I hope you all had a good holiday last week and made it to your destinations safely. Thanksgiving is the signal in our culture that Christmas is coming. It seems like every year that Christmas stuff, meaning the Christmas trees and Christmas deals, appear earlier and earlier, in the month of November. Now that we have entered December, Christmas fever or frenzy is whipping up. For many of us as we look at the weeks ahead, we can't shake the thought of physical exhaustion which intern saps our spirit. Christmas is not something to look forward to but instead is something we simply must endure along with all the presents, meals, Christmas Concerts, holiday parties and the list goes on and on. However, it is a lot easier to get caught up in all this colors, chaos. and brillant lights because when we look at what Christmas really brings us it is actually asks us to think about the way we live our busy lives.
I think many of us know that Christmas is about Jesus being born into the world. What we often overlook is why. Time and time again the people of Israel have faced some overwhelming stuff. In Jeremiah 33, many of the best and brightest from Israel have been taken into slavery after Bablyon had captured Israel. They didn't know if they would ever go home again. Even more so, the people of Israel didn't know if Israel, their country, would ever exist at all again or would it just join the names of the many countries that are wiped off the face of the Earth. Into this dark future, the prophet Jeremiah told the people, that God promises them that this in the not the end. He goes on to say that they will all eventually go back home to Israel and that God is going to put a descendent of King David, the king everybody loved, on the throne. God is signaling to them and to us today, that God honors God promise. This promise helped the people of Israel live into hope. Just think about your situation, how does it feel to be hopefully or hopeless about things? It really changes how you live your life daily dones't it?
Knowing that Jesus is again coming this Christmas season, knowing that hope is coming. What is going to be different about this year than all the other Christmases that have come before?How are you going to live your life differently, knowing that God honors God promises and is brinign hope to all the world?
Have you ever hit rock bottom? What did that feel like? A friend of mine, Jenny, told me about the time that she hit rock bottom with her drinking. She woke up after drinking all night heavily with a terrible headache, her work calling her wondering where she was, her daughter crying in the other room, and this feeling of dread. It was too much for Jenny. She picked up the beer can on the night stand but it was empty, so Jenny got out of bed and walked past her daughter's room down to the kitchen. In the fridge there was only one beer left, because she had finished off the rets of them the night before. She grabbed it in one hand, and then heard the voice of her mom telling her she was better than this. Automattically the beer came out of the fridge, and she opened it. With the beer at her lips, the cries of Jenny's daughter finally registered. "What am I doing," she thought to herself. "What am I teaching my daughter, that beer is more important than she is." Jenny started to cry as she threw the beer into the sink. She slowly sank to the floor in her kitchen and cried on the floor. "I knew at this point, something had to change because this was not working." she told me.
In our lesson for this week, God tells God's people that this isn't working. They are going to hit rock bottom because of their destructive behavior. The people of Israel are going to experience this rock bottom when they are conquered by the Babylonians and exiled to a foreign country. It is going to be a long hard road for them. However, this isn't the end of their journey but is instead a beginning. Chapter 11 reminds them that there is still hope and that God will not abandon them. God tells them about a Messiah who will come and teach them what it means to love and serve God.
These texts today are a microcosm of Resurrection Theology. That is a fancy way of saying that these texts tell us about how resurrection works in our lives. Once we hit rock bottom and begin to move away from the way we always do things, we begin to experience our new normal. When we listen to God, we begin to live our lives anew. Things are not going to be easy but they are going to be better. Jenny tells me that every time I see her. 20 years she has been sober, it wasn't easy. She had to change and a lot of that change was hard and painfully but Jenny is happier for the change. When we listen to God and begin to walk with God our lives change and we begin to live the lives that God wants us so desperately to live. What do you need God's help this week? What do you need to let go and let God?
This past Sunday was All Saint's Sunday, a time to remember all the Saints in our lives. How often do we use that word Saint? Not very much unless we are talking about the NFL team. Why do you think we don't use this word very often in our common lexicon? I wonder if it is hard to think of ourselves as Saints let alone other people. So what is a saint? Is it people just like Mother Teresa? People who have so much faith that can move mountians; a purifty and holiness that makes their clothes almost glean like a supernova; or maybe somebody who never thinks about their own life but always about others. I think we do a good job of making Sainthood very hard to attain and even to think about. Saint though, is the nickname God gave each of us when we were baptised. It means beloved. It means real people, warts and all. Being a Saint is not a measuring stick to see whether we are worthy to be God's child but instead it is a term of endearment. We are Saints. We are God's Children.
Have you every though you were a Saint, yes you? How do you feel about that? Sounds pretty scary doesn't it? What about all those expectations? Except their is not. God wants us to live together loving God and loving each other. If we live our lives this way we are indeed acting out our Sainthood because following God is not an easy path. We have to listen to others; we are not suppose to react but interact; and we are suppose to love and not hate. All these things are tough because we live in a broken world. However, when we get it wrong, God picks us up and dusts us off again.
So think about those poeple in your life who are your Saints. Is it a grandmother, a friends, a classmate, or a coworker? What about them reminded you of God and God's grace? Now the harder question, how can you do that in the larger world around you. Remember changing the world starts with one person at a time and the easiest person to change is yourself. What can you do to show other's God grace and how can you be a Saint to somebody else?
This past Sunday, we had Confirmation Sunday, where six of our young adults affirmed their baptism promises and became members adult members of the church. It was a great event and I am proud of each on of our confirmands. I really enjoyed to see them learn more about their faith and how it interacted in their lives.
Confirmation has a interesting place in current church culutre. For many it is one of the last times we "have" to come to church. The sacramental check list is complete and now church can be left by the wayside. That is until some type of tradegy happens when people remember how their faith was suppose to help them in hard times like these. They may go back to their local church for guidance or support but many times they just walk away from their faith. It hasn't been helpful in their everyday lives, so why would they turn to it now? I think too many people see confirmation as an ending and not what it truly is which is a beginning. A beginning of a faith walk that takes you beyond your child like faith and allows you to explore you faith with the themes you will encounter in life such as relationships; how to deal with death; how to deal with disappointment; how to deal with abundant blessings; and how to deal with stress to name a few. Exploring these themes allows us to see how important our faith is and how it shapes what we say as well as what we do.
I wonder if confirmation would be less of an end point if we had things for people to do afterwards. How do we engage adults and young adults? Are the answer more classes? Is it thoughtful YouTube videos? How do you change the culture, so that confirmation is more of a transition like going from junior high to high school versus college graduation? I wish I had a lot of answers but I don't. I know what I would like to see, which is people engaging their faith more. The hard part is time and making it relevant to what is going on in their lives. So I will continue to brainstorm different ways in which to engage folks but I would really like to hear your ideas. What would help you grow in your faith more? What would you look forward to doing each week, or maybe each day?
I don't know about you but there are many days and sometimes week, where I feel my life is a country western song. You know the type of song where, you lose your truck, your dog, and your girlfriend ot boyfriend in that order. As much as we kid about our lives emulating these popular songs, there is not a lot of humor as we go through these moments? So how do we find hope in the midst of the hardness and brokenness of life? If we examine God's word we can see that there are plenty of times that people in the Bible have gone through something similar. This week in worship we look at 2 Samuel chapetrs 5 and 6. During this time, our Jewish brothers and sisters had just gotten done fighting a civil war. It was a bloody struggle where many of the folks were having a hard time forgiving each other and putting the civil war behind them. In spite of this, King David dances as he brings the ark of God into the city of Jerusalem. This moment can give off a Nero fiddling as Rome burns vibe but King's David dance does take in the understanding of the gravity of that moment. On the contrary King David knows full well, that the years ahead are going to be rough and tumble as the kingdom figures out how to mesh together while being buffeted by enemies on all sides. So why his joy? King David is joy filled because the ark of God is being placed back into Jerusalem. The ark was a symbol of God's word and God's promise. He was excited that it was coming back to the people of Israel and into their capital city because it symbolically represented God's presence back into their midst. God's presence represented hope, represented a second chance, represented mercy, and represented love. This is why it is important that we take some time in the word of God ourselves, because it reminds us of God's presence in our lives. I think we all need to feel God's hope and love in our busy and chaotic lives. So this week, take some time and dive into the word of God and look to see where God is talking to you. One of the best and easiest ways to do this is by reading a devotional. Look on line or around your house for a devotional book and open it up. It is one of the easiest ways to begin to hear the word of God echo in your life and begin to shape you into the person God wants you to be.
This week I have been attending a preaching conference in St. Paul. One of the classes I took today talked about what an early church service in 150 A.D. would look like. It started out with people reading scripture until they were out of time. Then the presider, not a preacher, would invite people to follow what was laid out in scripture. This "sermon time" was followed by prayers, and then the sacraments both baptism and holy communion. Finally there would be an offering taken and this offering would be given out to the folks who needed help. Any members who couldn't make it would be visited by the deacons, so that they check in a see how the folks were doing. This service is none too different than what we have today. The professor, my worship professor from Luther Seminary Dirk Lange, reminded us that all the parts of worship should point back to the text(s). Worship was in a sense acting out the parts of our faith. They allowed our bodies as well as our minds to participate in this celebration of who God is. Each week for these early Christians was a celebration.
I think worship for many of us from week to week can feel pretty routine and anything but special. Last Sunday we talked about the Ten Commandments and more specifically the third commandment, which says remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy. Sabbath again is a churchy word for saying rest. Sunday is about Rest. The way we as Christians should rest is by spending some time with God, this is why we go to church on our traditional Sabbath day of Sunday. Resting allows us to realize that everything in our lives is not dependant on us but is in fact dependent on God. Sabbath or Rest days are to remind us that we can be free from our anxieties; free from the weight of the world on our shoulders; and free from the worry that we don’t ever measure up. This is why last week, I talked about worship as freedom. The very act of showing up on Sunday mornings should lift our spirits because of this fact that we are reminded we are free. That is why I put up balloons in the narathex because it reminded us that we should treat worship as a party or celebration. I found it interesting that Professor Lange was tying into this same thing by referencing how the early church held service. Worship is about celebrating the love, grace, and mercy of God. Yet why is it so hard for us to feel this excitement? So I am asking you this week, what could we do that would change the way that you would think about worship? What would it take for you to look forward to coming each and every week?
What is the history behind your name? What does your name mean? Does your name have some cultural or family meaning? I think it is pretty easy to just look at our names, and just shrug our shoulders with indifference. During my teen age years especially, I really hated my middle name of "Christopher". I thought it sounded awkward. It reminded me too much of Christopher Robin from the Winnie the Pooh books and cartoons. I thought I was way too grown up to deal with that "childish" name. When I used to ask my mom why they had decided on Christopher, she said it just fit. For many years that middle name seemed to dog me. I hated it so much that many times I refused to tell people my middle initial unless they would guess it. This view of my middle name changed when I became a college freshman. Suddenly my faith became an important part of my life. This is not to say that I still didn't think this middle name was clunky, but I accepted it as a reminder of the importance I placed on my Christians faith. One day, I took some time to look at what Christopher means and found out it comes from the Late Greek Name Chirstophors that means bearing Christ. Early Christians used it as a metaphorical name, expressing that they carried Christ in their hearts. As I have dived deeper in my faith I could see why my mom and dad thought this name suited me. Honestly as I look back, I have grown into my name, and I think it has shaped who I am. Now I see my middle name as a part of my identity and who I have become. I have bore Christ to a lot of folks, and it has shaped who I am and how I live my life.
In this week's text from Exodus 3:14, we learn God name, which is I am who I am. This is indeed classic God speak where God doesn't always gives us a straight forward answer. However, it does reveal a lot about who God is. With this name, God is informing us that God will be our God no matter what. God is not going to take off time to go on vacation; God isn't only going to be our God when circumstances are good; and God isn't going to abandon us for somebody else. We are reminded of this promise every time we remember our baptism. God claims us by name and that never goes way. God remembers God promise to us, even when we don't. This is the nature of who God is and why we can in turn go in our daily lives.
So what about you, have you grown into your name? Have you wanted to change your name? How do you feel knowing that God is with you every day? How does it feel to be named and claimed by God, even when you don't feel you deserve it? How do you live your life differently?
So what makes you laugh? Little babies giggling? Jokes by your favorite comedian? Life's little unexpected encounters? Or maybe another question I should ask is do you even laugh? I think many times the weight of the world seems to be on our shoulders and it is very hard for us to see the humor in much of anything. Laughter is important it is a good stress reliever for one. It helps breaks up the tension within us. Believe it or not it is biblical. This week when we look at Genesis Chapters 18-21, we find a story about a relationship that has gone south between Abraham and Sarah. The two of them were not speaking to each other because in essence they had tried to hurry a promise of God up with disastrous consequences. Some Holy visitors came to Abraham one day and told him that he had Sarah were going to see the fulfillment of God's promise for them to have a son, next year. Sarah laughed at this because she was too old to have a baby; her relationshp with Abraham was in tatters; and God promise had the scent of a wet sock to her. This laugh was not a good belly laugh, it was a cynical laugh. God called her on the laugh and said in effect that I, God, honor my promises. Then the impossible happened just like God promised. Sarah and Abraham had a little boy who they named Isaac, which means laughter. Sarah realized at this point that God does honor God's promises and that it is foolish to be carrying all this stress. She laughed and felt the release of the tension within her, all the pressure that had been consuming her. Sarah also learned that laughter leads to something even more important and that is trusting God. Believe it or not God wants the best for us. So why do we contiually keep all the stress and anxiety ontop of our shoulders? Why don't we trust God to help us with it? I think it comes back to control. As much as we think we can control our lives we can't. When we trust God, when we begin to laugh, we realize that we are not in control but God is. Then the pressure is off and we can breathe again. We can live to our true potential. So what do you need to give God control around? What do you need to laugh at instead of stress out about?
It is the start of the new fall programming year which means that with the narrative lectionary, a resource used to help congregations move through the stories of the Bible, we are now back in the book of Genesis. Some fun facts about this book of the Bible is that Genesis is the first book of the Bible; some scholars say that Moses was the one who wrote Genesis when the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness; and Gensis' name comes from the first two words of the opening sentence of the book. Genesis is about human's first relationships with God and with each other. What we learn in chapter 2 is that the intitial word to describe our relationship with God is trust. God trusted Adam to work in Eden. God didn't tell Adam how to do his job just what the parameters were and then God left him alone to do it. Adam trusted God had his best interests at heart and God trusted Adam to do the right thing. When God saw that Adam needed help God created a helper, a woman made from Adam's rib bone. They were equals and partners. So God vision for our relationships with each other is about trust and for partnership. How does that look in your life? Is your spouse really a partner in your relationship or are they not? How does that make you feel if they are not?
Another hard question to ponder is what does it mean to trust God in your life? I know for me it is a continual challenge because I want so much control. Trusting is giving up this control to follow where God leads, which I know for myself was a very scary thing. Why does this feel scary though? Is it because it is easier to say we trust God then to put it into action?
As important as it is to raise these questions it is more important to put them into action. So this week what can you do to show your partnership in one of your relationships? How can you talk to your spouse, or friend, or family member about how your relationship could get better? What would it be to trust God this week in your life? What would be different?
What do you with stuff that breaks? You throw it away because it can't function as well as new or whole items right? This is something that seems pretty common sense in our culture today. My plate breaks and I go buy a new one at Target. However God doesn't work this way. God uses us inspite of our brokeness or I would say because we are broken. I think many Christians believe that once we have faith, our life will be a bed of rose. Unfortunately this is not the case, we all experience the up and downs of life whether we have faith or not. However when we have faith, we are better able to navigate the challenges of our lives because we know we are not alone and that we have a God who walks with us every step of the way. Since we gone through these hard times, and have been beaten up by them but not defeated by them. We become a good resource for other who may be going through the same thing. God put us in other people's lives to help them see the hope that we have in our own broken lives. God uses us cracked vessels and pours God's Grace and Love into us and that changes us. The cracks start to emit light to the world around us, the cracks aren't a sign of our brokeness they are instead an opening to allow the light, love, and hope of God to radiate around us into the world for everyone to see. Is there somebody in your life today, that needs to see the light of Christ? Does somebody you know need some hope in the midst of their despair? If so sit down with them, listen to their story, and then share what God has done in your life, so that the know they are not alone and that there is hope.
Pastor Paul. I hope you find these reflections insightful and help you in your faith journey!