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 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.

Nostalgia

I made a small trip over to tonyandpaige.com and found his post from September. He had started blogging 20 years ago. Tony created this blog for me in 2006 so I have a few years to go to catch up. There are a total of 1265 posts published here so apparently I have had quite a bit to say. There were only a couple of posts here in 2017 and I imagine that was partly due to social media. I am still on Facebook though I have managed for the most part to withdraw from anything political. For a time I would click on Facebook in the morning and immediately became depressed or have my blood pressure go up but I have found that if I stick to posting or sharing things I think are positive and just scroll on by the things that were making me crazy, I am far better off. Mostly I look for pictures of my grandchildren who of course, are the most perfect and beautiful babies in the world!

I’m in the process of cleaning up the blog. As I go through past posts it’s funny how things have evolved as far as my interests. I started out with a lot of technology and education posts and then went through my years of writing poetry and short stories. Hopefully now that I am retired, I can revive some of that.

Since I have retired I have become a lay speaker at two Methodist churches on the first Sunday of the month. Now my posts for the most part, are either my bible study notes or my talk for church.

When I was writing I was in several poetry groups and had a lot of traffic (or at least it seemed like a lot for me) but these days I doubt hardly anyone reads but it serves as a place for me to document my journey with Christ and to hopefully see growth in my walk.

So thank you, Tony. I have never said that enough. I couldn’t leave comments on your blog so this will have to do. It was because of you I became a district tech which certainly affected my um…quality of life in retirement. Things were never the same after you left but I learned so much from you. I missed your kindness and integrity but I am glad you made the move for you and your family.

This has been a place of therapy for me, a creative outlet, a place of learning, and a place where I have made some friends that I have never met but stay in communication with so it shrank the world for me. It was a way for me to let friends know what was happening when Dale was so ill and kept me connected to the world when we were isolated for months in the hospital. I started here when I was 51 and now I am 65 and still writing. I’m kind of okay with that.

Nov 3 2019 Sermon Luke 19:1-10


All Saints Sunday 

Quote: Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone

Luke 19:1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Maybe how we look at this story depends on how we answer a question. It’s just a detail but it could change our perspective. When Zacchaeus speaks about his financial decisions is it a promise of what he WILL do in response to his encounter with Jesus? Or is he saying what he is doing right now?

Jesus is nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem. He is passing through the border town of Jericho where Zachaeus lives. His face is “set towards Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53) but he is not so preoccupied with his own fate that He doesn’t take time to notice others. 

The name “Zacchaeus” comes from the Greek “zakchaios,” which means “pure” or “righteous.” Zacchaeus is not just a tax collector, he is a chief tax collector so he is very rich. The meaning of his name seems ironic and maybe some in the crowd notice this. 

So let’s take this well known little story apart. 

One detail is that sight is important. 

We need to take a little side trip to see how this fits together.

Luke 19:1-10 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him,  “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Luke pairs two stories that both take place in Jericho. When we look at them together they compliment each other. One is about a disabled man who is poor and blind but though blind, he is able to see things others do not including his own desperate condition and the power of Jesus Christ. He cries out for Jesus to have mercy on him.  Zacchaeus is rich and not disabled, just small, He has heard of this Jesus and climbs a tree to see him over the crowd but he is silent when Jesus approaches.

Another detail is wealth. In the previous chapter in Luke, a rich ruler sadly chooses his wealth over following Jesus. In contrast, Zacchaeus receives Jesus with joy and promises to give half his wealth to the poor and to restore fourfold the money he defrauded people out of and Jesus announces salvation has come to this house.

A third detail is that Zacchaeus is short, physically – but also, as far as his community is concerned he is short on morals. Partly because of his stature and now because of his profession, Zacchaeus has been looked down on all his life. The crowd reaction when Jesus singled him out was to grumble. This is not the first time that bystanders have been angry about Jesus’ behavior. Back in Luke 7:39 when a woman who was known to live a sinful life washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and her hair at a dinner he was having with the pharisees, Jesus responded to the grumbling of the pharisees with the parable of forgiven debt and told the woman she was forgiven. Just last week we heard the story of two men praying – a tax collector and a Pharisee where it was the tax collector who went home justified.

So what does all this mean with the question of whether Zacchaeus has done or is doing something with his money?

The easiest interpretation would be to say that it is describing future behavior. Zacchaeus has this encounter with Jesus which causes him to change his behavior which Jesus acknowledges. It fits with how we understand things to work.. We repent, then we are forgiven. That when Jesus shows up, the impossible happens. That repentance should include everything in our lives including our finances as well as our heart change. AND..All those things are true. 

But sometimes it seems like the bible says one thing on the surface and yet allows for us to slow down and wander and wonder a bit and maybe challenge the assumptions we make when we first read a text.

So let’s look at the text a little closer. Zacchaeus does not make a confession of sin. He does not repent. He does not ask for mercy. We can make the assumption that since he is pledging his money that he repents but unlike the praying tax collector who asked God to have mercy on him, a sinner,  Zacchaeus’ repentance remains an assumption WE make. Jesus merely pronounces a blessing based not on anything Zacchaeus has done, but simply because he is an Israelite just like the people around him who are grumbling. Zacchaeus doesn’t seem to offer to pay everyone back or give his money to the poor because of anything Jesus said. In fact it almost seems like more of a response to the crowd. Maybe it’s a response to the presence of Jesus. Again, it is left to us to make the assumption.

So at first reading this is the perfect conversion story. But what if it is also the story of all the possibilities that exist in the presence of Jesus. So much of the story seems impossible. That a chief tax collector would want to see Jesus. That Jesus would want to stay at his home. That this sinner Zacchaeus would go above and beyond the law with his generosity. That Jesus would say that not just Zacchaeus but his whole household had salvation. 

Maybe Zacchaeus represents the first and most important start for all disciples of Jesus – a persistent desire to see Him and a transformational joy when we are in His presence! Rather than a formula of steps of repentance and forgiveness the story takes the miracle of salvation and shows it as a promise that anyone who truly wants to see Jesus will – even if they have to go to all kinds of lengths to do so. More than just seeing Jesus, they will be seen by Jesus and THAT is joy.

If we read the story of Zacchaeus as a story of the desire to see and be seen by Jesus, then we can then look around us and ask ourselves who both in our church and everywhere else we go as we live out our lives, has been left out, too short to see over the heads of the crowd, too different in the way they live, who might just want to see Jesus and who might surprise us by their generosity and faith… and if we allow ourselves to ask these questions, we might see Jesus and Zacchaeus and ourselves in a completely different way. Maybe like the blind man, we will be able to see things with more than our eyes. 

What would it mean to us if Jesus spoke to us while we were up a tree? 

What would it be like to be looked down on all your life and then have Jesus look up at you and see you for the creation you are, made in God’s image? 

What would it have been like for Zacchaeus to have Jesus look up and speak his name showing that Jesus knows HIM inside and out and he can’t pretend to be anything but who he is and Jesus doesn’t  just see him and speak his name but treats him as a friend! 

A little detail in this text, Jesus says He MUST stay at Zacchaeus’ house. That implies that God planned this encounter – that it wasn’t an accident. 

In the passage about the blind man who received his sight from Jesus. a physical healing took place. In the story of Zacchaeus, since we have to make so many assumptions anyway, what if we make one more. 

Maybe Zacchaeus who has always been looked down on because he is a small man, became hardened and that was part of the reason he chose his profession. Suppose he felt little compassion for all those who had treated him as less because of his height, something he had no control over. Suppose when Jesus looked up at this man who had climbed a tree to see him, he saw someone with a deep wound that was invisible because it was a wound of the spirit but a wound that was disabling none the less.

So if we look at two stories – the story of a blind beggar and the story of Zacchaeus, we see two very different people, two very different healings, and in both cases, the men received salvation but it looked very different outwardly.

In the first, a beggar who’s eyes didn’t work and yet was able to recognize the power of Jesus Christ, was physically healed and now able to join society as a productive member and he and those who witnessed the healing, glorified God. In the second, a spiritual healing took place and a rich man pledged his wealth to the poor and to make amends for everyone he had taken advantage of, and because of that, his entire household received salvation.

If we can take these stories that we have heard all of our lives and look beyond the obvious we can find layers of hope for healing, for salvation, for seeing and being seen by Jesus no matter who we are or where we are in life. 

These stories of all those who have gone before us, facing struggles, disabilities, unfair treatment, who encountered Christ and were forever changed strengthen our own faith that we too can see and be seen by Jesus.

Maybe these stories are all about the impossible possibilities that exist when Jesus shows up. 

Questions Jesus Asked 3 Matthew 6:25-34

Scripture Matthew 6:25-34
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  

Context Matthew 6 is the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. This chapter contains the middle portion of the Sermon on the Mount, including the Lord’s Prayer. Verses 19–34 deal with the necessity of a pure intention in all things, unmixed either with the desire of riches, or worldly care, and fear of want (wikipedia)  

Cross Reference Gospels (and I added from NT) Luke 12:22-34
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  

Old Testament Reference Proverbs 12:25
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
Isaiah 41:10
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Jeremiah 17:7-8
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Psalm 37:8
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
Deuteronomy 31:8
It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Quotes, Commentary “If you want string and brown paper, you need not go into a shop to buy them, but if you buy certain articles, you get string and brown paper in the bargain. So, when you go to God, seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness, these other things, which are but the packing, as it were, the string and the brown paper, are given to you in the bargain. He who giveth you the golden treasures of heaven will not allow you to want for the copper treasures of earth.” Spurgeon

When Jesus spoke about grass being “thrown into the fire,” that was reference to a common frugality among ancient Israelites. Unlike today, cut grass was a useful source of fuel for many homes. People would cut the green grass of spring, let it dry, then wrap it into bundles (kind of like little logs). They’d burn those bundles in fire ovens for cooking and heating.


Scot Mcknight quote: “These are words for radicals about a radical lifestyle of trusting God for the ordinaries of life while devoting oneself unreservedly toward the kingdom mission.” and Jesus isn’t encouraging his disciples to be reckless. Instead, he’s calling them to follow him and to see that following him, or (in our text) seeking first the kingdom and righteousness, reshapes what we value most.

Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of anxiety. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.
Corrie ten Boom  

Observations, Misc. This passage contrasts worship of things and worship of God.  

Other There is a rumor on the internet that says Do not fear is said 365 times in the bible but after doing some research, I found this not to be true.
Question: Is worry a sin?  

Prayer Father when the world takes my eyes and my mind and my heart and points them at things I seemingly can do nothing about, I ask that you either provide me with the strength and ability to do something about them, or bring me back to worshipping you. Help me to avoid situations that will cause worry because I know that the focus is then on myself. Point me to service for others to keep my hands and heart busy doing the work you have already provided for me to walk in and let it bring you glory. Amen      

Habukkuk

Sermon October 6 2019

Lectionary readings:

Lamentations 1:1-6

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Luke 17:5-10

Lamentations Chapter 1 describes the unhappiness and gloom of Jerusalem following its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. It was written by the prophet Jeremiah, who is also known as “the weeping prophet.”

In Lamentations 3 The faithful lament their calamities, and hope for God’s mercies.

In Luke 17, the disciples ask for their faith to be increased and Jesus responds with a parable that tells them they need humility.

In 2nd Timothy, Paul who is nearing the end of his life, doesn’t want to die without giving some last encouragement to Timothy who he loved and mentored. The reading focuses on reminding Timothy to hold fast to sound teaching, to guard and fight for the gospel. 

On todays’ lectionary page there was an alternate reading from Habakkuk and because I had not really studied that book, it caught my interest so I want to talk about this minor prophet with a big lesson today.

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

1:1 The prophecy that the prophet Habakkuk received.

1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

1:3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

1:4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

2:3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Habakkuk means to embrace or to wrestle and Habakkuk did both. Usually a bible book of a prophet is about that prophet going out and telling the people what God has told him to say. Habukkuk is a sort of journal of a conversation with God. The book has only three chapters and is divided into three sections. The first is a conversation between Habakkuk and God, the next is a list of woes, and the last is a psalm of praise. 

Things have gone from bad to worse in Judah and for generations God has tried to get His people’s attention and they just turn away. So now, Habakkuk looks around and sincerely asks God, “God what are you doing? Are you going to save your people? And not only does he ask God these questions but he sets himself down to wait for an answer.  He is not budging an inch. This is so important to him.

God answers him! But the answer is not exactly what Habakkuk would have hoped. God tells him to judge Judea’s wickedness, he will hand them over to the Babylonians. Now we know as Habakkuk did, that the Babylonians were a warlike people who liked to plunder other lands. They are to Habakkuk, much more wicked than the Judeans. Habukkuk who has come to God to try to understand now is even more confused. He asks God how can He use such wicked people to punish the Jews. God is way ahead of Habakkuk and tells him to wait, that they too will be destroyed. He gives a list of all the bad things that will happen. 

The Babylonians plundered a lot of nations but the ones that are left will plunder them. The Babylonians disgraced nations but the Lord will disgrace them. The Babylonians made idols and called on them but the earth will be silent before the Lord.

Habakkuk then sings or prays a psalm of praise that ends with these words: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. 

There is comforting news in this text. 

  • God honors our sincere questions. I believe He wants us to bring our questions and worries and pain him along with our joys and praise. We look around at the world today and we wonder about some of the same things! We see violence, and strife and contention. We see justice perverted. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do. So we take it to the Father. 
  • God answers our questions and prayers. Sometimes we have to wait. Don’t give up. God responds to persistence!
  • Sometimes the answers are not what we might like but we see only our little piece of the whole tapestry and not the big picture. 
  • We can have faith that God will make everything right because God has been faithful in the past. We read over and over again, how the people turn away from God and God makes a way for them to be restored until the final answer, Jesus Christ. 
  • Spending time with God allows us to know Him better. Maybe we won’t get a direct answer to a specific question, but remember how you could tell sometimes who your kids were hanging out with by the way they acted or talked? The more time we spend with God, the more we have the chance to understand and trust Him as He changes our fears about this world to praise and a desire to bring about His kingdom here on earth.

Now Habakkuk composes a psalm of praise for the God that he trusts to eventually make all things right and we, having the perspective of reading this text after the New Testament, know that God does make all things right through His Son. who finally, once and for all, restores us to relationship with God, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Habakkuk 2:4 ends with “but the righteous live by their faith.” These 7 words are quoted 3 times in the New Testament. Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith

Galations 3:11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.

Hebrews 10:36-39 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For,“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

  • We are to be a people that talks to the Lord and when we have planted our feet on the rampart and are waiting patiently for God to answer, even if it seems no answer is forthcoming, we will continue to walk by faith. 

The reminders in the text’s today are to be humble, to talk to the Lord, to hold on to the gospel, and have faith because God is faithful and will complete the work he has begun in each and every one of us.  

Scot Mcknight when teaching seminary said this: “Sometimes I ask students to read the prophets after they have read Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul articulates theology and the prophets inform us that theology isn’t what it is supposed to be until it is lived. Of course, Paul says this, too, but sometimes it takes time with a prophet to know what the apostle is saying.”

My challenge to all of us is to read any of Paul’s letter to the Romans and then go back and read any of the prophets. See for yourself how the gospel of grace has always been there. The good news that God sees and is at work to restore us to who we were meant to be, made in His image! But simply reading isn’t enough. We have to live it, go back and read some more and then walk it out some more. It is a lifelong and life changing conversation with the one who created us and knows and loves us too much to leave us incomplete and separate from Him and the rest of His creation. 

There is a beautiful comparison in the these texts. The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith and Jesus spoke to them about humility. 

Habakkuk speaks to God about saving his people and God increases his faith.

Habakkuk got a lesson that is hard for us all to learn – that faith doesn’t mean there won’t be storms. Faith is a way to find meaning in a life where storms are inevitable. Amen.

Questions Jesus Asked Part 2 Matthew 5:46-47

Scripture: Matthew 5:46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

Context: So Jesus in Matthew 4 had just been driven to the desert and had his encounter with the devil, He began to preach, called his disciples, healed the sick, preached the sermon on the mount, made a series of statements that began with “You have heard it said, but I tell you. This question is a part of one of those statements. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Gospel Cross Reference ”luke 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Old Testament Reference :”Proverbs 25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.” (Paul quotes this in Romans 12:20) “The picture of putting coals on a person’s head initially sounds like a picture of causing burning pain, but it really is not. Instead, it seems to be a picture of stirring up the coals of a fire to rouse it back to life again. It is a picture of stirring within a person a response of remorse, when they see your kindness in the face of their meanness. “ https://engediresourcecenter.com/2015/07/08/heaping-burning-coals/

Quotes, Commentary: ”it begins with the beatitudes, not bedoitudes. The Pharisees had been putting all the emphasis upon what they were doing, their physical state. Jesus was redirecting their attention to their inner thought life, their spiritual state.

 “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside you”” Ralph Waldo Emerson”

Observations, Conclusions: When we realize how we are to be as Christians. we know there is no way we can do it. The minute we confess we are unable to do it, we have taken the first step towards depending on Jesus. Being a witness for Jesus is not something we are to do – it is who we are to be. Jesus DID what He said. As he was nailed to the cross He didn’t curse those who tortured and killed Him – He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Miscellaneous: The Jews would have viewed tax collectors as traitors and extortionists and to associate with pagans? Not done. They had been taught all their lives that they were to hold themselves apart. These questions would have elicited strong emotional responses. We are to love others the way God loves us:

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Agape is not love of the emotions but of the will. It may involve emotions but it always involves action. It is manifested by specific actions. 1 Cor 13:4 Gal 3:22, Matt 8:34

Prayer: Father search me and help me to identify those prejudices that I carry in my heart. Teach me your way of loving so that I may be a better witness for Jesus and more fully know you as I see you in others, including or especially those that I harbor hurt or anger towards. Amen

Questions Jesus Asked part 1 Matthew 5:13

I have been reading a lot about the emergent church, deconstructing and reconstructing your faith. It has caused me to question some things and in some ways I am learning to separate “church” from Jesus. I decided the best way to start for me, is to study Jesus. The first study I have decided to do is on the questions Jesus asked. There are some 300 (several people have actually made a list) and I may not tackle every one because some may not lend themselves to anything theological. I started a new notebook and jotted down the categories I wanted to explore. They are as follows: The scripture reference, Context (who, what, where), Cross reference in the gospels, Old Testament reference if any, Quotes and Commentary, Conclusions, and Observations and then anything else – stuff I might want to give a different category for later. It sounds kind of dry but it will help to keep me organized. What follows is the first question I came to.

Scripture: Matthew 5:13 You are the salt the earth, but what good is salt if it has lost it’s flavor? Can you make it salty again?

Context: Sermon on the Mount, right after the beatitudes which lay down the principles and rules of the kingdom of God. Speaking to Jews or Christians familiar with the Jewish faith

Gospel Cross Reference: Luke 14:34 Salt is good, but if it has lost it’s flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land or the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Heading – cost of discipleship)

Old Testament Reference: Salt – Leviticus 2:13 (laws about grain offerings) Numbers 18:19 salt covenant – everlasting, 2 Chronicles 13:5 David and descendants everlasting covenant of salt, Ezekiel 43-23bull and ram sacrifice sprinkled with salt – reminder of everlasting covenant, Genesis 19:23-26 Lot’s wife turned to salt – she lost her preserving qualities and became one with the world? Colossians 4:2-6 conversations should be seasoned with salt.

Quotes, Commentary: Kingdom action: function as salt, The pharisees took the basic laws delivered by God into hundreds. Jesus, through Matthew 5 compares the common standards for right and wrong to the standards He has set. He says we can’t live a righteous life through working harder- only through yielding to Him (From the inside out)

Observations, Conclusions: Following Jesus means to have salt or the flavor of Christ in every part of our lives. Salt preserves and purifies so having Christ in every part of our lives saves and cleanses us as an ongoing act of salvation.

Miscellaneous: Salt in biblical times was used as a flavoring, preservative, and purifier, Treaties were sealed with salt. Sometimes Roman soldiers were paid in salt.

Prayer: Father thank you for salt, for flavor in our lives. Teach me your ways. Let me have enough Christian flavor that I enhance everything around me and cause people to hunger for you. Amen

September 1, 2019

This week all of the scripture readings came together for me which rarely happens. 

I am going to talk a little about Celebrate Recovery today. I have had the luck and joy of being on the worship team at Celebrate Recovery, and I say lucky because I know that I am not a horrible singer but I am not going to be on a big stage with lights and smoke and all kinds of instruments and in fact I would be lost if you put me there – I know my limitations. However because of Celebrate Recovery and Mark and Marion I get to be on a little stage with lights and sometimes smoke!

I am doing a step study at Celebrate Recovery and I have a confession to make to you. I am not addicted to drugs or an alcoholic, but I will admit to you that I agreed to do the step study because over the span of a couple of years I have listened to others do the lesson or give their testimony – we alternate every other week with those two things, and I thought…I could do this and I think I could make it interesting. I would like to do this. 

How egotistical of me…but honestly, that was my thought. I could speak some kind of truth into these people’s lives. Well in order to do that, the way Celebrate Recovery works – and make no mistake – it does work, you need to have gone through the program before you can do those things, and I thought…well, I can do that. How hard can it be? I’m not an addict. I will probably be kind of bored and also kinda boring. 

Well the joke was on me. I am learning some things about myself. Some good, some not necessarily good but in the context of knowing that God wants us all to be free of our garbage that we all carry, so that we can experience grace and a closer relationship with him and a closer relationship with others. So that we can be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next with Him, Amen. ( from the serenity prayer) 

I have been learning a little bit about armor lately. Not the armor of God – that’s a whole other talk. But the armor that we humans wear. The armor that we construct for ourselves as  life happens to us. Armor that is meant to protect us from the hard things that come, whether through circumstance or through how others treat us or even through the bad decisions we make for ourselves.

You know what I mean. It’s not a big difficult concept. Humor? You know how you…well I, make a joke when I am at a loss or in an uncomfortable situation? Armor. Some people project strength and control when inside they are anything but strong or in control. Some use cloaking. You know like the science fiction show where the spaceship goes into cloaking mode so they can slip by the enemy without being seen. They disappear. You can’t be hurt if you aren’t seen. Some even use the church. I am a Christian and I wear this armor so the world can’t touch me because I am wearing my Jesus t-shirt and there is a fish symbol on the back of my car. I would venture to say there are as many kinds of armor as there are people but I’m no psychologist. 

I just know that until we deal with those things that cause us to wear our armor, we cannot fully connect with others. Celebrate Recovery has made me see that not only do we all – including me – wear our armor but we are at least most of us in denial about it which is another big deal in Celebrate Recovery. 

Now this isn’t just a criticism of armor or of denial because I believe that God created us with these tools because sometimes life hands us stuff that we aren’t quite ready to handle so we crawl under that armor or we pull that blanket of denial over our heads until we are ready to deal with reality.

It becomes a problem when we can’t take the armor off or if we never want to come out from under that denial blanket. 

I have an ideal picture of myself that I carry around in my head. The ideal me is thinner, looks much younger than her age, is neat and organized and focused and and unselfish and can sing like Lauren Daigle.

The actual me is well, pretty much the opposite in some cases and miles from the ideal in others. Unfortunately, life sometimes smacks me in the face with a reminder that I am not nor will I ever be that image. Partly because that image is a moving target. The harder I try to become who I wish I was, the farther away the goal gets.

But here is the thing I know. God doesn’t love the ideal me. He loves the actual me. He doesn’t love who I almost am. He loves who I actually am. Jesus didn’t die for some someday perfect me. He waded in to the mess that is the actual me and said “do you want to be healed? Get up and walk.” and then He died for the mess that is me. God didn’t say buy a bunch of self help books and go on a diet and take voice lessons so I can use you. 

He poked me in the back and said I chose you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are mine. Get to work.

There is a word for all that, my friends. That word is grace. Through grace, my less than perfect voice gets to join with a group of fellow messy armor toting humans as voices and sometimes hands are raised in praise of a God who loves us for the actual people we are. 

Through grace I can see how I and someone else in step study who I thought I had absolutely nothing in common with, actually are more alike in our messes that I thought and maybe through that connection we both peal off the armor a little bit and bring the kingdom of God a little closer. 

Through grace I get to see transformation as God works on us and I myself am changed because I see that transformation and I say God, I know it might hurt a bit at times but I want some of that too please, so I submit to you! 

Through grace I see that “these people” whose lives I thought I could speak truth to, are my people. I am them and they are me and we are all just walking each other home as we try to help each other gently remove the armor and replace it with Jesus through grace.

Do you worry that you are too old and too tired ? Here is a quote that spoke to me “The only true rest is grace. Every single other thing in this bankrupt world is about worthiness.” 

Get good grades in school, don’t embarrass your family, dress decent, drive a nice car, keep your house and your yard tidy, Shop at the right stores, go to the right church, live on the right side of town. Be happy, be spiritual, be whatever the next big thing is…it all gets so tiring.

Jesus says to take his yoke because it is light, Jesus will give you rest. Jesus won’t break a bruised reed. 

The book of Hebrews gives a long list of reasons to cling to Jesus. The book of Hebrews compares Jesus to all of the heroes of the Jewish faith. Each one played a part, But the sacrifice of Jesus, His covenant, and His ministry outshine all that the others have to offer. 

We read in Hebrews 1 that Jesus is greater than the angels because He is the divine king .

Hebrews 3 tells us Jesus is greater than Moses because Moses was a servant of God but Jesus is the Son of God.

Hebrews 4 says Jesus is greater than Joshua – Jesus brings greater rest to the people of God (remember what I said about the only true rest?)

Hebrews 7 says Jesus is a greater priest than Aaron because He is sinless and His sacrifice did eternally for all what Aaron had to do repeatedly for himself as well as the people.

Hebrews 7 through 9 talks about Jesus having a better ministry because of the new covenant brought about by the sacrifice of His own blood.

Hebews 11 gives us a long list of people who walked in faith but ends with “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Last week Hebrews 12 talked about the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us and tells us “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

Our reading in Hebrews today is talking about some of the ways we would live if we are truly transformed by following this Jesus who is greater. To show hospitality to strangers, remember those in prison, keep marriage holy, don’t be in love with money. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Our scripture reading in Luke talks about Jesus speaking a parable knowing the church leaders are watching him closely. He tells them not to take the best seat at the banquet for themselves because they might be humiliated and replaced. He tells them not  to have a banquet and invite only those who can pay them back. But to invite the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

We have tried to make the world, ourselves and our lives, and even our church into what we think they should be. OUR ideal – not the actual and not what God has created them to be. Hebrews says, no. Jesus is greater. Luke says – don’t be all puffed up – take care of the poor, the infirm, and those who can’t see. Jeremiah says our way is full of holes. Didn’t God already give us everything we need to live in a transformational way? So let’s look at what we have from God for our identity.

Genesis 1:26

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Ephesians 4:24

and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:10

and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

and finally: John 14:9

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

We are not to do this alone. Romans 15 tells us:

15 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews[b] on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

That’s us – we are the gentiles. We are to serve each other that God may be glorified. 

Do you want to know how to be who you were created to be? Study Jesus. Do you want to do the things that please God? Do the things Jesus did. Replace that image in your head of the “ideal you” with Jesus. When you are feeling strong, help someone else – for when you are not feeling so strong, others may believe for you. Be transformed. Jesus is a goal that never moves, never changes, and the rewards are eternal. Amen.

What Is In a Name? Hosea 11:1-11

August 4, 2019

Scripture

Hosea 11:1-11

11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

11:2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.

11:3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.

11:4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.

11:5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.

11:6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.

11:7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.

11:8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

11:9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

11:10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.

11:11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.

Intro

The book of Hosea is an interesting book. It is the first of the 12 books of the minor prophets which just means the books are short. In fact, in the Hebrew bible they are lumped together as one book called The Twelve. 

The message in Hosea is a cycle of betrayal and idolatry, judgement, repentance, redemption, and restoration.

Hosea is the story of a prophet who is commanded by God to marry a prostitute. He marries Gomer. She leaves him for another and he goes and brings her back. The story is a picture of God’s relationship with the Israelites. Hosea is a prophet during the reign of Jeraboam who was king of the northern ten tribes of Israel.  If Jeraboam had obeyed God, his family would have been established like King David but he set up a couple of golden calves and led the people into sin and they turned their backs on God.

So God gives Hosea a message for the people but instead of saying the message, Hosea is to LIVE out the message. God tells Hosea to marry an adulterous wife. There will be children and God tells Hosea what to name them.

Names

There will be a son – Jezreel which means scattered, a daughter named Lo-ruhammah which means not loved, and another son named Lo-ammi which means not my people. These names might seem unimportant but we will come back to them.

Hosea married Gomer who was a prostitute before the wedding, and an adulterer after. Gomer represents the Israelites who have turned away from God and worshipped false gods.  God speaks to Israel through Hosea about the coming consequences if they don’t repent. 

How Do We Feel About The Story of Hosea and Gomer?

I come to this story carrying some sympathy for this young pastor, Hosea. Hosea hears God’s call and I wonder if he doesn’t imagine himself preaching some glorious sermon that will cause the people who hear him to turn back to God. Maybe he was a little nervous, maybe he was humbled to receive such a calling. Whatever he was feeling, I doubt he imagined what would come next. This man of God, through obedience, finds himself in a situation that sounds a lot like the headline in one of those magazines by the check-out counter at the grocery store.

I don’t know about you but I didn’t feel the same sympathy for Gomer when I first read this story. I might have felt sympathetic for the prostitute. I mean, it was difficult for a woman in those days. If you were poor and had no male family member to take care of you then you just did what you had to do to survive. But then Hosea loved and married her and she was unfaithful! My judgemental self probably responded in a similar manner to Hosea’s friends. I’m sure they had a lot of advice for him and in human terms it would have made perfect sense. Don’t do it Hosea! She is not good enough for you. Think of your career as a pastor! She will break your heart! Some people may have just been mean and gossipy but others may have spoken out of genuine concern for their friend. They would have seen this as a huge mistake.  Here she was – living what seems a terrible lifestyle and Hosea as we say, “made an honest woman out of her”. Not only did he marry her, he LOVED her. So he not only changed her name from prostitute to wife. He changed it to beloved wife. And Gomer goes right back to her old ways. Hosea not only brings her back – again! -he pays a ransom to do so.

Why would Gomer go back to this life?

Maybe Gomer had named herself a prostitute by her life before Hosea. 

You can change your address and call yourself something else but do you believe it in your heart? Maybe she still felt that the old name applied. Maybe that voice on repeat in her head told her that she was unworthy so many times that she came to believe it and no matter how much Hosea professed his love, she couldn’t shake the name or the shame she had given herself.

Is Jesus in Here Somewhere?

Let’s look at the new testament for some insight into this whole name business.

In Matthew 3, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and God names and claims His son – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Then just a few short verses later, we come to the temptation of Jesus. In Matthew 4 what does the devil say? If you are the son of God. Three times the accuser gives reason for doubt about the name that God has just given Jesus. 

Doesn’t it often happen that way? As soon as we have a spiritual experience – a God moment, feel convicted by a sermon, do something selfless for someone else – immediately following one of those experiences it seems like something happens and other things try to tell us that we belong to them. Our spouse does something irritating and our anger says it owns us. Bills come in the mail and the washing machine breaks and the car starts making a funny noise and our money (or lack of it) and our stuff claims us. We buy a burger for the guy near the overpass carrying a sign that says “will work for food” and as we drive away we watch in the rear view mirror as he throws the burger in the trash and our heart for the needy grows cold.  We are owned by an unforgiving and critical spirit. In an instant we went from better to bitter.

The accuser, the father of lies, uses the very things that bring us closer to God against us. 

But only God can truly name us because only God can see who we were created to be IN HIM. God has the final say!

God has named us sons and daughters, so loved that He put on flesh, walked among us healing and teaching, suffered and hung on a cross, died and three days later defeated death…everything else that the world names us is a lie of temptation that only becomes true when we listen to it. 

Maybe that is what happened to Gomer. Maybe she couldn’t accept the grace of forgiveness from Hosea because first she would have to admit once and for all how broken and in need of forgiveness she was and after all, isn’t that precisely why grace is so hard?  And sometimes, harder than admitting how broken she is or …we are, is having hope that we could actually be something other than what the world names us. Hope. Grace. The very things we need the most can be the hardest for us to accept. Maybe it is not true for you, but for me it is always easier to extend grace, to forgive someone else, than it is for me to accept it myself. I think we all sometimes deep down, want so badly to feel safe, to belong, that we run in the opposite direction from hope and grace because our doubt gets in the way and the accuser says we are not worthy and we forget that the good news of the gospel is exactly the answer to that lie. 

Remember the names of the children?

Hosea 1:10-12  “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’  The people of Judah and the people of Israel will come together; they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel. (which not only means scattered but also means God plants!)

and

Hosea 2:23 I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

God doesn’t wait for his people to “come around”. He meets us right there in the midst of our sin and that is where grace happens. 

Where Are We?

No longer scattered, no longer unloved, people of God. 

The story of Hosea is a picture of sin and brokenness and separation from God but it is also a picture of Jesus, a ransom for sin, for being made whole, and of us being given a new name.

For while we were yet sinners (our old name), Christ died for us. (Redeemed – our new name!)

Galatians 3:26-28  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (emphasis mine)

The accuser can’t name you. The world can’t name you. 

There is a story about Martin Luther, the Catholic priest who was responsible for the beginning of the reformation (the beginning of the protestant church). In his time, you could purchase what were called “indulgences” from the church. In other words, if you had sinned, you could sort of buy your way into heaven. Martin Luther said, no we are justified not by anything we do in ourselves, but by faith in Jesus Christ through grace. One story says that when he felt temptation he would shout these words. “I am baptized!” It was sort of a way of saying “Evil – you think you can tell me who I am? You should meet my dad!”

Last week, in his sermon on prayer, Mark said that the name of God should always be set apart as holy. As he spoke, I was thinking about one of the names of God. I AM.

When we begin a sentence about ourselves, We start out by saying I am (whatever – angry, hungry, a Methodist,) and in a way, we have started our sentence with the name of God. Maybe that is meant to be a reminder of who (and WHOSE) we are. 

God is holy and we are grafted onto the family tree as sons and daughters and so through Jesus Christ, we too are holy, precious and redeemed children of the living God. That is what the power of the transforming love of God is like. That is what God is like. That is what love is like. We are loved. We belong. THAT precious people is our name. Amen.

Let Us Pray

Father, we thank you for your creation, for breath, and for Your Son, Jesus, the Christ. We see ourselves and each other as the world names us. We thank You because You see us as beautiful, beloved.

 Ephesians 2:10 says that we are your handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which you have already prepared in advance for us to do. 

Help us to remember the God moments where we feel close to you so that when we find ourselves wandering in the dark valley we can shout “I am baptized” and know we are just passing through on our way home to you.

Amen