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Jesus Loves Me

Jesus Loves Me this I know

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Hearing that song just warms my heart.  I could never get tired of hearing children sing that song.  In Rachel’s Place chapel, we sing Jesus loves me almost every week.  It’s so important because if there is one thing that they will leave here knowing- I want it to be that Jesus loves them.  There is nothing else as important as that.  Jesus loves you.  Your pastors love you.  Your teachers love you.  Your families love you.  You are loved.

You are a child of God.

When our staff brainstormed about what it means to be a child of God, we came up with the following words: loved, cherished, worthy, hopeful, faithful, believer

When we teach our children that they are children of God- we give them a gift. We teach them that God loves them, and we teach them that they are worthy of that love.

There’s a quote I love from one of my favorite bloggers, “Be confident- You are a child of God!  Be humble- everyone is too.”

When we raise our children in a faith community we give them the incredible gift of knowing that they are loved- but it does not end there.  Rather we teach them that because God first loved us- we in turn love others. When we raise our children in the faith we help them to care about others too.  We help them to care about the world.

Our scripture reading today from 1 John 3:1-7

Our Bible reading today marvels at God’s love.  God loves us so deeply that we should be called children of God.  That is true for each of us. From creation, God created people in God’s image, male and female.  To be created in someone’s image seems to be another way of showing that parent/child relationship.  We were made in God’s image- to be like God.  We are God’s children.  John reminds us of this in his letter.  He writes to the followers of Jesus, calling them little children of God.  But to be born of God spiritually in Jesus- takes it a step further.  Every person is a child of God- and yet God calls us to live into this identity.  John says that we are children of God when we practice righteousness or when we are fair and just.  He puts it another way by saying that we live in the light of Christ when we love our brothers and sisters. (aka all people!)

“We love, because God first loved us.”  As our song goes.  That Bible verse comes later in John’s letter.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  This is true for all of us, but especially our young children.  We do not know what their futures may hold- but we do know what kind of a future we would dream for them.

When are children are little- they can’t get enough time with mom and dad, and grandpa and grandma, aunts and uncles right!?  Yet, as they grow older and become more independent how do we continue to care for them and raise them in the faith?

In our confirmation program we do small group time where the youth meet with their group guides and share highs and lows as a part of the FAITH5.  It’s a great time to get to know each other and share in each other’s lives.  They can really form a great bond doing this.  As we were starting to fill out our thank you cards for the group guides this week- I was talking to one of the eighth grade groups.  I asked, “Will you sign Julie’s card?” “She’s awesome! We love Julie!” they told me.

Here they have a space to share their lives- with a mentor- another adult teaching them the faith.

If you do not know your child’s highs- you do not know your child.

If you do not know your child’s lows- you do not know your child.

That is what Rich Melheim the founder of the FAITH5 says.

FAITH5 is one of the ways here at Hope that we work to pass on faith to our children and youth.  The FAITH5 consists of Share, Read, Talk, Pray, Bless.  A nightly ritual at home of sharing highs and lows, reading a scripture verse, talking about how that relates to their lives, praying together, and blessing each other.   A simple ritual that fosters communication, helps them apply the Bible to their lives, and reminds them that they are loved by God and by their family.  What if these things were done every night with our young people?  What if our families committed to being in church every week to gather for support and encouragement?  Think of the child that hears that message every day and every week.  Now… think of the child that does NOT.  We are not helpless in this.  We can live lives of purpose and love.

Every night in the home.  Every week at church– that’s the mission of the FAITH5- and really our mission at Hope too.  Together we can raise our children in the faith- we can teach them the stories of God, we can teach them that they are loved and they are children of God.  We can partner with families to teach our children how much they are love by Jesus and by others.

One day after having my own kids, I was talking to my mom and I asked her, “how did your kids turn out so well?”  She is the mom of 4, and did a great job raising us.  We all still love coming home.

She looked at me and said, “Time.  We gave you our time.  There are no shortcuts.”

Families these days don’t always have an abundance of time, and that is why the time that you have together is precious.  Fill those precious moments with love- invest in your children.

We can say the same for all of our relationships.  There is no substitute for quality time together.  Sometimes it takes a risk, to step out and share love with those in our lives.  But it is worth it.

Check out the FAITH5 website for more great resources! http://faith5.org/

Easter Message of Fear and Joy

With Fear and Great Joy

jamie leading kids

Matthew 28:1-10New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Resurrection of Jesus

28 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Our story begins as the day dawns on the first day of the week. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, perhaps Mary the mother of Jesus, come to the tomb.  The beginning seems quite ordinary: loved ones visiting a tomb. This bright and early morning could have been the same story that many experienced before this and many after this.  The story of death.  The story of loss.  The end of the story. And yet for this Easter story the grave is not the end.  God is about to dramatically intervene.

“Suddenly there was a great earthquake.”  An angel of the Lord descends from heaven and rolls back the stone and sits on it.    The guards cannot handle this overwhelming scene.  The guards, who should be the epitome of strength, are weak and become like dead men.  The women, who in biblical times were perceived as weak, are strong and clearheaded.  Yet the women who came to visit Jesus’ body- do not faint.  They stand to hear the angel’s message.  “Do not be afraid.”

The phrase, do not be afraid, or fear not, is found in the Bible over one hundred times.  I think it is one of the most important messages that God gives to us.  And I think one of the reasons God uses this message so often, is that we can never be truly rid of fear.  Fear is a part of life.  And yet, we are not to be paralyzed in fear.  We should not allow fear to stop us from hearing the good news.  We should not  allow fear to stop us from knowing Jesus.  We should not allow fear to keep us from living, and loving, and experiencing the goodness and joy of this life. Our scripture says the women left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  “With fear and great joy!

Joy and fear are emotions that often go hand in hand.

When we experience joy- we must do this wholeheartedly.  We can’t experience a little bit of joy- rather joy is an overflowing experience.  To experience joy, we must open ourselves up to living in the present moment. And when we open ourselves up to the present- we are vulnerable.  You can’t experience joy without vulnerability.  Being vulnerable means that we are also opening ourselves up to other experiences.  Being open to joy and love- also means being open fear.  When we are truly living, we are experiencing everything on life’s spectrum.  We will feel more joy- we will know more love- but we will also experience fear, loss, and grief.

  • Imagine learning to ride a bike for the first time. To balance- you must let go of the ground and trust your body.  You feel the joy of riding with the wind in your face.  Yet at the same time, there is still the possibility that you will fall.  There is joy and fear.
  • Imagine holding your precious baby or grandbaby for the first time. There is pure joy at the beauty of this new life.  And fear, because this gift is beyond our complete protection. Joy and fear.
  • Imagine applying for that job, or that perfect school. The hope of what it may bring also brings the fear of rejection and disappointment.
  • Imagine allowing ourselves to fall in love again- after a broken heart- with fear and great joy!

Allowing yourself to hope can be a risky thing.  It means putting yourself out there.  It means being open to the world.  When the women see the angel of the Lord, they are afraid.  When they see the empty tomb, they allow themselves to hope.  They are living in both fear and joy.  They are joyful because they have hope that the good news, may indeed be true.  That Jesus, their beloved teacher, is alive!  That they will see him again.  That he is waiting for them in Galilee.  They are fearful because they may again be disappointed with grief.  They have experienced something so unexpected- they do not know what will happen next- they are afraid.  They are experiencing fear and great joy!  They are so overcome with these emotions that they are running- they run to tell the disciples.  “They left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

And what happens next is perhaps the most surprising thing of all- they run into Jesus.  Jesus in the flesh.   In their fear and their joy and their running- they encounter God.  They meet the risen Christ.

In our lives, when we experience joy- we too run into God.  When we allow ourselves to hope.  When we allow ourselves to live in this present moment and experience joy- even though it also means befriending fear, we find God.  Our joy is a holy testament to the resurrected Christ.

Suddenly Jesus meets them and greets them.  It’s important to note the words that Jesus greet Mary and Mary with.  Our translation says, “Greetings!” And yet the root word is the same as the root word for joy- it is a greeting of joy.  Jesus’ emotions mirror the women.  And yet, what is not present?  Fear.  In the new creation- Jesus is filled with joy, without fear.  What a beautiful promise for each of us.  Someday we will know the perfect love that casts out fear, completely.

After Jesus greets the women- they worship him.  They take a leap of faith.  And Jesus again repeats the message. “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  The women are privileged to be the first witnesses to the resurrection.  The first to carry the good news that Jesus is alive, that God has not left them.    They are to tell the brothers and sisters that they will see Jesus in Galilee.  Galilee- the place where Jesus healed, and preached, and performed miracles.  The place where Jesus taught his disciples.  Jesus will go ahead of them Galilee.  The women carry this word of hope, with fear and great joy.

Hope may be a risky thing.  But a life without hope- is not a life truly lived.  A life without hope is a life without: joy, love, purpose.  The account of Jesus’ resurrection is a story that needs hope.  As Christians, we do not have the privilege of being first-hand witnesses to the resurrection.  Rather, God invites us to hear the story and believe.

As followers of Christ today, we stand with the women at the tomb and ask, “Could it be true?  Could this good news be true?”  We may be afraid to let ourselves believe this good news.  And yet God calls us to take a leap of faith- to allow ourselves to hope, and to experience the joy.  This joy comes from knowing Jesus.    God tells us, “Do not be afraid.”  We are called to take a leap of faith and open our eyes to the evidence of the resurrection all around us.

Our story began early in the morning on the first day of the week.  And that story did not end in death- but new life.  And every Sunday, the first day of the week, early in the morning- for the last two millennia- Jesus’ followers gather to share the story of God’s love for the world.  Just as we gather today to share the story, to remember Jesus’ words: Do not be afraid, I am going ahead of you.  The message of hope and joy.  The hope of Easter is that death is not the end of the story.  Jesus defeated death- and was raised to new life.  The hope of Easter is ‘for you.’  God promises you new life in Christ.  A life of joy and love.  A life that continues with God beyond the grave.  A life that will unite us with those we have lost who are now with God.  That is the hope of Easter.

May you be filled with the hope and joy of Easter today, and every day. Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed! Amen.

Holy Last Supper, Reflection from Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Scripture: John 13:1-7, 31-35

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Someone blogging about Holy Week wrote this…  “Holy Week is not about pursuing happiness…  Holy Week is about surviving with a broken heart, and cherishing that brokenness, so that your life is transformed by it.”[1]  And here we are on Maundy Thursday- called Maundy for the Latin word mandatum- meaning commandment.  We remember the last night that Jesus spent with his disciples- and the new commandment that he gave them- to love one another.  And we realize that this commandment is for us here today as well.  We, who come with our wounds and brokenness and suffering, and hope to be transformed…  But as we are transformed we never truly let go of those wounds- but instead they become the scars that make us who we are.  Jesus’ disciples experienced this in his death.

There’s a beautiful hymn that speaks to cherishing that brokenness, “We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts, living, now we remain with Jesus the Christ.”

In Holy Week we acknowledge the suffering that Jesus endured and the painful grief of his disciples. As we think about this last supper where Jesus washed his disciples feet and gave them a new commandment we realize that he is about to die.  This intimate meal and time that he shares with his disciples is shadowed by Jesus’ impending death.  And Jesus understands this.  And maybe the disciples do too- even if only subconsciously.  They pay special attention to his teaching.  They wonder about some of the strange things that Jesus says.  They sensed the holiness of the moment as they spent this special time with Jesus.  And for the rest of their lives- they will remember it as significant.  In fact it will take on even more meaning after Jesus dies.  It will be a source of inspiration for them as they begin their ministry.

In my life I experienced a Holy Last Supper of sorts.  It was for my nephew Drew.  He was just 11 months old when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.  It was a rare and aggressive form of cancer.  And despite months of surgeries, chemo, and procedures- the cancer spread throughout his body.  After my brother and sister-in-law decided to stop treatment- the children’s hospital connected them with a group that granted wishes to cancer patients and their families- similar to the Make a Wish Foundation- which does this for older children.  At first Ben and Annie hoped to take Drew on a trip- some place warm.  His favorite activity was going for walks and they hoped it would bring him some comfort- but the doctors said he wasn’t able to travel.  So instead they decided to host a dinner in Drew’s honor for their immediate families.  So we all gathered together with our special guest of honor.  There were pictures taken, and memories shared, and laughter and smiles over Drew.  We feasted on a delicious meal and clinked our glasses.  It was a very special and intimate time that we shared together. Drew was still with us, so we feasted and celebrated his beautiful spirit.  Still the shadow of his illness was present.  When the evening ended the bitterness settled in and the goodbyes were heart wrenching.  It was the last time I saw little Drew.  And I will always hold that evening in my heart.  It reminds me of what a precious gift each day is- and how blessed my family was to have Drew in our lives, even for a short time.

Looking back I wonder if the disciples felt similar.  Jesus was with them in his ministry for a short time- only three years.  And yet he forever changed their lives and the course of history.  And in that last night together Jesus gave them a new commandment that really embodied the whole of his ministry and the time they had spent together- love.  Before he shares this commandment with them he gives an illustration.  As any great teacher knows, the best way to teach others is to model the lesson yourself.  And Jesus, God in flesh, stoops low to wash the feet of the disciples.  Their tired, achy, dirty feet…  He becomes the slave- to show how much he truly loves them.  And he shows them how to love each other.  This is how you are to love others, by kneeling before them in service.  Jesus allows the disciples to feel with their hands and feet this message of love.  They are able to taste and see God’s goodness in the meal they share together.

In Jesus’ last hours with his disciples- he shares this message of love.  It’s quite remarkable really.  Jesus does go into a rather lengthy good-bye speech.  But it’s interesting to note what he does NOT do.  Jesus doesn’t give them a list of instructions.  He doesn’t create a hierarchy of leadership- or name one person as his successor.  He doesn’t give them rules about how to live together or how they will go forward in their mission.  He tells them to love one another just as he loved them.

It doesn’t seem very practical- really.  I know moms who leave the house the house for an evening with longer instruction lists than what Jesus gives to his disciples.   And yet even with all of its impracticality- it makes an impression on the disciples.  They will always remember this evening with Jesus- and understand how truly precious it was.  It becomes their calling and their identity.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And this command of love is our call too- it is our identity as Christians.  When we lose a loved one or experience a time of suffering in our lives- it never leaves us.  It becomes woven into the fabric of who we are.  And as Christians, the disciples’ memory of the Last Supper and the New Commandment become our memories too.  They become our suffering, and our passion, our brokenness.  And during Holy Week, we hold that suffering of Jesus deep in our hearts.  It becomes a living testament of God’s love for us.  It transforms us, into people who love deeply.  In Christ we survive with our broken hearts.  We cherish them because it means that we have truly loved others.   And we are transformed by the love of God that we know through the cross.  Amen.

[1] http://biteintheapple.com/beloved-a-maundy-thursday-reflection/

Holy Week, Holy Space

Next week is Holy Week, the heart of our church year.  Let’s take a minute and think about what the word holy means, to give us a better picture of what this week could offer us.

HOLY = Set apart

Holy Week = Time set apart for God

prayers around the cross candles

What does it look like to have time set apart in your life?  So many things get scheduled into our days: work, activities, and chores.  But what about time for your spirit?  Do we set aside holy time for things that fill us spiritually, perhaps walks, prayer time, reading, silence, devotional study? Holy Week is a time reorder your life around spirit time.  The week is ordered not by our normal activities alone, but by the story of Jesus’s love for us.  When we set aside special time for worship during holy week we are letting spirit time order our lives.  This is not only a personal thing, but a communal thing.  Many other people are making the same choice to reorder their lives around Jesus’ love.  Together, we join together to support one another and connect with each other.  We gather to hear the story of our faith- the story that gives us meaning and hope in our lives.

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The Story of the Week

During Holy Week we reflect on the last week of Jesus’ life starting with his procession into Jerusalem as the crowds cheered him on and shouted Hosanna- Save Now!  Palm Sunday

We worship with Holy Communion remembering Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and his final commandment for them to love each other as he loved them. Maundy Thursday

We reflect on the death of Jesus on the cross, and the great love with which Jesus laid down his life for all. Good Friday

Finally we celebrate that the grave could not hold Jesus- God has overcome death!  Christ is risen, and we as Christians are given new life in Christ! Easter Sunday

From glamorous glory- to heart-wrenching goodbyes- to the pain of the cross- to the fear and joy of new life- we hear the story of Jesus.  It is a story that is ‘for us, but not about us.’ It is for us, because it offers us all the love and forgiveness and grace that God has to offer in Christ.  But it is much, much bigger than a single person or even a single community.  It is about the world- the world that God loves.  This is the story of this great big love!  This is Holy Week.  Set aside time this week, to reorder your life around God’s love.  Give a gift to your spirit, and to your family by making holy space for worship and prayer.

In Christ’s abundant love-

Pastor Jamie

Sermon for Sunday, March 15th

John 3:14-21 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

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For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son

Today our scripture reading contains one of the most familiar verses in the Bible, John 3:16.  It is also a scripture that is at the core of our teaching of the Christian faith.  And yet we often forget that this verse comes in the middle of a story, in the midst of a conversation, a conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus.

Nicodemus

Nicodemus is a seeker of sorts.  He is Jewish like Jesus, but he is not one of Jesus’ followers yet.  He comes to learn more about this crazy rabbi who is stirring the pot.  This rabbi who turns water into wine and overturned the tables in the Temple.  Yet Nicodemus comes at night.  Maybe he doesn’t want the rest of his religious Pharisee friends to know- after all he is a leader of the Jewish people.  After the scene that Jesus made in the Temple, I’m not surprised he comes to Jesus at night.This darkness gives us a hint that Nicodemus doesn’t quite get it.  He hasn’t been enlightened yet.  He doesn’t really know who this Jesus guy is even though he claims to.

So Jesus pushes him in their conversation a bit- maybe stumps him.  He says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Yes, that’s a tricky one.  And much to Nicodemus’ credit he doesn’t pretend like he gets it.  He has the courage to ask Jesus a question.  He has the courage to continue to seek Jesus in faith.  According to the Message paraphrase Nicodemus says this, “You can’t reenter your mother’s womb and be born again.  What are you saying with this born-again talk?”  Thank goodness!

No Jesus says, it’s not a physical rebirth- it’s a spiritual rebirth!

Then Jesus goes on to explain what God is up to- and why he came.  And we have one of the most central and well-known verses of our faith in this teaching.  Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”  For God so loved the world!  What a beautiful truth.  God loves the world!  Even those who don’t love God in return…  God loves all of the world- the entire cosmos as the Greek translation shows us.  Even those people who do not look like us… Even those people who do not think like us…  The world.  The world made up of: men and women, gay people, straight people, kids and babies and people of all ages, black people, brown people, white people, people of different religions, people of varying physical abilities- the entire kosmos.  Oh yeah and the plants and animals and ecosystems I suppose too.  The world.  God loves this world.

It may be an interesting spiritual exercise to put ourselves in Nicodemus’ place- or maybe even the church.

The church came to Jesus in the night.  She had seen Jesus’ work in the Temple and was a bit nervous to meet him in public.  After all, religion is sort of her thing- and Jesus really did a number on the Temple marketplace.  It seems Jesus is teaching that there is a new way to God now- not through Temple sacrifice- now open to ALL people.  God is on the loose in the world apart from organized religion.  The church wanted to get the inside scoop from Jesus. 

“Hi Jesus- I know you are from God,” the Church starts.  (She always has the right answers…)

“Oh you do.” Says Jesus.  “Well did you know that to see God’s kingdom you have to born from above?”

“Well not exactly.” Says the church.  She knows not she is obligated to ask a follow-up question- even though she really doesn’t want to at this point.  “What do you mean, Jesus?”

“You have to be born again.”

The church knows a thing or two about birth from her collective experience and she knows that it is not an easy process.  It is difficult, messy, and it rarely goes as planned. It requires a long pregnancy, and birthing pains, and it makes something new.  “Well Jesus, I DO want to see your kingdom, but I am also pretty happy right where I am.  I am comfortable here.  I know what to expect.  My big beautiful church building may be a little dark, but it’s very familiar.”

“You must be born again.  You must become something new.” Jesus says. 

“But Jesus, you don’t understand… The world out there- it’s a different place!  Its not like days when our buildings were full, when everyone just knew they should come to church and everyone respected me!  Maybe we can work to get back to that world.”

“To see the kingdom of God.  You must be born from above- you must be born again.”  Now hold onto your hats,” Jesus says, “Here is the reason why I came and here is the reason why you exist.” 

Now we are getting somewhere, the church thought.

For God so loved the world- for I so loved the world- that I came to be with this world that I love so much.  So I want you, too, to be with the world, like I did.  I want you to go out to the people and be with them, and love them, and care for them.  I want you to show them my love.  Don’t love the comfort of this dark sanctuary more than you love me.  Come, and gather and be fed and nourished in my love.  And then go to my people that I love so much and tell them.”

“Church, my love, I want you to be born again.”

Being born is such a miracle- isn’t it!  When I look at my own children, and the new babies that come to Rachel’s Place, I never cease to be amazed.  With God’s help we create these little people that are truly little miracles.  Two of the most memorable moments of my life where the moments when each of my babies were placed on my chest- after two very long and difficult labors.  To be born is a miracle- and to be born again, to be born from above- is also a miracle.  To step aside and let God work a new thing in us, a new thing in the church- to leave the past and comfort of our old habits behind and choose to walk with God into a new future- is scary.  But it is also where true life comes.  This new life with God is worth all of the labor pains.  In the light of Christ our live have purpose and meaning and love.  And after this spiritual rebirth- we can see the kingdom of God around us- found in the most unlikely of places.

Now back to Nicodemus.  What happens to him?  Jesus shares this amazing truth of God’s love with him, and yet we don’t see a response from him.  Nothing happens.  He doesn’t become on of Jesus followers on the spot.  We assume he goes back to his life and carries on normally.  Nothing happens immediately- but something does happen eventually.  The word of love that Jesus gives to him acts like a seed.  And with time it grows.  We see in chapter 7 that Nicodemus speaks up on Jesus’ behalf.  The other Pharisees want to arrest Jesus, but Nicodemus argues that he should at least get a fair hearing.  And finally at the end of Jesus life we hear this from the gospel writer,

“Nicodemus, who had first come to Jesus at night, came now in broad daylight carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. They took Jesus’ body and, following the Jewish burial custom, wrapped it in linen with the spices. There was a garden near the place he was crucified, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been placed. So, because it was Sabbath preparation for the Jews and the tomb was convenient, they placed Jesus in it.”

Nicodemus does finally get it.  And its Jesus’ death, that helps him see this truth.  He comes in the light now because he recognizes that Jesus is the true light of the world.  And it is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that the Church gets it as well.  When we see the marks of cross on Jesus’ hands and feet- we see how deep the love of God for us is.  And we see how much God loves this world.  And we see how we are called to love that world.

May you remember this deep love that God has for you, and may it give you the courage to let your light shine for the world to see.

Empathy as God’s Love

 John 3:16- For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 

Check out this video:

Now I know the title of this video is Empathy. But for me, it sort of paints a picture of what love is like. Love comes down into the cave with you- just to sit with you in hard times. Love shares in your pain. And I think that’s the kind of love that Jesus talks about when he says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” God gave the only Son Jesus to enter into our world- our world of pain and suffering to be with us. That is the love that Jesus embodies. And as Christians that is the kind of love that we too are called to embody when we asked to love God and love our neighbors.

Video by Brene Brown

Sermon for Sunday, February 22nd

Mark 1:9-15

 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ 

The world today is going to hell in a handbasket…

Kids these days  do not know how good they have it…

All leaders and politicians are corrupt…

Violence is worse today than it ever has been…

It is easy to be cynical today, isn’t it?  Do you ever catch yourself repeating some of these phrases?

What does it take today, to believe in the good news? 

And this is not only true for adults.  Teens, middle school youth- do you ever catch yourself saying- “This is dumb.”…  “I don’t like that class, that person, that activity…”  It is easy to sit back and be critical.  A whole lot easier than it is to change ourselves, let alone change the world right?

Theodore Roosevelt has a powerful quote that came from a speech he gave that illustrates this point…

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. –Theodore Roosevelt

 

In our gospel reading today, Jesus preached a short sermon.  He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news?”

How do we take Jesus’ command to believe, or trust, in the good news of God, seriously?  How do we refuse to give into the temptation of cynicism and criticism? How do we become the peace of God that we want to see in the world?

We look at the verb that precedes this command.  Repent.  Repent and believe are both in the active imperative form- meaning that they are both commands from Jesus to those whom he was preaching to- and because we believe this word is a living word- to us.  We first need to repent in order to believe in the good news.

Repentance is something that we focus on in the season of Lent.  It is something central to our faith.  We need to repent, or turn away from our sin and turn to God, in order to be in relationship with God.  Repent can be described as turning in a new direction, and in the context of our faith it includes both a change of mind and heart- and a change in our actions.  I shared on Wednesday that it could also be seen as having a new perspective.[1]  Here we might say that this new perspective allows us to believe in the good news of Jesus.  Turn away from whatever keeps you from hearing and trusting this good news.  Turn toward Jesus.

When we first repent we are able to hear God’s good news.  We heard the good news in our first reading today.  (The end of the Noah’s Ark story.) The good news that God has made a covenant with all of creation- all living things, never to destroy the earth with a flood.  God’s covenant in this story is not a covenant in the sense of a treaty or pact- which is often what covenant meant.  Because in this story only one party has an obligation, and that is God.  This covenant is a promise- a promise God makes to all living things not to harm them.  The sign of the bow- which was once a sign of war- now becomes a sign of peace.  God’s bow of peace in the sky.

We need to look no further than the symbol of our Christian faith for the good news.  The cross.  Another weapon now becomes God’s symbol of peace.  In the cross, Jesus takes on the sins of the world, the suffering of all.  In the cross, Jesus hangs in solidarity with all of those who suffer unjustly.  In the cross- God reconciles the world, including each of us. God is with us in times of difficulty, in times of suffering, when we face temptation, when we are alone in the wilderness.  We are never truly alone, because God is with us.  And that is God’s good news.

When Jesus was baptized, a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”  And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”  Here God’s good news exists alongside wilderness.  Jesus is the beloved son.  Jesus is also driven into the wilderness where he is tempted.  And even though Jesus is in the wilderness- he was not alone.  He, ‘was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.’ The promise of Jesus’ baptism sustained him during his time of trial.

And the same is true for you.  Jesus commands you to repent and believe in the good news of that God has come near- the good news that you are a beloved child, that you are forgiven, that the cross is for you, that God is with you even in times of wilderness.  And that promise will sustain you in difficult times.  That promise will also drive you to the things God calls you to do.

I believe God is calling us to turn in a new direction.  To resist the temptation to hear only the bad news and cynicism that this world can offer.  To resist the impulse to sit on the sideline as a critic.  But rather, to dare greatly in participating in God’s mission for the world, to participate in bringing God’s peace to this hurting world.

[1] Matthew Skinner, Working Preaching Podcast.

Photo credit: Bibleresources.americanbible.org

Sermon for Sunday, December 21st: Holding the Holy

Sermon for Sunday, December 21st (Advent 4)

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Luke 1:26-38 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.”

The beginning of the good news…

A few weeks ago in Advent 2, we heard the beginning of Mark’s gospel, the good news of Jesus.  Mark began with John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord.  Last week, in Advent 3 we read the gospel of John, which begins with Jesus as the word of God, present at creation.  Today, our gospel message comes from the first chapter of Luke.  And Luke begins his story from his own unique perspective.  He begins his gospel in this way, with a dedication to Theolphilus, or literally, lover of God.  “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us,just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,[a] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”

After Luke investigates the complete story of Jesus, he begins his gospel with Mary’s story.  Luke’s gospel is the only one to include Mary’s story and the story of her family including her cousin Elizabeth, her husband the priest Zechariah, and of course their son John the Baptist.  It makes one wonder where this additional part of the story came from?  Who was this mystery source?  Maybe Luke was able to track down Mary herself, to tell her side of the story of Jesus.  By the time Luke’s gospel was recorded Mary would have been a very old woman, if she was still living.  Or maybe her story was passed on to her other children, or to a community that she was a part of.  But maybe for a moment we could imagine Mary a frail but bright woman telling of the birth of her mysterious and divine son.  Luke sitting at her feet, addressing her as the, “blessed Mary, mother of Jesus” with the utmost respect and humility….  Hanging on her every word as she recounted the day that the angel Gabriel appeared to her…

Notice he would not have addressed her as, the virgin Mary- as virgin implies not only purity but can also be translated as young girl in the Greek.  In fact, no one in our scriptures personally addresses Mary as the virgin- rather it was one of the descriptive details of the story.  It was not central to her identity, but central to the story of God doing the impossible!  Rather Mary was addressed as, “Favored One” by the Angel Gabriel.  As the Message paraphrase puts it, the angel Gabriel proclaims,

Good morning!
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.

Elizabeth later addresses Mary saying, “Blessed are you among women.”  And Mary sings of herself, “all generations will call me blessed.”  Not Mary the virgin, not Mary the young girl, but Mary the Favored One of God, Mary the Blessed one among women, Mary the blessed one for all generations.

Certainly, Luke would have listened with reverence as she recounted the events around the birth of Jesus.  Mary would be known through the scriptures for her boldness in her resounding yes to God’s plan of salvation.  Mary would be known for her joyful song of redemption.  Mary would be known for her faithfulness to God and to her son, until the very day that he died- and beyond.

Mary- the one chosen to bear God’s son to the world

Mary- (the theotokos) the God-bearer

Luke’s story begins with Mary and the conception of Jesus- because it tells the truth about Jesus.  Jesus is from God.  His birth is an ordinary human birth- and yet it is exceptional.  It is messy- and it is holy.  God is brought to birth through a woman, just as all people are…  And yet this woman had a radical encounter with God that sets this birth apart for all of history.  Mary’s story illustrates this truth.

The Angel Gabriel tells Mary that, “the child born will be ‘holy.”  Mary hears this news with wonder.  The name Jesus, literally means Yahweh saves.  Mary will bear God’s son to the world.  She will hold the holy in her womb, in her arms.  And God’s work of redemption will flow through her.

Mary bears the holy. Mary cradles the holy. Mary shares the holy with the world.

This is God’s call for her, announced through the angel Gabriel.  And this is the call for each of us this Advent and Christmas season.

But how would Mary respond to the angel’s pronouncement?  Mary blessed?  Highly favored Her? She is only a peasant girl and never had anyone call her blessed or favored.  A teenage girl, unmarried pregnant…  Would anyone believe that an Angel of the Lord appeared to her?  This angel had told her that she is to bear a Son, God’s Son.  A Son who is the one her people have been waiting for.  One who will sit on the throne of David, a promised Messiah!  She could hardly believe it herself!

At times we may question with Mary, “How can it be?” How can I be God’s chosen, God’s beloved?  Maybe we are a lot like Mary.  Many times we may view Mary in a class above all of us.  But as we read the story again this Christmas, we see that she was an ordinary person, but by saying yes to God, God worked extraordinary things through her.  “Nothing is impossible with God.”  Mary was blessed and blessed others because of her YES to God.  And we can do the same. Mary holds the holy.

Imagine for a moment holding the most precious thing you can imagine in your hands. 

Some may imagine- the holding that precious newborn in their hands.  Pure gift.  Pure holiness- entrusted to you.

Some may imagine- the hand of a beloved…

Some may imagine- a tiny seed- the beauty of God’s creation…

Some may imagine- any number of important things

We have done little to create these gifts or earn them- all we can do is open our hands and hearts and accept God’s gifts to us.

And as a community we also live out- holding the Eucharist, the body of Christ every Sunday.  God’s holiness in our hands…  In essence taking the body, spirit, teaching, of Jesus and taking it within our bodies- ingesting it.  Holding the holy.  Each of us- not only the ‘good enough’ ‘old enough’ ‘trained enough’ ‘spiritual enough’ among us- but all of us- holding the holy- just as Mary with no training, a poor young girl did.  And this season we imagine with Mary that we hold the Christ child, as she did.  Even as an old, frail woman- I’m sure she could remember vividly the moment she heard the angel tell her that she would bear a holy child within her.  I’m sure she could picture the moment after all of the pain, blood, sweat, and tears- that she held the holy child in her arms.  Holding, cradling, sharing the holy…

We may never know the mystery of Luke’s source for Mary’s story.  But we do know that Mary’s story brings the gospel message in a different form.  It puts flesh on the good news.  It makes it even more earthy, messy- even more real.  God really among us.  God with us.  The holy brought as close as our own two hands.  It also helps us to see the holy in the world around us.  God in the stranger- God in the person in need- God in those seeking justice- God in those imprisoned.  The mystery of Mary’s story is our story too.  God has called us to bear the holy- to hold the holy- and to share the holy with the world.  This Christmas, may we share in the work of bearing the Christ Child to the world and recognize the holiness of God among us.

Look Mom, Baby Jesus!

Look Mom, Baby Jesus!

My son Bennett is loving Christmas this year.  He cannot get enough of the lights, the trees, the music, and gift wrapping.  He is also keenly aware of every Baby Jesus around.  On our ride home, he will point out every manger scene and glowing nativity.  In fact, sometimes he sees the Baby Jesus even when I cannot see him.  What a beautiful illustration of how our children can be our teachers in the faith.  This Advent season, one of my spiritual goals was to slow down a bit.  Of course my schedule is busy with ministry and family, but even with the busyness, there is really no reason for me to be in a rush all of the time! So I am working on taking deep breaths and living in the moment.  And Bennett is there to help me.  Like when I tried to rush us home this week after work.  There were some flakes of snow hanging in the air, and Bennett was entranced.  He would not be rushed.  He wanted to examine the snow and catch it on his tongue and walk through it slowly.  So I tried to go with it!

Getting meals ready is another time that all parents know can be busy and stressful.  Usually by the time the food is on the table, I’m distracted and tired.  So I grab a bite as I am putting my plate down.  “STOP MOMMY- DON’T EAT!”  Bennett said to me this morning at breakfast.  “We need to pray,” he said.  Oh yeah I think- pray… that’s a good idea.  He also makes me sit down next to him, rather than standing to eat.  After he says his prayer (very loudly I will say, we are working on his inside voice), he exclaims, “Let’s eat!”  And we enjoy our waffles together.  Nice.

I love these moments when I take the time to enjoy life with my children.  Their wonder and excitement can teach us so much, especially around the Christmas season.  Granted, Bennett would eat his boogers if I let him, so I don’t recommend taking all of your life lessons from two-year olds.  But when it comes to enjoying life without so much worry- they know where it’s at.

Bennett set up our Little People nativity beneath our tree.  And he insisted on including all of the other animals including the lions and tigers and turtles because they love the baby Jesus too.  Somehow even Batman made it into our manger scene this year.  And I love it.  There are no presents under our tree right now- just our very diverse manger scene.  This is partly because I am pretty sure Bennett and Brandt would rip them to shreds if I turned my back, but I think I like the spirit of it in the end.

When we go home tonight, Bennett will be on the lookout for the Baby Jesus again.  And I will too.

May you and your family be blessed with the baby Jesus showing up in unexpected places!  Merry Christmas!

photo credit: dgfumc.org