Job
ask me
“Where were you
when I laid the foundations of the world?”
I worry at my faults like
a sore that won’t heal
and there is Paul, head bent over a letter
pen scratching
“My grace is sufficient for you”
I cry out in fear
asking for reassurance
for a promise
and the Psalmist sings
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart”
I demand to know when you will fix
this broken creation
Jesus whispers
“Do you love me?”

Lent Musings 1

there are cycles
I always felt them
just at the edge of light
like that feeling you are falling
and you jerk awake
in your fear
almost doing the thing you dream
you made the world and see the beginning and end
as one thing, part of the whole
I am a dot on the line
that you draw where history meets future
I was, I am and will be
because you were
and are
and forever will be
I can’t hold all of you any more
than I could drink an ocean
yet you make a home
in me

Celebrate Recovery Talk 1

Sometimes when I walk in here I have this notion…that I should take off my shoes and socks. Don’t worry I’m not going to . I’m old and I have ugly feet and nobody needs to see that. But I feel like this is holy ground. 

Years ago some men got together and poured a foundation and put in place stuff for plumbing and electric and stacked one brick on top of another and made a building and slapped up a sign that said church and it was holy ground right? No! 

This has become holy ground for me because Jesus is here! Amen? So many stories about Jesus in the bible are about Him healing people and just a little side trip here. Have you ever noticed how in the healing stories – there is usually no name given to the person. Just their gender and their issue. The paralytic man, the woman with the blood issue, the lame man. Maybe that is intentional. How often do we label people not by their name, but by their issue? We see the issue. But Jesus? He sees their faith. He sees their need for forgiveness. 

So how does that healing happen? Jesus always always goes where the pain is! So you got pain tonight? Jesus is here. Worship happens here. Praise happens here. Healing happens here. We become a community! In the breaking bread, in our conversations, our praying for each other and listening to each other, in our laughter and our singing to Jesus together we become a family! We worry and encourage when one falls and we celebrate when one overcomes because we don’t just see their issue. We see them and in them we see ourselves. Jesus is here. The Holy Spirit is here. That makes this holy ground! 

So how did we get here? Let’s go all the way back to creation. We’re gonna be here for awhile…

It all began with a family. A Father and a Son, the Holy Spirit… and man, created in their image. Oh, How it must have been, walking with the Lord in the garden. Every single need provided for and no space – an intimacy between us and God. Knowing God and being fully known.

And then what happened? I think Eve must have been different from us. I mean, NO woman I know would ever even get close enough to listen to a snake. (Except Emily if she is here. If you are here Emily I apologize…this analogy won’t work for you..I know emily loves critters) But here we are, maybe Eve had gotten herself isolated. Maybe it had been awhile since she took a walk in the garden with God and she had been living in her own head too much. That happens to me all the time and I need to come here. I need to be around my Jesus family and get reminded of how much I need that community, I need accountability partners. maybe that was Eve – she needed an accountability partner! 

I did hear a story that said If Adam and Eve had been Cajun they would have eaten the snake instead of the Apple and saved us all a lot of trouble…

Maybe she was jealous of the relationship between God and Adam. I don’t know. But we have to be careful about who we spend time with don’t we? When we keep ourselves with family – actual family, church family, I don’t care what it looks like for you – it’s who YOU consider family, those who love us and have our best interests at heart, we are stronger. But when we isolate ourselves, man, we tend to listen to the first snaky voice that comes along. So maybe the trouble started because of a separation from family or community. 

Then what does the snake say to Eve? Genesis 3 I love to imagine bible stories unfolding like a movie. Just picture it.

He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Now keeping this in context, In Genesis 2:9 it says 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. 

All the trees. It wasn’t like all the trees but one were spindly little trees with nothing but dried up wrinkled up fruit.  No. All of them. God wasn’t holding something back from them. He was protecting them. They had never known evil.

So this conversation with the snake -here is a sign of trouble. A lie! She was created in God’s image.  If Eve had been connected to her family, if she had remembered who she was and WHO’S she was, she might have responded “I already am like God because He created me in His image, thank you very much – and grabbed a hoe, chopped off his head and kept walking. But she believed the lie and rather than go to God and walk and talk and ask Him her questions, she went with her own thinking and decided the fruit was good to eat and for gaining wisdom. Then she shared it with Adam maybe because when we sin it doesn’t look or feel so bad if we hang out with others that are doing the same thing right?  (I can hear my mama saying “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?) And then what happened next? 

Adam and Eve realized they were naked and made themselves coverings – they had shame. Then fear –  (and this is actually funny) they heard the sound of the Lord and they hid. Seriously? You can’t hide from God! I mean…he’s God! 

So when God questions Adam, Adam says Eve gave him the fruit and Eve says the snake tempted her and now? Now we have blame. 

So we have isolation from community, a lie, shame, fear, and blame and now no one can own their stuff. They can’t fix the problem. They don’t even acknowledge that they have a problem! Adam and Eve – the first example of denial!

 And now we spend all our time trying to find things to fill that isolation hole that we have dug for ourselves. 

It was a series of small steps that took us from the garden. We piled on layer upon layer of stuff. 

There is a quote from Thomas Aquinas that says “no one intentionally does evil, you always choose an apparent good” Which is just a fancy way of saying we tell ourselves that the dumb choice we make is ok and then we look for reasons to support it. It’s like we have Jesus talking right in our ear – right to our heart and we switch the channel and now all we can hear is the snake.

We are stuck in the snaky domain.

But what does God say about that snake?

“Cursed are you above all livestock

    and all wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

    and you will eat dust

    all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

    between you and the woman,

    and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

    and you will strike his heel.”

It might not seem like it at first glance, but this is a picture of such compassion and love. Eve (the woman) will carry the promise of rescue through her offspring  and evil will bruise the heel of that offspring – Jesus who will be crucified but that crucifixion and His resurrection will defeat evil once and for all and make a way for us to go back to the garden – back in to relationship with God. But first Jesus will have to be born – He will be the promise through offspring of Eve. You think God can’t use you? The person through whom sin entered the world is the person through whom God will work to achieve our salvation!

And just think about this. God didn’t wait. He didn’t have to think about it or hesitate. Weigh the pros and cons….No. He immediately made a solution. Just like that. God is good yall! As soon as you sin. As soon as you relapse. As soon as you do that thing you think is unredeemable, God already has a way back in place for you to walk in. And that plan at the beginning? It was wild! It happened with a family. A father – Joseph, a mother – Mary, and a baby. Community. 

Now I’m not saying being alone is bad. Solitude is needed sometimes. Even Jesus needed to go off and be alone with God sometimes. But then He would come back to people. Jesus will always lead us back to people. He is not afraid of our stuff, of our messes, of our pain. He’s not. He’s just not. And he knows that all of this life is just a process of us being undone. All the layers. The lie, the shame, the blame, the separation. We have to be willing to be messy and vulnerable with God in order to see the grace. 

The promise is not at the end. The promise is IN the process.

I think about every time Bobby stands up here and he says to trust the process.  I think about listening to Toby talk about relapse. I think about Melba asking the question in step study – What is your way forward?. Yall that was like the clouds opened…I mean, I am the worst about getting stuck on something in my head…We all have all these layers of stuff we need to work on and we need space and grace to work on them. This world is so loud sometimes and the road can be so long and so full of potholes. So we need our family, our Jesus family, to remind us that we are so loved! Every single person is powerless. Every one. It’s just that in here? We wear it on the outside where it is visible.

But here is what my heart tells me. That visibility, that being known, those moments when I see the love of Jesus in your eyes, where I hear one of you say something and the Holy Spirit convicts me. When one of us trips and falls in one of those potholes and they climb out with all the muck and yuck on them and we say here, take one of these blue chips – Let’s get you cleaned up. Here is some grace… and the steadfast love of God is lived out in front of me….THAT feeds my spirit. None of us will be completely undone until we stand face to face with the father. Life IS the process. God isn’t worried about the outcome. He has that all under control. He wants our yeses. Every single little yes to God helps to undo another layer, breaks another chain, erases another lie, and brings us closer to who we were created to be. We were created to be part of an unbroken circle, not stuck in a cycle of brokenness.

If we ask Him to heal us and we say yes to one thing at a time? He will heal us. I believe that. But I also believe that He has so much more for us. He wants to transform us back to who we were in His image. And when we worship?  Oh….We remember the garden, the intimacy. We reconnect. We return. What does God do? He refreshes our spirits! He restores our relationship with Him and with others! 

I want to take another little side trip here. In the New Testament there is a scripture I want to share with you. Listen to the Word from

John 5:1-18 

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  

38 years ya’ll! If you have been in a mess for what seems like a long time? This guy laid on his mat in the middle of his problem for 38 years. Laid. On. His. Mat. In 38 years he never even rolled or scooted or scooched? I mean in all that time? 

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

Jesus didn’t ask the man what was wrong with him. Jesus didn’t say hey I’ll sit here with you on your mat. I’ll be a friend and love on you right here the way you are. There is a difference between sympathy and compassion. Jesus had compassion. Now watch what the man answered!

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

After 38 years he didn’t say yes! That just astounds me! But no, he launched into an explanation of why he was not able to get to the pool that would heal him.

So?

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,  and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Now two things you can notice here. One is who took him to the pool? Did he live there all the time? Did he have family or friends that picked him up and carried him to the pool every single day for 38 years? If so, why didn’t they hang around and make sure he got to the pool? And the church leaders? Did they praise God that something miraculous had happened when he was no longer lame? No. No one helped him to the pool and no one was celebrating his good fortune with him. Check your circle. Do they want you whole? Or are they fine with you laying on that mat? If so, you need to find you some shove through the crowd, tote you to the roof, cut a whole and lower you to Jesus kind of friends!

Jesus met the man in the temple. Jesus is in the transformation business. This man who laid on a mat for 38 years waiting for someone else to fix his problem is now worshipping in the temple and he is able to rejoin society. But it required him DOING something. He had to get up, pick up his mat, and walk. The healing was there. He had to get up. I don’t know about you but if I had spent 38 years laying on a mat and all of a sudden I could walk, I would have been dancing and jumping around the room like crazy. But Jesus told him to pick up his mat. He was still carrying it when he walked into the temple. Maybe he was supposed to carry that mat so he wouldn’t forget how lame he was before Jesus. 

And ya’ll? We walked in the door here. I may not be in the pool yet. Maybe I just rolled a little bit. Maybe some of us have already met Jesus and we are being healed. But the point is – we moved. We did something! We are all already ahead of the poor guy on the mat!

When we are healed, transformed by Jesus Christ the saviour of the world we begin to live a life that responds with gratitude. I once was…but now I’m…

I once listened to a snake, but now I’m a possibility in God’s kingdom. I once was stuck on a mat, but now I’m carrying my mat and walking with Jesus. I once was a grouchy fisherman named Peter but because of Jesus I got to walk on water and Jesus built His church on me! I once thought I was unredeemable and was trying to do it all by myself but now, I’m part of a family that reminds me I am worth everything to Jesus. 

We are all a mess and we are all on our way back home to the garden and we need Jesus to get there and Jesus shows us that we also need each other. Amen.

Who Do We Think We Are

February 2, 2020 4th Sunday after Epiphany year A

Scripture Readings 

Old Testament Reading 

Micah 6:1-8

6:1 Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice.

6:2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel.

6:3 “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!

6:4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

6:5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Acacia to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

6:6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Epistle Reading

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

1:20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.

1:22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom,

1:23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

1:24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1:25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

1:27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

1:28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,

1:29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

1:30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption,

1:31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Gospel Reading 

Matthew 5:1-12

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Who Do We Think We Are

All the texts this Sunday, come together to warn the people of God that the world may try to confuse you and that the things society values will look good on the outside but they are not what God desires.

Micah gives us a picture of God outlining a Court case between Himself and Israel. He gives a list of all that He has done for the Israelites. The Israelites only answer is a list of questions that shows they clearly have missed the point. Should they bow before Him? Sacrifice animals? Children? What do you want from us God?

The case ends with a clear list of what God requires.

DO justice

Love mercy

Walk humbly with God

The Israelites had drifted away from God. They were going through the motions, They were going to church but they were also looking around and seeing what society said they should do and since some of the folks were doing well for themselves (which looks a lot  like blessings) they stuck a few idols around and listened to some very charismatic speakers and they thought they had it all together.

So next we jump to the new testament and see that years later, people were not much different. They still missed the mark. 

Ist Corinthians 1:18 

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

At first reading, this seems obvious doesn’t it? We all come to church, serve on committees, help with service projects. Most of us have been coming to church since we were itty bitty. We have heard all the stories many times. But personally, I have been guilty at times of “phoning it in.” Occupying a pew, paying half attention to a sermon, singing a few hymns and then going out to lunch and heading home for a nap or to watch a football game. I’m doing pretty good right? Aren’t I doing what God asks? 

Here is where a pastor might say – no! You need to do more! 

I can bow down to the Lord. I don’t have any animals to sacrifice and my kids are grown…

Maybe familiarity with bible stories and sermons breeds a kind of faith laziness. I think sometimes for me it does. And I look around at the world and I think wow, at least my church is not like that. We believe in treating people fairly. We do food pantry, we pray for each other. We partner with other churches to do Celebrate Recovery. We mentor at the school and support not only the students but the teachers. 

Thank goodness we are working to love our little corner of the world. 

But the world has problems. And I have come to think that they are not moral, or political. They are problems of faith. We have to stop, well let me rephrase that. I have to stop phoning it in. 

We live in a world that has all the answers to all the questions only as far away as our cell phones. We can understand everything if we know how to search. The world has tons of understanding. But…how is that working out for the world? 

How is that working out for any of us?

What does the bible tell us? 

2nd Corinthians 5:7 says “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Galations 3:11, Hebrews 10:38, and Romans 1:17 ALL say “The righteous will live by faith.”

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

If we wait for understanding we might NEVER step out in faith.

Faith comes from trust – NOT understanding. 

I would like understanding. I really would. I go to scripture with one question and leave with three more. But..that keeps me going back. Did you ever have a teacher in school who when you asked them a question, they answered with a question? I never liked that. They wanted you to look deeper, read more, figure it out for yourself so it would become etched in your mind. 

Maybe I’m supposed to keep coming back to scripture, so it will become etched in my heart? 

We don’t need a God of easy answers. We have google. We have books. We have friends smarter than we are. We don’t need a God who can do what we can do. 

We need the God from Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

There is a greek word – Thaumazo that means to marvel or wonder at. The term is used often in the bible, but there are only two times in the bible where Jesus marvels. 

The first is in Matthew 8:5-13

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

The second is Mark 6:1-6

6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

In the first text Jesus marvelled at how much faith a Roman soldier – a non-Jew had. In the second, He marvelled at how little faith his own Jewish people had!

Both times Jesus marvelled, it had to do with faith. If God looks at our church I wonder, will He be surprised at how MUCH faith we have? Or by how little?

We are crucified with Christ and we live by faith, trusting in God. If you were not a believer and follower of Jesus Christ you might say “Well, Dee, that is impossible!” 

I would say I know! 

It is! 

A mere girl carried a baby without having had a physical relationship and that baby would grow up to be a Jewish guy that would be arrested and nailed to a cross and die and be buried and then rise again. That’s what I am going to put all my trust in? Impossible! Yes! It is! That is a foolish thing to believe! Yes!

Think about it. Here I am up here speaking and I can look out and see that well, everyone in the pews is wiser, kinder, more Godly than I am. How can God use me? I don’t know! 

If you tell me I have faults that should keep me from being up here speaking about God, I would say you don’t know half of it! 

Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus calls his Disciples to him and begins teaching them. Even for the disciples, there always seems to be a disconnect between how people think things should work and how God actually relates to us. 

The Beatitudes are very familiar to us.To be poor in spirit means that we realize we are nothing compared to God. What a paradox. Society values self-sufficiency. God values our need for Him. It seems appropriate that this would be the first teaching because this is how we open the door to let Him in to begin teaching us.The desire to have a relationship with our creator. The humbling realization that in ourselves, the best we can do is less than nothing compared to who we are in Him.

To live in this world means to constantly hold in tension, the balance between how the world functions and the way the Kingdom of God is supposed to work. We or at least I, have to remain teachable.

Every time I think I understand, I do something I shouldn’t do or I don’t do something I should. 

But from Genesis to Revelation God only used ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. 

How foolish Noah must have looked. His friends would have said hey Noah, what are you doing? 

Building an ark.

What’s an ark? 

A boat.

Why are you building a boat? 

Rain is coming.

They must have laughed like crazy. A boat. In the desert. 

Moses had the Red sea in front of him, the Egyptian army behind him and a bunch of Israelites all saying Moses! What are we gonna do. I don’t know. I have this staff…

Sarah was knitting baby booties. Her friends might have asked “Sarah, what are you doing?” “Knitting for my baby!” Ummm Sarah? That ship has sailed, honey.

How foolish did the Israelites look as they marched around Jericho. Togas and sandals. No guns or bombs. Marching. 1234.

How foolish did David look – nine foot giant and itty bitty slingshot?

How foolish did Esther look going to the king unsummoned?

 It could have cost her her life!

What about Mary? Joseph, I promise! I promise! It was an angel!

How foolish did the wisemen look following a star?

How foolish did Peter look stepping out of the boat?

How foolish did the Roman centurion look – just say the word, you don’t even have to come in and my servant will be healed?

How foolish did the woman with the blood issue look – just grabbing the hem of Jesus garment?

How foolish did Paul and Silas look singing It Is Well With My Soul in a prison cell?

How foolish did the little boy look – five loaves, 2 fish, 5000 people, on the mountainside.

I’m in a little country town in Texas. I don’t have anything to offer that God could use. Maybe I’m just grasping at the hem of His garment.

Jesus certainly looked foolish – hanging naked on a cross with people saying THAT’S him? 

People are still saying “That’s him? That’s who you are gonna put it all on the line for?”

But guess what? Because ordinary people decided to say yes – that they would trust God and they would live by faith even when it seemed to make no sense and they did not understand….because they decided it was okay to look foolish in the eyes of men….

what happened? 

Noah’s family was saved from the flood 

Moses did see the Red Sea part and Sarah did give birth to Isaac 

The Israelites did see the wall of Jericho come down and David did defeat the giant and Esther stopped the Jewish genocide. Mary gave birth to Jesus. 

The wisemen found the Messiah, Peter walked on water, the Centurion’s servant was healed, the woman with the issue of blood – she was healed, Paul and Silas got out of that prison. 

That little boy fed 5000 –  

and Jesus Christ?  He got off that cross and he defeated hell and he defeated death and he holds the keys to hell and death and the same spirit that lives on the inside of him lives on the inside of you and lives on the inside of me so we can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens us! 

The church in Corinth had problems. The church today has problems. Paul didn’t argue about who was right and who was wrong. He reminded the church of Corinth who they were and whose they were. He redirected their focus back to what and WHO is important and everything else paled in comparison.

1st Corinthians 1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

What does God require?

Do Justice

Love Mercy

Walk humbly with God

I don’t have much To offer you Lord. A couple of loaves and a few fish. My heart and my words. My trust. My faith.

Amen.

December 29, 2019

Light Wins

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

2:14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

2:19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,

2:20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.

2:23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

I read the preaching notes on the Methodist Lectionary site. I often read the notes, search the internet, read and reread the scripture for the week. I pray.

This week one of the things that stood out to me was this and I quote “There is certainly no basking in the Christmas glow in Matthew’s Gospel text this Christmastide Sunday. With a dream of warning, Joseph and his new family become refugees, fleeing an oppressive ruler who wants to kill the child. For Matthew, it is a fulfillment of a prophecy; for Joseph and Mary, it is a moment of terror. For the little town of Bethlehem, it is a tragedy of historical proportions. Any time disaster strikes, natural- or human-originated, questions arise.”

I thought about the refugee situation in our country. In fact, the entire political climate. I’m not going to speak about my opinions about politics – don’t worry. 

I thought more about the anger I have seen between people who were friends, even family. People even remaining absent from church because they disagreed with the pastor or speaker. 

And I thought about what it must have been like at the time of Jesus birth and the times as He grew.  I don’t know a lot about the history of the time but we all know that Jesus was born into a country occupied by Rome. People had been taxed beyond what even Rome required by corrupt tax collectors who were there own people. So the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The Pharisees and Sadducees had made church into a place where you had to obey a ridiculously long list of rules or you couldn’t fit in. Life was pretty unfair in general. 

In the middle of all that unfairness, a miracle happens and salvation comes into the world.

So here we are, the week after Christmas. We’ve eaten too much, maybe you have already taken the tree down. The presents have been opened and some may have already been returned and exchanged. Mountains of wrapping paper, ribbon and boxes have been thrown out. Family that came for the holidays may have returned home by now. Maybe there was drama. Maybe there was loneliness. Maybe it was a wonderful time but now that it’s ended, there is a little bit of after-holiday blues.

Maybe a tragedy has already happened and the joy of Christmas has already turned into worry or grief.

So the question that wanders through all of this is…what next? What do we do now?

As I read Matthew, I pictured Joseph, praying to the God who charged him with the responsibility of taking care of Mary and Jesus. The carpenter has left the comfortable known behind and whatever he might have expected being the husband of Mary, Mother of God, it probably wasn’t this. We aren’t told what he is thinking so anything I could come up with is just a guess. 

What happens after Christmas?

Have you ever stepped out in faith and fallen flat on…your face?

What do you do next?

Isaiah gives us an idea of how to keep going when the going gets decidedly NOT fun.

“I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”

We tell the stories of how God has been faithful in the past. There are two things I think we need to catch here.  Telling the stories reminds us and reconnects us to our source. Now telling the stories to yourself might be helpful but…

I remember the Halloween my granddaughter turned three. She had a dinosaur costume and was so excited.  The neighborhood her other grandmother lived in made a very big deal of Halloween. Every house decorated up and adults in costumes handing out candy. We set off walking and one house had a huge blow up spider with glowing eyes. She had a tight grip on my hand and as we walked by she kept repeating “it’s not scary. It’s not scary.”

Telling herself was important but I have a suspicion that the tight grip on my hand also helped.

If we tell these stories to each other and listen to the stories of each other, then we are not alone. It takes at least two! We are to do this together! We are no longer carrying fears of the dark, the battles against the tyrants, or the pain of our failures…alone. It’s not scary. It’s not scary.

There are times when we need to be alone in the wilderness. Times we need to be alone with God. But the story of Jesus’ birth has more than one character. Can you imagine watching an entire movie with just one character? I like to imagine the journey with Mary and Joseph and the new born baby. Did they speak of their dreams? Of their worries and fears? Did they encourage each other? 

Did they speak of their memories of what God had already done to keep their faith alive and prepare them for trusting in what God would do next?

This piece of scripture from Matthew, reminds us that from the very beginning, the road that Jesus travels is a constant back and forth of God’s promises and human resistance. Jesus very existence is both the living presence of the promises of God and a constant irritant to those in power.

Matthew 2:13-23 is a series of dreams that give direction and fulfilled prophecies, that anchor three narrative movements – Fleeing to Egypt, The slaughter of innocents, Back home in nazareth. The book of Matthew is written primarily to the Jews so the references to fulfilled prophecy connected this Jesus with the faith they had known all of their lives. 

On the flight – Hosea 11:1 says “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” A prophecy that spoke of the people of Israel now implies that Jesus in a way, now embodies the children of Israel. He is both the one who carries and the one who fulfills the promises made to Israel by God. This story of flight would also have resonated with the ancient Jews as similar to the story of Moses and the liberation of Israel from slavery.

The slaughter of the innocents parallels the execution of Jewish male infants at the hands of Pharaoh. Pharaoh and Herod both caused death but they also both were unable to prevent the birth of a powerful leader.

The last prophecy Matthew mentions is that Jesus will be called a Nazarene. There seems to be a bit of a problem with this one because there is no specific prophecy that we can point back to that states this and all I can find is speculation about either a lost source or possibly sayings of multiple prophets.

Matthew paints a picture of a prophetic path and while God speaks to Joseph in dreams, connection for the Jews who were hearing Matthew’s gospel, comes from memories of faith stories.  For the ancient people, history was not a timeline like we find in a social studies book where one event follows another. For them, history was cycles and they would be more likely to believe when they could remember hearing something that resonated in the past.

My grandmother was from Scotland and every year on New Years Eve, just a few moments before midnight, my dad would step outside. As soon as the clock struck twelve he would come back in. He would be carrying three things. A piece of coal wrapped in an old handkerchief, money in his pocket, and something to eat. The tradition for the Scottish New Year, called Hogmanay Night was to “first foot” the house. The first person to enter the house with these three things, guaranteed warmth, prosperity, and food for the coming year. The only year my grandfather forgot we had the beginning of the depression. 

This made for a great story but it was just a story until you got to the part about the depression and then…well we still keep this tradition. Just in case. While I was not alive for the depression, my parents and my grandparents were and I heard the stories and I saw how living through the depression affected how they lived. They were frugal. They didn’t waste things. Scraps and worn out clothing became quilts, Shoes were repaired, not replaced. When you did get rid of a piece of clothing you cut the buttons off to re-use on something else. I have my grandmother’s button box and it is a treasure. I have memories of stringing fancy buttons and sorting them by color when I was a child. The depression was made more real for me because of how I saw it play out in the lives of my family.

So what do we do now? We make the stories resonate for a new generation. We tell them to remind ourselves of who and where we come from and how the great cloud of witnesses that we have cheering us on from heaven, ran the race. We do our best to live them out to make them more real for those who come after us.

Tyranny and corruption and divisiveness and poverty have always been a part of our world. But…so have dreams and memories and stories. Darkness came into the world with sin but the hope that we have in the promises of God  fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brings a light that tells the darkness that ultimately it will not win and Matthew might have added “but what had been spoken by the prophets was fulfilled.”

I would like to share a poem with you. A friend of mine had taken a picture of the very beginning of a winter sunrise in February of 2013 and I wrote this poem from that picture. It’s called Light Wins.

If ever proof were needed

the darkness should have heeded

for even as the sun goes down

now mostly hidden by the ground

of other lands and other towns

the smallest flicker cuts the black

and rises far beyond the trees

and though the clouds would freeze

and space encroach upon the day

a flaming sky gives argument

sun has the final say

We are disciples, followers of Jesus Christ and it is our purpose to proclaim the good news as a community of faith, to carry the light forward!

The world will continue to produce pharoahs, herods, tax collectors, pharisees. But they die. Only Jesus was, is and is to be. He is the way, the truth, the life, and the light of the world. And light wins!

Amen.

Advent 2019

I am unqualified to stand here. I am not a pastor. I have not studied at seminary. I have only taken a few college classes – never officially enrolled. I graduated from high school and took some classes at a vocational technical school. 

And yet – here I am. 

I turned 65 this year and probably should let singing and preaching be for a younger generation. It’s their time – mine is passing. 

And yet – here I am.

Most of you didn’t know me until I started coming here. There was no meeting where a discussion was had, a consensus was reached, and a vote was taken to affirm that I should be a lay speaker.

And yet – here I am.

The only reason I am here speaking on a Sunday morning is because I said yes. 

John the Baptist was a wild and wooly guy that lived in the wilderness. He wore animal skins and ate bugs. 

Mary was a child. Probably poor, and lived in a small town. 

Joseph was a carpenter – he built things with his hands. 

Herod was a bit wackadoodle, power hungry, insecure, confused about his religion. 

The wise men were more than likely dream interpreters from Persia.

The baby who would grow to be the savior of the world, was born in the downstairs area of a home – might even have been a cave, where there was a sterile area with a physician and a soft baby cradle…No!  It was the area where the animals were kept. 

If we were to get together and decide that we needed a plan to save the world – even if by some crazy stretch of the imagination we decided that God should come and live among us, would our plan look even remotely like the one God made?

Would we form a nominating committee and maybe decide that maybe a retired police officer would be the dad because he has been in law enforcement and this child is very important and would need someone who could protect him.

Who would be the mom? We might want someone who would be a good cook because we want this child to grow up healthy and strong. They would need to be someone who has been going to church all their lives.

Where would this happen? We would need to appropriate funds to build a house fit for the savior of the world. He should have his own room and the best computer and an area for study because he will need to learn all 613 of those Levitical laws.

How would we point to this event and this person? Would we post it all on social media? Have a big conference/concert? Give out free prizes and wear matching tee shirts?

Maybe we would never get this whole thing out of the planning stage because we might not be able to agree on who is qualified to play the important roles in this endeavor or who should chair which committee. I’m afraid if we were the plan makers things would be hopeless!

I don’t know about you but I have a really difficult time with the unknown. I like to know what is coming. I want to prepare. I want to make sure the house is clean, any food preparation that can be done ahead should be done, laundry needs to be caught up.

I like to leave the house earlier than necessary in case something happens to cause a delay. Being unprepared makes me anxious.

But maybe during advent, I need to be reminded that God works through the most unlikely to accomplish what we cannot even imagine and that sometimes preparing doesn’t mean doing things. Sometimes it means just being still. Waiting and listening with our hearts. 

We hear Christmas songs telling us that Santa knows if we’ve been bad or good and that he is making a list and checking it twice. As children we go sit on his lap and tell him our wishes. Come to think about it, if humans designed this whole salvation thing – the savior would probably be a lot more like Santa Claus. There are a lot of reasons why this would be a bad idea but one glaring flaw is that with Santa and the secular idea of Christmas, not all children will receive and it will have nothing to do with them being bad or good. Also it would seem that Santa’s only interaction with the story is to keep a list and then visit people one time a year. We invented Him. 

Joseph wasn’t uniquely qualified to raise the son of God. Mary wasn’t the perfect typical neighborhood kool-aid mom. (But they both were obedient – even when things didn’t seem to make any sense – they said yes!) The wise men were not local pastors who would be part of Jesus’ spiritual education. The shepherds lived out with their sheep which means they would not have been able to keep all the Jewish purity laws so technically they were unclean and yet an angel appeared to them to tell them the good news!

This whole plan designed by God does not make sense by our human standards.

In fact – it is completely unrealistic that Jesus even survived to adulthood! Born in a straw-filled place where animals sleep to a mother who was little more than a child and to an earthly father who by all rights should have shunned the mother for being pregnant before the wedding. He was hunted by a powerful man that wanted to kill him and as a tiny baby went for a long donkey ride to another country. He once was left at a temple in a city where he knew no one and was stuck there until his parents figured out he wasn’t with them and journeyed back to find him. 

He did survive though and then He was enthroned in a palace and whooped the Romans all the way back to Rome so His people would no longer be oppressed and his people worshipped him and they all lived happily ever after…right??  um no. 

That is how the story might have ended if we humans had written it. 

I don’t usually get to speak on Sundays that are so close together but today I want to refer back to the last Sunday that I spoke. There was part of the scripture reading that I want to mention.

Matthew 24:44 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

The author of the birth story has thoughts and ways so much higher than ours and He wrote a salvation story that is nothing like a plan we could come up with. No wonder Mary said “My soul magnifies the Lord!” No wonder Isaiah talks about a desert that is not only now green and flowering but it has become a swamp! With a highway for God’s people to travel on! 

And then? Jesus turned the preconceived ideas of who is first, who is righteous, who is worthy, and what God desires from His people, completely upside down! 

So back to the scripture about the house being broken into. We think that being robbed is a bad thing. But what if this year, instead of a Christmas wish list, we made an advent list? What if we ask Jesus to rob us of the things that place a wall between us and each other and between us and Him?

What if we ask the Christ child who according to our church calendar is about to be born, live, suffer, die, defeat death, ascend and will come back for us…to prepare our hearts for that time when He returns. 

Jesus could break into our lives and steal our preconceived ideas of what it means to be qualified because sometimes like the invalid by the pool of Bethesda, that just means picking up our mat and walking. 

-To steal from us our ideas of who is deserving and who isn’t so that we can remember that grace is not a gift you receive for being good. Its given to us in our weakness so the weaker you are? Guess what! The more grace you receive! 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul says “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” 

-To rob us of our judgmental thoughts about suffering and sin. Jesus suffered and he was perfection so help us to have understanding and compassion for each other when suffering happens because as scripture says “Hebrews 2:10-11 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,

We could ask Jesus to take from us our need to be right and certain of what we think we know so we can be surprised and delighted by a God who has always been faithful and hear the Christmas story fresh as though we are hearing it for the first time. 

John 1:1 says In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Matthew 4:4 says “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” Stories are made of words. The Christmas story is a story of how the WORD came and dwelled among us and became part of our story as we respond and participate in this wonderful mystery of the faith story of the world. Now THAT is something to try to wrap your head around! 

No wonder John the Baptist sat in prison and pondered everything the messiah was doing and asked “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 

So this season of Advent, read the story in your bible, sing the story in church, and go out and tell this story of hope to the world. Better yet, live out this story in your little part of the world. No animal skins or honey and locusts required….

Rejoice! This is good news! Amen!

First Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122 (UMH 845)
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The scripture readings today speak with hope of the second coming of Christ. They say be prepared. Isaiah looks ahead to a time when all nations will turn to the Lord and they will learn war no more. When we will change our weapons that destroy life and turn them into things that will produce and sustain life. They tell us to learn about the Lord and walk in His light. They speak of who Jesus is and tell us to be like Him. 

The people of the time were expecting Jesus to return any minute and when that didn’t happen, they started to lose hope and they got caught up in the day to day living. Even today, for us Christmas can be a joyful time and yet, there can be sadness. We have experienced loss. We are so busy. We sometimes spend money on gifts that we can’t afford and spend the rest of the year paying for them. For some – there is no money for gifts and so Christmas becomes a time of looking in a store window at something that we can never have. Hopeless. We cling to memories of Christmas past. Change is an ever present part of this life. Reading about the second coming of Christ seems odd when our calendar tells us He hasn’t even arrived the first time and yet…We don’t usually go on a trip without having a destination in mind. 

Advent is a time of preparation and expectancy. We are beginning a journey. We know how the journey ends as far as the church calendar is concerned but a lot happens between the manger and the cross and resurrection. For Jesus, and for us. 

Beginning a journey can be exciting but it can also make us a little anxious. Did we pack the right clothing? Do we have good tires? Are our directions correct? 

All along this journey there are angels. Jesus conception was announced by an angel. Angels spoke to Mary, and to Joseph, and to the shepherds in the fields.

When I was little – in fact all of my growing up years, my grandmother had an angel tree topper. Not the beautiful ones you see in the stores now with the brocade robes and all of the gold and silver. Gorgeous and elaborate fancy angels. No, this angel was made out of a kind of cream colored hard plastic. She had a pretty face and this long soft white hair that always looked a little rough after being packed away for a year. She held a wand with a star at the end of it. When she was placed at the top of the tree there was always a blue light at the tree top so that it was inside the body of the angel and she had this soft blue glow. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Of course she probably looked a little more like Glenda the good witch in the Wizard of Oz than an angel. 

We all have special memories of our past Christmas journeys. I also always knew which gifts were from Grandma because she always wrote “From Santa Clause” on the tag. Claus being spelled c l a u s e…

Years after my grandmother passed, I found an angel exactly like the one from her tree at a garage sale, and I bought her.  For years she sat on top of our Christmas tree until my family let me know they thought she was tired and tacky looking and when I downsized the tree after the kids were grown, she went away.

We see angels depicted in pictures as sweet little chubby cherubs or terrifying warriors, but always with wings. I have often wondered about that. I mean, if you are an angel and God wants you to go somewhere do you really need wings? But that’s not really the point..just one of those questions that distract me. When a family goes on a journey there is always that one annoying kid that is constantly asking questions like “Are we there yet?” That would be me. 

Often when an angel appears to humans in the bible, the first thing they say is don’t be scared. I always thought this meant that angels were probably more the scary warrior type than the cute cherub. I mean, if a cute pudgy little baby with wings appeared to you, they probably wouldn’t need to tell you not to be afraid. 

Have you ever actually stopped being afraid because you were told NOT to be scared?? What a suggestion! I wish I had thought of that! Just stop! It’s kind of like telling me to calm down when I’m upset about something. Not only will it not work but I probably will be MORE upset. 

The world can be such a scary place and with twitter and Facebook and all of the internet – we get the news (especially the bad news) almost instantly. We are bombarded with bad news and we get anxious. We now lock our church doors once the service starts and we are just more aware of our surroundings. 

I know we sometimes tend to think of the Bible as an instruction manual on how to be more righteous and we are told not to fear in the bible – a lot. Not exactly 365 times as some would have you think. That was a thing shared repeatedly on Facebook and because I always wonder about that kind of thing I did some research. nope. Not a thing. But still – the bible says “do not fear” a lot of times. And it made me wonder why. When the bible tells you something repeatedly it usually means it is pretty important, right? 

Journeys can be scary. I think about Paul. Paul said in Acts 20 that everywhere he went people wanted to kill him or hardship awaits. That would kind of change your perspective on travel wouldn’t it? But he didn’t stop. In fact in 2nd Corinthians 12:10 He says that for Christ’s sake, he delights in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

So maybe when the angel said to a person “Do not fear” it was not a command or instruction but instead some kind of angelic power like using the force in the Star Wars movies “These are not the droids you are looking for” (If any of you have not seen the Star Wars movies I apologize.) But when a Jedi used the force – poof – the bad people would walk right past those droids like they weren’t even there. So maybe when the angel said don’t fear – poof, whoever they were speaking to was not afraid. Okay that’s a little weird but you get my point.

John says that perfect love casts out fear. So maybe when God sent an angel to us with a message, they came in the form of this powerful love of God which made the fear disappear.

While we are asking questions, why would fear be the thing angels would tell us not to do. If the angel has the power to change something in us like removing fear, why wouldn’t they say something like don’t be selfish! Or don’t be mean! 

Maybe because God knew that the one thing that would totally close off our mind from hearing the message from Him would be fear.

So today as we set out on our Advent journey I want to talk a little about this fear thing. 

How can fear be the thing that keeps us from hearing and acting on God’s message? An example that might show us what fear can do is the difference between Joseph and Herod.

Herod was a Roman appointed king of Judea. He was good friends with Mark Anthony, the Mark Anthony who was in love with Cleopatra. He built fortresses and palaces and in general made the country more prosperous but he was mentally unstable and as he got older he became more unstable. He ended up murdering his wife, her sons and her brother. All together he had eight wives and 14 children. His physical and mental health had deteriorated by the time of Jesus birth. He had lost favor with Augustus and tried to commit suicide. When the wise men told him a prophecy about a king being born, he was afraid. 

He sent them to find out more and he said he wanted to know where this king was so he could worship him. When the wise men didn’t come back and tell him how to find the baby he arranged to kill all the babies in the land because underneath it all, he was afraid of losing his power. He was terrified of a little baby!

Joseph was a carpenter. A peasant. He had no power. The bible says he is a just man. When he found out Mary was expecting a baby, he didn’t pitch a public fit and he didn’t just dump her. He thought about the situation and he was planning to divorce her quietly. Even though he might have felt hurt and betrayal and according to the law of the time, he could have publicly shamed her, but he had compassion for her. While he was thinking about all this, an angel showed up and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, that the child was from the Holy Spirit. Later an angel would appear to him in a dream and tell him not to be afraid and to take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod. Both times, Joseph was able to act without fear and listen to what God wanted him to do. We know very little else about Joseph from the bible. 

Herod had power and was fearful. Joseph had no power but was fearless!

Every Christmas of my life, there have been nativity scenes. The town I grew up in was very small. It had one main street and packed dirt paths on the walk to what we called town, not sidewalks. Every year we would bundle up and walk to town to look at the Christmas lights and the last stop would be the nativity that was nearly life size. I have a ceramic one at home that a friend made for me years ago. I have seen beautiful wooden and porcelain nativity scenes and each one  has Joseph in it. Every church nativity program casts a boy to play Joseph, Mary’s husband. Because Joseph was not afraid to do what the angel told him to do, Jesus was born according to prophecy and also kept safe from the consequences of the fear that consumed a powerful old man. 

None of the nativity scenes we set up in our homes at Christmas and none of the Children’s Christmas programs we have watched or helped put on over the years have had Herod in them. Herod is a footnote in history.  Joseph has a permanent part in the story of the culmination of God’s plan for our salvation. 

There is a quote that says Herod’s fear caused death. Joseph’s fearlessness protected life.

Maybe you have some Herod’s in your life. Maybe today because of Jesus, you can look at those things or people or situations that seem to have power over you and your life and point your finger and say “footnote” because the powerful, fearful Herod’s of the world are forgotten, but stepping out in faith and saying yes to God changes the world (and you!) forever.

I believe in angels. They are all around us. Maybe they are sitting next to you in the pew this morning. They certainly are sitting next to you holding your hand and praying with you in the hospital. Maybe they come by to visit you and bring cookies when you are recovering. Maybe they cook a meal or give you a hug. They are messengers of love and they say over and over again – don’t be afraid. They speak louder than any footnote and they change our world every day in quiet little ways. 

As we start our advent journey, let’s pack light but don’t forget the angels that travel with us. Our Jesus family that makes this journey with us and strengthens our faith when the Herods of the world have bruised us.. 

Let’s not forget the inexperienced girl who said yes to what an angel told her and got to rock the one who would die for our sins in her arms. Don’t forget a poor carpenter who made the decision not to be afraid and built a family that would nurture the one who would save us all. 

Most important, remember the baby in the manger, the one who was planned for and promised from the first moment sin came into the world to restore us back to the garden. 

Do not fear. Get ready. There is hope! God has a plan!

Christmas is not the destination. Christmas is the starting place. 

No Fun

Slight interlude from bible study. Dale had surgery to repair two hernias on Wednesday and had a few small complications we are dealing with. We go back to Dallas Tuesday so prayers would be appreciated. The two hour drive is hard on him right now and it is supposed to be very cold Tuesday morning. Prayers also for some improvement between now and then. It’s hard to watch someone hurt and not be able to do anything about it. Still, we have felt God’s presence in friends who have called, prayed, brought food. We will get through this.