A Child Is Born To Us!

Today’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:14-16; Luke 1:46-2:20

A child is born to us!  A son is given.  What a heavenly spectacle it is.

The Sheep Stood Stunned in Sudden Light

by Thomas Troeger

The sheep stood stunned in sudden light.  The shepherds shared the creature’s fright, while heaven’s star embroidered train swept over hills and down the plain.

They heard a rhythmic, rumbling roar, like breakers breaking on the shore and running up the thirsty strand to toss a treasure on the land.

And then the waves began to sing!  A sea of angels, wing on wing, was circling, chanting in the skies the news of Christ before their eyes.

This night, O God, again we hear your hidden ocean drawing near, against we sense through Jesus’ birth the sea of grace that circles earth.

O when the voiceless night returns and heaven’s sea more softly churns, may faith be like the shell that sends the sound of oceans waves and winds.

Through faith we’ll hear the angels’ songs, and though the dark be deep and long, we’ll bravely live, for by our side is Christ who came on heaven’s tide.*

From heaven to earth – from spirit to flesh – we celebrate the miracle of the incarnation.  Our Christ is born – Emmanuel – and he shall bring peace.

He shall bring peace.

Merry Christmas, my friends.  Merry Christmas

*Troeger, Thomas H., Borrowed Light (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 28.

The Coming King: Good News

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 1:1-7

Today my heart is heavy.  Andrew and I learned today that his childhood best friend – his kindred spirit – his partner in mayhem – his beloved Josh – passed away on December 10, 2013 due to heart failure.  He was 29.

Josh and Andrew were true brothers.  They met as many brothers do…in a fight…and following those initial blows they were inseparable.  They were family.  They are family.

Both attended an arts magnet high school in our hometown.  Both endured scrutiny and bullying because they were guys who loved the arts.

Andrew: vocal performance | Josh: dance

They stood up for one another.  They defended the other.  They held one another accountable.  They had so much fun.  They got into a lot of trouble.  They were boys.  They are brothers.  And now Josh has passed on.

Josh is a decorated veteran.  He served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in elite combat forces with the Marine Corps and Army.  He loved his country.  He loved defending freedom.  Though he would not talk in these words, I believe his true love was for the least, the last, and the lost.  I believe this is a love he found and fostered in his friendship and brotherhood with Andrew.  Their care for one another led him to care for so many – soldiers, civilians, innocents – around the globe.

I ache for Andrew.  I ache for our family.  I ache for Josh’s family.  When we ache it is so hard to remember, think about, and speak good news.

In one sentence – in one very long sentence – Paul shares the Good News with fledgling Christian communities in Rome – and around the world.  He tells the story from beginning to end.  From incarnation to resurrection to discipleship and stewardship of the Good News for our neighbors.

Paul wanted his brothers and sisters in Rome to know the whole story up front before diving into every theological detail and nuance the Roman correspondence has to offer.  When he shared this statement I am sure some who heard it were overjoyed, some overwhelmed, some content, some complacent, some angry, some grieving, some dying.  Though the words may have been a struggle to hear they were shared.  Though the words may have been a struggle to recall they were remembered and have been remembered throughout the ages.

We remember them tonight.  We remember the Good News as we acknowledge our human grief and human loss.  We seek comfort in the promise that we shall be raised with Christ, that we share in his gift of eternal life, that we shall be reunited with our loved ones in resurrection.

In the days ahead we will walk with our grief.  In the days ahead we will remember Josh as we remember the promise of Christ.  In the days ahead we will be mindful of the example of Christ that Josh lived in his life – to care first and foremost of the least, the last, and the lost.

In doing so we will draw near to the Good News and the Good News will heal.

Prayer: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.  If you get there before I do, coming for to carry me home; tell all my friends I’m coming too, coming for to carry me home.  Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.”* Our promise in you, O God, is that we are all coming home.  We thank you for this gift of Good News.  Amen.

*”Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 703.

 

The Coming King: The ‘Grumble’ Servant

Scripture ~ Matthew 11:2-6

In this Scripture passage disciples of John the Baptist engage Jesus in conversation.  It is not a casual catch-up.  They are not swapping challah recipes.  There is weight in their question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

There’s a fabulous song playing on the radio once every 20 minutes it seems…okay not really every 20…more like every 12…by Avicii called Wake Me Up.  The second verse sings, “I tried carrying the weight of the world, but I only have two hands.”   John the Baptist’s disciples bore a very heavy question in their hands.  And they asked it on behalf of the imprisoned First Century prophet, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

I wonder how quickly Jesus answered their question.  Did he grant the question space to breathe, to resonate, to echo before he answered?  The text does not tell us…but what it does tell us is saving.

Jesus says with assurance, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

What have John’s disciples seen and heard?

Healing.

What could our world – and more specifically our individual selves – see and hear more?

Healing.

This Tuesday a dear friend and congregant of mine will undergo a double mastectomy to address and entirely remove the breast cancer from her body.  At the end of the worship service this past Sunday we paused as a family of faith to pray over my friend and her spouse through the laying on of hands and anointing with oil.  Together we prayed,

“My friends, you are anointed with oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

O God, the giver of health and salvation, we give thanks to you for the gift of oil.  As your holy apostles anointed many who were sick and healed them, so pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on this gift, that those who in faith and repentance receive this anointing may be made whole; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May the power of God’s indwelling presence heal you of all illnesses – of body, mind, spirit, and relationships – that you may serve God with a loving heart.

Almighty God, we pray that our sister and brother may be comforted in their suffering and made whole.  When they are afraid, give them courage; when they feel weak, grant them your strength; when they are afflicted, afford them patience; when they are lost, offer them hope; when they are alone, move us to their side.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.”  Amen.*

At the end of the prayer the family of faith at Reeves granted space for the prayer to breathe, resonate, and echo in and around us and finally settle on my friend and her spouse.

Sunday morning I was granted the privilege to witness the healing Jesus testified.  I saw it.  I heard it.  I experienced it.  And even more humbling, I was honored to lead the healing liturgy for this special couple.

In that service of worship became what Jesus assured John was happening and it is happening because the incarnation of Christ is in our midst.  There is no need to wait.  There is no need to wonder.  Christ is the one who is to come and we know that with confidence as we see the healing taking place all around us: in relationships mended, in needs provided, in weakness restored, in sins forgiven.    

Jesus ends his response to John the Baptist saying, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”  After experiencing what I led and walked alongside the Reeves family through on Sunday I understand Jesus’ words as, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at the healing my coming initiates.”

My friends, we are truly blessed.  Christ’s healing is all around us.  May our eyes be opened to see it, may our ears be cleared to hear it, may our hearts be softened to receive it.

Prayer: “O let the Son of God enfold you with his Spirit and his love.  Let him fill your heart and satisfy your soul.  O let him have the things that hold you, and his Spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  O come and sing this song with gladness as your hearts are filled with joy.  Lift your hands in sweet surrender to his name.  O give him all your tears and sadness; give him all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into life in Jesus’ name.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.”** Amen.

*”Healing Service,” The United Methodist Book of Worship, 620-621.

**”Spirit Song,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 347.

The Coming King: Equitable Lord

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 11:1-10

Sometimes…you just need to stop and read a storybook.

Seriously.

Today’s storybook is You are Special by Max Lucado.  It tells the tale of Punchinello, who is  on a journey to discover the source of his self-worth.  Punchinello is a Wemmick – a small wooden person – and lives in a township full of Wemmicks who were all created by Eli the woodcarver.  The Wemmicks have an unfortunate treasured past time – they spend their days mulling around town valuing or devaluing their neighbors through gifting gold star stickers or imposing gray dot stickers.

If you happen to be a Wemmick that is made of smooth wood and fine paint, then you are adorned with gold star stickers.  However, if you happen to be a Wemmick that is rough around your edges, with dull paint and perhaps a few chips, then gray dot stickers are not just your fate but your reality.

Can you guess where Punchinello finds himself?  That’s right.  You can hardly see him for all his gray dots.  Shame overcomes poor Punchinello.  His identity is lost or perhaps it is eclipsed by the gray dots.  He leaves the town feeling utterly worthless.

And then one day he meet Lucia – a Wemmick unlike any other he had met because she had neither gold star stickers nor gray dot stickers.  The Wemmicks attempted to gift or impose the stickers, but they did not stick to her!  “What a curious Wemmick,” Punchinello must have thought.  “How could this be so?”  Lucia told Punchinello that the stickers did not stick to her because she decided that she did not care what the other Wemmicks thought.  She cared what Eli, the woodcarver, thought because he made her.  Lucia invited Punchinello to visit Eli so he could experience the freedom fromjudgment and fount of self-worth she had found.

Cautiously, Punchinello visited Eli.  And Eli said,

Who are they to give stars or dots?  They are Wemmicks just like you.  What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think.  And I think you are pretty special.  

The stickers only stick if they matter to you.  The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.  

You are special because I made you. *

“You are special because I made you,” Eli said.

“You are special because I made you,” God says.

This is the fount of our self-worth.  And I find this message particularly meaningful in light of the text from Isaiah this week.  The Coming King – our Equitable Lord – will unite unlikely people in his kingdom.

Are we worthy of such a gift?  I know I don’t feel worthy some days.

I’m too proud.  I’m too stubborn.  I’m lacking in faith.  I’m lacking in care and concern for others.  I participate in gifting gold star stickers and imposing gray dot stickers – and in like measure I have received those stars and dots.

The stars have forged relationships.  The dots have forged chasms.

Even in the face of this behavior God sends our Equitable Lord.  To bring us under his wing as a mother hen protects her young.  To provide for us.  To make peace within our individual selves and across our communities.  Why?  Simply because God made us.

There are no thresholds to cross.  There are no benchmarks to meet.  There are no prerequisites to fulfill.

God sees us.  God hears us.  God knows us.  God comes alongside us.

God crosses these chasms our gray dots have created.

God comes to us.

This is the gift each of us has received because we belong to God.  Receiving this gift necessarily transports us to the edge of the chasm our dots have created so we, after the example of God, can begin to cross the chasms and reconcile with our neighbors.  Reconciliation does not take the form of sowing star stickers in our neighbors.  Reconciliation takes the form of valuing our neighbors as beautiful children of God because that is what they are.

We are.   All of us.  Together.

We are standing on the edge and God is ready to walk with us as we cross.

Prayer: “Out of the depths I cry to you; O Lord, now hear my calling.  Incline your ear to my distress in spite of my rebelling.  Do not regard my sinful deeds.  Send me the grace my spirit needs; without it I am nothing.  It is in God that we shall hope, and not in our own merit; we rest our fears in God’s good Word and trust the Holy Spirit, whose promise keeps us strong and sure; we trust the holy signature inscribed upon our temples.”** Amen.

*Max Lucado, You Are Special (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), 25, 27, 29.

** “Out of the Depths I Cry to You,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 515.