Monday, December 28, 2009

Dec. 27 Sermon, Christmas 1, Losing Jesus

Texts: Colossians and Luke

Story about losing Wesley in the house:
It was one of two 911 calls we’ve made here in Morris—the other being a time that a skunk came through our open garage and through our cat door into our house. But that’s another story. This time, we were calling 911 because Wesley had disappeared. We were at home. We had all our doorknob thingies that make it hard even for an adult to open a door from the inside of our house installed. But somehow, Wesley had disappeared. We searched high and low with increasing anxiety. We knew something had to be wrong because Wesley always knew when we meant business that when we called to him, he had to answer, “Here I am!” But this time nothing. We were frantic, looking in increasingly ridiculous places. I remember looking in one of our endtables, and thinking. “He couldn’t even fit his head in there!” We had looked out in the garage, in both cars, in our storage room, and we were on our 3rd or 4th sweep around the house, looking everywhere we’d already looked. Lara was on the phone with the police department trying to explain what had happened. I was beginning to question whether or not all those hippies we had met in Sedona, Arizona were on to something with all their talk about vortexes. Then I saw him, crouched in the storage room off the garage, under a table behind a bookshelf, clutching a red can of Coca-Cola in his hands, and literally looking like the cat that ate the canary.

It was a far cry from Jesus being in the Temple with the scholars, listening, learning, and teaching, but boy it’s what I think of when I hear Luke tell this one and only story of Jesus’ childhood. You can taste that acrid anxieity that Joseph and Mary feel in your mouth, especially if you’ve ever lost a child, can’t you?

My parents have a similar story of losing me in a mall, hearing me described over the intercom, and then going to the store where I had been discovered only to hear that I had already been picked up by another man, and then really flying into a frenzy only to find that it was my uncle that had picked me up. Oh, the days before cellphones.

This is the only story from the gospels about Jesus’ childhood, and it is one that paints him and his family in a very familiar and human light, doesn’t it. Luke follows the majestic scenery of the nativity, with all the angels ushering people around, with this story about two parents on a dusty road and seemingly no one to help them find their son. You’d think that if angels would point the way for shepherd strangers, they’d at least give mom and dad a hand, huh?

I’ve always loved this story—and I particularly loved it as a teenager. Mom and dad come storming in, and Mary lays into him. And then he gives this answer that they can’t even understand. I totally heard this story from Jesus’ perspective until I became a parent and had the experience of losing a child.

The Bible is always like that. It sheds different light depending on where you are standing when you read it. I wonder what those children who have been lost to their parents because their parents have neglected them hear this story? They probably wonder what it must be like to have parents who drop everything and journey to go find them.

Today, you have an opportunity to contribute to our children’s home, which takes these children and gives them a home where they know they are loved and sought—if not by earthly parents, then for certain by their heavenly parent.

Perhaps during this holiday season, it has seemed to you as if Jesus has been “lost in the shuffle.” Perhaps you are at a point in your own life where you feel like you’ve lost sight of Jesus. You’ve been travelling along, and you didn’t even realize it, but Jesus just doesn’t seem to be alongside you anymore. You search around in all the customary places, you check with your caravan, but no-one seems to know where he is.

If that is true, then do as Mary and Joseph do and go back. Mary and Joseph and Jesus were in Jerusalem observing the sacred day of Passover and participating in what the Lord had commanded.

Think back to the last time that you experienced with certainty that Jesus was with you, and retrace your steps from that point. As Jesus says to his mother and father when they find him in the temple. “Why were you searching? Did you not know that I would be in my father’s house?” If you’re having trouble finding Jesus, then you should search a little more deeply here, at his father’s house.

Jesus’ presence here in his father’s house is not contingent upon me or my sermons, whether they are uplifting to you or not. His presence isn’t contingent upon how well the choir sings or how well Patsy plays. His presence doesn’t depend on how active our youth group is, or how many pot-lucks we have. IN short, Jesus Christ’s presence here at this church does not depend upon how you FEEL about being here at church.

Twice, Joseph and Mary are said to be "seeking" Jesus. This puts Jesus' parents, Joseph and Mary, in the same position as the rest of us. Later, "multitudes" also seek Jesus (6:19). Later, Jesus will also say that those who "seek" will find (11:9) and that we are to "seek" the kingdom of God, or the reign of God on earth (12:31).

Christ’s presence is partially about you seeking Christ. It is partially about how open your heart is to the possibility of finding Jesus. Jesus presence here in this place is a birthright. It is a gift given to us by God. You may question it all you want, but that does not negate the FACT that he is here. It is because of God’s grace that Jesus can and will be found here in this place, among you. He may be listening to you or he may be giving astonishing answers for you, but he is here, just like that 12 year old boy sitting in the temple.

Did you know that Luke bookends his story of Jesus with two stories of people on a journey who loved Jesus and grappling with their anxiety about losing him. These two stories are only found in Luke, and in both stories the time between Jesus and finding him again is specified as 3 days. In the second story, Jesus actually joins the travelers on their way, even though they don’t know it is him. In their grief, they tell Jesus, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. [20] The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; [21] but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. [22] In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning [23] but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. [24] Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

When they invite Jesus into their home, and he joins them for a meal, they recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

Dec. 20 Sermon, Let it Be

MIcah and Luke

What is Christmas about? If we were to rely on a sampling on the street we may hear a number of things. We should probably excuse a child for latching onto the excitement surrounding Santa and presents under the tree. It wouldn’t surprise me if my own son, despite a steady diet of hearing about the “true meaning of Christmas” and playing with nativities, said that Christmas is “about” Santa Clause.

That doesn’t bother me coming from a four year old. I can understand, can’t you. After all, Christmas—what we call Christmas, is perhaps MORE about Santa than it is about the Christ child born in a stable.

I don’t have a problem with pop-culture Christmas. I love it. I love “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Here we go a wassailing.” I enjoy seeing Christmas lights and Dept. 56 Christmas villages of all sorts. I sort of enjoy finding new presents for my family and trying to think of something I’d like to receive. I’m no Grinch.

I’m not bothered by people saying “X-mas” or saying “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas, and may I suggest that if that is the deepest source of your “ire” about some kind of secular culture hijacking the holiday, you might do better to dig a little deeper. For one thing, the X in Xmas is merely a conflation of Greek and English, and no, it’s not an “X” indicating some kind of meaningless, non-defined integer, such as x=y/z X stands for the greek letter Chi, which is where we get the letter X and looks like an X, and in Greek is the first letter to Christ. Secondly, Happy Holidays does not deny that the days are holy, but instead it affirms it. A Holiday is a holy day. And if you’re bothered by the plural of “holiday” referring to anything other than Christmas, there are other faiths’ holy days at this time of year, but still, if that fact bothers you and you want to pretend that you live in a “Christian Nation,” (which the USA is most certainly NOT, by virtue of our Constitution) then you can just think to yourself that those people wishing you “Happy Holidays” are simply referring to the 12 days of the Christmas Season. If you fail to grasp that there are 12 days to Christmas, then you are probably confusing pop-secular-Christmas with the Holy season known as Christmas.

So, those things don’t bother me. I’m fine with Santa and Jesus. And I hope you are too. But, if we did want to be the Grinch, and strip everything away from the season, as he does in Dr. Seus’s wonderful Christmas special. After we pulled all the Christmas trees up chimneys and took down the garland and lights, What would be left? Would we “whos” be standing in a circle around some glowing light singing

Welcome, welcome, fahoo ramus
Welcome, welcome, dahoo damus
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to clasp

Well, maybe Christmas, after all, doesn’t come from store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

And here’s something perhaps a little more difficult: As we reconstructed Christmas around the simple notion of Love breaking into the world, as the Who’s helped the Grinch do, how soon would Mary’s first Christmas Carol find it’s way into our celebration with its jarring speech about a world turned upside down? We must remember that this season is about the hope of the poor and oppressed. Love is like water, it first fills those places that are most empty. And it has to wear away at those places that are “high things in its way.”

If we are already full, we will not stomach anymore. If we have already filled our lives with all the things we think make us rich, then there will be no room for the actual “good things.” We will find, in time, that “riches” are really “emptiness.”

The bigger the ego, the more solid the false notion of security in our own victories and our own fleeting material possessions, the longer the waters must erode. But make no mistake, water is stronger than rock. Water will crumble rock.

Mary did not set out to tackle the principalities and the powers. She agreed to have a baby. In the words of the Beatles, she did not “say she wanted a revolution.” She said “let it be” with me according to your word.

Mary believed that God could change the world through the child that she was asked to bring into the world, but she certainly believed there would be more to it than her simply having a child. It’s not that having a child and being shunned by her community was a small thing, but it was what she could do.

God didn’t ask any more of her than she was capable of. If God had said, “one day this son of yours will leave home and never come back. In fact—when you see him, he will say, “you are not my mother.” And then, shortly thereafter, you will watch as he is nailed on a cross and raised up for all to see and mock.” Would Mary have said “Let it be?”

Mary agreed to follow God’s path for her and trust that the path would be shown to her as she walked it. She trusted God enough NOT to ask those questions about what would become of this son of hers. She sang the song of the Messiah, and she had heard what the prophets had said about the Messiah. She sang out in a prophetic hope about what this child would accomplish. But she had probably heard Isaiah’s prophecy of a suffering servant as well. She’d probably heard these words: Isaiah 53: 2-5
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
So, Mary’s faith was one of trusting that God can use what she was willing and able to do, and she didn’t need to know the outcome.

So, perhaps Christmas is all about the gifts after all. It is about the gift that we give to God: an open heart, willing to “Let it be with me according to your will.” And when that gift is given, we receive the greater gift: the chance to live life to the fullest—the joy of being part of God’s grace, which shines across the universe.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dec. 13 Sermon, John the Baptist: Hatchet Man or Burier of the Hatchet

Sermon Texts: Zephaniah,

Philippians, and Luke

John begins the passage by speaking about a severing of identity. The people of Israel had grown so accustomed of being God’s people, they had grown lazy and unappreciative.

Have you ever had that experience of realizing how incredibly lucky you are? I was raised in a great family. I had support and encouragement and discipline and all my physical needs were met.

I never feared for scarcity. I never doubted my parents’ love. I never felt out of place. When I meet others who have experienced these things, I sometimes feel an intense insight into my own fortune.

Israel hadn’t remembered their fortune. They had stopped living like it meant anything to be the children of the Living God. They weren’t bearing fruit. They had nothing to show for their connection to the tree.

he speaks about the axe at the root of the tree. Israel is threatening her own rootedness in God. They are in danger of forgetting who they are. Without that connection to God, they will certainly bear no fruit.)

The youth camp curriculum this past year was very good. It was called “Rooted” and it focused on our life in God’s family. I was in charge of worship design, and so

John spoke about rocks. He assured the people who had come to be baptized and reborn as children of God that God could raise up the rocks into children if they failed to start acting like God’s children.

So, the Gospel writers tell us about God finally sending his own child to live among them and show them how to bear fruit.

John gave them the jumping off points.

John answers questions from tax collectors and soldiers and crowds. Gives them practical advice. Live an upright life. Jesus will come and minister to tax collectors and soldiers, who are mentioned in the scriptures and even join Jesus as disciples.

Tax collectors and Soldiers, both have prominent places in the story. Think about what they represented to the first hearers of this story. Think about how despised both of these groups were in that society.

It would be akin to us hearing about Jesus attracting and making his disciples out of pimps and gangsters.

Would you follow a man who healed a pimp’s prostitute or hung out with gangsters based on the truth that he spoke?

This is the kind of man John is, and it’s the kind of man Jesus is. He embraces the despised

John gives practical advice, and then Jesus comes and shows them the spiritual path. It involves the same kind of practical advice that John gives. It’s something akin to what John Wesley called the “three simple rules: Do good, Do no harm, and stay in love with God.” (Actually Wesley says, “attend upon all the ordinances of God.”—but that takes some explaining.)
But it involves more than practical rules of conduct. It also involves a spiritual opening.

It involves that kind of feeling of gratitude that I mentioned earlier. I take caution here, because we all “feel” differently and have a variety of connections to our emotional and spiritual lives.

John hopes for a refiners fire. My children love it lately when I take them out of the bath and get them dried off as quick as I can and then hold them under the heating vent, which dries them off completely. They’re ready to step out into the cold-feeling house.

Perhaps this is a good way for us to think about the work of the Spirit, which Jesus comes to baptize with. It makes us ready to go out into the cold-feeling house and live as children of God, bringing warmth and light of the Christ child.

The youth camp curriculum this past year was very good. It was called “Rooted” and it focused on our life in God’s family. I was in charge of worship design, and so over the course of the camp, our worship area included a large king sized sheet that on the first night, the youth stamped their hand in green paint, and then stamped them on that sheet. That night they spoke about identity. The next night they heard about Christ as the "vine" that gives our identity meaning and Real Life by showing us the Way of Grace. The Way directed us to the Ground of all Being, God our Maker. That night, the youth watched as their handprints were connected by small twigs and then larger branches to a great full trunk. Christ is the Tree Trunk. The next day's theme spoke about being rooted, and we oriented small group discussions and that night's "Catacomb worship" service around the sacraments, which we believe root us in the God who gives them to us for that purpose. At worship that night, I'd painted in some roots that wove together and spelled "Rooted." The following day we spoke about the practices of faith as being the fruit that we are told to bear. The youth cut out what kind of “fruit they were” and wrote why on the back of the fruit. Then they positioned that fruit around where they had stamped their hand.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dec. 6 Sermon (Advent 2) "Preparing the Way"

These are very rough notes: We recorded the sermon on Lara's cellphone (still haven't found ipod) but haven't put that on the computer yet. Will amend when we do.

Perhaps use “When the Man comes around.”

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: disparities will be brought to an end. God will equalize the world. God is as much in the business of shaming the proud and arrogant and self-serving as God is lifting up the weak and powerless.

Placing this passage in history. Attention to who was ruling, who was high priest, etc. Attention to detail in order to convey the actuality of this event. It’s not a fairy tale that will make us feel better, it is a pronouncement about God’s salvation being seen by “all flesh.”

Kate Huey writes,

this is no story from someone's imagination but a real, historical, flesh-and-blood, look-these-names-up-in-a-book account that confirms that God is at work in this world, in our real situations of pain and need and injustice. This is a God who hears the cry of the people, knows the longing of their hearts, and responds to their need

Words of a prophet are full of metaphor.

What this passage means to society

What this passage means to the inner life.

John baptized in the wilderness at the Jordan river. He drew people to the boundary line of Israel. Perhaps he baptized specifically at the Jordan since it was the boundary. The boundary is where you enter or re-enter. The first time the Israelites had crossed the Jordan river with Joshua leading the generations of wanderers out of slavery, God caused the river to part so the Israelites could cross on dry land. God reminded the people of the miraculous beginning of their journey at the Reed Sea as a symbol that their wandering was over.

John brought people back to the Jordan. The people of Israel needed to be washed from that journey out of slavery and wandering. Though the dry passage over the Jordan allowed the Israelites to remember their salvation, it did not afford them the opportunity to be washed of their past. The people of Israel were still living like slaves in their own land. They were wandering without a leader like Joshua. So, he washed them in the Jordan. He washed them of the residue of slavery. He poured water over their head, and got the dust of the wandering wilderness out of their hair. He proclaimed that they were free and that when they left the water of the Jordan, they were coming forth from their mother’s womb. A new Joshua would come and would lead them.

When the new Joshua came, he told his people how deeply enslavement had pervaded. This Joshua saved them from the slavery to sin and death. He led them toward a promised land that would not and could not be conquered or colonized.

erhaps the pairing of this reading with Zechariah's exquisite canticle helps us to pull together the themes of hope and longing with the need for self-examination and preparation.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Children's Advent Litany

Dear friends,
I can't find my ipod, so the sermon will be here as soon as I can find it!

IN the meantime, I noticed a nice children's advent litany from the online upper room devotional for kids: Pockets.

Also, if you're interested in why we have one pink candle in our advent wreath, just ask the internets. Or, more about our season called Advent?