Tag: church

Fire and Water

Luke 3:1-22

blessings_watercolor_by_texas_artist_laurie_pace
“Blessings” watercolor by Laurie Pace

Once upon a specific time, writes Luke, the Word of God came to John in the wilderness. When the Word is upon you, you prophesize! And it was no different for John. He went into all the regions around the Jordan river, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John fulfilled the prophecies of the Prophet Isaiah, who heard the Word of God saying to prepare the way for God for ALL FLESH to see salvation.

“But we don’t need salvation,” said some. We were born from Abraham, we are the Chosen People. Today, it would be like saying – I don’t need to go to church to be Christian, or live a Christian life to be Christian – because I was born Christian in a Christian nation. I was baptized as a baby. Once baptized, forever saved. I never need to step into a church again. Courthouses can marry me and funeral homes bury me.

John replied, “God is able from stones to raise up children” – from the numerous stones all over the wilderness about them, from the field stones and river pebbles: God could make more humans. From dust like God did Adam or ribs like Eve. God can make more people.

John then foretells that God will destroy everyone — Christian or Jewish or not — who doesn’t produce good fruit. And those John speaks with panic – what should we do? How do we produce good fruit?

Should we go run away into the wilderness like John, away from society, and try to live pure? Should we go off and attempt to establish a faithful community by sword and war? Should we be the fire of God that burns the faithless?

What should we do?

“The first step of the redeemed community is for those who have to share with those who have not.” And John gives them concrete examples. If you have more than you need to survive – give your extras to those who don’t. Who needs two winter coats? Give one away to someone who needs a coat. Who needs two thanksgiving turkeys? Give one away to your food pantry. Whomever is using tax loops to avoid their fair share of taxes should stop. White collar crime is not victimless — the victims are everyone who suffers from the collapsed housing market or banks or economy. Whomever is in authority should use it for good, and justice – not use it to threaten people and make false accusations. Cops should be our security – not the force that oppresses people of color. Judges should be our law upholders – not the people breaking the laws. Presidents, Senators, House Representatives, and politicians of all sorts should be role models.

John focuses on individuals. The reign of God begins with individuals. With one person choosing to do good. Then another. Then another. Soon there are whole communities producing good fruit. But it begins with individuals choosing to confirm their faith by living lives that produce food fruit… good deeds, good relationships, good on heaven and Earth.

The people hear this, and get hopeful. Is John the messiah? The promised one who will change our society for the good? Who will right wrongs, bring about God’s reign, and bring wholeness to us all? Is John our savior?

No. John says. I am not. “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming;” he is so much more powerful I am not worthy to untie his shoes. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Again! Destruction! John likes to focus on it. John knows fire is coming, and he thinks of it as something that will destroy and remove the rot from his faith. He does not yet know of Pentecost and the holy fire God sends as the Spirit! Luke knows, we know – the Pentecostal fire alights us inside, burns in our hearts, drives out the rot, and sets us to living the lives God envisions for us. That unquenchable fire within us arrives with our baptisms and it flares up and down our whole lives – but cannot be extinguished for it is the Holy Spirit of God. The destruction is our old selves. Our old sins are cut away. New growth is welcomed in.

This new life calls us to good fruit. To integrity. Integrity is matching what one says is also lived and also believed. It is wholeness. A whole integer. It is the life of repentance John speaks of; the life of love of God and neighbor and repentance for the sins we do and that over take us.

It is a life that is congruent, not hypocritical, unified in the way we live our life, our priorities, our commitments, our personal relationships, our passion for peace and justice and our unplanned acts of compassion. ((cite: from the New Interpreter’s Bible’s Commentary))

It is the life that says ‘I am Christian’ and preaches love of neighbors, then does love for neighbors, out of belief God tells us to love one another. And when we fail to love, it is a life that is truly sorry and tries to make amends and love again.

It is a life that begins at any age, and continues our whole life through.

Today, we welcome Luke into our church family and have witnessed his baptism of water. Unseen, but felt, is the presence of the Holy Fire that now resides with him. Today we promised to be that community of integrity for Luke. Today we promised to be that orchard that produces many different types of good fruits. Fruits of love, of compassion, of peace. Fruits of wisdom and encouragement. Fruits of supporting his family and his walk in faith. Whether he is called by God to the wilderness or led to put down roots here… we are his family.

And family has a very important role to play in every child’s life. Every person NEEDS to hear from the adults around them, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” We NEED to hear these words. NEED to hear it to grow into our best selves.

God the Father spoke them to Jesus the son – and Jesus was called into his ministry, his messiah-ship, his mission to bring salvation to everyone of every race and creed and gender and age and social standing.

We speak them to Luke – he is our beloved child, with whom we are well pleased. What great things God has already gifted him and will continue to gift him, and we will walk along side.

God speak these words to you – “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” You strive to produce good fruits and God encourages you to keep on keeping on. The fruits begin with individuals choosing to do good, to share, to welcome, to love.

The baptismal waters of life and the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit anoint you to do the good work of Heaven here on earth.

Go and be the church! Amen.

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Live Like You Are Dying

Mark 10:35-4571o-YNZUNNL._SY355_

Hebrews 5:1-10

Kid’s Moment – play follow the leader. Good leaders. Bad leaders. Who will you follow?

Sermon:

Christianity has always had a predicament with our Savior – he doesn’t look glorious, or act it, or appear ir, or advocate great glory.

We picture a grand and glorious military leader, coming with an army of angels, to vanquish all enemies and sit on a throne of glory forever.

But scripture gives us a backwoods carpenter, with a ragtag bunch of rejects and fishermen, inviting children, thieves, and our enemies to come eat dinner with him.

We picture a miraculous birth, with kings bowing down and crowning an infant with precious materials. We picture angels filling the skies and a supernatural star pointing to the glowing child.

But that’s the story of  a baby born to an unwed teenage mother. She is homeless and giving birth to her boyfriend’s son crouched in a barn among the animals. Dirty, rough shepherds welcome the child.

We picture a child who grows strong with God, who impresses all those around him, who – so say some stories – speaks wisdom before he can even walk.

Yet that child is a refugee, moving place to place with his parents, and siblings, seeking somewhere to call home.

This tension is in the Bible. It is in our tradition. It is in our lives. Theologians call it High Christology versus Low Christology – focusing on the divinity of Jesus versus focusing on the humanity of Jesus.

It is very hard to follow a suffering, nailed, murdered, weak God. It is very hard to follow a God who is found in fallible flesh, who tells us to meet peace to violence, who welcomes in enemies and friends alike, who is poor, powerless, and a slave.

Slave.

The stigma of that word is fading as we forget what slavery is like. Recall in your minds stories you read or heard of about the slavery of Africans – the long, laborious days in fields or houses without pay. The starvation. The beatings. The abuse of body and soul and mind. Recall modern slavery – found in human trafficking. Where little children are used for sexual pleasure. They do not have any rights. They do not have security and family. Recall slaves were bred like animals, sold on auction blocks, and branded like animals. Like animals they lived. Like animals they died. Like animals, their owners buried or refused to bury them.

Our God identifies, places God’s self, with slaves.

“Whoever wishes to be first among humanity must be a slave to all.”

Who is the first among all humanity? Jesus. A slave to all.

“Who wants to be great among humanity must be a servant to all.”

Great humans are servants. A step above slaves in our mortal world – and step below slaves in God’s world. Servants retain some autonomy and respect.

Slaves do not.

James and John, humans just like you and I, picture Jesus regally. They have heard several times now that he will be going to Jerusalem for his glory. He will die, yes, but the brothers have either ignored that part or they are already rushing past the messy death into the resurrection. They are picturing Jesus as King – with a throne, and lesser thrones on his left and right for his two main assistants. They’re picturing a glorious time and day. They’re picturing our same world where Presidents are above the law, clergy get away with child molestation, and billion dollar arms deals are more important than the genocide of Yemenis. They’re picturing Jesus as the new King over all of this – this same world we know – and they want to be on top with him.

The brothers haven’t realized that this hierarchical world is not the world God is making. This is our human world. God’s reign is a reign unlike that of the governments we see now. God’s reign is reversed… with the most important person being the slave – and the most slavish of all being God, God’s self. Servant-leaders are the great. People who love deeply, serve humbly, inspire others to works of kindness and justice, and who do this without seeking reward and lauds.

Jesus looks at James and John, and I think he has to speak sadly, “You do not know what you are asking to sit at my right and my left when I am in glory. Can you drink the cup I drink – and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

The brothers assert, “We are able!”

Do they know what they have asked?

They have asked to be at Jesus’ left and right when he hangs on the cross. To be crucified with him. To be scorned and rejected and murdered with him. They have asked that the cup Jesus prays over in the Garden of Gethsemane not be passed, as Jesus wishes were God’s will, but to let them drink it. To drink the toxin of the world and the sins of our violence, selfishness, and cruelty. The brothers have asked to be baptized — to be submerged — as Jesus will be again. To go into the grave, dead, cold, and without proper burial rights.

“You will get the cup, and the baptism.” Jesus replies. You will get the woes of the world and you will die. You will get the hope of new life after the grave… but they won’t hang with Jesus on the cross.

The other disciples hear James and John are going to get the cup and baptism, and are angry. They want glory too! They’ve left everything for Jesus, too! The disciples, including James and John, still don’t get it. How often WE don’t get it today! “Jesus, make us great rulers over others!”

But Jesus replies… “Those you recognize as your rulers lord it over you. Your ‘great ones’ are tyrants.”

Tyrants. Most people who are rulers, government authorities, or who have power one way or another… are tyrants. You’ve heard it said before that absolute power absolutely corrupts. Jesus is saying just about as much here, too. The more power and authority someone has, the greater the temptation to use that power for personal gain.

When the Devil tempted Jesus, he tempted Jesus with saying ‘Use a little power to turn these rocks into bread.’ For Jesus was so hungry. Just a little power. And Jesus refused. It was just a little wrong use of power for a little bit of immediate good. Grey area. The devil then told Jesus to step off a high spot and let the angels save him. A bit more abuse of power – but for a much greater good. Let God prove to you, Jesus, that God is with you. Finally, the devil offered the world — all the world. Its kingdoms and countries. Its cities. It citizens. Its animals and plants. All the power. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil.

So many in power get there because of the being they are worshiping: worshiping money, or strength, or themselves.

If you are worshiping the God who said, “Be a servant, be a slave, walk humbly, do justice, love God and your neighbor,” you are not likely going to make it far in most of politics. It is hard to be humble when you need to raise money for your platform. Hard to love your neighbor when you’re publishing and speaking bad things about them. It is hard to do justice if you, yourself, are cheating the very laws you are supposed to enforce. It is impossible to be a servant of the people without true love in your heart. 1 Corinthians 13!

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Without love, a leader is a tyrant.

There are good politicians. There are good leaders. There are good clergy. But being in a position of power is an immediate temptation to use that power for evil.

And far, far, far too often… we succumb to leading without love.

Jesus says he comes to be served. To lead with love. Not to have servants and slaves. Not to have people waiting on him hand and foot. Not to continue the human story of those in power abusing, harming, taking advantage of those with less power. But that Jesus comes to be a “ransom” for many.

Ransom. Liberation. Jesus comes to liberate many. To liberate us from thinking violence is the only answer to violence. To liberate us from following tyrants. To liberate us from the sinful systems of our world. To show us that it IS possible to life a moral life, it IS possible to receive God’s forgiveness and turn your life around, it IS possible to live a different way than the world around us.

Jesus liberates us from assuming business as usual, with tyrants abusing slaves, with governments being uncaring and having deaf ears, with our leaders failing us — Jesus liberates us from thinking this is the only way the world can be.

Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.

Tim McGraw sings a song called “Live like you are dying.” He sings about a man who realized, after looking at x-rays and talking with his doctor, that “This might really be the real end,” of his life. How do you handle news like that? You know the lyrics to the chorus:

I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.”

That is the life Jesus invites us into now.

To live because we are dying.
For tomorrow IS a gift.

“What you’d do with it
What could you do with it
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”

We do not have to live dead – live in slavery to a cruel world, live in fear of tomorrow, live in bondage to sin and live thinking this world is beyond hope, beyond repair, and cannot be changed into the reign of God.

We can choose to live into our life of dying – and to embrace the liberation Jesus offers us. We can live each moment for the precious second it is. We can live in the new reign of God that God gifts us in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the New Way. Shows us the Way of Peace. Shows us the way of Forgiveness. Shows us how to live while alive.

We ARE the great leaders among humanity if we CHOOSE to live and love boldly – as servants, caretakers, and neighbors of all people.

Go and be the church – the hope and liberation for many! Go and be servant leaders!

Sheep and Sheep

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24ararat-sheep-20

Matthew 25:31-46

Today is Christ the King Sunday – the day we proclaim Christ is King over all the world, the lord over all lords, the highest politician, highest ruler, over all rulers. Everyone and everything belongs under Christ’s rule and we anticipate the day this reign is fully actualized.

This sounds fantastic.

Until you consider there are 1.3 billion Muslims; 1.1 billion atheists, 900 million Hindus, not to mention a billion some more Buddhist, Pagans, Jews, Sikhs and hundreds of more religions. These people are not Christian.

If Jesus were to return right now, this very moment, would 70% of the world’s population be instantly damned – just because they were born in non-Christian areas, or to non-Christian families, or found a connection to God in a non-Christian religion?

Matthew’s gospel is addressed to early Christians living among all the non-Christians. And Matthew recounts Jesus talking about sheep and goats among the nations.

Nations. Peoples.

Not just the Jews Jesus was speaking with, but the nations – the gentiles – the non-Jewish, non-Christian, Romans or Grecians or Egyptians or Babylonians — people who did not confess Jesus as Christ. People like all the neighbors and communities, indeed, families, of the early Christians.

The neighbors and communities and families of ourselves.

Jesus says when he returns, the whole world will be judged.

Are all non-Christians going to hell and all Christians going to heaven?

Jesus’ parable says that to the shock of the nations – to the shock of Christians and non-Christians everywhere – there are blessed people among all nations. There are heaven-bound men and women and children who are Muslim, and who are spiritual but not religious. There are faithful Hindu priests and Buddhist monks in heaven.

And each and every one say, “Jesus – when did I serve you? I didn’t.”

And Jesus, in his parable, replies, “Whatever you did to the most vulnerable in your community, you did to me.”

And Jesus takes the sheep, the people who followed the Good Shepherd without even realizing it, and takes them into his heavenly flock.

And what of the goats? When Jesus talks about the nations — all peoples and all religions – this includes all religions, including Christianity. We’re the largest religion on the face of the Earth.

Jesus tells his disciples that the goats are just as shocked as the sheep to be NOT included. They thought they were sheep, thought they were following the Good Shepherd, but instead, they were following other lords and kings and gods while giving lip-service to Jesus. They ran with the flock of sheep here on earth, but their hearts and deeds didn’t reflect the heart and deeds of Jesus.

These Christians say, “Jesus, when did we not aid you?”

And Jesus replies to them, too, “Whatever you denied the most vulnerable in your communities, you denied to me.”

Jesus here is referencing but also advancing the words of the prophet Ezekiel.

In Ezekiel, the Israelites are scattered in exile across many lands. Why has this happened? Ezekiel says because the people have been exploited. The exploitation of the vulnerable, the weakest, the people have ruined communities and destroyed the nation. The shepherds of the people, their leaders, have failed them. The shepherds have gotten rich and changed rules to benefit themselves while the people have gotten poor and suffered injustices. As Ezekiel puts it, “Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (34:2b-3).

Ezekiel spoke about how God would go out and gather in God’s people from all the nations… and then God would separate the sheep from the sheep. They all look the same, but God sees a difference. A difference in who these sheep truly belong to. Remember – sheep follow the voice of the one who leads them – not a stranger.

Ezekiel says when God comes, God comes with justice. God reverses each wrong dealt to the people. Wounds are healed, bellies are filled, rest is given. God, God’s self, takes over and is in charge. And God separates the fat sheep from the lean. “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide… I will judge between sheep and sheep.” And the fat and strong sheep are destroyed, while the hurting ones are fed justice. Injustice has made them lost, injured and weak. Justice will make them strong, united, and healthy again.

Ezekiel is not speaking about Israelites and non-Israelites. He is speaking about all the Israelites. Among God’s own people – among the sheep and sheep – God is judging which of us have been bullies, and have led soft lives at the detriment of others. Which of us have gotten rich off the labor of the poor. Which of us use more resources than others. Which of us refuse to share and attack the starving, injured, or weak when they come to our areas.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, and he sits on the throne to judge all nations… the surprise is there are many non-Christian sheep, and many Christian goats. The surprise is there are many holy and good people who are not Christian; and there are many sinful and evil people who ARE Christian.

The judgement is, who has, in the words of Micah, done justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with God?

In Matthew, being a Christian does not make you good or bad; does not mean you are Saved or Unsaved; does not mean you are pleasing or displeasing God. What you believe, and how you act upon that belief, determines your destiny. If you believe in the goodness of the world, and you believe we are meant to love one another, and you act in loving deeds – you are a sheep, whether or not you know it. And if you believe its a dog-eat-dog world, and no kind deed goes unpunished, and you act in selfish ways – you are a goat, whether or not you go to church.

Now, in our country, it is rare to find any politician who says they are a religion other than Christian. Being ‘Christian’ gets you votes. It means you’re mainstream, respectable, trustworthy. Being ‘Christian’ means you can claim God is on your side, and if people don’t vote for you, they are voting against God. Being ‘Christian’ means you are above any wrongs.

These ‘Christians’ are fat sheep and goats. These Christians are the ones who cry ‘Lord, lord,’ but who never actually know Christ. You know who these false Christians are because the way they vote in the House or Senate, or their executive orders, or the policies they advocate, harm the most vulnerable.

The most vulnerable people in our country are illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, gays and lesbians, transgendered, unwed single mothers, children, teachers, and those with criminal records. The most vulnerable people in this country are blacks, women, Native Americans, the elderly and millennials. The most vulnerable people in this country have mental health issues. Physical ailments. Addictions.

The fat sheep in our country are born here, are sexually ‘straight’ or pass as heterosexual, they are white, married, and male. The fat sheep in our country have never been in trouble with the law – or if they have, had had their record expunged. They are affluent, educated, and are able to shape the world about them through their financial, political, or social sway. Instead of using all the power they were born into to be a wise leader, a good shepherd, a guide to make the world a better place… instead, they use their power to make sure they have more power, more money, more sway.

The Internet Freedom movement is anything but freedom for you and I. It permits the rich to have freedom to choose what the poor must pay to access websites. Sites that speak truth to power, sites that challenge the way things are – sites that advocate for the most vulnerable – may not be accessible because you don’t pay enough… or may be blocked all together.

The tax bill the House passed gives steep discounts to owners of private businesses — but makes teachers pay for their own teaching supplies. It drastically reduces the taxes on the most affluent in the country and raises the taxes on the poorest. In other words, it rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

Those fleeing the lack of infrastructure, intense crime and poverty, and earth quake after tsunami after hurricane of Haiti are kicked out of the country. Along with all who try to escape Sudan. Although, we are now free to import all the oil we want from Sudan… but its people are denied sanctuary from the Sudanese wars where 6,000 some children fight in Darfur and crucifixion is still a legal way to kill political prisoners.

If what we do to the most vulnerable, we do to Christ…

We are deporting Jesus.

We are forcing Jesus to pick between paying his water bill or eating today.

We are telling Jesus he was born evil, thinks evil, and the world would be better off if he killed himself.

We are cramming Jesus into little prison cells and giving him 2 cents a day for his slave labor.

We are punishing Jesus for being born not-White, for being not-Married, for being Middle Eastern, for being a refugee, for being an advocate of the poor and destitute, for being a promoter of women’s rights, for thinking children matter, for challenging authority and government, and for being a lean sheep.

We are only as Christian as how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

Now… being white is not a sin. But it is being born with power. Born as a shepherd. Are you a good shepherd? Or are you a shepherd who’d rather ignore or harm the other sheep?

Being rich is not a sin. It is owning power. But it means we have a responsibility to generously and lavioushly share that wealth with others – so none are fat and none are thin.

Being straight, and/or male is not a sin. It means, however, responsibility as the ‘norm’ to invite the other in and LISTEN to how life is different. It means you are responsible to help make the world a better place for ALL PEOPLE.

This is Christ the King Sunday. We are celebrating the current reign of Christ, and anticipating the full reign.

Think of what that day will be — when the low are lifted and the high are lowered so all are equals.

Think of what that day will be – when we all eat justice. Will justice be sweet or bitter to you?

Do you look forward or do you fear that glorious day?

We are called to a radical life. Radical. Outside the norm. We are envisioning a radical future. A time of reversals. That time and day are ever closer – and we are invited to live into it now.

Come – live as Christ’s own and give up the selfish idols!

Come be a lamb of God! For God is seeking you, welcoming you.

Come, repent, change your ways, and return to the fold of Christ.

Come, follow the good shepherd, born in a barn, yet king over kings, yet lord over lords.

In your own hearts, recommit yourselves to being Christian.

Amen.

Why Are You Standing There?

Acts 1:6-14 Angels-Talking-To-Disciples-After-The-Ascension-Of-Jesus
John 17:1-11

 

Ever feel like telling the angels in Acts or the Gospels, DUH! Maybe giving them a dirty look to boot? I know I do.

The disciples are speaking with the Risen Jesus, and then before their very eyes Jesus rises up and goes into the clouds. Quite naturally, the disciples stand there gaping up at the sky.

I’ve never seen anyone levitate. Let alone rise up into heaven. I think standing there slack jawed is about the nicest way I’ll look if I ever seen such. I might just have wet pants too.

But these two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”

DUH!

This isn’t the first time the angels have been jerks, in my opinion. Remember when Mary is sobbing over Jesus’ empty tomb in John? Once again, two angels appear in white. And once again, they ask a question. “Woman, why are you weeping?”

DUH!

Mary, bless her heart, actually answers: “Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”

In Luke’s version… just like in John… two angels appear to Mary at the tomb. And they, too, ask her a question. Only they ask her: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

… say it with me…

Duh.

Jesus is dead. Jesus’ dead body was left here. Mary’s seeking a dead guy.

We don’t have to read these stories and think the disciples and Mary and the women are wrong or unenlightened. We don’t have to think the angels are perfect. These stories are meant to be relatable.

And relatable means, to me, hearing these angels being kinda jerkish and asking questions that sound condescending, insulting, when taken just as they are.

But you know, sometimes jerkish questions do us good.

It is no secret I was scared and AM scared to be a pastor. In my mind, there is a lot less on the line to be a writer and a scholar of religion than to actually be preaching and sharing lives with people. I was speaking to a spiritual counselor about this once. I told her how I was scared of saying something wrong to a parishioner or in a sermon and harming someone’s faith. The counselor asked me, “Are you more powerful than God?”

Duh. Of course not.

She continued, “Then why do you think you’re the most powerful voice in someone’s life? You’re not. You’re going to say things wrong. But you’re not God. It’s vain to think you’re going to make or break ANYONE’S faith. Faith is a journey between a person and God. A pastor just gets to walk alongside that journey for awhile. But the journey is way, way outside the pastor’s control.”

Sometimes, jerkish questions help us a whole lot.

At the tomb in Luke, the angels’ question of ‘why do you look for the living among the dead’ leads them on to remind the women that Jesus is Risen. He isn’t dead. He’s not going to be in a graveyard. The women realize this from the question, and they go back to the apostles with the news. They’re the very first witnesses and testifiers of Jesus’ resurrection. A jerkish question from the angels wakes them up, shows them new possibilities, and moves them to action.

Just like a pointed question did the same for me.

In John, at the tomb, both the angels AND Jesus get to ask Mary why she is weeping and whom she is seeking. Twice, she states she is seeking the body of Jesus and doesn’t know where to find Jesus. The questions let us see and understand, and eventually let Mary see and understand, that the dead body of Jesus isn’t what we really are seeking. And if we’re seeking Jesus only in the past, dead, buried… we’re not going to find him.

Our Lord is risen, ascended, and returning. Our Lord is not buried and gone. But are we still only seeking him among the dead and not among those living today?

That brings us to those angels standing near the disciples who are catching flies looking up to heaven some time after Jesus’ resurrection. “Why are you standing there looking up towards heaven?”

Duh.

But their jerkish question has a point. Standing there and staring into heaven isn’t what Jesus commissioned us to do. They had just asked, ‘Is it now that Israel is going to be restored?’ And Jesus tells them no. And reminds them again that God’s message and restoration isn’t just for that ancient country, but for all counties — all people — everywhere. And again, Jesus charges them to carry this message of love everywhere.

Yes, he told us to keep watch. Yes, he told us to stay awake. But never once did he tell us to wait around for his return doing nothing. Rather, he told us to do greater deeds than he. Told us to carry his message everywhere around the world. Told us to do his commandments, to do God’s commandments, and to actively love one another.

So… the question gives the disciples and apostles direction. They go back to Jerusalem. They return to sharing their lives together in prayer, and study, and in good works, and in living the Christian Way.

As we heard today, as Jesus prayed over the last supper – he said to God, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world,” and so it is. Jesus is Risen. But Jesus is present through us to one another. Jesus is with God Our Parent, but has sent our Holy Advocate among us to remind us how to live Jesus’ teachings.

What does this look like in action today?

The first example I can think of is our offering today.

A second I think it speaks wisdom into our church woes. It’s no secret at all that churches are closing left and right. Attendance is way down from the height of the 1940s and 1950s. Most congregations operate in the red with their budgets and most congregations are strapped for people under the age of 50.

Like Mary at the tomb, we look in these once-grand buildings but find them empty. And we weep.

Like everyone staring up into heaven, we keep watching and waiting thinking that a return: maybe when the teens are adults and married. Maybe when the adults retire. Maybe when the retirees get lonely.

Some churches are trying to shake up things. You’ve heard of the churches with contemporary services and live music. You’ve heard of churches who worship outside, or worship over coffee, or even in bars. Some get rid of pews and some get rid of hymnals.

But in the end, even these churches find it is hard to keep being relevant to people’s lives. Their numbers may swell for a year or two, but then… things go back to looking drear.

The truth of the matter is – people don’t want to go to services to worship God.

Worshiping God isn’t important in their lives.

And I don’t blame them. That was me for years and years. Standing there staring into heaven felt nice once and awhile… like maybe an Easter or a Christmas service… but doing that weekly didn’t really get the house clean, or pay the bills, or make my day better.

The truth is… church wasn’t relevant to my life and it isn’t for most people.

And I think that’s what the angels are pointing out in our scripture, and even today… reflecting on the past is good, but fixated on it is not. It’s time to move on. Time to trust God, time to do as God asks, and welcome the new reality God gifts us. Reflecting on the glory years of our churches is good. But pining, wishing, for those years to come back is not good.

We won’t find the living among the dead. We’re not going to fill up this church or any church by changing little things or big things in our services.

You see, services don’t make Christians, services aren’t designed to and aren’t aimed towards people considering Christianity. We say prayers that aren’t printed, and we sing hymns not known in pop culture, and we use terms and phrases no one who isn’t ‘in the know’ understands.

Standing there gazing into heaven doesn’t spread the message to all of the ends of the earth. It doesn’t make our faith relevant.

What does?

Mission work. Out reach. Living a Christian life. When the apostles return and live lives of hope, of sharing, of community – people want to know more. Want to join. When a church has a mission, a purpose – people want to join in, and make a difference. When a church has an out reach, a program to assist the community – people want to participate.

The food pantry.

Foundation dinners.

5th quarter, Hope homes, One Great Hour of Sharing, the PIN fund, Vacation Bible School, donating our hymnals, donating time and resources here and there – these are mission and out reach.

Praying for each other. Giving each other rides. Sharing our garden produce and our clothes, our homes and our lives with each other. Knowing how each other are doing. Calling, writing, facebooking, loving each other… this is living a Christian life. This is community.

Church? Worshiping God? These are the results of mission work, outreach, and the Christian life. Church is not an ends unto itself. It is the human response to God’s presence throughout our whole week – our whole lives.

This is where we recharge. Where we stand gazing into heaven and smile. Where we sink on our knees at the tomb in wonder. This is where we pause, reflect, and praise God.

But church is only relevant, only meaningful, if we have been in relationship with God and working for God long before we entered the church doors.

So… let me play the role of the angels for a moment and ask a jerkish question…

Why are you here today? Is church relevant to you? If not, what is missing?

Amen.

Bible, Church, and Religion Jokes

From everywhere – for Holy Humor Sunday – and any day!

 

A small boy told a Sunday school teacher: “When you die, God takes care of you like your parents did when you were alive — only God doesn’t yell at you all the time.”

 

A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”

“I wouldn’t know what to say,” the little girl replied.

“Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mother said.

The little girl bowed her head and said: “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

 

A pastor was speaking to a group of second-graders about the resurrection of Jesus when one student asked, “What did Jesus say right after He came out of the grave?”

The pastor explained that the Gospels do not tell us what He said.

The hand of one little girl shot up. “I know what He said: He said, ‘Tah-dah!'”

 

Church Sign: “We welcome all denominations — $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100.”

 

Church of the Merciful posted this sign: “Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

 

In the bulletin of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, Palm Coast, FL: “We will have a Special Holiday Bingo & Dinner on Monday evening, Dec. 30. You will be given two bingo packs, which cover all games played, and your choice of children or roast beef for dinner.”

 

From the Dalton (GA) Daily Citizen News: “John Franklin, ordained as a deamon, will pastor two churches in Fannin County.”

 

When a young minister was still single, he preached a sermon he entitled, “Rules for Raising Children.” After he got married and had children of his own, he changed the title of the sermon to “Suggestions for Raising Children.” When his children got to be teenagers, he stopped preaching on that subject altogether.

 

A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the Pacific, and was alone for 20 years. When a ship finally arrived, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he had built and asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house, and that building over there is my church. It’s a wonderful church and I hate to leave it.”

“And what is the third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.

 

  1. Why couldn’t Jonah trust the ocean?
  2. Because he knew there was something fishy about it.

 

  1. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
  2. Noah; he was floating his stock while everyone was in liquidation.

 

  1. Where was Solomon’s temple located?
  2. On the side of his head.

 

  1. Where is the first tennis match mentioned in the Bible?
  2. When Joseph served in Pharaoh’s court.

 

  1. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden?
  2. Your mother ate us out of house and home.

 

  1. What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?
  2. It’s Christmas, Eve!

 

  1. How does Moses make his coffee?
  2. Hebrews it.

 

  1. Did Eve ever have a date with Adam?
  2. No, only an apple.

 

  1. Why didn’t Noah go fishing?
  2. Because he only had two worms.

 

  1. How do we know Peter was a rich fisherman?
  2. By his net income.

 

  1. Who were Gumby’s favorite Bible characters?
  2. Shadrack, Meshack & AhBENDago.

 

  1. Who was the smartest man in the Bible?
  2. Abraham. He knew a Lot.

 

  1. Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark?
  2. Because Noah was standing on the deck.

 

  1. Who was the fastest runner in the race?
  2. Adam, because he was first in the human race.

 

  1. Why did the unemployed man get excited while looking through his Bible?
  2. He thought he saw a job.

 

  1. What animal could Noah not trust?
  2. Cheetah

 

  1. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
  2. Samson. He brought the house down.

 

  1. What kind of man was Boaz before he married?
  2. Ruthless.

 

  1. On the Ark, Noah probably got milk from the cows. What did he get from the ducks?
  2. Quackers

 

  1. Which Bible Character is a locksmith?
  2. Zaccheus.

 

  1. Which Bible character had no parents?
  2. Joshua, son of Nun (Joshua 1:1).

 

  1. Where is the first baseball game in the Bible?
  2. In the big inning. Eve stole first, Adam stole second. Cain struck out Abel. The Giants and the Angels were rained out.

 

How long did Cain hate his brother?

As long as he was Abel.

 

At Sunday School the children were learning how according to the Bible God created everything, including human beings.

Johnny paid particular attention when the teacher told him how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs.

Later that week, Johnny’s mother found him lying on his bed as though he were ill, and asked him, “Johnny, what’s the matter?”

Johnny replied, “I’ve got a pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife.”

 

When is medicine first mentioned in the Bible?

When God gave Moses two tablets.

 

Who was the fastest guy in the Bible?

Adam – he was first in the human race.

 

What sort of lights were on Noah’s Ark?

Floodlights.

 

At what time of day did God create Adam?

Just before Eve.

 

Which biblical character was the youngest to speak foul language?

Job, because he cursed the day he was born.

 

Why did the hawk sit on the church steeple?

Because it was a bird of pray.

 

A pastor decided to visit his church members one Saturday.

At one particular house it was clear to the pastor that someone was home, but nobody came to the door.

The pastor knocked and knocked but no-one answered so finally took out his card and wrote on the back:

Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.”

The next day the same card showed up in the collection plate. Below the pastor’s message was another scripture passage.

It read:

Genesis 3:10 – “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.”