Archive for December, 2018

Phil 2:1-13 Share Faith in the Absence

man and woman divorce drawing torn apart

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  [NRSV]

Sharing a Hymn of Faith

Paul draws on the words of a song of praise in the newly started Church in his letter. Just as we bring together the emotions, memories, and relationships through which we have shared when we sing, (copyright notation assumed)

  • Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like, me I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
  • I come to the garden alone, while the due is still on the roses and voice I hear falling on my ear The Son of God discloses, and he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.
  • Shackled by a heaven burden, ‘neath a load of guilt and shame. Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same. He touched me, oh he touched me, and oh the joy that floods my soul, something happened and now I know, He touched me and made me whole.
  • Lord I life your name on high, lord, I love to sing your praises, you came from heaven to earth to show the way, from the cross to the grave, my debts to pay, from the grave to the sky, Lord I lift your name on high.
  • and {This is the day, tune} let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross

We have no idea of the tune of the hymn/song Paul includes, but he brings a tradition of worship to help strengthen the disciple’s faith.

The Power of Singing our Faith

https://takelessons.com/blog/health-benefits-of-singing

Physical Benefits

  • Singing strengthens the immune system: According to research conducted at the University of Frankfurt, singing boosts the immune system. The study included testing professional choir members’ blood before and after an hour-long rehearsal singing Mozart’s “Requiem”. The researchers noticed that in most cases, a number of proteins in the immune system that functions as antibodies, known as Immunoglobulin A, were significantly higher immediately after the rehearsal. The same increases were not observed after the choir members passively listened to music.

  • Singing is a workout: For the elderly, disabled, and injured, singing can be an excellent form of exercise. Even if you’re healthy, your lungs will get a workout as you employ proper singing techniques and vocal projections. Other related health benefits of singing include a stronger diaphragm and stimulated overall circulation. Since you pull in a greater amount of oxygen while singing than when doing many other types of exercise, some even believe that singing can increase your aerobic capacity and stamina.

  • Singing improves your posture: Standing up straight is part of correct technique as you’re singing, so with time, good posture will become a habit! As your chest cavity expands and your shoulders and back align, you’re improving your posture overall.

  • Singing helps with sleep: According to a health article in Daily Mail Online, experts believe singing can help strengthen throat and palate muscles, which helps stop snoring and sleep apnea. If you’re familiar with these ailments, you know how difficult it can be to get a good night’s sleep!

Mental and Emotional Benefits

  • Singing is a natural anti-depressant: Singing is known to release endorphins, the feel-good brain chemical that makes you feel uplifted and happy. In addition, scientists have identified a tiny organ in the ear called the sacculus, which response to the frequencies created by singing. The response creates an immediate sense of pleasure, regardless of what the singing sounds like. Not only that, but singing can simply take your mind off the day’s troubles to boost your mood.

  • Singing lowers stress levels: Making music in any form is relaxing. Singing releases stored muscle tension and decrease the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol in your bloodstream.

  • Singing improves mental alertness: Improved blood circulation and an oxygenated bloodstream allow more oxygen to reach the brain. This improves mental alertness, concentration, and memory. The Alzheimer’s Society has even established a “Singing for the Brain” service to help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s maintain their memories.

Social Benefits

  • Singing can widen your circle of friends: Whether you’re in a choir or simply enjoy singing karaoke with your friends, one of the unexpected health benefits of singing is that it can improve your social life. The bonds you form singing with others can be profound since there’s a level of intimacy naturally involved.

  • Singing boosts your confidence: Stage fright is a common feeling for new singers. However, performing well and receiving praise from your friends and family may be the key to eventually overcoming your fears and boosting your self-confidence. With time, you may even find it easier to present any type of material in front of a group with poise and good presentation skills.

  • Singing broadens communication skills: According to an article in The Guardian, singing to babies helps prepare their brains for language. Music is just as important as teaching reading and writing at a young age to prevent language problems later in life. If you enjoy writing your own lyrics, honing this talent can improve your ability to communicate in different ways!

  • Singing increases your ability to appreciate accomplished singers: Sometimes, you don’t realize how difficult something is until you try it yourself. As you grow from an amateur to an intermediate student and beyond, you’ll be looking to the masters for inspiration. You might even find a new style of music to appreciate that you wouldn’t normally listen to!

Spiritual Benefits  

https://www.businessballs.com/health-and-wellbeing/singing-for-personal-and-group-development-1725/

 

  • Singing is actually a form of meditation, praise, and faith-sharing.
  • When we sing, we shift focus and thinking away from our selves/usual life happenings and concerns, towards something ‘other-worldly’.
  • Singing is a way of bypassing your ego to acknowledge your soul.
  • Singing helps us to ‘let go’, just as in other forms of meditation.
  • Sally Garozzo says, “When you surrender to your voice within, you transcend your physical self.”
  • A peculiar and powerful effect happens when you stop singing. There is a moment when you ‘come back into your body’? Singing is a very spiritual activity. It touches and stimulates some very basic instincts – primeval feelings – the effects of singing are at a deeply unconscious level, which in normal day-to-day work-type activities are impossible to reach.
  • Singing is also wonderful for relationships and connecting people spiritually and naturally:
  • Singing brings people together. People ‘feel the love‘ that singing generates.
  • Singing unites factions, religions, and races.
  • Singing creates positive energy and a happy mood and that’s infectious and transparently good for everyone.
  • The delights of singing go beyond merely enjoying the beauty of your own vocal talent. All of these health benefits of singing may make you want to join a choir or start taking voice lessons right away! It doesn’t matter whether you become a world-class singer or not; have fun with it, and do you what you enjoy!

Hymns/ Praise Songs, / Psalms and other /Translation of secular songs toward God

  • Use the message of our salvation is the core message,

But in the context of a song, use worship and songs of the faith to keep you on task and in tune with God and the work we share.

The Specific instruction in this text in what to do in the times of absence: I know what we do when we gather for worship on Sundays, but what about when we alone. at work school or in the face of temptation?

The instruction and encouragement are for us to sing the faith story.  Faith sharing through singing songs of faith in Christ.

Divide in groups of four and five, pick a first, second and third choice of your favorite song/hymn of faith… write them down and pick a spokesperson to represent your group.

Each spokesperson to come of front and lead us in a verse or chorus until we have sun all 10-15 or more songs.

WHAT DO WE DO IN THE ABSENCE of the fellowship?

  • Sing the songs of faith we sing when we are in fellowship/worship
  • As encouragement to ourselves
  • As a witness to others
  • as a praise to God

DO IT UNTIL

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

Home Work: So get out there and start singing your faith, sing out loud, sing out strong, don’t worry if its not good enough for anyone else to hear, sing for God. [Carpenters, Perry Como]

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Healing Not Division Mark 3:20-35

HouseDivided

..and the crowd came together again so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” [NRSV]

It is worth noting that if you ‘Google’ the phrase, “a house divided” first reports quotations of President Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech and only as a second or third listing does the search report the words of Jesus found in Mark 3:20-35. (Matthew 12:25, Luke 11:17)

But keep in mind is President Lincoln, drawing on the passage from Jesus that his audience would have instantly recognized as such. Thus crossing the lines of faith and government calling on a divided people to look ahead, beyond the chasm of disagreement to the hope he expresses later in the same speech:

“The Presidential inauguration came, and still no decision of the court; but the incoming President, in his inaugural address, fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision, whatever might be.” (*)

He called for the people to have hope in finding unity whatever would be decided, North or South, slavery or no slavery, Left or Right.  Indeed this passage from Mark’s Gospel likewise calls us to focus much less on what divides us and cling to that which binds us.

This is an Interesting discussion and teaching on the division of the family.

Many things divide families: Money, Politics, Selfishness, Debt, Apathy, and Addictions

Many things threaten families: The things, ideas, beliefs and enemies that do not have the best interest of the who ‘whole’ family will always offer solutions that attempt to satisfy themselves over the family.

  • Half of all families end in divorce is confirmation that neither the church nor the society model a strong family model.
  • Drugs and Alcohol addictions and the lifestyles that follow never build up the family, except for those who band together to take advantage of one another.
  • The quest to have the things, the house, the toys, the style, the technologies and have us place our dreams and hopes in objects that rust, wear, fade, decay and must be continually replaced, repaired and remade.
  • The family is a threatened and undermined with the more individualistic our society and world becomes.

One lie we about technology is that it brings families together. While it is true that distance for the moments we choose to connect, there are more moments that family members are in close proximity to one another, yet each watch different screens, devices, and distractions. The lure is that these ‘things’ can help connect us, but they also isolate us.

Many things entice families:

Also, there are other relationships, temptations, desires and goals that entice both individuals and families to seek love, happiness, joy, and peace in things that are temporary, unattainable and evil, even in the name and intent of being good for the family.

Mark reminds us Jesus’ words that evil, satan, and all persons consumed by evil, will work divide the people of God.

  • This passage is about Jesus’ own family worried that Jesus was not getting enough to eat, (Mary must have been stereotypical mother… you need to eat Jesus)
  • Second the religious leaders threatened by the crowds and the teaching and healing Jesus was negatively affecting their crowds, teachings, and support, so they called him names and try to demonize Jesus, saying he was bad, he could do nothing good, he will be filled with evil, even, in fact, THEY were the ones doing this to Jesus.

What do you do when your own family, your community and your faith leaders are divided against one another and you as well? The tendency is more isolation and withdrawal. Wrong answer.

Here we finally get to Jesus’s teaching about how to overcome the division:

FORGIVENESS:

God is graciously ready to forgive the strongest of people who have done the most unthinkable things with two things occur: 1) They remember the powerful and wonderful gives of God’s grace is real and actually available for us all. 2) When the most self-righteous, the most self-reliant, the most selfishly focused person recognized they have not been doing what is faithful to God, to God’s people nor to themselves. We take God up on the grace, confess our brokenness and turn back toward a life in God.

God doesn’t force this on us, but stands ready and hoping we choose to reconcile to God, to return to the heart of God, to stop the divisive talk, the hurtful behavior, the attacking thoughts and untwist our hearts and minds and words toward God’s word and God’s love.

THE EXCEPTION: What is the unforgivable sin?

The sin we will not acknowledge as sin. The evil we re-name, re-frame, dress up to look and sound good and righteous but are not found in God. Thus we are saying God can’t make me whole, God can’t save me. God can’t be in my life. God doesn’t care. God is made up an idea to satisfy weak and illogical fearful masses. God is not with us.

When we think, believe, act and say these things God will not force us to believe, God will not make us believe or trust or repent. God is willing to allow us to move so far that we no longer recognize that God is still with us.

Here is the test? As long as I am offering my thoughts, actions, future, self to God all sin is forgivable, but if we don’t want it, God’s not going to force.

The gift is MEANING. It means something when e choose to let God love and claim us, even when we have rebelled and divided and demeaned and harmed ourselves and others by leading each other away from God.

The example follows that Jesus’s flesh and blood family come to take him home, to save him from the ridicule and threat and he REDEFINES family. The family is about being blood-kin in the saving blood of the lamb that was slain. The family is those who acknowledge we have sinned, been completely self-focused, self-identified, self-determined, self-made, self-righteous, self-absorbed, self-funded, self-driven, self-saving, STRONG but with the wrong strength.

  • The strong family is the family trusting God with our problems.
  • The strong family is the family that is revealing God’s story and hope to a divided world.
  • The strong family is the family uniting in following God’s call, word, and love.
  • The way out of the division in our family is to NOT write one another off but to reach out to one another offering Jesus Christ.

Sometimes we don’t know what divided or divides us, but we clearly experience the consequence. It is actually unimportant to blame and get back to the original cause. Our hope is in what we are becoming, together, in Christ.

  • Where there is division: We have the opportune time to confess our sins and seek God’s leading.
  • Where we separate” We have but to turn to Christ and invite our neighbor to join us in Christ.
  • When you hear someone say: She or He is nothing but evil, then join them on a journey to share the Heart and Word of God.
    • This is our calling.
    • This is our gift of grace
    • This is our family

Be filled with God’s word AND heart, be forgiven in Christ, Be strong in the word and Holy Spirit.

#wayforward #GC2019UMC #UnitedinChrist #allsinnersmatter

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Luke 2:41-52 Lost in Three Days

Christmas20181230_Search_

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. [NRSV]

Jesus’s Childhood: Normal yet Extraordinary

This text is the only text where Jesus’ life between infancy and adulthood is recorded. Although a very brief description of these years, it gives us enough to think about him as a normal boy, trained well in the traditions of Judaism.

This is one of the most human and divine stories in the life of Jesus. On one hand, what parent has not a moment of experiencing a lost child story. Susanna lost in Belk department store, happily watching Barney in the children’s section. Or Luke at Turner field without his seat tickets and all the entrances began to look alike after a trip the men’s room. Or Frances…

On the occasion of Passover, Jesus’ parents, along with many other faithful Jews, took the journey to the city of Jerusalem. At some point on the return trip back to their home, they noticed Jesus was missing. They thought twelve-year-old Jesus was among the travelers. After a three-day search, to their surprise, they found Jesus in the temple in the middle of a conversation with religious teachers.

Typical of a concerned parent, Mary questions Jesus about his disappearance. She must have been very worried and upset because he had stayed in Jerusalem. Mary says, we’ve been “searching for you in great anxiety” (v.48). To which, Jesus replies, “Why were you searching for me?” Any parent would have responded with a, “What do you mean, ‘Why?’ We are your parents.” Every child know the drill. But this is the fascinating thing about this text: it enhances Jesus’ humanity, and it gives us a small, but significant entry into his family, “the holy family.”

The word for this week is “Search.” Mary and Joseph search for their lost child, Jesus. Jesus is on a search for answers; he is developing into adulthood, and—above all— discovering his mission as Son of God. I know this presents serious questions for some people regarding Jesus’ nature as both human and divine. For some, the question is, “Didn’t he understand his own divinity?” For others, the question is, “If he understands his divinity, how authentic was his experience as a human being?” The text reads, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” ( v.52).

The epistle to Hebrews affirms Jesus’ experience as common to all other human beings, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (5:7-9). Thus, like any other human being, Jesus learned to obey his Heavenly Father. And so, we find him learning the ropes of his faith, and perhaps deepening his understanding of who is and what he is called to do as the Messiah.

The presence of the parents and the dynamic of family interactions make this text very accessible. Concerns about family life, child rearing, spiritual formation, faith discoveries, family rules, and communication between parents and youth are places where the theme of “search” can surface. Even Jesus was under the tutelage of a family; he had questions and was thirsting for truth and meaning. Jesus shows depth and maturity as a young twelve-year-old boy.

We are not privy to the content of his interaction in the temple, but he is both “listening to them and asking them questions.” Additionally, he had a grasp of the faith and tradition as “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (v. 47).

This passage brings back memories of my visit to Israel. I had a chance to approach the Western Wall (or wailing wall). We carried in our pockets a list of petitions from our group to be inserted between the stones that make up the wall. We began our journey toward the wall in the middle of a huge crowd made up of hundreds of men praying. Many of them stood in circles sharing questions and answers, under the tutelage of either a rabbi or an elder Jew.

In the text, we see a very Jewish moment, with Jesus and his parents caught in between Jesus’ search for answers and Mary and Joseph’s search for their son. For us Christian listeners in the twenty-first century on this first Sunday after Christmas Day, we have an invitation to continue our search for depth and greater maturity in our faith journey.

Like Jesus, we want to have the freedom to raise questions and to share our view on things spiritual. It would be wonderful if every faith community could be that place where people would feel they could go on their own to find answers. We will always be surrounded by self-appointed leaders who like fathers and mothers will question our whereabouts, our independent thinking, or our going in the opposite direction.

There is a juggling act in this text: The important of family life and the and the uncontainable and inevitable coming of age of all human beings, and the reminder that like Jesus, we also must be about our heavenly parent’s business.

As a mother and a father, God wants us to give an account of our whereabouts, but at the same time wants us to explore, discern, ask questions, and search for answers.

In practical terms, Scripture, prayer, worship, small-group Bible studies, hymns, praise songs, serves of others, meditation, and all kinds of spiritual discipline are important tools to help us continue our search.

From different angles, this text in the Christmas season can lay a foundation for what is yet to come in the next several weeks as we see Jesus becoming an adult and fully engaged in his messianic mission.

Weekly Sermon are a chore and a Joy

I offer to you there is a weekly joy and chore about preparing sermons. Sermon preparation is a spiritual discipline in itself. The exercise of immersing in the text week in and week out can be a tedious task. It can also become monotonous and a matter of doing the job as opposed to an adventure in learning new things about ourselves, about God, and about the applications of our faith in the real world.

I have confidence that not every sermon is a homerun and not everyone listens to my words. But I truly hope that the text of Jesus being an ordinary person, with ordinary parents, finds himself not with his birth-family but with his spiritual family.

This text can motivate us to give ourselves permission to explore biblical, theological, and church matters.

Consider a presentation on the reality of family life, coming of age, and independent thinking in our children. By the same token, also consider a homiletical lesson on subjects such as: sensitivity on the part of spiritual elders toward young inquiring minds and the importance of providing spaces for in-depth discussions on faith matters.

Urgency of being Lost

The questions for us has the urgency of knowing that what we teach the next generation can be lost in a matter of days up assuming someone else has them covered or that someone else is responsible or that someone else with watching after the children while we do our own thing.

What are you and I doing to be assured that no one is left out, left behind in their spiritual journey?

Where better for us to be but in the fellowship of witnesses, teachers and co-learners at the church/temple to be about our heavenly father’s call upon our lives.

Look at the next three days. Give three step, three steps mister…

  • What can you do to be more informed about your faith in the next three days
  • What can you do to be clear that those in your family/ circle of influence are growing in faith
  • What strength, joy, hope and love will come if we do nothing and just go about our regular routines.

As the new year approaches: Look at your Spiritual Growth in three day periods:

  1. What can I do today
  2. What will I do tomorrow
  3. Who will God place in my path the day after and will I be ready to listen, teach, serve or share my faith?

 

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Isaiah 9:2-7  Luke 2:1-20 Christmas Eve—Arrive

Arrives_ChristmsEVE_2018_RSUMC

For Christians, Christmas Eve is a moment of open arms— as a midwife who extends her arms to receive the newly born child. As the church, we also extend our arms to receive Jesus once again, with all that he has to offer: an incomparable love, a huge smile, the smile of God over humanity and directed individually at every human being.

My left-handed catcher’s mitt is a bit of an oddity to most. Being left-handed in baseball, except in rare cases, means exclusion from the position of catcher. This is due in large part to the game’s counterclockwise flow. There have only been 30 left-handed throwing players who caught in at least 1 defensive inning. If you exclude the seven men who only caught in a single game, then you’re talking about just 23 players. If you count only those guys who caught 100 or more games in a career, you’re down to exactly five left-handed throwing catchers. However, if you’re only counting career catchers (minimum of 800 games caught), then you have exactly one and that is Jack Clements. To have a youth sized left handed catchers mitt is an invitation for someone to take on something miraculous.

Christmas Eve is a time of wonder, anticipation and glowing hopeful faces. Unfortunately, even on the night of Christmas Eve, there are thousands of people who cannot or will not smile back. In the first place, they don’t seem to see Jesus in all the festivities.

  • Maybe what they truly capture is Jesus crying, as any other baby does throughout the world.
  • In pain and in sorrow, throughout the world, there are precious little babies, precious elderly men, and woman, young people who are lacking food, shelter, jobs, loved ones; therefore, they are not smiling on Christmas Eve.
  • Some carry the full emptiness of loss and grief that allow for now room in the inn.
  • Still, in many of those places, because of deep faith, they also extend their arms to the arriving Jesus.

Both Scriptures for this day have the element of receiving. A baby has been born, and it has made an extraordinary difference. A variety of activities take place at church and home: Christmas plays, concerts, family dinners—all celebrating the birth of the Messiah.

43 The text from Isaiah 9:2-7 is a short poem full of hope, in spite of whatever days of suffering may have preceded. Christians see this promise fulfilled in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (Lk. 2:1-20). The Israelites themselves went through harsh divisions between the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. There are many other historical events behind this text that the preacher will most likely not have to time to address. Perhaps the most important aspect that needs to be underlined on Christmas Eve is the inauguration of a new day that is the centerpiece of the occasion. The Israelites heard from Isaiah of a new day after experiences of war, division, and captivity. Christians will hear a message of the birth of a baby that makes a difference in the world. Paradoxically, we still hear about wars; a great segment of humanity experiences hunger, strife, squalor, and poverty. But still, the message of Christ’s birth has resulted in schools, hospitals, orphanages, agricultural work, public demonstrations against injustice, corruption, and discrimination. Baby Jesus has been in the hearts of the innocent, the elderly, the terminally ill, and those who have just his followers.

There is much to celebrate on Christmas Eve. I can still savor the special foods shared by family and friends. I can picture a night of worship that included the choir and the drama team. Afterward, people went home to meet with more family members. In certain places, gifts will be opened on Christmas Day; but in others, right at midnight or before, while the children are still awake.

What an extraordinary event. And what a formidable opportunity for evangelization, the sharing of the good news. In both Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20, we are given the foundation for a message of hope through the coming of a very special baby. With the arrival of Jesus, there is the promise of freedom for those in bondage, justice on behalf of those who have been wronged, light in a world of darkness, deliverance from the rod of the oppressor. No one could stop God’s sovereign will, “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child” (v. 6).

God is in charge of history; no one can stop God from bringing redemption to the world. Galatians 4:4-5 has the same tone of an unstoppable moment, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”

That we are adopted and made part of God’s covenant people, that we have become sisters and brothers of Jesus, that we have the blessing to open our arms to the One who has arrived, is a fascinating message. Amid the powers that be to proclaim that the One who has come is at the same time, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting

44 Father, Prince of Peace, with an ever-increasing authority, with the promise of peace, and an agenda of justice and righteousness is at the same time good news and bad news —good news for those who long for deliverance; bad news for those who have placed the chains of oppression and violence on others.

In the gospel text, the newborn child disrupted— in a good way —the lives of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and even the angels. The whole universe is engaged in offering praises to the One who is God’s best gift to the world. The angels sing, “glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (v.14).

For the Sports fans: What has been a favorite play to watch? A quarterback has the game-winning ball and passes or throws it into someone else’s hands, they receive it and run with it. That is where Christmas Eve begins.

For those who run to mailbox: and find the long-awaited check, acceptance or notice of the final zero balance, that news confirms the efforts of the past and pave the way for a new beginning.

For those who have heard Good News this year: The beginning of

For those have received God’s Word in their hearts:

For those who feel that they have seen nothing God, or lost the hope, or were somehow left on the island of misfit toys: Christmas Eve is where the Good News Begins for us all!

God the Lord of all Creation has come to be born into our history, into our hearts, into our futures. Tonight we stand ready to receive Christ:

Now is the time to receive the package, receive the gift, Receive new life, renewed hope, new healing, new possibilities, renewed promises, renews covenants.

In Receiving Christ we take on the responsibility of caring for Christ throughout our lives and the places we go.

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Advent 4—Welcome Micah 5:2-5a Keywords: joy, hospitality, encouragement

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But you, O [Rock Spring] of [Walker County], who are one of the little [communities] of [Georgia], from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in [My People], whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; 5 and he shall be the one of peace. [Micah 5:2-5a modified for RSUMC]

What if this were the word given to us, instead of the little town of Bethlehem? Prophetic words I have heard in 34 years of ministry:

There are about to build a second regional airport in Northwest Georgia and it will transform the state and every little town around it. (First DS shared the news: Still no airport, for good or bad).

Stand, Refine, Do, Now, Welcome: on the edge and eve of Arrived!

Our Advent Adventure has started by with the first steps of

  1. taking a stand, responding to the call to get up and get moving.
  2. We have refined our faith and tools and claimed God’s call upon us to continue the momentum and DO what is good and right,
  3. We have been encouraged with hope and called to share hope and
  4. Today we remember to welcome those we meet to help them find Christ through together.

One of the annual tradition that I grew up with at Christmas was my mother’s annual open house party. I believe that it is for this reason that I have struggled to see the joy in the parties because I know all the work and preparation that goes on before, during and after a big event.

Mom started with the decoration over Thanksgiving and by mid-December, the menus and Christmas card/Invitations would be sent out. The ten to fourteen days before Christmas would include a long checklist of grocery shopping, baking and cleaning around the house. The Sunday afternoon before Christmas was the target party date. I preferred the years where Christmas Day fell on Saturday or Sunday as the party would be far behind come Christmas morning.

A dozen varieties of cookies would need to be baked, iced and decorated. Cakes, pies and hor doves would be prepared and ready for baking and heating. Serving plates and cups would be washed and dried. We had little time for playing in anticipation of the open house!

My brother, being younger, had the job of playing with all the children who came to the party so they would not be “trampled under foot” momma would say. But the truth was she didn’t want them to play with the two hundred nativity / manger scenes that decorated every shelf, side table and flat service in the house. My job was to make sure the table was full of food and that the dirty dishes and cups would get washed and returned to the big table. (I didn’t mind the chocolate covered peanut butter balls and the cheese biscuits, but I didn’t want to be washing dishes when the others were playing in the yard) I made a promise that year, “I would not make my future children wash dishes at any open house parties I might have down the road. Christmas was a time to welcome not wash.”

The work made it hard for me to see the joy. I know my mother’s intention was that the collective labors we give to neighbors, friends, members, and strangers in an effort to welcome in Jesus’s name.

What does it take to welcome someone in Christ?

One year while we were living in Eatonton, Georgia, mom had decorated the hall bathroom downstairs with fancy soaps and special towels and hermetically sealed the door closed with a large note on the outside of the door, which read: “Keep your nasty hands off the towels!!”

We were afraid to go in and she forgot to take the sign down. I don’t think anyone at the party went inside. But the did go upstairs to our bathrooms!

How will you and I continue to welcome others in Christ?

It is a life lesson that making others feel welcome is a self-less gift at times. Some people are difficult to include. Some people share little in common. Some people work as hard to avoid as we do to invite.

The world is hungry and doesn’t think it is for dinners and snacks.

The world is hungering for three things:

Being on the Correct side of things: Greatness in the sense of truth

Meaning – Strength and Majesty
Peace – Security and Peace

These are actually the things that are promised by the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be God’s People.

The prophetic call to look for Greatness even when it comes through a small town, God is working GREATNESS in small ways, not larger than life folks, but ordinary folks like us are where the GREATNESS is where we are to look for God to show up.

The Messiah we share is one who welcomes in strength and majesty. Jesus is the very one who welcomes us while we are yet sinners. Jesus is stronger than any of us. And he greats us as sons and daughters, co-heirs

Micah foretells that God is Great, Majestic and Strong, brings security and, offers peace.

The three things that world longs for can be found in the Messiah, in Jesus.

The trillion dollar question is: How do people find what they are looking for in the Christ we are sharing?

.. We need to be taking that STAND for Christ ourselves

.. We need to be refined our understanding and trust to in Christ

.. We need to be doing the things of Christ that reveal his strength, majesty, peace, and greatness.

So what does that look like for us?

The passage from Micah serves as a preview of the nativity story. Bethlehem and Mary are the recipients of coming Lord, and as the people of Israel and Elizabeth, we are to open the door and welcome the God who has decided to set up tent in the midst of our neighborhood and who is more fascinated with each one of us than with a throne surrounded with angels and archangels (Jn. 1:14; Phil. 2:6-8), facing all the risks and passions of all human beings.

Most likely a Judean prophet during the eighth-century before Christ, Micah was responsible for delivering the divine oracle to God’s covenant people. We are told that “the prophecy about a new ruler to come from the town of Bethlehem (5:2), and the response to the question of what the Lord requires of them, signal Micah’s importance.”[1]

By December 23, our nation will have experienced midterm elections. Hopefully, the people newly elected or reelected will have the integrity to follow through on their promises. Hopefully, their promises will be in harmony with God’s concern for the “least of these.” The sermon for this entire Advent season and in particular for this fourth Sunday of Advent serves as a way to acknowledge and warmly welcome those who visit our church, those we meet in our paths, those who are thirsting for love, fellowship, help, and counsel.

The text can encourage people to serve as volunteers serving hot meals, visiting nursing homes, setting up a caroling church group. The sermon can raise open questions that invite people to find their answers after the worship service is over, or posit a list of possibilities by which people can incarnate the message of welcoming. This may mean hospitality among their own circle of friends and acquaintances, but especially beyond.

A part of our Wesleyan DNA is the ministry for and with the poor. Just as Advent leads us toward encountering the infant Christ in a stable and with the announcement of the Good News being first shared with lowly shepherds, so we are invited to become more mindful and aware of ministries with and for the excluded.

For personal reflection and sermon preparation:

  1. How do I and my congregation welcome Jesus into our area of greatest weakness, brokenness, or loss?
  2. 2. Do I leap for joy when I spend time in Scripture, worship, and fellowship with God’s covenant people?
  3. 3. How can I inspire parishioners to make the poor and the oppressed the center of their Christian concern and witness?
  4. 4. At some point in the sermon, pose an inductive question, such as “Who am I in this text? Am I Micah, the carrier of good news? Am I Mary who is welcomed by her family? Am I the leaping child in Elizabeth’s womb, excited about the presence and coming of Christ?”
  5. 5. Is this congregation a fellowship of excitement, an Advent community with a contagious faith and neighborhood involvement?
  6. 6. How can I set the tone through preaching for a greater passion for justice?

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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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