Adv3: Do Zephaniah 3:14-20 Luke 3:7-18

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Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord. [NRSV:OT]

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”  In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. 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.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. [NRSV:NT]

Actions have consequences

  • When we do what God asks of us to do God is revealed and order and justice follows.
  • When we do not do what God asks of us we make God look bad, and chaos follows.
  • And inaction neither reflects God nor ourselves.
  • Key words: repentance, rejoice, festivity 

JOY Interrupts!

This week in the Advent season is known as the Sunday of joy. The Pink candle is the interruption of “Joy” to remind us of why we prepare for Christmas.  

Don’t rush ahead to the end of the story though, the Joy begins with God’s desire to love us, bless us, and to restore us from the chaos.  Rather than only finding meaning at the end of the journey, it is important for us to cherish the joy found along the way.

Did you ever know someone named, Zephaniah? The prophet’s text promises that the people’s fortune and future have been changed from judgment to hope, from destruction to restoration, from oppression to liberation and from dread to praise (Zeph. 3:14-20). 

This message comes in the process. Too often we are discontent and give up hope when the struggle is long, chronic and weary. Advent is our intentional infusion of joy into the journey toward Christ.

As those who know this hope in a 21st century world who is rushing toward winning, success and ‘profit’, little if any attention is give to the prophetic words of hope and joy before we arrive.

In the gospel text, John the Baptizer opens the curtains before those who seek to stop and thwart goodness and godliness of the coming of the One, the Messiah, who will bring a new act of salvation, (Lk. 3:7-18). 

The festivity right now center on the “Doing.” God has promised to change the people’s plight from a world of corruption, misplaced faith, failed authority, captivity under an oppressive powers, and inequities and injustices severely affecting the whole community. 

In the Old Testament passage we see the trouble when the spiritual folks, those concerned for holiness, worship, love for the poor, respect for God’s laws were all abandoned, and the prophet was sent to call the covenant people on it!

Eventually, God’s mercy is granted, and the promise expressed in the final chapter of Zephaniah’s divine oracle brings a new beginning. There is a song of joy in the air and a call to Do! This tiny word has a message of assurance and comfort.

“Do” implies that some action can help turn things around. In 3:16-17, we hear the prophet’s message: “On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: DO NOT FEAR, O ZION; DO NOT LET YOUR HANDS GROW WEAK. THE LORD, YOUR GOD IS IN YOUR MIDST.” 

The DO is to a call to worship, to praise, to celebrate, to recall the words of promise, the remember God is for us, to remind one another we are called to love even though we have not always been loving. The results: “Loud singing, a day of festival, disaster removed, renewal in God’s love and much more” (Zeph. vv. 17-18). 

In the gospel, What is the good news? 

  1. God loves us even though some consequences we bring upon ourselves, and some are the ripe or rotten fruit of others. (My bee hive) (National politics) (trusting others to ‘do’ for us – user/consumer mentality) God still loves us, longs for our trust,
  2. The “DO” that we are beginning is in our 2Mile Ministry. [INTRO TO PREPARE FOR 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS] the work we “DO” now is in anticipation of the joy we will share.
  3. We need Folks to share gifts to our neighbors through 2mile to show love without cost, hospitality of grace and the welcome of Christian community.

SIGN UPS: 2mile and 12 Days of Christmas for our neighbors…. anticipation of the hope to share!

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Advent 1 Stand Jer. 33:14-16 Luke 21:25-36

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Key words: hope, redemption, alert

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” [NRSV: Jr 33.14-16]

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.  [NRSV Lk 21:25-36]

Today we begin the four-week journey toward meeting Jesus, born anew in our lives, at Christmas. We call this time of preparing our ADVENT of Christmas. This is not Christmas, it is the anticipation and journey toward Christmas.

Advice: Don’t be in a hurry for Christmas, we might miss Christ when Christmas Day arrives.

Our first call is to Seek God’s Righteousness/Goodness

The Prophet Jeremiah pronounces that there is a coming of the Lord’s Righteousness and the world will see Justice and God’s understanding of what is Right and Wrong.

Frances has a wonderful opportunity through school to be an exchange student. She will be living in South Africa this summer and her new friend Amy will come to live with us this fall.  So as any family would, we have been learning a great deal about that country. For all the faults that every nation has, 80% of the country is Christian and of that significant portion, 80% attend church regularly. Why is church more popular in that part of the world? They have issues of justice that the nation continues to struggle through. I am interested to learn how God is showing up to help bring peace and safety, which we all seek.

The prophetic work in our weeks prior to Christmas come as an opportunity to study and practice what it means to live in AND show the world God’s righteous way of thinking, behaving and believing.

Jeremiah speaks of the work of a singular, tender branch keeping the family tree’s promise alive. God is not measuring us by volume, rather by faithfulness. POINT: Have Hope that God will use us, even in our weakest moments, by directing ourselves toward God.

Turn and Stand Up

Jeremiah invites us to TURN our minds to God in Advent. The Gospel reading from Luke challenges us to STAND UP.  Don’t be a “pew potato”. Don’t think it is someone else’s responsibility. Don’t wait for wind to blow your sails, move yourself into the blowing of the Holy Spirit.

This season is a time to begin the journey by Standing Up. The work of witnessing Righteousness and caring out Justice are the journey.

The first action of every journey is to get up and prepare to move, prepare to take action, prepare to face the apparent overwhelming odds that nothing will change for God if we sit here and wait until we die. Stand up! is the call.

It is in Luke’s gospel that we hear Jesus tender sprouts of the fig tree that will bear fruit even though it has been dormant and lifeless. This is much like the prophet Ezekiel call to preach and prophesy to the valley of dry bones calling for them to prepare to form and army, prepare to have the breath of God in your lungs and hearts.

Jesus tells the disciples that terrible signs and calamities will surround us, but this will be the best time to see Jesus showing up. When you know Jesus is near, STAND UP, life up your heads and follow.

The crisis times in our lives and in the life of the church are the very times that we prepare to TAKE A STAND, prepare to lift up our heads and affirm JESUS’s presence and hope for the world.

In a world divided by fear and ideologies, take action, and take action in the strength of Christ.

Thank goodness Advent is a time of preparing because we are not collectively ready to advance. But we are at the moment of standing up.

The opportunity of showing up! C. S. Lewis is quoted saying:

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. C. S. Lewis

  • TURN TOWARD GOD
  • PREPARE TO STAND UP
  • LIFT UP YOUR HEADS

Third: starting this Advent Journey requires HOPE.

The challenge given to us by the world, by our denomination, by our community is to be the presence of God’s HOPE for those who are in our circles of influence.

SIDE NOTE: Our circle of influence is not only those that we come in contact in our daily living, but also those whom we could be in contact with in each day. 

Simply summaries,

We begin Advent as a quest to find Christ in our own lives, but committing/recommitting our attention toward God, Begin my taking the first step toward God, and carrying the flag of Hope for a world that is looking to ideological approval, material feed happiness and lost in raging waters of despair, grief, doubt and fear. Yuck!

Pray with me:

Lord Turn my heart and mind and soul toward you.

Give me your strength to move from this stationary place into living that is fueled by your power.

Keep your hope in me that I might shine that life and light for someone else.

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Christ the King 2018

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2 Samuel 23:1-7 Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel: The spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue.  The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand; to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot. [NRSV]

Revelation 1:4b-8  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account, all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. [NRSV]

John 18:33-37 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this, I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” [NRSV]

The cross-section of kingdoms of David, Herod, Jesus and the Lord God in heaven make for a day for us to look at authority, praise, faithfulness, divinity, humanity and to sort out who truly is our king.

The final words of King David speak of God’s power and trustworthiness. God is like the sunrise on a cloudless morning or the glistening of the dew upon the grass. These are beautiful images but the heart for us is our connection is in God’s covenant with the People of God.

God’s ability to hold up both ends of faithfulness, God’s part and our own, is what is the witness of God’s awesome power.

COVENANT is the greatest power. (This is God’s exercise and witness of loving grace.)

Secondly, we see the SACRIFICIAL self-lessness of God that cannot be compared to any earthly kingdom.

As Jesus stands before Gov. Pilate, plainly says his kingdom is above all kingdoms, and yet does not save himself that the world might be saved through him.

Finally, in the Holy of Holies at the very throne of heaven, Jesus seated at the right hand of God, carries the marks and signs of his suffering and selflessness for all people to REMEMBER and know, by his stripes, we are made whole.

COVENANT, SACRIFICE, REMEMBRANCE — Jesus is King!

  • Reason for our Thanksgiving
  • Reason for our Praise
  • Reason for our Repentance

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the Christian year. We end our calendar and fiscal years in December, but today is the conclusion of another year in the reign of Christ.

What is the state of the church?

  • We have celebrated the completion of paying off the indebtedness for our building
  • We have prayed over dozens of prayer quilts
  • We have given thousand$ in food, clothes and other assistance to those in need.
  • We have sacked hundreds of meals for children
  • We have gathered to worship, pray, sing and praise for 52 more Sundays
  • We have baptized persons in faith and welcomed new members
  • We have honored and remembered members who have died and gone ahead to heaven
  • We have read and studied for hundreds of hours in Sunday School, classes and studies.

We have a final question to answer:

What does it mean for me to know Jesus is ‘my’ king.

  1. What is my end of the covenant? Have I been faithful to God’s call in my life?
  2. Have I given sacrificially of my prayers, attendance, gifts, service, and witness?
  3. Do we this day, choose to repent of our faults, failures, & excuses and
  4. today REAFFIRM the Jesus is my king? Is our King?

If so, repeat these:

  1. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.
  2. Forgive my thoughts, words and deeds that have hurt you, others and myself
  3. I repent for the times my words and actions said NO when you asked for a YES.
  4. I am your servant, You are my King.
  5. He Lives! Jesus Christ lives in me, in us, today!

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Psalm 146: 1- 10 “Put No Trust in Princes”

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Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long. Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD! [NRSV]

It is one thing to complain about division in the world; it is another to offer the solution.

Praise the Lord! Is the solution.

Serve the Lord! Is the solution.

Share the Lord! Is the solution.

Our culture and intellect has pressed diligently from every direction to belittle, dis-empower, and reject God and our faith in God, all the while replacing God’s purpose for creation and humanity with a chaos of something “other”, “non-” or “the anti/pro” or some lowest common denominator of the strongest voice or wealthiest player.

It is actually not a new behavior: Look at Psalm 53:1 NIV

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.

The fruit of cultivating a culture without God returns us to chaos, destruction, and emptiness.

  • When the world is in chaos, turn to the one who orders life and light out of chaos.
    • Praise the Lord instead.
  • When the political boxing area calls for title fights,
    • Praise the Lord instead.
  • When we think about placing hope OR blaming trust in someone who is one breath away from their last breath,
    • Praise the Lord instead!
  • When God is the one breathes that breath of life into us all.
    • Praise the Lord!!

Happiness is found by those who have faith in the Lord. The Lord who gives structure to life, and good – justice and faith. Vs 6

Happy, joyful and at-peace are the who find God’s purpose as our purpose.. it is the puzzle piece finding its part in the wholeness when it finds its place in the puzzle’s place and not in its own empty box.

We hear Jesus’s words from the New Testament in the verses 7-8. The core of what we know as the Great Commission for disciples: Giving Justice to the oppressed, food the hungry, freedom for those in prison, vision/insight to the blind. In verse 9 we hear Jesus’s word from the Sermon on the Mount calling for the humble to be lifted up and to care for the stranger, the orphan and the widow.

Political Talk / Silence

First, we talk too much about politics.  Don’t let this be an excuse to avoid politics, but think of it this way, for every hour you spend reading and listening to news and editorials about politics, spend two hours in prayer, bible study and serving others in the name of Jesus Christ.

For those who want to avoid the reality of conflict and controversy but not listening to any news, time trying to ignore the conversations, spend twice that time reading the bible, praying and serving others in Jesus name.

For those who think this invitation is speaking to someone more than yourself, then its time for a wakeup call and spend three times as much effort praying, studying and serving others for the purposes of Jesus Christ.

Exercise for Healing

  • Turn off the TV, social media and get face to face with the people of God and study the word
  • Turn off the worry and fear and model for the world what it means to have faith in the chaos.
  • Turn off the excuses and silence and let your service and worship clearly point to Christ in the world.

Jesus said he was the Way and the Truth. Following Jesus and you bring light to what is dark and evil. Follow the way of princes and political parties and their way leads to a cliff, not a wall.

Hear the core of this Psalm: Our hope is in the Lord, Praise the Lord.

Bottom line: praise the Lord who is

  • strong enough,
  • gracious enough and is
  • the salvation of all generations.

The world is telling us today that, our voice and our place, we are not only wrong, but they are also bold enough to say we are oppressive, abusive and wrong.

The Struggle:

  • If the world does not trust prayer, we must intercede until they do.
  • If the world does not trust scripture, we must read, listen and follow until they do.
  • If the world does not listen to our songs of praise, sing until they do.
  • If the world does not love as Christ loves, then love until they do.
  • If the world does not follow and find its pieces fitting into God’s puzzle and plan, then find your place and invited the pieces next to you to find their hearts true home and fit.

Be the praise, Be the voice, Be the Word, Be the presence. Be the witness. Be the song. Be the church.

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Mark 10:46-52 “What would you ask of Jesus?”

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They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. [NRSV]

Key Question #2

At the core of our 2 Mile Neighborhood Ministry is asking on Jesus’s behalf: “What can I do for you?”

In preparation of hearing our neighbor’s requests it is a good idea to answer the question for ourselves.

If you could ask Jesus to do one thing for you…

  • one thing for our nation what would it be?
  • one thing for each county of central and South American?
  • one thing for the people of the gulf coast and North Carolina?
  • one thing for the people of Pittsburg?
  • one thing for our church?
  • one thing for our school or work?
  • one thing about your marriage what would it be?
  • one thing for you yourself?

Playing the Free Lottery Game

With the billion and a half lottery prize millions of people played both the free and paid version of the game. Over three billion paid to play, but many others played the free option. It’s the game you play in your head and occasionally share with others: “what would I do if I won the money?

The question is to ask ourselves is that if these are things that we have as goals and dreams, then work toward them and don’t waste our money in the mean time. [3+ BILLION tickets lost in the investment for the single winner.]

The helpful part of the process can be our goal setting. People tell me, their pastor, “if I win you know I will give a big part to the church as a thank you.”

That is a good place to start, for every dollar we waste it could be a dollar invested in sharing the love God. So be informed.

The invitation to ask Jesus for what we want?  (Wants / Needs)

In our Bible reading, Ol’ Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus pleading for Jesus to heal his blindness. Through persistent Bart gains Jesus’s attention and audience. What do you want of me? It is one of the most obvious questions in scripture.

Keeping our Sights on our Blindness

In answering the question for ourselves we offer Jesus the very thing that we cannot do for ourselves.

The obvious thing for Bart is the ability to see. As those who see many options and opportunities we are invited to reflect on the invitation before we ask.

  • We can work and earn wealth but we cannot become whole without Grace
  • We can build and trade for things but we cannot offer what we do not have
  • There is a moment when the blind outcast comes uncloaked, vulnerable and empty and asks a Jesus to fill him with healing and wholeness

We pray for persons to be healed every Sunday and every day…

What does our nation need?, it has nothing to do with who we elect or send to Washington DC or the State capital– if we are trust people who have no respect for what God can do through their leadership, we will waste our vote. Blindly following any political agenda causes us to be limited and cloaked.

It is time to be uncloaked and vulnerable.

And from that place of empty nakedness be filled and clothed in righteousness, trust, respect and love. The history separation of church and state was to protect the CHURCH from becoming a tool of the state, but our society has swung the pendulum away from morality and people of faith are mistrusted. We have allowed our moral witness to remain hidden and cloaked. For those who worship power, greed, anger, fear, and correctness will never be satisfied.

We have it bass-ackwards.
We wonder why people can get along in DC and we don’t get along with our neighbors.

  • We need to pray for leaders who are willing to learn to swim in deep waters relying on each other’s best to keep us afloat.
  • We can see clearly that attacking and holding grudges and carrying blame and a quest for credit and honor do NOT serve us well at all.
  • As a nation we saw our continental congress willing to died for the nation rather than praying for they opponents to be killed.

I pray that our nation and the nation of the whole world see the blindness of power, greed anger, rage and fear are not our best lords and master. For if these are our prize we shall certainly died bitter, divided and alone.

Our Role in the Parade

It is time that we cease to be advocates of politicians and armchair news re-casters rather we become the voice of invitation? The raiders of questions rather than the defender of answers.

  • Trust reveals truth
  • Persistence reveals opportunity
  • Uncloaking opens us to faith

Lord put me to all things and to no things brought high or made low having all things or have none. Make us on earth to be as it is in heaven we’re your Will is respected, loved and proclaimed.

The world is hungry for God and instead we are outraged over fabricated chaos that we have no ability to answer.

We are called to pray for one another and pray for God to heal and lead us.

We are called to serve and not to be served. “Ask not what you want from government,  rather ask what Christ can do for you.”

ANSWERS: What do I want from Jesus…

Before I answer, may I step in faith asking for what I cannot fix/solve/resolve/heal

Stand vulnerable before Christ and ask the for the obvious:

Make me whole, make me yours.

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Mark 10:35-45

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James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;  but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.  So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” [NRSV]
One of the greatest threats to the church is the perception of belonging. The church does not belong to us, it belongs to God. We are the church, in Christ Jesus.
Without Jesus we are only a community organization of people attempting to show kindness for some self-serving reasons. That is not the church. Jesus came to serve us. In living, dying, rising Christ serves us as example for living, gracious salvation and eternal life: All this done as witness of God’s love for us.
A dangerous position is for us to think of how the church serve us. We ask is the church meeting my needs? Is it doing my job of parenting? Is it entertaining my attention? Am I getting a good return on my investment of tithes and offerings? Do I get enough attention, power and support?
If we ever ask ourselves any of these questions above, we are not serving Christ.
Jame and John have been following Jesus, going where Jesus sends them, attending worship and study with Jesus, they have been doing whatever he needed. They felt they had earned a “point-of-privilege.”
The powerful relevance of the church is lost when we IN the church switch places from serving to being served.
This comes at every age and level of participation. For life-time members, we feel we have earned a place for others to serve — its time for to receive the fruit of our labors. For visitors and our newest members we are just getting connected and others should make a way for us. As children and youth, our parents and grand parents and other ‘grown-ups’ should do for us. If you have ever thought, the minister/preacher/pastor should do this or that.. most likely it is a place God is calling you to serve.
Tommye McCoy, a forty-four year Christian Education Minister taught me the secret of the ordain ministry: You should do 100% of what God calls you to do and 90% of what the church expects you to do.
So here we are. We introduced our new “2 Mile” ministry goal. We are claiming the responsibility to reach out to the over 1000 people who live within 2 miles of our address.
Our ministry will ultimately be to serve Jesus Christ with these persons in two primary ways: 1) Prayer, and 2) Service.
We are going to model an introductory conversation this morning  (call on leaders to help)
1. Member: Knock/Ring “Hello my name is “John” I am a member of Rock Spring UMC and we would like to pray for you today. Is there something you would like for us to pray with you about something? some need? some concern?
Neighbor: Yes. My husband is having surgery  /  No. I have a church
Member: We would love to pray for him. What is his name and when is the surgery?  /            We are glad you have a church, we are only wanting to pray today, if you like
Neighbor: His name is Henry, it’s next Tuesday.  /  No thank you,
Member:   Let’s pray right now. “Jesus, we lift Henry to you today and pray for his surgery. We pray for the doctors and nurses and all will give him care. Fill him with your Holy Spirit as we pray for his healing and wholeness today. Amen  /  I will share this with our prayer team right away.
2. Member: Is there something we can do to serve you today?
Neighbor:  No, thank you  / Yes,  Can you bring my mail in from the mail box, pick up a paper, rake my leaves, Can you give my husband and I a ride to the hospital on Tuesday.
Member:  I’d love to help.  /  I’m not available Tuesday but I will find someone at the church, may I call you this afternoon when I find a ride? What is the best number to call?
Neighbor: Great, here is my number   /   No, get off my porch and don’t come back!
Member: Bless you!
Member –> update the office with the prayer, and find some people to help serve, x 1000 neighbors.  [200 members each contacting 5 neighbor in the next 12 months.]
In this process we are SHOWING Christ to our neighbors
In this ministry we are reminding each other that our work as Christians is to serve
In this reaching out, we show the world around us GOD at work.
In this service, we trust the Holy Spirit to lead, protect and empower us.
We are going to practice today and for the next several weeks.
Some of you will reach out to people door to door
Some of you can call on the phone
Some of you will talk with people wherever to are or travel
Some of you will be ready to prayer
Some of you will be ready to drive, rake, clean, feed, shop, visit, sit, paint or more
Some of you will help up stay organized in this process
Some of you will help us follow up with our neighbors.
ALL OF US need to SHARE this ministry.
We all know that our Denomination and all our churches are headed for some rocky and rough weather, rather than sit here and wait for trouble…
WE ARE GOING TO BE THE CHURCH
We are going to witness being the body of Christ
We are going to serve and pray
We are going to depend on EVERY member to help in this ministry
We are going to hold each other in prayer and accountability.
And when we are done with this ministry. We are going to celebrate how God has used us to multiply loaves and fishes.
We are going to share stories of how people’s lives are set free in Christ
We are going to look forward to all that God has in store for us in the years ahead.
We are going to SHOW Rock Spring and the world that Jesus Christ lives in us!
Are you with me.

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Homecoming, by another way Oak Grove 2018 Matthew 2:7-12

Homecoming, by another way Oak Grove 2018

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. [NRSV]

I have such wonderful memories of racing out from Emerson to Euharlee and trying to beat the long coal train heading to-and-from the Bowen. It is so good to be back. I have been here on a cold and snowing morning when it was only two, and no more and we had Good Preaching. So I hope that is the case today. I am proud to see the growth of the ministries and good work at Oak Grove and am honored to be with you today.

I began to think back about the years I was pastor, student and neighbor. The years would have been between 1985 and 1989. Some remarkable things happened while we were in ministry together:

• The infamous “New Coke” was released, The Titanic found, The first report of Mad Cow disease

• and Madonna was holding the place Taylor Swift holds today. Michael Jackson released his “Bad” album and MTV actually played music videos.

• The Kroger in Cartersville and Town Center Mall opened. The news of the Atlanta Olympics was

• The movies out during that time included: Back to the Future, Top Gun and Dirty Dancing

• Some notable songs were: Walk like an Egyptian, The theme from Phantom of the Opera, and We are the World.

• Imagine back to the time of the start of the Internet, the first Game Boy and Nintendo, The first intel processor and MS Office and Windows debuted.

• We were witnesses of Haley’s comet, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and removal of the Berlin Wall with Mr Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.

• People were watching: “The Cosby Show”, “Cheers”, “Hill Street Blues”, Johnny Carson, Magnum PI and the start of the Simpsons.

We are not the same people today. The world has changed and is changing in a whirlwind of transformation. As our denomination looks ahead to the Winter of 2019 we know that more change is to be expected.

As important it is to look back and remember from where we have come, it is the witness of the magi that call us to look to the present and prepare for the future.

I have always found it remarkable that the Bible contains the story of people of faith who look for God in the movement of the starts, in a distant country with a different culture and perspectives and yet God is self-revealing in all creation.

I had a conversation with young man in his mid-twenties who was convinced that there was no need for God. The wonders and marvels of creation were but the finely tuned change of random variables that brought him more peace and “common sense” to his perspective. I asked him from where did the forces of gravity, fission, fusion, physics, mathematic and love evolve. He uncomfortably had no clear answer except to say they were only explained as observations that followed rather than formed the universe. He left the conversation and went home the same person. I hope that some of the conversation helped change his fears and desire to control rather than to follow and trust.

We live in a divided culture that is more segregated than at any moment in our lifetimes. The struggles leading through Civil Rights Era and the Civil War are not our finest moments. Now more than ever are we needing to make a life-giving, hope-sharing, love-trusting impact on the world around us.

When I was at Oak Grove I was married to Sarah Jane, who search the Cassville Church for a couple of the years. We enjoyed covered dish dinners, singings, and being with you in worship and in your homes. That is no longer the relationship that shapes my life. She loved the idea of being married much more than being married to me. I didn’t share that at the time, as I was immature and unwilling to share what it mean to fully share what it means to be a community of faith. I finally learned that 1) clergy are people who struggle with marriage too, 2) I’d be happier unmarried or married for a few years than to be miserable for 50 pretending a marriage. 3) I have learned that God’s path for us is only as straight and narrow as our willingness to trust. But grace goes before, with and behind us.

Now I have three children: Susanna at Stanford, Luke at 1st Leu in the AF, and Frances a sophomore studying AP Chinese and my wife Wendy is beginning her second career in Insurance. (If you ever seen the Hot-ones sign, a Hardees star, a Georgia Tourism commercial or a magazine in a plastic bag you have seen her work.) The past ten years we have cared for her parents in our home, her mom having Dementia and her father having Kidney failure, was not the road that we had planned, but God has carried us through a different way that blessed and shaped us profoundly.

Why the Wise-men passage on Home Coming?

During my years at Emerson and Oak Grove, Singer, James Taylor, released a song by David Bailey called, Home By Another Way. David Bailey was the son of a Presbyterian minister. As a fellow preacher’s kid the song resonated with me: Here was a famous hippy trippy ballad rocker singing about a bible verse: Not the paths that typically cross. Listen to the lyrics of his song:

Those magic men the Magi, Some people call them wise, Or Oriental, even kings, Well anyway, those guys

They visited with Jesus, They sure enjoyed their stay, Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme

They went home by another way

Steer clear of royal welcomes, Avoid a big to-do, A king who would slaughter the innocents, Will not cut a deal for you, He really, really wants those presents, He’ll comb your camel’s fur

Until his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts, Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh

Time to go home by another way

Home is where they want you now, You can more or less assume that you’ll be welcome in the end

Mustn’t let King Herod haunt you so, Or fantasize his features when you’re looking at a friend

Well it pleasures me to be here, And to sing this song tonight, They tell me that life is a miracle, And I figured that they’re right, But Herod’s always out there, He’s got our cards on file

It’s a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch, Old Herod likes to take a mile

It’s best to go home by another way

Home by another way

What does it mean to Go Home, by another way?

To God home is hopefully a place of security, grounding and belonging.

Hear the Good News: God’s home, “Oikos”, is with us! With us!

It starts in a garden, it travels in a wilderness, it crosses paths in the crucifixion, it opens through an empty tomb, it blow as the wind around us, and surrounds us.

We are not who were once were:

In Christ we are those who make straight the paths for others

In grasp of the Holy Spirit we are those who open hearts and conversations

In the love of God we are those who God is creating new life and ways of living.

I regret that I must leave without a longer visit but I am leading a class for the district to build our skills in sharing Difficult Conversations as churches and church folks. As I look back on the Roads and Paths that God has lead, carried, and immersed me, I see at:

• Oak Grove taught me that God can take a mustard seed an make something grand and purposeful beyond our dreams.

• Grant Park I learned from one of the most diverse congregations in the Southeast what it means to share love

• In some other congregations I learned what looks like when we live in fear, pride, greed and worship of self.

• At Candler and Gammon I learned how to prepare for God to use me in changing ministry conditions.

• At Rock Spring I am ready to see how God will lead us into being a relevant part of the body of Christ in the 21st century.

The message I have received from much prayer, much prayer, much study, much conversation, much reflection, writing and reading is this:

1. Change is to be assuredly expected. (It is ok to embrace change, WHEN God leads us.)

2. What will be has not yet been revealed.

3. But when it is revealed: Count on seeing Jesus or not seeing at all.

• Therefore it is all important to make our home in God who does not change.

• Therefore it is essential that we find our way through what has been revealed.

• Therefore it is our purpose, passion and path to stick with Jesus, not for our sake but for Christ.

God Lord, we give thanks for these and all other blessing, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

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Hebrews 4:12-16 Grace in times of Need

throneofgod (2)Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [NRSV]

A large part of what is dividing our church is summed up in this passage from Hebrews.

  • The Word of God is living and active. (Not an idol that is worshiped.)
  • The Word of God is not always comforting.
  • The Word of God divides the soul from the spirit, joints from the marrow.
  • The Word judges thoughts of our minds and intentions of our hearts.
  • We have more than a written word, Jesus Christ, our high priest,
  • exposes all that is good and all that is evil,
  • all that is fired up and that which lukewarm and that this is cold and empty.

Our response to place our whole self in Jesus’s program, team and alumni program.

Approach the Throne of Grace with BOLDNESS So that we by RECEIVE Mercy and find God and Grace in our time of need.

  • When do we Need God’s grace?
  • When we have sinned and fallen short
  • When we have faithfully followed, praise and serve.
  • When we forget that we are naked before God.
  • How does a team take the field in college football?
    • Assuming they will lose or
    • Confident they will win?
    • Somewhere in between?

Go onto the field of your daily life with BOLDNESS seeking MERCY and GRACE

Run passionately toward the goal in Christ,

  1. Scripture is alive, meaningful and powerful
  2. Jesus Christ is our High Priest, our Worship Leader, our present Guide
  3. Live BOLDLY trusting you are naked without being clothed in Christ.
  4. knowing you will be renewed, refreshed and whole in Christ with Mercy and Grace.

Simply Sermon: Taking God seriously only when we

 

 

 

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Psalm 19 “Finding God’s Story”

heavens

The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard, yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens, he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is a great reward. But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. [NRSV]

Begin with the ending:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”

Some preachers quote this verse as a little insurance policy. “I hope what I say is acceptable to you because I’m standing up here in front of everyone speaking in your name.” At best, we quote this verse as a declaration: that what comes out of our mouths should reflect God that is revealed in the world around us; God who is our foundation and salvation.

This passage is not just for preachers: All who are in Christ speak of God’s work, love, plan, and law, even if we never say a word. We need God to live and share the life that is joyful, full and true.

Seeing God in the Heavens

Look to the heavens to see the presence and power of God.

The heavens are telling the glory of God’s purpose and abilities.

The earth reveals the evidence of God’s work and plans.

  • God is with us, “Day by Day”
  • One image of God is that of an engine who designs a grand machine, starts the motor and sits back to see what the creation will do.
  • The Psalmist is proclaiming that God is with us every day and every night.
  • Speaking without words and sounds: The witness of design and process.
  • The stars, planets, comets, asteroids, light, dark matter, energy, and gravity are evident even though we have no words to create them, nor order them, nor change them.
  • There is beauty in the heavens, as a groom and bride look at one another and see with love and joy.

Seeing God in the Workings of the Earth

The earth is working like a strong laborer that takes no break and strives with joy that is unending.

  • The seasons and calendars to measure and plan,
  • the way seeds and soil work together,
  • the way water and clouds work,
  • the way populations are reproduced, t
  • the way air and nutrients sustain all that is living.

Together All things work together to witness God is present and working with us.

The Sun, stars, and planets are the beginning and the ends, they are interdependently operating in a connected system. The light and heat of the sun is greater than anything we can create

2. The Law of the Lord is perfect [enough for all things, people, and times.]

The purpose of the Law of the Lord is to revive the soul.

  • Decrees are sure, both simple and wise
  • Precepts are right, to give joy to the heart and soul.
  • Commandments are clear, informative, pure, enduring,
  • Ordinances are true and righteous

Together these are of more value that much-refined gold and sweeter than fresh, raw honey from the hive.

3. We See and Know, but so what?

The purpose of the Law is to be a warning.

Our reward is found in keeping the Law…

4. Why bother and Where to Start?

Problem: Who can determine who, when, why, how we have not kept them all truly?

Solution: God clears me from my faults, failures, sins and all evil…

  • Protect me from those who tempt and lure, entice, me from your power and law..
  • Protect me from me. Don’t’ let others have dominion, rule, power or control of my life, purpose, work, and joy.
  • If you protect me,  I will be blameless, if I am left alone will be lost in my transgressions.
  • THEREFORE. Protect me from what I say, think, do and believe.

I need you to save me and be the one who I trust

  • in all things,
  • at all times,
  • in all ways.

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Numbers 21:4b-9 Snake bitten, the reality of evil.

..but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. [NRSV]

The snakes remind us that Moses and the Hebrews were in the wilderness. They were not in their regular place of what now seems like comfort and ease. (Even though the we slaves and had no freedom, they were given food and had regular shelter and a general sense of privacy and home.) In the Wilderness there were no comforts, no food lines, no house, no bed, and snakes. Remembering the scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, he and heroin, Marion, they are lowed into the Well of Souls where there were countless asps, lethal vipers in every direction.

“Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?” *Getty Image

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford): “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”Indiana Jones: (Passing a torch) “Take this. Wave it at anything that slithers.” Marion: “Thanks. Oh, my God! This whole place is slithering!”

Whether your comfort level is high or low, snakes are the villain from Adam and Eve, to Ka and Mogli, to Harry Potter and Nagini, to the numerous Snakes on an airplane. So it is, they remain a symbol of threat, danger, fear and evil.

One of the most common complaints about God from those who are outside the faith, is that if God is so loving and knowledgable when would God allow evil to harm God’s chosen people? Why do bad things happen to God’s people? Why would a loving God send snakes out to punish grumbling people? Thing how faithfully the Hebrews had done following Moses out of Egypt and traveled in the Wilderness, shouldn’t they at least be allowed some room to complain when the conditions are less than usual and a good bit uncomfortable?

Think about the Wilderness of the world today, don’t we deserve some special protection if not some comforts… The catch is Moses promised them a land of freedom. But that does not mean a freedom from struggle. Even God shows God’s desire and willingness to work six of seven days.

God charges Moses with the task of “Making a poisonous snake” and place it on a pole. I don’t suppose Moses was suppose to make a live poisonous snake? He makes one of bronze and puts it on a pole, and it become a restorative tool of resurrection and resuscitation from those who are bitten by the servants in the wilderness.

God does not stop the snakes from bitting. God does not scare off the snakes and prohibit them from threatening the people. People are still painfully bitten and suffer the affects of poison, but there are offered a remedy… resurrection, as their healing salvation.

Evil is a real power and it causes us pain and suffering. But we have a remedy, we hav a cure, we have Salvation in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

The lesson is that we face the painful bite of fear, struggle, pain and death as people of God, but God has a sign that is our salvation: It is found in the resurrection of Christ, raised up on the cross for the world to see, that death no longer is the end. But never everyone is forced to look to God for the salvation.

So what do we do with this passage in our wilderness?

Where is evil biting us?

What is it that threatens our lives?

What brings fear into our sleepless nights?

What worry do we carry to school and work and home each day?

We have a sign::

We have more than a sign, we have a living SAVIOR

not made of bronze, not written in words, not limited to our minds and calculations

Where there is evil in our hearts and the world there will w user and know loss and pain, but there is a hope God will save us, restore us and make us new.

May that day come soon and may we trust God every day until that da comes.

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