Tag: Isaiah

A Blue Christmas

Isaiah 9:2 (NRSV)1-candle.jpg
The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
Nat King Cole gave us the lyrics of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” and “tiny tots with their eyes aglow.” From that same 1940s era is song after song about the “most wonderful time of the year” but, I’ll admit, it’s a “blue Christmas” for me. The pressure to feel happy and joyful makes me a Grinch. I’m sad there are people who are not here who ought to be, and the ghost of Christmases past haunt empty chairs and old photographs. I don’t want celebration songs; give me a few funeral dirges. The hymns “O Come Emmanuel” and “O Holy Night” feel more appropriate than joyful music during this season. These hymns deal with the reality of chains, sin, error, and this “weary world” mourning “in lonely exile.” For me, they invoke the spirit of Christmas that looks for the “thrill of hope.” They bring to mind the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” I feel that darkness. The Great Light of the hope of new life, reunion in heaven, and peace on earth is like a guiding star, like light at the end of a tunnel, like the joy others feel that I may someday feel again in this season. Until then, I live it “if only in my dreams” and watch for the light, like our ancestors did of yore.
— Published in the Towne Crier, December 2018
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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.

Call to Worship: Listening

(Based on Isaiah 50:4-9a)

One: The Lord God has given us the tongues of teachers
Many: That we may know how to sustain the weary with a word.
One: Morning by morning, God awakens–
Many: And then God awakens us to listen.
One: Listening, we stay in peace among conflict.
Many: Our listening God helps us.
One: The world may clamor, and accuse, insult and spit,
All: But we gather in peace ready for the sustaining Word and listening Spirit.

Who Shall Go?

Isaiah 6:1-8img_20180529_120549549
John 3:1-17

A hundred years ago, it was easy to get a job no matter what your education level. Indeed, having a high school diploma was something fancy. I have one framed in my basement from about 1920. It is huge! 18 inches by 24 inches, all gilded up and painted, and stamped. I bet our high school graduates did NOT get a diploma like this. I think they got a nice one – but they didn’t get their name in three-inch-tall calligraphy.

But eventually, a high school diploma didn’t cut it for the average job seeker. In my generation, to get an entry level job, you usually have to have a college degree. What college degree is in doesn’t really matter- English majors and math majors both pour coffee the same way- but if three people apply for a job and two have high school degrees and one has a college degree… the college person is getting the job.

I’ve heard it rumored that a master’s degree is going to be the next bench mark for my daughter’s generation.

What’s going on?

Having those diplomas are short-hands. Easy answers for employers who don’t know you personally, and don’t have time to know you personally. They look at their big stack of resumes and cut out the ones with the fewest diplomas first, and then the second fewest, and so forth, until there is a short enough list to manage.

Why?

Some may say “This is how we’re getting the smartest workers.”

Yet, I know people who didn’t graduate from high school, barely read, and yet – run massive, successful, businesses. And, the doctor student who graduates the first in her class is still called the same thing as the student who graduates dead last: Doctor. And some schools practically pass every teen; and some make it hard and competive – even though they are both public high schools.

Intelligence and a diploma aren’t actually tied together, when we think about it.

But a diploma is shorthand for knowledge.

In today’s story, picture Nicodemus as a heavily doctor’d up man. Nicodemus knows a lot. A lot of a lot. He can read and write, he can teach; in fact, he teaches the teachers. He knows his scripture forward and back, and is famous enough to be called the leader of the teachers in this area. Number one. Their representative. Their smartest guy. His wall is full of diplomas from all the prestigious schools.

When he comes to Jesus, he chooses to go under the cover of darkness. Maybe he’s ashamed.

Maybe he doesn’t want anyone to lose their confidence in him – he, who has all the answers – who now is going to someone without a formal education. It would be like the surgeon general asking a cashier about how to do brain surgery.

Maybe Nicodemus comes secretly wishing for knowledge, more insight, into Jesus.

We don’t know his reasons. We do know he comes in the dark, symbolizing in John’s book ignorance, and Nicodemus leaves again still in the dark… still befuddled and not understanding.

I’m not really sure if Nicodemus is complementing Jesus by telling him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…” or if he is insulting Jesus.

As a complement, it means Nicodemus is willing to concede Jesus is godly, and an equal or greater — for the greatest teacher is calling Jesus teacher, Rabbi. And Nicodemus is setting the stage to ask Jesus how it is he must be from God, however… he has no formal education, no temple background, and is a homeless wanderer. You’re doing miracles, but – you were born in a barn. Really! What’s up?

This leads us into thinking maybe Nicodemus is being patronizing instead of complementing. Into Nicodemus talking down to Jesus, without even realizing it maybe. In today’s lingo, Nicodemus is rabbi-splaining. Explaining something in a manner that belittles the other person.

Jesus – let me tell you just who you are: you’re working signs, so you must be coming from God. I think Nicodemus would go on from here to quote lots of scripture to Jesus to explain just how Jesus must be coming from God.

Nicodemus is listening to himself laud himself on his own knowledge, and thinks everyone ought to listen to him and to how he knows better.

It’s an awful habit anyone who gets to be a specialist may begin to do.

With a shiny new high school degree, every teenager knows SO much more than their younger siblings. They can’t be right on anything of importance. Leave it to the graduated ADULTS to understand.

With that new college degree, every young adult knows just how naive, silly, and uneducated those with ‘only’ a college degree are. It’s insulting to compete against them for the same entry-level jobs!

We get big for our britches real fast.

We all do.

And then, we think we know best and don’t listen to what others know, or experience, or have to say.

Nurse: “I think this patient needs a different medication,”

Specialists: “No – no. I read about this condition in a medical book at med school – where I graduated with honors – and I know best.”

The nurse is ignored because of the perceived differences in rank. Just imagine how much the patient is ignored by this specialist!

Nicodemus the Specialists begins to tell Jesus just who Jesus is and what Jesus is about.

So Jesus begins to talk about who Jesus is – giving us these images of God our Parent sending Jesus our Brother to bring the kindom, all about us, which we can live into now through the Holy Spirit.

This was not the conversation Nicodemus was intending.

To Nicodemus’ credit, he stops trying to explain things to Jesus and asks for clarification. THAT is the amazing part to me. So many people refuse to ever become the student! They’d rather fight tooth and nail to remain the specialists, the teacher, the one in charge.

I think this is why at the end of John’s gospel, Nicodemus shows up again – this time in twilight, symbolizing he is coming out of the ignorant dark – to bring an offering to Jesus’ tomb. He’s willing to learn. Willing to teach and to be taught.

And so Jesus teaches him.

Jesus elaborates – explaining how those in the kindom are born of both water and Spirit. You and I are born of both baptism and the Holy Spirit. Or born of flesh, and then reborn with the Spirit in them. Both human and divine. Both a normal human, and yet a reflection of the living God.

And Jesus speaks of the Spirit, the Wind, like the wind outside. We don’t know where it started or where it will end. It goes where it will. It is mysterious. We don’t see the wind, but we see the effects of the wind. We see tree leaves rustle and we see deadly tornadoes. We feel the soft kiss of morning breezes and we feel the bitter wailing winds of winter. The Holy Spirit is the same – alighting, awakening, the great and the weak alike. Appearing in strange places, in strange people – unpredictable. We can’t see it. We can’t touch it. But we see what the Spirit does.

Nicodemus is flabbergasted.

Jesus childes him – why are you flabbergasted? I thought you were the teacher of teachers! I thought you were coming to teach me a thing or two!

As we mentioned, Nicodemus leaves in the dark. But the little light Jesus has lit in him grows and grows until Nicodemus begins to understand. Begins to accept there is more to this world than what is in our books. More in this world than what our science can explain. More to our faith than what can be contained inside a book — even a holy book like those of the Bible.

It takes being teachable to see it.

That’s really what a diploma represents. It isn’t intelligence – it is a symbol of teach-ability. It is a sign that this person with a diploma, by hook or by crook, knows how to learn.

Intelligence is hard to measure, for geniuses think uniquely.

But we can measure a person who is able to learn by giving them things to learn, and then testing how much they retain.

Really, what jobs are seeking are employees who are willing and able to learn new things.

Our first reading was Isaiah’s call story. It is a wild vision where Isaiah stands in the temple of God. God is so awesome, so terrifying, so massive and uncomprehendible that the hem of God’s robe fully fills the temple. Flying snakes that breathe fire – seraph – attend to God.

And Isaiah is scared to be here. He KNOWS he is a sinner! He KNOWS whatever he says is going to be the wrong thing. And he begins to apologize. He’s not here to argue why he isn’t a sinner, or explain to God just who God is.

Isaiah just says “Woe is me! I’m not holy enough to be here!”

So a coal is brought to his mouth, to burn him, and cleanse him. The seraph tells Isaiah that his sin is now gone.

Meanwhile, God asks the seraph around him, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

The very first words out of Isaiah’s cleansed mouth are: “Here I am! Send me!”

I picture the surprise in the temple, in the world, in heaven. God was asking the angels about God which ANGEL should go… and instead, this little human volunteers. After our reading today, God tells the little human how badly the human’s mission is going to go. And tells him about how everyone around the human will have dull eyes and plugged up ears – and will get even more dazed out after hearing the prophet. No one wants to hear or understand the message from God. No one is teachable.

But Isaiah’s mission is to teach anyways.

To be a prophet anyways.

And his prophecies are some of our most treasured words.

In them we hear the coming of the Messiah, and the full reign of God on earth as God reigns in heaven. In Isaiah’s prophecies we hear things that have happened in the past, and things that will happen in the future.

Because this man was humble, and teachable.

We’re asked to be the same. Asked to never hold ourselves so highly that we forget to listen to one another. Asked to be teachable, willing and open to the prodding of the Spirit within us. We’re asked to remember that God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called. Nicodemus wasn’t asked to be a first disciple, although he well knew his scripture. That teenage fisherman Peter was called among the first. Scholars are pretty certain he couldn’t read or write.

We’re asked to be teachable. Willing and ready to go when God calls us – knowing God will equip us for the mission. And also willing and ready to volunteer – knowing that we are called to live in love.

What are we called to? Where should we volunteer to go?

The Spirit within you is ready to help you discern the will of God, if you’re open to it.

Amen.

Renewing Strength

eagle_molt_ron_dudleyIsaiah 40:21-31
Mark 1:29-39

You’ve all been around chickens – think of a molting chicken, with its bare little behind peeking through downy fluff and its spotty neck and wings that are all broken, and missing, its pinions– its wing feathers– are scattered from the barn to the house and back again.

I’ve been told before that the eagle described in Isaiah is described with the kind of word used for a molting, ragged, old bird. No spring chicken. No new chick. But an old wet bird missing so many feathers it cannot even fly.

Some of us might be molting in here, right now.

See, the Israelites Isaiah is writing to have been scattered all over. Isaiah is saying we can’t do this – can’t go home and rebuild – without everyone involved. We need those of you who are comfortable and retired. You remember our history and what things were like in the old days. And we need those of you who are busy, and earning money, and supporting everyone. You’re the hands that keep us going. And we need the youth, the energy and vibrancy of them, they are our future.

Isaiah addresses his prophecies to different people. Today’s reading is perhaps addressed to the elderly. For Isaiah hears God saying: lift up your eyes, and see – someone is older than you. Someone who created the stars and calls them out by name every night. Someone who is so old, humans appear like barely grown plants or little bugs. Someone who is older than dirt. Everlasting. Timeless. Beyond time.

You old folks watch those young folks. They run and run and run, but eventually, they’ll fall down exhausted. Then they, like you, will need the Lord to renew their strength. Whether very young or very old, our feathers get worn, our bodies and minds and souls get worn. But God offers to renew us. Keep us going.

Isaiah wants all the generations to know they are NEEDED. Tomorrow is not possible without every age, and without God who unites us and fuels us.

Isaiah is speaking about going back to Jerusalem to rebuild. He is encouraging and begging and telling all – go back! “In reality, though, they do not go back. They go forward. They accept a new adventure. The thesis sentence of this part of Isaiah comes in 43:19, that God does a “new thing.” The people will go back, but in reality, everything has changed. They cannot go back, they can only move into God’s new future.” ((Charles L. Aaron, Jr.)) The new temple is not like the old. This causes the elderly to cry in sorrow, while the youth proclaim with joy at the rebuilt temple. The new city is not like the old. The new people and new education are not like the old. There is a new thing. A new way of being Jewish in ancient Israel.

Look around us… we cannot go “back.” What church is today is a new thing. It will not be the church that the elderly remember. It won’t be packed and won’t be an automatic priority is everyone’s lives. But it is still church. It is a new set of wings for flying into the uncertain future – but wings gifted to us by God and we fly in the shelter of God. It is our shared future, but one that is only possible if we embrace all the generations. All the different gifts and different ways of knowing, worshiping, and serving God that come with different ages. Tomorrow’s church may have rock bands, or meet in coffee shops, or occur via online videos. It may be less worship and more service. We don’t know. But a new kind of church is emerging now. We’re witnessing God doing a new thing!

The church does this about every 500 years. 500 years ago was the Protestant Revolution. 500 years before that was the Great Schism that separated the one church into two – East and West. 500 years before that? The Bible was being collected, and wrote, and argued, and our religion was going from a Jewish cult to a state religion. 500 years before that? Jesus was walking and revolutionizing ancient Judaism.

We don’t know what the church will be. Our great-great-grand kids might have enough distance they can look back and say ‘Ah! Look what our ancestors lived through! What a wild time!’ but we don’t have that kind of hindsight. We can just celebrate we feel God recreating the church now.

We’re not to go back. We’re to go forward.

Consider Christ – he didn’t heal every person in Simon’s village. He did what he could, and then he retired, took a new set of wings, new energy from God, and moved on to continue his message. It seems kind of cruel. Jesus didn’t fix everything in that town. He didn’t make it all go back to the way things were in the Garden of Eden — with no cares, no worries, no illness.

Jesus wasn’t making things back to the way they were. Jesus was making the way things are changed into the future God is always creating and recreating. The future God is filling with ways for us to be healed, and heal, others.

Jesus rose out of that little town several disciples. One, I believe, was Simon’s mother in law. She is said to have been lifted up, like Christ was lifted up, and she served, as Jesus served. The other disciples continue to struggle with what their role is and in Mark, even abandon Jesus at the cross in the end. But throughout Mark, the women get it and stay. Stay for death. And stay for Resurrection. And through it all – stay and serve. To be Christian is to accept the new life of Christ, to be lifted up by God, and then to go out and serve. To go out and lift up others.

Jesus left the city not because everything was perfect, but because he had spread the message there and left behind people who heard the call, accepted the new life, and now were getting up to help others.

We’re not going to fix all the church’s problems ourselves. We’ll mount up on new wings over and over again, but it is not our job to do EVERYTHING. It is our job to spread the message, widen the welcome, value every age and generation and contribution.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary. When we rest, God is still working. God doesn’t get tired. Doesn’t need to rest. And so, it is this teamwork of us AND God who will welcome the new ways of being the church.

That may sound… exhausting. Especially for those of us who are molting. It is why Jesus offers a hand to us, even as we lie on our bed with fevers and ills, aches and pains, of all sorts. Offers that hand and says – let me lift you up. You don’t do this alone. We serve together.

So come today to the table where Christ invites you. Come and be served by Jesus, so you can go out and serve others. Come and renew your wings. Amen.

Testify to the Light

Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
egg-3
Rachael Djaba and Ben grin and show off a couple of the family’s hens. (by Heifer International)

Isaiah sounds as if he is writing a song of joy… saying things like “Good news to the oppressed!” and “I will greatly rejoice!” but Isaiah is actually writing a lament. A song of sorrow.

You see, returning is not restoration.

The exiles from Babylon have returned to Jerusalem and found the holy temple of God destroyed. The city and its surrounding cities destroyed. Ruins. And at first, they were so happy to leap into action. The returning Jewish population told the local population who were not exiled just what was what. The returning population were those priests and scribes and educated folk. The population who stayed were average people, and poor people. Over time, strife grew among them.

“Let’s build back the temple of God!” said those returning.

So the locals did… but the new temple was not as marvelous as Solomon’s. And the returned Jews grumbled, ‘You just can’t get good help! This thing looks awful!’

And the remaining Jews grumbled, ‘This is the best we could do. Who are these soft people to tell US what to do? WE who had to stay and try to survive in ruin?”

And the two groups bicker.

Isaiah brings the Good News to both: the oppressed locals and the brokenhearted returned exiles. He says God will gift them joy, garland, instead of sorrow and ashes. They, together, are a planting of the Lord and will be great trees to display God’s glory. Together they will rebuild cities and the devastations of many generations.

Indeed – returning is not restoration.

Going back to a place is not the same as restoring a place.

Being in a place is not the same as flourishing in a place.

Consider the families in California, Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico (among many other places). When they return home from evacuating from fires and hurricanes, they don’t find a HOME. They find a place, where once their home was. Houses are gone. Familiar trees and landmarks reduced to rubble. There is a long process of rebuilding the houses.

And even when the rebuilding is done, over months, there is still not restoration. Some people never come back and choose to live where they evacuated. Your neighbor of twenty years now lives 2000 miles away. Some buildings are not rebuilt. If, God forbid, we were to lose this church we’re in… you cannot build a new church and have it be 175 year old lovingly restored brick and slate. It is a new building, with a new history.

And our lives- their lives- are forever changed. All that time without work, all that money invested into rebuilding, all that effort.

The American Civil War was 152 years ago and yet STILL you can see its effects in our politics, in our buildings, in our church denominations even and so forth.

Returning to a place, or even liberating a people, does not mean there is restoration.

Restoration is a hard job that takes more than just being present.

Each Sunday I have been speaking about an alternative gift idea for your loved ones for Christmas. On the first Sunday of Advent, I spoke about reusing, regifting, and also passing on your photos and stories as ways to live into hope and future-thinking.

Last Sunday, I spoke about ANERA, the American Near-East Refugee Aid, as a way to gift peace monetarily into the Middle East. I also spoke about working locally living peace by learning about and welcoming the stranger.

Today, I speak about Heifer International – who are bringing joy around the world and not just being in an area, but restoring an area. Today I ask you to consider giving a flock of chickens, or a pair of goats, to a family somewhere in the world in the name of a loved one for Christmas. Just as our Baltimore – Millersport kids gifted sheep with our Barn Yard Round Up VBS.

Now, if you don’t know the story yet, let me tell you a bit about the non-profit.

“Dan West, a farmer and youth leader, was a relief worker during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. While passing out powdered milk to children on both sides of the conflict, he grieved when the supply of milk ran out with children still waiting in line. He reasoned that these people needed “not a cup, but a cow.” He challenged his farmer friends at home to send heifers. Because he believed that everyone who receives should also experience the dignity of giving, West came up with the idea of Passing on the Gift. Every family who receives a Heifer animal, he insisted, should pass on one of their animal’s offspring to someone else in need.”

Heifer only enter communities upon invitation. They train project participants extensively on a host of topics that range from animal husbandry to gender equity. Even down to what kinds of grass produce the best milk. But the education and generosity doesn’t end there.

Each family who is given all this know-how AND the flock of chickens, milking cows, goats, or llamas or sheep are asked to pass this same knowledge and animals to another family when their own animals have offspring. This turns people who received, into givers, and empowers everyone. Also, “the impact of the original gift is doubled, at minimum, proving that small actions lead to big results” – lasting, transformative change occurs not just for one family, but for the whole community.

For instance, hear the story of Rachael Djaba, of Ghana, She and her husband and seven biological kids, live in “a rural area, populated mostly by subsistence farmers and fiishermen. For many of them, their income rarely stretches to cover much more than banku and fufu, traditional fare made of plantains, cassava or corn. These foods offer plenty of carbohydrates, but little else.” Many people in this area are stunted, anemic, and very ill. One day the family found a week old baby abandoned by his mentally ill mother. So they took him in as their eight child because, as Rachel says, “Even though we think we are poor, there are people more poor than us.”

This little baby, named Ben, seven months later, qualified the family to participate in a research project on nutrition with a university teamed up with Heifer international. The requirement was a family who had a child under the age of 1. And, because the Djaba’s chose to help out others even in their poverty, they, blessedly, now would be the recipients of aid.

All the families “who joined the project received 40 chickens and training on how to raise, care for and sell any excess eggs and poultry that were left after providing children in the family with at least one egg a day. Families also got seeds for home gardens. Because vegetables had been considered a rare luxury before, project participants had to learn how to cook with them and incorporate them regularly into their diets. By introducing eggs and leafy greens to the families’ diets and helping them set up businesses that produce a regular stream of income, Heifer and their partners hoped to curb malnutrition and give children a better start.”

In the Djaba’s case, baby Ben is THRIVING! And so are the 40 birds. They have turned into 170 birds on the little farm with another 80 birds already given or sold away. 20 crates of eggs are sold locally now. At one time, Rachel had to take out loans to buy medication for her constantly ill kids and they rarely went to school. Now, they haven’t been ill in two years and are in regular schooling.

And it’s because of generosity. People generously give to Heifer International, the Djaba family were generous to the little week old baby, and now everyone in their rural area has access to eggs and vegetables and are much healthier.

This is what restoration is. This is what the kin-dom of God looks like. This is fortunes reversed, the earth springing forth new life, and liberty from debt, release from poverty, comfort to mourners, and joy.

The joy of God.

The joy that loves justice and builds up others.

Going back to a place is not the same as restoring a place.

Being in a place is not the same as flourishing in a place.

John comes baptizing and calling people back to God. As you know, believers and doubters and the plain curious go out to meet him in the desert. They go out to the place. Most he calls vipers and snakes. Some realize the truth he is preaching and return to God.

To all, John says you’re here – at the PLACE – returning back to God, but that’s not the same as restored. “I baptize with water; but there is one who is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie his shoes.” As you know, other Gospels continue, “He will baptize you with fire, and the Holy Spirit.”

John says, I give you a cup of milk — but the cow is coming.

I give you a band aid, but the great physician is on his way.

I am not the light – but I testify to the light.

WE are called to do the same. WE are called to live into this light, to testify to it, and to ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’

We are called to restore each other and lead one another to the ever-restoring waters of Christ. We are called to not just go to a place – not just go to church – but be the church that is restored, and restoring, others.

We are not the light, but we testify to the light.

And for this light, for this invitation to not just return, but to be RESTORED – we can rejoice!

The Lord has anointed you with water, and fire, and the Holy Spirit to bring good news, and proclaim the favor of the lord. Go and do so!

Amen.

 

All quoted text that isn’t Biblical is from Heifer International’s website, December, 2017, and their children’s Christian education flyer

Humble Clay

Isaiah 64:1-9 maple_tree_bud
Mark 13:24-37

 

The Prophet Isaiah pleads with God – come, God, come – show the world how amazing you are. We’re dry leaves in the wind, blown to and fro about petty concerns, and chase after things which aren’t you. We’re lost in our sins.

But, God, we’re clay and you’re the potter.

God, we are the work of your hand.

God – come and remold us, rework us, repair us.

This hope is kept alive for generations upon generations. This hope keeps the people seeking and watching for the messiah – the one God will sent to gather us back from wherever we’ve blown, wash away the dirty sins, and remake us anew.

This hope brings us to the Gospel — the Good News — of the testament, the words, of Mark.

Mark remembers Jesus saying that when everything is darkest, and we’re shaken to our core — when it seems like all hope is lost…

There still is a light. THE Light. THE Word of God which will never pass away. THE God, who will not give up on us.

We don’t know when this will happen. We don’t know how or where. We don’t know when the first maple or fig bud appears – but we know it happens. We know when we see those signs of life after a long winter, that summer is near.

We don’t know what is the first sign of Christ’s full reign – but it is budding everywhere. And this long time of waiting in winter will be over, and full summer will be here.

A budding of that glorious time is happening today – with church, and with the foretaste of heaven in our communion.

A budding of that glorious time is happening all the time — all the time there is another little sign, another little bud — soon all the trees will have leaves. Soon, all people will live in harmony.

While we wait for that time, we keep the faith – keep our hope.

Hope with joy. Hope with peace. Hope in love.

For you do not hope in vain. What the potter has begun, the potter will continue to work into perfection.

Amen.