Happy Birthday, Jesus!

“Happy Birthday, Jesus!“

 

Shepherds adore the Christ child, Jan de Bisschop

Luke 2:4-15 – August 4, 2019

What events are particularly meaningful to children? Birthdays, of course. The birthday is not only a marking of the day the child was born, but is often (in this society, at least) a day for parties, presents and special things like ice cream and cake. And, children naturally love to go to birthday parties, too. No wonder many people celebrate birthdays as something really special.

Our two Scripture readings this morning both tell about the birthday of a really special Someone: the Baby born in Bethlehem, the baby Jesus. Except—I do not think it was common to celebrate birthdays with a birthday cake in those days.

When Isaiah wrote his prophecies six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, he was writing to a contemporary situation, it is true. But there is another situation, another prophetic announcement that people have marked from that point on. But, more about that birth announcement in a few minutes.

Yes, it is common for small children to concentrate on the baby Jesus and his birthday on Christmas Day. But, why did Jesus get born to a teenage girl in Bethlehem, anyhow? Why was this birth announcement made by the prophet six hundred years before the event?

For some of the answer to that question we need to go all the way back to the beginning, in the book of Genesis.

We know that God created the world, and God made plants and animals and humans. God created time and the seasons and great beauty and complexity in this marvelous world, and called it all good. In fact, very good. But, we know what happened. Sin happened, and entered into this world. Sin has caused tons of evil, heartache, misery, hatred, and disaster. We all know how much sadness and badness there are in this world.

Yesterday, in a shopping mall in the city of El Paso, Texas, we saw a horrific example of evil. The young, white shooter took the lives of twenty people, and did horrible harm to the lives of countless more. Is there a more visible example of corrosive sin and evil that can be shown to us? Sadly, violent situations such as this happen all too often, with tragic repercussions.

Yet, God the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, saw this horrible, pervasive evil of sin and nastiness and hatred that entered into the world, and knew its sweeping, widespread effects. God the eternal Son emptied Himself of all Godhood, and became a tiny, helpless baby human.

As the Apostles Creed tells us, We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. Every time we say those words of that ancient—most ancient of creeds, we affirm those eternal truths. Are many Christians aware that in repeating this creed, we regularly proclaim the Good News of Christmas, the miracle of God the eternal Son breaking into human history and becoming a tiny baby?

As we examine that ancient birth announcement from Isaiah chapter 9, we reflect on those words that reverberate deep in the soul. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The music that George Frederick Handel used in his oratorio “Messiah” for this chorus ring in my mind whenever this Scripture passage is read.

Yes, God the eternal Son was born as a baby, just as this verse from Isaiah says. But not just a human child, but much, much more! Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This baby was sent into the world to change the world. This baby was sent into the world as the Prince of Peace, to bring peace to a troubled world and dispirited people. This baby was mighty to save.

It is sort of a challenge to communicate all of that difficult, mind-blowing stuff about sin and salvation to little children. I can well understand how the ease of having a birthday party for the Baby Jesus would appeal to them instead. Small children understand about birthdays and birthday parties. That is within their experience. And, we certainly tell them about the Baby Jesus being born in Bethlehem at Christmas.

As we move to the second chapter of Luke, this narrative of the Nativity is so familiar. Is there anything here we haven’t looked at before?

We see Mary and Joseph, check. Knocking on lots of doors in Bethlehem, check. Refusal at an inn, but welcomed to a stable, check. We examine this next important part of the story. “There were shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Suddenly, an angel appeared to them and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be known to all people.”

While Mary and Joseph were busy with the birth of their firstborn Son, our scene shifts to the shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem. We are familiar with this next part of the story: shepherds guarding their sheep at night, and the heavenly angel breaking onto the scene.

Does anyone remember what we just looked at from the book of Isaiah? The Lord God had a wonderful birth announcement, given a few hundred years beforehand. But, this is the time! This is when the prophet was talking about. The angel told the shepherds that a newborn Savior had arrived. He is not only a Savior, He is Messiah, too, with everything that that means to an oppressed, downtrodden people in an occupied country. Believe me, Rome was not exactly a gentle group of overlords. No, the Roman empire was an oppressive regime. I can just imagine how welcome this heavenly announcement was! God-sent, indeed.

Plus, the name given to this special Baby by the angel Gabriel had great meaning. Mary and Joseph did not go to a bookstore and pour over the selection of names in a baby book to help them name their son.  If we go back a chapter to Luke 1, the angel who tells the teenager Mary she is going to bear the Messiah also tells her what His name will be: “You will have a son, and you will call His name Jesus.” In Hebrew, the name Jesus means “the Lord saves.” That is just what the angel tells the shepherds—”Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

What a build-up for this heavenly event! Imagine, repeated birth announcements for this wondrous Child born in Bethlehem. Is it any wonder that this was the biggest, best birthday ever? If we go back to our first example, with the children having a party celebrating someone’s birthday, we could have a humdinger of a huge birthday bash, indeed.

Happy birthday, Jesus! We can celebrate, because Jesus came into the world on that Christmas Day. We can celebrate, because there is no other name given among people that can save us from our sins. Praise God, we have a Savior, indeed!

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Hallowed is Christ Jesus

“Hallowed is Christ Jesus”

Phil 3-7 consider things loss, circle

Phil 3:4b-14 – April 7, 2019

            “Holy:  adjective, ho·li·er, ho·li·est. 1. specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated. (holy ground)  2. dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion. (a holy person)  3. saintly; godly; pious; devout. (a holy life)  [1]

            Holy, or “hallowed” is what we say about God and God’s name every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Perhaps some people think of God as some huge guy with a long white beard, sitting in some glorious heavenly Temple, the Holy-of-Holies in the sky. “Holy is Your name!” Maybe some people think of God as a massive earthquake, and the whole countryside shakes, rumbles and crumbles. Then, perhaps some folks see God in the vast quiet of nature, the quiet rustle of a green meadow, or the gentle quiet of the waves lapping on an ocean beach.

We have two Bible readings today. Each of them gives a different perspective on Jesus and His magnificent, awesome holiness.

            Let’s look at them chronologically. First, Jesus is at a fancy dinner in Bethany, not long before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. His friend Martha made Him dinner, Mary and Martha’s brother (newly raised from the dead) Lazarus probably was hosting, and everyone is having a wonderful time. When—Mary takes an incredibly expensive jar of sweet-smelling ointment and pours it on Jesus’s feet. What is more, she unbinds her hair and starts wiping His feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with the marvelous scent of that ointment. I am sure that was a scent (and a sight) that everyone there remembered for the rest of their lives.

            The next Bible reading is from the letter to the church at Philippi. The apostle Paul (who often uses run-on sentences) goes on and on about himself, how much of a super Pharisee and righteous Jew he is, and even filled with great zeal for God. He is single-minded for the Lord! All God, all the time! But then—Paul comes to a complete stop. He says all of his marvelous resume is completely worthless, compared to the mega-awesome, super-special magnificence of knowing his Savior Christ Jesus his Lord.

             The commentator Carolyn Brown says “The petition “hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer underlies both Mary’s lavish gift and Paul’s total commitment to Jesus.  Both give and live as they do because they know God/Jesus is hallowed.” [2] So, both Mary and Paul know that Jesus is the Holiest-of-Holies.

            In Mary’s case, this anointing of her Rabbi, teacher and friend with ointment was a coming attraction. In essence, a preview of the human Jesus’s death and resurrection. Mary gives her incredibly costly gift because she knows that Jesus is so holy and set apart. Not only pious, devoted and dedicated to God, but something even more special.

            Paul went about this in a slightly different way. Paul gave his readers a brief snapshot of his impressive resume, before Jesus Christ made such a difference in his life. Admittedly, this rundown of who and what Paul was makes him sound like one of the entries in the first-century’s version of Who’s Who, a mover-and-shaker of the Ancient Near East.

            In verses 4, 5 and 6, “His credentials, Paul tells us, were impeccable. Both through inheritance and attainment he has more reason than others to boast of his status. Paul’s loyalty to Israel’s God was unsurpassed. Paul’s very persecution of the followers of Jesus bore witness to his deep desire to please God.” [3] Yet—Paul makes a sudden shift in his bragging. Listen: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”

            Remember, Paul writes from the perspective of one who has made a commitment to Jesus; and not just the human Jesus, either.  When our resurrected Lord and Savior appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, that was a huge earthquake of an experience. The apostle Paul gives fascinating autobiographical details about himself, but then says all of that is worthless compared to the ultimate joy of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.

Or, is that Christ Jesus our Lord?

            I think most of us—if not all of us—are familiar with well-meaning but worldly-driven parents, who seek out such stellar activities for their children’s resumes. We can see that Paul had it all, from a worldly point of view: until he had that divine, life-changing encounter on the road to Damascus.

            Sure, only a portion of Christians have a sudden, thunder clap of a Damascus Road encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, we all name Him holy. Don’t we? We all pray the Lord’s Prayer, don’t we?

            In the original language of this letter, Greek, Paul uses what some might say is a nasty, word, even perhaps a swear word. This word is found in verse 8: from the Good News Translation: “For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ.” Or, one of my favorite translations, the Message: “everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.”

            Comparing himself to Jesus, the ultimate Holy-of-Holies, is it any wonder that Paul considers everything that he thought he had going for himself as dog dung? Flushing his impeccable resume and outstanding pedigree down the toilet?

Beforehand, before he met Jesus on that road to Damascus, Paul’s total, single-minded commitment to his Lord, the Jewish understanding of God, puts us all to shame. But, afterwards? He transferred that single-minded commitment to his Lord and Savior. As Paul himself says in verses 12-14, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

            Carolyn Brown compared holy and hallowed to the words awesome, special and wonderful. This is the very, very, very best. When we say “hallowed be Thy name,” those are words that can be applied only to God. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, just like the apostle Paul, just like Mary of Bethany, we are saying “God, You are holy, You are the very, very, very best there is in the whole universe.”

We are well on our way, reaching out for Christ, who so wondrously reached out for all of us. For each one of us. Thank You, God! In Jesus’ precious, redeeming name, amen!

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/holy

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/02/year-c-fifth-sunday-in-lent-march-13.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 5C. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[3] http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/55769/7_April_Angus_Morrison_5_in_Lent.pdf

The Mission and Discipleship Council would like to thank the Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison, Minister of Orwell and Portmoak, for his thoughts on the fifth Sunday in Lent.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Mary and Joseph, Unafraid

“Mary and Joseph, Unafraid”

angel with trumpet

Luke 1:26-31, Matthew 1:19-21 – August 5, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

When a woman is pregnant and expecting a baby, it can be a marvelous experience. However, an unexpected pregnancy can be surprising, even worrisome. I know I have heard of several unplanned pregnancies over the years, and I suspect many of you have, too. An added complication can occur when the parents of the unexpected baby are not married.

That was exactly Mary and Joseph’s situation. Both were unmarried, only engaged. Both were very much involved with the birth of this unexpected baby. And, both had angels appear to them, telling them “Be not afraid!”

Just imagine: Mary and Joseph, considering the exact same unexpected situation, with two very different reactions and quite separate expectations. We are not told, but I cannot help but wonder whether Mary’s fear and Joseph’s fear of the unknown was compounded by fear for the other. How were their fears for the other encountered, and addressed? [1]

Both Mary and Joseph have angels suddenly come upon them. Both angels immediately say, “Be not afraid!” This occurrence is starting to become familiar to us by now, after two months of this summer sermon series. The sight of angels must be terrifying, since the first words out of their mouths is almost always, “Be not afraid!”

Mary must have been completely flabbergasted at the appearance of the angel. Even though she had heard about miraculous and angelic appearances in synagogue on the Sabbath for years, it’s a quite different thing to have it actually happen to her. Mary probably was interrupted while she went about her usual routine at home.

In Luke’s account, the angel Gabriel—God’s special messenger angel—comes to Mary and reassures her with the words “Be not afraid!” In this longer narrative of the birth of Jesus, the angels come to several people (and one group of people). What is more, according to commentator Shively Smith, “the simple phrase, “do not be afraid,” offers comfort and hope to those without hope, as in the case of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:7, 24-25); miracles to those not looking for miracles, as in the case of Mary (Luke 1:26-27); and even disruption to those going about their daily routines, as in the case of the shepherds (Luke 2:8).” [2]

Matthew tells us that Joseph was interrupted by the angel of the Lord in a dream. From the short, spare account of Matthew—only a verse and a half!—we do find out that Joseph was called a righteous man. Joseph certainly was considering the unexpected news that Mary had brought to him. Both Joseph and Mary considering the same situation, but in different circumstances.

We all realize that today’s cultural references are different from those of first-century Palestine. The cultural marriage practices of the Jews of that time were patriarchal and highlighted the joining together of two families, not of two individuals, as marriage is seen today here in the United States. Nevertheless, we can see how God breaks apart first-century cultural practices and societal expectations through this miraculous birth narrative.

Joseph was, indeed, a righteous man. When his fiancée Mary first came to him with this unexpected news, he first thought she had been unfaithful. Wouldn’t you? Isn’t that the first thing anyone would think of? Either that, or that Mary had been raped, which is even more unpleasant and shocking. (But, the Gospel doesn’t go there.) Joseph does not want to expose Mary to public disgrace. So, how to deal with this unexpected situation?  

I suspect the situation was looking pretty desperate to Joseph. That is where the angel of the Lord steps in—or, flies in—to the situation.  The angel reassures Joseph that the baby within Mary’s uterus is indeed holy, conceived of the Holy Spirit. What is more, that the baby will be the Messiah! The words of the angel: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

This is quite similar to other appearances of supernatural wonder in the Gospel of Luke. Commentator Shively Smith tells us “each instance is accompanied by an awe-inspiring, even unusual moment that reasonably sparks wonder and even fear. Indeed, the practice of offering a word of assurance at moments of supernatural wonder and disruption to the norms of daily life is something Jesus takes up in his ministry later in the gospel (Luke 5:10; 8:50; 12:32).” [3]

Let us come back to Mary and Joseph, two individuals going through a difficult, even traumatic time, in terms of society’s expectations as well as cultural norms. This is a different way of thinking about the birth of Jesus than that we are used to, every Christmas. Commentator David Lose tells us “let’s not forget the distress, sense of betrayal, disappointment, and a host of other emotions that Joseph must have experienced, or the fear and hurt that Mary would likely have also felt as they sorted out their divinely complex relationship.” [4]

On one hand, Mary has this assurance of supernatural power and presence within her from the angel. On the other, Joseph gets a reassurance of supernatural power and presence concerning Mary from the angel. We might presume from all this that there is some far greater plan that neither Mary nor Joseph has any clear idea about. The injunction “Be not afraid!” is a part of this greater plan.

A supernatural plan, a plan that overarches all time and space, whereby the Savior of the world is going to enter in to our everyday lives, and blow apart every cultural norm and societal expectation. It blows our minds, just thinking about the birth of Jesus, two thousand years later. The encouragement “Be not afraid?” Don’t be afraid to step forward with TRUST, as part of a larger plan that comes from above.

You think the situations we find ourselves in today are complex? God understands the complexity and the ins and outs of every situation, every predicament, every sadness and trauma and difficulty each of us might find ourselves in. As we take a closer look at Mary and Joseph, we see that they are not just figures from some stained glass window, but instead flesh and blood people with the same emotions and fears and family difficulties we might have today.

“And the more we can imagine them as people like us — with ups and downs to their relationships, for instance — the more we might imagine ourselves to be people like them — that is, people who go through all kinds of things, some quite damaging, and yet whom God uses nevertheless to accomplish God’s purposes.” [5]

The angel’s words, “Be not afraid!” We can take them to heart, too, and be encouraged, reassured, that God is with us, today, just as much as God was with people in bible times, just as much as God was with Mary and Joseph, all the way through their wonderful and frightening and even shocking experiences. Even though we may go through all kinds of things, God will never leave us, nor forsake us. Be not afraid!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] Ivaska, David, Be Not Afraid (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 97.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3531

Luke 1:26-38 Shively Smith, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3531

Luke 1:26-38 Shively Smith, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2961

“Matthew’s Version of the Incarnation,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2961

“Matthew’s Version of the Incarnation,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday

“Follow Jesus on Palm Sunday”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Mark 11:1-11 (11:9) – March 25, 2018

            Have you ever been at a really big celebration? I mean a public celebration—like a ticker-tape parade, a celebration of a world championship, or the visit of an A-list celebrity? Something really, really big?

            From all the descriptions of the Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry in all four Gospels, that’s kind of what we are looking at today in our scripture passage. The celebration is really big, the Rabbi Jesus was a big-name celebrity, and this special entry into Jerusalem was a first-century type of a ticker-tape parade. Except with palms!

            Let’s take a closer look. Here’s the situation: It’s almost Passover, the most important religious observance of the religious year. A great number of faithful Jews from near and far come to Jerusalem, in pilgrimage, in commemoration of the Exodus event.

Jesus comes, too. He publicly, intentionally enters Jerusalem, even though the religious leaders are not pleased with Him or what He has been doing for the past few years. Jesus’s disciples must have known about the prophecy of an entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. This was clearly a scene with “Messiah” written all over it.

And, Jesus does not sneak into the city, all hush-hush. No! He comes in with a parade! With crowds of people waving palms and shouting “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Jesus had been planning this entry in to Jerusalem for some time. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, we can already see that He intended to do this thing. But here in our reading today from Mark, we see a concise account, relating what happened. Little additional information. We can see that from the other Gospels. This way of telling the account reminds me that Mark did not waste much time. He wrote mostly for a Roman audience, who had little time or inclination to wade through genealogies (like Matthew) or background information (like Luke). I think of Mark as the journalist of the four Gospel writers: “just the facts, ma’am.” And, Mark’s use of “immediately!” carries us right along from one situation to the next.

Except, our Gospel reading today is a culmination. We follow Jesus right into Jerusalem at this most holy time of the year—either the Jewish Year or the Christian calendar. With the entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus was certainly reminding everyone of a prophecy from Psalm 118.

What is the meaning of those cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord?” If we look at Psalm 118, we’ll find these words written by the psalmist. This was the usual Passover greeting one person would give another, except with the addition of the word “King.” And just to let you all know, the majority of the crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday morning understood what they were quoting—they were intentionally welcoming someone they hoped would be their Messiah, their King! Someone who would save them from the awful situation they were in.

            There was a disconnect between the people and their limited understanding, and what Jesus actually was going to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself by rushing on to later in Holy Week. We are still here on Palm Sunday. And everyone is still excited to welcome the Rabbi Jesus—their hoped-for Messiah—into the city. They are hoping He will save them from the Romans and maybe, possibly, become their King. Except they had an earthly King in mind.

In Mark’s Gospel, we hear no mention of children. As one of my commentators says, this was an adult-inspired and led event. She suspects children did get into the act, but they were joining the adults. [1]  Remember the palm processions featuring children, on Palm Sunday? Either at this church, or at other services you may have attended over the years? This is not strictly biblical. We ought to make the palm procession intergenerational! That is truly what the impromptu parade was like. And then, when children participate with their parents, grandparents, other adults and leaders of the church, children can understand that this is a very important parade. And, a very important thing in the life of Jesus.

When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the rambunctious crowd calls out for the coming kingdom of their ancestor David. Messiah was supposed to be related to David, and Messiah’s coming was a time of peace on earth. But, the coming of Jesus causes a division. It causes anything but peace on earth.

The theologian Tom Mullen makes this statement about his denomination (Society of Friends or Quakers): “They work for peace — and if you really want to cause conflict, you work for peace.” [2] So it was for the Rabbi Jesus—the Messiah Jesus riding into Jerusalem. Even though we want to follow Jesus in peaceful ways, Jesus and His message created division, tension, and crisis—as seen by the violent reaction of the religious leaders.

But thank God, Jesus is more powerful than any division, any tension, any crisis. Jesus entered the city not as an earthly King, not as a conqueror, not to set up a nationalistic empire, but as the True Redeemer of Israel. And not of just Israel, but also of the whole world. This Holy Week is where all of the prophecies focus to a fine point, and reveal the Rabbi Jesus as not only the Messiah and King, but also as the Suffering Servant. The Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world.

As we remember this Passover time, this Holy Week, we can thank God that our Lord Jesus did enter Jerusalem. As a King, as a Messiah, yes! But also as our Redeemer and Savior. Praise God, Jesus is our Redeemer and Savior, just as much as He was Redeemer and Savior for that crowd in Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. In the first century, Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Praise God, He came to save us, today, too! Amen! And amen!

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/01/year-b-palm-passion-sunday-march-29-2015.html

Worshiping with Children, Palm/Passion Sunday, 2015. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] Mullen, Thomas, Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences (Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1983), 50.

Confess Sins, Accept Forgiveness

“Confess Sins, Accept Forgiveness”

1 John 1-9 if we confess our sins

1 John 1:8-9 – June 19, 2016

Have you ever seen a small child when he or she knows or realizes they have done something wrong? Sometimes, they gasp. Their lower lip may tremble. Sometimes they might start crying. The realization that they have made a big mistake sometimes overwhelms them.

Does this picture sound at all familiar? I do not care whether it’s children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. When a small child realizes they have done something wrong—well, that can be the saddest time in the world for that young person.

Sound familiar? I suspect it ought to. This awful feeling affects not only small children, but it can trouble grown-ups. It can happen to you or to me, too. The realization that nothing is the way it ought to be? Affecting, heart-rending, deeply sad. Sometimes feeling like the bottom dropped out of the world!  And, get this: it’s all my fault.

If we look at our Scripture lesson for today, we will find exactly that. The older Apostle John tried to get his readers to see this, in the first verse of our reading today. I will read both of these stirring verses from 1 John, chapter 1. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

And, we are on the next line of the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission. “Empowered by the Holy Spirit . . . To praise God, confess our sin, and joyfully accept God’s forgiveness.”

I am going to depart a little from my usual sermon format, and ask: what do we do every week in our worship service, right after the opening hymn? After our prayer of invocation, where we ask God to be with us in our worship service, we move into the prayer of confession.

Why on earth do we need to confess our sins before God?

Ah! That is where John’s reminder of our sinfulness is helpful. Remember, the Bible came first. Scripture was written to be helpful to believers, and to offer praise, and to admonish and correct our behavior—when we needed that. Afterwards, people started to set down a formal worship service. Especially in our Protestant tradition several hundred years ago, they always had a formal confession of sins—just like the Apostle John mentions here.

Each of us—every worshiper here today—sins. Every day. It doesn’t matter who we are, or how good we are trying to be. Each of us makes mistakes. It is like someone using a pencil. That is what erasers are for. To erase wrong or messy writing, and to correct mistakes, like in arithmetic at school.  We all have sins, or mistakes, or errors in our lives. And what’s more, we admit them to God. We tell God all about them.

Let’s look at the first sentence in our prayer of confession today. “Merciful God, who has compassion on Your sinful children.” Right here, this has several deep theological ideas! We are saying that God is merciful! God is not unforgiving, or uncaring. Instead, merciful. Full of mercy toward each of us. The Lord has compassion on each of us, too! God feels with each of us.

The next part of the prayer: “You sent Your son Jesus Christ to be the Savior of the world.” Ah! Here is the Gospel, the Good News. This is why God sent Jesus! God knew the terrible mess humanity was in, and God had a solution: to send God the Son—in the flesh, made as a human—to become one of us. To be our Savior, and save us from our sins.

Some years ago, I knew a practically perfect person. He was a stickler for perfection, for writing precisely, for trying to act appropriately at all times. He used to joke that he thought he made a mistake once—but he was mistaken. (He understood his tendency as a perfectionist, and gently laughed at himself.)

This is where our Scripture reading is helpful. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Except—the New Testament says that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (In the letter to the Romans 3:23.)

We continue with the prayer of confession: “Grant us grace to lament our sins; help us by prayer and meditation to repent and turn to You.”

If you recall, I often repeat this verse from 1 John as the weekly assurance of pardon: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.”

Sometimes in our confession of sins, we have a time of silence for personal confession. In addition to the prayers written in the bulletin each week, from time to time I provide space in our service for each of us to come to God silently in prayer, a quiet time to come with personal things that are particularly burdensome. And, did you hear what John said in this verse? “God IS faithful and just, and WILL forgive us our sins.”

The next sentence in our prayer of confession today: “Give us a true longing to be free from sin. Thank You for Your abundant love and forgiveness.”

Praise the Lord! Did you hear? “God will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness!” Those are the words of John, written in the first century. Moreover, they are still true today!

Just like dirty clothes are cleaned in the washing machine, especially when we add some laundry detergent, so we are cleansed from our sin. My mother had a wringer washer in the basement. I used to go downstairs and wash the clothes for the family. I put water in the washer, added the detergent, and turned on the agitator. Scrubbed the clothes, and then wrung them out into each of the double sinks, rinsing, and then rinsing again. I saw firsthand how this business of washing clothes worked. How the soapy water got so dirty. How the clothes got rinsed clean.

That’s us! When we come to God to confess our sins, correct the mistakes we have done and said, it’s like God has cleaned us in a washing machine. Sure, sometimes I feel like I have been in a washer from time to time. Been agitated by the machine, and then put through the wringer. I bet you can relate, too. Some people go through the wringer more often than others—and how!

 However, we come out the other side as clean people. We receive God’s abundant love and forgiveness!

The final words of the prayer of confession: “We pray these words for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Redeemer, amen.” Jesus is the only Redeemer. Not ourselves. Not saints, or good works, or some television minister, or prayer book, or other holy practice. Our Lord Jesus is our blessed Redeemer. We are indeed redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, as our closing hymn tells us.

The assurance of pardon is what follows this confession of sins. This is not a half-hearted assurance. This is not “maybe,” or “I hope so,” or “fingers crossed!” This assurance is complete. As Jesus said as He died on the cross, “It is finished.” The work of redemption is completed. Praise God! Just as what John said in this verse: “God IS faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.”

Shortly, we will sing a hymn all about forgiveness and redemption. I close this sermon with a verse of this wonderful old hymn, written by Fanny Crosby:

“Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.” —Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Invitation to Wonder

“Invitation to Wonder”

Virgin Mary and Child - Russian Orthodox

Luke 2:17-18 – December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas! What a wonderful expression. People greeting each other on the street, in the stores, here at church. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but still. What a joyous time of the year. Merry Christmas, many people say!

But I want you to go back, two thousand years. Go back to a time when “Merry Christmas” was not even a phrase, a wish, an idea in people’s heads. Go back to the time that Dr. Luke describes in the second chapter of his Gospel. Back to the time when Israel was an occupied country, and the Roman Empire was the strong man. Back to the time when all people in Israel needed to be enrolled. The Roman government decided to have a census, so that they would be able to tax the people of Israel more accurately.

In our Gospel reading tonight, we heard this census described. The Holy Family, Joseph and his fiancée Mary, went to Bethlehem to enroll, because Joseph was a direct descendant of King David. I suspect there were many people on the roads. Today, traveling can be stressful and nerve-wracking. However, I am certain travel in the first century was much more difficult. Poor roads, with many people walking to get from one place to another. We might imagine that Joseph and Mary had a donkey, but nowhere in the Gospel is that mentioned. Travel conditions were challenging, at best.

So, there they are, in Bethlehem. A long way from their home, in Nazareth. I suspect Joseph took care of the enrollment business first thing. But Mary felt the pains of labor begin. What a scary thing! To be far, far from home, in an unfamiliar place, and to have such a significant event happen. Significant, and potentially life-threatening, too.

I have had several children. I can remember all four of the deliveries. All of them happened in the hospital, with nurses and doctors standing by. Quite possibly most of the women here who have delivered babies can remember all their deliveries, too. Don’t you think Mary and Joseph remembered this experience for the rest of their lives? Yes, delivering a baby is a special day for anyone. But—even more so, for Mary and Joseph. Because of the angels. And the additional special visitors, too.

As Luke tells us, there were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Remember, there is no radio or telephone, no Internet or even telegraph. When messengers personally come to deliver a extra special announcement, it is a big deal. These angels coming to the shepherds, well, that was a super big deal, to be sure!

And the announcement? This isn’t the birth of a normal, ordinary baby. No! This baby is an extra special baby. The Messiah, who will save His people from their sins. Did you hear? This special baby, this Savior, Christ the Lord, is born to you—to me—to all of us, in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.

Did you hear? The Savior, the Christ, the promised Messiah, came into this world as a Baby in Bethlehem. The Eternal Second Person of the Trinity, Creator of the whole universe, God the Son, emptied Himself of all God-ness. Took on humanity, and was born as a helpless Baby. That is not only good news, that is earth-shaking news. Good news of great joy for all the people. For you, for me, for all of us.

Yes, the promises of Christmas may sound familiar to us. The good news that the angels brought may be old news, to some. But those promises? They are so needed, today. What with uncertainty and fear, anxiety and hatred so common today. Peace and security seem way out of humanity’s reach. Don’t we need some good news right now?

This is good news, this Gospel the angels brought to the shepherds. And they, in turn, told everyone they could about the Child, which the Lord had made known to them. Just as Luke said, all who heard about the Child were amazed at what the shepherd told them.

After that special birth announcement from the angels, and the excited visits from the shepherds, we are left with Mary. Mary who was only a teenager. Mary, who had had nine months to consider this extraordinary pregnancy and upcoming birth.

I cannot imagine a teenager entrusted with such a serious task as bearing the Savior of the world. Yet, Mary must have been up to the task.

Mary must have been a reflective young woman.

We know from verse 18 that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. All of these words, these unfolding events. Another translation has this verse as “Mary was keeping together (sunetare) all these words, bringing them together (sumballos) in her heart.” Keeping together, sunetare, has the sense of integration. Bringing these events together, or sumballos! She was fitting all the puzzle pieces together, bit by bit.

Can we do the same? Can we fit all the puzzle pieces together? Can we slow down, just a little, and wonder at the miracle of that night? I invite us all to listen to the good news of the shepherds.

Stop by that manger in Bethlehem, and be caught up in the wonder of what happened that night, so long ago. The eternal God, Creator of the universe, come to earth as the Babe in Bethlehem.

God gives each of us an opportunity, an invitation to wonder; an invitation to worship the newborn Savior.

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!

We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Jesus laid down His life for us 1 John 3-16

Luke 24:48 – April 19, 2015

Have you ever been confused by the number of hurried, jumbled nature of things happening at once? And the speed at which these things happen? This experience is more common than we might think. Just think of this past week, preparing for the Not-So-Lent fish fry at our church, and everything that had to be done by yesterday afternoon!

However hurried and jumbled this past week has been around here, it pales in comparison with our Gospel reading today. The end of the Passion Week must have been momentous and confusing for the followers of the Rabbi Jesus. Some confusing and jumbled things were happening very quickly. From the big festival entrance on Palm Sunday to the Passover Dinner of Maundy Thursday evening, to the arrest, trial and Crucifixion on Good Friday. Events happening in short succession from morning until night. Everything happening one thing after another. This was compounded by the followers of Jesus scattering, running away, frightened by the very real, very legal, very official things happening to Jesus on Thursday night and Friday during the day.

Let’s fast-forward to that Sunday morning, the first day of the week. The disciples still must have been frightened to death of the authorities. But, I suspect they needed to talk about the happenings of the past few days, too. We can see that from our scripture passage.

We pick up the narrative right after the events of the Road to Emmaus. To fill everyone in, two followers of Jesus got on the road to Emmaus that Sunday. As they walked, they talked. Debriefed. Tried to figure things out, as best as they could. And what circumstances they needed to figure out! A Stranger began to walk with them on the way, and unbeknownst to them, it was the risen Jesus, incognito. He shared with them a summary of all that He had come to earth to do. Of His ministry, His message, and His purpose. And still, they did not know it was Jesus.

Not until dinner that evening in Emmaus, when the risen Jesus was revealed when He blessed and broke the bread. And then—Jesus disappeared! The other two at the dinner table didn’t waste any time! They ran back to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to tell what they had seen. Yes, they were witnesses. Eye witnesses, verifying everything that had happened that day.

Our Gospel reading for today picks up the story at this point. All of the followers of Jesus are gathered together in the Upper Room, and are talking about the story of the road to Emmaus. Do they believe? Or, don’t they? Are a few skeptical? Or doubtful? Are some still frightened?

Let’s transition to today. Here and now. I can hear some people today, scoffing at the idea of some guy rising from the dead. And then, miraculously traveling alongside of two other guys? Good as new—in fact, even better? No way! Not a chance. The other two must have been hallucinating. Or dreaming. Or maybe, seeing a ghost. They can’t believe. Or, won’t believe.

As we start the Gospel reading today, the risen Jesus suddenly appears to the group in the locked Upper Room. What does He say? “Peace be with you.” A common greeting of the time, yes. However, Jesus is also calming their hearts, their spirits, their anxieties, their emotions. “Peace be with you.”

How does the risen Jesus immediately respond to the disciples? “Don’t be frightened! It is I, myself.” He emphasizes His identification. “I, myself!” It’s not anyone else, but Jesus! He lets them know that He is solid and corporeal, not a ghost. Not a spirit. And, Jesus doesn’t criticize His followers for being afraid! For feeling uncertain, doubtful and anxious!

I wonder whether you have ever had a kind and patient teacher, or instructor, or coach. When you were afraid, uncertain, or anxious, did this kind and patient person get angry with you? Or, upset? Or, did this person continue to be open and willing to help you? Generous with time and welcoming to your attempts? That is Jesus, all over. To a T.

Jesus even volunteers to eat a piece of fish, just to show everyone that He was, indeed, for real! An actual, physical person. (A ghost or spirit couldn’t eat or drink!)

What’s the big deal?

Jesus tells us. Wait—He tells the disciples, first. They are to proclaim what they have seen and heard. They are to be witnesses to the power of the resurrection. They are to tell how the risen Jesus has made a difference in their lives! And boy, that was a big difference!

When we read the book of Acts, that is exactly what we see. The disciples are witnesses of what they have seen and heard, witnesses of the power of the resurrection. Time after time, no matter what, the disciples tell others about how Jesus lived, preached, did miracles, and rose from the dead. Then, how all that has made an earth-shaking difference in their lives.

Our second Scripture reading today is from the first letter of the Apostle John, chapter 3. This passage also tells about the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John mentions this in verse 16. John was giving his friends some instructions, even some admonitions. We are told to love one another. Why? Because of the One who laid down His life for us. That’s why. And following His example, we ought to be willing to lay down our lives for each other.

This is the message that Jesus told the disciples to start to carry, when John was a very young man. Looking at 1 John 3 and 4, some decades later, we see the aged John still carrying the message Jesus told him to, the message of sacrifice, hope, and resurrection. Let me read two verses: 4:13-14. “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” John is still being a witness, all those decades later, at the close of the first century!

Dear friends, our Lord Jesus gave specific instructions to His friends, to go and be witnesses. He gives those same instructions to us. We are to be witnesses of the power of the resurrection. The aged apostle John continued to do that, all of his life.

Can you think of someone who was a witness to the power of God, in your life? Someone who immediately comes to mind for me is Miss Rose. I met her almost thirty years ago, when my older two children were very small. She was a witness to the power of God, and to God’s love. She communicated God’s love to everyone she ever met, just about! A little lady, a dynamo for God, she would tell everyone about God and how much God loved them.

I met her again, ten years ago when I was a chaplain intern at the Presbyterian Homes. She was a resident there. I was so happy to see her. Miss Rose and her joy in the Lord bubbled over and communicated to everyone she met there, too. Even though she was in severe, chronic pain, she witnessed to the power of the resurrection. She asked people she met, “Do you know Jesus? Can I tell you about Him, and what He’s done in my life? Can I tell you my story?”

Each of us has an opportunity to be a witness, to communicate the Good News about the risen Jesus and the power of the resurrection. We can communicate by words, by a smile, by being kind, through our actions, through our generosity.

Think about someone who impacted your life, who communicated the Good News to you. There’s a great example for you! Just like Miss Rose is a marvelous example for me, to be a witness despite pain and suffering, even through difficulty in my life. I can still communicate God’s love, just like the aged Apostle John did, too. He was even in prison when he wrote his first letter, on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea. That didn’t make any difference. John still told his story, how the risen Jesus made a difference to him.

What is important is that we get out there and start being a witness, telling people about the power of God, and about how much the risen Jesus has changed our lives. Can you be a witness? It’s as simple as telling your story. Can you tell the story of Jesus and His love? Jesus loves you. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves all of us.

Be witnesses to God’s love and power.

Alleluia, Amen.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)