Sunday, January 13, 2019

Reflection on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

The voice from heaven declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved…”


“You.” What a simple but powerful word that descends from heaven for all to hear that day at the river of baptism. It is only three letters long, but it is a word that has the power to include someone into a community if uttered aloud. “You are now a child of God.” It has the power to honor someone for years of service when it echoes through those gathered, “You have been a faithful servant, and we are all the better for it.” It has the power to bind the two as one: “I love you” and “I now declare you as husband and wife.”

The word, “you” also has the power to do just the opposite. “You are not welcome here.” “You are a disgrace; I cannot even look at you.” “I hate you.”

Our message from Luke could have gone in that direction this morning. After-all, our message does allude to the separation of the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the acceptable from that which is simply trash.

But, there is no direct mention of “you” in any of it, even as the ideas surrounding repentance (changing our ways) is explored. No, that subject is quickly noted and then moves quickly to a positive reflection on “you.”

As a group of people with John are baptized that day, Jesus included, the heavens rip open, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in a form like a dove, and the heavenly voice rings out, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

“You are my Son…” not “that guy over there is my Son.” It is not, “he is my Son.” Rather, God has something to say directly to Jesus, but for all to hear, “You are my Son, the Beloved.”

It is the same “you” that is spoken at our own baptism when we hear the words, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”

It is the same “you” that is spoken when the pastor places hands on your head and speaks the words, “You are forgiven.” It is not a generic, “We are all forgiven,” but rather the powerful, “You are forgiven.”

“You.” It is the sort of word that pierces the soul and drives its message deep. “You are included.” “You are a part of the family.” “You are loved.”

God’s family is a real family after-all. This thing that we call the faith is not merely some head trip…some conscious consent to a set of doctrines or beliefs. It is not a philosophy of life nor is it a political platform to which you either agree or disagree.

Faith is being accepted into a very real family; living as a sister or brother of Jesus Christ. And, in this family, the word “you” has the power to change your life. “You are forgiven.” “You have been given the fire of the Holy Spirit.” “You have been given gifts by God.” “You are loved.” “You are God’s child.”

This simple message rocked the life of a 90 year old woman after a pastor preached this word from the pulpit…it rocked the 90 year old woman’s world in a good way though. The Rev. Caroline Lewis, in her January 6th, 2019 “Dear Working Preacher” article explains:

After the [worship] service, a long time member of the church, 90-year-old Dott …came up to me and said, “Karoline, is that really true?”

“What?” I responded. “That GOD baptizes you?” “Well, yes. This is what we believe, Dott.”

She then told me why she doubted the “you.”

Dott had a sister, born too early and not expected to live, about three years before Dott was even born. The only option was to bring her home for her two-to-three month lifespan. During that time, the grandmother baptized her. Then, when Dott’s sister died, of course her parents set up a meeting with the pastor for the funeral. The pastor told them that he would do the funeral, but not in the sanctuary because he had not baptized the baby. The funeral was held in the basement of the church.

Dott then said to me, “Do you mean my sister is okay?” The sister she never met. The sister she had mourned for her entire 90 years. The sister for whom she wondered, “is God really for her?”

Oh, yes. I said. The “you” your sister heard, God meant. And God did not, and will never, let her go.

“You” is a powerful word. It can include someone into a community if uttered aloud. “You are now a child of God.”

It has the power to honor someone for years of service when it echoes through those gathered, “You have been a faithful servant, and we are all the better for it.”

It has the power to bind the two as one; “I love you” and “I now declare you as husband and wife.”

And, it is a word of grace from God that has the power to change your life. “You are loved, no matter what. God will not ever let you go.”

It is a holy word. May its sound grace our ears. May the gracefulness of its tone ring from our own lips. In baptism, “you” were made one with Christ. “You” are a part of God’s family forever. That is a promise.

"You Are Beloved" by Jira Albers
Copyright, 2019
(Capo 8th)

G                          D                          C       D       G  D
Come draw near. Come draw near. Come to the water.

G                          D                          C      D             G
Come draw near. Come draw near. You are God’s child.

C     G      D G     C    G              D
You are beloved. You are God’s child.

G                     D                      C          D           G  D
You are loved. You are loved. Washed with the water.
G                     D                     C     D              G
You are loved. You are loved. You are God’s child.

C     G      D G     C     G             D
You are beloved. You are God’s child.

G                         D                        C         D       G  D
One with Christ. One with Christ. Joined in the water.

G                         D                       C     D              G
One with Christ, one with Christ. You are God’s child.

C     G      D G     C    G              D
You are beloved. You are God’s child.

C     G      D G     C    G              D
You are beloved. You are God’s child.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Reflection on Matthew 2:1-12

You should never forget that one of God’s great gifts was a star.

The star was a light in the darkness, leading its followers on a journey toward the savoir of the world, Jesus Christ. The star was a guide for those foreign star gazers who were not raised in the ways of God. The star led those foreigners to Jesus and set them on a different course than they had intended. It was a star that God provided to guide and eventually change the lives of a few wise astrologers.

One of God’s great gifts was the guidance brought by a star.

Years ago, a pastor got the bright idea to make Epiphany the day when the star might still guide the congregation like it did those wise men years ago. The pastor cut out little paper stars and then wrote singular words…words relating to faith…on each star in the hope that each star and the word might help to guide the lives of each person in the congregation.

One woman on that first Epiphany with the paper stars walked forward and grabbed a star out of the basket. As she flipped the star over, revealing the word of guidance meant for her, she saw the word, “Waiting.”

Her heart sank. For a number of years, she and her husband had tried to have a child, with no success. The last thing that she wanted to do was to wait any longer. But here it was; the star that God led her to choose was telling her that she needed to wait.

So she did.

Throughout the year she let the star guide her thoughts. She posted the star next to her front door so that she could not forget God’s message to her. Whenever she got anxious about having a child, she would eventually see the star and the word “waiting” would stick in her mind. With the help of the star, she would calm her mind in anticipation of the day when she would have to wait no more.

The next year, as Epiphany rolled around, she anxiously waited to see what word would be revealed to her. As she pulled out her new star she again saw the word “Waiting.” With 72 possibilities of words in that basket, how was it that she got “waiting” again?

She looked around and others had gotten stars with words such as “Joy” and “Peace” and “Forgiveness” and “Expectation.”

How she would have loved to have gotten "Expectation!"

It was the husband of a woman deployed overseas through the Air Force who had gotten "Expectation." She was happy at the smile that the word brought to that lonely husband’s face, but she was secretly jealous because, unlike him, she again had to wait.

That year she did not listen to the word on the star all that much. She and her husband refused to wait, spending lots of money, hours filled with appointments and shots, and lots of anxious days and nights trying to get pregnant through the wonders of medical technology.

Again, the word on the star seemed to win the fight. She was force to wait as each attempt to get pregnant failed. She was done waiting. Her natural clock was starting to approach the end and God could not possibly make her wait any longer!

But, “Waiting” was impossibly what she pulled out of the basket the very next year. At this point she had started to give up. She posted the star by her door once again, but she did not so much go about her daily life waiting, rather she appeared more defeated than anything.

The word “waiting” has the notion that there is something for which you are expecting that will be fulfilled eventually, but “waiting” did not describe her defeated state. She was not sure what God was up to, but she was not getting her hopes up. She was not waiting any longer. The star was there on her door, but she ignored it for the year.

Years and years later, a young woman asked the old lady about the stars that were posted on the wall of her nursing home room. Most of the stars had the word “Waiting” listed. The old woman told the young woman about the pastor and the stars and about the desire to be pregnant and how that had never happened. As the young woman searched, looking at the stars, she saw two that were different from the others. One read “Sorrow.”

“That was the year that my sister - your mom - died," the old woman said to the young one.

"You don’t remember because you were just a baby, but the car accident was a shock to us all. It was a tragedy that sort of pulled me out of my own selfish sorrow over not having a baby. There were worse things in life than not having a baby…things like losing a sister...a best friend.”

The young woman looked up at the door and saw that there was a star by the door, apart from the ones on the wall. It read, “Joy.”

“Is that the one from this year?” the young woman asked.

“No. That pastor died long ago. That was the last star that I ever picked up. It was the star that I got the very next year after I got the one with ‘Sorrow.’ It is the star that went along with the year that Jesus gave you, as a little baby, to live with me. The authorities never could figure out who your father was, so they gave you to me.

At first I was scared. I thought that it would be impossible to raise the daughter of my dead sister, but it wasn’t. You were nothing but a joy.

You have been nothing but joy in my life. You were the reason I was waiting. The stars weren’t wrong. God was not wrong. They guided me to the right place. It just wasn’t the place that I was expecting. Like how the star guided the wise men to Jesus, these stars all led me to you. You are my joy; so I put it on the door because I never want to forget.”

And so, God still guides you today. When those wise ones from ancient times journeyed to Jerusalem searching for the child king, they were redirected to Bethlehem. And, when the star led them to Bethlehem, they were redirected once again by God, away from the dangers of King Herod. They ended up going home by a different route.

The star of God will do that, you know. It will not always lead you to where you expect, but it will always lead you to Jesus. And, when it leads you to Jesus, it will have led you to where you needed to be.

Go ahead. Scroll down. Glance down at the list of Star Gifts. Choose the first one that your eye falls upon. It will be your word for the year. By a star may Jesus lead you.

Keep Scrolling

************Star Gifts************

dependability endurance

*It should be noted that this sermon idea was not original to me, but was based upon other sermons that I have heard in the past that used the idea and tradition of giving "star gifts."

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Reflection on Luke 2:41-52

It finally happened. It was bound to; nobody is perfect.

So, Mary and Joseph got through the baby years without the savior of the world rolling off of the changing table. They made it through the toddler years without the Son of God falling fatally down the stairs. And, Jesus is apparently healthy and never succumbed to the crippling health effects of the Mac and Cheese diet. Good job Mary and Joseph!

But, all good things come to an end. No one is perfect, and Mary and Joseph finally take a misstep that puts God’s only begotten Son in peril.

It started out good. They took Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and learn about God’s salvation of the Jews during the Exodus, as any good Jewish parent should.

Now, you have to understand that this celebration in Jerusalem was huge with large crowds filling the streets, but they made it through the congestion of that celebration without a hitch.

It was the assumption that did it.

Is it not always an assumption that causes the problem?

On the highway, I always assume that an oncoming car would use their blinker before turning right in front of me. That is a bad assumption.

I once assumed that my high school cafeteria could not possibly ruin tacos…it’s just meat, a tortilla, and cut up toppings after-all. That also was a bad assumption.

And, Mary and Joseph assume that Jesus would be traveling home from Jerusalem with all the other family walking in their group. Surely, he was still hanging out with his cousins? That turned out to be a bad assumption.

Jesus, in fact, was not with the group. The cousins had no clue where he was. Are they their cousin’s keeper?

Mary and Joseph searched frantically through the group and then began a day long journey back to Jerusalem in search of the 12 year old.

They had finally done it. They had done what they had feared ever since Jesus was born. They had made a mistake raising the God's only begotten Son. They had lost Immanuel, God with us! They had lost the savior of the world. What is the punishment for losing God’s Son anyway?

One thing that is clear though: Mary and Joseph may have lost Jesus, but Jesus was not lost.

Jesus was right where he was supposed to be: in the temple; in his Father’s house. He was with God the Father. Mary and Joseph did not know where Jesus was, but God did. Jesus was not lost; it was Mary and Joseph who had lost sight of Jesus.

So, I continue to wonder: what is the punishment for losing sight of God’s Son? What is the punishment for losing God? What is the punishment for losing faith?

Here is a truth about my faith: my faith is like shifting sand. It gets blown and reshaped by the wind and the sea. I have God, and then I lose grip. I understand God, and then I do not. I trust and then something happens that causes me to walk away.

Do not be too hard of Mary and Joseph; it is rather easy to lose Jesus. For example, the typical Sunday morning dilemma: "Hmmm, go sit in a pew and worship the Lord or stay in my warm bed and watch an entire season of my favorite show on Netflix in one sitting, ice cream spoon in hand?" I think that to most of us the answer here is quite clear.

And, that is just an example from the normality of life. That does not even come close to addressing the real stuff…like the tragic losses and the life altering shifting of world views that wreak havoc on faith. The joy of Christmas comes and goes rather easily, and we lose sight of Jesus.

But, Jesus is not lost. He is right where he is supposed to be. He is one with his Father. It is not Jesus who get lost, but we who get lost and lose sight of Jesus.

But, just as Jesus was safe under the watch of God the Father the entire time, so are we. We may feel lost from God, but God knows right where we are.

When her daughter walked out the door to go to college, she could feel in her bones that this moment was the end of all she had taught her daughter. She just knew that her daughter would come back filled with new, dangerous ideas, and that all the values that she had been taught for 18 years would simply vanish.

The mother was right.

When her daughter called home as Christmas break approached, the words from her mouth echoed foreign values and even revealed a couple slips of the tongue, exposing newly found vulgar language. The mother’s heart was broken. She was convinced that her daughter was lost…from her and from God.

Except, except, when the daughter walked through the door the mother saw standing beside her a student from Guatemala. Her daughter explained that this poor girl had no home to which she could go for the Christmas break. As her daughter made the student comfortable, the mother learned that the girl from Guatemala did not have any money either, except for a handful of bills that she earned washing dishes in the school cafeteria.

Even though her daughter did not know this Guatemalan student extremely well, her daughter paid this student’s way back to her home, so that she might have a family for Christmas.

As the mother pondered this development in her daughter’s story she quickly realized that her daughter may or may not have lost sight of God, but God had obviously not lost her.

And, this student may or may not have felt lost in a new country, but God knew exactly where she was…choosing a family to call her own that Christmas. God had not lost her daughter after-all.

God does not lose us. If God needs, God will put on human flesh, come down from heaven, and stand right in front of us so that we might again take notice. That is the promise of Christmas anyway. We have a God who will go to any lengths that we might know we are not lost.

We may lose sight of Jesus, but Jesus is not lost. Jesus is always right where he should be.