Monday, December 27, 2010

MMC: Snow and the Word

Good morning on this snowy windy day

I hope that you all are safe and warm this morning and that your Christmas time with family and friends was wonderful. 

Thank you to everyone who helped make the Christmas Eve services possible, all the readers, choir members and percussionist, ushers, communion assistants, decorators, and attendees.  Both services were beautiful and I heard a lot of positive feedback.  Please let me know if you have any thoughts about what you liked or didn't like about worship so that everyone's experience can be improved in future years.

As many of you know, Bob and I will be head to the upper mid-west later this week (fortunately we are traveling after this snowstorm should be cleaned up and before another one reaches Minnesota).  Pastor Joan Breckenridge from Zion Lutheran in Stamford as volunteered to be on call in case there are any pastoral emergencies while I'm away.  She can be reached at Zion's church office 203-327-7751.  I will be gone Wed December 29th through Wednesday January 5. 

But who is preaching next Sunday?  Pastor Ned McMillen, the former pastor of Bethlehem, will be preaching and presiding on January 2.  Come join Pastor Ned in the first worship service at Bethlehem in 2011.

And mark you calendars, Tuesday January 4th at 7pm, people will be taking down the tree and other decorations in the church.  Please come and help out as many hands make light work. 

This week's book of faith puzzler is:   :  How old was Jesus when the Magi arrived to see Jesus?  A) just hours old.  B) 12 days  C) 3 months D) 3 years E) the bible doesn’t say  If you know the answer, send me an email by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Now onto this week's text:  (Just because I won't be at Bethlehem doesn't mean that I won't hear the same text at whatever church I attend in the mid-west.

The first lesson is Jeremiah 31:7-14.  God promises to bring the Israelites back from exile and they will celebrate and rejoice.  When have you been brought back from exile whether, physical, emotional, spiritual or social?  How have you celebrated?  Or has a loved one been brought back to you?  Israel would celebrate with food and dancing; when you celebrate, for any reason, how do you celebrate?

The second lesson is Ephesians 1:3-14.  The author says that through Jesus all of God's plans have been made known, that we are to be saved through Jesus' death on the cross.  When has it seemed like you can't figure out what God has planned for you?  When has God's plan for your life seemed easy to discern?

The gospel is John 1:1-18.  The Word is important throughout the gospel of John, so much so that it gets capitalized.  This is more than a word, a part of language, but the Word which implies both the actions and greatness of God.  In this midst of winter, we hear the words "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."  Light is a greater forces than darkness.  How has darkness in your life been overcome by the light?  John is sent to testify to this light and the Word.  How do you testify to the light and the Word?

Hope you all have a wonderful week and I leave you with a blessing "May your snow-blower work, may your shovel be light, may your back not ache and may you have no where to go so you can enjoy the snow."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

An Imperfect Christmas

Merry Christmas!  As we celebrate our Saviour's birth may God be with you and your family.  No Christmas is perfect but may your imperfections be minimal.  

My Christmas Eve sermon is below.  And to re-read the Christmas story, go to Luke 2:1-20

Okay admit it, how many of you have already had on fight, argument or mental break down over Christmas this year?  How many of you are dreading seeing a certain family member?  And how many of you are worried about how you are going to get everything cooked and cleaned in time for people to come over tomorrow, or was worried about that earlier today as people were arriving? 

We want Christmas to be PERFECT!  We want everyone to enjoy the presents that we so loving purchased for them!  We want everything to be in the right color, size and style so that no one has to go to the mall on Sunday in order to return the gift you bought them.  And we want someone else to pay the credit card bills come January.

We want Christmas to be PERFECT!  We want dinner to be delicious.  We want all the recipes to turn out well.  We want the ham or turkey to not be burnt.  We want everyone to enjoy what we make even the pickiest of eaters and we want no one to have an allergic reaction.  And we want to not gain any weight from all of the Christmas cookies we have been eating. 

We want Christmas to be PERFECT!  We want the stockings to be hung with care on a mantle above a pleasantly glowing fire. We want the tree not to dry out.  We want the Christmas lights outside to shine perfectly and not a single bulb burn out.  We want the cat, dog, or young child to stay away from the tree so that no ornaments get broken.  We want them to be magically put away so that we do not have to do it.

We want Christmas to be PERFECT!  We want to be with our families and friends.  We want to have delightful conversations.  We want everyone to get along.  We want the family to sit down together for a delicious meal, open gifts and possibly even sing a carol or two.  And we want nobody to leave upset or no major arguments from happening.

We want Christmas to be PERFECT!  But no Christmas is perfect.  No matter how hard we try Christmas will not be prefect.  The gifts will not be perfect - one person will not like the gift we give them or we will receive a crappy gift that was grabbed from the end cap at CVS as the person was on their way over to see us. 

No matter how hard we try Christmas will not be prefect. Dinner will not be perfect – one dish will be undercooked or overcooked, or someone will not like it or have an allergy to one of the ingredients or we will not get to all the Christmas cookies baked we planned on making. 

No matter how hard we try Christmas will not be prefect. The decorations will not be perfect – the tree will fall over, or a sting of lights will be burned out or one decoration will not stay up or a favorite ornament will get broken. 

No matter how hard we try Christmas will not be prefect. Our family will not be perfect – old arguments will arise, or new ones will begin.  Someone will have a few too many spirits.  Or there will be an empty chair at our table, one that belongs to a relative that can’t make it since they are on the other side of the country or working or the chair belongs to a parent, spouse, sibling or child who has died and we are sadden when we remember all the Christmas that we had with them. 

We want Christmas to be PERFECT!  But Christmas is not perfect.  Yes our family Christmas may not be as bad as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or another Christmas movie where all the problems magically solve themselves by midnight on Christmas Eve.  But something will go wrong.  Something that we weren’t planning on. 

This is why Christmas is so stressful.  We plan for weeks, if not months, the perfect gifts, meal, and decorations.  We vow that it will not be like last year.  And yet because of all the stress we put upon it, something happens and our perfect Christmas is no longer perfect.  Christmas is not perfect, because we are not perfect!

We want Christmas to be PERFECT!  We want Jesus to be sleeping the manger, no crying he made.  We want the shepherds to be clean respectable gentlemen who bow at Jesus’ crib.  We want Mary to be glowing in the joy of having just given birth.  We want Joseph to be a proud papa adoring the birth of Jesus.  We want the sheep to be fluffy, white and clean.  We want the donkey to be perfectly groomed.  We want the cows to be quietly lowing.  We want the stink of animal dung, birth, and sweat not to be hanging in the air.

Even the first Christmas wasn’t perfect.  We have just made it into this wonderful story, we have taken away anything that was shocking for the first hearers of this birth narrative in Luke and romanticized it. 

We want Mary and Joseph to be perfect.  But Joseph wasn’t even sure if he wanted to be part of this family.  And Mary had conceived a child and the dad was not her fiancĂ©. These are not perfect people.  And at the time of Jesus’ birth, no one who have traveled when they were so heavily pregnant.  No self-respecting mother would give birth in a room for animals, she would have given birth in a birthing room and no animals allowed near.  No caring father would have allowed their child to be put in a pen that animals ate from, he would have had a special crib or bassinet made, especially for the first born child.  We forget about the pains of labor and of birth that Mary went through, the bloody mess it would have been.  This is not a perfect setting for a birth. And yet it is from this disorder and into this imperfect setting with these imperfect people that Jesus is born. 

We want the shepherds to be perfect.  But at the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were unclean, the lowest of the low.  They were smelly individuals who did not bathe regularly, for they were living in the fields with their sheep.  They hardly ever attended religious services, they spent time alone out in a field often trespassing on others’ property and keeping themselves entertained with alcohol and offensive jokes just as many teenage boys and young men still do today.  They were considered ignorant, irreligious, immoral, crude and vulgar.  They were far from perfect.  And yet these were the first people to see and worship Jesus.  These were the first people that God chose to proclaim the Good New about Jesus to and they were the first people to proclaim the good news about Jesus’ birth to others.

We want Jesus to be angelic, sleeping peacefully, for him not to cry.  But yet Jesus was fully human.  He was wrapped in bands of cloth, in diapers, ready to catch any bodily acts this fully human child would eventually do.  He was wrinkly and covered in vernix, that cottage cheese like covering that protects the baby in utero.  Jesus pooped, he peed, he cried. 

And yet Jesus was PERFECT!  Jesus was fully human and yet he was fully God.  He was and is the prefect gift that God sent to this imperfect world.  God took Mary and Joseph two imperfect people, and gave them a perfect child.  God took a stable, an imperfect setting for a child to be born in, and made it the perfect place for the Son of God to be born in.  God took shepherds, imperfect people and made them the perfect people to go out and tell the world about Christ’s coming.

And God takes us, imperfect people, people who cannot get Christmas right, people who buy the wrong presents, burn dinner, can’t figure out a simple strand of lights, and fight with our families and God makes us perfect.  God gave us the perfect gift:  The Son of God, who became one of us so that we might live.  Jesus Christ who died for us so that we might live.  Jesus Christ who took away the sins of this imperfect world, and made us perfect. 

So regardless of how imperfect our Christmas is, God has made us perfect.  The shepherds were made perfect even though they were imperfect and that is the reason why the shepherds went out into the streets, glorifying and praising God.  Mary and Joseph were made perfect even though they were imperfect and that is the reason why they treasured all that God had done.  We are made perfect, even though we are imperfect and that is the reason why we go and tell others about Christ.  We are perfect even though we are imperfect and that is the reason why we rejoice in Christ’s birth.  We are perfect even though we are imperfect and that is the reason why we celebrate this Christmas and everyday.  We are perfect even though we are imperfect and that is the reason why we receive Christ as our King.  We are perfect even though we are imperfect and that is the reason why we rejoice “Joy to the World!”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Craftiness - Gift Edition

Yesterday I posted some of the decorations around the church so today I thought I would post some of the gifts that I made for Christmas this year.  I'm only going to post the ones for kids since I know they won't see this post and ruin the surprise.

This past year I finished two needlepoint stockings.  One for my youngest niece:

And one for my oldest godson:

Last year I found online a tutorial to make a felted potato person (though a different name was used).  Due to copyright infringement, that post has been deleted but a few pictures are still out there and I was able to figure out how to make them.  I made three potato people, for my two youngest nephews and a friend's daughter.

My tutorial in a nutshell:

  • Make a lump shape on a piece tan/brown felt, cut it out and sew pieces of Velcro in the appropriate places.  
  • On a second lump shape of tan felt, make a pouch
    • Take two rectangles (one twice as tall as the other) of the same color felt and attach a piece of Velcro to the center edge of each piece
    • Sew three sides of the large rectangle to lump shape felt (you can fold in the sides to make a pleated pouch) with velcro facing out
    • Sew the top of the smaller rectangle to the lump above the large rectangle where the Velcro meets.
  • Put good sides of lump together, sew around edges leaving a two inch opening.  Flip right side out, stuff and close.
  • Using scrapes of felt, cut hats, eyes, arms, mouths, noses and ears as you like.  
    • Sew piece of Velcro to back of the back. 
    • Sew any embellishments to front before sewing the front and back pieces together. (i.e. for the eyes, sew the pupils on the front white piece before sewing front white and back white piece together)
    • Sew front and back pieces together by sewing around the edges with right sides out.  Leave a small opening to stuff, then sew shut.  
  • One hint I will pass on is Velcro now makes a version of it's product were the hook and latches are on the same piece so everything attaches to everything else.  If you go with the traditional two piece Velcro, sew all the latches onto the lump and all the hooks onto the accessories.  
I also made two other large gifts for people and some ornaments.  I will post pictures after Christmas as to keep the surprise for any friends or relatives who might read this post.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Church Craftiness - Christmas Edition

Yesterday some wonderful volunteers came to help decorate the sanctuary for Christmas worship and I wanted to share some new things with you.

A few months ago the worship committee decided that we would do all white and gold decorations for Christmas this year.  Since then Becky, one of my many church mouses, has been going wild figuring out what that would look like and getting decorations.

One thing that we did was add some Chrismons (ornaments that are white and gold and are symbols of Jesus) to the ones we already had on the tree.  Back in November, we had an Advent Festival and using the patterns from this webiste, the kids cut out the pattern, pasted them on poster board and decorated with glitter, markers and other decorations. Here are close ups of one of the decorations:

Now the tree is full of Chrismons:

We also needed a new banner as the Christmas banner we had was red and green.  I found a piece of fabric in the church basement that once had "Glory to God" on it but at one point the lettering came off and was never put back on, though you could still see the outline of the letters on the fabric.  So off to the fabric store I went for gold and white satin, interfacing and glitter paint.  I used the old banner to cut out the letters as a pattern, ironed the interfacing on the white satin, cut out the letters and ironed the letters onto the gold satin and outlined in glitter glue.  Not a single stitch on the entire thing (though I think once it comes down this year I will sew the top loop that the pole goes through.)

In the midst of all the decoration ideas, Becky got into bow making for the wreaths.  With the help of a bow maker it didn't take that long.  But they were also remarkably simpler to make than I thought.  But my camera batteries died yesterday so it didn't store the picture that I took, so I will add one later.

There are still a few more things that need to be done (wrapping the fake red candles in white or gold, putting out the poinsettias and put fake candles in the windows).  But the church is starting to look beautiful!

Monday, December 20, 2010

MMC: Christmas edition

Good Morning all

Today's Monday morning church is a little different due to Christmas (but shouldn't everything be different due to Christmas?)

First a few quick announcements

  • Volunteers are gathering at 7:30pm on Tuesday to decorate the church, if you are willing and able to join us, please come full of cheer and ready to decorate.
  • Christmas Eve worship is at 5pm and 10pm. The 5pm service will be a worship of light as we go from darkness to light. The 10pm service will be a more low-key reflective worship. Both services will have communion and candlelight.
  • If we didn't sing your favorite carol on Christmas Eve, come prepared to sing it on Dec 26th. Lyudmila will be taking request as we gather for a carol sing with readings and communion. Come as you are (even if you are still in your pajamas) as we celebrate the 2nd day of Christmas (there are 12 days after all).

The book of faith puzzler is: Who directed Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem? A) Herod B) Caesar C) an angel D) God E) the IRS If you know the answer, send me an email by noon on Wednesday. A winner will be announced during worship on Sunday.

Now onto the text - sort of. The gospel on Christmas is Luke 2:1-20, which is read each year on Christmas. Read it again and think about it - what is missing from the Christmas story as you remember it? What is added? Do you have any memories that involve reading this gospel, or a story book version?

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? And what are you most looking forward to this Christmas?

During this busy week for many of us, as we prepare, cook, bake, travel, shop, wrap and gift-give, I encourage you to take a few moments to read the Christmas story from Luke and remember that Christmas is really all about a small baby, God's greatest gift.

Many blessings to you all this week. Safe travels to everyone, whether you are traveling across town or across the country, and as Ellen prayed in worship yesterday "Be with everyone who travels during this busy time. May we all remember to obey the rules of the road and be polite to our fellow drivers"

Creating Family

As we near Christmas family is on a lot of people's mind, both in good and bad ways.  We look forward to seeing family members we don't get to see to often, or we dread seeing family and what craziness will happen.  We reminiscence on family gatherings of the past and also mourn those who have died.  

For Bob and I personally, we are preparing for a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin over New Year's, our first trip "home" over the holidays in three years. One of the family issues we will have to figure out while home is the current divorce proceedings of Bob's older brother.  The divorce itself isn't of issue, but the kids who are affected by the divorce and how to treat them is.  Through the marriage we gained two step-nieces who will soon no longer legally be family, however Bob and I have known these two beautiful girls (now 10 & 14) for 7 years and we cannot cut them out of our lives even though the rest of Bob's family seems to expect us to, especially when we still have a connection to their 3 year old half-sister, the only biologically related niece. 

The logistics of how to see our nieces and the blessing we have been given to have them in our lives has weighed heavily on my mind as I prepared for the sermon this week, especially when the Gospel text (Matthew 1:18-25) is about the birth of Jesus from Joseph's perspective.  Really Joseph was asked to create a family and I love how often people have family that aren't technically family.  We have been so blessed by these relationships.

Below is my sermon from yesterday, enjoy!

You have to really commend Joseph. I mean really this text should be used on Father’s Day as an example of a righteous man. Here is a man who knows that the child his fiancĂ© is pregnant with a child that is not his and yet he not only marries the woman but also claims the child as his own.

Sure he needed an angel to intervene in order to keep him from sending Mary off, probably back to her parents’ home disgraced and for the child to be raised as an illegitimate bastard if it was not kept a secret from the community and “quietly done away with.”

We often think of Christmas, both today and the first Christmas, as a peaceful time full of joy and celebration, but that is not what was going on for Joseph. He was agonizing over a decision. By law he could divorce Mary, since they were already legally married based on the contract their fathers decided on which was this engagement. And Mary, being pregnant, therefore in every other case but hers would mean that she was not a virgin, and therefore broke that contract, which is grounds for divorce. He could also make the divorce a public matter meaning that she would probably never be able to remarry. Or Joseph could also have her stoned for adultery which was far from unheard of in his time. These were the options that were ahead of Joseph.

No one would expect Joseph to raise a child that wasn’t his, especially the first born child, the heir, the one who would receive the majority of his land and property upon his death. I’m sure he agonized over the decision. He thought, he prayed, he went through a roller coaster of emotions – what should he do.

For many fathers, the pregnancy is a time of joy and some worry. Will the child be healthy? Will the mother be healthy? What are the best high chairs, strollers, car seats, etc to buy? For Joseph those concerns were secondary. He was worried about his reputation. How can he explain away Mary’s leaving to the nosy neighbors without causing too much trouble? Will he be able to remarry? Will his business be tarnished by his first wife indiscretions? What will his family say? How will this affect them?

These questions probably kept running through Joseph’s mind, keeping him up at night, his blood pressure probably had risen, he probably wasn’t eating and maybe even lost some hair over his decision (I have seen a few bald Josephs in nativity sets) and when he did sleep it was restless and full of dreams.

We all have made difficult decisions before. Some that seem trivial in the light of Joseph’s dilemma – what bills do I pay first in order to keep collectors at bay? Do I take the job that pays well but doesn’t make me feel like a worthy contributor to society or the one that pays less but is more worth-wild? What school should we send our child to?

And some of us have even faced decisions that make Joseph’s predicament seem trivial. Do I take my loved one off life support? Which treatment option to I take for the cancer that is affecting me? Do I marry the parent of my child, even if I don’t love them?

We have all had a few restless nights, unable to sleep because of the worries on our hearts and minds. We have all been distracted at work because of family issues or at home because of work issues. We have all faced decisions in which is seems like no option is the best option or the choice you want to make is not one that the rest of society will agree with you on.

But in the midst of wrestling with his options, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and asks him to take this child, who will be named Jesus, as his own. For in Joseph’s day, in an era before DNA testing and going on Maury to determine who your baby daddy is, in a time before child support and birth certificates who list the name of the father, it was only in claiming a child, in naming him or her that a father took accountability for an child.

But more than God asking Joseph to take responsibility for Jesus, I think Joseph was also asked to give Jesus a family. Yes God was Jesus’ father. But I sure that Jesus called Joseph “dad” and Joseph taught Jesus how to fish and throw a baseball. Joseph probably even changed a few diapers, threw cheerios in an ancient toilet while Jesus was potty training and probably had “the talk” with Jesus when he hit puberty.

The result of Joseph’s decision was not just that Jesus was taken care of but that he had a family to call his while on earth. And fortunately for us, this is not the only time that God has called forth family from people who are not biological related.

In getting to know many of you over the past year and a half, I am amazed how often one of you refers to someone as a son, daughter, aunt, uncle, cousin or other relation and then as a side note, explain to me how you aren’t technically related but are step-family, grew up together or otherwise have such a relationship.

I myself have two uncles, an aunt and two cousins that are in no way related to me biologically but are good friends of my parents and their children and yet I’m closer to them then my biological aunts, uncles and cousins. I consider myself an aunt to seven children but only 3 are related to Bob or myself by blood. My grandparents on my dad’s side were both my dad’s step-parents and yet other than the fact that they looked absolutely nothing like us and my step-grandma was only a few years old than my dad you would not have know the difference as far as how they loved and cared for us grandkids. As a teenager, I also joke about how I have so many different moms and dads, both the parents of my friends and my parents’ friends that I could never get away with anything.

Many of us have been blessed with this loose definition of family, people who have come into our lives and touch us so dearly that we feel compelled to care for them and allow them to care for us. People who we want to have Christmas dinner with even if we have to have dinner with our biological family, or people who invite us to Christmas dinner when we can’t be with our biological family.

God has blessed us with family, with people related to us by blood, or legally through in-law, adoption and step situations and with those that we put bunny quotes around the title. People who support us during the difficult decisions that we make that keep us up at night.

And God has blessed us so abundantly because we have been blessed with the gift of love. A love that comes from God,
a love that comes from God through the gifts of baptism and communion.
A love that comes from God’s gift of community
a love that comes because God loved the world so much that he gave his only son to die for us
a love that comes from God to all of God’s chosen people
a love that comes because God is with us, Emmanuel
a love that comes from God as we cry out and sing out that God comes to us
a love that comes which cause us to rejoice

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Presents

A friend of mine over at Wife, Mom, Knitter posted the other day about some of the worst Christmas presents she has ever received.  I know I have a list too.  The most random is probably the southwestern pink lamp that my uncle gave me, I used it for quite awhile but I never understood why I got it.

My current (as in this has occurred for quite a few years now) gift receiving frustration is from a family member who starts asking what we want for Christmas each year in August and even though we always give a list, Bob and I end up with a gift card to a nationwide chain restaurant which is named after a meat-based dish even though the giver is someone who knows I am a vegetarian and has been told many times that we go to very few chain restaurants.

And in all honesty since I know the giver would like such a gift, we normally hold on to the gift card and give it back the following year, normally with a little something extra.  This normally creates quite a bit of laughter since everyone else knows that the giver is receiving the EXACT same gift card.

So I'm sure that I have given some unwanted gifts before.  We all do it.  But I also try to be simple with my gifts, though I do splurge some on the kids in my life.  The group of friends that get together on New Years (though I haven't been there the last 2 years) normally receive an ornament and some homemade treat.  Bob's parents' normally get a gag gift of some form.  The last few years I have given my mom uglier and uglier Christmas decorations (and yes mom if you read this you are more than likely getting one again this year).

For me I like gifts to be a way that people know that I care about them, so often they are handmade. Sometimes the items aren't what was on their wish list or not useful but I try to make it about them personally. But occasionally there is something that I find that I know will be perfect for the receiver and so I splurge or will go above and beyond in making something.

So how about you?  What is your gift-giving goal?  And what are some bad gifts you have given or received?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christmas That Isn't

We FINALLY got a measurable amount of snow here in Connecticut (not that I want the 22 inches that Minnesota got this past weekend but the inch we got was nice, especially with how cold it has been).  And between the snow, my new found obsession with cheesy holiday movies on Hulu, and general Advent/Christmas prep, I have been thinking a lot about the Christmas story lately.

And no not "A Christmas Story," the cheesy holiday movie that runs for 24 hours non-stop on some cable network on Christmas Eve, but THE Christmas story, the story that is told in churches across the world on Christmas Eve and Christmas as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.  More accurately I was thinking about how little of story that many of us know is not actually mentioned in the bible.

In finding a question for this week's Book of Faith puzzler, I googled "Christmas Bible Trivia" and found this quiz.  Try it, take it yourself and see what you get.

I mean many things I knew or realized but only because I have recently read Luke 2:1-20 in preparing for Christmas Eve services.   The donkey is never mentioned, nor the inn.  The angels didn't sing and the wisemen (which we don't know how many there were) didn't arrive on the scene until much later.

I think most people who have studied any scripture realize that Jesus was probably not born in December, and those who know a bit about early Christianity and Greco-Roman cultural realize that December 25 was a date adopted from another pagan celebration and that Jesus' birth wasn't celebrated until centuries after Jesus' death.

But then what story do we tell about Christmas?

In the midst of all these holiday movies and television specials, about 2/3 of which revolve around Santa and the other 1/3 about families being together for Christmas.  The same is true on the radio stations that have been playing non-stop Christmas music since the day after Thanksgiving.  Only there I would say 2/5 of the songs are about Santa, reindeer, snowmen, etc, 2/5 about being with family and loved ones and the remaining 1/5 are classic church Christmas carols that have been rerecorded by popular artist.

So in the midst of all these stories about Christmas that aren't the story of Jesus' birth, how can we retell the story of Christ's birth in a way that doesn't add myths to scripture and yet doesn't get lost in Santa, gift-giving and family moments?

How can God coming to us in the form of an infant "out sell" a jolly fat man who brings gifts to boys and girls?
How can a pregnant teenage girl giving birth compete with a "Christmas miracle" happening as strangers are brought together who suddenly believe in Santa or help out a person in need?
How can an angel who appeared to some poor guys in a field to tell them about a birth of a boy contend with a major recording artist singing about snow and mistletoe?
How can shepherds running from their field into town to see what the angels foretold even balance a story about a person defeating all travel adversities in order to make it home in time to spend Christmas Eve with a loved one?

No wonder why Christmas has become so commercialized, the commercialized part of Christmas has better stories!

But the Christmas story that churches tell on Christmas Eve through scripture and carols does not end there.  The Christmas story, the REAL Christmas story is not something that happened on one night 2000 years ago when Jesus was born.  The Christmas story continued through Jesus' life and death.  The Christmas story continued through the ministry of Jesus' disciples and the Christmas story continues each time a child is baptized.  Christmas in the church is not just day, it isn't even 12 days, but constantly, continually happening.  And while many real-life things can't compete with Hollywood "magic" that happens in stories about Santa, many of those stories about families being brought together or a person realizing how great his life is (i.e. It's a Wonderful Life or The Christmas Carol) happen not because of Santa but because of Christ.

Hmmm I got a little sermon-y in here maybe I should expand on this for Christmas Eve's sermon? 

Monday, December 13, 2010

MMC: Getting Ready

Good morning Bethlehem

I hope you all are doing well this grey Monday morning and the rains did not damper the anticipation of Christmas that Advent brings.

A few brief announcements: 

  • There is still a need for 1 communion server at the 5pm Christmas Eve service and 2 communion servers at the 10pm Christmas Eve service.  If you are willing to serve communion please let me know.
  • Serving in worship this coming Sunday - Bob Middeke-Conlin is signed up to be the reader and Ellen Grunsell is hosting coffee hour.  If you would like to the worship assistant, an usher, communion assistant, or counter, please let me know.
  • There will be no Wednesday evening bible studies until January 12.  Sunday morning bible studies will continue, except Dec 26 & Jan 2.
  • Start picking out your favorite carols - on Sunday Dec 26 there will be a carol sing during worship.
  • Please plan on joining us to decorate the sanctuary on Tuesday Dec 21 at 7:30pm.  Many hands make light work.
And this week's book of faith puzzler is: What did Joseph want to do when he discovered Mary was pregnant? A) Keep it a secret.  B) Quietly divorce her.  C) Send her back to her parents.  D) Give the child away.   Email me by noon on Wednesday to be put into this week's drawing. 

Now onto the text:

For our fourth (and final) Sunday in Advent we hear many text that could be used on Christmas, the prophesy of a young woman giving birth to a son named Immanuel.

The first lesson is Isaiah 7:10-16.  Ahaz, the king of Judah, was seeking refuge from the Assyrians as the Israelites and Arameans were threating him.  Isaiah tells Ahaz that security that is brought about by human means is not secure, but that Immanuel is safety.  Immanuel means "God is with us."  How do you find safety knowing that God is with you?  How have human safety nets failed, either you personally or our society?  How do you trust in God?  How can you trust in God more?

The second lesson is Romans 1:1-7.  Paul starts his letter to the Christians in Rome establishing that he is a servant of Jesus Christ and who Jesus is by both birth and God.  Jesus was set apart by God, his birth was foretold through the prophets and scriptures, born of the line of David and given the Holy Spirit.  Who is Jesus to you?  Is he God solely by his birth or by his life or by his death?  In the midst of all the celebrations that come around Christmas it can sometimes be hard to remember that Jesus became an adult and ended up dying for us.  Why do you think we celebrate Jesus' birth more than his death or resurrection?

The gospel is Matthew 1:18-25.  Joseph, after finding out Mary was pregnant and not by him, was upset but an honorable man and made plans to deal with the situation (notice I'm not giving away the answer to the book of faith puzzler).  An angel comes to Joseph and tells him to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his son.  When have your plans changed remarkably?  Did God speak to you (directly or indirectly) to change your plans?

Hope you all have a great week and see you Sunday
Pastor Becca

Is the answer helpful?

Yesterday's sermon was based on the gospel Matthew 11:2-11, John questioning Jesus and Jesus preaching about John. And the sermon, at least the written sermon is below.

But I have noticed something with my sermons as of late: they tend to be incomplete.  Often I will either not write the end, or I'll write an abbreviated ending and during the actual preaching of the sermon, I will expand on this portion of my text.  While I think this is wonderful in preaching as I have become less reliant on the text, it is hard to equate to those of you who read my sermons.  Especially when you are missing the best part.

I tend to write my sermons using the "Four Pages of the Sermon" method, start with law in the text, then law in the world, then gospel in the text and gospel in the world.  The first two portions point out the sin, or the need for God.  The later half points out what the gospel, or good news, is that Christ has come and will come again.  So really when I don't write out the last bit of my sermon, you all are missing the best part, the part where God is active in your life today.  

Not adding the ending allows me to improvise more based on who is in worship and what prayer request have been.  It allows me to add good news that is more meaningful to the individuals who have gathered that day for worship or with how the Holy Spirit is calling me preach the gospel to those who hear it.  So I probably won't start adding the complete endings anytime soon.  So for now, enjoy the sermon, what is there, and add some of your own good news to the words you read. 

What a difference a week makes! Just last week we heard a gospel of John the Baptist out in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord, baptizing people with water for repentance and proclaiming that one more powerful than him is coming who will baptize with Holy Spirit and with fire. And now here he is (granted in the story of Matthew this is months or years later) and John the Baptist is in jail and he is questioning if he actually proclaimed and prepared the way for the right messiah.

Jesus was not turning out to be the messiah he was expecting. John wanted someone to over throw Rome, to free Jewish territory from outside occupation. He wanted a messiah who would lead an army not a messiah who healed the sick and threw parties for prostitutes.

And so John sent his followers to question Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” And Jesus being Jesus did not answer the question with a straight yes or no answer. Instead he listed what he has done “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.”

Now I have to wonder what John thought when his followers brought back this answer to him.

If he was truly doubting if he had wasted his life prophesying for the messiah who turns out not to be the messiah, would this list of Jesus’ miracles have answered his question? If he was in the mist of deep despair about a rebellion against Rome not being started, would this list of Jesus’ miracles have answered his question? If he truly questioned Jesus’ teaching about the temple, the center of Jewish religious life, being destroyed, would this list of Jesus’ miracles have answered his question? If he was truly skeptical about Jesus would this list even seem like a list of miracles, or would they just seem like a list of failures?

For us we all have doubts. For some of us our doubts are daily, hourly, as we are presented with hardships or other people’s doubts. For others the doubts are less frequent but always with us, and all it takes is one skeptic to bring those doubts to the forefront of our minds. Our ideas about who Jesus is and should be, do not always match with the Jesus who actually is. We are believers, we pray, therefore Jesus should be like a giant protective bubble over us keeping us from all harm and suffering. We are believers, we worship regularly, therefore Jesus’ teachings should never offend us by saying that we do not care enough for the poor and imprisoned, or that we need to give more of our time and riches away, or that our good deeds are not always pleasing to God if our heart is not in it. Or maybe, and probably the most prevalent view of Jesus in our society, is that he is like a lucky charm, someone that we call on when we are in trouble but as long as life is going okay there is no need to even acknowledge his existence (other than maybe Christmas and Easter but just so we can get presents and chocolate). As so the scriptures offend us or harm comes to us, or the struggles in life are not taken from us after one prayer, we start to doubt, we start to wonder if Jesus really is Christ, we start to wonder if we’ve gotten it right or if maybe a different religion is correct, or maybe no religions are right.

And in moments of brief doubts as someone list for us the things Christ has done, “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have received the good news.” Or maybe a list that hits a little closer to home for you: the loved ones in your lives, the good health you have been given, the joy on your child or grandchild’s face, the many conquensiences that had to happen for you to run into that old friend who happened to be struggling and needed someone to talk to, or that feeling you just cannot accurately describe when you stand in church on Christmas Eve in the darkness with just candlelight and sing “Silent Night”. And as you hear that list, if you are in a moment of brief doubt, of surface doubt, that list makes you realized that Jesus is Christ and Jesus is still performing miracles in our lives. But if you are in deep doubt, if you are ready to throw your faith out the window, then that list is not helpful to you. All it does is make you question more, agnostics have loved ones, atheist have good health, people of different religions see joy in their child’s faces, sometimes things are just conquensiences and well, we are all struck with awe on occasion.

See Jesus’ list of accomplishments, of miracles, may not have been a helpful answer to John. And if you are doubting your faith right now, what I am saying may not be a helpful answer for you either. But Jesus was still there performing miracles, restoring sight and hearing, healing the lame and the ill and even bringing people back to life. And Jesus is still out there, in our world today, healing the ill, bring grace, love and joy to people who sometimes feel undeserving of grace, love and joy. Jesus is still out there in our world today, making a million things that we often chalk up to conquesences happen, so that miracles, whether we call them that or no occur. Jesus is out there in our world today, listening to and answering our prayers, sometimes in ways that we expect and sometimes in ways that we would never expect. And Jesus is in here, in our hearts, filling us with awe in moments of worship that take place both in church buildings and beyond as we see God’s presence in the world, in our lives. So I ask, how have you seen Jesus in your lives this week?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Marco Polo

This last Sunday's sermon was on the gospel lesson: Matthew 3:1-12, John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.  





Many of us have played this game as children, often in a pool or at the beach. One person closes their eyes and has to find the others by calling out Marco and the others respond Polo.

And we all have probably at some point cheated a little while playing Marco Polo. Not responding when the person who is the seeker is right next to us. But without the call and response, this game is pointless. We would never be able to find someone who is able to run from us while we are blind unless we call out to them and they respond.

A recent new item I heard was that all people, not most, but all people, can not walk in a straight line with their eyes closed. We are good for a few feet but then we start veering off and eventually we are walking in circles. Without something to look at, something we can keep our eyes on we are not able to walk straight. With our eyes shut and someone calling to us, we walk a little straighter but still we are not much better.

In today’s gospel John is calling on his followers to repent. Repentance doesn’t mean admitting to what you have done wrong and doing good works in order to make up for those wrongs – that is confession. Admitting you did wrong does not always mean that you are going to change in order not to do those wrongs again. When we confess what we have done wrong we often say “I’m sorry.” Saying you are sorry are I can statements: “I can do better.” “I can be more pleasing to God.” But often those I statements: I can do better, I’m sorry, fall short. We continue to do wrong, we continue to sin against God and others.

So instead of confession, John is calling people to repent. Repentance is asking God to turn towards us. It is saying “I can’t” “I can’t do better on my own.” “I can’t do it myself” But God, you can! God can raise me to new life. God can make me turn from my sins. God can raise me to new life. Repentance is turning towards God and relying on God to help us when we admit that we cannot help ourselves.

John was calling for his followers to repent because Jesus was coming. John was calling for his followers to turn towards God, to seek Jesus, to allow Jesus to change them, mold them, transform them. John was calling his followers to say “I can’t but God can.”

And we too need to turn towards God, to seek Jesus, to allow Jesus to change us, mold us, transform us. We need to say daily “I can’t but God can.” We need to admit that we cannot make ourselves any better than who we already are. That we are riddled with sin. That we are unable to help ourselves. That we are not able to walk the straight line towards Jesus when we are blinded by sin. That we are not able to find Jesus without first calling out to him.

But Jesus is coming. Jesus came and separated the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad. But not the good people from the bad people so that they do not interact but the good parts and bad parts of each person. The sin from the grace that lives in each of us. The good things that we do from the wrong that we cause. The “I can” from the “I can’t”. Jesus takes the sin, the bad, from us and drowns in the waters of baptism and raises us up in new life filled with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus calls us each by name before we are ever able to first call out to him. Jesus isn’t playing Marco Polo with us, keeping us blind and constantly moving and not responding when we get close. No Jesus is responding, Polo, before we get the chance to call out Marco. And Jesus comes and opens our eyes so that we can see and walk a straight line, but even better than that Jesus is taking us by hand so that even if we decide to close our eyes to him again he is still leading us.

Jesus allows us to walk the straight line because we cannot on our own. Jesus is the one who makes his path straight and then he calls us by name and helps lead us towards God.

Monday, December 6, 2010

MMC: Waiting and Hoping and Wondering.

Good Morning Bethlehem!

Hope you are all staying warm on this chilly morning and a few treats where in your shoes this morning on St. Nicholas' Day.   

In an effort to diversify worship leadership, a new signup sheet has been created.  All positions are opened to everyone, and myself or an experienced leader is willing to train you either before or after worship.  The positions are:  Worship Assistant, Reader, Usher (need 2), Communion Assistant, Altar set-up & clean up, Bread baker (1 person per month), Coffee hour host and Offering Counter.  For December 12, Bob Middeke-Conlin is ushering and Karin Russo is hosting coffee hour.  If you would like to volunteer to be one of the other worship leaders this week, or in future weeks, please send me an email letting me know which day and position you would like to do.  

And a few quick reminders:  

If you have toy's for St. Luke's Life Works, they must be dropped off TODAY, Monday December 6th.  If you are not able to do so please bring your gifts to Toys for Tots or another like organization as all the organizations give to children without toys and your gifts are greatly appreciated.   

If you did not get your poinsettia/wreath order in, please call Becky Pirron at 203644-4208 ASAP.  Poinsettias range in prices from $5 to $22 a plant; you can also put money towards wreaths.  

Tonight at 7pm the Social committee is meeting to plan celebrations and collections for the rest of the winter and spring. Please join us to add your input and insights.

Senior Lunch in on Wednesday at noon.  We will be meeting at Lombardi's in Georgetown.  

Congregational Council is meeting after worship next Sunday.  Meetings are open to all who wish to attend to discuss the leadership of Bethlehem. 

This week's Book of Faith Puzzler is: Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, doesn’t talk during Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  Why? A) He was born mute. B) He is protesting all the attention Elizabeth is getting.  C) He is being punished for not believing Elizabeth was pregnant. D) It was part of a religious ceremony for the father to not talk during the pregnancy.  Email me your answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.  

Now onto the text:  

The first reading is Isaiah 35:1-10.  Here we are at the beginning of winter and the first verse we read talks about crocuses, which are often the first bloom of spring.  It almost seems cruel but yet hopeful.  The rest of the passage has very hopeful sayings about the blind being able to see, the deaf hear, the lame leaping and the mute singing.  Where do you find hope?  Where do you see joy?  Especially at this time of year, when the days are so short?  Especially at this time as a nation when so many are suffering financially?  

The second reading is James 5:7-10.  James tells people to be patient as they await the coming of Jesus.  How is it hard to be patient?  What are you anxious for?  Are you anticipating opening the presents and watching others open the presents that are accumulating under your tree?  Are you impatient as you await a promotion, raise, new job?  Are you being patient as you teach children new skills?  Are you being patient as we wait to hear about Jesus' birth and the Christmas story? 

The gospel reading is Matthew 11:2-11.  John the Baptist wonders if Jesus is the Messiah and he sends messengers to ask Jesus that question.  Have you wondered if Jesus is the Messiah?  Have you ever question if Jesus was God's son or just a very philosophical person?  How have you gotten beyond those doubt?  What did God "say" to you to have your questions answered or are you still asking?

As always I love to hear your answers to these questions or other thoughts you have on these text.  The Finer Things in Life, the women's bible study on Wednesdays at 7:30, also explore these texts in greater detail.

Blessing on your week
Pastor Becca

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Forging Signatures, 5 Ovens and Solar Powered Bikinis.

This last week, Thanksgiving week, I was on vacation since I had one vacation Sunday left this year, and I really can only get away for on the last Sunday of the month.  However Bob still had to work Monday through Wednesday.

Now normally when one spouse has more vacation time than the other, the one with more vacation will play happy homeowner (as is the case with my brother and sister-in-law).  However we live in a parsonage that was just remodeled last year.  And since we live a whopping 50 yards from the church (yes I will never complain about my commute) it also means that for me to really not work on vacation, I need to get out of the house too.   Luckily Bob lives part of the week not at home.

Bob normally works from the house on Mondays and then commutes to New London (the other side of the state) on Monday night/Tuesday morning and stays there until Thursday when he comes back to Georgetown and works from home again on Saturday.  When in New London he stays at the St. Francis House, an intentional living community.  So on Monday night we packed up the car with our stuff and the dogs and headed to New London for the week.

On Tuesday I went to Bob's work, the Homeless Hospitality Center, just to stop by and meet his co-workers.  However they were in the middle of sending out a mass mailing as part of a fund raising campaign.  So I decided to stay and help.  Well I ended up forging the executive director's name on about 800 letters over the course of Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon.  (BTW the vast majority of letters you receive from an organization trying to raise money that are personally signed by the head honcho, are actually signed by some intern, volunteered or other low-level person.)

When I wasn't there, I explored around New London, read, and needle-pointed (I'm trying to finish a stocking before Christmas).

Thanksgiving itself was low key for us, just a trip to the dog park, watch some movies, and hung out.  But we did also go pick up the "snack" for the overnight shelter that the Coast Guard Academy's food services provided.  The "snack" for 50 people was actually enough turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, salad, acorn squash, stuffing, green beans, bread and brownies to feed over 100 people.  The food barely fit into the back of our car (but again remarkably everything fits into a Fit).  But we had to pick up the food at 4 and the shelter doesn't open until 7.  So with the help of the 5 ovens in the various apartments of the St. Francis house, we were able to keep all the food warm.

Friday and Saturday was spent with some shopping and a trip to see Harry Potter 7.1 but by then Bob wasn't feeling the greatest.  So on Sunday morning he slept in and I went to the UCC church across the street from the St. Francis House.

And during worship I learned two things: 1) I must have drunk some of the kool-aid and 2) some sermon examples, while attention getters are also distracting.  Let me explain.

1) A seminary friend jokes with her internship supervisor that most people who have graduated from our seminary end up being fairly high church, liturgical and sticklers for these "rules" even if they did not start seminary that way.  Therefore somewhere along their seminary journey they "drunk the kool-aid" that made them this way.  I do not feel like I fall into this category.  I don't think you need anything more than a glass of wine (or other liquid) and a loaf of bread (or other food form) in order to have communion and other than chalice and paton I have to look up the words for some of the other dishes that are sometimes used.   I think it is completely okay to go off lectionary for a worship service, especially if you put in prior thought about your worship plans.  And I don't have a problem with Christmas carols during Advent, or at least I thought so.

So as people gathered for worship at this UCC congregation, people suggested their favorite Christmas carols and we sang the first verse or two.  And I was fine with this, until we sang "We Three Kings"  And that just made me cringe.  But I don't think it was so much a liturgy thing as a calendar thing.  We Three Kings is sung at Epiphany in January and while it was the first Sunday of Advent, it was also still November.

2)  The pastor preached for quite awhile, probably 25 or more minutes (aka 3 times my typical sermon length).  He started off by having us sing "All I Want for Christmas" then talking about various gifts you can give people including....wait for it....a solar powered bikini!  What!  Apparently it has solar cells in it that catch the sun's rays while you are tanning and you can hook it up to charge your ipod or cell phone.  Okay so I think he eventually went back to Jesus being the greatest gift and in Christ we find peace and hope and those are the only things we need for Christmas.  But for me, I spent then next 10 minutes thinking about this solar powered bikini - are you able to get it wet? how does it hook up to your electronics and where exactly and how big are those solar panels?

So basically I was reminded that while sermon illustrations can often help people understand what you are talking about, sometimes they lead people into thinking more about the illustration and less about the point you are trying to make.

So that was basically my week in a nutshell - forging signatures, using 5 ovens and figuring out a solar powered bikini.

Monday, November 29, 2010

MMC: Repent and Hope

Good Morning Everyone

I hope you had a wonderful and enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend/week. 

Just some quick announcements before looking at this coming Sunday's text.  

  • We will be participating in the toy drive for St. Lukes Life Works in Stamford.  It is one of the largest collections of toys in Fairfield county.  Thousands of gifts are distributed to more than 2,000 chiildren affected by poverty, homelessness and HIV/AIDS.  For most of these children these are the only gifts they will receive.   You may wrap your gifts, but please write on a removable tag what the gift is, so the appropriate male/female, and aged person recieves it. Donations are needed by Sunday December 5.
  • Worship Committee is meeting tomorrow, November 30 at 7:30pm, all are invited to help us plan worship for Christmas and beyond.
  • Social Concerns and Celebrations committee is meeting Monday December 6 at 7pm. All are invited to attend to plan events this winter and spring in the congregation.
  • Senior Lunch is Wednesday December 8 at noon at Lombardi’s in Georgetown
  • Calling all readers: if you are willing to read a prophecy or part of the Christmas narrative at the 5pm service on Christmas Eve, please let me know.  And thank you to those of you who have already volunteered to read at the 10pm service.
  • Sunday December 26th we will be having a carol sing with lessons.  Start perusing the hymnals now for you favorite Christmas carols and submit your favorites to Lyudmila
This week's book of faith puzzler is: Who was the first person to build an altar for God? A) Abraham B)Isaac C)Adam D)Noah. Email me with you answer to be put into this week's drawing.

Now onto the text:

For this second Sunday in Advent, we hear Isaiah's, Paul's and John the Baptist's calls for hope as we look forward to the coming of Christ and the peace he will bring. 

The first lesson is Isaiah 11:1-10.  How does these images (the wold living with the lamb, the calf and lion together, etc) hold with your vision of what peace will look like?  The stump or root of Jesse refers to King David's father and that a new ruler will come who is a descendant of David.  The ruler will also be blessed by the spirit of the Lord and seek justice.  How do you see Jesus as one blessed by the spirit and seeking justice?  How do you see the church (both universal and Bethlehem), as followers of Jesus, blessed by the spirit and seeking justice?

The second lesson is Romans 15:4-13.  Paul encourages us through God's help to live in harmony with one another.  What is one way that you, as an individual, can bring harmony to this world?  We are also called to welcome one another.  Do you see yourself as welcoming?  In your home? our community? our church?  Paul also blesses the Romans with the words: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."  Do you feel filled with hope, joy and peace?  When do you most feel filled with these emotions?  When do you feel most drained of these emotions?

The gospel is Matthew 3:1-12.  John the Baptist calls for people to repent. What does repentance mean to you?  Is it just confession (to God or to the one you wronged)?  Is it a commitment to never do those wrongs again?  Is it a change in attitude or lifestyle?  Is it a form of self-forgiveness or self-condemnation? What do you need to repent?  What does it mean to you that we have been baptized with water but Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire?

I always love to hear your thoughts, answers to these questions or even more question these passages may have brought forth in your mind either through email or conversation.  And for any women who would like to discuss these text in more details, I invite you to the Finer Things in Life, at 7:30pm on Wednesday at the parsonage. 

Blessings on your week
Pastor Becca

Monday, November 22, 2010

MMC: Awaiting Jesus

Good Morning All

I hope you all have a quick week as we prepare for Thanksgiving.  And just a reminder that the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service will be at Temple B'nai Chaim at 7pm on Wednesday.

Also this week's book of faith puzzler is: Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, and we said goodbye to the gospel of Luke for two years.  But what is one time that we always read from Luke: a) Easter, b) Baptism of our Lord, c) Christmas d) Ash Wednesday.  Email with your answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.

Now onto the texts:

The first lesson is Isaiah 2:1-5.  Isaiah foretells of a day when there will be universal peace and swords will be turned into plows and spears into pruning hooks.  What would be a modern equivalent of turning weapons into tools?  How do you envision universal peace?

The second lesson is Romans 13:11-14.  Paul compares the advent of Christ to the coming of dawn.  How do you picture the advent of Christ?  How do you prepare for the coming of Christ both at Christmas and at the end of time?

The gospel is Matthew 24:36-44.  Jesus says that no one will know when the the Son of Man is coming.  Right now it is hard to go anywhere without seeing a countdown to Christmas (or Black Friday).  How does all the preparations for Christmas help you prepare for Jesus' birth?  How does all the preparations distract you from Jesus' birth?  

Hope you all have a delightful Thanksgiving and an anticipatory Advent. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Funerals and Baptism

Today's sermon was a first for me: I sang!  If you know me well, you know this is a huge moment.*  But when I first read today's gospel (Luke 23:33-43) I thought of the song "Jesus Remember Me", a song often sung at funerals.  Then I thought about how funerals contrast to baptism as we were having a baptism today.  So this song framed my sermon.  If you aren't familiar with this song, here is a recording. 

*Side story: about a week before I left for seminary the following conversation happened between me and my mom
mom: Bec, do you sing?
me: nope
mom: Do you chant?
me: nope
mom: do we need to get you lessons?

Enjoy the sermon:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ELW 616

The first time I really sung this hymn was when I worked as a chaplain at a nursing home and we would sing this at the monthly memorial service as we remembered residents who had died. Since then I have sung this hymn at a few funerals.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

So why am I bring up this song, that is sung at funerals when we should be celebrating? It is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Wyatt will be baptized today and yet we are singing a song sung at funeral.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

And why is the gospel today about Jesus on the cross? It is only 5 weeks until Christmas. We are having an advent festival after worship today. Shouldn’t we be thinking about Jesus in a manger? Saying prayers to “Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce new born infant Jesus, don’t ever know a word yet, just a little infant, so cuddly, but still omnipotent.” And yet here we are instead with a gospel about Jesus dying on the cross.

And Jesus is not just being put to death on the cross; he is being mocked and ridiculed. His clothes were being gambled away; he is given sour wine; the leaders, soldiers and even one of the criminals who was being crucified along side him mocked him saying that if he was the Messiah, the King of the Jews, he would be able to take himself down from the cross.

It is almost Christmas and yet we are being reminded of Good Friday. Well that is because today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, and it is a day that we remember that Christ is the King but he is not a king in ways that we expect. Christ is the King who was born in a stable and his first adorers were shepherds, mere peasants. Christ is the King who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and other known sinners. Christ is the King whose throne was a cross. Christ is the King who died a gruesome death as a mere criminal. Christ is the King whose only crown was one of thorns. Christ is the King whose kingdom is not a physical realm.

And yet we ask Christ, this non-traditional king, to have mercy on us.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

Jesus is King. Christ is King. Christ is our King because he is unexpected, because he is a mere human and yet fully God. Christ is the King who was born for all of us. Christ is the King who angels proclaimed with the words “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Christ is the King who listens to us, our troubles, our hopes, our prayers, our sorrows, our joys. Christ is the King who took is place on the cross so that we do not have to die such a death. Christ is the King who died as a criminal because he took our sins upon him. Christ is the King who was given a crown of thorns because so many could not, would not accept him for who he is and were and are unwilling to see his holiness. Christ is the King whose kingdom is here but not yet, whose kingdom is in all of us, in our hearts and minds.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

And so we pray, we beg, that Jesus remembers us when he comes into his kingdom, a kingdom that is greater than any kingdom here on earth. A kingdom that is not yet here but is also already part of who we are. A kingdom that is not like anything that we can expect.

So yes here we are, on a joyful day, the week before Thanksgiving, only a few weeks before Christmas, praying to a God who died on a cross. And here we are on a day when we celebrate Wyatt being a child of God and yet singing a song most associated with funerals and Good Friday.

And that is because today as we celebrate Wyatt’s baptism we are reminded that we too are children of God, baptized into a life with Jesus. And as Wyatt will soon be baptized into Christ the King’s life, he will also be baptized into Christ the King’s death. Wyatt’s sins will be washed away, his old self will be drown in the waters of baptism. For those of us who are baptized, our old selves have been drown, our sins have been washed away.

And yet Christ the King’s reign is here but not yet. Wyatt will still sin, he will still dishonor his parents, he will lie, he will cheat, covet and probably even steal (regardless of how well Christine and John raise him) because we all still sin. We still fall short of the glory of God. We still need Christ the King to save us from sin and death. We still need Christ the King to die on the cross for us. We still need Christ the King to come to us as an unexpected king, in unexpected places, a manger, a cross, a bowl of water, bread and wine. And Christ the King has come for us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The End is Near (a delayed sermon)

I realized as I was writing a sermon for Sunday, that I forgot to post last Sunday's sermon.  So here is it, based on Luke 21:5-19 the apocalypse, the end is near!

The world is going to end! Armageddon is upon us! The signs of the apocalypse are happening now! The rapture will happen any moment now! Doom’s day is a coming! The end is near! Judgment day is here!

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, war, famine, plagues. Jesus says that there will be signs. And yet since Jesus said these words, people have sat down and try to solve them thinking they can figure out exactly when the end of the world will happen. For the last two thousand years some people have thought they knew when the world will end.

Most of us can easily recall the fear some people had only 11 years ago, that when the clock struck midnight on January 1st 2000, the world would end. Or at least all the computers would self destruct and we would be back in the Stone Age. Programmers spent years making sure that computers could handle the change of date, people stockpiled food and water, and a few even built bomb shelters.

Others think that the world will end in 2012 because that is when the Mayan calendar ends. And I once saw a van at the Wilton Library that had a sign up on it rear windshield that Jesus is coming back May, 21 2011 (which coincidentally is my mom’s birthday, so I guess I don’t have to get her a present)

And there are plenty of websites dedicated to predicting the end of the world. Rapture Watch, Doomsday Clock, and my personal favorite Rapture Ready are just a few. At they nicely have a rapture index where they keep track of the likelihood of the rapture happening based on 45 different indicators which they update weekly. Fortunately for us, the index went down by one this last week because the category “liberalism” was downgraded due to the Republican gains in the House of Representatives. So we can all rest just a little easier.

The people who subscribe to this idea that the end is near look at things like record breaking snowfalls in the mid-Atlantic, the earthquake in Haiti, the volcano in Iceland that practically halted air travel in Europe, flooding in Pakistan, the volcano and tsunami in Indonesia and now cholera outbreaks in Haiti, all of which have happened this year alone, and think that they are signs that the world is going to end and the world is going to end soon.

And there is no reasoning with some people who have this idea in their mind. You can’t explain that natural disasters have always happened; we just didn’t have 24 hour cable news that beats stories to death in order to fill their air time.

And if you think that the world is going to end at any moment, then what is the point of living? What is the point of going to work? Of creating a home? Of making friends and other relationship? Of raising kids? Of planting a garden? What is the point of doing all these things if we are not going to be around to reap the benefits of our labors?

Well first off I don’t think Jesus is telling us here when the world is going to end, or even that it is going to end anytime soon. Instead Jesus is encouraging his follower to keep following his teachings and example even after he is gone. He is encouraging them to stay strong in their beliefs so that they are not lead astray by false prophets and false believers. And then Jesus says some remarkable that often gets overlooked because it is said in the midst of all this apocalyptic talk.

Jesus tells people that in the midst of trial, in the midst of some of the worst moments of their lives, that God is still there and you are still able to tell others about Jesus.

For the last few months at the beginning of worship I have asked you were you have seen God at in your lives. Many of the times our answers have been in some of the positive parts of our lives – through the beauty of nature, through family and friends. And it is wonderful that we see God in positive moments of our lives. But the moments that are the most powerful, the moments that strongly testify to others about God’s power is when you can see God in the midst of trial.

God is at funerals as family and friends gather to mourn their lost and support one another.

God is there in the midst and aftermath of natural disasters, in people who have never been to Haiti, Pakistan, Indonesia, donating money, food, and clothing to be sent to people they have never met and will never meet so that those people who have lost everything may not also lose their spirit.

God is there in crowded airports as planes are grounded due to volcanoes, hurricanes or snow storms and a makeshift community forms and people who would normally never talk to each other watch each others luggage so the other can go to the bathroom or get food, share internet connection so they can look up alternate travel arrangements or cell phones so they can call loved ones.

God is in the quietness of a city halting snowstorm as neighbors who have lived next to each other for years get to actually meet each other in block wide snowball fight. God is in neighbors helping each other dig out of their homes and clear their cars from mounds of snow.

Christ is in the midst of our joys and our sorrows. Christ is with us when we are so willing to follow him and helping us from being led astray by false preachers. Christ will give us the words to say when we feel like we are not able to say anything, or at least not anything meaningful. Christ is with us in peaceful times and in times of war. Christ is with us on beautiful days when there is not a cloud in the sky and in the midst of the storms. Christ is with us when we are healthy and when our bodies are ailing. Christ is with us forever.