In pm's words
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February 17, 2020, 7:00 AM

the one about the one on the mountain...

Sermon from February 16, 2020

Text: Matthew 5:21-37

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, our gospel reading is a bit longer this week isn’t it? Not only is it a few more verses than we’ve been getting these past few weeks, but it also hits really close to home for many of us. Jesus speaks about those things that makes us feel uncomfortable. But, I want us to understand something, Jesus makes us uncomfortable not just to make us uncomfortable, but makes us uncomfortable because he’s willing to have difficult conversations. Within those difficult conversations he brings new hope and life to difficult topics.

There’s an old folk tale – which I believe originates in Africa – about a village at the banks of a river. The community was gathered for a meal and people began to hear the cries of an infant child coming from the water. They rushed over to the sound and realized that there was a child floating in the river. Soon, more children were seen coming down stream as they looked upriver.

The village took those children into their homes. Fed them, clothed them, educated them, cared for them. Babies continued coming down the stream and the community continued to care for them.

Eventually someone asked the question, where are the babies coming from? We need to go upstream to find out why they are being thrown in.

I think about that story as I hear Jesus speak about all these things that we hear today in our gospel reading where Jesus begins with, “You have heard it was said…”

As I talked with my colleagues about this text, we noted how difficult these words from Jesus can be. Especially in a text that seems so heavy on ‘law’ with little ‘gospel’ to be readily seen. It is difficult to find where the gospel is, when we have Jesus coming down so hard on things that are so innate to us – anger, lust, and swearing oaths.

But, what I find in the words of Jesus this morning is not just the concern with murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths, but wanting to speak about the root of those things in our life.

Jesus doesn’t want us to commit murder. He doesn’t – obviously – but, Jesus desires each of us to live into the life that he proclaims with the kingdom of heaven that is both near and far, he wants us to acknowledge the underlying aspect of that act; anger. Fear. Jealousy. Ego.

Jesus doesn’t want us to live in anger. We’ve met those people. We’ve experienced that anger within us at some point in our lives. Anger drives us to assume so much about the world around us. Anger causes us to speak in ways we normally never would. Anger leads to actions we usually regret in the future.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be in anger, but instead pushes us to be reconciled with our neighbors, our sisters and brothers, our friends, our community.

And you know what. Being reconciled with one another is tough. It’s easy to be angry. It’s easy to feed that beast with more outrageous thoughts and ideas to fuel that raging fire within us. It’s easy to add log after log to keep those embers hot. Those logs that assume that the person we are angry with is out to get us and does everything in spite of us.

We’ve all been there. We all have. Each of us has lived into that sort of irrational anger before in our life.

Yet, Jesus wants us to live a life that isn’t fed by the lies that our anger tells us about those around us. Jesus us wants us to be in community. There is goodness, love, grace, and forgiveness in community. Jesus calls us to let go of our anger. To reconcile with those around us. That anger locks us into a prison that is so difficult to get out of.

Jesus is concerned about adultery too, but, I feel he wants us to live our lives in ways that honor those whom we’ve pledged ourselves to. He gives a rather detailed metaphor of what life can be like for us. If it causes you to sin, cut it off. Better to spend life maimed in heaven, than fully abled somewhere else.

But, what I think Jesus is really getting at is that he wants us to recognize the goodness that comes from the relationships that we are in. To honor the commitments we have made to the ones we love. The recognition that Jesus desires our whole selves when it comes to living this life of faith.

Jesus doesn’t want you to tear out your eye or cut off your hand. I believe he is speaking in metaphor. In giving these wild metaphors, Jesus can help us see the drastic ways we might need to re-orient ourselves not only to one another, but to the one who has given us life.

I also want to note here, that Jesus makes a point that others don’t cause us to sin. Just because someone has dressed or presented themselves in away that catches your eye and attention, they don’t cause you to sin. You do that. I think it is rather profound this morning that we hear Jesus say – if this part of you has caused you to sin – cut it off. It places the ‘blame’ (if you will) on the person who has sinned, not on the person who they (I assume) would say, caused that person to slip into adultery. I think that is something we probably need to hear of more today than we care to admit.

We’ve heard it said not to lie or swear falsely. Jesus doesn’t want you to lie. Lying breaks trust, tears down relationships, provides false hope, undercuts the goodness that the world seeks to find in relationship with God.

Lying hurts; a lot. Making braggadocios claims about your abilities hurts others when you know you can’t live up to it.

Yes, Jesus doesn’t want us to swear falsely, but what I feel Jesus is more concerned with is living your life in truth and love. Living your life in such a way where a ‘vow’ becomes unnecessary because your daily word and life are true.

As Jesus speaks here on oaths and vows, I’m reminded of Luther talking about what a ‘good’ Christian in the workplace and market is. It is told that he said, “a good Christian cobbler (people who make shoes for others) isn’t one who puts little gold crosses and fishes on their wares, but instead makes good shoes for those around them.”

That’s the life that Jesus calls us into and invites us for. A life that sees anger is a prison, that recognizes how lust separates us from those we love, and how living truth in our daily life is more important than making vows we can never live up to.

And, as I read all these things I cannot help, but notice that each of these points requires us to shift how we view other people. How we shift to viewing and being with them in honest, respectful, and dignified ways. Where we honor one another, living into this life that God has called us towards.

So, what does all that have to say about divorce?

A loving relationship should be one that honors, cares, and respects one another. Living into the fullness that each one provides. But, it also must be mutual. I will say it every day – Jesus doesn’t desire anyone to be in a relationship or stay in a relationship that is harmful, abusive, and violent. Jesus calls us into relationships that are loving, grace-filled, and make us feel worthy – similar to how our relationship with God is loving, grace-filled, and gives us worth and life. You don’t have to stay in a relationship that is the opposite of what Jesus calls for in all relationships.

Jesus this morning begins to share what this blessed and set apart life of being salt of the earth and the light of the world just might look like. It is a life that has a different approach than the one the world has lifted up for generations.

Jesus takes what faith has taught us – good, deep faith, and invited us to dig deeper. To see ourselves in uncomfortable ways. Jesus looks at those things that are innate to us as men and women – anger, lust, lying – and change how we approach them to be reconciled with those around us. To live in faithfulness and trust with those whom we love. To live our lives centered on truth and honesty. This morning, Jesus begins to share with us what the life in the kingdom of heaven – that kingdom that is both so close, yet so far away from us – just might be like.

So, as that African folktale shares, it is right to be concerned with those babies floating downstream in the river. Care for them, love them, nurture, them. But it might be beneficial, and needed for everyone to go find out why they are being thrown in and stopping it there.

Live life that honors and cares for those around you. Those you love, those you know, those whom you interact with each and every day. This life of faith has called us to see the value and worth of each person around us – including ourselves.

God is with you in this. Always. Amen.

February 10, 2020, 8:42 AM

the one about salt and light...

Sermon from February 9, 2020

Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this past week we were supposed to have our semi-regular meeting of Nerd Word (rescheduled for this coming Thursday). Now, some of you might be thinking, ‘What in the world is Nerd Word and what does it have to do with Jesus today?’ Throughout my life, there have been people who have said that the stuff that people think up and write about – especially in the science fiction and fantasy realm – like Star Wars and Harry Potter – are places that no person of faith should involve themselves in.

And truly, it has (at times) been heartbreaking to hear that. In my life I’ve been called names because of my love and great infatuation with those worlds and realms. I still remember being called a ‘heathen’ and a heretic by a neighborhood kid when I was 8 or 9 years-old because I was pretending to be a Jedi. It would also become frustrating when those who bashed those stories didn’t seem to either understand or take the time to actually read or watch those properties.

We can find so many parallels and insights into faith through these fantastically imaginative places, people, and stories. It’s the best part of what Nerd Word does. In fact, Star Wars – as a whole – has helped me understand what we read today from Matthew’s gospel a little more.

In each of the three separate trilogies of this film franchise, we are introduced to nobodies from nowhere. They have been told that they are worth almost nothing. Anakin was born into generational slavery. Luke was born into poverty and had to sacrifice his dreams to survive with his aunt and uncle. Rey was abandoned as a child and had to discover how to live on her own.

Yet, each one was told that they were special. They had gifts. They had a presence. They had a power. They could do amazing things and a lot of what they were able to do came down to trust. Trust in themselves and trust in what others were telling them.

With that trust and hope, they were able to literally move objects, stand up for justice, and make wrongs right.

Each of them was told that what others thought of them – because of what they were, how they lived, or what they did – didn’t define who they actually were. There was more to them. And with that knowledge, faith, and hope they were able to do incredible things.

This morning in our gospel reading, Jesus continues on with his sermon on the mount. His sermon of throwing the world on its side in who and how it lifts up those others have cast down.

Last Sunday, we read the very beginning of that sermon as he told those around him that they were blessed. Essentially telling them – no matter what anyone has told you before – you are holy. You are set a part. God is with you.

This morning, Jesus continues in putting a spin on what was conventional thought. He has told those who have been told they weren’t anything special – because they mourned, or were timid, or thirsted or were hungry – that they are indeed set apart.

He doubles down on that thought and tells them that not only are they blessed, but they are also salt and light.

When Jesus tells his disciples and the others around them that they are ‘salt of the earth’ and the ‘light of the world’ it meant something far more than how we view those things today.

During this time when Jesus is preaching this sermon salt was vital to life and society – far more than even how it is viewed today. It was used in far more ways than we typically view salt today. Today we usually use salt for one thing – to enhance or bring out additional flavors in our meals. And that’s a wonderful thing! I grew up in a family that didn’t season anything and I am just now discovering how deprived I was in the area of food growing up. Unfortunately, it seems at times I’m making up for lost time far more than I need to.

Anyways, salt during Jesus’ ministry was used for more than just seasoning food. It was a preservative. It helped keep meats and fish from spoiling. It helped disinfect wounds and clean areas of use. It was used in ritual ceremonies as an offering to deities. It was a currency used in bartering and the exchange of goods.

Salt was important, vital, and valuable.

Jesus tells his disciples that they too are as important, vital, and valuable as salt is.

That’s a big deal. You are like this incredibly needed thing in our world. As I tried to think of what a comparable idiom would be to use today, and what I think – as silly as it might sound – is that Jesus could say to us – you are like Wi-Fi. It’s everywhere; provides a great need within the world today; people will determine their lives around their access to it.

Jesus tells those who are not used to hearing it – you are important. And the reason you are important is because of who you are and what you are created to do. You are vital to the world. You are integral to the way the world works. You are needed.

Because, salt by itself doesn’t serve a great use. It is a natural ingredient of the world that sits there.

But, when it is used – it does incredible things. Like I’ve already said, it enhances the flavor of food. It helps preserve food. It is valuable enough to be traded. It protects and heals. It is used in cleaning.

Even today, it is used in ways that we don’t typically think of.

It can be used as a filter and softener. It helps people and vehicles maintain traction in icy conditions, deodorize clothes, and more.  

Salt does a lot because it is used for so much. It protects, it preserves, it cleans, it is used for healing. Salt can be used for so many things.

Light too is valuably important. It provides sight, guidance, it focuses on things, it brings warmth, it gathers people around.

Jesus is telling all of these folks – and in turn telling all of us because we too are gathered in close to the disciples. Leaning into the conversations, sitting at the feet of Jesus on the mountainside as he preaches. Jesus is speaking to each of us as well. Even if we are almost 2000 years removed from this sermon.

Jesus tells us that we are vital, important, valuable, and integral parts of life. Just like salt. Just like light.

And because we are like salt and light, we do things. We protect. We gather. We enhance life around us. We focus in on where God is at work. We push back the shadows. We bring warmth. We facilitate in healing. We bring greater traction to those around us.

As salt and light, we do things in God’s name.

When Jesus calls us, calls those gathered around him, calls the disciples salt and light, he isn’t just being nice. Jesus isn’t just making us feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Jesus is giving us a mission. Jesus is giving us a life. Jesus is calling us to work.

We are blessed. We are light and salt. And because of that – this is what we do. We are called to work, to provide, to care for, to gather, to shine on not only injustice, but to shine on the goodness of life. That is what it means to be light and salt. We get to do things in God’s name.

Anakin, Luke, and Rey were told by the world around them that they were nobodies.

Yet, along comes those who know something the world cannot see. Tells them that they are set apart. That they have gifts. That they are called to use them to bring balance and life to a world that at times is heavily tilted towards those with power who use it to take advantage of others.

Jesus tells each of us – we are set apart. We have gifts. We are called to use those gifts to bring balance and life to a world that at many times is heavily tilted towards those who take advantage of others and advantage of what God has given us.

People of God, my friends, my sisters and brothers. Not only are each of you – all of us – salt and light. But, we are called to live as salt and light in this world.

In God’s name provide for, gather, nurture, facilitate healing, bring traction, warmth, focus upon what is righteous in God’s eyes, be that which brings out the flavor of life – that enhances the life of those around you.

We get to do all of this because we are blessed. Amen.

February 3, 2020, 12:00 AM

the one about Amos' words...

Sermon from February 2, 2020

Text: Amos 6:1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen.

Our first reading this morning is one that many of us know. At least that final verse. Of course, our gospel is one that we know well too. These words are powerful for us to hear and read. They remind us of God’s ever-present love and commitment to those who live into the life of faith that God has called us in and through.

Yet, here’s the thing. As a pastor, I at times am asked – what must I do to receive God’s love. What sorts of things must I participate in to be closer to God? Pastor, tell me what I need to do.

And, I’m fairly sure that I’m not the only one who has received those questions. I’d be willing to bet that if you outwardly – in any way – show that you live this life of faith – to any degree – someone is going to or has already asked you those sorts of deep questions.

The very first thing I say to folks who ask me this question is this.

Stop. You can’t get closer to God. It is impossible. There is nothing we can do to appease God, placate the Spirit, or make Jesus return any faster. It isn’t possible. Stop twisting and bending yourself in ways that you cannot achieve.

However, even though we cannot do anything to get closer to God, God has already come close to us. God is here. We celebrate and recognize during this season of Epiphany the belief that God is already made known to the world. God is already here. Immanuel has come. Out of divine, over-flowing, never-ending, more than you can imagine love – God has already come close to you.

We already have it. It’s there. There is nothing we can do to remove it. There is nothing that can be done to tear it away. God already loves you. Thankfully, it is the ‘worst kept secret’ of our theology. God’s love has already redeemed you and set you free.

Remove the burden from your shoulders – from your spirit – of have to, of must from your life in regard to receiving God’s love. You’ve done nothing except be a wonderfully, beautifully, and fearfully made child of God. God’s love is already with you.

Now, that you know (and boy do we forget sometimes) that God’s love is already with you, what do we do now?

Well, it is at this point that I love to read this sixth chapter of Micah – our first reading this morning.

Here the prophet is outlying an interesting scenario. Pleading to all of creation to listen in, to be the jury, to hear the cry of the people of God. This back and forth between God and God’s people, Israel.

Where God reminds the people – reminds each of us for we have been grafted into and adopted in this family and people of God through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – what has already been done. That God has already been with them, with us. God has sent word through Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. God’s love has indeed been present and continues to extend through the life of the people of Israel.

Where the people (as spoken through Micah) plead again the refrain that most in scripture approach the Holy with, “What must I do to receive your love?”

It’s like they didn’t even listen! God already loves you. Remember that. There’s nothing you need to do to appease God. God doesn’t work like the idols and mysteries of what others feel with their deities. God doesn’t require sacrifice, offerings, or more. It isn’t how it works with God. It just isn’t.

But… there’s always a but right?

Now that you know that God’s love and presence are already with you, what do we do from here?

God provides that answer to the prophet and to each of us.

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with God.

God’s love frees us to live into this sort of life. Not so that we receive God’s love. But because we already have God’s love and presence with us.

It’s a small distinction in words, but it is an enormous difference in life.

If we feel that we have to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God to be loved by God, we will begin to notice all the ways that we fall short. We’ll see all the ways that we don’t live up to the life in which we want. We then become subject to others poking holes into our life. Showing us where we have strayed, distanced ourselves, were apathetic, unintentionally or even intentionally cruel with our ways and words.

Knowing all that, trying to live up to God seems downright impossible. Because, frankly, I think it is. Oh, the conversations and prayers I’ve heard in my relative short time as a pastor. The cries, the tears, of those who feel that God could never love them because of what they have and have not done.

Yet, when we believe and trust and have faith that God already loves us that work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God feel that much more attainable, attractive, enticing. Where we realize we aren’t doing something to receive it, but we are doing something to share in this life that has already been given to us.

And it’s still hard. It’s still difficult. We still fall short. Always.

These past three weeks I was able to attend the Lay School of Religion and took a class entitled Justifying Privilege with Dr. Krista Hughes. I’m thinking about that class as I hear not only Micah’s words of what God ‘requires’ of us, but also hearing Jesus’ words as he begins his sermon on the mount. Where Jesus lifts up those who are blessed. Where Jesus bestows blessings on all those who don’t feel very blessed. Because living that life is difficult. It’s hard.

Yet, the blessing that I held onto in this moment is Jesus’ blessing upon those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

I want to hunger and thirst for what God desires. I want to stand firm against what the culture and society has propped up as ‘right and good and normal’ based on generations of unfair and dangerous rules and laws. I want to do that.

And it’s still hard. Incredibly hard.

I want to do justice. I want to love kindness. I want to walk humbly with God.

I imagine each of y’all do as well. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to do that.

And yet… we continually fail. We fall short. We don’t do enough. We overlook things. We take things – like our privilege – for granted. We assume everyone else gets the same benefit of the doubts that we do.

We fall short.

And yet, God still loves us. And we have to remember that.

We have already been filled. We have already inherited the earth. We are already children of God.

We already have God’s love. We don’t have to earn it.

But, because we already have that love. That love and this life compels us to, draws us towards, bursts through us to do justice, to love kindness, and to humbly walk with our God.

It makes that reality possible because we know we aren’t doing it to receive God’s love. But, instead we get to live into it because God’s love and life are already with us.

Do justice. See people in need. Listen to those around you who speak of their struggles. Stand up for what is right for others. Fight against that urge to only protect yourself and your family. Be stretched to see that those around you are a part of you too.

Love kindness. Live into the radical love that Christ models for us. Eat with those whom others scoff at. Extend mercy and forgiveness in ways that make people uncomfortable. Love in ways that challenge and stand against the thoughts and practices that have subtly shaped our minds and actions for generations.

Humbly walk with God. Know that God is already with you. Live life knowing that God is indeed ever and always present with you now. Not in a way that flaunts or is pious over others. But recognizing that even in spite of our fallings and failings, God still – out of deep love – draws us close and walks with us.

Remember that you are blessed. Jesus has given that to you. Jesus has given that to us. Jesus has given that to the world.

Live into that blessing.

Do justice. Love kindness. Humbly walk with God.


February 1, 2020, 8:00 AM

February 2020 Newsletter

Grace and peace to y’all! We are one month into 2020 and things are busy! Annual reports. Parochial reports. Newsletters. Meetings. Confirmation. Visiting. You name it – it has been going on. It has been busy this beginning of a new year, but it is the kind of busy that makes you feel full and content. I hope and pray that the beginning of your 2020 is content as well. If it’s not, know always that God is with you through it. Lean into God’s love, lean into the support of your community of faith.

As most of y’all know, I’m a bit of a geek; a nerd; an aficionado of the nerdy realm. I play video games. I watch movies and tv shows. I read books. I love anything that is science fiction, fantasy, comic book, cartoon, superhero, or more.

I can find enjoyment in almost any genre that I indulge in.

I love imagination. I love being surprised. I love ‘bigger-than-life’ stories and heroes. I love it all.

For the last couple years, I’ve been humbled to lead discussion about nerdy and faith related things as a part of our Nerd Word faith study group. We’ve talked about Star Wars, Marvel movies, Mary Poppins, Inside Out, and so much more. I look forward to the numerous conversations we’ll get to have in the future.

Nerd Word brings folks from different parts of life in our community (once even as far way as Colorado!) and we talk about the things we love and how God just might be present within that work. We discuss what the Spirit might be trying to show us about life and faith within these fantastical worlds and ideas. The conversations are full of faith, laughter, and deep thought. It really is a lot of fun.

We can find God in so many different places. Even in the places where others might be taken aback by it. It lines up right with what our Lord Jesus did within his earthly ministry. He was always finding and showing and sharing where God was at work in the world especially in the places that people didn’t expect.

Our next Nerd Word is on February 6 at 7pm at Genesis Coffee in downtown Newberry. Any and all are invited as we get to discuss The Rise of Skywalker. It should be a great time filled with wonderful conversation.

What I hope for you to see this month and throughout your life is that God is indeed present and at work everywhere. God tends to show up in the places we least expect. In those moments we can learn so much about who God is for us and what God might be leading us towards.

As always, follow God and have fun doing it. Because if it isn’t fun, it makes it really difficult to actually be a part of it!

I love y’all. And I mean it!

January 27, 2020, 8:00 AM

the one about God choosing you...

Sermon from January 26, 2020

Text: Matthew 4:12-29

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, have you ever done anything on the spur of the moment? Just had an idea and decided to act on it? Whenever we think about ‘spur of the moment’ decisions, typically they are centered on ourselves. We decide – on a whim – to take a trip; to ask that person we like out on a date; to buy that thing we’ve been thinking about; to repaint entire rooms in our homes.

I’d imagine that happens to a lot of us, right? That’s typically how we view ‘spur of the moment’ decisions. Things that make us feel good.

This morning, as we read our gospel from Matthew, we see quite a different ‘spur of the moment’ decision being made. Jesus approaches two pairs of brothers and offers them a chance at a new and different sort of life. A life and opportunity to follow him.

Now, even though this is the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, I’d like to think that word about this interesting and peculiar guy had been spreading around Galilee. Perhaps they heard what happened on the River Jordan with John. They might have heard Jesus preach and speak to small groups of people. Anyone who lives in a small town knows – news travels a lot faster than you could ever possibly think. And just because at this time they didn’t have phones and social media, didn’t mean news didn’t travel any less slow.

People had heard of this teacher, they had heard of his message of the kingdom of heaven come near. Naturally, people talked about it.

I wonder how much Peter and Andrew and James and John of Zebedee had heard about him. They were fishers of course. I’d imagine long talks were held during those hours of waiting for the nets to get full. Surely, word had spread to them as well.

And, whether the message and deeds of Jesus had reached those two pairs of brothers, when the Lord spoke to each of them – they responded. Immediately.

They dropped their nets and they followed him. James and John even left their father in the boat.

What is so interesting about this encounter with Jesus, is that this might be the only time that men in our scripture took a call from the Holy and didn’t stammer and stutter about it.

There is example after example of when God approaches people to lead a new and different type of life, where there are always excuses that are mentioned. Moses argued no one would listen to him because he stuttered, Jeremiah balked because he felt he was too young, Gideon felt he wasn’t worthy enough because he was from the weakest clan of Manasseh, Jonah just didn’t want to do it, so ran in the other direction.

Yet, for whatever reason the disciples are different. They hear Jesus speak to them and they immediately stop what they’re doing and leave their ‘old’ life behind.

I’d be willing to bet, that more of us are like the prophets of old, than we are like the disciples in this moment. How many of us have dropped everything to follow a new life? Leaving everything behind, stopping all that we know, leaving with what’s on our back and following another?

I know I haven’t done that. In fact, before discerning God’s call to ministry, I felt there was no way I could do this. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t spiritual enough. I didn’t speak good enough. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t enough to do what God was calling me towards.

I read a funny little picture on the internet the other day that I think sums up that thought pretty well. It said something to the account of, “When God called you – God already took in account your ‘stupidity/limits’ and called you anyways.”

Perhaps more than anything, that is what Peter, Andrew, James, and John took in the most to their hearts. They were fishermen. They weren’t extraordinary. In fact, I’d be willing to bet to those around them they were less than ordinary. Fishermen aren’t typically seen as the ‘cream of the crop.’ Not then, and probably not today.

It’s a hard job. It’s a smelly job. I’m not sure you necessarily take that job willingly and excitedly. You do it out of necessity. You do it because you have no other choice.

Yet, that is who Jesus approached first. The ones no one would expect. He didn’t reach out to scholars or deep thinkers. He looked to the ones who others thought might have been flawed or less than in some way. That’s who Jesus sought.

And those ‘flawed’ and ‘less than’ folks jumped at the chance to follow this One. They immediately left their nets and their families and walked behind and with the one who was rumored to be the One.

Their spur of the moment decision didn’t necessarily benefit them either. There weren’t riches at the other end. There wasn’t a deep sense of pride that emanated from their families and friends.

In fact, there was – more than likely – the opposite. I’d imagine those families chided these four and Jesus. How could they leave everything behind and follow that guy? He can’t be who they say he is because he chose four nobodies from nowhere. How ‘special’ can he be if he chose them?

God chose them. God continues to choose today. Jesus reached out to the ones no one expected to walk with him. Jesus spoke to the people who others would distance themselves from because of their job, their life, and probably literally in this story, their personal aroma.

God chose them despite others thinking it would be a bad decision. Wouldn’t get much back on his return. The investment in them wouldn’t be worth it.

And yet, these four were the beginning. From these four this message of eternal forgiveness, radical hospitality, limitless love, and daring faith has spread around the world. It is through the beginning of these four that the massive gathering of the faithful would follow.

Still, God calls today. Yes, God is still at work today. God continues to call, to convict, to pull, to push, to send out into the world those whom God deems good enough to proclaim the message that Jesus shares. That the kingdom of God is at hand. That the kingdom of heaven is near. That God is with you – that God is with us – now.

And who does God continue to call and send? Who does God deem good enough already? Each and every one of you. Truly, God does.

Where you and others might see flaws, brokenness, and imperfection – God sees you. God sees the one who can proclaim this love, this grace, this forgiveness. God sees the one who can live into the radical hospitality that Jesus continues to model today. God sees the one who can and does shine light on injustice in the world. God sees the one whose prayers move to action to bring about change in this world that God loves so much.

No matter if you are a bit hesitant like a reluctant prophet or pastor, no matter if you jump at the chance to follow this new and different life before you – God chooses and calls you.

God does. God has. God is. God will.

Live into the life that God has called for you and for the world. Know that God sees value and worth in you already. God can and does use you – just as he chose the disciples – to proclaim this love, this life, this new thing that God has done.

Those followers began with these four. That faith and hope that they had in Jesus continues to flow through us so that all and more might know of God’s redeeming and overflowing love for the world.

It won’t always be easy. There will be trials and tribulations. It more than likely won’t lead to riches or fame. It may seem unexpected. Yet, God calls us to proclaim this love to a world in desperate need to hear it. And when it becomes difficult and frustrating, God’s promise continues to linger with us. That promise given to the prophets, that promise given to the disciples, that promise given to the world – Immanuel. God is with us. Always. Amen.

January 20, 2020, 8:00 AM

that one about come and see...

Sermon from January 19, 2020

Text: John 1: 29-42

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, the first thing I want to point out this morning, is how many of y’all noticed that we’re getting the same story two weeks in a row? Did y’all pick up on that? Last Sunday, we celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord, and we read The Gospel of Matthew’s account of that baptism. John argues a bit, Jesus convinces him it needs to be done.

Down in the water Jesus goes. The heavens open up. A dove descends. God speaks.

You know, we get the same basic story this time, but did you notice that things seem a little different? No where here does John the Baptizer, actually perform the act of baptism, though I suppose it is implied. John recalls that he saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus. He shares that with those around him as he continually points to Jesus.

As I’ve said quite a few times throughout my ministry – that’s John’s job. He’s the boney finger that points to the messiah. And he’ll do that, even when it costs him.

Which, we see play out immediately in this text. For during the following day, the Baptizer, or I suppose he’s more of a pointer or a witness, again points out Jesus – Here is the Lamb of God – and the two disciples with him get up and start following Jesus.

I want to focus on the interaction that Jesus has with these two new disciples of his. They come to him in earnest and Jesus says, “What are you looking for?”

That’s a bold and deep question isn’t it?

As a pastor, it’s a question that I at times get to and have to ask. It’s a question that cuts right to the heart of any matter. Because, we as humans can beat around the bush with the best of them. Right?

We can be in a conversation about anything – Religion, politics, sports, intimacy, school, work, life, anything – and we’ll talk around all the things that we want.

What are you looking for?

Are we looking for something to make us laugh – to distract us from the world around us?

Are we looking for some new piece of technology that promises to make life even simpler?

Are we looking for a job – a relationship – a community that will help us ‘get by’ a little better?

Are we looking for someone to hope and believe in? Someone who will make it ‘all better’ or return things to ‘the way I remember’ it used to be.

Are we looking for things to ‘change’ in some specific way, that of course doesn’t require us to actually change at all?

What are you looking for?

That’s really the question, isn’t it?

We hear that question from our parents, our friends, our jobs, our schools, the ads that bombard us every day.

What are you looking for?

I always wonder if these two disciples – I wonder, if we – know the full extent of what Jesus is asking.

As John has already told them that this is the Lamb of God they probably had some preconceived notions of what that meant.

Would the Lamb of God – the messiah – be a powerful warrior to lay waste to the enemies of Israel? Finally, putting the chosen people of God back on top in the hierarchy of faith? Would the messiah be that astute political mind who could eloquently – with tact and precision – use words to bend the powers that be towards God. Perhaps the ‘Lamb of God’ would be one who literally descends from the heavens with the power to control and manipulate people and things around him since he had the power and privilege of the Creator.

No matter where those disciples’ minds might have fallen as to who they thought the Lamb of God would be like – they wanted to be a part of that. Their teacher pointed to the one ‘more powerful than he’ and they left and followed that one.

And so, they come to follow Jesus to see what this guy is all about.

Jesus notices them, turns, and asks that question…

What are you looking for?

I’ve always found their response to be both surprising and refreshing. For their response is a little different.

Where are you staying? Where do you dwell? Where do you remain?

Even though that response doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question, I’m pretty sure that it is than what I would’ve responded with. If Jesus – or anyone really – asked me the question, “What are you looking for?” I’m pretty certain my response would be, “I don’t know.”

We all do that don’t we?

What are you looking for in your life? I don’t know.
What are you looking for in your job? I don’t know.
What are you looking for in your faith? I don’t know.

What are you looking for? I don’t know.

I wonder if those disciples and many of those others who would soon gather around Jesus were looking for fame, ease, and fortune. It’s what we would expect from being so close to one so powerful right? We strive for that, hitching our wagon to those who are ‘going somewhere.’ So that we’ll be able to ride those coattails on someone else’s good fortune.

I believe we all do that. In big and small ways. Even when we think we don’t do it, we’re still probably seeking to be at least associated with or at the very least noticed by that more powerful person.

When the disciples ask Jesus where he’s staying, he invites them in further to his life and the life opened up for them. And, I like to think that Jesus didn’t invite them in only for a place to lie down and receive a small meal.

No, Jesus’ invitation is more than that. Jesus’ invitations are always more than that. Jesus says,

Come and see.

Come and see where many will gather to hear words of hope.

Come and see those who scatter from that group because those words didn’t align with what they wanted to hear and live into.

Come and see a deeper and more full interpretation of faith that will rock you sideways and turn the world upside down. Where you will enter into life and relationship with those that are easy to look past and step around.

Come and see the life that you will live with God in your heart. A life lived for others. A life that speaks out. A life that points to injustice and calls us to action. A life that makes others uncomfortable because it speaks the bold truth; it shines light on the injustice that works in the shadows and operates during the day. Come and see. A life that is full, but never easy.

Come and see this kingdom of God that is at hand – but, lived out in ways that you would not expect. That includes the welcoming of people that others have cast aside.

Come and see where you too are welcomed, even when you don’t think that you’re worthy of that kind of love and life.

Come and see that you are already enough in God’s eyes.

Come and see this life that is so much more than you could possibly expect.

Come and see.

I don’t know if those disciples completely and fully knew what Jesus was implying when he asked, “What are you looking for?”

I don’t think we completely and fully know what Jesus is implying when he asks us, “What are you looking for?”

Sometimes I really don’t know what I’m looking for. I’d guess that most of the time y’all don’t know either.

But, I want to be able to live this life where my response to that question from Jesus is the same as those disciples, “Well, where are you at?”

Jesus, I don’t know what I am looking for – but, where are you staying? I think that’s a good place to start.

And Jesus invites us in deeper to ‘come and see.’

Come and see Jesus in the Word.

But, even within that Word, there are struggles, questions, and ponderings. We can’t do it alone, so we should probably gather together with others and talk and discuss. More likely than not, those conversations will stretch us, make us uncomfortable, and open us to ways we hadn’t thought before. There will be the chance to just drop it and move to a group that ‘thinks’ more like us. But, does that help us grow deeper into that relationship with God and with one another?

Come and see Jesus in this meal of bread and wine – body and blood.

We participate in this ancient practice and sacrament that connects us to that very first meal with Jesus and his disciples, that binds us with all those others who celebrate with us right now around the world, and provides us with a link to those who will come after us. In this meal, we find the one who has forgiven us, who fills us with strength, and who sends us out to proclaim this Word.

Come and see Jesus in these waters of baptism. Those waters that wash us before God. Where we acknowledge that we don’t have it all together, that we do mess up, and that life isn’t easy or squeaky clean. But, once for all we are washed and welcomed into this community and life of faith. Where nothing can take that away.

Come and see our Lord in the faces of those before us. The ones we know deeply and care for abundantly. Yet, we come and see Jesus in the one who doesn’t look like us, the one who lives a life that we don’t understand, whose struggles are different from our own. The ones we have yet to meet.

Come and see our God who dwells in us. The one who has come down to be with us – and that means you, too. Where you might not think that you’re worthy enough, lovable enough, ‘perfect’ enough for God to notice you. God has come to be with you too. Fully and completely. You are enough. Already.

Come and see.

Our Lord lifts those words up today as the ultimate and best invitation of discipleship that there ever was or ever will be. Jesus invites those two following him – who aren’t quite sure what’s going on, but are enthralled and drawn to this man. They are seekers and wish to know more, even if they cannot fully comprehend what’s going on. Jesus invites them to come and see.

Come and see.

As Jesus invites us today and every day to ‘come and see,’ we too are compelled to point as the Witness of John has done. Where as we began this text, we see John point to the one for all to see. John the Witness points and speaks so that others might know that the one more powerful than he is among them. So, that they too might be beckoned in love with ‘come and see.’ We too get to live the life of a witness. Sharing with those around us the Lamb of God who is already here. Come and see all you people!

Come and see the new life that is offered here. Come and see the one who brings a new and true identity to each of us. Come and see the Lamb of God. Come and see God at work in this place, within these people, through our hands and feet. Come and see Jesus present in the bread and wine. Come and see God splash in the waters.

So, what are you looking for?

Come and see. Come and see. Amen.

January 13, 2020, 9:00 AM

the one about doing things backwards...

Sermon from January 12, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen.

So, this is always an interesting story within our scriptures. This moment when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptizer. It’s interesting because John asks the very question that I’m sure many of us think when we read this story.

Shouldn’t I be baptized by you? This doesn’t seem like the right way to do things.

Let me tell you a story. As a pastor, I’ve been to a few more ordinations than most people because I tend to have a few more friends who also happen to be pastors. I remember every single one I’ve been to or been a part of, but one ordination service stands out to me. It happened just over four years ago – just a few months after I was called here to be the pastor at Redeemer.

Normally, at the ordinations that I’m a part of, I’m there as a friend of the ordinand or even just as a colleague. Where I’ve struggled with that individual through seminary and classes, or on a very few occasions, I was there to help and guide them through their formation. Yet, this particular one was different. It was for the pastor at Mount Pilgrim Lutheran in Prosperity – Bobby Morris.

What makes this different is that Pastor Bobby was my Hebrew professor in seminary. He is the one who helped teach me – and many others – the distinct cadence of the Hebrew written language. He helped me and others discover the beauty in the literalness of that language. For example, ‘yad’ means left and the sea. Because, as the legend goes, as the Hebrew people walked to the promised land, the sea was on their left.

Pastor Bobby was my professor, yet I was there at his ordination. I laid my hands upon him during that holy moment of an ordination where all clergy present are invited to give their blessing as they welcome this new sister or brother into this odd and wondrous call of leader.

I remember telling Pastor Bobby after the service that I think we did things backwards. Because he was my professor, he should be the one laying his hands on me in that moment – because he helped form and shape me. We both chuckled at the oddness of that moment we shared and thought that maybe perhaps it was one of the few times that has really ever happened.

It was different. It felt a little strange.

But, as I read this text from Matthew’s Gospel, it makes me think of that moment all over again. John too knew that there was something odd about this moment. It seemed backwards. The optics of this moment would make it seem like John was more ‘powerful’ than Jesus. Yet, he relents in his misgivings when Jesus responds that we must do this in order to fulfill all righteousness.

Jesus desired to be baptized. Yet, what we know of Jesus he couldn’t have approached it the same way that we do. At least, not completely. We see baptism as the moment when we are cleansed of our sin. We are washed and welcomed into God’s family as children.

Yet, Jesus was already God’s son and he didn’t need any cleansing of his sins. Hard for the Son of God – the Word of God made flesh – Godself – to be sinful.

But, Jesus still insists on being baptized. And I’m wondering if it has more to do with the second part of baptism. That we are washed and welcomed into the community and family of God.

Jesus begins his earthly ministry in this moment, and he is baptized. Perhaps it is here that he desires to be baptized to be a part of something with us. To be in this with us. After rising from the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus proceeds to call us into new life and faith as one of us.

He too, is flesh and blood.

He too, is baptized.

He too, is one of us.

Last Sunday we had the joy of welcoming Palmer Grace Kopp into not only this community of faith, but welcoming her into the family of God. It’s done. She’s a part of this. She’s a part of us. She is one of us because she has splashed in those same waters of baptism that we have.

Baptism is done in community. It isn’t a solo act. You need another person there to welcome you into this group that is open for all. She is joined into the same community and family that Jesus has been baptized into. She is one of us, just as Jesus is one of us.

Our God has come down to be with us. Our Lord has washed in the waters of welcome and community. Our Christ begins his ministry where we do.

In water. In the knowledge that he is good enough already. Our lives of faith begin in those waters, and in the knowledge that we are good enough already.

How could Jesus do what he did, be who he was meant to be, if he were not one of us? How could we possibly look to him as not only our Savior but also our model for how to live faithfully in this world if he did not do what we do, including participate in our rituals? It wasn’t that Jesus needed baptism to wash away his sins, but he chose to be baptized so to fully embrace his own humanity, to share in the human journey with us, to be part of our family. This is what baptism does. It brings us into the family of Jesus and gives us a place of belonging.

Jesus enters into this rite of the faith, not to be washed, but to be a part of us. To show us not only who God is, but who we are to God. That we are in this together. We are in this community and fellowship with one another. In this baptism, Jesus is stating I’m here with you – all of you. I’m not special in the sense that I don’t have to do all the things you do. I am washed and welcomed.

Jesus’ ministry begins in welcome. Being welcomed into the community and family of God’s children, but also being welcomed into the ministry that is laid before him. Jesus begins in these waters. It is from this moment, through these waters, that he’ll begin to gather those around him. Not only his disciples, but followers, friends, helpers, listeners, and more.

He’ll gather and welcome those many would never (and still don’t) expect or respect. He’ll have conversations with those on the outside, he’ll proclaim forgiveness to those others wouldn’t dare go near.

His ministry begins here in these waters.

That call of faith and welcome also begins with us in the waters of baptism. Our ministry begins there too. We too, from these waters, are sent out in God’s love to welcome, forgive, and love those around us. It is through those waters that we know we belong to something far bigger and grander than we could ever imagine. And, beginning within those waters, we get to tell everyone that they are a part of it too because they are already good enough.

You know, that was an odd moment in that ordination a few years ago. Yet, even as I talked to Pastor Bobby about it, he said something pretty important to me, that has sat with me since then. When I mentioned that oddness of a student laying hands on a teacher in a moment of blessing during their ordination service, he said this, “You know it might’ve been a bit backwards, not something we’re used to seeing. But, regardless – thanks for being a part of welcoming into this.”

In baptism we are welcomed.

In baptism, Jesus is welcomed into our life.

In these waters, we are sent to welcome all. Jesus is there with us, too. He started in the waters as well. Amen.


January 6, 2020, 7:00 AM

the one on the 12th day of Christmas...

Sermon from Sunday, January 5, 2020

Text: John 1:1-18

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus, the one who has come down; the Christ, will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, it isn’t very often that we get to celebrate this Sunday. It’s only every few years that we get to the second Sunday of Christmas. You see, tomorrow is the Epiphany of our Lord. Tomorrow is the day that we remember the wise men from far off who arrive at Jesus’ home and present him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

But, today. We get to celebrate the 12th and final day of the season of Christmas. And what better what to celebrate that than to remember our baptisms as we celebrate with Palmer Kopp as she is baptized and welcomed into the family of God.

As we enter this time of the new ‘Roarin’ 20s, I kept thinking about all the things that we do as a people as we enter any new year. We like to make promises.

Promises to ourselves. Promises to those around us.

We set goals. We dream dreams. When the calendar turns to January 1, the possibilities seem endless.

Some of those goals may be to become healthier. Eating less junk. Drinking less. Taking on new routines.

It may be setting aside deliberate time to read a book, read scripture, be in prayer each day and week of the new year.

It may be promising that we’re going to take things like school and work more seriously.

It may be striving to hit some athletic or artistic goal.

It may be finding those ways in our lives that might be used to honor, lift up, and advocate for those in need and whose voices go unheard otherwise.

You could be like my dad and just say you’re going to give up smoking and drinking – even though you’ve never smoked or drank alcohol in your life. Word of advice, don’t be like my dad. I’m actually surprised he hasn’t made that joke this year…yet.

All of us, it seems the entire world’s citizens, approach every new year the same way. We look at this new year and we desire and strive to make ourselves better in some way. To improve our life in the ways that we can.

And in all that fluster and buster of making new promises, goals, and life changes, we read this text from John’s gospel. One of the most wonderful and beautiful writings in all of our scriptures.

This eloquent prologue of how God has come down to be with us. These words that make us think of Genesis and the beginning of all things. There is so much hope and love and power in these words written in the opening verses of John’s Gospel.

This hope that God has been present with us all along. That Christ, our Messiah, has been spoken into this world from the very beginning. That no matter where we turn, where we’ve gone, where we go, the Christ has been here with us. Always.

This Word that radiates life and light. The light that pushes back the shadows. This life that cannot be snuffed out.

We get to hear this first promise – the promise of the presence, light, and love of God – on the day that we hear those other promises that are going to be made today.

Those promises made by Mary Alex, Robbie, their families, and each of us. Those promises that we will – together – help raise Palmer in the faith that has been passed down to us. Passed down to us by those who made promises for us, and who had promises made for them. Those promises that extend all the way back to those who immersed or splashed in the waters of the river Jordan. Those who washed themselves clean. Those who turned and re-turned towards the one who loves and created us all.

Those promises of bringing the Word of Scripture, the Creeds, and the Prayers to Palmer. Helping her see God at work in the world and how God works through her to bring life and hope to those around her. Helping her find her voice to proclaim God’s love and life as she sees those around her use their voices and actions to show God’s love and grace to the world.

We all get to be a part of that promise. We all get to be a part of raising her in this faith of promise and hope. We get to remind Palmer today and every day she is not alone.

There are quite a few who look at Baptism as something that we do to ourselves. We make promises and we work together so that God will remember us, keep us, and hold us tight. That we do these things so that God’s love will be bestowed upon us.

And frankly, I think that is rather sad. As I and Palmer’s great-grandfather say those holy words of ‘Palmer is baptized in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit’ we do so with the knowledge that we are participants in this holy work. We say those words and believe this action is not something that we do, but is something that we participate in with God.

For God here is the main actor. God here is the one who is ‘doing’ the work of baptism. We get to participate in this holy and humble moment.

The promises that we make – whether they be the promises that we make in this service of Holy Baptism today, or the promises that we make as we look to a new year – are never done alone.

We work together with one another and with God to make these promises known in our lives, and also to help us hold true to the promises we make.

Because no matter how much we promise this day, we’re still going to falter. There will be days and times that our voices and actions won’t show the love of God to others. There will be times where we will be too tired to teach the prayers, the creeds, and the commandments. There will be times that Palmer might not want to hear about these promises. There will be times that we don’t live up to the promises we make today.

It will happen.

Yet, our ability, desire, and stubbornness to live into these promises isn’t what makes baptism holy and central to our lives as people of faith. Our ability to teach well, lead well, advocate fiercely, and nurture thoroughly in faith isn’t what gives baptism its validity.

It isn’t about what we do.

No, it is about what God has done, is doing, and will do.

God is present in these waters. God is present in our lives. God has been there from the beginning. Speaking those words of love, living those words of action, inviting us into the life of faith through word and deed.

God is the one who makes baptism valid, holy, and central.

God is at work.

We make promises, we live into these promises, we live this life of faith because of what God has already done and continues to do.

God has come down to be with us. God has been birthed into the world. Christ has invited us into this life of new and radical faith and love. The Holy Spirit is here to guide us through it all.

We are able to live into these promises because God has already lived into the promise for us. God has declared us good enough. God has declared love for us. God has done it all.

We know this, because the heavens were ripped open and torn asunder so that God could enter into creation as one of us.

We are washed and claimed in the waters of baptism because God already loves us. Because God has already come to be with us. Because in God’s eyes we are already enough.

That’s what we hold on to as we move through the promises we make and remember today.

We start at already enough.

That’s where living into these promises begins. Whether it be the promises we make in service today, or the promises we make to improve or better our lives in this new year.

We are already enough.

Palmer. You are already enough in love.

Mary Alex. You are already enough in love.

Robbie. You are already enough in love.

People of God. Each of you are already enough in love.

God has come to be with us. God is with us. God is the light come down. God is the Word already present from the beginning. God is here.

Why? Because we are already enough. That’s where we begin. God’s love is with us already. Always. Amen.

January 1, 2020, 9:00 AM

January 2020 Newsletter Article

Grace and peace everyone and welcome not only to a new month, but a new year and a new decade! I cannot believe it is 2020. I know for one, I’ll be making mistakes writing the date for the next few weeks, what about y’all?

This month, for a newsletter article, I wanted us all to know that I know the world is strange. We live in strange times and no matter where you land on the spectrum of ideology, we all seem to sigh in exasperation. Why this? Why now? Where O God are you hanging out?

Throughout the month of December and the season of Advent we waited in expectant hope of the one who is, who has, and who will come down to be with us. We await the one who tears open the heavens and the earth to be with us. For many, that yearning and desire feels more urgent than ever before.

Less than a week ago we celebrated God’s inbreaking into the world as flesh and blood as we welcomed Jesus’ birth. What I find most amazing about that story and part of our combined history of faith is that as God has come down to be with us, we are called and invited to see the world in the way in which God does.

Through the eyes of love. Through the eyes of a child. Through the eyes that God has for you and all creation.

So, it may be cliché and corny to say this, but what would it look like if we entered into this new year and decade of 2020 with the way that God sees us and the world? How would we talk to one another, interact with the world, and respond to the events of the world as we look through and with the vision of God? Seeing one another in 20/20 vision of grace and love!

Seriously, see one another and those around you the way that God does – through a vision and lens of grace, love, forgiveness, hospitality, and welcome.

2020 is going to be an amazing year. I cannot wait to see what God is up to in and through The Lutheran Church of The Redeemer. I cannot wait to see who God places in our lives as individuals and as a community of faith that will help us to see God even more clearly at work in the world.

Let’s walk with one another and help each other see God at work in the world, around us, and in and through each of us. Amen!

December 25, 2019, 12:00 AM

the one about letting Christmas linger...

Sermon from December 24, 2019

Text: Luke 2: 1-20

Grace and peace to each of you this the most holy of evenings. Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this evening, we get to gather together in hope and celebration of the love to come down from heaven. We get to be with one another in song and word as we remember what God has done, is doing, and will do. We get to join in with millions of other faithful sisters and brothers across the world as we raise our voices in joy and hope to our God – or Immanuel – our Lord come down – God with us.

We get to do that tonight.

I want to share a story with you. Every year as my family prepares for Christmas, we put up decorations – like most people do. A part of our decoration process is putting up numerous nativity scenes in our house. All of these have a special meaning to us. Some have been in our family for years. Some are for the girls to play with. Some have been given to us more recently.

Yet, there is one nativity set that Erin and I both love dearly. It’s beautiful and detailed. It’s bigger than all our others. It stands out.

We put it up every year. We love it.

But, here’s the thing. It’s kind of a pain to setup and put away. It isn’t heavy. But, it comes in different size boxes and we never quite remember the exact Tetris like puzzle we have to use to put them all in the same container. Mostly though, the part I really struggle with is the fact that it has a lot of Styrofoam. Lots of it.

And anyone who has Styrofoam covering their precious things knows – it never stays where it’s supposed to. It always gets everywhere.

Some years, I feel like I’m finding bits and pieces of that Styrofoam days, weeks, and months after the set has been put away.

Now, I can’t be for sure – because I don’t remember – but last year, we did something different.

As we packed up our decorations after another wonderful season of Christmas – that nativity set stayed. It sat on the top of our bookshelf all year. We dusted it occasionally, but for these past 365 days it’s been right there.

I’d like to think that it was intentionally left there to constantly remind me, my family, and all those who enter our home that we remember this love that has come down to be with us. But, truthfully? It was probably left simply because I didn’t want to deal with anymore Styrofoam this past year.

But, looking at it now – especially as we moved closer and closer to this Christmas Eve it got me thinking.

There are two Christmases that the world celebrates. There’s the one that begins around Thanksgiving Day (but, seems to get pushed closer and closer to Halloween every year). That Christmas where everyone is singing jingles, buying presents, going to parties, sending cards, and eating wonderful food. That’s a good Christmas. I love that Christmas too. I’m not knocking that Christmas.

But, that Christmas ends pretty quickly. Once the presents are unwrapped. Once the calendar flips to the 26th, it all gets packed up. You’ll get whiplash if you’ve been enjoying the movies and songs – because those stop pretty abruptly. Everything goes back (mostly) to every day, normal, programming.

When the 25th ends, that Christmas is over. As wonderful as it is, it doesn’t stick around very long.

But, there’s another Christmas. The one we begin to remember this night. That Christmas doesn’t end. It lingers. It stays. It settles in for the long haul.

That Christmas with a soon-to-be married couple; a pregnant teenager, and her older fiancé.

That one sticks around.

Why? Because it involves life – new life. It involves hope. It emanates love.

Anyone who has had children, adopted a child, fostered children, or cares for children will tell you – kids stick around. There’s no ‘putting them away.’ Even if you want to from time to time. There’s no packing them up, there’s no putting them back in their original packing. Much like we do with all those decorations.

Life, just doesn’t work like that.

Our God doesn’t work like that. This in-breaking – this tearing of the heavens to be with all of creation – doesn’t do that.

It lingers, this new life. This new child. This one who has come down.

The box has been opened and there is nothing that can be done to put it back in there. No matter how much at times we want to.

It stays. It is here.

Why? Because the Christmas we celebrate, this Christmas that lingers involves new life.

For that is what we are given this day, that is what we celebrate this evening. We celebrate this new life that has come down to be with us. We celebrate this new life that grows with us. We remember this new life that calls to us. We are invited in to a life of deep faith by this new life. All of us – all of creation – is redeemed and saved by this new life.

This Immanuel. This God with us. This one. This child.

I think we’re going to continue to leave that nativity scene up. Partly because I don’t want to deal with stray Styrofoam for the foreseeable future. But, I think now, I can faithfully and confidently say – that nativity is going to stay so that I, and my family, and all who enter our home can remember – this Christmas we celebrate lingers. This new life stays with us. This God – Our God – has come down in love to be with us. And you can’t pack that up. Because it isn’t a decoration.

Why wouldn’t you want that to linger? Why wouldn’t you want that to stick around?

Remember that every day. Remember that love for you and for all the world every day.

Let Christmas linger. Because it does. And the more we let it linger and sit with us, the more we are called by this One. The more we are invited by this One into a life of faith that just might change us.

This one who reminds us that we are enough. We are loved. We are not alone. And when we know that gift, when we experience that hope?

We tend to share that with those around us.

So, let this Christmas linger. Let this new life that has come and is to come be with you.

May this new life walk with you. Gather us together. Hold us accountable. Invite us into love. Care for the world and all who call it home. May this Child – this God – this messiah – linger and stick in our lives and may that enduring life change us for and in love. Always.


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