Archive for December, 2015

Colossians 3:12-17 “Clothes for Christmas” 20151227 RSUMC Xmas1

Socks4Xmas

94% of American’s celebrate Christmas (3). We have verbal and ideological battles with 6% of the population who don’t feel comfortable greeting each other this season by saying, “Merry Christmas.” It’s important to keep this in perspective. The number who keep a religious Christmas is about 70% with 29% celebrating some holiday during the same period of holidays (4). And yet we hear political debates about our nation not being a Christian nation, when 70% of the 94% who celebrate Christmas do so for religious reasons. Tis the Season to be religious.

The National Retail Federation reports

  • average spending per person reaches $805.65 in 2015
  • Gifts for family members will total $462.95 this year
  • 46 percent of their shopping this holiday season was conducted online,
  • 21.4 percent of smartphone owners used their device to purchase holiday merchandise in 2015,
  • 47%) said free shipping/shipping promotions are important factors  where to shop.
  • 55.8 percent of holiday shoppers will splurge on themselves

 

The number one anticipated “item” for Christmas is what category? ____ Clothes. Men 48% / Women 56%. But the number one “non-item” requested is gift cards. Men 51% / Women 66% (3)

What does that say? We expect Clothes at Christmas and more than half the time we’d prefer to pick out our own clothes than have people guess.

So this is where we begin hearing this passage from the church to Colossae:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [NRSV]

Clothe one another in love

  • compassion
  • kindness
  • humility
  • meekness
  • patience

Imaging celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. Not just the first one.

Imaging, after all the celebration of Christmas morning of day one, we continues giving the gives of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.. all together as example of Christ’s love for us.

What does that look like?

Seeing or hearing the needs of someone who is hungry or wanting and we take them food for the day. It does not solve their every need, but it gives them one more day of perspective that they are not forgotten and their transformation is not hopeless. Or teach them skills to work or to deal with their brokenness, fears or depression. This is not the task of someone to do FOR us, but for us to give one-on-one. Gifts of compassion.

You could think of sarcastic and judgmental comments, that might be accurate, yet, instead you find kind words of encouragement or forgiveness. In speaking where you would have remained silent and offering kindness instead of leading with what’s wrong, you lead with the kindness you would hope to hear when someone is speaking with you. A gift of Kindness with words.

You and I could choose to give a gift out of our abundance away. You know how special it makes you feel to know someone has given you a gift of love, think how sharing what you have might make you both feel loved, even if it is yours to keep. A Gift of humble sharing, it cost no more because it is yours to give.

Often it is not the value of the gift, but rather the appropriateness of the gift. We wait and save up to give expensive gifts, when it is our present half-hour each day that transform lives around us. Which would I rather have today: a grand gift from my father, who died a decade ago or 20 minutes talking about the day with him face-to-face?  In the meekness of time, we share the lives we have to share.

Or could you find it possible to not fix someone’s problem, but rather be one who stands with them while they work through the trial and error of failures. So often we don’t want folks to live life for us, we want someone with us, to make certain we are not alone. Can you be present with someone who is alone and listen, encourage and wait with them, the gift of patience, for you and them.

For the remainder of the Christmas season, ten more days, try giving these gifts in love for Christ.

In the next ten days: Let everything you do, be done in Jesus name.

As you wake to start the day: In Jesus Name

As you write a check or open your purse or wallet: In Jesus Name

As you open you mouth to speak or your mind to consider: In Jesus Name

As you cook, clean, travel, read, share or listen: Do so in Jesus Name

As we shall then be clothed in love.

—–

(1) http://www.statista.com/topics/991/us-christmas-season/

(2) https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/retailers-very-digital-holiday-season-according-nrf-survey

(3) http://www.berkshireeagle.com/local/ci_29153886/from-spending-celebrating-2015-holiday-season-25-stats

(4) https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/699-tis-the-season-how-technology-is-affecting-the-holidays#.Vn9dPpMrLBI

 

 

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Twas the “Real” Night Before Christmas

ROOMintheSTABLE.jpg

When all through the town,
Folks were snuggled comfy and sound.
All my night guests had checked in,
And I was exhausted and tucked in my kin,
When out at the door the I heard a swift rap,
of the door knocker knocking interrupting my nap.

I sprang up from my cot to see what was the issue,
Couldn’t they read. “NO VACANCIES! We’ll miss you.”
But my old grandpa’s business voice, said clear as day,
“There’s still some money to be made, and bills to be pay.”

So I thought about the stable stalls out back,
I knew there was fresh straw, out with the tack.
“Meet me in the back yard,” I told the young couple,
His wife was expecting; it looked like a double.

The sky was dark but for an enormous new star,
That lit up the night from so very far.

There among cows, donkeys and sheep,
I offered them the last place to sleep.
It was so late; they were wearier than I,
So I left them to rest, until morning came by.

As much as I hoped that would be all for the night,
after a few hours later, the yard was a sight.
Shepherds and sheep had come straight to the stable,
Some were young while others, barely able.

But all reported hundreds of angels in the air,
Singing the world’s savior is born, “Have no dispair.”
Have no fear they proclaimed,
Peace on Earth was their refrain.

It was odd how they left their posts in the night,
They risked losing their jobs, to report on their sight.
I walked out the back and up to the rail,
I saw the young beaming mother, the father quite pale.

But there shown a warm aura of light in the barn
I half-worried about fire and sounding the alarm,
But the numinous, radiant, wonder I saw,
was a life changing scene that filled me with awe.

My Lord and My God was born on that night.
To love and to save and to give us all life.
I went to my front door and pulled down the sign,
I’m glad I made room for my Savior, divine.

As keeper of strangers and travelers and folks,
Mine is the task of lifting the yoke.
I hope that you will find Christ in your way,
to make room for Jesus, who lives still today.

A “Real” Merry Christmas,  Jesus is born,
Afresh and anew in your heart, sound your horn. Merry CHRISTmas to all! 

JTB with inspiration from the meter of CC Moore

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Luke 1.39-55 “Fruit of the Womb” 20151210 RSUMC

FruitofWomb
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” [NRSV]

Thirty years ago a preacher was called into the District Supervisors office to be reprimanded for saying that a woman was “pregnant” when in fact, she was actually “expecting with child.” It is amazing how the power of words touch our sensitivities and expressions about the world and time in which we live.

If only folks would focus on the Good News and get as excited and motivated to action and response when they heard the Christmas story. This encounter with Mary and her Aunt Elizabeth helps us recapture some the power and presence of God’s word.

Our first look at the text, as an overview, Mary, who is now “with child” as an unwed mother goes for an extended visit to her aunt’s house.

The CDC National Vital Statisti#285869B report that the number of unwed mothers was at 29% in 1980 and up to 44% in 2013, the a high water make of 51% in 2008 prior to the economic turn. Millennial women, those ages 26-31, have a current rate of 57% of children being born out of marriage, and 74% of those without a college degree had children outside of marriage, according to research from Johns Hopkins University. Read-Online.pdf.webloc. The 2014 report from childtrends.com Read-Online.pdf.webloc, report that of all the births to mothers who are 15-19, 88% were not married, and 65% of women who had babies last year where 20-25 were not married. The church has already lost the corner on the marriage market long before the Supreme Court expanded its definition of marriage.

All these statistics help us think about Mary and Joseph and the community’s response to marriage and childbirth. In a current time when our youngest mothers might even take their children to school or have the child’s grandparent raise the baby. Mary is more old school and goes to visit her Aunt for a while.

Our second look at the text, we see Elizabeth providing a safe-haven for Mary and her baby. She does not great her with judgment nor shame. Elizabeth’s focus is on the children, both her own and Mary’s.

Look back at the statistics of all the years and all the age groups and periods of time. How many unwed-expectant mothers have been told by God that their child is to be the Messiah and the child ends up being born and becoming the messiah? There is but one.

It is interesting that Mary’s hurried trip to the hills to see her aunt is first a response to that she could not explain in a way that the community and family could accept or understand. Even with Joseph’s willingness to take responsibility and Mary’s skipping town reveal that we live in a time when marriage less of a covenant of love, trust, and faith and an event, a tax deduction and a perceived hindrance to self fulfillment.

The Loop hole: They were engaged, betrothed, technically committed, covered? Surely it is more than this.

The Messiah and Savior of us all is born in a relation of broken-ness and twisting of the laws to suit our world view and personal experience. The balance of how we make sense of the world is our of order.

John Wesley taught us to ready and study scripture as a part of experiencing Jesus as the Word: spoken, alive and forever present for our benefit. We study, read and sing scripture as one of the ways we practice our faith.

But how we understand the Word is gathered through (3) three lenses/filters.

  1. We read and interpret the Word from our own experience in the world, our personal context as a spiritual being in a physical world.
  2. We read and hear how other faithful followers have experienced the Word in the past and learn from their trial and errors as well as their faithfulness.
  3. We also measure the world through the context of the world around us using our God given gifts of reason and part of us that reflects God’s image in our lives.

Therefore we lean about marriage by

  1. Asking and listening to those in the faith have been married successfully for generations.
  2. We ask God to reveal directly through our own experience of relationship and marriage.
  3. We learn from the minds and psyche God has given to each of us.

If we only value one or value one more than another, we skew God’s perspective in exchange for our own.

Time OUT! What does all this have to do with Christmas and Baby Jesus?

The greatest news that God loves the world that he wants to:

  • Move in with us
  • Show and teach us how to live and disciples others
  • Come to give himself for our selfishness, pride, greed, and all matters of sin.

Can we hear this message in the conversation and visit to Aunt Elizabeth’s House?

Despite the perceptions that Joseph and Mary were out of bounds with marriage.

Not married, Difference of Ages, spiritual maturity, Expectations from family and society

(1) Elizabeth is filled with Joy, when the sound of Mary’s voice enters her house.

..When the angels show up to tell the shepherds, Be not afraid, be filled with, JOY.

Mary comes, for a time to move in with Elizabeth.

(2)Elizabeth hears the news and affirms, ‘my Lord has come to me.

..Jesus says to disciples, Come to me all you who labor and heavy laden.

Mary is welcomed into the heart and home, because of joy AND for fulfillment of the WORD/ promise, salvation.

(3) Elizabeth, as a person of the Word/Scriptures acknowledges our Savior is here/now.

..Jesus explains to those on the road to Emmaus all the scriptures how the prophesies and teaches have all paved the way.

She teaches and encourages the fearful that God’s plans are unfolded, dependable and available.

 

In less than two minutes, Elizabeth speaks and models the work of Christ in the world.

 

JOY, I share:

Her own child rejoices within her, and she communicated the JOY by telling it.

MY HOME, Go is present in our real lives, NOW.

The Joy has come into our house, into our hearts, into our crazy brokenness

The Promises are worthy of Trust

All the Words and promises are fulfilling in Jesus.

 

So Elizabeth teaches some radical hospitality in welcoming Mary:

She Passionately shares her worship

She Intentionally shares her faith with encouragement

She Takes the Risk of welcoming the expectant Mary

She celebrates the Extravagant Generosity of God’s preparing us for this moment.

 

So Elizabeth gives us the homework assignment for Christmas prep and it takes two minutes.

 

STEP 1. Listen for Joy in the midst of Bad News

STEP 2. Claim that moment as time for God to be real in your life/experience

STEP 3. Place the current moment of Faith Sharing in the context of scripture.

 

This becomes a blessing for Elizabeth, Mary and God

Christmas is not about the gifts; it is about the giving.

It is not about preparing for the future, its about living in God presently.

It is about opening our hearts and homes to disciples others in their weakness and fear.

 

This is when Christ shows us as CHRIST-MASS.. Start today!

 

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Luke 3:7-18 “So What Do We Do?” 20151213 RSUMC

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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]
On this 3rd Sunday in the liturgical season of Advent we are drawn to the message of hope and love that awaits us in Christ’s birth and moving in with us at Christmas. 
The text comes as words from the prophet John the Baptizer. The text does not sound very loving and hopeful for those who claim to know God’s work and will. Listen through the toughness to see the love.
John’s word to the religious crowd is: “Who told you to come to be baptized, to find Love, Grace, Salvation? ASK You NEIGHBOR..
John is frustrated with the crowd who have been so focused on political correctness, that they have missed God’s presence for all the ‘good’ they have done by appeasing everyone. (Sanhedrin had power-brokered their relationship with the Roman empire at the expense of finding God at work in their presence.)
Remember these are the words of a prophet, not Jesus.
The lesson is about how to prepare for Jesus instead of preparing for ourselves. John instruction on how respond to ‘preventive grace’ to the next step.
It’s not about politically correctness to the law, it is about trusting our hope in God’s relationship in daily lives.
SO HOW DO WE PREPARE to see/experience/welcome God?
If you have a coat to share, then share it.
If you have more food than you can eat today, share it.
John is not establishing a code of organization for church nor community nor society. He is talking about an act of piety, a practice of being the faith community.
We live in a time that is mixed up. Folks who want us to be so pluralistic in our faith and at the same time not claim the faith that calls us to care for the poor. Why is feeding the clothing the poor the “Good Fruit” that God is looking for us to express?
These are signs that we are not working solo in this world. We are interconnected and interdependent on one another.
It is neither a statement that wealth is evil nor that it is acceptable to live off of the wealth of others.
If there are those you can “care for”, then care for them.
If there are those who need grace, then show grace.
You bunch of snakes
John is talking to folks who are snakes, venomous, lethal snakes.
In these days of terrorism and political demonism, who are the snakes?
  • Those who know they are right and willing to kill those who disagree?
  • Those who know they are correct and willing to label and dismiss those who are wrong?
  • Those who know they are right and God cannot do I new thing that is beyond our control?
John’s warning is dramatic and sensational: “The Axe is at the root of the tree.” The time is short and some trees are going to be cut down to make room for the new growth.  (Star Wars, light saber)
— Luke I am your father story at the pool.
I’m I being pruned or am I the clippings that will burned in the fire?
“WHAT AM I TO DO?”
The big “So What?”
If this is the time of preparing for Christ in our hearts and lives,
how do I make certain, that my heart, mind and spirit are open to God’s good news and presence amoung us?
Tax collectors, public servants: Do you job, but don’t take advantage of your authority and responsibilities.
Soilders: Be ready to defend and protect, but don’t mis-use your power and trust.
What ever the work/job: Contribute to the good of the community, work hard, do some type of work. [The unemployed can volunteer until work comes.]
The task for all is to act on our faith in the community
If you see a mess, clean it up.
If you see someone who is voiceless, give them voice
If you find someone who is forgotten, remember them
If you see sin, call it out, name evil for what it is.
If you see the speck in the eyes of others, can you see the log in your own eye. (FB? am I wrong in thinking? open the conversation rather than close the door on relationship)
If you are so certain you don’t want to see the world’s troubled, then we become the snakes.
If you think you are in the God Squad, ask God if you actually are?
If you are ready to kick someone out, make sure you know your are ‘in.’
HOW DO WE HEAR THE GOOD NEWS in the warning of bad news?
1. Ignore the warnings as foolish, fearful, mis-informed or narrow minded folk.
2. Have cake and eat it: Pick and choose what we want to listen to and respond?
3. Here words of prophet and say: What does God want me to hear, and do?
Ding, ding, ding!
The paths becomes straight and our hearts are open when we yeild to God and follow God’s word, in scripture, prophets and spirit.

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Luke 3.1-6 “Time to Straighten Up” 20151206 RSUMC Advent2

Making Life Easier to find and Share God.

EasyHardWay_Advent2

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;  and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” [NRSV]

Proclaiming a baptism of repentance.

Acknowledge that we are broken, incomplete and more than physical and mental. We are a spiritual being, created of God with the free choice to do as WE please, or do as God pleases. If we are in charge our time on earth is all we have and we are to blame for our sins and have no provision for relationship or life after death.

If God is in charge of our lives, we are to blame for our sins but God promises to judges us for our sins and Jesus takes the sentence and blame for us, as a sign of God’s love and as a fix/ connection we could not make without God’s help.

Repentance

I’m the problem. Not someone or something else. I might not be responsible for the whole world, but I’m responsible for my part.

  • We live in a time that we confuse being responsible for creation with being responsible to the creator.
  • We live in a time where we confuse my will and self-determination and free will with the consequences
  • for not using our choice to build a relationship with God and God’s people.
  • We live in a time when the church is not seen or known as the presence of Christ, rather an institution of affirmation of our ideals, traditions and behaviors.

Why would I need to say I am broken or incomplete if God has made me?

  • Even before I am of age or development to make a choice of my own. You and I lived in a world bent toward selfishness and self-preservation.
  • Long before we are aware of choosing what is good from bad, we live in the process of trial and error. We touch the stove and burn and hand and learn we’d rather not experience that again. We push, hit, or raise our voice to get attention, power or response, We validate the influence we have in the world.
  • Before I have developed neural synapse memory patterns, I live in a world that is broken and hurting, cut-throat and starving, filled with rich and poor alike.
  • Charles and John Wesley fought over the our state of sin. Charles felt are hopeless without any chance of goodness. John said, we have the presence of God’s power and spirit in us that is at work to help us, and while “bent toward sinning” we have the choice to choose God’s help and strength.

To say it most plainly:

If there is one perfection it is impossible for trillions of human beings to individually unique and yet perfect. The reality that we are unique and different, also means that while there is good in us, we are fundamentally missing the “God-part” of our relationship with the world.

  • We live in a world where plateaus shift and volcanos erupt and storms swell and the sun bakes, and sinkholes open and asteroids impact. Processes beyond our control and strength.  
  • We live in a world where people have different abilities and aptitudes. Different skills and perspective. If everyone were given the same resources, we would continue to have rich and poor, different politics and languages, different interpretations, successes and failures.

SO: even we made every good choice as an individual, we are surrounded by broken, selfish folks in a hurting, unfair world. All the more reason to secure God’s blessing and help in being whole, individually and collectively.

Making Easier Instead of More Difficult.

Finally, John’s invitation to repent, is a personal and individual way we can help make our relationship with God and one another better is by intentionally making it easier for ourselves, others and for God to be in our lives.

  • Stop making poor choices
  • Stop working against God’s will
  • Stop justifying both/and living
  • Make the path easy and straight for yourself, others and God.
  • This is our personal responsibility…
  • Start making room for God
  • Make time for God
  • Extend grace for God’s people, who are also broken and struggling and imperfect
  • See the best in each other and not preoccupied with being right, in charge or in control.

It is better not to put millstones around our necks or others, make the world a better place my making room for a relationship with God and God’s people.

So how do we make the path straight?

  1. Do No Harm
  2. Do all the Good You Can do
  3. Practice intentional Spiritual Growth (A Goal for RSUMC to have every member in a small group)

So Advent 2 is a call to prepare by making faith, love and life easier by living straight toward God.

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