In pm's words
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January 30, 2017, 7:46 AM

the one about blessings...


Sermon from January 29, 2017

Texts: Matthew 5: 1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Micah 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.

So, today we hear one of Jesus’ most famous teachings. This morning, we get to listen in on that class – that brief lecture – where Jesus is sitting with his disciples – away from the crowds – and tells them how to recognize a blessing.

I’m wondering if that is something that we today as a people, society, a country, the world need to be taught again and again as well. We live in a culture that lavishes ‘blessings’ on the good things in our lives. Dare I say; we use the word ‘blessed’ to kind of brag about our lives.

We live in a world where ‘blessings’ are only given to successes. We live in a world where it can be downright difficult to feel ‘blessed’ because we don’t have the successes of those we see on social media. We don’t have the same clout as our friends down the street. We don’t feel that well about our faith, our bodies, our lives, our work, our abilities.

Yet, Jesus approaches this morning with a twist on how we recognize blessings in our life and the life of the world.

Jesus sees blessings in those that struggle in their spirit and life. Perhaps in their faith. Blessed are those who ask questions and ponder. Blessed are those whose thoughts move from the good word to the world they witness and how at times they don’t compute. Blessed are those whose hope is in those who proclaim welcome with open arms, yet hopes dashed when doors are closed.

Blessed are those who have experienced death. Blessed are those whose lives have been rocked and ravaged by pains only they can feel. Blessed are those who flee from tragedy, death, and persecution in their lives and communities to protect their families and keep them safe.

Blessed are those who are easily swayed, the quiet, the meek and mild.

Blessed are those who yearn and strive for righteousness and have a deep- seated passion for peace in our communities and world. Those who see injustice and feel called to speak up and speak out against those moments – even when it sets them apart from those they love and care.

Blessed are those who are down and out, struggling with life, frustrated beyond belief.

Those aren’t the typical avenues that we feel are blessed. Anyone in those moments and places certainly don’t feel blessed. In my conversations with those who have experienced those moments in their life, they certainly don’t feel that God is near to them. How could they – when the world constantly tells them that God isn’t.

Gotta be happy. Gotta be proud. Have to show a good face!

It all seems ‘foolish.’

We see this difficulty lived out in our lives of faith as we are reminded in our second reading this morning that God certainly appears foolish and call us into that life of faith as well. Lifting high that which sets us low and below others. We look to the cross; we are called to cling to those two pieces of wood as a reminder of God’s presence in our life.

And in that, we forget how utterly foolish it is to do that. This cross, this symbol of death and torture is what we lift up? God’s grace and life are extended through that one who died; and who didn’t even die dignified. Executed among criminals before the taunting of a powerful empire.

It’s foolish. Surely, the world’s wisdom is greater than that! Let’s look to the good, the shiny, the majestic, the huge numbers, grand moments, and the great objects in our lives instead.

Yet, we still cling to God’s hope and promise of new life that is given to us through the cross. It is through that death and resurrection that we are called to live in faith. We hope and pray for and in those words of promise and life. But still, from the outside looking in – it is foolish.

Our Lord was captured. Arrested. Mocked. Died. Is it wise to proclaim that life?

Yes, because God’s foolishness is still more wise than the world’s wisdom.

It seems and appears wise and prudent to double-check, hold at arm’s length, or perhaps even prevent those who flee violence just in case. It is foolish to welcome with open arms, caring hearts, and warm homes those that others say we don’t know enough about – where the only thing that God calls for us to do - in Christ - is to love others as ourselves.

We are called to proclaim. We live the life that God has gifted to us because of what God has done in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord. We are called to recognize the blessings of God in the people and places that the world attempts to divert our attention from.

As one of my favorite theologians – Rev. David Lose - stated this past week 

Jesus urges his disciples – then and now – to look at those around us differently than the culture does. Rather than measure persons by their possessions, we are invited – nay, commanded – to see their character. Rather than merely take pity on their losses, we are invited to enter into them. Rather than judge their failings, we are invited to forgive and remind them that they are blessed by God and born for more than they’ve settled for. And rather than despise weakness, we are invited to see in it the truest point of meeting between God’s children. For God reveals God’s self to us most clearly and consistently at our places of deepest need.

We still cling to the promise of blessedness given to us by God. Where we discover that God is at work – fully and intentionally – in the places that we don’t expect.

God is at work in the lives of those who care for others who have been displaced. Those who house and show extreme hospitality to those suffering displacement, addiction, hunger, and fear.

Where God is present in the lives of each of us – we these broken and sinful creatures. Where the world might tell us we are nothing, but God has set each of us apart for something great. To proclaim God’s goodness and love to the world. To stand with others who are broken and beaten down. To lift our voices together in praise of what God continues to do in the world.

And still, many will see it as foolishness. It isn’t loud enough. It isn’t big enough. It isn’t grand enough.

Yet, we continue to look for the blessings in places, and in people, the others would rather look past and walk quickly by.

Remember. You are a blessing. Not because of what you have. Not because of how ‘great’ things are around you. You and everyone else are a blessing because of what God has done and continues to do. You and all others are blessings in our proclamation of the one who foolishly died, yet gloriously rose from the dead for the world.

As we live this life, seeing blessings in places and people we wouldn’t expect, we remember what God desires in us as blessings. We remember those rich and beautiful words of Micah that we read this morning.

God has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but, to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Amen.

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January 23, 2017, 7:09 AM

the one about the dawn...


Sermon from January 22, 2017

Text: Matthew 4: 12-23

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord 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, has there ever been a time that you felt totally defeated. Where you thought things were going great? Everyone seemed to care and notice you and the work that you were doing; you were involved in a movement that seemed unstoppable. Yet, in a flash it all just crumbled.

News comes out. A leader and teacher’s reputation is tarnished. The mass of followers just seemed to fizzle away.

I think we’ve all experienced that at some point in our lives. Some more recently than others – but, this morning we get to look in on some people that we know that we didn’t expect to have experienced that as well – the first disciples of Jesus.

As our gospel reading this morning begins, we learn that John the Baptizer is in jail. The powers that be have squashed his little rabble rousing and cage shaking. The powerful had enough and tossed him in the slammer. It is one of the quickest ways to stamp out a rising movement – get rid of the vocal and charismatic leader of that group and watch the followers drift away.

It’s what the Roman and religious leaders attempted to do with Jesus; and it almost worked.

It’s what they did to John – and it kind of worked.

Like I said, as we begin this part of Matthew’s gospel; we – along with Jesus – discover that John has been jailed. So, Jesus returns to that same area after being tempted in the wilderness. In many ways, Jesus begins to fill in the void left by John’s abrupt absence. The first words we hear Jesus speak are the same words we last heard John shout out – Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Yet, we know that not only does Jesus fill that space, but his presence, life, and message spill out in abundance and cannot be contained.

As Jesus begins this proclamation and ministry, he approaches individuals to gather, walk, and follow him. We are introduced to four men who are fishing in the Sea of Galilee that Jesus calls and they all immediately drop what they are doing and follow him.

That abrupt sense of call has always intrigued me. Mostly because if you talk to any pastor or leader in the faith, almost all of them will say that that isn’t how their own call stories panned out. For a very select few, I’m sure there was an immediate stop to what they were doing in order to follow God’s call. Yet, for the rest of us – and dare I say, the vast majority of us – our call stories are probably more like Jonah’s, Isaiah’s, or Moses’. We came up with excuses as to why God shouldn’t and couldn’t use us as leaders in the church.

So, I and I’m sure many of y’all have been curious as to why these disciples seem to drop everything to follow Jesus. The second pair’s sense of call is so strong that they leave their own father Zebedee alone in the boat. That’s a strong sense of call.

So, I wonder… why?

It isn’t stated in this gospel, but using our other sources and gospels we can probably surmise that these first disciples of Jesus were perhaps disciples of John the baptizer as well. In fact, the gospel of John tells us this explicitly so. They felt a call to be used by God, but like we read in Isaiah’s text from this morning they might have been walking in darkness since their leader’s arrest and imprisonment.

They were lost. They didn’t know what to do, so they went back to the only thing they did know and felt secure in – fishing. They went back to what they knew and knew well.

I imagine that for many of us, we’ve experienced those moments. Maybe not in the sense that a charismatic and cage rattling ‘leader’ was jailed and imprisoned. But, perhaps it was a ministry or community event that just didn’t live up to your or anyone’s expectations.

Maybe an individual you confided in broke that trust and bond.

The work you were doing in recovery from – surgery, addiction, dieting, depression – experienced a setback.

Something didn’t take. Something ‘broke.’ Things didn’t go along smoothly at all.

That, I think we’ve all experienced. I know it has for me. I’ve spoken with quite a few where it has for them.

In those moments, we go back to what we find comfortable and easy for us. On our good days, we fall back into practices that are rote and give us the chance to just ‘turn our brains off’ for just a bit. Working with our hands, taking a walk, whatever it may be for you – we sort of just go with that flow.

We do something that isn’t necessarily bad for us, but it sure doesn’t move us out of that space we are currently in. We’re just there.

Many might call it walking in darkness. Especially when the creep of our thoughts begins to enter in – this is it. Nothing better. It’s all you’re capable of doing. This is it.

There are many who experience those demons. Knocked down by life – whether it is under their control or not.

They walk in darkness. We walk in darkness.

But, then individuals aren’t the only ones that experience this as well – whole groups walk in a darkness and malaise as well. In Isaiah, we read that as the nation of Israel. In our relatively recent history we see that as our African-American sisters and brothers especially after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death.

Yet, there is a pull out of that darkness.

There is light. That light that breaks the darkness and the light of the kingdom of heaven that is the dawn. That light of Christ that will dawn.

And there’s something about the light of Christ that I never thought about before, but talked about briefly with some colleagues this week. The light of Christ never seems to be a light that bursts forth right by you. It’s the light that creeps in from the horizon. Like the break of day after a long night. That slow rising of light that the darkness cannot hold back.

That faint light within the darkness that gives and inspires hope. The voice and small whisper of the one you love telling you it’s going to be OK. Not in the superficial ‘I’m just saying it to say it’ way – but, in that deep and abiding way that you know it will be OK because you’re surrounded by those who love you. That the one speaking to you is going to walk with you through it.

As followers of Christ – we see and know and proclaim that that light is Christ.

That in our darkest days, our most desperate hours, we know that that light shines. That light bursts from afar and gives us hope that all is not lost. And when you see light in the midst of your darkness you cannot help, but move toward it.

Some move towards that light more quickly than others. But, we are all called into that light. That light that provides warmth, love, forgiveness, and acceptance. That light that drives out the demons of our world. That light that shines on injustice and evil so that we all might be able to see.

That light that we cannot help, but invite others into it. Showing them the way, helping them – and ourselves – get by those obstacles that keep us from seeing the light of life. The light of God. The light of Christ in our life.

In our gospel reading this morning, we are introduced to followers of Jesus who felt that all was lost. That there might not be any use for them.

Yet, they are approached by the one that uses the broken and cast aside to proclaim this radical message of love and forgiveness. This message of welcome and hospitality.

In hearing that call; in seeing that light they drop their nets and follow the one who is and points to the light. So that they too might gather others in that net of love, life, and light.

That light still shines today. It may be along the horizon in a world that seems ever so dark. Filled with obstacles and obstructions that at times keeps us from seeing that light of Christ in our lives or in the life of the world. Sometimes those obstacles are the powers of the world standing before us, sometimes those obstructions are our own blind spots in our mind. But, that light shines. That light calls. That light beckons. That light has come near.

Light has dawned. Let’s gather the people. Amen.

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January 16, 2017, 12:00 AM

so... what are you looking for?


Sermon fromJanuary 15, 2017

Text: John 1: 29-42

Grace and peace to y’all 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, what are you looking for? That’s a pretty big question that not only we hear our Lord speak this morning, but I think it’s something that cuts us to the core in our life when we hear spoken to us throughout our lives.

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 ‘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 me to actually change?

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?

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus asks this question after he is approached by two former disciples of John. I always wonder if they – if we – know the full extent of what Jesus is asking.

As John has already told them that this is the Lamb of God (another label and title given to God’s chosen and the messiah), they probably had some preconceived notions of what that meant.

I’ve talked about those previous thoughts on what the messiah would look like to this early people of faith before. Would the messiah be the 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? Or, would the messiah be that astute political mind who could eloquently – with tact and precision – use words to bend the powers that be to 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.

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

Even though that response doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question it is sure better than the response we typically give when asked, “What are you looking for?” I would presume that the typical response is, “I don’t know.”

Wouldn’t y’all agree?

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.

We 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 or at the very least noticed by that more powerful person.

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

No, Jesus’ invitation is more than that.

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 that could look like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. A life lived for others. A life that speaks out. A life that points to injustice and calls us to action. 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 this life that is so much more than you could possibly expect.

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 might 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

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.

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.

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 states to them – Come and see.

Come and see.

Jesus invites us today to ‘come and see,’ but in so doing – when you do see what Jesus offers – we too are invited to go out and tell our sisters and brothers the same thing – ‘come and see.’

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.

So, what are you looking for?

Come and see. Come and see. Amen.

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January 9, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about baptism...


Sermon from January 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 3: 13-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord 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, as we journey further from the Bethlehem story of our faith – the birth of our Lord – we enter a new season in the church; the season of Epiphany. As I think about this season – which is more than just the ‘buffer’ before Lent, I sometimes like to think of it as the season of ‘Hey, God’s here!’

You see, Epiphany in its most basic definition is ‘being made known.’ And, we begin this first Sunday after the Epiphany as witnesses to a moment in our Lord’s life where again we hear, “Hey, God’s here!” Of course, the moment we look in on is a little weird for us to hear. For this Sunday, we are witness to the baptism of our Lord.

It’s peculiar to look in on this moment because of what we know of baptism. It is for the forgiveness of sin, makes us clean, washes us before the eyes of God, where our faith is poured into us. So, if that’s what baptism is for us – why is Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – being baptized?

That is a question that many throughout the history of this life of faith have asked – we aren’t the only ones. Church historians, brilliant theological minds, and even the precocious young Sunday School student have all puzzled over this moment in Jesus’ life.

John the baptizer understands the awkwardness of this moment. He even states it pretty explicitly within this part of Matthew’s Gospel. Yet, even as Jesus hears his concerns, he is firm in his desire. We need to do this. We are supposed to go through with this. It is to fulfill righteousness – all of it. It is what God wants. Hey, God’s here!

But, yet… even that answer doesn’t seem altogether ‘complete’ for us. An answer like that basically says – just accept it y’all. For many, that’s hard to take. For me it’s difficult to live into as well. When I hear ‘just accept it,’ it can make me very skeptical and suspicious.

So, I’m not sure that is the most ‘sufficient’ answer for us to seek. Or at least, we don’t have to stop at that answer. So, we dive deeper.

The baptism of Jesus also marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It all begins in this moment. From here, Jesus will wander in temptation through the wilderness, he’ll call and gather his disciples. He’ll perform miracles, he’ll participate in conversations and sermons – continually pointing to the one who sent him and whom he points towards.

In this, his baptismal moment, Jesus begins the journey to the cross. The journey to death. The journey to resurrected life. A journey of life that is lived, died, and resurrected for us.

In this baptism, Jesus lives fully into what God has done in him. A few weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of our Lord. We proclaimed in thanksgiving and joy about the Word made flesh; about God coming down to be with and among us.

Jesus goes so far in this to be baptized with us. It is here that Jesus joins with all of humanity. Here Jesus states – emphatically – that not only have I, God’s son, come down from on high in my birth but, I also live this life with, like, and for you. I too am baptized. Living the life that each of you will live as well.

Wading into the same waters that we wade through. Jesus takes that on, Jesus walks and splashes with us. He is not an ‘imposter,’ a ‘charlatan’ who only speaks words that sound good to our ears and placates our fears. Jesus walks fully into the life that he proclaims, calling us to follow him. For we know that he too has lived this life as well.

As we get to the end of this short, yet powerful moment from Matthew’s Gospel, we get to hear the voice of God. Though, it is interesting that God’s words aren’t directed at Jesus even though the heavens and the descending spirit appear to be only visible to him. Because of how verse 16 ends, you’d think that God would say, “You are my son.” Yet, God states that ‘this is my son – the beloved.’

God is speaking to someone else. God – my brothers and sisters – appears to speak to each of us.

During this season of Epiphany, we continually look to see where God is being made known. Where God looks to us and says, “Hey, I’m right here.”

God is speaking to us – to you and to me – in these words of Matthew’s gospel. This is my son. The one I love. I am greatly pleased.

God speaks to us and says – ‘yep, I’m right there.’ I was baptized – just as you are baptized. I was sent – just as you are sent. I was called into this life – just as you are called into this life.

In this, God is saying to us that Jesus is here. God is here. For us.

When we are baptized, we are wiped clean. We are forgiven of our sins. Washed and welcomed into this family of God.

One of my favorite depictions of baptism occurs in the movie O Brother Where Art Though where one of the escaped prisoners – Delmar – hears singing and sees many individuals coming down to the river to be baptized by the preacher man in the water. He too feels that call and leaps into the waters to be baptized. Later in the car with his friends he says, “I been redeemed. The preacher said so. All my sins and wrongdoings has been wiped away, including robbing that Piggly-Wiggly.” His friend replies, “Uh Delmar, I thought you said you was innocent of those charges.” “Well, I lied, but I been forgiven of that too!”

Jesus enters with us into this life. Joining with us in spite of our sinful nature. Jesus has not been baptized to wipe away some ill-doing in the past or to come in the future. That’s why we are baptized. Washed clean before the eyes of God. Where we are washed, and adopted into this family and community with Christ at the head of the table.

In Jesus’ baptism, he joins himself to humanity and our checkered past. All of it. The violence, the greed, the loathing, the little lies, the big swindles, everything. In baptism – Jesus joins himself to all the world. He is without the need to repent, but still takes on our stain and is willing to be associated with us rather than remain ‘pure.’

Jesus does that – Jesus does all of that – all of this – out of the love that God has had for all the world. As God came down to be with us, Jesus joins with us in baptism. Aligning himself with us. Not just to say, “See, I’m here too.” But, to live this life fully and completely with and for us.

Where in baptism we too are called into life with Christ. Joining ourselves with God to live the life that has been set before us.

Doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult. Doesn’t mean we won’t mess up. Doesn’t mean we will always be ‘right.’ But, in that abundant life of water and forgiveness we are continually called to live into the life poured over us. A life that God joined in with us through Jesus’ own baptism.

A life that we get to walk together – not only with one another, but with God as well.

Amen.

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January 4, 2017, 12:00 AM

January 2017 Newsletter article


Grace and peace to y’all! It’s 2017! Can y’all believe it? How fast this previous year flew by. I think we had a great and positive year at Redeemer in 2016 and I look forward in faith to what 2017 can bring.

Towards the end of this past year, I started reading a new book called Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Douglas Abrams. Mr. Abrams’ book is an entire weeklong interview and conversation on joy between His Holiness Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

For years, as I read books about the ‘future’ of many things – the world, Christianity, and more they always center around two main points: it’s not the way it used to be and we can’t make/force it be that way again. With those two points, we move forward in new and different ways. Now, certainly I believe that to be true as well, but those books are never that positive. Lifting up and catering to more of our ‘fears’ of a changing world and how we must change the way we’ve done ‘this’ (whatever it may be) to move forward in our world today.

Those types of books are needed reads and do help us move forward into new and – dare I say – exciting new opportunities and ministries when we live into the proponents that the author specializes in.

What I’ve enjoyed about Book of Joy is that it still calls for us to move forward in life and ministry in new and exciting ways – even in ways that may seem scary and uncomfortable – but, in a much more positive way.

Focusing on the joy in our lives. By focusing on joy of life we can help bring about wonderful and exciting ministry in our life and our world.

It really is a great book with these two wonderful men of faith – who share a deep and caring friendship with one another.

So, this year as we begin 2017, I hope that we all can seek joy – joy in our lives with our families, joy in our life of faith, joy in the ministry at Redeemer, joy in life itself.

So, be joyous this new year in all that you do! Be joyous in all that we get to do in ministry at Redeemer! Be joy at Redeemer!

I end this little article with one of my favorite quotes from Archbishop Tutu from The Book of Joy:

“The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn't pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that's why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.”

What a wonderfully simple, scary, and still difficult way to bring about joy in your life and our world by being generous of yourself to all those around you. Living into the faith that has been poured into us in our baptisms. Living this life of faith that our Lord points us toward – living it for others.




January 3, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about all the noise...


Sermon from Saturday December 24, 2016

Text: Luke 2: 1-20

Grace and peace to each of you this night as we gather in celebration as a community of faith. We gather to shout with joy that the Word has become flesh. We sing with praise about our God who has come to dwell with us. We give thanks for what God has done in an unexpected way.

So, I welcome you as we gather this day in the name of the one who has come, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the light that shines in the darkness, 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!

Whenever I begin to work on this message – for this night – I get a little nervous. What should be ‘easy’ ends up being – at times a little difficult. It’s ‘easy’ because this is such a good and well known story. The story of God coming to be with us. The story of a baby born in Bethlehem who is the fulfilment of prophecy. The story of loved literally lived out for the world.

That should be an easy story to tell.

What makes it difficult is getting through all the ‘stuff’ – the noise – to tell that story.

Noise. We’ve got a lot of it during this time of year. We experience so much of it the minute we enter this season – which for reasons I have not been able to explain seem to begin closer to October than ever before.

We’ve got the commercialized ‘noise’ that seems to get louder and louder to drown out this story. Glitter, glamour, ads, songs, manufactured cheeriness, gotta be happy, nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve, gotta get this, why didn’t you get that, who have you forgotten, wouldn’t this make it easier, can’t make that, can’t use that, shouldn’t say that, what’s on their cups, who’s crying now, it’s almost over, if you don’t do this…

Noise.

But, that’s not the only noise we hear and experience during this time of year. We’ve got the noise of – they want what? How can we do that again? What do you mean we aren’t doing it that way anymore? You better tell that story. How do we do this again? What did we do last year? Whose place are we going to again? Why? You always make that. You forgot me you know. What are we going to do now?

And still yet, the nose continues around us and throughout the world.

What happened today? How many died? What did he say now? That isn’t right. Sad isn’t it? Too bad. They should’ve known better. Can’t they be happy? Can’t you see?

And in the midst of all that and we read this story. And again, I see and begin to understand the ‘noise’ that Mary and Joseph must’ve gone through and heard this night.

A town so full, that the space made for them was in a stable. A town so crowded that I imagine that they could hear – over the sounds and through the smells of those animals gathered around them – of people shouting, or just talking. The dull roar of a town filled to the brim. Shouts of move over, why are we here, I’m hungry, there’s nothing to do, why did we have to come here, who are these people.

Then there is the noise that crowds our mind – that I’m sure took up space in this couple’s minds – can we really do this, what is it going to look like, do we have what we need, is God really with him, with us? I just want peace…

In that noise of this story, more noise is added – for Mary gives birth. For those who have experienced it or been witness to birth – it isn’t quiet. It isn’t clean. It isn’t altogether jolly.

I imagine the animals in that stable added to the screams of Mary as she birthed her son. More noise.

In the presence of all this noise, what I think we hope and pine for during this time is peace. And not just any peace, but peace that is brought forth immediately and overwhelmingly upon us.

I think what we want – what we really want – is God to shout from the heavens, through all the noise in our lives and even in this story, “Hey! Be quiet! Listen! I’m about to come down there!”

We want someone – anyone – to yell, “STOP!”

We want that loud and extravagant shout to knock us and others off our paths so that we all might pause, breathless at such an outrage.

I think that’s what we expect. At times, I think that’s what we want and crave.

Yet, the peace that we celebrate this night, doesn’t come like that.

Even in the midst of all that noise, clutter, smells, and more God is born into the world.

Trumpets are sounded, but not where we expect them. In fact, trumpets are sounded far and removed from society, among shifty shepherds who were grazing their flocks by night – which I can only assume wasn’t a ‘proper’ thing to do.

And the message those shepherds are given is the message we crave – peace and joy.

But, this week I pondered on that peace – that peace from the noise. The noise in our life that pulls us from hearing, experiencing, and knowing that God is with us. That God loves us. That God cares for us.

That sort of peace – that deep and abiding peace – is one that I don’t think is immediate.

Even the night that we celebrate today we are told that this peace is born.

For anyone who has seen birth, been witness to it, or was born there’s something about it – it is a process. Children are not born and know what to do. Welcoming a child into one’s home through birth, adoption, or foster care requires patience, nurture, humbleness, and lots of work.

That peace we cry for and call for has to grow up. That peace has to be nurtured. That peace has to be lived in and through. That peace has to dwell within us, so that we can live it out. That peace isn’t immediate, it isn’t easy.

That peace requires sacrifice and love. That peace requires work. That peace goes through uneasy stages. That peace lives through doubt and fear. That peace is lived. We have to participate in that peace.

We celebrate this evening the peace that is born into the world to quiet the noise. It isn’t immediate or clean or quick or easy. But, that peace is born.

That peace has dwelt within us – poured into us through our baptism. That peace has lived, died, and returned to us in new life.

And still, that peace has taken more time. More time for us to be nurtured and cared for. More time for us to take notice and cling to. That peace is here.

That peace which was proclaimed first with those shepherds, calls us to share that peace with those around us. Knowing that it won’t always be easy, it sometimes might be messy as we strive to live and share that peace with one another, with those we haven’t met, and with those that we don’t agree with or understand.

But, that peace is born.

That peace that can quiet the noise. That peace that can pull us towards God. That peace that does help us enter into the sort of space that Mary is able to get to this night, as she gathers what she hears and treasures it.

That peace that turns the ‘noise’ of the world, into shouts and praises, songs of glory and thanksgiving, words of promise and hope.

Where that noise of speaking over and around one another, turns into conversation with and for each other. Where that noise of ‘gimme gimme gimme’ is transformed into a life of here and share. Where that noise of darkness, death, and destruction is turn on its head for light, life, and beauty.

This night, we don’t celebrate that that the peace we seek is being born right now, we celebrate and remember that that peace has been born.

It’s here. God’s here. Christ has been born. Messiah has come.

There’s still a lot of growing up, nurturing, and life still to take place. There’s a lot more participation to be had in that peace.

But, God’s at work. Jesus our Christ has come. It isn’t over, but it also hasn’t just begun.

We are in the midst of it. Dwell in this peace. Share this peace. Seek this peace.

The more we do that, the more the noise quiets down and we get to see where God truly is at. Where God really is calling us towards. We get to see that God is already with us.

Peace has been born. The noise doesn’t stand a chance. Amen.

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January 2, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one where we ask God to restore us...


Sermon from Wednesday December 21, 2016

Text: Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19

Grace and peace to y’all this evening for as we gather for our final Advent Holden Evening Prayer service this year. Will y’all pray with me? Let 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!

It won’t be the first time that I admit that this is just the beginning of a long week and the beginning of the end to a long year. As I prepared this small message for us this evening, I kept being pulled to one of our readings from this past Sunday. That reading was the 80th Psalm, and we don’t typically hear the psalms enough, but I’m continually amazed at how timely the psalms are for us today, even thousands of years after they were written down and collected.

The word that stands out to me in that Psalm is restore. And not just any ol’ restoration, but restore us. The psalmist is calling out to God to restore the people of Israel. To return us to where we were.

I marvel at my father-in-law’s ability to restore old items. Whether it be an old wooden swing that hangs on the porch of their home in Lexington (which the girls love), the old wagon he restored (which the girls love as well), and even his childhood high chair – which though we loved the thought, it was restored so well that the girls would ‘shoot’ right out of it if they moved just a tiny bit. That one we let him keep.

I marvel at it because of the time, skill, and patience that goes into those projects. They are things that I don’t think I’d be able to do, mostly because I don’t have the time, the skill, or the patience. I still love, enjoy, and appreciate the work that he is able to do. To not only bring life back to an old object, but to bring new life into the lives of his granddaughters, and to those who visit his home.

As I read this psalm and reflect upon it during this season of Advent, I wonder and ponder if that original psalmist understood what it might mean to ‘restore us, O Lord.’ Did that writer understand – do we understand – the time and love that would go into that sort of project.

Much like our ‘how-to’ shows and YouTube videos, we like to think that a restoration project is a simple wave of a hand and it’s done. Is that what the psalmist thought? Simply restore us Lord! Get it done! We won’t turn away again!

Is that what we expect as we wait during this season of Advent for the coming of our Lord’s birth? That it just be simple, quick, and easy?

Restoration is a long and loving process. The more intricate an object is, the more time is needed and original parts have to be found, created, and used to complete the project.

Restore us, O God.

We live into the call and cry of the psalmist in asking for God to restore us. Restore us during this season of Advent – so that we might know you more fully and deeply. Restore us in our life – so that we might cling to you in times of struggle and proclaim you in times of great joy. Restore us in worship, prayer, and devotion – so that we might see you at work always in our lives, where we don’t take your action for granted.

Restore us, O God.

I like to think that God hears that cry and prayer and God’s response is something like, “Well, alright – but, it ain’t going to be quick or cheap.” The restoration that God seeks is complete and thorough, not just bringing us back to the time we remember to be good, but restoring us into the image that God has created us for.

Restoring us to be those creations that see, feel, know, and speak of God’s grace and love within our lives. Being ones that look to God and seek God first always. Restoring us to see the one who has given us life.

Taking the time, energy, and patience to work through that sort of love upon us. Restoring us through Word and Sacrament. Restoring us through prayer and service. Restoring us through worship and thanksgiving. Through wine and bread, water and spirit.

We look with hope to the celebration of the beginning of that great restoration. We wait in expectation for the Word to dwell with us, for God to be present among us. Come down to point us towards the one who restores.

We wait. In hope.

Restore us, O God.

Amen.

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January 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

the one about the 'little' miracles...


Sermon from December 18, 2016

Text: Matthew 1: 18-25

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and Savior who is to come – 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, when you think of miracles what comes to your mind? I believe that most of us probably skew towards the miracles and signs we see lifted up in scripture – the parting of the sea, the bread that fills the widow and her son, water to wine, walking on water, feeding thousands. I think I am like most people where when I think of a miracle, I think of some large and extraordinary example of goodness – something that no one thought before was possible.

It makes sense since when we hear of miracles we think of those big ones from our holy scriptures, so naturally we assume that miracles today must be like those of ages past.

So, for modern day miracles we think of extraordinary turnabouts in medical diagnosis. Someone has cancer and now they don’t. Someone was declared dead on the table, yet mysteriously revived much later than ever thought possible. Scientists invent a thruster that requires no propellant and they still don’t know how it works, but at least acknowledge that it does. The Cubs somehow didn’t find a way to lose the World Series.

Of course, because we believe that miracles must be so extravagant, extraordinary, and crazy we come up with those ‘sarcastic miracles’ as well. “Daddy – my nose doesn’t hurt since I took that medicine.” It’s a miracle!

For whatever reason, we are conditioned to believe that miracles are truly, truly rare and that only a true miracle is one that is so crazy that it couldn’t otherwise be taken seriously. That isn’t to say that those moments aren’t miracles, but if anything, our gospel lesson this morning at least points out that miracles aren’t just the big events and moments.

Now, if I asked you where the miracle is in this small snippet of Matthew’s gospel, where do you think most people would say it turned up? Probably the whole vision that Joseph had right? It’s a miracle that an angel speaks to Joseph in a dream to allay his fears and doubts concerning his soon-to-be wife.

She holds a ‘miracle’ in her belly, the child is the son of God.

For the most part you’re right – this is a miraculous story. Receiving visions from an angel of the Lord would be pretty high up on my ‘miracle’ list too.

But, there is a subtle moment here in this part of Joseph’s story that is definitely miraculous, and it does involve his dream.

It’s Joseph’s response. Upon receiving this message within his dream, he decided to go against what he had already resolved to do. He followed through in taking Mary as his wife. He approached it – presumably – with no fear. Living into what the messenger had told him.

To me, that’s miraculous. Incredibly miraculous. Something I would never have thought possible.

You’re probably thinking – but, come on pastor. Joseph was a good guy, of course he’d do that.

To be honest, I don’t know.

During this time, it is hard for us to understand the magnitude of what it meant for Mary to be pregnant before her marriage. There were rules against that and their punishments weren’t taken lightly. The way that those punishments were lived out were in order to protect the ‘image’ of the man.

Joseph was being the ‘good guy’ by trying to dismiss Mary quietly. To take her back to her family, end the contract of marriage, and move on. “Unwilling to expose her to public disgrace” is – I think – a nice way of saying he didn’t want her to be stoned to death – which is very likely the outcome that would’ve happened if he followed through with the customs of the day.

Parading and shaming her out in public because of what she apparently had done.

So, Joseph’s a good guy because he didn’t want to subject Mary to that.

The miracle is that Joseph lived into what people knew him as – righteous.

As I’ve mentioned before, being ‘good’ and being ‘righteous’ aren’t necessarily one in the same. Being good is dismissing someone quietly so as not to bring too much shame upon her and upon you. That’s good, but it isn’t righteous.

Being righteous is living a life that takes on the ‘shame’ of Mary’s child – that is not his. Adopting that child and being that child’s father. Righteousness is living in that life while those around you mock, remark, and scorn you for what you’ve done. Wading through the potentially countless conversations of, “Why are you doing this – you don’t have to do this – look what she’s done to you – look what she’s putting you through – why didn’t you take care of that?” Putting up with the remarks of, “Nice of Joseph to do that, but I certainly wouldn’t have stood for it.”

That’s the miracle. Joseph listened to what the angel said to him and lived into it. No matter the cost. Joseph said yes.

What makes this miracle so astounding in our scripture is that what Joseph does is pretty much totally opposite as to what other male faith figures have done. When Moses was approached by God? I’m a nobody. Isaiah? I’m not smart enough. Jonah? Runs literally the other way.

I typically lift up Mary’s desire to live into what she has been set apart for, but even she is astounded by God’s desire and ability to use her as such an important and holy role. She never doubts her own ability to do this, but still ponders how it can be possible.

Joseph is unlike any of those. The angel speaks – Do not be afraid. Joseph awakes and lives into his unspoken, “Ok, God.”

That is a miracle.

So, maybe – just maybe – miracles aren’t always those bombastic, crazy, out from left field moments in our lives. Maybe miracles aren’t just living through cancer after being given a terminal diagnosis. Maybe miracles aren’t always having to be in the right place at the right time.

Maybe miracles are living into what God calls us to do. Maybe miracles are turning to God – in those small, yet powerful ways – despite what the world around us shouts. Maybe miracles are living into those moments where we might even speak up like Mary and say, “How can this be – this can’t happen…” Speaking those words and having faith in God when the response is, “We’ll see.”

Maybe miracles are saying the small and quiet ‘yes’ to God’s call even when it makes cultural and political sense to say, ‘no.’

This Advent season – even the entirety of our lives of faith – are full of those kinds of miracles. When we begin to see those? We can’t stop noticing them in our lives.

Amen.

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December 12, 2016, 7:44 AM

the one to go and tell...


Sermon from December 11, 2016

Text: Matthew 11: 2-11

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Savior who is to come, 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.

So, we are just past the middle of this Advent season, still waiting in expectant hope and celebration. Anyone who has ever heard or seen a young child (or really has ever heard or seen a human) knows what happens the closer you get to something. Those days are not full of – “OH man, it’s going to be so great when this comes or we get to where we are going.”

No, if it were only that simple.

Instead, the closer we get to something the more our brain likes to seep in that doubt of ‘what if…’ and ‘is it ever going to arrive…’

It is about this time as we get to this third week of Advent that the kids I know – not just my own – begin to wonder if that future celebration will ever come, if it will ever come. Add a few gloomy and cold days and that overbearing sense of ‘dread’ becomes that much more present and heavy in our lives.

In our gospel this morning, we again listen in on what is going on in a prominent figure of our faith’s life – John the Baptizer. Last week (and 8 chapters ago in Matthew’s gospel) John was standing at the banks of the Jordan River crying out to all who gathered around him, “Repent! Be baptized! You’re forgiven! Re-turn towards God!”

John’s message is powerful, full of faith and life, and he is confident and even daring in that proclamation. He calls out the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to hear him in that sureness of the message he announces.

Yet, as we read this morning, his tone has changed. He no longer walks and speaks with that strong confidence. Has his faith wavered in the word he proclaimed to the people? Perhaps. You couldn’t blame him either. Last week he was standing in the water of the Jordan. We read this morning that he is locked up behind bars because of that message he proclaimed.

The question he asks Jesus is one that I think everyone has asked, prayed about, and pondered on – Are you the one? Or should we wait for another.

God’s kingdom is at hand, both in John’s time and in ours.

Yet, when we proclaim that we are on the ‘winning’ side we think that means that everything will go smoothly. Everyone will listen – how could they not, right? People will be able to see what I see. People from far and wide will gather in love, relationship. In the repentance of sins – and knowing that God already loves you – all will be able live into this freedom as people around the world are cared for, no matter who they are, where they come from, how they speak, and more.

You’d think that would be an easy message to get behind.

Yet, for John – for us – it doesn’t work out that way.

He’s been placed in jail for the message he preaches. The freedom he empowers people with through God’s word. He proclaims forgiveness of sin. A message that he believes is one that people want and need to hear. A message that he thought all would be open towards.

Yet, he is thrown in jail.

It’s no wonder he sends a message to Jesus asking, “Are you really the one?”

Even Jesus’ response is not one that is full of certainty, for Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes. Don’t worry.”

No, Jesus responds with, “You go and tell John what you see and hear. Go tell him what’s happening out in the world now.”

When I was in college I was a communications major with an emphasis in broadcast journalism. There was this thing about people that we learned and you kind of have to ‘hone’ in on.

You see, people like bad news. They do. We do. The worse it is, the more our curiosity is piqued. Especially if it centers on a subject that you don’t agree with. Or pertains to a person who is well known. We thrive on that bad news.

So, naturally the news industry fills their pages, both physical and virtual, with all sorts of dreadful news. Guess where destruction just happened? Did you hear which celebrity is having an affair? Look where in-fighting is taking place now!

We eat that sort of news up.

But, it messes us up without our knowing. As we are presented with all this awful stuff, we begin to think that is how the world always and really is. The sheer amount of that type of news drowns out everything else. A potentially beautiful day is destroyed when we hear, “statistically speaking fatal car accidents happen within 10 miles of where you live.” Or, sure your relationship is going great now, but look what happened to that couple over there – do you see the signs? Your children love to play outside, but you’ve got to watch them with a vigilant eye because I read a story where someone just walked and picked a kid up and took them from their own yard.

Now, this isn’t to say that bad things don’t happen. This isn’t to say that we should ignore that sort of news; that we shouldn’t be concerned with the underside of the world we live in.

But, when we are on the cusp of something so great – and I believe that in Kairos – God’s time – we are on the cusp of the kingdom of God – we can forget to see what’s going on around the world that is so good. So, faithful. So, beautiful.

25 foster children from young toddlers to teenagers have been ‘adopted’ by this community of faith so that they will have an amazing Christmas morning.

Over 1200 children around the world will receive toys and clothes from the donations collected here at Redeemer.

So many chicks, honey bee farms, goats, sheep, pigs and more have been donated through each of you to help communities and families in need.

I like to think that if Jesus answered that question today as directly as he did to John, his response would include those things about Redeemer, but would also include –

Go and tell about the man who gives free haircuts to people going to job interviews, tell him of the story of a Muslim own restaurant giving free meals on Christmas to the homeless and elderly because – no one eats alone on that day, how about the Palestinian firefighters who are helping contain wildfires in Israel, don’t forget to mention this new technology that is helping a woman and others with Parkinson’s to steady their hands so they can write their own names again, or let’s not overlook how so many people gathered around those at Standing Rock to help peacefully protest encroachment onto their sacred and sovereign lands. Tell him and others where God is at work because God is at work.

When we get so close, so very close, to that which is good for us and for the world, we get discouraged and distracted from God’s presence in our life. Terrible stuff is happening in this world, we should know about it – fully and completely – so that we can proclaim God’s word against it and through it. But, we also remember that God is at work in the rich and deep goodness of the world as well.

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the ‘dead’ are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

Jesus is right. That is happening – God is at work. The messiah has come. We continue to wait in that celebration for just a few more weeks. Amen.

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December 8, 2016, 12:00 AM

the one where God failed marketing 101 - Thank God.


Mid-Week Advent Sermon from December 7, 2016

Text: Matthew 3: 1-12

Grace and peace to y’all this evening. Welcome to the second of our Wednesday Evening Advent Services. I continue to pray that these intentional breaks within our week allow you to better focus and open yourselves to God’s presence in your life as we wait in expectant hope during this season.

Whenever I think of Advent – and the wait leading into Christmas – I have to be honest, there’s a pretty important figure within our faith that I usually zip right past. It’s not that this individual is ‘bad’ or not ‘relevant.’ Far from it, in fact his is a voice that we at times most desperately need to hear.

I wonder at times if the reason why I at times ‘skip’ past him is because God didn’t take a marketing 101 course in college. This person is of course – John the Baptist.

Let’s take a look at our gospel from this past Sunday. Would someone please read Matthew 3: 1-12.

Now, from a marketing standpoint, God got it all wrong. All so very wrong. I took communications and marketing classes at Newberry and while I wouldn’t say I’m an ‘expert’ (far from it), I do at least know the ‘basics.’

First – you make your message easily discoverable. Today that’s pretty easy. You’ve got blanket ad campaigns that target radio, print (though not as much as before), TV, web, and social media realms. If you want someone to really hear your pitch – you go to where they are – in all the places they are.

God kind of messed that up. When we are introduced to John the Baptist we find out that he’s ‘outside’ where most people are. People have to go to him to hear his words. Sure, others I’m certain came because of word-of-mouth, but I hazard a guess that they came when their friends said, “Hey – come listen to this dude… he’s kind of nutty.”

That leads right into that second ‘no-no.’ The actual look of your messenger. If you want people to listen or at least be initially intrigued, you present them with an attractive and clean medium to present your product through. You get the best-looking men and women you can find to hawk your product. Straight teeth, good hair, fit body, nice clothes, broad smile. I’m sure God could’ve found someone that didn’t have disheveled hair, presumably ill-fitting and ‘tacky’ clothing, and whose diet consisted of bugs and wild honey.

This is the guy that is shouting your message?

Oh, I almost forgot – the way you present your views is another thing. We read that the Baptist here is shouting his – God’s – message. Sure, the message might be good – but, who here has ever been that convicted by a street preacher? Seriously? Yelling at me usually isn’t going to get me to actually listen to you, it’s just going to make move that much quicker past you. Now, if you get a voice like Morgan Freeman’s? There’s a voice I can listen to all day. Perhaps even a Scarlett Johannsen? Yep, I might not care at all about what you’re trying to push on me, but if it’s the voice of Black Widow? You can guarantee that you’ve got my attention.

From a marketing perspective, there is so much that God got wrong in using John the Baptist. He proclaims his message from outside the place where his audience is located, he presents himself in a way that most people – then and now – would scoff and raise their nose at, and his delivery isn’t the most subtle.

We live in a world, and always have, where people are ‘tricked’ into a product or message. Their wares are packaged behind a slick presentation, through beautiful people, and offered in soothing, sexy, emotional or other shiny ways. All to make you feel better. To feel empowered. To move you.

But, you know what – most times the ad is remembered, but the product is lost. Have y’all seen those Matthew McConaughey ads? I still barely know what they are advertising, but I remember them because they are so odd and beautifully shot.

We have so many ads that bombard us every day – especially during this time of year. They get us to feel ‘less’ than of ourselves in order that we might buy into their services and products. Yet, most of those ads are completely forgotten within days and months, only to be ‘remembered’ over by the next flashy ad.

Yet, for as much as God may have gotten wrong about John the Baptist in the marketing department. One thing can’t be overlooked. It’s a message we still hear today.

And that message? Prepare. God’s coming. Repent. Turn towards God.

It’s a message that still speaks to us, especially during this season of Advent.

A message that comes from an odd individual and from a place outside the comfort of everyday life. That message is spoken through words of care and grace about a God who comes to be in relationship with the entire world. A God who cares so much that he came to be one of us to know what life was like and to lead us to new life through death and resurrection.

Hear the message of Advent. Share the message of Advent. Live out the message of Advent.

God is coming to be with us. God comes to us and we celebrate that during Advent. God’s avenues, mediums, and individuals surprise us relentlessly. They make us squirm and think. They stretch us to places we didn’t think possible.

Perhaps we don’t need a slick messenger, but a hearty message itself. Amen.

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