Archive for category #2018
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:
- What can I do today
- What will I do tomorrow
- Who will God place in my path the day after and will I be ready to listen, teach, serve or share my faith?
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.
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
- taking a stand, responding to the call to get up and get moving.
- 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,
- We have been encouraged with hope and called to share hope and
- 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.”
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:
- How do I and my congregation welcome Jesus into our area of greatest weakness, brokenness, or loss?
- 2. Do I leap for joy when I spend time in Scripture, worship, and fellowship with God’s covenant people?
- 3. How can I inspire parishioners to make the poor and the oppressed the center of their Christian concern and witness?
- 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. Is this congregation a fellowship of excitement, an Advent community with a contagious faith and neighborhood involvement?
- 6. How can I set the tone through preaching for a greater passion for justice?
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
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?
- 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,
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.