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Let Nothing You Dismay: The Returning – A midweek advent message!

MidWeek Advent Service II  

Let Nothing You Dismay
The Returning

I.H.S.†

May the mercy of God of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be so clearly revealed, that when you have strayed into disobedience and sin, you simply remember the promise and return, knowing He will cleanse you from all sin and unrighteousness.  AMEN!

The Trial

There are words that we hear God speak through Malachi this evening that are brutally scary.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears?

That’s a hard question, will you be able to face God when he appears?  When he brings our the Law and compares your life against it?  Will you be ready?

Or will you be one of those who Jesus spoke of, when Matthew records,

21  “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.
Matthew 7:21 (NLT2)

While my head knows I can count on God’s grace, my heart and soul struggle to hear those words.  And it gets scarier,

Malachai continues,

At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

I wonder if we have lost a healthy fear of God, a fear that drives us to Him, to ask for the mercy He has promised us?

Or do we just keep dwelling in our sin, in the guilt and shame that drives us into the ground?

You see, our fear of God shouldn’t drive us away from Him, but it should drive us toward him.  That is what God is talking about through Malachai when he says,

God doesn’t Change

“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them.

We have to understand that about God, that while he abhors the sin, He doesn’t hate us. He wants to be in a relationship with us, not destroyed for what we have done, and what we’ve not done.  A healthy fear of God realizes that He is patient and merciful, and has always intended to be.

That’s why he hasn’t wiped us out and destroyed us, pouring out His wrath upon us.

He has never wanted to, it is not what He desires, and so He is patient, waiting for us to remember the promise and return.

The Promise

Here is that promise,

Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Return to me, and I will return to you!   What a promise, what a God who promises not to leave us alone in the midst of our brokenness, but promises forgiveness, cleansing and healing!

The people of that day struggled, they ask how they could return when they never left.

We don’t have to do that, we know that He wants us to return, so we don’t have to play that game.  We see how much He wants us return, as we think about Jesus coming into the flesh, dwelling with us, teaching us about the love of God then demonstrating it on the cross.

Return to me He says, and so we do, as we move into our time of confession, knowing God will be faithful to forgive us…knowing that He will return to us.

The Power Hidden in Pronouns and the Beginning of Advent

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

2  May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 3  Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.
Philippians 1:2-3 (NLT2) (italics mine)

God is always waiting for us; he never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope …always.

The Christians adopted this term to proclaim their special relationship to Jesus Christ. For them, he is the King who entered this wretched province, our world, and gifted it with the feast of his visit. He it is whose presence in the liturgical assembly they profess. With this expression, they intended to say, in general, “God is here.” He has not abandoned this world. He has not left us behind alone. Even though we cannot see and touch him like so many things—he is present, nevertheless, and visits us in many ways

As I started to prepare for next weeks sermon last night, the two pronouns in the reading caught my attention, and wouldn’t let it go.

I’ve read that passage hundreds of times, if not a thousand times, preached on it a lot, and those pronouns never hit me like they did last night. Technically they are genitive pronouns, called that because they have a relationship with a noun, as opposed to having a relationship with a verb.  They act more like adjectives than subjects or objects in a sentence.  In English, we might call them possessive pronouns.

Here is what that means to those of us who aren’t language geeks.

Those pronouns exist to tie the object in the sentence to the person/people the pronoun represents.  In the first case, “us”, in the second case, “Paul”.

And that makes all the difference in the world.  This God of whom Paul speaks is OUR GOD, OUR FATHER  this God he prays to is HIS GOD (or we can say when we pray MY GOD).  There is a relationship there, a connection that defines this God of whom we speak.  There is a personal close relationship that is so close we are defined by it, as is He.

This is a perfect thought to contemplate during Advent, especially as we begin this journey, contemplating what these pronouns mean.  That God, the creator and sustainer of the universe is our Father.  That we can go to Him in prayer, knowing that He not only will listen but that He desires too, offering comfort and peace in the times in our life that are the hardest.

This is the meaning of course, of Advent, the looking back and looking forward to Christ coming into our lives to reveal God’s love for us.  Looking forward as well, to the incredible time when we prodigals return home, for Christ has come for us.

Because of Jesus entering into our drama, we aren’t alone, we are in a relationship with God who never grows tired, who will not abandon us, whom we can and should talk to, who nourishes our famished souls.

In the past week, I have seen too much trauma, I have seen people experience too much brokenness. too much grief.  Perhaps more than any time in my ministry. It is in a time like this that the reality of Advent is such a treasured part of my life. I have to know God is here, I have to hear His voice comfort me, (through the scriptures and through those whom He has sent to encourage )

This is what Advent means, that until Christ’s return, we can dwell in His peace, something unexplainable, something unimaginable, yet something that is so real.

Lord, help us to realize your presence, as You surround us in your peace!  AMEN!

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 381). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

O Come! O Come, Emmanuel! ( are you ready for this?)

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. 15  John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” 16  From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17  For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18  No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. John 1:14-18 (NLT)

When we feel the presence of God in our daily lives, we can only say “God is here”and the first thing to do is to fall on our knees.

In the closing prayer of the [former Christmas Vigil] Mass, the faithful ask God for the grace, through the celebration of his Son’s birth, to “draw new breath”. Why and in what sense they wish to “draw new breath” is not explained, and so we are at liberty to understand this expression in the human and simple meaning of the words. This feast ought to let us draw “a breath of fresh air”. Admittedly, given the way we have burdened this feast with busyness nowadays, it much sooner renders us breathless and suffocates us in the end with deadlines

I wonder how clearly we hear the words we sing?   

Are we ready to be thrust into the presence of God, to be in awe, and even tremble as we gaze upon as beauty, are we ready to be overwhelmed by the sight of His glory, and humbled by the purity of His love? 

Are we ready to be so overtaken in that moment that our knees weaken and our bodies collapse?  

How can we prepare for that moment?  Can we be better prepared than Herod, the shepherds, and the angels were the first time Jesus came?  Only two elderly people were well prepared for that, ready to behold the glory of Christ incarnate.  Two old people who spent their days in prayer, and yet, they were still in awe of God with us. 

There are ways to build our expectation, and to get a glimpse of what we are about to encounter.  We find that “preview” in the Eucharist, the Feast of Christ, where we commune with His Body and His Blood.  That moment we realize how much He is present in our lives, preparing us, cleansing us, setting us apart for this incredible eternity He planned for us. 

Church should remind us of this, giving us that “new breath,” that fresh air that we need!  It does when the love of God, in all its height and depth, width and breadth is revealed to us in Jesus. 

O Come to us, Emmanuel!  And until you come in all your glory, fulfill your promise to come to us through your word, to draw us into yourself in the sacraments, and sustain and prepare us as you never leave us alone!  AMEN!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional thought for our seemingly broken days:

3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:3-5  HCSB

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.

In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.

For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest.  It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets.  In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!

It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night ) 

And we know it all right?  We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )

So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families? 

I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning.  When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face.  The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care. 

He needed Christmas.  he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.  

Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us.   Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace.  Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas. 

We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here.  That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin.  Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.

Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful!  Counselor! Almighty God!  Everlasting Father!  The One who Reigns with Peace…

the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.

So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

The Visit of the Peace of Christmas Past

The Visit of Peace of Christmas Past

Isaiah 11:6-10

†  I.H.S.

May the peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ bring you great peace, as you bring the Christmas message of Immanuel to the World!

Whose Christmas Past?

As Ebenezer Scrooge met the ghost of Christmas Past, he had one question.  He asked the shadowy ghost was whether it was there to talk about Christmas long past, or the Christmas of His past.

And as we look at the peace of Christmas past, that is still a good question, to begin with, are we talking about the peace of Christmas long past, or the peace of our Christmas past.

Some of you are saying, “What’s the difference!”

For tonight – we will answer the Lutheran way, that is, both the Christmas of long past and the Christmases of our past…

For Jesus brings peace to the past.

Was the Past that Peaceful?

Many need to bring to Jesus that peace to their past Christmas.

Maybe there were years when the world was at war, or maybe it was just their families that were divided and broken.  Maybe It was broken hearts that couldn’t understand how everyone else could be joyous and happy.  Maybe it was finances that challenged them, or addictions or their health or the health of those they love.

Many of us have some good memories, but also hard ones, and those steal away the peace, for the moment.

In Isaiah’s passage this evening, we heard a promise made to people that were challenged with many of the same challenges.  Many of them dealt with broken families, broken finances, broken by sin and shame, with heartache.  Which was  why peace seemed impossible, as impossible as natural enemies that would forgo the violence, and instead find peace with each other.

Such a passage would mean nothing special, if there was peace at the time.  For what division would be reconciled, what anger would be calmed, what relationships would need to be healed?  Isaiah’s promise revealed that this would happen….that they could wait for it

And that is promise in which God’s people trusted.  Because of that promise, and His Spirit confirming it, they could find peace in the mist of the chaos.  They could wait for the cross which was to come, they could wait for the point when all would be reconciled together in the death of Christ, just as we wait for the day when all is reconciled in His resurrection. They knew the brokenness that they endured in their society would fade.  God had promised it.

When our eyes are on God’s promise we can wait as well, Looking at the Christmas’s in our past, as we realize that the peace of God was with us, even in the middle of the fights, the anxiety, the frustrations and pain.  He sustained us in our Christmas past, just as He sustained them.

We could look forward because of the promise

Each visit of the ghosts taught Scrooge something, in Dicken’s parable, and as we look at the visit of the peace of Christmas Past, we realize that the peace we knew then is the peace that we know now, a peace that looks forward, trusting in God to do finish what He has completed in us.

A peace that enables us to look forward to the day when lambs and wolves relax together, and nothing hurts or destroys anymore, to the day where we live with Him will be a glorious place.

It is the peace that hope gives us that we are sustained in now, as Jesus keeps us safe in that peace.  AMEN!!

Blessed to Be in His Presence: Free from Blame and made Partners: An Advent Sermon on 1 Cor 1

church at communion 2We Are Blessed to Be in His Presence

Free from Blame and Made His Partners!

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

  I.H.S

 As the Apostle Paul desired for the Corinthians, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace!

 Thank God you belong to Jesus!

An observation I heard more times than I could count yesterday is one familiar.

“How do people get through this without Jesus?”

“How does the secular world deal with this?

And to be honest, I don’t know, but I have an answer to their problem, at the end of this message.

So when I got back to church yesterday, and I looked again at the passage, what caught my eye more than it did before was Paul giving thanks to God for his people and the grace He’s given, for they belong to Jesus.

And so memories of after the service came back, so many of your faces, resonating with these words of Paul.

I have to thank God that it the grace He has given so evident, as is that you belong to Jesus, you are His!  All of the words of comfort you offer each other confirms it, as we seemingly do it month after month, year after year.  The gospel I share with you from up here, or in the MPR, I get to see them lived out far more clearly, as the riches of God’s gifts is seen in you.
I don’t have to prove His presence is true, you know that, even if you are little hazy about all the details, we cannot deny that God carries us in times like these.

Look at what we do, this isn’t possibly without God’s work being true

I don’t know how often you think about Jesus coming back, never mind are eagerly waiting for His return.  Most of the time for me, it is a prayer of desperation, a prayer because I don’t know how we are going to cope any longer, or dare I say, how much more of a challenging life we can endure. 

That’s the same kind of feeling Isaiah had in the Old Testament, when he cried, Lord, just burst open the heavens and come down!!!!

We’re waiting Lord!  Just rip open those skies and get down here!

I mean what are you waiting for Lord?

We’re not the first people to struggle, and we aren’t the only people who think the struggle’s gone on long enough.  According to the Book of Revelation, even those in heaven, those who testified to God’s love cry out, “How long, O Holy and true Lord, how long until the suffering is dealt with?”  (Rev. 6:10)

God’s answer to them is rest a little longer, the number of your brothers and sisters aren’t complete.  Remember that please.  That the number isn’t complete….

The church is like Maxwell house….

So how do we endure all the suffering?  All the pain that sin causes in our lives?  If God won’t come and take us all home right now, how will we get past tomorrow?

How can we endure to the end?  How will we be strong and faithful from this moment until Christ returns?

While Jesus isn’t coming back for the final judgment yet, He promised that God would never abandon us, that He would never leave us alone.  Here he promises it again,

“He will keep you strong to the end,”

But it doesn’t end there, there is more , “so you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus returns”

Hear that guys?  All blame!  By guys I was talking to the men who are to blame for everything!  You know who you are!

Seriously, that promise is twofold.  The first is that God will personally sustain us, and keep us strong until Jesus returns.  The second is that we will be blameless – completely righteous, innocent of all sin, completely cleansed by God, our soul completely healed.

What we can’t do, He did already.  For our strength comes from our being untied to Jesus’ death and resurrection in our baptism, in God claiming us as His, for it is when we were united to Jesus that we became His, new creatures, that He fully cares for and sustains.

Because of Him we were sinners, and now we are forgiven, righteous, holy, and this is how Jesus will find us, the very work He did on the cross made it possible, and made it happen

Partnership with Christ – from His death till He comes again

So let me bring back up the idea of how people get through this life without knowing God.

It’s not supposed to be that way, and in fact, even as God planned for us to be blameless and holy, and strong to the last drop, he planned for those people who didn’t know His comfort.

Just as the Father sent Jesus to us, Jesus sends us to them.

You heard me right, that’s what the idea the Apostle is getting to, when he says, “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what He says, and he has invited you into partnership with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Our partnership, our communion, our fellowship with Jesus is so complete, we share in His vocation of Savior.  Not that we are crucified for their sins, but they hear about that incredible act of love, and the resurrection through us.  They hear of the love of God that will sustain us through this seemingly broken, shattered life.

And our words will confirm the work of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Him, as we share the hope we have.

They don’t have to go through this life without Christ, and certainly, we know that God doesn’t desire that they go through life without hope, and for that reason, He isn’t come back yet…

You and I are Jesus partners, have been since our baptism, and through us, through the gospel, we share with family and friends, they will know that God is with them as well…

And then on the days when they like us are broken and exhausted, or tire of crying, and dealing with the guilt and shame of sin, they will know the power and beauty and strength and peace found in these words,

The Lord, who loves you, is with you!

AMEN!

Called to Belong: Called to Be His Own! An Advent Sermon on Romans 1

nativityCalled to Belong: Called to Be His Own

Romans 1:1-7

† In Jesus Name †

What People Need?

There are a ton of articles circulating across pastor’s desks, as they have for the prior three generations.  When I was in college, they asked why my generation was leaving the church and provided great statistics on why people like me, the children of baby boomers, weren’t attending church.

I wondered about it a lot, as I had gone to a large youth group in high school, in fact, it was significantly bigger than any church I’ve belonged to, and really, was bigger than all the churches I’ve pastored since.

In the nineties and up to about 2004 or 2005, pastors, church planters, it seemed everything churches did were questioning why people of my age group weren’t in church, and trying to make churches attractive to them.

As if we are all the same.  As if our needs, our anxieties, our challenges, our doubts and fears were the same.

It has changed now, as churches seem to have lost focus on those in my age group – those once labeled genX.  GenX is history, the church “experts” no longer mention us. Now the concern is with the millennials, Marissa, Melissa’s, Kelcie’s age group.  A group that is two or even three generations removed from the days when youth filled every church, when complete families, three and four generations worth of family found themselves sitting together on Sunday morning.

And for the most part, the experts still treat whichever generation they mourn the absence of as if they are all alike.  They want to find the “one” thing that will draw them all, the one key element that will draw them to church,

And perhaps, there is the problem in the first place.

If all we deal with is generalizations, how can we assure the individual whether 25, 50, 78 or 91 that they matter, that they belong?

To be honest, that’s been a challenge, even for pastors I’ve know in my life. Can the individual know that they are important, that God has called them to belong, that He has called them to be His own?

Yet, God calls us, individually here, to be part of this family, and maybe we can learn from that

Why is this good news?

When scripture talks about good news, we need to understand why it was good.  As Paul is writing to Gentiles, we need to understand that this was one of the largest generalizations ever created.

It was everyone who wasn’t Jewish by birth, who couldn’t trace their ancestral tree back to Abraham, Issac and Jacob. A lot of folk.  Good folk, bad folk.  Tall, short, skinny, fat, smart, wise, silly. Older, younger, men and women, Some who wanted to find God to each out for help, others that simply wanted to mock God.  And few that would want to make money off of people, but saying only they knew the way to God.

The only thing they have in common, is that they didn’t belong.  Even someone adopted into a Jewish family didn’t quite make it, and those who were hyphens, those who were half Jewish and half something else, they were treated with less of a welcome.

We were all outsiders, stuck in the darkness, not worth the time for a Jewish Rabbi to share his wisdom, not allowed to hear the sweet words that God had accepted our sacrifice for our sin.  For that is why we became outsiders, our inability to love God with all we are, and our struggles to love others, including our enemies, as God has designed for us to live.  Because of that sin, we were outsiders, out in the cold and dark, possessed by our sin, oppressed by sin’s guilt and shame.

That is why the gospel is good news, For it smashes the demographic divisions, it grinds up generalizations, for what defines us is that we are wanted.

That God calls us to belong.

You.

Look at verse 6.  Let’s read it together

And you are called among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Though, he wrote this letter to an entire congregation, as you sin in the next verse, that “you” is singular.

You are called to belong to Jesus.

You are called to be a saint, one of God’s Holy People, whom He loves.

You are.  Singular.  Not because you are this age or that, because you have this heritage or that, no because except for this one.

God loves you.

And therefore you belong to Jesus.

He bought you at the cross, freeing you from the sin and hell which had power over you.

This is what Advent leads to, what Christmas and Easter, the manger and the cross.

That’s what has made the difference in every church I’ve been blessed to be a part of, we knew we belonged together, for we now we belonged to Christ.

I want you to hear those words one more time, what we need to hear, each of us in this room , and every person on this planet,

Matter of fact, maybe it will sink in deeper if we say it together,…

And I am included among those who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. Paul wrote this to me and all who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.

Amen!

 

More or Less – A Sermon on who we are during Advent

church at communion 2More or Less
Matthew 11:2-15

† Jesus, Son & Savior †

As we continue our journey through Advent, my you be blessed knowing that neither God’s grace, nor His presence will ever be far from you…

Some Concern

As we hear about John sending His disciples to ask Jesus if He is truly the Christ, the Messiah, the one Chosen and set apart to save humanity, there is both comfort and concern.

The comfort comes from knowing that John’s faith was challenged, even as my faith waivers now and then. Perhaps more often it is now rather than then.

It is not uncommon to know that feeling that leads to John sending out his people to ask.  Even though John knew in the womb that Jesus was the Messiah, even though John saw the Holy Spirit and Heard the Father’s voice when Jesus was baptized.  Even though we sing John’s song, the words he said the day after the baptism –

“There is the Lamb of God!  He who takes away the sins of the world!”

Now I can hear John crying out the words added to that liturgical hymn…. “Lord, grant me peace.”

That’s really what is behind his question about whether Jesus is the Messiah.  As John sits in the dark, dank jail cell, with breaks only to confront the man who is sinning, sleeping with his brother’s wife.

“Jesus, are you truly the Messiah or do I need to find peace somewhere else.”

It’s comforting to know I am not the only one to ask that… it’s concerning because if John’s faith couldn’t withstand the challenges of life,

how can mine…?

Compared to this greatest of the prophets, the man who testified about Jesus while in his mother’s womb…. Who are you and me?

And how can we have the faith to endure?
More Concern

As the gospel goes on, as we read the words St Matthew, the insignificance of my faith seems to multiply.

As John’s disciples leave, Jesus starts to praise John to the crowds.

John wasn’t weak and hollow like a willow reed.  He wasn’t spun around easily by life, or bent and broken by the storms.  He wasn’t a fashion plate, he wasn’t rich and famous, yet people flocked to hear him speak, which tells us he was not just a powerful speaker, he had a message that people needed to hear, and desired too, even if it was painful!

He was a prophet, and more than a prophet.

And people came to hear him, they couldn’t stop themselves.

Jesus says that as great as John was, and no who has ever been born is greater, he can’t be compared to the least in the kingdom of God.

Ouch.

What hope does that give us?

How do we compare to the prophets of prophets?

How can he who is so much more than us, and so much less than them… Hearing that, how do we know joy, on this third day of Advent?

Listening and Understanding

To understand this, we have to listen to Jesus,

He says, about John being the fulfillment of the promise of Elijah’s return, that those who have ears to hear should listen and understand.

Understand what?

That he is our Messiah. Just as He was John’s.

It’s the same answer, the answer to John, and the answer those who listen and hear.

Hear the answer to John again,

the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.*.’ ”

It took me a while to see it, but the answers are the same – and the challenge is seeing that Jesus is the Messiah.

Not just the He is here to save the world,

He is here to bring you and me, and every other broken person we know, into the Kingdom of God.

For those He heals and cleanses, the poor souls that hear the gospel, the good news, and cling to Him, they are the ones dwelling in the Kingdom of God.

They are those who are greater in faith than John the Baptist.  “They” includes you and me.

That’s you and me, for we depend on the promises of God, that He will never leave or forsake us, that He will let nothing divided us from His love.

You and I have been raised to life with Christ, we dwell with Him.

We dwell in God’s kingdom by His invitation, by His declaration.

So we are more, even as we see ourselves as less.

We need to know this, we need to count on the fact that we are children Of God.  We live in His kingdom, we can’t run from Him, because He abides within us.

He is here, he dwells with you, and though we can’t sustain our faith based on our observations, He sustains us anyway.  That is why He came.  That is why John/Elijah came and set up his ministry.

That is why Jesus points to his ministry, and the important prophecy about Elijah’s return, these all point to Jesus’ role as the Messiah.  They point to His role as the one God sends to restore His people, to give up His life, to redeem us from the bondage of sin, to make us pure and holy in the Father’s eyes.

As the Messiah – as He is lifted up on the cross, he draws us into the Kingdom of Heaven, we become its citizens, we become the children of the King.

We are there, secure in Him, our hearts, our souls, our faith, and trust sustained, even on the dark days, for it is about His strength, His power, His love…

Love that never fades…Love that provides peace, and comfort, and when we see Him providing that love,  we even know the joy that shatters the darkness. Love that we can see, through the word, as He reveals Himself in the sacrament, as He renews our spirits.

AMEN!

 

 

Loving God With All Your Soul – The Blessing of the Incarnation.

MarkJ AdventLoving God with All Your Soul– the Blessing of Incarnation

Isaiah 61:1-10

 † I.H.S. †

 May Jesus’s incarnation in your life be so real, so tangible that your love for Him grows with every breath you take!

 My eyes are dry…the broken soul

It seems that many people this year would describe themselves with one word.

Tired.

There may be some factors that cause us to be so weary, so many it seems like all we do is go from trial to trauma, from prayer request to prayer request.  And as we talked about hearts being broken and needing Christ’s healing presence last week, the song talks about another part of us that is just worn down.

Our souls.

The part of us, that inner part that provides our courage, our character, our desire and the holiness that we need to walk through life in love with God, and to love our neighbor.

As we look at loving God as He asks, with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength, this one is hard.

When our soul is weary, when it is worn and broken, we hear the encouragement to love God, and we think about trying, and our soul cries out,

I’ve got nuthin.   Nuthin.

It’s that dryness that causes us to wonder why we pray, or if God is listening, or if He cares at all.  It is that dryness that causes us a spiritual exhaustion that robs us of hope, and leaves us thinking we still abide in the darkness.

He incarnation changes us… it dresses us.

Which is why we need to think about the incarnation, not just the incarnation when Mary is carrying Jesus in the womb, although contemplating that helps us contemplate His incarnation into our lives.

He came then, and angels sang.  They sing as well as Jesus draws us into Himself on the cross, taking all of our sins into Himself, and cleansing us of it. He takes that dryness as well, as we understand the cross, as we understand he is not distant.  He is here.

Isaiah’s second reading now makes sense –

I rejoice Heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul!

We are in Him, we abide in Him, and as we realize this, everything begins to change as well.

This is the joy we find in Advent, the restoration of our soul when we realize that Holy Spirit is there, despite our dryness, that He is here to comfort us, to restore us, to translate our prayers as Paul tells the church.

26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

See that?

So, even in those periods where we aren’t sure if God is listening, He is listening.  Hearing and responding to the deepest cries of our heart. Even when we don’t know what to say. Even when we are too dry to say anything.

He is with us, He is here, ministering to us, assuring us of His presence.  Using speed bumps to help us slow down, and know He is God, and He cares. As we realize this – so much happens, our souls come alive, as we realize His power saving us, as we are dressed in His righteousness, as He treats us as His beloved bride.  Our reaction, from the deepest part of our soul, is to love Him back… with all we are.

This is why our services include the Lord’s Supper, even before our eating dinner.

Because as we commune we stop and we find ourselves giving Him everything, our burdens, our anxieties, our fears, our sins, our dryness.  In his presence they actually fall off us, God removes them…as we stop and receive His blessed Body and Blood, given to us, His beloved, which strengthens our faith, helps us to depend on Him all the more, and dwell in peace.  AMEN!

 

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