Tag: joy

Psalm 126 Call To Worship

One: When God restored our fortunes, we were like those who dream.
Many: Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.
One: All our neighbors said, ‘God has done great things for them!’
Many: And God has done great things for us and brought us joy.
One: Restore us, again, God, like water returning to dry creeks.
Many: May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
One: Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy carrying their sheaves.
All: We come today restoring God planting our seeds and seeking your holy harvest!

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Many Gifts; One Spirit

John 2:1-11 l-951-jesus-was-here
1 Cor. 12:1-11

In the shadow of the Apollo Temple sits the Corinthian church. They receive a letter one day from the Apostle Paul. He writes them that they are uninformed. They, who are stellar examples of Roman wisdom. They – who are in the shadow of THE religious place to be and have all the world at their finger tips – They do not know what they’re doing.

Paul explains that the people in the congregation once went to statues and idols who cannot speak, such as the ones in the Apollo Temple… but now they are led to another who CAN speak. Statues and idols cannot testify about a god, but the Holy Spirit of God that is in each believer CAN testify. So whenever someone says, “Jesus is Lord!” you know that person has God within them.

The people likely nodded, yes. This is true. But why bring it up?

So Paul explains his logic… since the Spirit of God is not in a temple or in statues, but it people…

… if John Dough looks different, and talks different, and worships differently… but testifies Jesus is Lord… he has the Holy Spirit in him.

If Jane Dough looks the same as you, speaks the same, and worships in the same place… but spits on Jesus’ name… she doesn’t have the Holy Spirit within her.

The testimony of Christians is not statues. Not crosses. Not churches. But people. We are the Temple of God. We are the body of Jesus. We are the bearers of the Holy Spirit.

People. Among people are where you find God.

The awful thing about that is that people are much harder to get along with than say, tolerating a beautiful temple in the middle of the city… or driving by that quaint church. Seeing a cross is pretty easy. Living the cross is hard. We even say someone is a “Good Christian” to mean they’re a Good Person… but a person living in the footsteps of Jesus is not good… they’re usually causing trouble, rocking the boat, demanding things change, and that the weak should ban together to take the power from the mighty. They’re sitting in protests and signing conscientious objections to war and all the other counter-cultural things that the Spirit leads them to live in to.

Often, they’re at odds with other Christians who have just as solidly held beliefs in other protests, and in going to war.

In Corinth, things were no different. People are people. And people are hard to get along with.

The church in Corinth was much like Saint Michael’s. And like us, they had particular gifts… some things the Spirit leads people to do… that they valued much more than others. We always have music every Sunday. And a sermon. And candle lighters. And a bell. Why don’t we have cookies every Sunday? Or dance? Or puppet shows? We pray every Sunday with words… but when do we pray with our hands? When we do speak in tongues? When do we do art and take long walks in nature?

Now, the church in Corinth began to think that just their way of knowing God was the right way. All the other ways of worshiping, of moving with the Spirit, and knowing the Divine was inferior. “They’re just not wise. We, we’re smart. We’re educated. We’re enlightened. We do it this way.”

Things got even more intense when it came to beliefs and activities. Corinth was fighting over whether or not it was okay to eat meat sacrificed to other gods… because if not… you pretty much had to go vegetarian in the city. They were also fighting about circumcision. And kosher. And just how Jewish or how Pagan a person could be and still be Christian.

Churches with one another and inside themselves are fighting today, too. We’re fighting over whether or not homosexuality is a sin. We’re arguing over how patriotic, or not, a person can be and still be a Christian. We’re debating the role of women in the church. We’re debating the role and place of children in the church. We’re debating what is and in whom and where CHURCH can be found. And we’ve been splitting over baptism for centuries.

Paul steps into the middle of this and says: you’re all different. You’re all different! If he were poetic, he might say: you are each a different wildflower in a field.

But there is only one Spirit in each of you. There is only one sun who shines on you. Because you are all different, you are beautiful. Because you are all different, you are united into community. The differences are gifts!

Our diversity is given to us for the common good.

We’re farmers. We know what monocropping is. It’s very efficient farming. We plant the same exact type of corn for several hundred acres and kill all the other plants. We know just when to harvest all that, we know what kinds of chemicals to use, we know just the machine for harvest. We know the kind of corn or soy or wheat we’re getting and don’t have to sift it out into different varieties and uses.

The problem with monocropping is that if a new virus springs up and eats THAT crop… the entire crop is gone with no back up.

Think… Irish potato famine. Most people in Ireland ate a potato called the Irish Lumper. A blight got into the crop and it spread like wildfire. Combine this with poverty, poor management, racism, and a host of other issues… and you have 2 million starving refugees and 1 million dead in the matter of 4 years. Monocrops are efficient… but risky. They don’t have a lot of flexibility and resiliency.

Diverse crops – like planting two varieties at once, or the old fashioned 3 sisters of corn, beans, and squash in one hole– are resilient and handle more blights, weather changes, and viruses. However, they’re the hardest to manage. Your garden is a diverse crop. It’s okay if its a bad tomato year – the corn did awesome. However, you had to put way more work into that diverse crop than in a monocrop.

Monocrop churches are efficient. Nothing is unplanned. But they’re fragile. Get a blight in there… a poor preacher. A poor organists. A poor parishioner… and things go badly.

Diverse crop churches are chaotic, but strong. It’s okay if something goes bad, the rest is still good. The next sermon or pastor will be better. The next organists or song will rock. I don’t like this parishioner, but I like all the rest.

Paul tells us to welcome the chaos and diversity. It’s what makes us strong. In the diversity of ideas and opinions and ways of knowing God we support one another for the common good. So if one person has an off day, the whole community isn’t ruined. We support the weak until they’re strong again. And if one person feels moved to protest gay rights because of scripture, and another feels moved to protest homophobia because of scripture, then because of scripture they can sit and talk and understand why the other feels so strongly.

For the common good we’re given DIVERSE gifts. Gifts of wisdom and insight. Gifts of intelligence and education. Gifts of healing faith and gifts of powerful prayers. Gifts of prophecy, and discernment, and yes – speaking in tongues and dancing in aisles and interpreting ancient languages and interpreting current affairs. Gifts of being the naysayer who finds holes in plans. Gifts of being dreamers who see what others cannot. Gifts of being a source of humor. A warm hug giver. The gift of holy tears. Gifts of understanding finances, or understanding poverty, or understanding loneliness. And gifts of Holy joy. Holy love.

The holy gift of presence.

All gifts of the Spirit are given for the common good, allotted in different amounts and given in great diversity, make us the strong vegetable garden that with stands whatever crazy weather we get.

Because we are united in the one Spirit, from our one Lord, of our one God. We’ve got one Gardener care taking for us who knows just what the plan of the garden is.

Our lectionary ties today’s reading from Paul’s letters with Jesus’ very first miracle. And it isn’t raising a person from the dead. It isn’t walking on water. It isn’t bread. It’s wine. Turning water into wine.

What a strange gift of the Spirit!

Can you imagine finding out your gift is making wine? What other weird gifts do we have hiding in our pews?

Jesus has a strange gift, but he knows just what gifts are supposed to be used for: the common good.

And so, that’s how he uses it.

There’s a wedding in the little village of Cana. The groom and bride are supposed to provide wine for as long as people stay and party with them. It’s tradition. Its good luck. Most importantly, its hospitality. Usually guest bring along a little wine or food for the party too. Think of it like a potluck. But, for whatever reason, the wine has run out. The party is going to be over early. The couple are going to start their wedding on a bad foot.

In the course of the world, its very small. An auspicious start to a wedding. So what? No one will die. No lives are ruined.

In the course of the world, most of us are very small. And our gifts are small. What good is a talent for cooking chili? Or a talent for understanding how to program a TV remote?

Jesus is reluctant to share. But Mary encourages him. There’s no silly gifts! ALL gifts are given for the common good of us all!

So Jesus goes and asks for the jars of water. And wedding servants… not the bride and groom, not their parents, not the guests… witness Jesus’ very first public miracle. Along with his disciples. Plain water, in jars meant for washing hands and dishes and ritual cleanliness, turns into the sweetest wine.

When the gift is shared, the sweetest delight is spread among the whole community. From God comes abundance! From God comes diversity! From God comes all good things!

The wedding’s party in the community is saved, and people continue to stay together happily.

The disciples begin to believe in Jesus after this. They begin to believe he IS heralding the in-breaking of God into the world in a brand new way. They begin to understand the generosity of God, the hospitality of God, and perhaps even the joy of God.

God rejoices over us!

When we’re sticking by each other, helping one another, using our gifts for one another – the heart of God is joyful!

For among people is where God delights to be.

And God delights to make each of us unique.

Amen!

 

Reflection:

The take home message for the day is every one of us have unique gifts. Turning water into wine is pretty silly. But Jesus knew how to use it for the common good. What silly gifts do you have? How could you use them to bring joy, happiness, and love to others?

Good News to the People

Zephaniah 3:14-20 140803213440
Luke 3:7-18

How do you get your news? Today, maybe your phone. Or turned on the TV. Twenty years ago did you read the paper? I remember my dad listening to the radio while he worked in the barn. That’s how he got his news. Do you remember the news reels at the beginning of movies?

My grandmother taught me young how to get news. You sneakily lift up the telephone receive to listen into the party-line for news. Make sure you cover your mouth so no one hears your breath! And turn the thing upside down away from your mouth!

Telegrams and bulletins posted at the post office used to give news. Before that, news would be tacked to the church doors, or read from the pulpit with announcements. News could also spread with town criers – who went around crying out the news. Calling it loudly. There was also bards who traveled, singing songs from one town to the next telling stories. And there were messenger pigeons and smoke signals and sigils on rocks or paint in caves, hieroglyphics on tombs and steles of stone piles.

We humans love to communicate to one another!

One such mode of communication was the evangelist. His job, in the ancient world, was to stand in the middle of town and yell out the official news. The official Roman news often went a bit like this…

“HEAR YE, HEAR YE! In honor of the Caesar’s Nephew’s Birthday, free bread is available to all citizens of Rome, courtesy of the Apollo Baker’s Guild. Freed men, slaves, and subjects may pick up scraps after dark. Praise Caesar – the Son of God! HEAR YE, HEAR YE! Good news! Glorious Rome was victorious in capturing the land of Judea. Judean slaves will be available for purchase as early as next week. Caesar is our light upon a hill bringing good news to all nations. HEAR YE, HEAR YE…”

The good news from the evangelists was rarely good news to the average Israelite. They were not Roman citizens. They did not want to be ruled by Rome. They didn’t want to worship Caesar, or his gods, or his family, and he sure didn’t feel like a shining sun or lamp upon the country.

The king Caesar put in place over the people was King Herod (one of a few by this name.) His job was to keep the people placated, not organized around any particular leader but Caesar, and not challenging Rome. Herod gave money to expand the temple to let the people worship… but he also was working at getting Roman gods into the Jewish temple. (This will later cause a riot.)

At the time of John in the scene, John is the current rabble raiser that is giving Herod a headache. He’s getting people together, calling them from their apathy, and making them picture a different world.

Luke also calls him an evangelist. Calls him the official guy giving the good news out. This immediately implies several big political statements…

Human Caesar’s news is not good news.

John is working for the True Caesar – the True King.

Caesar is a false king.

John is spreading the messages of the True Son of God.

Caesar is not the Son of God.

Caesar is mortal.

Caesar is fallible.

Caesar is … killable. Replaceable.

This is sedition! This is challenging Caesar for rule! This is dangerous, political, rebellious talk.

This is very good news to the poor, the weak, the outcasts… this is very bad news to the rich, the strong, the in-crowd.

Is it any wonder why John is swiftly murdered?!

But John was walking in the footsteps of the prophets before him who were opposing all powers that promote apathy and indifference.

Our Prophetic reading today is the very end of the book of Zephaniah. The rest of the book is about how the country got into this position of needing saved. The ancient Israelites came to believe God didn’t matter to their daily lives, combined their religion with others and said there’s no real difference between this religion or that, were complacent, had corrupt leaders, and permitted injustice.

People weren’t evil… just indifferent. Truly, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

So good men and women of Israel did nothing… and evil took over, and suffering increased, and religion became weak. People minded their own business. This means ignoring the plight of others. This means ignoring evil. Doing nothing assists evil as it targets the weak.

Therefore, Zephaniah prophesizes a terrible, awful, horrific Day of the Lord when everything is turned on its heads. Creation suffers because of human apathy to evil. He foresees great environmental destruction, and wars, and death. If you want a fire and brimstone prophecy – turn to the book of Zephaniah.

But it ends with the verses we heard today… REJOICE. Why rejoice?! Because God is doing a new thing. God is coming into the midst of us to set things right. God judges us, but also forgives us. God is showing special favor to the people society, or we, hurt — the outcasts. The handicapped. The meek. The weak. And God is turning everything topsy-turvy. So we hear elsewhere – the rich made poor, the poor made rich, the proud humbled, the shamed given pride. A leveling of all people. An equaling. A making us all brothers and sisters and no more slaves and kings. Reminding us that we ARE each other’s business. And what hurts one, hurts all. What honors one, honors all.

John continues this theme of get moving and stop being apathetic. Giving up only helps evil. Do something! Do good! Bear good fruit!

I like that the crowd asks for John to tell them what to do. It gives us insight into John’s thinking about how to cure apathy. John doesn’t tell the people to give up their lives. “Tax collectors are not called to sever their relationship with Rome, nor are the soldiers exhorted to lives of pacifism. Even in light of impending eschatological [Day of the Lord] judgment, they are called to serve where they are; to take their stand for neighbor amid, rather than apart from, the turbulence and trouble of the present age; and to do good because, rather than in spite, of their compromised positions. By sandwiching such ordinary instruction amid eschatological warning and messianic expectation, Luke’s John hallows the mundane elements of daily life… the crowds hear John speak of a role in the coming kingdom they can play.

It demands neither renunciation nor asceticism, neither pilgrimage nor sacrifice. Rather, participating in God’s new kingdom is available to them where they are, requiring only the modicum of faith necessary to perceive the sacred in the ordinary.

It is, in short, entirely within their reach: “Share. Be fair. Don’t bully.” It may not be heroic, but it is something they can do. It is something, when you think about it, that anyone can do. Which means that it is something we can do, too.

“So with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people.” Good news, indeed.” ((David Lose))

Although it would be great if you could sell all you own and give it to the poor… although it would be great if you could donate a kidney, give plasma and blood, and open your house to every homeless in the nation… although it would be amazing if you could cure cancer, end world hunger, and cause world peace…

… Just because you can’t doesn’t mean do nothing.

John says: work where you are. Do all the good you can where you are with what you have.

Mother Theresa said, “Do small things with great love.” Small things – noticing people. “The biggest disease today,” she once said, “is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”

The Good News is you have an important role in God’s kin-dom… and all it requires is for you to do SOMETHING instead of sitting around doing nothing. It means share. Be fair. Don’t bully. It means love, help others, take notice. It means listen. Don’t tune out. Care.

Evil hates us doing deeds. Remember, evil stays in power by making us feel powerless. Evil spreads when we do nothing. When we do good, it not only stops evil, but reduces it. Others see our good. Others feel empowered. Others do more good.

The evangelist comes with truly good news – joyful news – you matter! You matter because you matter to God! You matter, you are loved, so go and make others matter, let others know they are loved!

Your faith can move mountains.

It may just move them one tiny pebble of a good deed at a time.

Rejoice! Be the church!

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

Peace on Earth

Isaiah 40: 1-11 bln5.jpg
Mark 1:1-8

A country is invaded by people who have skin a different color than us. They speak a different language. They worship in a different religion. And they declare our land now belongs to a minority living among us. We revolt – we protest – we fight. And they keep sending in more troops. More immigrants. They tell us that the land now belongs to them, and to whomever they choose. We say we have been here for countless generations. They say our holy city is also is holy to them, and take it as a new capital of a land they are carving out of us. They tell us we’re not welcome in our holy city anymore.

This is Palestine. The British took it over, and declared the Muslim land now belonged to Jews—people whose ancestors are Jewish, and whose religion may or may not be Judaism. As the rest of the world fought World War I and II, Arabs—who may or may not be Muslim– fought to keep the land they had grown up on, farmed, and lived on for hundreds if not thousands of years. After the wars were over, massive amounts of Jew-descendants from all over the world poured into the area. The world pressured for the land to be divided up into two states: an Arab-descendants state called Palestine and a Jewish-descendants state called Israel. The sacred city of Jerusalem would be an international city – owned by no one faith or people – because it is holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike.

The Palestinians said no! No – look – this is our land! We didn’t kill the Jews. We didn’t kick them out. You all did that. We didn’t ask the British to take us over. We’re a mix of people already – Jewish and Christian and Muslim and more – the world just can’t decide this arbitrary line and say all Jews belong on one side and everyone else on the other. They began to try to round up their illegal immigrants and kick them out. These were largely European Jews.

But the world replied, we can, and we are dividing your land. We were inflamed with the idea of Zionism. The idea that if Jews returned in number to the holy land, then Christ would return too. In our zeal, we did to the Palestinians — genocide, shuttering into ghettos, starving and murder and theft — just as we had done to the Jews in Europe. And, just as Jews (and gays and Roma and more) were murdered in Europe in the name of Christ… so we murdered Muslims (and Arabic Christians) in the name of Christ.

In 1948, Israel declared itself a Jewish state. The following day, four different Arabic countries marched into the area being assigned as the new State of Israel and the first of many, many wars broke out between the State of Israel and Arabic countries.

Eventually, a truce was called. It is referenced as the Green Line because green ink was used on a map to mark the edges of the truce line. This truce line went right through the middle of the holy city. The country of Jordan annexed the West Bank, including its half of Jerusalem. Egypt took the Gaza Strip. Israel took way more land and cities than what the UN had given them, and Palestine was now a tiny dot surrounded on all sides.

Palestinians call this the Nakba. Jews have the Holocaust. Palestinians have Nakba — the Catastrophe. 700,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes and made refugees due to this war. They were not permitted to return home and began their generations of living in concentration camps… known as refugee camps. But this was just the first war.

For twenty years there is skirmishes between Palestinian citizens and Israeli soldiers. This reaches a head in 1967 as the State of Israel and Arab countries fight over who gets to control the Jordan River. Egypt massed its army near the border with Israel, expelled UN peacekeepers, stationed in the Sinai Peninsula since 1957, and blocked Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Israel launched a pre-preemptive strike against Egypt. Jordan, Syria and Iraq responded and attacked Israel. Israel defeated Jordan and captured the West Bank, defeated Egypt and captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, and defeated Syria and captured the Golan Heights, and took over all of Jerusalem. Eventually, Sinai was given back to Egypt. The rest of the land is ‘occupied.’

The United Nations said this was wrong, and illegal, and to give the land back – but the State of Israel never has. Instead, more and more houses are built as ‘settlements’ that establish the land as belonging to Israel. More and more Palestinian homes are razed, and the people sent into camps.

Just as our ancestors claimed land here, in the Americas, with pioneers — settlers — and drove off the Natives… so too the same is happening in Palestine.

The Palestinians are, naturally, furious. And as years turn into decades and turn into generations, their fury becomes desperate hate. Decades, getting close to a hundred years now, of terrorist attacks happen from Palestinians against those in the land they once held.

You see, in the camps there is not enough shelter, or food, or work. You must go out to get these. To go out, you must be a second class citizen and at risk of being shot, stoned, or having the same done to your family because you are not Israeli. Each time your people up rise and demand access to water, electricity, food, medicine — greater torture happens. Families go missing. It is joked about that you’re not a man until you’ve done time in prison and been tortured by an Israeli. But if you protest – bulldozers come in and level you and your family and neighbor’s homes.

Some Palestinians throw stones at Israelis. In return, many Palestinians are shot with weapons.

Yes, some Palestinians knife Israelis. Many, many more Palestinians are killed daily by Israelis… but it is never reported in the news.

Until now. This week. When the violence has intensified.

I wrote this sermon for this Sunday on Monday. I usually let this sermon sit as I think about it, and then I revise it again during the week.

This week, the Spirit had moved me. I wrote about Palestine on Monday. And during the week, our President moved the USA embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Now, daily, violence in Jerusalem and among Palestinians and Israelis intensifies. Each time I went to revise my sermon, I found the situation had changed.

Moving the embassy signifies that we Americans are siding with the Israelis and against a two-state solution that respects both Palestinians and Israelis… because it ‘awards’ the holy city to Israel – who is occupying half the city and does not own it – and says we’re no longer interested in negotiating a peace where the city is shared.

This is why the Palestinians are rioting. This is the latest theft of many from them.

And here we are. How can there be peace in the Middle East?

ANERAlogo_reg-01-01

 

Ancient Israelites lived in Jerusalem. And Palestinian ancestors lived in Jerusalem. The city is holy to billions of people. And for nearly a hundred years this current conflict has been going on – and before then, we had the Crusades where we caused the conflict in the area. And before then, there was Rome. And Babylon. And hundreds and hundreds of years of humans fighting over the city.

And by now – no one is innocent in this conflict. Every religion and every people have murdered innocents on the other side, and done wrongs. Tit-for-tat has led to a snowball effect where no Palestinian trusts Israelis, and no Israelis trust Palestinians, and we Westerners distrust all Middle Easterners and Middle Easterners distrust Westerners.

What’s going on this very moment – with rockets and suicide attacks – with soldiers shooting families and families throwing stones – with systemic genocide and terrorist attacks – this is the result of hundreds and thousands of wrongs done to each other.

Peace in the Middle East, peace in Jerusalem, seems hopelessly out of reach.

But people still dream.

Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike – we know we are supposed to be living into the reign of God. And there are people working towards this.

What can we, here, do for world peace?

Love your neighbor. Learn about Judaism and Islam. Know how we have far more in common compared to what we have in difference. Know that God, Adonai, and Allah are all words, titles, for the deity we share whose name is not spoken.

What can we do for world peace? Love your neighbor. Welcome the stranger. Walk humbly. Give and do peace.

During this Christmas, you can give peace through ANERA.

The American Near East Refugee Aid non-profit is trying to help in this dire situation. They’re trying to spread PEACE and understanding. In Jordan, and in Gaza, and in Palestine, ANERA asks the locals what they need, and helps them help themselves. Frequently, war and strife is all people have known. It is hard to have hope. Hard to dream of peace.

Behind all the people on the news are moms still struggling to feed kids. Dads still struggling to find work. Kids still struggling to find joy. Grandparents praying for the security of their families. Friends still sharing embraces. People still falling into love.

Behind all the war are humans being human.

And ANERA works with Israelis and Palestinians both to promote peace in people’s daily lives.

“In Gaza, for instance, over 60 percent of young people are unemployed—the highest rate of youth unemployment in the world. Syrian refugees in Lebanon have grown up amid war and displacement, and for many that has meant dropping out of school to support their families… youth in the Middle East have borne the brunt of conflict and economic stagnation.”

To promote peace, ANERA works with these youth. They offer “basic literacy to job skills and even sports and handicrafts [courses]. These educational and recreational pursuits also help strengthen bonds to their host communities, soothe psychological trauma, and shape them into active members of society.

Young Palestinian and Syrian refugees attend an accounting courses in Al Sharq. The class is one of the many job skills training courses ANERA is offering to refugee youth throughout Lebanon. With marketable skills like accounting and computer science, these youths will have greater chances at finding jobs.

Sports not only give youth a recreational outlet, but provide psychosocial support and build community bonds. “In Syria it’s kind of impossible for a girl to play football,” says 20-year-old Rawan. “This is the first time I have ever played in my life. At first I didn’t tell my mom.” Not only do sports promote physical health, they also form friendships and ties among youth. Personal relationships are the key to peace.

Meanwhile, Adnan, 18, has lived in El Buss camp near Tyre since his family fled Syria. Adnan’s family are of Palestinian origin and had lived in Syria for generations as refugees. Now they join the thousands of “twice-refugees”—Palestinian-Syrians living in Lebanon. ANERA helps families like Adnan’s who find they are suffering generations of psychological trauma. ANERA brings in counselors, doctors, dentists, and raise up mentors out of the community.

Syrian and Palestinian refugee girls attend hairdressing classes in Sidon. Hair and makeup courses are some of a wide variety of vocational skills youth are learning across Lebanon.

In Bar Elias, chess class draws steady concentration from boys and girls. ANERA’s programs include education as well as athletic and other recreational pursuits, which aim to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged youth.

Refugee girls take part in a handicrafts courses in Baalbek, Lebanon. Many, like 14-year-old Hanine from Homs, Syria, go on to sell their work to earn extra cash, while others find plenty of personal household use for their crafts.

As a Palestinian refugee, Omar has limited job opportunities in Lebanon. Now he’s teaching young people how to do dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance style, in Ein El Hilweh camp. “[Our] uncle would complain that he couldn’t sleep because Omar was dancing all night,” laughs his sister Israa.

Yara, 14, takes literacy and math classes in Bar Elias, Bekaa. Many refugee youth like Yara have missed out on school for over six years, since the Syrian war began. Some cannot read or write at all, and had never used computers.

These teens and young adults are the next generation of men and women in the Middle East. They are who are deciding now, or will be deciding soon, whether to continue the cycles of violence against others or to live into peace.

This Christmas, you can give peace by donating in the name of a loved one to ANERA. You can invest in the lives of these children. You can pray for peace and act for peace locally, and internationally.

We’re not going to solve the wars in the Middle East without God’s intervention. And God’s intervention comes through the Spirit, through us, wherever we love our neighbors and welcome the stranger.

Amen.

High on the Hog

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Matthew 25:14-30myklove-thanksgiving-devo1

How is gratitude related to these two passages? It seems like a stretch.

In Jesus’ parable, it is helpful to remember Jesus is talking about when the reign of God will come, and what it will be like. This is shortly before he, himself, is arrested and murdered, resurrected, and on a journey that is now 2000 years delayed. Perhaps Jesus is the man in the parable who goes away. We usually interpret this parable this way – but Jesus could easily be one of the slaves, too. There is no ‘right’ way to understand a parable.

So let’s imagine Jesus is the man leaving. He brings forward those who serve him — people like you and me — and gives us ‘talents.’ Normally, we understand this to be talents like singing, dancing, ministry, financial intelligence, hopefulness and helpfulness…. English literally takes the word ‘talent’ for these things from this Bible verse. In the old Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek, however, a talent was an obscene amount of money. So the man gives hundreds of millions of dollars to his servants. More money than any of them have ever imagined.

But since we’re trying to understand this parable with the man as Jesus, we know Jesus doesn’t give us money. In fact, if we’re getting rich because we’re Christian – we’re doing Christianity wrong. So what DOES Jesus give?

Forgiveness.

Jesus gets in trouble because he is forgiving sins, and reconciling people with God. He gets in trouble because he is saying, through him, we all can have second and third and one-hundred-million chances to turn back to God. What is the insane amount of wealth Jesus is offering and leaving with us? God’s forgiveness. God’s love. God’s reign.

So Jesus leaves on his trip, leaving us variously with different amounts of sins forgiven, and grace, and love, and experiences of the reign of God.

The worst sinners among us take that 5 talents of grace — unearned forgiveness — and wholly live into it. Full living high on the hog. And those worse sinners, now forgiven, go out and forgive twice as many people, bring twice as many the good news of abundant life with God, and by the time Jesus returns, the 5 talents of grace have turned into 10 talents of grace. All kinds of lives touched and forever changed for the better by inclusion, welcome, acceptance, and love.

The middling sinners are forgiven a middling amount. But still, their faith brings double the amount of goodness to the world!

Lastly, there are some people who live with just a little bit of sin in their lives, but God offers them forgiveness too. These servants of God also hear the good news, also know how much God offers, and also receive forgiveness. They, also, could double the grace.

The difference in this parable is not about how much forgiveness we need – but what we do with it. The difference isn’t whether we live deeply or lightly sinful lives, but what we do with the grace and new lives God offers us.

In this story, the man who receives the single talent is terrified of losing that single iota of grace from God. He thinks God’s generosity is limited. He hides the forgiveness God has given him. Is he ashamed? One way or another, he doesn’t live life fully. He doesn’t permit himself to invest in others, or spread the wealth he’s been gifted around. He doesn’t even use it for himself. He just buries it. He doesn’t lose this forgiveness, but what good does it do?

When the man comes back, when Jesus returns, he finds the deeply forgiven person has doubled the grace given to him. So too, has the middling. But the person who was scared of God, who felt God took things that didn’t belong to God and was cruel, did nothing. They lived in terror of the return of the man. And Jesus, if he is the man in the story, chastises the scared servant. “Oh! You just KNEW I was cruel, huh? You could have at least given the talent to the bank!” You could have at least given the new life I gave you, the grace, the forgiveness, the time and money and skills, to another who could invest it and do good. Instead, you just lived isolated. You could have lived richly, but chose to live in poverty. You could have lived high on the hog and feasted on shoulder cuts, but instead, chose to barely get by with spam and hog feet.

We’re supposed to be like our master – supposed to be extravagantly generous. Supposed to take whatever talents we’re entrusted with, and invest them! In the words of Paul, we’re to always be encouraging one another! Praying for one another! Loving one another! Investing into one another. That is the holy life. That is the life living into the reign of God. That is the life that isn’t hiding the gift of Christ.

Thanksgiving is a time of generosity and extravagance. A time of feasting. WE are called to FEAST. Called to eat our fill, eat until our bellies are round and our pants too tight, on the bread of heaven. Our cups are literally overflowing – so full of the wine of life, the fruits of God, that they spill out all over us and splash onto those we encounter. God’s thanksgiving feast is such that hundred-million-dollars is a token amount. A tiny amount. This feast is spilling from our Bibles and Communions, our pews and hymnals, our deaths and our lives – like seed scattered, bread crumbs on the floor, coins tipped off a table and sheep let loose after a winter in the barn — this grace gets everywhere!

Unless we dig a hole and hide it.

Fear not, says Jesus. Do not be afraid, say the Angels. If you are scared, says Paul, you’ll want armor… but don’t take up arms and Kevlar. Don’t buy guns and glower at strangers. Instead, faith and love are your flak vest. Salvation is your helmet. And that is all you need to be secure. Whatever darkness comes, whatever makes you want to dig a hole and hide, you don’t need to be afraid. Extreme love has been shown to you and will continue to be shown to you. Hiding in the hole will not help. God knows us whether we are sleeping or awake, attentive or distracted. God seeks us wherever we wander. And God finds us to offer us forgiveness and love.

So do not fear.

Come on out of the hole you’ve dug. Bring out your talent, and let’s live high on the hog. Let’s celebrate. Let’s rejoice. Let’s give thanks that we are the beloved children of light, children of the day, children of God.

Let us celebrate! Let us give thanks!

What do these two passages have to do with gratitude? I believe they suggest that lives who have received forgiveness – and that is every person! – are best lived investing that forgiveness into others gratefully.

We are to double the love we’re given.

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.”