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An Advent Sermon Series: The Relationships of Christmas Past, Present, and Future (Genesis 44-45)

Concordia Christmas Eve 2015

The Relationships of Christmas Past
Genesis 44:30-44

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus convince you of the healing that is indeed happening in your life, and in the lives of those you knew in Christmases past…

Haunted

I can imagine, as Judah stands before the brother he does not recognize, the heartache that he feels.  His heart and soul flashbacks to the look in his father’s eyes when they told him of Joseph’s death. Of watching his dad weep for months,

How it must have ate him up, even though he knew his brother probably wasn’t dead, but simply a slave somewhere.

Still, he had to look down, and see his father, wracked with tears, and live with his father’s overprotective nature toward Joseph’s younger brother, the only joy this broken man had…

Judah then considers having to break the news to his father, that his other son would be lost to him as well. His heart breaks, as guilt and shame have so weakened him, he realizes he can’t go back, he can’t watch his father die, because of the sin he has committed.

Surely he is haunted far more than Bob Marley or the most of the ghost of Christmas past ever could.

Our Relationships of Christmas Past

For many of us, the holidays are a challenge. We miss many dear friends and family.  Some are memories form our youth, like those we looked up to have past away, some of them decades ago.

Others are missing for a different reason.

Our sin.

Maybe we didn’t sell them into slavery, but the effect is much the same.  We never, ever, want to bump into each other, for the sin that divides us is too grievous.  Like Judah, thinking of the pain he caused his father, (not even thinking of Joseph) we can’t live with it. I can’t imagine bearing up with that kind of pain for decades…

Or can I?

I think back to the relationships of Christmases past, and know the absence of lives that brought joy, people I had fun with, that won’t be there this year without a miracle.  If I think about it, I understand all to well the pain that Judah felt, as he considered going back to his father,

I could easily share in the words of Judah,

33 Sir, I am your slave. Please let me stay here in place of Benjamin and let him return home with his brothers. 34 How can I face my father if Benjamin isn’t with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father in such sorrow.

As we regret the past, as we wish we, as we pray like Judah did, as we grieve over the damage of our sin, we hear God respond, “no…”

It is hard to hear God answer no…

So hard we don’t always hear, “my son, that is not necessary….”

But our Brother can..

It is actually impossible to take care of what we’ve broken and shattered. We can’t take the place of the joy, we can’t somehow sacrifice the life we have to restore that which is broken.

But that isn’t why God says “no”

He says no because He had already taken care of the sin that caused Judah’s grief, and anxiety.  The brother he thinks dead, he is standing before. What his and his brother’s sin threw away, the love of their Father is now going to be restored.

This is the moment that is the perfect example of Advent.  We stand before the King who is about to be revealed, trying to do with our guilt and shame, trying to figure out how to face the eternal consequences for our actions. How can we face God our father, when the relationships of our past mean our brother, our sister, isn’t going to be with us?  It is as this moment we understand the power of Advent and the greater moment of Christmas…

We really need to hear what God has already said, we need to hear it with all our heart and all our mind, and all our soul.

“Let it be done for you as you believe. By Jesus’ command I tell you, Your sins are forgiven, and what was done for evil, God will use for good. This is promised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN!”

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The Relationships of Christmas Present
Genesis 45:-18a

† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in your life, that broken relationships you deal with today are healed.
A Quick Review of the past

Last week, we looked at relationships of Christmas past, and we walked in the footsteps of Judah and his brothers. We saw the desire, and the inability to make up for the sins we’ve committed against others.

We had to see the only hope to deal with the guilt, the shame, the separation was to put it into God’s hands.

So now we come to the Relationships of Christmas Present…

In this moment!

Instead of walking in Judah’s footsteps, we have to exchange them for Joseph’s and deal with the pain of relationships in the present, those relationships that will not be celebrated at Christmas, because sin has again divided us.

Not our sin this time… “theirs!”

You know who I am talking about, every one of us has someone who, if they walked in the room right now, we would not want to interact with them. We may not be angry at them, we may not be burying our resentment, or at least we tell ourselves this.  But the pain is there. The heartache, and the discomfort when they walk in the room.

Joseph’s attitude:

If only we could see them, as Joseph saw his brothers, if only we could weep at the division between us, if only we could ask them to “please come closer,” and urge them as he did, “don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for hurting me this way,”

If only our grief caused by their sin was able to be dealt with in that way!

If only… we could love more than we hurt…

if only… the relationship meant more to us… than our pain.

My God, there are days where I wish I had the strength of Joseph’s faith…

But I do not…and if I read scripture right, neither do any of you.

The Key To Healing Relationships of Christmas Present

There is only one way to be able to generate that much strength, that much desire to see things “made right” in the relationship with us, that someone shattered. It is walking in Joseph’s steps and seeing what God has done, not in their life, but in ours.

That is where Joseph looks and sees God at work in His life. He sees God at work, as He promised to be, making everything work for good for those who love Him, those He’s called to be His own people.

It isn’t so much that we make the decision to love them, that we will ourselves to give up the pain and the hurt, that we willingly just give Jesus the resentment and pain.

It fades away, in the light of His glory, it fades away as we see the manger, and realize He is with us, it fades away.. as we see the cross, and realize He lived and died and rose again… because He loves us.

and there, in that moment, we find ourselves, empowered and driven by the Holy Spirit, going to those who’ve sinned against us, with tears in our eyes, saying,

It is I, your brother, don’t be afraid, don’t be upset with yourselves, God is at work here…

And then be amazed, for the peace of God which passes all understanding envelops you all, and guards your heart and soul and mind.  AMEN!

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The relationships of Christmas Future
Genesis 45:16-21-25-28

In Jesus Name

May the grace mercy and peace of God enable you to see the result of God reconciling us all into Himself.

The Journey Past and Present

This advent we’ve already looked at the Relationships of Christmas Past, those times where we have not been there, the times where our sin has dramatically impacted relationships, much as Judah and His brothers betrayed and sinned against Joseph.

And we saw how Christ did what Judah could not do, taking on the punishment we deserved.  Knowing that gave us hope for the relationships we broke in the past.

Then we looked at the Relationships of Christmas Present, and saw the relationships shattered by the sins of others.

We saw Joseph find the grace that comes when we realize God is at work in our lives, and that all things work out for God, even the things that people planned ot hurt us.

Now we get into the look for relationships in our future.., including those of the past and present.  It is the hope to which each of the previous weeks pointed to, it is the hope of advent, it is the hope that parable of scrooge pointed to as well – relationships healed by the power of God

What the King has in mind

When the news gets to the Pharaoh and his leaders that Joseph’s brothers had come, the reaction is amazing. Here is how it reads, “When it was told in the palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, the king and his officials were happy”  But “happy” is then seen in the reaction – “go get them, I will give them the nest of everything. They can eat and enjoy it all!”

That sounds more like the meaning behind the Hebrew there… which ranges from “it was very good, to delightful. Pharaoh was excited = you see his reaction – give them the best Joseph – the best of whatever I got!

That’s a picture of heaven, not the getting the best stuff, but the excitement of the Pharaoh is the excitement that God has, in seeing us “come home!” It is the regathering, the people that matter to God, His people whom Jesus died for, finally ending up where they belong!

It’s that joy we need to see tonight, the joy of God as He sees us as we are in Christ – reconciled together.

That is why Pharaoh includes this instruction as well, “They can leave their possessions behind,”  

The more we understand God’s delight, His joy for His people to dwell in His presence, the more this makes sense.  We don’t have to bring all the baggage we carry in this life!

Pharaoh provided everything they needed, just get in the chariots and come!

This is what God does for us, providing everything we need to dwell with Him, not just during the hard times of this life, but for eternity.

But the excitement – go get the people – bring them!

This amazing Pharaoh is as much a picture of God our Father as the Pharaoh 425 years later will not be!

I Must GO – His Son is really alive!

Up to this point in the story, Jacob has been distressed and depressed. And when the moving chariots get there, I love his reaction,

“My son Joseph must really be alive, and I will get to see him before I die.”

It reminds me of Joseph’s words,

26  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! 27  I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought! Job 19:26-27 (NLT2)

What makes the difference here is the interaction, Jacob will see his son, Job will see God, we will encounter Jesus,.

A son, once thought dead is found alive, and not only is he alive, but he is reigning and sits at the right hand of the King, Jacob’s life changed dramatically.

Just as Jesus has risen, and not is He alive, He reigns at the right hand of the Father, our lives have changed, reconciled, restored. He is truly risen!

Therefore, We ARE RISEN INDEED,

And when we see Him every relationship will be healed, will be made whole, as all dwell with the Lord, who has forgiven our sins, and united us all in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  AMEN!

 

 

Forgiving them for your sake? That is not Godly forgiveness!

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thoguht of the Day:

7 Go and preach, ‘The Kingdom of heaven is near!’ 8 Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, heal those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases, and drive out demons. You have received without paying, so give without being paid. Matthew 10:7-8 (TEV)

For if a work is not oriented toward serving others or toward suffering under another’s will (as long as one is not forced to act against God’s will), then it is not a good, Christian work

All good things flow into us from Christ, who accepted what we are into his life, as if he were what we are. These same things should flow from us into those who have need of them. In addition, I must place even my faith and righteousness before God for my neighbor, so that they cover my neighbor’s sin, and then take that sin upon myself, and act no differently than if it were my very own, even as Christ did for all of us. That, you see, is the nature of love when it is genuine.

Every once in a while, we pick up on sayings and make them our own. They resonate with us, and eventually, we give them the exalted status of being scriptural. Or at least we assume they are scriptural.

One of those sayings comes across this way.

You need to forgive them for your sake, if you don’t the only person you affect negatively is you.

The saying comes across in many forms, but it teaches that we forgive, not for the sake of the person that is indebted to us, but for our own sake.

Nice sentiment, and surely reconciliation blesses us as well as them, but forgiveness must be an act of love, an act of giving to the person who sinned against you.

Luther nails this when he talks of works not directed to the best interest of others not being “good Christian works”. As Jesus is quoted by Matthew, the point is made, – freely receive? Freely give! And as he hung on the cross, there wasn’t thought of his burdens being lifted by forgiving us. There was love, and the desire to minister to us and heal us.

This certainly makes forgiveness harder, relegating it to what it is, an act of love, an act that is Christlike, taking on the burden of sin, and releasing the person who committed it. It’s not going to be easy, it is not going to be full of warm fuzzies. It is a work that takes a dedicated decision to love.

Even our enemies.

Which means that is is an act of faith as well. Not trusting the sinner, but trusting that God can heal us of the pain caused by the sin, by the betrayal. It is going to take realizing the healing and love that God pours out on us, even as He forgives us a million times in our life,

And knowing we are loved, knowing He is healing us, knowing He is the righteous judge, we learn to forgive as He did. Forgiveness which testifies to a love greater than sin. It doesn’t happen as quickly or easily as we would wish.

But it can still happen. As w dwell in the peace of God which passes all understanding, guarding your hearts and minds as we dwell secured by Christ.

Heavenly Father, help us to forgive as Jesus did. Send your Spirit to comfort and empower us, and build in us the desire to love people enough that forgivness is a natural reaction, and the desire for reconciliation is our hope and prayer. AMEN!



Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 89). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

God did it again! Grrrrrr! Can He frustrate me!

Devotional Thought of the day

23 Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.   Proverbs 4:23 GNT

Be open to the night…
Pray with open hand, not with clenched fist…
Shapes loom out of the darkness, uncertain and unclear: but the hooded stranger on horseback emerging from the mist need not be assumed to be the bearer of ill…
The night is large and full of wonders…

Lord Dunsany from Morning Prayer: 12/15 Northumbriacommunity.org

For God, we are not numbers, we are important, indeed we are the most important beings to him; even if we are sinners we are the closest to his heart.

Again I find myself sitting in my office, upset at another injustice I see.

Something that seems dark and ominous, something that I’ve got to watch someone deal with, something that just isn’t right, or in my humble opinion, Godly.

I want to react, some might accuse me of wanting to overreact.  I want to step in and make things right, to bring light to the darkness, to bring healing where there was only division and repression…. and brokenness.

Even as I go to pray about it, I want to vent my anger to God and pray that He gets angry as well, angry enough to leave His throne and come done and do something about it.  As I tried to pray, I found my anger too strong, and I tried to ask God to bless all involved. and then I moved onto my readings for the day… 

You see some of these readings above…. and I my anger shifts a little, changes a little as I realize that God did it too me again.  He frustrated my anger, my agenda, my coming to Him with clench hands by pointing these readings right at my weakness, at my brokenness, at my lack of trusting, in Him. 

I need to guard these thoughts of mine, I need to be careful of how I think, of how I respond, of how I resent injustice. I need to realize that God could work through this dark time for my friend (actually friends – I am dealing with at least three such situations.. just one more appeared this mornign) and I need ot pray that God determines how this situation should go. 

And I need to realize the people involved in causing the injustice, they too are just mindless numbers, that they too are people that God cares about, even as they are broken sinners as much as I am. I need to pray for them, not just that their hearts are convicted, but that they know God would bless them, and work in their lives.

Of course, I don’t appreciate God pointing this out, arranging these readings in such a strong and powerful way.  It’s more than a little frustrating, not to mention I feel like he’s spying on me and playing with me a little.

Then again, I am incredibly grateful that He loves me that much, that He calls me on my anger when giving into it and when I forget His goal of revealing His mercy and love.  I am grateful He makes me wrestle with Him, and He allows me to see the Holy Spirit at work.  I am grateful He shares with us His love…and mercy…and enables us to (eventually) reach out in real prayer for those who antagonize and hurt us.

This is God…who knows and cares about us.

and I am thankful for His work in our lives.   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.

Can I forgive and not forget? How can I ever forget?

man wearing jacket standing on wooden docks leading to body of water

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

51 He said, “God has made me forget all my sufferings and all my father’s family”; so he named his first son Manasseh. 52 He also said, “God has given me children in the land of my trouble”; so he named his second son Ephraim. Gen 41:51-52  TEV

I cannot count the times that I have heard, “I will forgive them, but I will never forget.” And I know the difficulty, as we deal with the pain of being betrayed, the pain of being the victim of sin.

But how do we turn our backs on the pain?  How do we risk being so brutally betrayed again? And how can we stand with the victims, and yet be obedient to God’s call to work for the reconciliation of all to Jesus?  How can we have hope as well, when we struggle to obey, “forgive us our sins, and we forgive the sins of others.”

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t just a matter of teaching others. It is a matter of my own ability to forgive. And I deal with the guilt of it, how can I encourage people to turn to God for forgiveness, when I can’t forgive them?

How I long for the blessed peace that Joseph must have felt as he encountered his brothers.  The same brothers that so made his life miserable growing up, that eventually threatened to kill him, but instead simply sold him into slavery.  The brothers he could exact revenge upon, without hesitation.

And he chose to love instead, able to because of God’s making Joseph forget because God giving him a new family in the place where the only a life of struggle had been known.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

It is God’s work that heals us, that removes the burden of resentment, that restores us from the brokenness that shatters us beyond repair. It is the loving mercy of God (cHesed) that enabled this to happen in the life of Joseph.

This is what we need, what we need to hope for and expect from God.  It is the miracle we need to depend upon Him for, as the Holy Spirit comforts us, not only in regards to our being betrayed but in the moments we realize we betrayed someone else.

This is what grace is…

Heavenly Father, bless us as you blessed Joseph, as you made him forget, and enabled him to love and provide for those who betrayed him, knowing it was all Your work and ability to make it so. AMEN!

Do We Need to All Get Along? Do We Have A Choice?

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day
12  You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13  Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. 14  And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14 (TEV)

480    Do you see? That cable—strand upon strand, many of them woven tightly together—is strong enough to lift enormous weights. You and your brothers, with wills united to carry out God’s will, can overcome all obstacles.

13 Although we cannot and should not compel anyone to believe, we should nevertheless insist that the people learn to know how to distinguish between right and wrong according to the standards of those among whom they live and make their living

I am tired. 

I am tired because of the fighting going around us.  In this world as nation is against nation.  As nations are divided into camps we call parties but are not exactly fun!  And even inside those parties are divided, starving for attention and often, revenge.

The Church, the one, holy, catholic (as in united, universal church) is likewise fragmented, and denominations and congregations know bitter division, know its horrific pain and avoid the issues.  Too often we determine reconciliation and renewal is not possible, or perhaps if possible, not desirable. 

I see this all around me, and it makes me weary of life. 

I want to compel people to have enough faith in God, to trust Him enough to let Him heal them, and surely He would. I want to force them into a maturity that cares more about being merciful than the pain that has been caused by others.  That cares more for Christ being revealed than for hiding our own sins and pretending we are not shamed by them. 

But I can’t compel people to trust in God more, it is not the way it works.  No amount of threats can do it, no amount of pleading, all I can do is ask, and point to the scriptures.

It is a common dependence on God that turns the church into something more than a group of individuals separated by their own brokenness.  That unity, that being woven tightly together, it can create a bond that can conquer anything.  That unity is found in Christ’s love, 

Nowhere else.

It is found in the love that is the source, of mercy that empowers us to of set our own discomfort and pain, even the agony aside. That enables us to forgive, for He has shown the way in forgiving us. 

Only in Christ Jesus is this possible. In that love that weaves us together, binding the broken, splicing us together, making us stronger than anything else can.

Can we all get along?  Only in Christ, who draws us all into Him.  This is what is good and right… everything else is wrong. 

Lord have mercy on us, mercy that is so overwhelming that our anger, our pain, our resentment and even shame our washed away, revealing that we dwell in You, and in You, we are already one.  Amen!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1175-1177). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 339). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Dealing with the Pain of Betrayal….

church at communion 2Devotional Thought fo the Day:

Now please forgive us the wrong that we, the servants of your father’s God, have done.” Joseph cried when he received this message.
18 Then his brothers themselves came and bowed down before him. “Here we are before you as your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid; I can’t put myself in the place of God. 20You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened. 21You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts.   Gen. 50:17-21

Consider, in particular, the sin of ingratitude towards God, which is a general sin, and extends itself over all the rest, making them infinitely more enormous. Consider, then, how many benefits God has bestowed on you, and how you have abused them, turning them against Him, to dishonour Him. And, in particular, how many inspirations you have made unprofitable. But above all, how many times you have received the sacraments, and where are the fruits of them? What is become of all those precious jewels, with which your dear Spouse adorned you? They have all been buried under your iniquities. With what preparation have you received them? Think on your ingratitude; that God having run so far after you, you have fled from Him to lose yourself.

Joseph forgiving his brothers is a great story of grace.  It is also, for one such as I am, very convicting. 

I have to admit that I am a hold a very advanced certification in resentment, and am accomplished at being merciless.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate grace, or struggle to depend on the grace of God that is demonstrated in my being counted righteous and forgiven.  I depend on that daily, and it provides hope for this sinner that I am.

I find myself likewise confronted by the parable of the debtor is forgiven millions and has a very definite style of collecting the $150 bucks owed him the very same day.

Do we have to grow into people that imitate Joseph? Can’t we just count on God’s mercy, even for our mercilessness? Does it not extend out that far?  Surely Jesus understands the pain of being betrayed, the agony of being hurt, the horrible hurt that comes as someone sinning against us.

After all, I am just a broken sinner, one He is healing gradually, how can I be expected to be the Messiah or one of the great faithful people in scripture?  How would I find the strength, the inner power to desire to be, and to become that merciful?

I think St Francis de Sales comes up with a reasonable explanation for our inability.  It is because we don’t take the time to consider God’s actions in our lives that deserve gratitude, from our Creation, Redemption and Sanctification to His daily present that waits for our prayers, to His revealing His presence through His word and sacraments and those we encounter, as we think somehow we are ministering to them.  When in reality, we are simply exploring the incredible dimensions of His love.

As we begin to appreciate the amazing love of God who comes to us, who picks us up and begins to heal our brokenness, as He invites us to dine with Him, and are welcome into His peace, that is when our resentment breaks, when the tears flow, when we look to Him and ask if these relationships, as dry as dry bones can live.

It is only in understanding that He has brought us back to life, that He is healing us, that He is making us whole, that we find ourselves allowing the resentment to slip away, our grip on the anger and pain to painful to keep up. Looking to Jesus – seeing His love, how His plan has blessed you, even the sin committed against you, leads resentment a burden to cold, too hard to bear into the light of His glory.

Devotion to God who loves you more than you can imagine, or hanging on to the pain?

As we come to Advent, as we find the need we have fro Christ’s presence, as we begin to desire more and more the peace and love He he has to share with us, may we desire to set aside those things that would drags us down, and with joy, may we hold out our hands for those who once betrayed us, to join us in the journey.

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Christmas Eve: He Will, He Has!

For He Will: For He Has….
Matthew 1:18-25

Jesus! Son! Savior!

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ reveal to you the hope of Glory, His gift to you!

 What does this Mean?

As people are driving by the church this evening, as they see the cars in the parking lo now, and later, and tomorrow morning, I prayer that they ask a simple question.

Why are these cars here??

I pray that they also seek out the answer. That they would realize the reason we are here is more than just tradition, It is more than the lights and music.  It is worth delaying the gifts, and the family and friends that didn’t accept our invitations to join us.

It is here in this place, Christmas takes on a real meaning.

For this night, we celebrate the greatest blessing the world has ever known.  The greatest blessing that we will ever have, and nothing else is close.

We will realize this through the eyes of Joseph this evening….as we see him twice, both times somewhat unable to put his thoughts into words.  Both times unable to really understand what is going on…

Anxious Joseph…

The first we see of Joseph, he is struggling, confused, hurt, broken.  Feeling betrayed and overwhelmed

His fiancé tells him she is pregnant, and he knows he isn’t the father.  In fact, he hasn’t been alone with her, so how could….  what is a man to think?  The story Joseph was told?  How could she be so malicious, to think Joseph such a fool?

Our translation tonight used the phrase, “as he considered this,” yet the word picture behind the original is one who is breathing hard, who is out of control.  Hurt and broken, feeling betrayed, shocked, he is beyond words.  Speechless, he struggles through the night.

Some of us know this kind of anger, this kind of stress, we’ve felt that betrayal.

Most of us have experienced this kind of stress, this anger, hurt, betrayal, and pain.  Maybe like Joseph, we cannot conceive of how someone else’s actions could be anything but evil.  We can’t find a way to explain the situation in any positive way.

It hurts, we can’t figure a way to get out of the relationship with more pain, yet…can we even stand the pain any longer?  He had every right to demand she pay for her unfaithfulness, but the pain was so deep, he knew that wouldn’t help.

Or maybe, it wasn’t someone else who betrayed us.

We are the one who betrayed us.  I betrayed myself, you betrayed you.  We fell into that one sin, we gave into temptation, we chose to do something we know we would risk becoming broken. We can’t believe we did it.  We can’t sleep, we are so angry with ourselves, so full of guilt and shame…..

And in either case, we need an angel, a messenger from God to come, and make everything right again.

We end up beside ourselves, or we bury the guilt and shame, or the anger and resentment deep, where it causes so many other problems when we can’t bury any more

The Second Joseph

When the angel comes to Joseph, it changes everything.

He hears the news from an angel,

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21 (NLT)

He will save, this baby that is growing in Mary’s womb.  He will save Joseph, and Mary, and his family.  He will save his clan and nation and all people will have the opportunity to be saved from that life of brokenness.

This message brought the news that would repair his relationship with Mary.  No longer would he think her guilty of being unfaithful.  No longer would he deal with the brokenness inside him.

The message of who this baby would be changed all of that. That is what He will save means.

It gave him hope it restored what was broken.

If we are to explain why we are here, in this place, if we are to ask what this ceremony means, it is the same message.  For Joseph the message was He will save His people, for us it is He has saved us from our sin.

For Christ is the greatest message from God, as God comes to us, to tell us He loves us, and because of that, we are saved by Him.

Saved from our sin, our guilt, and shame, and delivered into God’s presence, saved and healed in this life, saved to see relationships restored and healed.  Including our most important relationship, our relationship with God.

God coming, and making everything right, everything righteous, as Jesus goes from a wooden manger to a wooden cross.  A new life which would bring life for the rest of us.

This is why this ceremony, and the one at 1115, and the one tomorrow are worth being at, this is what these ceremonies mean….for the gift is beyond all comprehension.  It is a gift of everlasting peace, and joy, and the glory of God.  It is knowing where we belong, and who we are, and freedom from all that is not good and holy.

Let us worship and praise Him with angels and archangels, shepherds and even wise men.  AMEN!

Prepare! Clear the Way for Jesus!

Prepare! Clear the Way for Jesus!

Mark 1:1-8
IHS

 My friends, my desire for us for this Advent Season is this: that from us is cleared away everything that divides us from God.  From knowing His Love, from adoring Him.  That is what God’s grace and mercy does, leaving us in His peace.

 Preparing for Christmas Shopping  – Rent a pastor!

It’s time for a Pastor Parker Parable, Advent edition.  As we prepare for the Christmas holidays, for the party’s, and as we buy gifts for people we love, I have an idea that might provide some insight into how the gospel works, using the idea of surviving the shopping, and the incredible crowds.  Here it is:

For a small donation to the elder’s benevolence fund, I will go shopping with you.

Let me explain how this is of a benefit.  I need four volunteers…. One lady and let’s say Dane and Bob and Chuck.  Did I say volunteers?  Well – you’re here, so you volunteered.  You three stand here, and pretend you are talking about football, or guns or even politics, and completely oblivious to what’s going on around you… Oh you are in the middle of a busy store…say Sears or Walmart

Now, over here we have Debbie, tired and weary of trying to find Tom just the right present.  She sees it over there, on the other side of the three guys talking, and there is no way to get through them.  You are out of luck.

But with the Pastor Shopping Assistant, this is problem is no problem at all.  There is an advantage to having a 6’2” pastor dressed in black with his collar.  You point out where you want to go in the store and I walk there, with you following behind.  I navigate through the three men, who aren’t sure they are moving because of the collar, because I am big, or because I look mean and ready to send them to hades, or to the woman’s lingerie section. But move they do…. And you get what you desired.

This is how a pastor can benefit you in your shopping, and the same benefit you get from time in God’s word, whether in a sermon, or Bible Study or personal time reading God’s word!  It’s the same thing we see as John preaches to the people of God and baptizes them as a sign of their repentance.

So the parable is this; pastoral assistance prepares for the appearance of Jesus the Christ!  The way is clear, there is a path to the goal
Getting through that which would separate you from Christ

In our lives, there is much to be cleared out, much that slows us down, junks that stops us from living life in the peace God has given us. It’s the stuff that in Peter’s reading will burn up in the end.

Very few of us are the John the Baptist types, who live off the most basic of things.

I mean, how many of us are willing to take cast-offs to wear, for that’s what he wore for clothes.  Or to eat whatever we came across, as we lived out in the field? We probably can’t find that much raw honey, but there is a good source of protein out there!  His life was pretty well prepared. The way for him has few obstacles…

John preached the message about clearing the crap that gets in the way of our relationship with God.  About clearing the way, making ready the path. He’s not talking about re-tarring the driveway at church, but getting rid of things like bitterness, resentment, anxiety, fears, and sin. He talked getting rid of our idea that we are right, and God just doesn’t know what life today is like.

We do that, when we don’t repent of sin, or when we allow others to think their sin isn’t a major one.   We do it when we make personal comfort our goal, rather than knowing we find our comfort in Christ.  We do it when we criticize others and gossip about them, rather than pray for their soul. We do it, when we don’t help those in need, or when our help is more to soothe our consciousness, rather than actually help them. This is the sin and unrighteousness that we hang on to, we protect, and we are don’t want to give up.   Though that makes very little sense.

All these things need to be cleared away.  Anxiety, fear, sin takes a straight road and turns into the spiritual version of Malibu Canyon road or trying to get one of the Black Friday super-specials.  On our own we stand a better chance of winning three consecutive state lotteries, than in being prepared for Jesus’ second coming.

We need to hear the word of God, we need to hear the John the Baptist, and be cleansed of our sins, of our idols, of the crap that blocks our way to Jesus.  We need to see His promises, we need to have the comfort He has promised, we need to know we are loved.

But there is so much that blocks us from Jesus, so much sin, so much anxiety, just so much!

How will we get it done in time?

Or will we give up and cling to the very things that poison our lives?  The things that stop us from being close to Jesus?
This is the stuff we need to get through, but it is so hard!

Is He there?
That’s where the word of God and the sacraments come into play.  Where a sermon or Bible Study that we are part of reveals Christ’s presence. When we hear the gospel  crushes that which stops us from our time with God.  Where it clears away the things that would block our access to God.   That’s how God’s word works, that is how the Holy Spirit uses it…to ready us for Jesus’s coming

Why else would people treasure it enough to wander out to the desert to hear him?  Why would they listen, what moved their hearts so much they admitted their sin?, Why would they run into the water, demonstrating that the Holy Spirit was at work in their lives, bringing them to repentance?

They gave up the game of being self-righteous, about pointing out the sins of others.  They acknowledged they needed God’s presence, and their lives were cluttered and blocked.  The crud washed away as promised, for and the word of God broke through, much as the 6’2’ 315 pound pastor can break through a crowd in a mall at Christmastime.

I want you to think about the ways Christ’s birth is declared in scripture.  A people living in utter darkness have seen a great life.  A time of healing a time of death being shattered by life, A day of the greatest rejoicing.

If that was true at Christ’s first coming to us, how much more will it be when He returns?

Hear again how Peter said in ( 2 Peter 3:8-14)


We are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness.

14 And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

It is the same concept, know that your life, your vitality is found in Jesus.  That His word reveals all that you need to see that the way is prepared, it has been planned, and for us, the way made sure at the cross, when Jesus died.  It is the blessing of having the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to us in our baptism. It is the blessing of having God’s word tell us of this, over and over again.

For the Spirit grants us repentance, and brings us comfort, and testifies to the promise of the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ.

We need to know we have access to God the Father, that there is nothing that blocks us, no amount of crud, nor a temple curtain.  We’ve been invited to His feast, and He’s made sure we can know we are welcome.

Knowing that, we can have the peaceful, pure and blameless lives Peter encourages us to live in, for we dwell in Christ, He has claimed us, and He will get us home.

AMEN.

Are Those Who Oppose Jesus, our Enemies? Or Those We’ve Been Sent to Love?

Devotional THought of the Day:

Now while he was at table in the house it happened that a number of tax collectors and sinners came to sit at the table with Jesus and his disciples. 11  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your master eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ 12  When he heard this he replied, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. 13  Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice. And indeed I came to call not the upright, but sinners.’   Matthew 9:10-13 (NJB) 10

869   Those… who see adversaries where there are only brothers, deny with their works the Christianity they profess. (1)

I didn’t want to write this post, but as I see those who trust in Christ respond with what appears to be hatred and a desire for revenge, I can’t be quiet on this one. Not so close to Christmas, Not in view of how God treated those we would consider His enemies, His adversaries.

Don’t we realize that when we react to people, we either testify of God’s love for them, or we deny it?  That when we wish evil, or retribution, or pain upon others, when we pray that their business goes down in flames, that they know misfortune, we aren’t loving them the way God loves them, the way He loves us?  Don’t we realize the power and the need of the old Lutheran prayer, Lord, turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries toward You?  Don’t we realize the truth of St Josemaria’s comment – that we deny what we profess, when we see these people Christ died for as adversaries, as opposed to those who need to be freed, and for God’s glory to shatter their darkness?

What will it take for us to turn the other cheek, to react the way Stephen did, the way Jesus did?  When will we desire that they come to the transformation that God desires for them, that they would realize He would cleanse them of their sin – just as we count on Him to do for us?

Yes, a neighbor wrote a letter to someone complaining about Santa Claus (secular Christmas) and a ton of lights.  Yeah, a guy gut suspdended from making money on television, yeah, someone didn’t like how agressive we were quote the Bible, or some religious book.  That is no reason to wish them evil, to curse them or raise crusades against them.

Instead, it’s a reason to love them, a reason to pray for them, a reason to be patient with them, and reach out to them.   Knowing that God has done the same for us.

We can stop the mad reactions against us… simply by loving them with Christ’s love.

Lord have mercy, and help us to desire what you desires for these our “adversaries”
Whether it is our response ot

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3556-3558). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Grieving our Condemnation of a Photo being taken

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand 2  No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous. 3  It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. 4  But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, 5  he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. 6  Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. 7  God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! 8  You can count on this. I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone.   Titus 3:1-8 (MSG) 

16  If a hostile witness stands to accuse someone of a wrong, 17  then both parties involved in the quarrel must stand in the Presence of GOD before the priests and judges who are in office at that timeDeuteronomy 19:16-17 (MSG) 

758  You say that he is full of defects! Very well… but, apart from the fact that people who are perfect are found only in Heaven, you too have defects, yet others put up with you and, what is more, appreciate you. That is because they love you with the love Jesus Christ had for his own, and they had a fair number of shortcomings. Learn from this!

Yesterday my twitter and facebook accounts were flowing with criticism of three world leaders for taking a picture of themselves ( a “selfie”) at the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life. They were smiling, but the atmosphere of the celebration was a joyous one. How “shameful!”, how “horrible”, “How disrespectful”. were the cries.   To be honest, the two prime ministers, both of very reserved countries, were not criticised as much as President Obama was.  I wonder, if he had said no, and insulted the Danish lady who asked, how the press and the cybersphere would have handled it?

I challenged a few of the more virulent attacks, wondering where their compassion and understanding went, when the rush to judgment occured.  I asked a few questions,

1.  When exactly in the celebration was the picture taken?

2.  Who asked for the picture?

3.  Did you know this wasn’t the funeral, but a public celebration and testimony of this remarkable man’s work?

I’ve learned to ask these questions, because of my own experience rushing to judgment, and falling on my face as I realized I didn’t know the entire story.  I am not immune to such rushes to judgment, yet I can stop myself a little more often.  Those I asked – came back defensively, as if there was no valid reason to question their public questioning and condemnation of this action.  The irony is slightly amusing, but far more, it grieves me. Especially among those who know God, who understand His mercy, who know His commandments to love, to build up each other,these comments were made, and so I grieve.

I am afraid we’ve lost our way, that we’ve become so polarized in our comfort, that we don’t lift up leaders, that we don’t remember that they, like us, are human.  We don’t take on the big issues, but we look for what we perceive to be charachter flaws, signs of betrayal, and we latch onto those things. What kind of example are we setting, what kind of love are we showing people that God has for them?  If theyknow the scriptures, how could they see us as obedient to God, as treasuring the kind of life that He commissioned us to live?

If we claim to live in GOd’s presence, if we claim to know the Holy Spirit dwells in us, how can we continue to be so ready to believe and pass on every criticism about someone, whether we know the details or not.  How will this behavior reflect on the God who appointed us as His ambassadors?   Will this pattern of behavior, far more self centered than “selfies”, become part of our church relationships?  Our family life?

At what point will we lay down our idolatry, our  self appointed judgeships, and will we pray for our leaders?  When will we look to encourage them and respect them rather than tear them down?

Will will confess these sins, and hear those incredible words  – your sins are forgiven you – go and sin no more!

For God is faithful – and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3150-3154). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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