Thursday, December 22, 2011

Running through Advent

The season of Christmas is almost upon us. 

This season of Advent has seemed to fly right by....the two practices I took on this season were prayer and running.  (Sometimes, depending on the distance of the run, these go hand in hand.)  This year, like last year, after the advent wreath was put together, I cut out yellow stars and placed them in a blue bowl in the center of the wreath.  Each day as I lit the wreath, I pulled out a star and included that person, those people or group of folks in prayer throughout the day.  I am thanful for the opportunity to take the time while I pray to think about others and bring them into prayer and bring me out of myself.

I love that the mantle is covered with stars and as I walk by I think of all those who have journeyed with me this advent.  Last year at this time, it was a time of much unrest for me.  Between anticipating a new call in Robesonia, and saying goodbyes in Indiana, I was surrounded by boxes and packing and goodbyes and deep breaths.  While I knew that the right decisions had been made, in the midst of it all I found it hard to just be.  I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect upon this time last year with a sense of calm and happiness that God has called me to this place.  I continue to pray for those who are in the midst of anxious times, unrest and uncertainty.  It is exactly into that situation that God sent Jesus into the world.  Into a world needing love, forgiveness and understanding.  It was a world that was looking for hope, salvation and a new beginning.  It is into that world, here and now that we are ready to receive the Christ child (again) in our midst this coming Christmas Eve.  May we be reminded the God breaks into our world - just as it is - to claim us, to love us and to send us into this broken world as agents of God's grace to those who surround us. 

May you have time this Christmas Eve to gather together in worship, in song, in prayer and at the Lord's Table to receive the greatest gift ever given. 

God's peace . . .

Monday, December 19, 2011

Congratulations! It's a boy!

December 18th, 2011
4th Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

Please pray with me, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen. 

On this 4th Sunday of Advent, we hear the story of Mary.  A story that we seem to know by heart,
26-28In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin's name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her:

   Good morning!
   You're beautiful with God's beauty,
   Beautiful inside and out!
   God be with you.
 29-33She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

   He will be great,
      be called 'Son of the Highest.'
   The Lord God will give him
      the throne of his father David;
   He will rule Jacob's house forever—
      no end, ever, to his kingdom."
 34Mary said to the angel, "But how? I've never slept with a man."
 35The angel answered,

   The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
      the power of the Highest hover over you;
   Therefore, the child you bring to birth
      will be called Holy, Son of God.
 36-38"And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."
   And Mary said,

   Yes, I see it all now:
      I'm the Lord's maid, ready to serve.
   Let it be with me
      just as you say.
   Then the angel left her.
As we continue to prepare our hearts and our homes and our lives for the moment God breaks into our world, as we continue to point to the coming Messiah, this week gives us an opportunity to focus on Mary’s call story.  We hear this week how God broke into Mary’s heart and Mary’s life and told her what her part in God’s plan would be. 

This is some pretty amazing stuff going on here, because here’s the thing about Mary.  She wasn’t dubbed Miss Nazareth, she hadn’t entered and won the sweepstakes to bear God’s son.  She was a humble young woman, betrothed to Joseph just living her life.  She had no idea that this great call would come to her.  And when the message came to her, she didn’t say, oh wait, let me think about this. 

She didn’t say, now, how will this impact my life, my family, my future.?
She didn’t say, woah, what will the townspeople, my parents and Joseph think of me?
While she may have had some of these thoughts, she doesn’t take the time to voice them. 

The angel doesn’t come to Mary and say, how would you feel about being the mother to God’s son?  Would you be up for it?  Say Mary, here’s God’s amazing plan for saving the world, are you okay with playing a key role in it? 

Nope, the angel doesn’t really give her the option to answer….because God has called her.
God has chosen Mary.  There’s no opportunity to say no, because she’s the one. 

Mary does, however, ask, “How can this be?” 
She is human, of course and probably was wondering about the details…who wouldn’t? 

But this doesn’t deter her from saying yes. 
She is an amazing woman.  She hears God’s call in her life and she responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 

In the midst of the season where we are preparing for God with us, Emmanuel, to be in our presence, in our hearts and in our world…sometimes this story seems like an amazing, one in a million occurrence of God calling one of God’s chosen to join in on the mission of saving the world.  And what makes this story amazing….is that Mary says yes.  She hears God’s call for her and she responds, positively. 

So, how does this story speak to us this day? 
God is breaking into our hearts every single day.  God is calling each and every one of us to be a part of this mission to love and save the world. 

We may not be called upon to physically give birth to the Son of God. 
But that does not belittle the fact that through our baptism, we have been called, by God, to live out lives of love and service to others, to bring Christ into the world. 

Mary was called to do a very tangible thing, to birth God’s love into the world, to proclaim that God’s promises are fulfilled.  Aren’t we asked to do the same? 

Meister Eckhart, a medieval mystic and theologian wrote, “We are all meant to be mothers of God.  What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?  And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not also full of grace?  What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and in my culture?  This, then is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.” 

God comes to each and every one of us, proclaiming good news of great joy to all people. 
We are each called and claimed and sent into this world to bear Christ to those around us. 

How will you hear God’s call this day? 
How will you live out the promise God made with you in baptism, that you are loved and saved, claimed and sent? 

How will your words and actions bring Christ into your home, your school, your place of work, the community and the world? 

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

Now go and bear Christ to the world.  Through what you say and what you do.  Through your ability to see others in the world and respond to their needs.  Through letting go of the things that get in the way of proclaiming Christ in your words and deeds. 
Go, bear Christ to the world! For he is coming and he is with us. 

And may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

joyful thoughts on abundance

December 11, 2011
The 3rd Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our Redeemer.  Amen. 

It’s all about me.

How many times have we felt that?  Or said that?  It’s all about me.  The day, the world, all others out there revolve around me, myself and I. 

Pretty selfish thought, isn’t it?  But it’s a thought we’ve probably all had.  I don’t want to point fingers at society, but we live in a culture that promotes ‘self.’  We can get the best cars, homes, Christmas decorations, clothing, smart phones.  Whatever you need to put you on top, you can get it.  And if you have a smartphone…you don’t even need to leave your house, you can place an order from the bookstore to the grocery store….and have it all delivered to your door. 

In this society we may even tend to want people and places to meet our expectations.  This is my community….and this is how things are done.  This is my church….and this is how we do things. 

When things revolve around us, we expect them to meet our expectations, we expect them to fit into the molds that we have created for them…we expect everything to meet our needs, our desires, our expectations. 

It’s all about me. 

Maybe that’s why the message of John the Baptist is calling out to us, or shouting out to us in the midst of this Advent season.  John is saying…Hey!  It’s not about you! 

Okay, that may be reading into it just a little bit.  But our gospel passage today is about John, but not about John.  He was sent from God to testify, to witness....those words come up many times in our lesson today, he was sent to point to Christ, to turn people towards Christ, to help people prepare for the coming Messiah. 

When the priests ask who John is…he is clear about who he is not. 

I am NOT the Messiah.
I am NOT Elijah.
I am NOT the prophet. 

He is the voice….the one who cries out “Make straight the way of the Lord!” 

John is not the one who will save us.
John is not the savior, the redeemer, the one who will turn the world upside down. 

John is clear here, that it’s not about him.  It’s not all about John.  Even though he is a fellow who draws our attention because of his looks and his diet, as soon as he catches our eye…he redirects us.  He turns us away from himself.
He turns us away from ourselves. 
He points and he turns us toward the coming Messiah. 

John’s message of repentance and preparation calls us to turn away from ourselves, our needs, our self-focus…and towards Christ in our midst here and now. 

Where is Christ here and now in our midst? 

Nope, not a trick question….where is Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, here and now? 

Let’s hear some examples….

I’m sure we could go on and on and go all around the sanctuary and here about different examples of the presence of Christ in our lives, in our community and in our world right now.  And the reason we could go on and on and on is because God is at work in our world, right now.  God is on a mission to love and save the world.  And that mission has been happening and continues to happen.  The mission doesn’t stop to see if we’re ready to hop on….we just answer the call to serve and jump right in. 

The trick is first, to spot what’s happening, you need to be on the lookout for God’s activity in the world…for Christ’s presence here and now in our midst. 

Then you have to tell others about it.  Tell your friends about where God is with us here and now.  Just like we shared those examples with one another.  But it’s more than just telling the story of the good news of Jesus Christ.   It’s more than just seeing it around you and telling others about it. 

It’s about responding to the covenant, that promise that God made with each of you in baptism.  It’s about responding to God’s love for you.  It’s about responding to God’s grace.  It’s about being an active part in the mission that is already going on around you. 

Because when you see all that is going on in the world…all the places that God is at work in the world, blessing people, loving people and saving people….it’s pretty amazing. 

And that good news, that love and that grace is unending…it’s not going to run out.  It’s not going to stop….it’s like the energizer bunny…it keeps going and going and going….

When we see that abundance, it’s easy to give. 

When we are worried about not having enough, or living in scarcity, then it’s hard. 

But we live in abundance. 
We have enough and more….

One of my favorite stories from a former parishioner is this. 
As soon as this couple was married…they decided they would tithe to the church.  They didn’t make much money, but they decided they would give 10 percent to the church first, then live off the rest.  They weren’t rich, by any means, but they got by.  They went through some tough times, but they kept up the commitment they made to the church.  Eventually the husband got a better job, the money flowed in much faster and in greater amounts then it had before. 
Their giving of 10 percent remained….all of the sudden they looked at their statement and were shocked as to how much they were giving to the church.  But the giving continued….
To this day, (as a retired couple) they commit to give 10 percent to the church, which doesn’t included baked goods for different events, donations to youth trips, donating supplies to the food pantry or buying gifts for needy youth at Christmastime. 

I know that, especially at this time of year, there is worry about having enough…and as soon as we do, we are forgetting that God is a God of abundance and generosity.  John helps us remember that it is not about us…and our needs…but it is about pointing others to Christ in our midst here and now. 

We have an abundance of gifts within this congregation.  Just look around you…all the ministries and activities that happen in this place are because we are alive and active in our response to God’s grace and love in our own lives. 

Think about how your time, talents and treasure help Trinity to point to Christ in our community. 
How will that commitment continue in the coming year? 
And how will that commitment increase? 

The wealth surrounds us…
The grace and love and gifts that God blesses us with continues to flow in abundance….

The light of Christ…that shines from this candle, is not extinguished as the light is shared…but the light gets brighter.   The light grows as it is shared. 

How will you let Christ’s light shine?

And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and let all God’s people say, amen.