January 8 – Herods and Epiphanies; Matthew 1:1-12

 

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

Those of you who are keen on your liturgical calendars (and who are reading your Daily Bible Reading Guides…wink, wink, nudge, nudge) will note that this week should actually be the scripture where Jesus is baptized by crazy cousin John in the Jordan River.  However, we are actually going to delve into Baptism next week.  For worship this Sunday, we’ll be gathering around the actual epiphany scripture, observed on January 6th, not 8th.  This is the well known scripture which records the visit of the Magi or Wise Men to the baby (or toddler) Jesus.  Like the Christmas scriptures before it, we often get lost in the sentimentality of this scripture, focusing on the who the wise men were, where they were from, what they looked like, how they were adorned, the gifts the brought, etc…  We create some sort of idyllic scene that reflects what we’d have liked to see and remember the story that way.  This is all well and good and despite it grinding on my theological nerves, does no harm!  But it does miss the point of the scripture and the feast day that sprung from it in the early Christian Church, specifically the Greek Church.  The scripture is about the Epiphany; the realization of exactly just who Jesus is.  The wise men/Magi are not the central focus.  They are characters who help develop the compelling nature of this “realization” by virtue of the fact that they travelled so far, had some sort of prestige themselves, yet paid homage and submitted to this “King.”  So this Sunday is about Epiphany, the sudden realization of the 2nd person of the Trinity is incarnate in Jesus.

For me, the scripture centers upon verse 10, “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”  I believe this jumps out at me because this phrase is pregnant with the Epiphany message.  Why?  Because their overwhelming joy comes at the realization they have arrived in the presence of the one they’ve been looking for.  The heavenly star they have been following has lead them here, and they bow and worship.  And so we must ask ourselves what stars we are following and whether or not they lead to “overwhelming joy” that causes us to “bow down and worship” or somewhere else, say, back to Herod to report the location of this would-be usurper.  That’s the whole other side to this intriguing announcement – there is a bloodthirsty child killer who wants the Magi to tell him where Jesus is!  The Magi therefore have a choice in the face of Epiphany.   

What will our response be to the Epiphany; will we embrace the overwhelming joy that undoubtedly comes when we bow down and worship God, or will we follow our own stars and listen to the Herods of this world?

Happy Epiphany!

Blessings for the journey,           

Advertisements

1/1/12, Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12; New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions.   We always have New Year’s resolutions.  We’ve been participating in this cultural practice for a long time – like thousands of years!  For Western culture, the orgins of our resolutions come from the mythical Roman god/king Janus, the two-faced god of new beginnings and transitions.  This is also where we get our name for the month January, the first month of each new year.  Sometime around 153 BC the Romans began putting Janus on the January calendar; looking forward to the future while also looking back over the past with his two faces.

Some of our resolutions are lighthearted.  You know the ole I’m going to do “this” or “that” less and “this” or “that” more.  For many of us this involves weight loss and general health.  It’s no accident that gyms and excercise facilities offer great deal this time a year to help you fulfill your resolution.  Eat less, excercise more becomes our mantra.  Some of our resolutions are much more serious.  We pledge to quit smoking or drinking; to mend broken marriages and relationships; to be more open to new ideas; to take that vacation we’ve put off for three years; to play more and work less.

And then there’s the resolutions that have to do with our faith.  Many of you that I have spoken with on facebook and in person over the past several days have mentioned a desire to read the Bible more, pray more, and to attempt to enter into a deeper relationship with God in 2012.  The main force behind these pledges is unseen, a gentle nudging; a feeling that we should be doing those things more.  And here on New Year’s Eve, the beginning of a new cycle, those gentle nudges and feelings come back to us.  I would suggest to you that these gentle nudges are none other than the eternal Word John spoke of last week in our Christmas Day scripture.  God’s Holy Spirit speaking to you in a time when you are perhaps more apt to listening….

So how do we keep these resolutions?  With regard to the spiritual ones, know that you aren’t alone.  You have a body of believers in your local church that have pledged to uplift and support you in your faith (this is literally in our membership vows).  And your church has resources to guide you.  If you’re wanting to read your Bible more, join in the daily Bible reading guides that I put out about once a month.  For a year now we’ve been reading the Bible together with a daily Bible reading guide based on daily lectionary readings.  Perhaps it’s time for you to join us.  If you’re wanting to go deeper in your faith I invite you to the Christianity 101 class that will be starting up later this month along with the upcoming FAQ series I will be starting on this blog (you have to come to church to hear more about this!).  Finally, let me know your resolutions so that I can pray for you!

But in this time of celebrating the beginning of a new year, new beginnings, new cycles, new transitions, decisions to mend broken relationships with each other and God, perhaps our best resolution isn’t really a resolution at all – more like a realization.  We talked in Advent about the scandal of Emmanuel: God with us.  Now, as we transition from the expectant hope of Advent to the joy of Epiphany, we know that God has come to be among us, for us, with us.  Paul communicates this realization in his letter to the Ephesians 3: In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:6that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  In other words, our greatest resolution for this new year is the realization that God came for us, you and me.  The call is to live out our resolutions far beyond the month of beginnings and into the rest of our lives.

Happy New Year!

Blessings for the journey.

 

 

Luke 1:46-55; Advent and Mary

 

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

My apologies to those of you online pilgrims who looked for the blog last week but found the old entry. We had our annual Christmas Cantata last week at Cherokee Springs UMC and so I didn’t post knowing there wouldn’t be a sermon. Nonetheless, the scripture continued with the screaming voice in the wilderness John the Baptist calling attention to the coming of God.  It is a good transition to this week and allows us to examine the fullness of the Advent story through 3 weeks.

The focus thus far has been on preparation for the coming of the Holy One into the world.  Either through Mark’s call to be ready at all times or the desert prophet’s calls to repentance, we are being called to prepare.  And how do we prepare?  By doing the work of God in the world.  How do we best celebrate the incarnation of the Eternal Word and honor its world-altering implications?  We honor those whom God honors more than 600 times in scripture; the poor, marginalized, the widows, orphans, those to whom injustice has been done, ect…

This is the essence of Advent.  We aren’t just celebrating the coming of the Christ child because it’s a sentimental feeling we can relate to as if the Nativity is God’s version of a Hallmark card.  We’re celebrating the in-breaking (or Advent…) of God’s Kingdom into the world.  We stand on that bridge of time between the first coming and the second with pregnant hope and expectant joy.  Do we understand the gravity and sheer magnitude of that fact?  Seeing what we’ve done to Christmas as a culture, I’d say we don’t.  As I mentioned, this is no simple act.  The God of the universe, who out of no prerogative other than the outpouring of who God is, came to dwell among us, for us, and with us.  Advent and Christmas are God’s definitive acts of grace.  We don’t deserve it, we didn’t even ask for it.  God just did it because God seeks to be in relationship with us.  And this brings us to the scripture for this week as we are introduced to a new character in the Advent story: Mary.

Did God come into the world as a powerful ruler; a king, Caesar, or world power?  Did God even come as a respected adult or leader of a local tribe?  Surely God would at least come to a populated area and in an environment where survival and thriving was a sure bet?  No, no, and no.  How do we experience Emmanuel?  God comes as a baby, the most helpless and vulnerable state of humanity.  And not only that, but to a 14 year old virgin engaged to be married in a village of not more than 1,500 people.  God gives completely of God’s giving of his entire self to us.  And what is Mary’s reaction?  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my soul magnifies God my savior…”  This celebrated Lukan hymn conveys the faith of Mary; a marginalized member of society herself who boldly accepts the task God gives.

But larger than Mary, this scripture is about God and God’s scandalous coming into the world.  How will we respond?  More stuff we don’t need?  More stress amongst families?  More money we don’t have?  Or will we prepare by doing the work of God in the world?  Remember, Christmas is not your birthday!

Blessings for the journey,

 

Mark 1:1-8 – Join the Conspiracy, Advent #2

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

We all love a good conspiracy theory.  We somehow like the drama of not knowing who it really was that hatched the secret government plan, or just exactly what does go on at Area 51.  Perhaps we like conspiracy because we like to feel like just for a moment we are caught up into some almost otherworldly experience; to fantastic to be true but really happening.  Whatever the case, we like conspiracy theories.  After a quick google search I found several websites devoted to conspiracy theories.  One of the more interesting was an article which detailed conspiracies that ACTUALLY HAPPENED.  Here is the link:  http://www.cracked.com/article_15974_7-insane-conspiracies-that-actually-happened.html 

From a failed facist coup of FDR to the classic “who shot Kennedy” the conspiracies in the article are quite entertaining.  My favorite story in the conspiracy theory genre is the Bourne series which was also made into a great film trilogy starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a top secret CIA operative who has a bad case of amnesia and the bureaucrats want him gone before he remembers!  Like most other conspiracy theories or stories that catch our attention, the Bourne Trilogy takes us all over the world in high speed car chases and involve persons at the highest level of government.

Advent is a similar sort of conspiracy.  As the great old hymn goes, “Long lay the world in sin and errant pining…”  Then out of the wilderness screams a voice, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths!”  Additionally, our voice in the wilderness conspirator calls everyone to repentance, even and especially (gasp) God’s chosen people, the Jews!  It’s not hard to see why our prophetic conspirator later lost his head!  Repent!  God is coming!

And that my friends is the conspiracy of Advent.  Like so many things about God’s Kingdom, what we least expect is exactly what God does…and conveys that message through the least expected form.  The conspiracy of Advent is that God spoke through an insane, locust eating, “wild honey” drinking, camel’s hair wearing prophet to herald God’s coming into the world.  The conspiracy of Advent is that God would even care enough to come to the world which had for so long been racked with “sin and errant pining” as the song goes.  The conspiracy of Advent is that in the face of all of the –isms I talked about last week which have co-opted the real message of the coming Christ child, we are called to repentence and preparation to honor the incarnate Word of God.  The conspiracy of Advent is that however many times we’ve said “no” to God, God doesn’t leave us alone because God comes to be with us – this is what Emmanuel means after all, God with us.

So this is a call to join the conspiracy!  Join the conspiracy by doing Christmas differently.  Join the conspiracy by honoring God more than yourself.  Join the conspiracy by becoming caught up in the realization of God’s incarnation which means salvation.  Join the conspiracy!

Blessings for the journey,

Brian

 

 

 

Advent #1: Christmas Is Not Your Birthday!

Mike Slaughter, Author and Pastor of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio, authored a book by the same title as the title of this entry.  In short, his goal is to push people in the same way he did his congregation, to think about Christmas differently.  Instead of honoring ourselves on the day which we celebrate as the incarnation of God, why don’t we honor God?  You have all heard me and my opinions about Christmas and the consumerist season it has become, so I won’t continue that here.  I’ll just leave you with the following quotation which I think sums it up pretty well from Rev. Slaughter’s book, “In our attempts to create the magical Christmas experience we run ourselves into the ground emotionally, physically, financially, and relationally.  Then, after weeks of pressure and preparation, all for the purpose of creating one perfect day in an imperfect year, someone’s upset because they didn’t get the present they wanted, a toy is already broken, Grandpa drank too  much, and Dad called Grandma the B-word.”

I will instead offer the challenge to the Cherokee Springs and Liberty UMCs (and anyone else who reads this blog) and share some of the work the Ginghamburg Church has done in the Sudan project.  Here is a little background…

In Darfur, Sudan, 300,000 to 400,000 people have died since 2003 as a result of civil unrest, lack of food and disease. More than 2.5 million children, women and men are refugees, with little food, drinkable water, protection or hope.   The U.N. identified Darfur as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.  The Ginghamsburg Church responded by taking this on as a mission opportunity.  Pastor Slaughter (I love that name for a pastor by the way) challenged his congregation to spend half of what they would normally spend on Christmas and give the other half to the Sudan Project.  Since 2004, the church has raised millions for schools, clean water projects, and sustainable agricultural projects.  The 2010 project raised over 700,000 dollars which served more than 24,000 children in the “child development and protection program.”  Additionally, money was provided to give “water yards” which will provide clean water to 219,000 MORE people, which is the most critical health need in the region.  Here is an overview of the 2010 project with good background from the entire history of the project.

thesudanproject.org

You may point out the obvious that we don’t have 4,500 members like Ginghamsburg.  Correct.  But we are still called to the same task.  Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  So this Christmas, we’ll be thinking about Christmas differently.  We are going to have a similar offering; the “Christmas is not your birthday” offering.  We are going to honor God by honoring those whom God calls us to serve….remember “the least of these” from last week?  What if we also give to God as much as we give in presents?  What if we invest our money not only in the latest gadget for the gadget lovers in our lives but into the lives of missionaries serving around the world seeking to spread the message of Gospel hope?  What if we bless a local organization whose sole mission is to provide for the needs of under priviledged children?  What if we fund the entire budget for a month at a local soup kitchen or food pantry?  What if we become a partnering church with Ginhamsburg Church and The Sudan Project?  Talk about the perfect Christmas present!  These and others are possibilities if we will be faithful to our calling as Christians….

Blessings for the journey,

Christmas is not your birthday!

 

Matthew 21:1-14; The Kingdom of Heaven is like….

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’

I hope this post finds everyone doing well!  For those of you who only check the blog it seems like it has been forever.  I have been busy for sure finishing Ordination paperwork and moving right into Charge Conference season.  It is good to be in a Somewhat normal pattern again!

As I write this morning, I do so with the seasons changing outside.  The past few mornings have been cool and the tips of the highest trees’ leaves are beginning to change from summer green to autumn yellow and red.  It is always a beautiful mystery to watch the seasons change.  The study of weather and the seasons coupled with our rotation around the sun tells us the particulars of how this all happens and we even have it narrowed down to a specific day when summer ends and fall begins.  The great mystery for me is how the natural world seems to “know” exactly when to begin changing.  And as much as we have it pinpointed to a day and time, the seasons always begin at different times – sometimes early, sometimes late.

In the same vein we have once again shifted the focus of our scripture.  We have recently completed 12 weeks delving into Paul’s post-resurrection point of view of Jesus.  We highlighted those great and loaded sayings of Paul knowing that for Paul faith was not stagnant but alive.  Paul’s letter to the Roman Church is part doctrine part exhortation.  Paul forces us to wrestle with the implications of weighty truths about ourselves, God, and God’s grace.  I always like preaching from Paul after Easter.  Instead of asking how the resurrection happened and whether or not we believe, Paul defines resurrection and asks how we are going to live our lives in light of Jesus’ resurrection.  But now we switch back to the life of Jesus.  We switch back to the miracles and parables of the man many people were still wondering about.  Specifically, for the past few weeks, Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like….this is one of my favorite phrases in scripture.  As surely as we are convinced we know everything about what “Kingdoms” should look like and who should be there, here comes another “The Kingdom of Heaven is like” parable.  They are never what we are expecting.  So far, Jesus has compared the Kingdom of Heaven to mustard seeds and overgrown bushes, seed scattered with wild abandon, overloaded fishing nets, weeds in a garden, treasure buried in a field, generous landowners, and wrathful Kings.  Think about each of these images.  When we think of “kingdoms” we don’t normally think of messes or blurred lines.  We think of an orderly entity with very clear boundaries and clear requirements for who does and does not belong.  Then comes a “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” parable to destroy our conception of neat and tidy Kingdoms.  The overwhelming message of all of these parables is that God’s Kingdom is outside the boundaries of our concepts of what is fair and just.  Jesus paints a picture of a God who desperately wants everyone to be in.

Last week and this week we have heard that the Kingdom of Heaven is like Kings who expect rent from those to whom the vineyard was leased and presence at the wedding banquet prepared especially for them.  Jesus develops these parables in direct response to the Pharisees and their constant attempts to “destroy” Jesus (Mark 3:6).  In the parable for this week (Wedding banquet) we see a King furious at guests for not showing up to the wedding banquet he has invited them to.  In retribution, he destroys them and their town and instead invites everyone he can find from the streets to come and enjoy the wedding feast.

If we understand the on-going conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, the meaning of this parable isn’t very cryptic.  God is the King.  The pharisees, religious elites, and Israel are the invited guests to a banquet prepared for them.  But they rejected God.  They mocked God.  They killed God’s servants (Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus).  The parable says “they made light of it and went away….seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.”  So God destroys them and declares their unworthiness.  Instead he invites the street people; weeds, slimy fish, wildly overgrown bushes, and gentile dogs alike (talk about being outside the boundaries – see the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman!) to come and partake in the banquet.  “The Kingdom of God is like…” a King who desperately wants “his people” to come to his wedding feast and does not hesitate to invite everyone else when they reject him and kill his servants.

This parable was a warning to those who took for granted God’s favor by rejecting his messengers.  This parable is a warning to those now who think they are “in” just because “we’ve gone to church all our lives,” or because we’re “just good people.”  But larger than a warning, this parable is a picture of just who really is invited to the banquet.

Blessings for the journey,

August 28, 2011

Friends, as you know I am on vacation this week.  However, have no fear you will still have a blog entry for the week!  Matt Snelgrove, who will be preaching this Sunday has given us some insight into the scripture for the coming week.  We will be leaving Romans briefly once again.  The following are Matt’s thoughts from Matthew 11 and 2 Corinthians.
 
I was thinking about this today and praying and on the way home from work, it hit me. I work 50 hours a week and look forward everynight to be home and relax from a hard days work. It doesn’t seem like a long time in between the times when I get home to the time I have to get back up and head to work at 6:30. But, I am thankful for that little bit of time to rest and let my body settle down. In Matthew chapter 11, Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are tired and He’ll give us the rest we need. He talks about us putting on His yoke, the days of oxen they would put yokes round their necks so the bigger ox can carry the load. The other side of the yoke you would have a younger ox. This was to trian the younger ox and not put too much weight on his neck until he was strong enough to carry the load. In some ways, Jesus is the older much stronger ox and He wants us to get in with Him so  he can take the heaviest of the load so we can rest when we are weak and heavy burdened. There is hope, even when we can’t see it at times there is hope. Just like I know everyday when driving home from work, there is rest at home and I can lay it all down. The same hope is in Jesus and our Heavenly home, We can lay it all down at His feet and rest in the lap of our Savior. When we are thristy, He’ll give us something to drink. when we are worried, He’ll be our comforter. There is Hope for us and for all that come into a relationship with Jesus. He loves us and never let us go without anything. A story I heard once goes something like this: a Sunday school teacher asked her class if anyone could recite the 23 Psalm, one little girl in the back raised her hand, stood up cleared her throat and this is what she said, “The Lord is My Sheppard and I don’t want anymore.” And she sat back down. Even as Christians at times we  tend to lose focus of this Hope. Jesus never said it was going to be easy, He just said “I’ll be with you…” He’s a very big God and can handle everything we give Him. So, I challenge you and me to stop telling God how big our problems are and start telling our problems how big our God is. There is Hope and there is rest for all that come to Him. All we need to do is come.