Monthly Archives: December 2018

Search for Jesus in 2019

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 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. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[a] 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.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[c] and in divine and human favor.  (Luke 2:41-52 NRSV)

For the past several weeks we’ve discussed the question, “What are you looking for in the new year?”

What does your list look like?

Perhaps you want to lose weight and get in shape; learn a new craft; study a new topic.  Most of us want to be a better person, whatever that means.

Perhaps we can look to the example Jesus set.  He “increased in wisdom and in years…” (verse 51.)  Jesus, the Son of God, had to grow up and learn.  He sat in the temple for three days listening and asking questions.  That his questions held depth doesn’t surprise us.  That he had much to learn serves as a reminder that this Son of the Most High was fully divine AND fully human.

We can do no less than to increase in wisdom.  Once again, I ask the question: What are you looking for in the new year?”

Our search can be found in prayer.  Perhaps you have already discerned your next steps.  Our search can also be found in scripture.  I discovered a worthy passage in Colossians this week.  “As God’s chosen ones, holy [set apart] and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12 NRSV)

Compassion means to walk alongside someone with the idea of being open to their plight.  We can always use kindness and meekness and patience in the world.  Are any of these speaking to you?

I have known toxic people and I think you have, as well.  It only takes one to create havoc in a group of friends.  Just one person with a poisonous tongue and a group will eventually fall apart unless they confront the toxicity.  It works the other way around, as well.  Margaret Mead said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Black Lives Matter.  #Me Too.  These are movements that began with only a few people willing to stand up and say something important.

So, on this cold, cold Sunday with 2018 coming to a close and 2019 arriving fresh and new, what do you want?  What do you yearn for?

What will you do differently in your tiny corner of the kingdom?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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New Year’s Resolution: Bear Fruit

7-9 When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

10 The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”

11 “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”

12 Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”

14 Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”

15 The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”

16-17 But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

18-20 There was a lot more of this—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message! But Herod, the ruler, stung by John’s rebuke in the matter of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, capped his long string of evil deeds with this outrage: He put John in jail.  (Luke 3:7-18  The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

Brood of snakes?  Really?  That’s how he grew his ministry, by calling people snakes and vipers?

John wouldn’t last ten minutes in the 21st century.

Or would he?

His words are speaking to me right now.

Did you notice the question each group asked was, “What should we do?”  They made no excuses for their career choices.  The tax collectors and soldiers who received a paycheck with the Emperor’s signature on it made no attempt to justify their situation.  “How can we possibly bear fruit when we work in such a difficult environment?” is a question not voiced.

What should we do?  John provides practical, doable advice: 1) remain in their jobs and do it better and 2) be model fruit bearers by dropping the bully tactics.

Eliab, the tax collector, and his wife left the Jordan that afternoon deep in conversation about John’s proclamation.  By the time they arrived home Mrs. Eliab announced that the new kitchen he has promised her seemed empty of joy.  They agreed to no more extortion.  Eliab would do his job fairly and equitably.  Mrs. Eliab was considering ways to help out some neighbors out who were close to losing their property.

Julius Maximus was a Roman soldier who was good at his job.  He could march 20 miles a day in full armor and help set up camp in the evening without breaking a sweat.  He was a strong and talented member of Rome’s elite army.  Many years after he heard John’s words, his reputation had become one of being fair to Jews.  The Roman command knew him to be able to keep peace in any city they posted him in.  The reason: he treated them well and commanded respect by his actions.  He rose in rank quickly in the Roman army.

Bloom where  you are planted.  Bloom and bear fruit right where you are.  We don’t have to give everything up and move to a convent or a monastery.  Few of us are called out of our lives to serve in other places.  We can make the biggest difference in the place where we know the most about the situation and the job description.

I suspect that most of you, dear readers, are doing just that.  You’re treating those who cross your path with respect.  Bullying isn’t in your DNA and power plays aren’t necessary.  You navigate your world with confidence, earning respect and doing the right thing daily.  I trust that you share your extra coats and food with those in need.  And you probably write checks to charities and the church.

In this season of Advent I have challenged us to think about our lives and our spiritual needs for this new year we’ve entered.  In addition to shopping and parties, what are you hungry for?  In this season of high expectations, what do you anticipate that matters the most to you?  What do you hope for?

In this season of Advent, we greet the Christ child again.  Will we greet him again as if it’s the very first time?  Or is his arrival the same as in years past with little to speak for himself?  Will we allow the child to point out our favoritism and collusion in the world?  Do we have the courage to listen to and study his words in order to hear his call to generous and just living?

That’s my resolution.  What’s yours?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


Prepare the Way!

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler[a] of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler[b] of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler[c] of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”  (Luke 3:1-6 NRSV)

Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Herod’s brothers, Annas and Caiaphas: the Who’s Who of the Roman Empire, especially in the far flung, troublesome province of Judea.  So, why did God choose John the Baptizer to ministry?

No one knows John.  No one much cares about John, except his parents who bore him miraculously in their elder years.

Pilate, Herod, Tiberius…any of these men could have made a real difference in ministry.  This baptism of forgiveness and repentance of sin could have changed the known world forever!  Why not call them?  After all, nothing is impossible with God.

Perhaps they weren’t suited to the job.  Ministry is best served with humility and gratitude.  None of these men came close to humility.  They were power hungry, wrapped up in the politics of the day, groveling, wrangling, killing to hang on to their positions of authority.

John is an unknown man who loves the wilderness.  We know all about Biblical wilderness areas.  They are the place to which we withdraw for prayer and testing and miracles.  John thrives in the wilderness and comes into the Jordan area with a message that is both compelling and troubling.  More on that next week.

John is a man of God.  He holds us accountable for our actions.  He teaches us how to treat our neighbor.  His words show us what love is supposed to be.

That’s who God chose.  A young man in the wilderness; unknown; a Jew.  He doesn’t arrive in the robes of the wealthy and powerful, but in animal skins.

John is who God chose to level and smooth and straighten the Way to God.

Last week we celebrated our Christian New Year.  We challenged each other to listen to God’s call for a resolution.  Have you come up with anything yet?  Learn more about prayer? Give more to the poor? See people all around us more clearly?  Clean out the closets of our homes and our hearts?

It’s not a topic to be taken lightly.  It requires prayer.  John reminds us today that God is still working with us and we can relish these Advent weeks in spite of or in addition to the busy-ness of the season.

Why John?  Because God tends to not call the wealthy or powerful.  God likes to call the not so powerful and wealthy because they tend to be better listeners of the Word of God.

On the other hand, why not John?  Look what God accomplished in his short life.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


To-Do List

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.  (I Thessalonians 3:9-13 NRSV)

Today is Christian New Year’s Day.  Our new year begins four weeks before Christmas Day.  We call it Advent, from the Latin word for “coming.”  During Advent we anticipate the birth and second coming of Jesus.  It’s a time of preparation.

Advent moves us to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We continue that celebration for twelve days which brings us to Epiphany.  We sing and celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men and the revealing of Jesus to the world.

The secular world begins Christmas somewhere around Halloween.  Christmas ends at roughly noon on December 25th.  While Christians are celebrating the Twelve Days, the world is planning New Year’s Day.  By Epiphany, Valentines appear in the stores.

Our secular Christmas begins early and ends abruptly.  Many love the involvement and planning their to-do lists: decorating, baking, shopping and wrapping gifts.  It’s a time of parties and presentations of Handel’s “Messiah.”  We listen to Christmas carols on our car radio and watch Christmas movies.

The season is also a time when people are kinder, give more to charities and put extra effort into a meal.

Sadly, it’s also a season of feeling stressed, exhausted, emotionally drained and financially debit-ridden.  We burn ourselves out with great expectations.  The suicide rate soars.  We try to forget that Santa Claus won’t be visiting many of the poverty-stricken homes.

Christians clearly understand that our view of the world is different.  Very different.  We make sense of the world through the lens of scripture, especially the Word of Christ.  Christians challenge each other to keep hope alive.

So, what’s on your list?

I’m not talking about the to-do list for your Christmas season.  What are your New Year’s resolutions?  That’s what Paul and Timothy and Silvanus are asking in this scripture passage.  This is probably the first of Paul’s epistles, written to a new church that survived it’s infancy despite obstacles that caused Paul to leave Thessalonica earlier than he expected.

In this short passage, Paul praises the church at Thessalonica for their faith and love.  Because of their faithfulness, Paul feels great joy and encouragement.  He celebrates this congregation.  He wants to see them “increase and abound in love…” (v. 12.)  He encourages them to allow this love to increase both inside and out.

Love for one another is what makes a community unique.  When a loving congregation gathers in the name of Jesus, they bring the kind of love that encourages and prods at the same time.  They hold each other accountable to their Christ-made values.  They encourage those who arrive with heavy hearts or sagging shoulders.

That kind of love kept inside becomes exclusive and eventually the congregation dies.  That encouraging and prodding love must be sent outside to focus on others who aren’t a part of the community.

So, what’s on your to-do list for the “New Year”?  On this Sunday of hope, I wonder if we might take a word or two from Paul and his colleagues in ministry.  That we hope and pray that our love will not only increase but abound outside the door of our church, our home, or whichever community helps us love.

We hope and pray that God will strengthen our resolve to spend the next twelve months setting aside that which hurts us and others and hold fast to that which makes a difference in our lives and the lives of others.  We hope and pray that we will answer Jesus’ call to deeper discipleship.

What that looks like in your life will be different from others.  I encourage you to consider what in the world has you feeling angry and unloving?  Dwell on it, if you can.  Then consider, how can I use this energy to make a difference in my corner of the kingdom?

What do you long for?  What do you expect?  What do you wait for?

You’ve just begun your to-do list.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


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