Tag: Luke

I Have Called You By Name

Isaiah 43:1-7 cb1453_grande
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I once had a job I was so unhappy with. I really disliked going in. I took as much sick time and vacation time as I could, and loathed Mondays.

I remember my friends asking me, why not get a new job? Why continue here? Was it the benefits? No. Lack of other jobs? No. The people? Oh no, absolutely not. So why? Why did I keep going in to THAT work?

I couldn’t come up with a good reason. I just kept going. When I thought about seeking a new job, I got anxious and worried. What if the new one is even worse? I mean, it was hard to get a worse job than the one I had, but they’re out there.

What if … what if…

Eventually, I realized that some people suffer from thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

… and other people suffer from thinking the brown grass they got is still grass and try to convince themselves the green grass they see on the other side of the fence isn’t worth climbing over.

In other words: we prefer the hell we know to the hell we don’t know.

We fear the unknown. It’s better to be in an awful position than take a risk into… that great unknown. We don’t know what we’ll face if we change. We do know what we’ll face if we stay the same.

I knew what every day would involve. It would be trying to sell ‘insurance’ which really wasn’t insurance and feeling like a scammer… because I was…

But if I applied to work elsewhere, would it be any better? I didn’t know. And I feared that unknown. So back to door-to-door sales I went.

The ancient Israelites were in the hell they knew. They were in exile in Babylon. They, or their parents, had gotten settled in the new land. For awhile, everyone was miserable. But now they’re comfortably miserable. Some are even starting to like this exile.

But now the prophets are calling them back to their ancestral land in Israel, and the king of Babylon was saying they could go back too. So who will go? Who will leave the known for the unknown?

The people were comfortable in their known exilic shame, and scared of the unknown of traveling back to Israel. Fearful.

“O Israel, do not fear,” says God through the Prophet Isaiah. “For I have redeemed you.” I have bought you. I have taken you from debt, from shame, and released you. “I have called you by name, you are mine.” God is calling your name. Your own personal name.

You, listening, are called to risk the unknown.

I, back then in that awful job, was called to risk the unknown.

Today, we’re all called to still walk with God into the wilderness and unknowns where the Spirit moves us, like it does to Jesus after his baptism.

God promises to stick by us through that wilderness journey into the unknown. Stick through us through whatever we can image.

God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
I will be with you through the rivers and they shall not overwhelm you.
“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.”

What other horrible things can you picture happening?
I pictured leaving my job and not finding another. Then I’d be back on food stamps. Then maybe I’d lose my apartment and have to move home to my mother’s couch. Then I’d be a failure and ashamed.

The Israelites may have thought about robbery and being stolen and taken into slavery.
God told them, “I give Egypt as your ransom, and Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

Talk about a kick to the butt for me. God would give an entire nation – or the richest nations – for me. I’m worth that much. How could God want me to stay in a sleazy job? How could being fired from a sleazy job for telling the truth “No, this insurance ISN’T going to help you” make me a failure? I am precious in the sight of God. My honor is from God, not my boss. I am loved… by God.

God promises to give whole “nations in exchange” not just for my life, but “for your life” too. You are worth whole nations to God. You are precious. You are honored. You are LOVED by the very creator who moved the waters of creation and spoke through the flaming bush. You – you who are terrified of what might be on the other side of the fence – you who are scared of the unknown – are loved by the unknowable itself who reassures you – I AM WITH YOU DO NOT FEAR!

God says that from the east and west we’re called. From the north and south. Everyone is called, called by their own name, and lovingly created as the sons and daughters of God.

God is calling the Israelites to their ancestral home, and to not fear the land and troubles in between.

But God is still calling today. Calling all of us to God’s self, and to not fear the reputation and troubles we’ll get for being faithful to God.

I listened back then to the call. And when this little old lady answered the door to me one afternoon with a big, brilliant smile on her lips and the fogginess in her eyes saying she couldn’t see… I couldn’t lie to her. She directly asked me, “Will what you’re selling actually help me?”

“No.” No, it would not.

At that moment, I stepped into the unknown. Time to buckle up! Now we’re off the script my boss had my memorize!

God never promises there will be no fire and there won’t be water. Instead, God said God will be with us in these things.

And yeah, I got fired real quick. But it felt… good. It felt good to be without a job. That time without a job, and that time of choosing to not lie to the elderly lady helped lead me towards seminary. I know it. Joblessness pushed me back into school… and although it took some time, eventually I began to say yes to God more and more often until I ended up in seminary, and chaplaincy, and that to here.

The grass was greener on the other side. But man, getting over that fence was rough. I’m so glad God the Good Shepherd was there to help me get from one pasture to the next.

If God were as John describes God, I’m not certain any of us would dare to call God a shepherd… let alone, ‘Good.’ John the Baptist preaches about the forthcoming “ax-wielding arsonist.” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)) That guy terrifies me. And he is some people’s God. Some people do picture God as wrathful and angry and hacking the world to bits and burning it.

But that’s not who Jesus reveals God to be. Jesus reveals God’s personality as the “gentle carpenter whom the Holy Spirit chose for a roost” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)). Since we know who God is through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection… I’m inclined to think the gentle carpenter is more accurate of who God is – THE God of love – than the ax-wielding arsonist.

That’s not to say John was wrong and not the messenger preparing the way for God. I’m just pointing out it is Jesus who is more powerful than John, and Jesus who John feels unworthy beside. So it’s Jesus’ depictions and examples of God I feel more confident relying upon.

Still, Jesus does come with fire and water.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. And he stepped into the waters, the heavens opened – but instead of raining down fire, from heaven came the Holy Spirit, which was like a dove, to alight upon Jesus and infuse in his soul an unquenchable fiery spirit.

“When you pass through the water I will be with you”
In the waters of baptism – there is God!
In the waters of birth – there is God!
In the water of rain, and flood, and snows, and ice – there is God!
In the water of tears of sorrow and the tears of joy – there is God.
When we pass through the waters of life, God is with us.
And the waters will not overwhelm us because we have God, and we have one another.

Troubles will be there, but we shall overcome.

And,

“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit alighting upon us will not burn, but refine.
The fires that consume houses, and lands, and bodies cannot consume souls.
The fire that rages in anger and in war will and do surround us – but God sticks with us offering always the hope of peace of soul and mind and world.

Through this all, God declares: “You are my child, and loved, with you I am well pleased.”

You are my daughter.
You are my son.
You are my love.

We are NAMED by God. NAMED beloved child. NAMED and CLAIMED. Given a family. Given a protector. Given a companion. A brother. A redeemer. A savior.

If that’s not enough to encourage us to step out in faith and take a risk to do good; what would be?
If you’re in a bad situation and scared to change… Do not fear.
When you’re comfortable in the earthly hell you’re in… trust God will be with you through the transition towards living into the reign of God now.

Changing jobs. Starting relationships. Ending relationships. Telling the truth. Moving. Downsizing. These are scary waters! God promises to stick by us and not let us drown in them.

Confronting our sins. Confronting complacency. Confronting family racism. Addressing gay or lesbian intolerance. Welcoming strangers… These are fires God promises will not consume our souls.

In the waters of baptism we were given unquenchable holy fire for we are created for the glory of God and personally, PERSONALLY called by our names to relationship with God.

You can do this.

You’re not alone!

Amen.

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New Year Resolutions

Luke 2:41-52
Colossians 3:12-17love

We have yearly traditions. Things we do, year after year, to mark the passage of time. Christmas with Christmas trees, and stockings, and cookies and milk set out to Santa. New Years with a ball drop in Times Square where many have pilgrimaged to see it. Valentine’s Day cards. Independence Day fireworks. Trick or Treating for Halloween and carved pumpkins. These are all religious, secular, traditional and commercialized at the same time. This is because rituals have so much meaning! And mean something a little different to each person.

Ancient Israel had these yearly traditions too. One was going to the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover. Everyone who could would ban together, load up the donkeys and camels, and walk to the big city for the celebration. Back at home would be just those too old or sick to make it, too young, or those watching over the flocks this year. (Someone has to feed the sheep!) Everyone else, all the extended family, headed into the city for the party.

At big family reunions, you know how kids get lost. They run around from table to table, place to place, and you’re generally sure they’re okay because this is all family and no one has yelled out ‘MOMMY OF SUSIE! SUSIE NEEDS YOU!’ or something similar.

This is the big family tradition Luke describes to us. Pre-teen Jesus and all his extended family show up for the party at the temple. When its time to go home, Mary assumes Jesus is with Joseph. Joseph assumes Jesus is with Mary. Both then assume he’s off with family somewhere in this mess of people. And when they get home… and everyone is sorted out to their own houses… they realize there’s no Jesus. So back to the city they rush to look for their missing teen.

They find him in the Temple, after the party has ended, debating with the Rabbis and impressing them with his knowledge. The story transitions here from describing customs in ancient Israel, to… making a statement about Jesus.

Remember Luke is writing under Roman rule, and explaining to Roman-Jews and Gentile converts who Jesus is. They all know how Caesar came to power. Some remember it from personally lived history.

It began like this: At age of 12, the boy Augustus gave the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia Caesaris, the sister of Julius Caesar. Emperor Julius Caesar adopted his grand-nephew Augustus as his son. When Julius Caesar died, his adopted son Augustus named Julius a god, himself the Son of God, and took control of Rome through the Senate to rule over the known world. Now Augustus Caesar rules as Emperor with as much, if not more, power than his uncle / adopted-father.

Luke knows these facts. And he knows his audience does, too. He writes a new version of the Son of God.

Jesus was an exceptional child by the age of 12. He impressed adults with his speech qualities. Since Jesus is the son not of Joseph, but of ‘his father’ who lives in the Temple… Jesus is the Son of God. The Son of God grows into an exceptional leader who is appointed not by humans, but by God, to reign over the whole universe.

Luke is asserting Jesus is better than Augustus.

We don’t know if the story we read today did happened or not. The message is true, one way or the other, however – Jesus, not Caesar Augustus – reigns. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is divine. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is our savior.

Luke is so full of sedition! He writes and encourages his fellows to see not their God-King in Caesar… but in this Jesus fellow.

This Jesus… who is shown in story after story as better than Caesar… but opposite him in leadership style and qualities.

“Pax Romana” was the Peace of Rome. This peace was maintained with fear, and violence, and was the absence of conflict between nation states. Absence of conflict is not peace. Peace is an end of fear. Fear was how Rome ruled. People had to fear non-Romans to justify having authoritarian leaders. People had to fear Roman soldiers to keep from rebelling. People had to fear falling to the station of non-Romans to stay in line and not empathize with slaves, or foreigners. People had to fear for Rome to rule.

“Pax Christi” is the Peace of Christ. This is peace maintained through an end of fear. Conflict may still arise, but we will work through it together without resulting to violence. We may disagree, but we continue to love one another. We don’t fear. We don’t fear soldiers because we know our bodies are not our forever homes. We don’t fear falling in station because we voluntarily call ourselves slaves and the least. We don’t fear foreigners because we remember we are foreigners ourselves right now. We don’t fear mortal leaders because we have a heavenly leader. We reject the leadership of fear, for the leadership of Peace.

Which means we, like Luke, are pretty seditious and radical. We’re rebellious. We’re living in the world, but are not of it.

The letter to Collossians reminds us we are called to be the “people who embody compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, and thanksgiving.” ((Frank L. Crouch.))

That’s quite the list! I think Mary would have just been happy if Jesus just told her where he was going instead of worrying her and Joseph sick for days.

But this awesome list is my New Years Resolution.

See, much like everyone going to the Temple for Passover or later, Hanukkah, we have the tradition of making goals for the new year. People set out New Year Resolutions. Big ones – this year I’ll win the lottery and lose 100 lbs! Small ones – this year I’ll remember my brother’s birthday and eat more carrots. And every year, whether big or small, most of us forget our resolutions by February.

Why?

Because change is hard! It really is. It doesn’t matter if we’re trying a big change or a little change, we habitually resist it.

A change that lasts must be practiced not just one month in twelve… but daily, until it becomes part of our nature instead of something we are purposefully reminding ourselves to do.

Colossians gives us some new year resolutions to work on, and says this habit is for us in “whatever we do, in word or in deed,” Habits for daily living.

Paul writes to have Compassion. This is not sympathy and thinking ‘thank God I’m not like them,’ but rather, ‘there I go but for the Grace of God.’ Compassion is seeing every person as someone in whom Christ dwells. Would you cut Jesus off in traffic? Would you deny Jesus asylum from drug cartels? Would you tell Jesus its his own fault he’s poor? Compassion is looking at each person and seeing them as God sees them. Beloved.

And clothe yourselves with kindness. I think we understand this one. Kindness is being kind to others. Kindness is to walk about with gentle feet. You may have heard the Boy Scout’s saying of leaving a place better than you found it… so if you stay in a cabin, you leave it cleaner than when you arrived. This is kindness. Caring for others, walking lightly upon the earth, and having a warmth about you.

Our author ties kindness with humility. This is not humiliation! Don’t think scripture is ever asking you to be humiliated, ashamed, belittled. That is not kindness and compassion. Humility is not taking yourself too seriously. It is knowing you’re not the final authority on every subject, knowing you make mistakes, and knowing you’re not perfect. Humility is humbleness. Its the opposite not of pride, but of vanity.  No one is sinning when they’re proud of their grandkids! Someone may  be sinning if they shove those grandkids out of the way to be the center of attention. A vain person talks about themselves, praises themselves, and encourages other to talk about how great the vain person is. A humble person talks about themselves and others. Praises where praise is due. Encourages all people’s voices to be heard.

Along with humility, we’re told to wear gentleness. Gentleness is meekness, being mild. Don’t think of this one as “be a mat for people to walk upon” but as the difference among how you make your needs known. A gentle person says, “Jesus, why have you worried us?” A hard person says, “Jesus The Christ! I’m going to paddle you into next week!” A gentle person has the strength to control themselves. It used to be gentle was also attributed to people who are born of nobility. A gentle person is courteous, chivalrous, benevolent – the type of leader you want. We’re called to be nobility – the very children of God.

Gentleness is tied with Patience. Patience – we’re urged in Collosians. Patience I usually hear as being able to count to three when angry before responding. But patience is more than just that. It is being able to not have instant gratification. It’s great to eat all our Christmas chocolate. Patience says space that chocolate out so you don’t eat it in one sitting. Patience says teenagers and preteens are going to cause us fear and worry – regardless if it is 12 CE or 2018… 2019… CE. Patience knows we grow up, mature, and wisen. Patience is forbearance. Waiting. Tolerating. Not necessarily accepting… but willing to postpone our judgement and reaction.

Next, we’re told to forgive. We literally pray this every Sunday, and some of us pray it daily: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” God, forgive us, because we are forgiving others. God, we forgive others, because you forgave us.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, but its not expecting that person or persons to do more towards making things right. Forgiveness is needed. Sorely needed. We need others to forgive us when we try our best and still fail. We need to forgive others, when they mess up and repent, but can’t turn back the clock. We need forgiveness from God for all the sins we do and that over take us. We need to give forgiveness to all the people who harm us, and moved on oblivious or not caring we were hurt. Forgiveness is necessary to any relationship that lasts.

Over all these garments of Christianity, place on the cloak of Love. Clothe yourselves in love! Everyone knows a police officer because they see the woman or man in a uniform. Everyone knows who is a doctor because of wearing scrubs and a lab coat. Love is the clothes of Christians. Meeting someone who is very loving should immediately clue others that this person is a Christian. They will know us by our love!

Christians today are often NOT known by their love. They’re known for their hate of Gays, hate of women who have abortions, and intolerance or complete disregard for the concerns of the dreaded ‘Millennial’ and ‘Nones’ generation.

Love alone will fix this. Radical acts of love that counter the messages of hate. Radical acts of love that say each person is valued. Radical acts of love that welcome in the budding Rabbis, sit them in the middle of the temple, and really HEAR what they have to say. Acts of love that is impressed with the concerns and Christianity emerging from our next generation.

Acts of love, words of love, deeds of love, thoughts of love – that defy the way the world does things but herald the way God does things – that is our main clothing. Our outer garment. Our uniform over all these other clothes we’ve put on.

All of of this together leads to Peace. The real peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. The peace that is the absence of fear, the tolerance of differences, the forgiveness of wrongs, the humility to admits wrongs, the compassion to see all sides of an argument, the kindness to stand with the gentle and the patience to try, try, and try again to live this Christian life. Peace is living with one another as we grow and change. Peace is not fearing tomorrow or today. Peace is knowing we rest securely in the love of God.

Peace is what I wish for you this New Years. As you go and do your yearly traditions – whatever they may be – may you go clothed in your uniform of Christian Love and be the messenger of peace. May your yearly, monthly, daily, hourly tradition be embodying Christ’s peace.

Amen!

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.

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.

Say what?!

Proverbs 9:1-6 saywhat
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Be wise, be wise, be wise! Wisdom calls to us – come in! Eat my bread, drink my wine, sit at my table, and become wise!

Be wise, be wise, be wise! Understand the will of the Lord and don’t be foolish!

The wise sought out the Lord, he fed them miraculous bread, and the wise wanted him to be the new King of Israel. But the Lord ran away. The wise sought him out again, and the Lord said you are foolishly seeking bread that perishes. Seek the everlasting bread from heaven. The wise asked, “Give us this bread!” The Lord said, “I am this bread.”

The wise began to murmur… who is this man? He is saying he is from heaven? No he’s not… we know his parents and siblings. He is a mortal.

The Lord replied, “Don’t murmur. The only people following me are those who God has sent me. But the bread is here for everyone. Whoever eats the bread, my flesh, lives.”

Now the wise go from a murmur to distress. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

A cannibalistic king… or vorarephiliac king… a king who wants us to eat his flesh… does not sound like a wise king. And only foolish people would follow such a king.

Jesus hears them arguing. So, he fans the flames. Our English Bible says “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood,” but in Greek, Jesus has changed verbs here. First he politely said eat me. The second time, he says, “Nom, crunch, chew my flesh and slurp my blood.” It is very graphic language.

This is too much for the wise. We’re told after today’s passage that many people left following Jesus. Being a cannibal — even a cannibal for Christ — is going too far.

Today, some of us will consume blood in the form of raw steaks, or blood pudding, blood sausage… or just any meat that isn’t wholly drained of all its blood. But we’re the strange ones. Today Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians alike all refuse to eat or drink blood — even that left over in something like a steak — because our scripture. In Genesis 9:3-4, God tells Noah, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

This is elaborated later in Levitius 17:10-14 when God tells Moses, “If anyone of the house of Israel or of the [foreigners] who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any [foreigner] who resides among you eat blood. And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

Quite, quite clearly, in the old ancient world, people understood that our bodies are alive because of blood. Blood is life. Life is blood. They are synonymous. And with science, today, we know that is pretty close to the truth. Your arm is alive, but if circulation is cut off to it… within four hours, all the cells in our flesh will die without the nutrients, oxygen, warmth, and LIFE that blood brings. A stroke is so deadly and damaging because it is a part of your brain that lacks blood – and the brain cells rapidly die. Six minutes without new blood to the brain, and the brain dies.

What’s more, science tells us blood is alive… inside blood are cells. These continue to be alive after they have left your body. Once in a great while, our blood transfusions go badly. Our blood cells attack the new blood cells.

We also know how many infections we can catch from blood! Jesus’ time didn’t have AIDS, but that’s just one of so many things we can catch.

So when Jesus starts telling people to DRINK his blood and EAT his flesh… isn’t that disturbing?

It was for the early Romans. Surviving documents from early Rome accuse Christians of meeting in the dark to worship their dark god by sacrificing a child and consuming the baby’s flesh and blood. Our church father Tertullian mocked the claims, “Come! plunge the knife into the baby, nobody’s enemy, guilty of nothing, everybody’s child. . . catch the infant blood; steep your bread with it; eat and enjoy it” (Apol. 8.2).

Augustine, another great ancestor of our faith, “argued that the words of Jesus refer to “the validity of the mystery, not to the visibility of the mystery, given to the one who eats inwardly, not outwardly, one who feeds his heart, not one who chews with his teeth.” The bread and wine are “signs,” said Augustine, and “the signs of divine things are, it is true, things visible, but … invisible things themselves are also honored in them.” (De Cat. Rud. 26.50). A thousand years later the Council of Trent would thus describe a sacrament as a “visible sign of an invisible grace.” ((https://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20120820JJ.shtml))

Countless Christians were murdered in Rome under charges of cannibalism.

You’d think the argument would have ended since then… but it really hasn’t. WHERE Christ is in our Eucharist, in our communion, is a sticking point among our denominations. Does the bread and wine become literally the flesh and blood of Christ? Yes, say the Catholics. No, but Christ is infused into them, say the Lutherans. As Reformed, most of us say ‘No’, Christ is in the whole act of the sacrament.

That’s one example how the real world is still being influenced by this ancient debate…

… Another is with our medical laws. When you go into the hospital for surgery, you’re often asked to sign a paper permitting a blood transfusion. This is “eating” or consuming blood to some faiths. And therefore, it is banned.

The same when you go in for your license. Are you signed up as an Organ or Flesh donor? Is receiving a kidney consuming another person? Is donating your skin for grafts after you die considered permitting another to eat your flesh?

Bioethics, biological ethics and religious concerns with medicine, struggle today just like the wise struggled with Jesus back then.

Our easy answer is Jesus was not speaking literally. Jesus was never literally a vine, literally a gate, and never literally meant for us to eat and drink him.

Yet every communion we remember Jesus saying “This is the cup of the new covenant, in my blood” and “this is my body, broken for you.” And we have a cup. And broken bread.

Where is the line between literal and figurative? Symbolic and metaphorical?

Other Christians believed Jesus was using signs to point us towards God. The eternal, everlasting life is the life we have now, enjoyed with God, and the life we will continue to have, after our last day. The bread and wine, or flesh and blood, from Jesus is his life and life-giving qualities.

Many of us take a symbolic and metaphorical approach… but not all of us.

Context matters. It helps us understand what these words mean. For example, the Bible does say in Psalm 14:1, “There is no God.” But in context, it says, “The fool says in their heart, there is no God,” and then goes on to sing praises about God.

Context matters! Throwing Bible versus around out of context gets us things like,  “…then he went away and hung himself,” “and Jesus said, ‘Go away and do likewise.'” (Matthew 25:5b; Luke 10:37c.)

So when you read your Bible, or someone’s quote, ask yourself: what is the context?

Who said this?

Who did they say it to?

Why did they say it?

When? What was going on at that time?

What was said before this?

What was said after this?

And then you can understand the context, and better how this verse, or phrase, or quote was intended to be understood.

The context of “eat my flesh and drink my blood” is very different between church and a horror film.

So where do you stand? What does your God-given wisdom say?

What We Will Be

Luke 24:36-48
1 John 3:1-7 street-preacher

I don’t like the word witness. I REALLY am uncomfortable with the phrase ‘a witness for Christ’ or something similar to that. It throws me back to how many times I’ve witnessed a witness for Christ being a person I never want to associate with.

The first witness that comes to my mind is my old college’s street witness. This witness would come and stand on the sidewalk, get a megaphone, and start screaming at we students as we walked to and from class. I passed him one day wearing jeans and he pointed to me FORNICATOR! WEARING MEN’S CLOTHES! SINNER!

I saw a classmate go up to him once and ask, “What are you doing? No one listens to this hate.”

I AM WITNESSING TO CHRIST!

He helped convince me to run as far away from Christianity as I could by the time college ended.

That kind of witnessing is religious violence.

Religious hate.

Now, of course, if we’re talking about witnessing, we should mention Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah is one way of saying the holy name of God, so their name means God’s Witnesses. One of their core beliefs is they MUST witness. MUST tell others about God.

So as you know, door to door, they go in nicely pressed clothes handing out fliers about God and inviting people to converse.

The good side is this is not violent. It isn’t spreading hate. And it testifies – witnesses – to their convictions.

The bad side is when they show up on Easter morning.

Should we be going door to door talking about our faith? We’d definitely know our neighbors much better. We’d be living into Jesus’ words to bring word of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.

But would we be living into the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations?

That, I don’t know.

Witnessing, testifying about Jesus, speaking about one’s faith, is such a personal thing. Some people respond well to sermons. Some people respond well with coffee conversations. Some people need to see others living their convictions and their impact on the world.

And that’s what makes me uncomfortable with the word witness. What others witness is me: and I hope they see Jesus in my actions.

But they might just witness who I think Jesus is, and not the Christ who is larger than any individual, congregation, or denomination.

Let me give you an example of witnessing that I run into most often. It’s made up, but happens all the time.

There’s a way too happy woman at the checkout lane. She’s almost bouncing where she stands. And as you pass her, she hands you a little leaflet of paper and says, “Have you found your Lord and Savior?”

Now, if I say yes – she’s going to be bubbly and want to talk about how her Lord and Savior is identical to mine. He’s a white man, with blue eyes, who hates the same people she hates and loves the same people she loves. And if I say, “You know, Jesus wasn’t into the hate thing…” the conversation is going to close that happiness off on her. She’s going to get defensive. Angry. I may even hurt her faith by pointing out how the education she’s received at her church, and the Jesus she knows, are not the same education I get at my church, and not the Jesus I know.

On the other hand – if I say no, I haven’t found my Lord and Savior – she’s going to hand me the track and invite me to her church and want me to pray – be convinced she saved my soul today – and she’ll walk away feeling fantastic for hours.

What do I do? Challenge her faith, lie to her, just accept the paper, say nothing, and walk on?

Honestly, that’s the one I usually do. Accept the paper, say nothing, walk on.

I don’t witness to the witness. And her story is the one that gets pushed out. Her story is the Christian story shown on television — where there are a cult of people who act holier-than-thou, who are close-minded, who reject science, who hate those who are different, and who have their eyes on heaven to the point they don’t care about this earth at all — just the salvation of souls.

Frequently, that story is your body is dying. Your body is fallen. Your body is evil. The world is evil. Only the soul matters.

Little children, let no one deceive you. There is more than one Christian narrative. More than one story.

Right from the beginning of Jesus’ arrival as gossip in ancient Israel, people began asking who is Jesus? What is Jesus? Jesus himself asks, “Who is it you say that I am?”

Some say he is a human. A human who God has gifted prophecy, and miracles.

Some say he is the anointed, the Christ, the messiah – who was prophesied about. A foretold leader.

Some say he is a spirit. A spirit who took on a body for awhile, and then took it off.

Some say he is the Word, the Logos, of God, who comes as angels in the Old testament and Jesus in the gospels.

Some say he is wholly God who came into the world as a human to join us more closely.

“Who is it that you say I am?”

Each gospel writer, and even the letters of Paul and in Acts, are trying to answer this question. Who is Jesus?

Luke today witnesses. He writes down the story as he was told it, or witnessed it. Jesus appeared to the disciples. And everyone was terrified because they KNOW Jesus is dead. They saw him dead. They buried him. And yet, here he stands. So they think he is a ghost. While they are panicking yelling ‘ghost!’ Jesus shows them his hands and feet. Maybe he wanted them to see the wounds from the crucifixion. Maybe he wanted them to see he HAD hands and feet, because ghosts at the time were understood to be sort of the floating ghosts whose extremities tapered off into smoke and the ghost sort of hovered over the floor.

Then, and now, we say you can’t TOUCH a ghost. And Jesus invites those men and women — touch me. See. I’m here. I have flesh and bones.

Who is Jesus? Not a ghost.

To further demonstrate he’s alive, Jesus asks for food and eats fish with them.

Who is Jesus? Not a ghost – but some man living who can appear up from the dead and walk through locked doors.

Jesus tells these joyful, astonished people to go and witness — tell about, speak about — what they’ve seen and experienced to all nations. Go and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.

So they do. They go and witness. They go and talk.

And as soon as they do, as you know, people begin to say they’re delusional, drunk, and out of their minds. Who is Jesus? The apostles and early church mothers and fathers struggled to answer this question.

As they began to testify, beginning in Jerusalem and spreading to all nations, they had to use the local language. They had to use local ideas. And they had to use their own understanding of Jesus.

There was confusion on who and what Jesus was when he walked the earth. Magnify that with a resurrection and by several thousand people playing a game of telephone, and you know how crazy different the stories about Jesus got.

After sixty to a hundred years of this, there are stories running around everywhere about who Jesus is, what he did, and where he is now. Our John letter today is either a sermon, or a letter, written by John or about John’s gospel. He says:

Okay – look. Here are the things we know. We are loved by God. So much, we’re called the children of God.

What does that mean? We don’t know. Maybe we’re adopted by God. Maybe we’re angels. Maybe we’re somewhat divine. Maybe we’re God’s children because God made us all. We don’t know.

“What we will be has not yet been revealed.”

Peace.

The author then continues, we don’t know what resurrection means either. We can only testify what we’ve been told — Jesus came back to life, appeared to people and they recognized him sometimes on sight, and sometimes only in his words, and the breaking of bread. Jesus comes in visions, and Jesus comes as a Spirit among us. Jesus appears and disappears and yet we have stories of him being tangibly there. We have no idea what resurrection means. But what we do know is this: when Jesus is fully revealed, we’ll be like him. And we’ll see him as he is. Not dimly. Not with doubts in our hearts and confusion. We’ll be like those early apostles, like “doubting” Thomas, and be filled with joy and finally have understanding. Our minds will be opened to understanding.

But right now? We see through the mirror darkly. We understand things in starts and spurts, but we’re not yet there — face to face with God — to ask.

We just know this: God loves us. We are God’s children. And there is resurrection.

Peace. Be still.

What will be is not yet revealed.

I feel like arguing with our scripture – that is great. Sure. No one knows what the future holds. But how are you supposed to talk about Jesus then? And who is was and is, and what he did and does, and our hope if we cannot fathom the future?

The writer of the letter of John says: your hope is the resurrection in Christ. Whatever that is, now and in the future.

And then Jesus reminds us to just speak about what we know now. What we experience now.

It’s sort of like… not a single person can really communicate who Jesus is. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself.

And two people might see the same movie, and one think it is all about female-empowerment and the other think it is all about true love.

Each person experiences the same Jesus, but we come away with just DIFFERENT experiences. DIFFERENT understandings.

And we can only witness and testify to the Jesus we encountered.

Together, our voices get closer to the truth… but the full truth won’t be revealed until we stand before God face-to-face.

I think back on the witnesses earlier in this sermon. Each was and is testifying who they know their Lord to be. The street preacher knows Jesus as the man who cleaned out the temple with a whip, who yelled ‘get behind me Satan!’ to his own closest friend, and who said it is better to pluck out your eye than to let it sin. A Jesus of preaching. Maybe he is yet to meet the Jesus of peace and love.

The Jehovah’s witnesses know Jesus who save his followers nothing but their clothes and a staff and sent them out, town to town, to preach. The Jesus who walked hundreds of miles on sore feet, and who inspired a woman to wash those abused feet with her own tears and hair. A Jesus who stopped and spoke with all people. A Jesus of relationships. Maybe the ones I have met are yet to meet the Jesus of solitary prayer in the garden.

And the witness handing out Bibles or tracks. She knows the Jesus drenched in scripture, quoting proverbs and psalms and prophets. She knows the Jesus who Paul wrote about, the source of unexplainable joy. She knows the Jesus who commissioned us all to be ministers, witnesses, priests. A Jesus of actions. Maybe she hasn’t yet encountered the still speak, still creating, unpredictable God larger than scripture.

And me. I know the Jesus of peace, but do I know the Jesus of justice?

All of us know Jesus. He just looks really different among us… but he’s still the same Jesus.

Maybe that’s why we’re all called to witness. No one has a monopoly on Jesus. Everyone’s Jesus looks and acts and thinks and feels pretty similar to themselves. So we need each other. We need these other views of Christ to help us understand.

No two relationships looks alike, and this is good. Since we each have a personal relationship with Christ, that relationship is going to look different than other’s.

It makes the ears need the eyes, and the eyes need the toes, and the toes need the hands, and everyone needs the unmentionable parts…

We know God as a mystical trinity – a God who is only God in relationship.

Who is in communion. Communication. Sharing. Witnessing.

What does witnessing look like to you? Preaching, relationships, actions? Prayers, lifestyles, writing?

Who is Jesus to you? A spirit? A mortal man? A Jewish Rabbi? God? Christ? Messiah? Adopted? Incarnate? A miracle worker or prophet?

Go. Witness the truth of the Jesus you encounter.

And go. Hear the truth of the Jesus others encounter.

Amen.

Do Not Fear

DSC_237012 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:26-38

Do not be afraid.

This is a strange greeting, isn’t it? Yet this is how Gabriel, in the Gospel of Luke, says hello to Mary and Zechariah both.

Do not be afraid – this is the greeting the Angels give the shepherds.

“Each word of assurance offered by the angel is not without cause. Indeed, each instance is accompanied by an awe-inspiring, even unusual moment that reasonably sparks wonder and even fear. Indeed, the practice of offering a word of assurance at moments of supernatural wonder and disruption to the norms of daily life is something Jesus takes up in his ministry later in the gospel.” ((Shivey Smith))

Jesus will tell Simon – do not be afraid, from now on, you wish fish for people. To Jarius – do not be afraid! Just believe, and your daughter will be healed. And to the disciples, and to us, Jesus will say, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”

Do not be afraid.

It’s a strange greeting, but maybe one we should use.

Do not be afraid, it is Christmas Eve and the very God who crafted your bones from atoms, and the cosmos from chaos, who has numbered your head hair and set breath in the lungs of dinosaurs and humans alike – has come to us as a helpless baby who can’t even find his fingers to put in his mouth let alone walk, talk, or rule as our prince of peace.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this.

Do not be afraid – Mary – you are favored with a child conceived out of wedlock, to be born in a barn, raised as a refugee, condemned as a criminal, and murdered before your eyes.

But God’s got this.

Do not be afraid, Saint Michael’s – we have God’s favor, too. And it isn’t good times, and wealth. God’s favor isn’t an easy life and endless happiness. God’s favor is messier.

Like – new born diaper messy.

Like – 3-days dead Lazarus messy.

Like – empty tombs and locked doors and miracles and crucifixions and martyrs and loving that person you’d love to hate messy.

God’s favor is an invite to be part of the very re-creation of the world.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and God wants you to be a part of it.

Do not be afraid “functions as an invitation for Mary to do the unusual and the bold for the sake of the entire world because “nothing will be impossible with God”” ((shivey smith))

Do not be afraid is our invitation to step out and do the unusual and the bold too – because the house and kin-dom of God are now forever sure.

The unusual – that which isn’t to be mentioned in polite company – we’re to bring up those topics and causes, and live out that unusual way of reaching out to the outcasts, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the hated. Do not be afraid – you’re going to get filthy on the outside, but inside, you’ll be whiter than snow. Do not be afraid – God is with you.

We’re invited to be bold. To speak the words people do not want to hear. To preach love when everyone is throwing stones. To be God’s advocate when that is anything but popular. But do not be afraid – God is with you.

Anything is possible for God… God does miracles in the Bible, and is doing miracles now. So why does God bother with the messiness of involving us? Rev. Kathryn Matthews of the UCC writes, “we suppose that God could have chosen to save the world, to fulfill God’s promises of old all on God’s own; after all, nothing is impossible with God.

However, this humble but earth-shaking conversation [between Mary and Gabriel] tells us that God wants humanity to be part of the effort, even if it makes things much more complicated and even difficult (which it does): As Brian K. Peterson writes, “God apparently is not willing to do this behind our backs or without our own participation” (New Proclamation Year B 2008).”

Think about it – if you’re not invested into the world, will you care for it?

If you don’t have ownership, will you protect it?

I hear this time of year many people complain that kids have too many belongings, that everything is handed to them, and they don’t appreciate what they have then.

I hear all the time that said about my own generation.

There’s some truth to this, and it has nothing to do with age or generation. It has to do with investment.

I care more about those things I have spent time on, loved, prayed over, hoped for, and fought for. I care more about what I have tangibly put my hands on than what I have only a dim understanding of.

I care more about people I know, then those I don’t know.

You’re likely the same.

Maybe, God comes with this strange greeting of ‘do not be afraid’ and then leaps into humanity on humanity’s terms as a messy baby to get us more invested, more involved, with the cares of God – with the cares of re-creating the world into a place of love, hope, peace and joy.

Maybe we have a hard time loving the hard to fathom God of the universe… but we know how to love a baby, a child, a person. And so, God in the flesh, invites us to start loving others here.

And, maybe you can’t really care about a billion people you’ve never met… but you can care very dearly for your neighbor. And God says – yes! Do it. Love them deeply. Do not be afraid – I got this – But I want you to be a part of it, doing your own small part.
Here we are – our last Sunday of Advent, on Christmas Eve it’sself – what charity am I going to speak about?

Our own. Where we are doing our small part.

I’m talking about the moms and dads, grandparents, and aunts and uncles and friends and cousins in Baltimore and around the city who are sitting down today to eat a meal you donated.

I’m talking about the kids who don’t have to worry about if there will be breakfast tomorrow on Christmas morning because of you.

The Baltimore Thurston Food Pantry is our charity for today. It is messy. It is chaotic. It is God’s work in our community. It is an unusual and bold way God invites us to work alongside God.

Yes, there are food stamps. These takes weeks to apply and receive. People tend to like to eat every day and not once every few weeks.

Yes, there is emergency assistance. What if your emergency lasts a month – or two – before you’re able to find another job?

Yes, there are people ‘cheating the system.’ What does Tabitha do to earn a resurrection? What does Lazarus do? What have you done to earn God’s love?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

God just loves you. And we’re called to just love others.

No qualifications asked.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and wants us to get involved too.

Needing a gift for that hard-to-buy-for-person who has everything? Now? In the final hours? Consider donating in their name.

From manger to temple, and from senate and house to our local food pantry – from the lowly to high and high to lowly – God is working, and inviting us, to make the vertical world horizontal, to be bold, to be unusual, to love justice and walk humbly and let our lives be our message of God’s radical love.

Amen.