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Well Water

Third Sunday in Lent - March 15, 2020
- Exodus 17:1-7
- Psalm 95
- Romans 5:1-11
- John 4:5-42
This was the first Sunday that we were not able to meet due to the Covid19 Virus.  

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I honestly did not expect to be here this morning.  My hope was to be attending church with my son at a place that was not Lutheran.  I wanted to see how other churches do worship.  I wanted to learn and then bring those experiences back to you.  Yet, here I am.  It appears the best laid plans are still just plans.  As of Friday, it seemed as though all necessary precautions had been put in place to gather this morning, safely, in this place.  Yet, here I am and here you are not.  

When the council met via email yesterday to discuss, the decision was ultimately made out of a hope that if we could do anything to stop the spreading the virus, we should do so.  In my letter, I quoted a letter Luther wrote in 1527 when he was faced with either fleeing the Black Plague or staying to help.  He choose to stay.  I remember reading that letter during my chaplaincy training at Reading Hospital.  It was a powerful letter then as I worked trauma calls in the middle of the night.  It is a powerful letter now as I stand in an empty church recording this message.  Do we stay or do we flee?

At this point, we cannot flee.  The virus seems to be everywhere.  So, we stay but we stay at home in order to curve the disease from spreading.  Luther talks about how he was trying to stay out of the way in order to help fight the spread of the Black Plague.  Staying for luther meant praying.  He did what the medical professionals at the time asked him to do.  He went and helped bury the dead.  He prayed with grieving families.  My brothers and sisters, this is our task.  As we stay, we do not stay home and act like it is a snow day. We stay and we go the mission of the gospel where we train and equine people to root their lives in pray and daily devotion of our Lord.  

I find it a bit ironic that the appointed reading for today has the Samaritan woman going back to the village, after her encounter with Jesus saying, “Come and see.”  We seriously just got done saying, “stay away.”  Seems almost a little too ironic.  Yet, the samaritans are already the outsiders, they are the ones who are contagious, they are the ones who should be avoided.  They have been quarantine by the rest of the Jewish world for many years.  “Many Jews would have taken a longer, ostensibly safer, route across the Jordan through the more Gentile Decapolis to avoid Samaria... That Jesus “had to go through Samaria” is, therefore, both a political expedience and a theological necessity (verse 4).  Jesus sees a group of people who need to experience and hear God’s plan for the future.  A future that we heard last week in church.  A future rooted in love.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

When I hear this verse, I often think about the Declaration of Independence, specifically that line that says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...” It took many years after these words were penned by Thomas Jefferson for the all to really mean all.  I am sure when Nicodemus heard these words from Jesus, he could not have imagined the world to mean the whole world.  Jesus not only says it, but he goes and does it.  He goes to into the world, into the forgotten places, into the quarantined places, in the forbidden places, and brings them the gospel. 

We might be forbidden to congregate in large, social gatherings, we might be stuck home from school, we might be scared and terrified—but we still are called to bring the gospel.  My wife just had a baby two weeks ago.  I am scared every day that this virus will continue to go unchecked. I am not scared of someone breaking into our house and hurting my family.  I have a dog who will give her life to stop an intruder and a baseball bat in every room of the house.  I am scared that I cannot stop this virus from hurting my family.  But I know in the midst of my fear and panic, in the midst of our fear and panic, God does not run away.  God goes into the those places, into these quarantined places and brings good news of great joy for all the world to hear.  

I want you to know that there isn’t a place God is not present.  

    • If you are sitting at home this morning, God is there.  
    • IF you are sitting in a hospital room, God is there.  
    • If you are a health care worker pulling 12, 15, 20, 24 hour shifts, God is with you.  
    • If you are stuck at home with 2 or 3 kids about ready to go insane, God is with you (and God is probably about ready to go insane with you.) 
    • If you are stuck in a lab working on a cure for this virus, God is with you. 
    • If you are a restaurant worker, barista, or someone who relies on customers coming into your work and purchasing food and you find fewer and fewer coming in, God is with you.
    • If you a student looking forward to your senior year, if you are someone who has been working in a play or another art project, if you are someone who has been looking forward to opening day, if you are someone who has been looking forward to March Madness only to become very disappointed, God is with you.  

You are invited this day, to come and see.  You are invited this day to come and see this amazing power of our God.  God’s Love is the only constant thing in this world.  The rest of the world might spinning out of control, but God’s love will not leave you. Right now, in the midst of all this fear and uncertainty, the world needs a savior.  May we be as bold as the samaritans in our proclamation and may you have the faith to trust in moments like this, that Jesus Christ is our savior.

In the name of the father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I am miserable

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17    
Psalm 51    
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10    
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21  
Ash Wednesday
February 26, 2019
I Feel Miserable
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I am not like most Christians.  I rather enjoy feeling miserable in worship.  I do not enjoy singing hymns that make me feel good inside.  I despise David Haas and Marty Haugen for their cheerful lyrics and happy melodies.  I want those hymns written in minor keys that leave you trembling  after you are done singing.  I want those German chorales where nobody knows how to sing them and when you get done singing, you look around at everyone’s faces and you see the terror in their eyes as they wonder, “What did we just sing?”  That is what I love and it is a wonder why anyone would entrust me with picking the hymns for worship. 

    Anyone remember the movie Sister Act?  There was the one scene between the nuns where they were talking about the different covenants they had lived in over the year.  

This older nun, Sister Mary Lazarus said: A progressive convent? Sounds awful. I liked my convent in Vancouver. Out in the woods. It wasn't all modern like some of these new-fangled convents. We didn't have electricity. Bare feet, cold water. They were nuns.
Sister Mary Patrick: Sounds wonderful!
Sister Mary Lazarus: It was hell on earth, I loved it. This place is a Hilton.

I am sister Mary Lazarus.  This is my time of year.  I love Lent for its somber tone, for its reflective nature, for its mournful hymns, for the way it makes me feel.  And then there are others, like my mom, who hate this time of year.  For they do not like the somber tone, they do not need the reflective nature of Lent, they hate the funeral dirges we sing, or for the way Lent might makes them feel.

    There are many who see church as a place that is suppose to give followers a positive, uplifting experience.  They see the pastor as the motivative speaker who gets ups and preaches a sermon of how you can do it if you only set your minds to it.  Well, the last time I checked, you all call me Pastor Matt.  A pastor is not a motivational speaker for good reason.  Pastors have to do things that sometime make them very unpopular and downright hard to say.  A pastor is someone who comes along side you and walks with you.  Sometimes, a pastor cannot make you feel better.  Sometimes the only thing a pastor can do is simply be with you and be that presence of God for you.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people...Actually, it happens all the time.  There are a lot of people who come to this place to bury a love one.  The church cannot always be a place that makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside because life is not always going to present us with warm and fuzzy things.  The church mirrors life and this is why we need this season of Lent.  

    For today we stop our busy lives, we come into this place that typically brings us great joy, and we trace burned palm branches onto our foreheads.  We remember our mortality and the mortality of our neighbors.  We not only hear the words, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” but we see it. We see death—we see death on the foreheads of our neighbors.  And there is no way to escape death.  Today should make us feel lousy on the inside, but it should push us to make a change.

    Last May, I was at the beach with my friends.  Pastor Jason Felici had been trying to get me to think about working on eating healthier.  I kept ignoring him but he was a good friend and never gave up.  Unintentionally, he took a picture of me holding a tray of crabs and I saw how unhealthy I had become.  I realized at that moment that I might not see my kid graduate high school if I continued eating whatever I wanted without realizes the consequences.  That photographed scared me to make a change and I stand before you 27 pounds lighter almost a year later.  I tell you this story because today has the power to make you desire a similar change.  Whether you see it on the foreheads of your neighbors or in the reflection of your own forehead, I hope these ashes propel you make a change.

    I want today to scare you.  I want you to realize that your time on earth is not eternal.  I want you to think about your mortality and the legacy you are going to leave behind.  Are you happy with where you are at in your life?  Spiritually? Professionally? Family? Notice what the psalmist says:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
   and put a new and right spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from your presence,
   and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
   and sustain in me a willing spirit.

God wants you to look in the mirror and see someone that is worth changing.  God wants you to see that you are not perfect, that you are not the best that you can be, that you need redemption, that you need Jesus’ saving, work on the cross. 

    As much as we might not enjoy this season of Lent, we need this season of Lent.  If you go through life thinking everything is great, how great you life is, feeling like you are God’s gift to humanity—you will miss the real gift given to humanity—Jesus.  So, I want you to heed our Lord’s words this day from Matthew 6:  I want to encourage you live differently this Lent by giving alms, praying, and fasting, and to no  store up treasures “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.”  I also want you to heed the words of our Lord that tell us the dangers as acting as hypocrites.  But first, understand that hypocrites are not people who pray out loud or who go church.  Hypocrites are people who go to church for political or social benefits.  Jesus is not saying we should hide away in our rooms to pray, but that we should careful and understand why we are doing these things in public, in the first place. If you are here to make yourself look good to others, then that is what hypocrites do.  But if you are here to deepen your faith and trust in God, then by all means, carry on.      

    But even after you get past that hurdle, Lent will still be hard.  So, might I suggest we turn to our children for some advice.  Over and over, Jesus talks about our right hand not knowing what our left had is doing.  What group of people do not know their left hand from their right? Our children. Depending on Thomas’ mode, he might be really excited to get ashes on his forehead or he might not want any part of it, but as his loving father, I will still bring him forward.  He is not sure why he needs his ashes but trusts me.  He trusts me enough to know that this is the best thing for him.  Thomas might not want to pray before bed, but we still do it.  I want you to come forward unsure but with that same kind of trust that Thomas has for me—God will not fail you or hurt you. And you already made that first step.  You are here in this place.  The Holy Spirit has led you to this place for a reason.  

    You have come here for a reason.  See this time,  this moment, this season of Lent as a second chance and may the Holy Spirit be with you as the Holy Spirit is with us now.  May the journey treat you well, and may your heart be forever renewed, refreshed, and cleaned this Lent.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Meeting Place

Exodus 24:12-18    
Psalm 2     
2 Peter 1:16-21     
Matthew 17:1-9    
Transfiguration of our Lord
February 23, 2020
The Meeting Place
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    The Transfiguration of our Lord occurs every single year.  Well, yeah Pastor.  Thanks for pointing out the obvious.  Glad that seminary education worked out for you.   But The transfiguration wasn't always the last Sunday before Lent.  I mean, its been 500 years, but for a group of people who don't like change, some of us are still dealing with the move. And It wasn't always a holiday.  The Western churches have only seen it as a feast day since the 9th century and the eastern churches started celebrating the feast day in the fourth century. And the Eastern Calendar places Transfiguration on August 6.  And if I am not mistaken, our Catholic brothers and sisters do no celebrate Transfiguration on the last Sunday before Lent.

     It was Luther who argued that it be celebrated on the last Sunday in Epiphany.  It has been placed on this Sunday for as long as any of us can remember and it really serves as a nice book holder for the season of Epiphany.  You start with the Baptism of our Lord (White) and then end with the Transfiguration (White).  We will also start with a Mountain here and end with Jesus Ascending off another mountain.  Its all very symmetrical.  Makes the Liturgical OCD people like me happy.

    So the challenge, my brothers and sisters, with a feast day that we remember every year, how do you not get stuck in a preaching rut?  Because it is very easy.  I've often said that the hardest days to preach are Christmas and Easter.  The easier, more fun days to preach are during ordinary time with the parables and weird stories (and of course attendance is always low on the days when I preach my best sermons).   I am sure you have all heard the sermon about Jesus coming down off the mountain to be with us.  I think I have preached that sermon many times over and I have definitely heard it many times too.  So, how does one get out of this preach rut? 

    What is speaking to you in this text?  What stands out?  See, when I read the Bible, I look for the weird things.  Weird things are usually the place where God is present.  So, what's weird? Jesus turning dazzling white?  Strange, yes.  Weird, not so much.  I mean, Jesus is God.  He can do some pretty amazing things.  Feed 5000 people, let the lame walk, dumb speak, leapers made clean...Bleaching his clothes (literally, that is what the Greek Word means), you can bleach your clothes at home. This is not that weird of a thing.  It is a pretty cool thing but not weird, and this sermon has been done before.  

    What else? Moses and Elijah appear.  Strange.  I mean, how did they know it was Moses and Elijah.  Peter, James and John never met the two guys.  I have often wondered if maybe they were holding up name plaques or maybe when they appeared, they introduced themselves to the three disciples.  Strange that they have appeared?  Yes, but according to Biblical tradition, Elijah would appear at the end of the age so it is not out of the realm of possibilities for him to show up.  Moses showing up? Strange but don't forget that Moses is one of most important prophets of the Hebrew Bible.  

    Not only that but think about what we have just heard the past couple weeks about the importance of the law and heeding the words of the prophets.  We shouldn't be shocked to see these two guys are here because Jesus sounds a lot like Elijah as a prophet and Jesus said in Matthew, "I did not come to abolish the law, but fulfill it."  These two guys present might be a little strange, but certainly not weird.  

    You know what is weird?  What are the first three words on our gospel pericope..."six days later..."  That's weird.  Maybe you are thinking I have lost my mind.  The stress of ministry has become to great.  "Pastor has not slept for six days..." "Six days later is not a strange phrase, pastor."  It was just Matthew telling us where they are at; giving us details to the story.  But ask yourself this, why do we need to know this? And when else have you heard six days used in the Bible?  It is rare.  We hear "Three days later..." all the time.  14 days is popular because you take 7 x 2 and you get 14.  And speaking of 7 days...the first story in the Bible.  But "six days later..." 

    I can probably count on one hand how many times that phrase is used in the Bible. Moses was on the mountain in the presence of God for six days before God spoke and gave him the law.  Six days of Creation.  After God created all these things Sunday-Friday, God calls them good.  And notice what Peter says to Jesus...Lord, it is GOOD for us to be here.  But as you all know, the sixth day is not the end of the story of Creation.  God rests on the seventh day.  Ask yourself this, “Is the transfiguration the end of the story?  Are we only left with Shiney Jesus?”

    No, Jesus comes off the mountain, cures a boy with a demon and and then points himself to Jerusalem.  This moment is not THE moment.  This is not the end.  This is only preparing us for what is to come.  

    Salvation comes on the seventh day.  When the people were in Egypt, God delivered them on the seventh day.  The deliverance from Egypt was a salvific act.  That is the justification given by God to rest on the Sabbath.  Not only because God rested on the Sabbath but because God delivered the Israelites from the hands of their captors.  What is Jesus going to do for us on the sixth day in just a few chapter from now?  On that fateful friday... Matthew is doing something here that is very subtle and weird, and he does it by simply giving us four, insignificant words that we so often over look, "on the sixth day."

    God speaks in the same way.  Using insignificant words, insignificant people, an insignificant time in the church year to speak to you and reveal this incredible glimpse of how God is going to save the world and it will happen on the sixth day in just a few shorts weeks.

    But the journey we are about to embark on isn't going to be easy.  You will see things that will not make you feel happy or comfortable in Lent.  We will have our sin called out.  We will betray our friend and savior.  So, take the advice given by God to the disciples:  "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" "The disciples are still trying to figure out how all of Christ’s story fits together. 
  • What is he talking about with all of the stuff about the cross? 
  • Where is he going and why is he talking about leaving us, etc.? 
  • The disciples have no way of knowing what their futures will hold beyond this point, but God has said, “Listen to my Son.” 
I think about the trek back down the mountain following this experience, of how the the disciples simply following their friend—Jesus, putting one foot in front of the other. Is that not what the Christian experience is all about? The only way we find God’s will for us in the world is to listen to Christ. To put one foot in front of the other as we follow along. For it is only through taking that ‘next step’ that we will ever know what our God has in store for us. Keep taking that next step."

    My brothers and sisters, keeping putting one foot in front of the other this Lent.  As you come off this mountaintop today, it will get rough.  It will get scary.  I mean, on Wednesday we are going to trace ashes on your forehead and remind you of your mortality.  Remember what you have seen and heard today and just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before you know it, you will meet Jesus on a different mountain.  Still bearing the wounds of his crucifixion, not angry at his followers for abandoning him.  Blessing us and delivering one last promise before his Ascension into Heaven—"And remember, I am with you always, even till the end of the age."

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Choosing Death

Deuteronomy 30:15-20    
Psalm 119:1-8    
1 Corinthians 3:1-9    
Matthew 5:21-37    
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 16, 2020
Choosing Death
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    When I was in seminary, we were told about this retired professor who, when he was teaching, from time to time would hold up his left arm and leave it in the air.  The students asked him what he was doing.  He said, "I was drowning in the law so I decided to save my watch."  I am guilty of many of these sermons.  It is so easy to talk about what we should do instead of talking about what God has done for us because we can measure our work, our participation, our commitment.  You can’t measure God.  I cringe when I go back and re-read an old sermon from my early years in ministry. Demanding that a congregation do something for some group of people and very rarely mention anything concrete about God or Jesus' work on the cross.  

    I probably still do this from time to time because it is so easy.  Its a trap.  We all do it.  I know a lot who think that the markings of a successful church are that of our social justice ministries, lots building campaigns, lots of programs, lots of this and that.  People want to see the calendar filled with activities each night of the week.  People want their to see their pastors acting as community activist while also doing all the other things that pastors do.  I just filled out the parochial reports to the ELCA.  Not one single question involved visiting shutins, teaching the faith, preaching the word, administering the sacraments.  These are all constitutional obligations for the pastor—these jobs are in my job description.  But the ELCA was not concerned about any of these things.  Nothing.  They wanted to know what community engagement programs I/we had led this past year in regards to Education and conversation around issues impacting communities, whether we have sent Letters or made phone calls to elected decision-makers, or if we have held Voter registration drive, or Participated in any regional/national advocacy network. Even the larger church is caught up in this craze of constantly feeling the need to do more while neglecting the chief functions of the church—that is preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, and the gathering of the community of saints.  The more we raise our expectations of congregations to do, the more we are going to be disappointed because we can't be all the things that the world expects us to be.

    How many of you feel disappointed by St. John's?  Or by me? Do you feel like like I am not doing enough to bring more members into the church?  That we are not doing enough to support your faith?  That this congregation is going to hell in a hand basket because of my leadership or because we do not resemble what we use to be? Do you longingly look at other churches in the area and wish we could be like them? Do you feel we need to do more things; be more things to people than we were ever once before?  We are so concerned about saving the world, about being like everyone else that we forget the world has already been saved and that Jesus is calling us to live differently from everyone else. 

    The law is easy to preach because the law gives us the power; gives us the control.  The gospel though, that is what we need to hear because it tells the truth. We need to hear that "Jesus’ preaching is not characterized by easy aphorisms but by a faithful recalling of and reinvestment in ancient, trustworthy tradition. That such a tradition is trustworthy to Jesus precisely because these commandments are voiced by God." I think, so often, we are searching up and down for the next best thing to radically change our congregation to be something else that we completely miss the radical change from the ordinary that Jesus is proposing in this sermon.  He is not calling for us to throw the baby out with the bath water, but rather to embrace centuries of traditions rooted in the prophets and God's word.  

    Jesus identifies the Law as trustworthy and true.  Jesus quotes the law.  But pastor, you just spent two pages talking about how the law is bad.  What is it? Well, we know that  faithful people look to the law for guidance.  They look at the Ten Commandments as a model for how to live and they also realize whenever they try to keep these things, they fall short every time.  That is why Luther included the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism.  Luther says in each of his explanations, “we are to fear and love God...” How do faithful people act?  Answer We fear and love God... What does faith in God look like?  The fear and love of God...the commandments are more than just rules, busywork from God.

    Jesus, in his sermon, is calling his followers to not replace the commandments, but to intensify them.  "Jesus here calls his listeners not to avoid these calls to righteousness but to dig that much more into them, to align our lives that much more with the abiding divine values these commandments communicate, to commit ourselves to the transformative power of God’s law and commandments."  Luther does this in the small Catechism in his explanation of each commandment.  In the fourth commandment, Honor your Father and Mother, Luther takes it beyond respect for your parents, but respect for all those in authority: "We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them." The commandment is not just about our parents but all those in authority. Or in the fifth commandment, You Shall Not Murder, Luther says, "We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs." Most people can say they have never murdered someone.  None of us can say that we have never helped and supported the life needs of those around us.  

    But remember I said Jesus is seeking for us to intensify our belief.  The next step for Jesus is the process of reconcilation; we must be willing to seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.  "Reconciliation is a prerequisite for coming before God at the altar. That is...broken relationships among neighbors, family, and friends are not just social obstacles among us but a barometer for our relationship to God too."  It is why, before we come before the altar for Holy Communion, that we say, “Peace be with you.”  This time of sharing peace has power.  It is more than just half-time in church.  We are to go and make peace with each other.  For if we do not, it could have dire results for us and our neighbors.  You all know I do not like giving hugs.  Sharing the peace is one of the most dreaded times for me in the liturgy, yet I fight to keep it in the liturgy because of our Lord's words here in Matthew 5.  It is vital that we live differently—it is vital for us intensify the power of the law.  For when we intensify the law, we are going to see that we really have a hard time keeping the commandments and therefore are going to need lots and lots of forgiveness.  Reconciliation is itself a way to draw nearer to the God who calls us to righteousness.  A community that forgives its members resembles how God interacts with humanity.

    What kind of reconciliation is Jesus exhorting in our midst today? Jesus, through this sermon on the mount, "is trying to  construction of a particular kind of community, one organized around love and not power." A community that centers on the deep commitments God’s children make to one another. Such trust, such commitment is not born of human will but of God’s gift as reflected in “the throne of God,” God’s “footstool,” and “the city of the great King” (verses 34-35). Indeed, Jesus implies, only God can “make one hair white or black” (verse 36). Only God’s call makes possible such belonging." 

    In the end, to what are these commandments calling us? 
  • Not to a checklist of morality but to a flourishing of life. 
  • Not to a baseline of decency but to an embodied, relational, transformative encounter with all whom we meet. 
  • Not to a sufficient set of hurdles for righteousness but to a path of wholeness with creature and creator alike. 
Jesus makes these calls not over against the traditions of Israel, not in upturning the law and prophets but precisely in reveling in the witness to God’s righteousness, of God’s faithfulness to the people, preserved therein."  

    All these years later from sitting in my preaching class at Gettysburg Seminary, I find myself demanding my listeners to do something once again.  But this time, I am not demanding that we do more, that we strive be everything to everyone, that we become a social justice organization with sacraments, or that forget the second use of the law. Rather, I am demanding that strive to live differently by intensifying our praying for God to send us the Holy Spirit to make this reality Jesus is imagining, our new reality.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Pass the Salt

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]    
Psalm 112:1-9 [10]     
1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]    
Matthew 5:13-20    
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9, 2020
Pass the Salt
Enjoy these two sermons.  The first one is from Pastor Diane when she preached at St. John's in our quarterly pulpit Exchange.  The other one is from Pastor Matt and his sermon at St. Thomas.  Enjoy!

They Lost Jesus

Malachi 3:1-4    
Psalm 84     
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40    
Presentation of our Lord
February 2, 2020
They Lost Jesus
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    We are going back in time today.  After nearly four weeks of remembering Jesus as an adult, we are going to remember Jesus as an infant.  An infant not more than a month old, traveling from their home to Jerusalem to visit the temple to do two things:  the rite of purification for Mary and the dedication of Jesus to God.  The early part of Jesus’ life was steeped in the law. Eight days after his birth, Mary and Joseph had their son circumcised as required by the law and he was given the name Jesus, as the angel Gabriel had directed Mary to do so.  
    32 days after this law-abiding act, Mary and Joseph are once again fulfilling the law of Moses.  I cannot imagine traveling by foot from Nazareth or Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  It probably took five days.  Five days.  Five days up.  Five days back.  But the law of Moses is clear.  

Numbers 3:13
for all the firstborn are mine; when I killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both human and animal; they shall be mine. I am the Lord.

Exodus 13:2
Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.

To anyone who claims Jesus was all for throwing out the law as rubbish, point them to this text in Luke 2.  Jesus was brought up in respect for the law and the intent of the law.  "The tension Jesus has with the Law is never that of an outsider, but as one who has faithfully observed the divine expectations. Practices of the law that subvert God's command to love are unacceptable requirements. Those practices are what Jesus calls out. And Jesus is not anti-Temple. Rather, Luke envisions a temple open to all that seek the presence of God, distinguishing between pausing to worship and honor God from practices that oppress and dishonor others."

    Luke is giving us the proper way to observe the law and regard the temple. The reason Jesus is to be dedicated is because all things come from God and are but a gift to us.  By offering Jesus back to God, his parents acknowledge the amazing gift that God had given to them, to us.  Luke "portrays the one who redeems the world himself—the firstborn of Israel—as redeemed before God, serving as the new paschal lamb."  But, Jesus could never serve in this role as the paschal lamb without first knowing who this God is and what things this God expects.  He learns all this from his parent’s example of following the law and being faithful to God’s word. 

    Mary and Joseph set Jesus up on the right track that will lead him to one day be the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. They taught him the importance of being faithful to ways of God.  As Luke says, "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him."  Jesus becomes the man he is because of the two people who he called may'-tare and abba, mom and dad.  This little child who they hold in their hands will one day be held by a cross for the salvation of the world.  One day this little baby would forever change the direction of humanity.  One day this little baby will not be so little any more. He will lead a movement of followers back to God; back to the true ways of our Father in heaven becoming the light of the world.

    Mary and Joseph knew their child was special.  Mary spoke with the angel.  I am sure she shared this experience with her husband.  I mean, if Luke heard the story of Gabriel and Mary, I can't imagine Jospeh would not have heard it as well.  At the very least, he probably heard the song, "Mary did you know..."  Yes...she knew...the angel told her already...
    Mary and Joseph know Jesus is special, but hearing Simeon and Anna confirm their faith had to be something.  I'm not sure how I would have react to two strangers walking up to me after traveling 5 days by foot with a one-month-old infant.  I am not sure how Diane would react to being told by Simeon that a "a sword will pierce your own soul too."  What does that even mean?  Of course, we know what it means.  We know the whole story.  Would any of us want to hear that you would witness your first born son killed on a cross?  Yet Mary does not push him away.  Instead she listens to his words.  She listens to the priest Simeon proclaim:

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

The Prophet Anna's, who sat in the temple day and night, fasting and praying to the Lord, upon seeing the Baby Jesus recognize that God had acted.  That God had indeed done a wonderful thing.  That God was present.  Upon witnessing the Lord, they both proclaimed him with joy and this beautiful hymn of praise to God became the cornerstone, of sorts, to our Liturgy. 

    It is why we sing the nunc dimittis, the song of Simeon, at the end of our Eucharistic feast.  For we have seen the Lord as Simeon saw him.  In the bread and wine, Christ is present, and we sing with joy at the ability to just glimpse our Lord for but a moment.  But we also see the Lord in the beggar on the street.  In the homeless person.  In the last, the lost, the least, the little, the lifeless.  How many of us sing with the same joy as Simeon and Anna at Christ's presence in those individuals?  We are all guilty of this.  And Jesus was not always welcomed in the same way that Simeon and Anna welcomed him.  He was killed on a cross.  His own disciples deserted him—one even denied knowing him.  Nobody is exempt from turning their back of Jesus. Nobody. So maybe, in some ways, God put Simeon and Anna in this place to set an example for us. For it is much easier to accept the sweet, little baby Jesus.  The adult version says and does things that make us all uncomfortable at times.  With a little practice, a little prayer maybe we could get better at accepting the adult side of Jesus.

    Jesus doesn't call the perfect.  Simeon and Anna were not perfect.  Jesus calls and redeems the sinners and as sinners, we look to Simeon and Anna's actions as examples to live by.  "Simeon testifies to the faithfulness of God. At the sight of the child, at the mere beginning to God’s arrival through the form of the promised one, it stirs from within Simeon a song born of the peace in knowing that God will indeed bring glory to the people, Israel, and provide "a light of revelation to the Gentiles." And Anna sings for joy because she realizes that during her life time, she would able to witness God bring redemption to Jerusalem through this blessed child.  May we strive to do the same.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Who is Jesus: Part 37

Isaiah 9:1-4    
Psalm 27:1, 4-9     
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 
Matthew 4:12-23    
3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
January 26, 2020
Who is Jesus: Part 37
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    I read two articles this week that I thought were from the Babylonian Bee, a satire news site that usually has a bunch of funny fake Christian Articles.  Only these articles were not fake.  They were real.  "Cool Tennessee “Pastor” Gets Annoyed, Kicks Mom and Baby out of Church."  Let me read you a little bit of the article:  

"Two of the biggest problems with nondenominational, megachurch-style pop worship is that the pastor, who usually functions as a self-appointed pseudo-bishop, often has an inflated sense of self-importance. He and the house cover band are the stars of the show, and aim to give their congregation audience the best entertainment their dollars can buy. United Church in Gallatin, TN is an aspiring megachurch pastored by Dan Smith. Apparently as Danny Boy began his sermon this past Sunday, there was a child who made a noise, described by witnesses as little more than a peep."

Apparently the pastor forgot the passage from the gospel that say, "Let the little children come to me."  The pastor apparently didn't want to ruin the experience of, and I quote from the pastor himself, "300 people because of a crying child. That’s why we have TVs in the outside, that’s why we have a nursery."  Apparently what Jesus meant when he said, "Follow me"  was to really just keep our mouths shut and not to disturb anyone else's faith experience.
   The other article was about a church in Minnesota that was asking its older members to stay away for a few months so that they can attract new, younger members.  CNN did a follow up on the story and report that Dan Wetterstrom, lead pastor of Grove United Methodist Church, never said Older members weren't asked to leave:

"They were requested to move to an alternative worship for 15 to 18 months during this transition time but they were never asked to stay away for two years." 

I don’t know about you but that sounds a lot like asking the older members to stay away.

"For 70-year-old Bill Gackstetter, who has been a member of the congregation for about 10 years, the message was that only young families were wanted. He said the note he received said that the campus would be "going dark" and its current parishioners, many of whom are older, were "no longer allowed to go there." "I just couldn't believe it," he told CNN."

Yet again, the words from Jesus were simply, "Follow me." Jesus did not say "Follow me if you fall within the 18-30 young adult bracket." Church is one of the few places left in the world that are intergenerational.  Schools are not intergenerational.  Some workplaces are but not like church.  Don't get me wrong, I love young families in church.  I do.  I really do.  But I also love 40 year olds, 50 year olds, 60, 70, 80, and the 90 year olds.  I love people of all ages. The health of any congregation is not determined by the average age but by the spiritual practices.  I seriously would be lost if it were not for you all who watch Thomas. He has like 15 grandparents in each of our congregations.  I love visiting our shut-ins.  I love going to the hospital when a little Baby has been born.  I grew up going to mostly older congregations and I am here today not because I went to some hip church, but because people were faithful to the gospel and their faithfulness inspired something within me.  They nurtured my faith.  They allow me to make mistakes and say stupid things.  They were an amazing group of people who happened to be a bit older.  There is nothing wrong with having both older adults and younger adults in a congregation.  Actually, it is quiet good to have a good mix because a church is a place where the sacraments are administered, the gospel is preached, and the saints (of all ages, races, and creeds) worship together.  

    So, when I hear people say, "we need more younger families." My reply is always, "No, we need more people."  And not more people to pay the bills.  We need more people because the gospel is so powerful, so important, that we cannot stay silent one second more.  I mean, that is what happened with Jesus.  Reports of John's arrests were heard by Jesus, and Jesus doesn't just sit around and wait on God to save John.  Jesus picks up exactly were John left off.  Preaching the same message of John: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 

    And as he goes up the coast, he meets some fishermen.  Simon and Andrew.  He says, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." And Immediately they leave their nets behind.  Later on, Jesus meets James and John in the boat with their father.  Jesus says, "Follow me" and they leave their father behind.  Most often, we talk about how Jesus called fishermen.  We like to focus on his aspect of the story because it has some great sermon illustrations.  However, in the world behind the text, we often forget that Rabbis at this time did not go around looking for students.  Rather, the students applied to the Rabbi.  The more prestigious of a Rabbi, the more students applied.  Jesus does not have them apply.  In fact, he does the asking.  "Jesus comes to Simon and Andrew; they do not come to him. He sees them; they do not see him.  He speaks; they do not."

    Jesus's call to these new disciples is both command and promise.  Follow me is the command and we understand that really well.  "I will make you fish for people" is a bit confusing.  At the time, the fishing narrative was not all that uncommon for both the Jewish religion and other pagan religions.  I think the point of this phrase is that Jesus is wishing to call us to a new life and to participate in God's own saving work. The very end of the gospel is that of Jesus sending his followers out to baptize people of all nations.  All of us are active participants in God's saving work.  Not just Jesus.  We all play a part, an active role and it starts by following Jesus.

    And without a question, without a hesitation, without a though, the fishermen leave heir nets and follow Jesus.  "In the Matthewan story, these men have never seen Jesus before, have seen no miracles, heard no teachings.  No explanation has been given to them.  They are not told why they should follow Jesus, what following will mean, or where the path will lead them."  That unto itself is a miracle.  The first miracle in Matthew's gospel involves discipleship.  In some ways, when ever anyone follows Jesus, it is a miracle.  The word of God is so powerful that it causes people to leave everything behind and follow a complete stranger.  The messianic community comes into being in response to Christ's own word. And we continue to exist because of this response. 

    We are called to follow Jesus.  You are not called to follow me or other church leaders. We are baptized into the name of Christ, not my name or anyone’s else.  You are called to follow Jesus.  And we continue to exist not because of a mere Mortal word but in response to Christ's word to follow him.  We exist to be a place where disciples of all ages, nationalities, and creeds can come together and be nurtured in the word of God.  You do not have to be young or old, rich or poor, black or white to be a part of this or any community of faith.  And communities of faith need to have their priorities straight.  Keep the lights on is not the first priority.  Caring for the souls of all who come into this community is our top priority.  Ensuring that we are a community ground in the worship of the triune God, that we are teaching good spiritual practices, and that we are actually doing these teachings is way more important than concern for property or entertainment.  

    The church meet for many years in caves.  They did this vital and holy work.  Most of these communities have cease to exist but their legacy continues through congregations like ours because the word of God is all that matters.  We exist solely in response to Jesus' word to follow him. May we not forget that because the moment we do, we are no better than the pastor who kicked out a mother and child because the child interrupted his sermon and his congregations entertainment.  We are no better than a church who kicks out older members in the hopes of attracting younger families.  We exist to create followers of Jesus.  We exist to nurture the faith of fellow Christians.  May we not forget that sometimes the greatest miracle of them all is someone who simply follows Jesus.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Who is Jesus: Part 36

Isaiah 42:1-9    
Psalm 29     
Acts 10:34-43     
Matthew 3:13-1    
The Baptism of our Lord
January 5, 2020
Who is Jesus: Part 36
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    "According to Matthew, Jesus has been through a lot since making his journey to from heaven to Bethlehem. He was almost killed by a deranged tyrant (Matthew 2:16). He had to travel hundreds of miles to Egypt and live as a refugee there (2:13). His parents could not return to their paternal birthplace because even the new ruler of Judea had some surly insecurity issues (2:23).  Now, a few decades later Jesus travels from this place, Galilee, to be baptized by John in the Jordan."  And what profound word does God use to mark this very public and grand occasion? What does the great creator of the heavens and the earth say on the day of this important event in the life of humanity and creation?  What does God say here? eudok─ôsa
1) it seems good, is one's good pleasure 1a) think it good, to be well pleased with, take pleasure in, or my favorite: Very well, content.  God says of Jesus, “With whom I am well content.“

    I don't know.  I expect more from the great creator of the universe.  I expect God to give us some amazing insight into what was just witnessed by the people gathered along the Jordan.  God is marking Jesus as his chosen one.  God has split open the heavens.  The Spirit descends down like a dove as he comes up from the water.  I also imagine Jesus' hair to be like that in those shower commercials.  Water flying back making a halo of sorts and it all happening, of course, in very slow motion.  I feel like this text beautifully describes the modern Christian's view of Jesus’ baptism.  This momentous, joyous occasion is happening in front of us and are just like, "content."

    As I said last week, the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord use to be seen as the second holiest day in the church.  Now, because it often falls during the week, we have a hard time making time to celebrate the feast.  And I understand.  It is one more thing to add to a very busy week.  Last week, I was so happy to not have choir on Wednesday because it meant I could stay home one night and Thomas is not in any sports or other activities yet. Before Christmas, it seemed like every night Diane or I had something each night.  Hearing Thomas cry and hold onto each of us as we walk out the door was hard, so one more thing to do in an already crazy and hectic schedule is hard to ask, especially when the church has not done a very good job at explaining why these feast days are holy and important.  We have not done a good job and in fact, I think the church has gotten lazy and that is why days like this are not taken seriously by Christians anymore.  It is why, i believe, church attendance is down. It is not because we do not make each Sunday as special as Christmas and Easter, it is because we can not communicate the importance of each day, each Sunday, as a holy gift from God. We have gotten lazy over the years.  We expect people to come to church, but don't explain why it is important or how being here matters beyond checking off the attendance box.  

    At Table Talk this week, we were discussing the 10 commandments.  The third commandment—"Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy"—is much more than just a requirement for church attendance.  Luther, in his large catechism discussion, lashes out against fanatical Sabbath-keeping, but Luther is not giving people a get-out-of-church-free-card.  "We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it."  God's word is holy and there should be no reason to willingly want to avoid it.  But in the same way, pastors need to make time to hone their craft of preaching.  Tim Wengert in his book on the Small Catechism writes, "God wants people to come together precisely to hear this word that frees us from work.  Of course, this means that the biggest Sabbath breakers, in the Large Catechism's view, may be found not simply among those who lie dead drunk in the taverns on Sunday morning (or not so drunk at sporting events, in fishing boats, or God know where else), but precisely among those preachers whose sermons are paeans to the law and legalism AND among those hearers who listen to a year's worth of good sermons with no appreciable effect!"  Pastors have a responsibility to preach a decent sermon every once in a while so that church doesn't feel like prison and followers of Jesus have a responsibility to be appreciate the holiness of these sermons from time to time.  

    So why, after 2000 years, should you care about this day in the church year?  I was listening to a podcast this week on the lectionary text and Matt Skinner was talking about his experience at the Jordan River on this feast day.  It appears that nobody in the travel agency looked at a Liturgical calendar or googled the importance of this feast day for the Eastern Church. In the Coptic and Orthodox church, this day is highly celebrated.  It is celebrated more than Christmas.  On both sides of the river, different masses in Aramaic were being said. The head bishop of the Coptic church had traveled all the way up from Egypt.  It was sheer chaos as thousands of Christians made a pilgrimage to travel to the place where Jesus was said to have been baptized.  

    And we are not even sure where it took place.  There are like three or four locations where it was said to have happened, yet thousands of people will make this pilgrimage at the end of the month, make this pilgrimage every, single day, to see the place where the heavens were torn apart, the spirit of God descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven declares God's contentment, God's joy over this most holy occasion. 

    "On the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Church proclaims our faith in the most sublime mystery, incomprehensible to human intellect, of one God in three Persons. It teaches us to confess and glorify the Holy Trinity, one in Essence and Undivided. It exposes and overthrows the errors of ancient teachings which attempted to explain the Creator of the world by reason, and in human terms. The Church shows the necessity of Baptism for believers in Christ, and it inspires us with a sense of deep gratitude for the illumination and purification of our sinful nature. The Church teaches that our salvation and cleansing from sin is possible only by the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, therefore it is necessary to preserve worthily these gifts of the grace of holy Baptism, keeping clean this priceless garb, for “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27)."  We remember this day and we will continue to remember this day until his return because of the great joy this event has for humanity.  This is the day, the moment, where the Christ not just becomes commissioned, but known/authenticated as God's son. That Jesus is now where God's promises are being fully revealed. 

    And in a day and age where cable tv news is on 24 hours a day, social media apps take up all our attention, where we bounce from one thing to the next—it is important to hear year after year that Jesus is where God's promises are fully revealed. We keep searching for the next best thing.  We keep searching for that special something to make us happy, rich, successful.  We keep searching for God in all the wrong places.  Yet, it is here in this font, at this table, in these holy word from scripture, in this blessed community of saints that God is present, that heavens are torn open week after week, the holy spirit descends on us like a dove, and God reveals for us a little bit more of this blessed age to come.  

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus Loves the Weird Ones

Isaiah 60:1-6    
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14     
Ephesians 3:1-12     
Matthew 2:1-12    
The Epiphany of our Lord
January 5, 2020
Jesus loves the weird ones.
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Tradition has it that the season of Christmas shall last 12 days and on the evening of the 12th day of Christmas, the church moves from the season of Christmas to the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord.  Once seen as the the second holiest day of the church year, Epiphany is now almost forgotten because it is a moveable holiday.  It falls the most often during the week and most churches rarely have a special liturgy to commemorate the Epiphany.  Some churches just skip it all together.  Some churches are doing as we are doing and moving the the feast day from the 6th to the second Sunday in Christmas, but then you miss out on the Second Sunday in Christmas.  And then there is the rest of the world where they are already peddling Valentines Day and St. Patrick Day stuff.  Christmas is not over for another few hours so I think on this day, the 12th day of Christmas, we remember Nativity of Lord from the perspective of St. Matthew.

    St. Matthew has one of the most boring of the birth narratives.  You have Mary telling Joseph that she is pregnant.  Joseph decides to dismiss her quietly because he is a righteous man and that is what righteous people are suppose to do. Then Joseph has a dream and is told it is okay to take Mary as his wife.  She bears a son and they name him Jesus/Emmanuel, but in the in-between time of the dream and the birth, Joseph and Mary have no Marital relations.  That is it.  There is no trip to Bethlehem. In fact it appears Mary and Jospeh are already living in Bethlehem.  There is no stable, no shepherds, no sleeping in a stable, just Magi.

    People from the east coming to see Jesus.  They stopped in Jerusalem searching for the new born king, but instead meet a man who is terrified of being replaced as King.  Their encounter in Jerusalem shows us that the insiders who are suppose to know about Jesus and the messiah know nothing of his arrival.  About a month ago, my parents took us all to Lancaster to see the Miracle of Christmas.  In it, they portray all the characters as understanding what exactly was going on, but our scriptures tell us that nobody had a clue.  According to Matthew, Herod had to send his scholars to search through scriptures to find this very obscure prophecy in Micah 5:2, but it was the best passage that they could find that mentioned a Jewish savior/king and a town.  The Jewish King uses this information to create a plan to destroy this king.  The outsiders, the magi/astronomers/palm readers, though, use this information to continue their search for the savior of the world so that they might worship him.  They understand who Jesus is suppose to be.  The insiders have no clue.  
   And so the magi go to Bethlehem and present Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  What is not written is the wise women coming in after the wisemen leave with more practical gifts of diapers, a casserole, and some wine for mom.  These outsiders travel a great distance to visit the home Jesus.  They bring him strange but elaborate gifts, and they return back home to their countries.  They traveled over two years to see Jesus and then have to travel two years back home, but God warns them not to return to Jerusalem.  Herod figures out that he has been duped by the magi and sends his men to kill all the boys 2 years and under in Bethlehem.  It seems Matthew's gospel takes a very strange turn in his recount of the Birth of Jesus.  

    None of us like to think about this part of the Christmas story.  We bury it, ignore it, but yet it still remains.  Innocent children lost their lives because the so-called Jewish King was a coward and was scared of being replaced.  Had Herod even read his Bible, he would have remembered that another king in Egypt attempted to do something similar a long time ago and it didn't end well for him or his son.  I, myself, feel very uncomfortable with this part of the gospel.  Just yesterday, sitting at an ordination as we were singing I was there to hear your burning cry, I had a hard time singing that final verse:

When the evening gently closes in 
and you shut your weary eyes, 
I’ll be there as I have always been, 
with just one more surprise.

    As I hold my now 2 and a half year old son, I can't imagine a king killing him in order to protect this throne.  Yet, I feel compelled each year to hear this part of the birth of Jesus because I know the reality for most people after Christmas is that we find ourselves in similar situations of weeping and mourning.  One commentator says it best:

As a general theme, life after Christmas is not all that sweet. Following the birth there is anger and murder, weeping and wailing, moving and resettling. After our wonderful Christmas celebrations we are again confronted with the fact that the kingdom has not fully arrived. The "peace on earth" sung by the angels at Jesus' birth (in Luke), is followed by death and destruction, suffering and evil (according to Matthew's account).

The coming of God is not good news for the tyrants who will be throned down from their thrones.  On this, the 12th day of Christmas, it is good for us to remember that Christmas did not necessarily bring peace, it did not wonderment and amazement, it did not bring happiness to all people.  What Christmas brought to us is Jesus who is God with us.  Who is God for us.  Who is God near us.  Who is God.  Having God come into our world does not mean all the bad and evil things were taken away. No, no, no.  Having God come into our world means we have someone to lean on, to be with, to feel our pain and our fear.  Having God come into our world means the fear brought by tyrants will one day be no more and though their might be weeping and wailing and loud lamentations following the birth, our God stays with us.

    Life after Christmas is not all that sweet, but what this story also teaches us is that you can't chase our Lord away for long.  Yes, he might have fled to Egypt as a refugee, but he came back.  I mean, that is the story of our Lord. How many times did Jesus barely escape an angry mob in the Bible.  Or what about the cross, those tyrants tried to get rid of Jesus once and for all.  They crucified him, threw him in a tomb to let his body rot away, but he came back.

    Jesus is Emmanuel—God with us.  It doesn't matter what this world threw at him, Jesus came back.  And today, even when we try to push Jesus away, Jesus comes back into our sorrow, into our joy, into our fears, into our hopes and brings us a different word, a different message.  Our God brings us the final word—Emmanuel.  Our God lives, my brothers and sisters and on this day when we remember those innocent lives lost to the hands of Herod, we also should remember all those innocent lives lost as the hands of tyrants and evil and we stand here in our grief and pain over the loss of such innocence and we say, “no more.” We preach this powerful gospel that tells us that people like Herod will not prevail and they will be brought to justice.  Let us remember on this 12th day of Christmas, the day we remember the Magi/the strange visitors from east, let us remember on this day the sacrifice of the innocent children in Bethlehem—even though their names have been lost to time let us not forget them.  For they join us in this great cloud of witnesses that surround us each week.  Let us not forget them by working to make sure genocides and atrocities like that in Bethlehem will be no more.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen

A Not So Silent Night

Isaiah 9:2-7    
Psalm 96     
Titus 2:11-14     
Luke 2:1-20    
Christmas Eve (11pm)
December 24, 2019
A Not So Silent Night
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

    Some of you are well aware of the events that led up to this evening's worship.  Yesterday, a chemical spill at the Water Treatment plant on John Street shut down all of downtown Martinsburg.  The Mustard Seed was evacuated.  My child care for the day was non-existent.  All my plans to get ready for Christmas Eve vanished.  Then word got out that evacuation order for downtown Martinsburg could be in effect for 24-48 hours.  All of our plans for Christmas Eve were thrown out the window.  The perfect bulletin.  The perfect hymns.  The perfect choreographed worship.  The perfect choir music.  The perfect everything.  

   I don’ know why it is but it seems every pastor since the days of St. Peter and Paul, pastors have worried and fretted over Christmas Eve.  I don’t know why that is, but pastors have this Hallmark idea of what Christmas Eve needs to look like.  And we go to all lengths to make it happen.  I nearly broke a evacuation order to get into church.  I was angry over the fact that we might be homeless for a night or two but clearly, homelessness on Christmas Eve is not all that uncommon.  
    Most people make a huge fuss over the fact that Jesus and his family could find no place to stay on their first night in Bethlehem.  And it is true, that was the case, but I often think we pay too much attention to this minor detail.  Luke clearly wants us to spend time on the Shepherds and not so much on the fact that Bethlehem was too full; that Bethlehem was not ready. 

    The first Christmas was not perfect.  Nobody was ready for our Lord.  Not Mary or Joseph.  Not the town.  Not the Empire.  Not the world.  And the people who do come to pay their respects are shepherds.  Covered in dirt.  Smelling of animals.  Sketchy by nature.  Yet Mary says nothing.  She doesn’t storm out of the cave.  She doesn’t scream and kick everyone out.  Luke says, “that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” This birth was not perfect, yet Mary choose to not complain or fret, but to treasure and ponder all these things in her heart.

    The world was not ready and we still are not ready.  How many of us found ourselves rushing around this December?  How many of us, in the great hustle and bustle, took time to stop and pray?  I feel like this month has gone by so quick and I haven’t taken any time to enjoy it.  77% of adults say that they find the holidays to be stressful and anxiety producing.  I think it is because we keep striving to make things perfect.  We keep trying to make things like how we remember them as a child.  But nostalgia has a funny way of making things better than it really was.  

    “Back in my day” rarely is a true statement.  We always remember things better than they were.  We always remember it better than it was. And what I find so fascinating about this Nativity story is that it is brutally honest in its recollection.  Nobody was ready.  Nobody would make room for Mary to have a space for her child to be born—the savior or the worldly be born.  That the savior of the world was homeless on his first night.  He was born in a cave.  He slept in a cow’s food bowl.  The place was not clean.  It was not fit to have a child.  Luke is brutally honest in his telling of the story.  He leaves no imperfect detail out.  

    We glorify this humble story and sing beautiful songs about this night.  Silent night.  Holy night.  I doubt it was very silent that night when Jesus was born.  I found the video of when Thomas was born.  I took it about a half hour after he was born.  He is crying his little heart out.  He was cold.  The nurse had taken him away from his momma to clean him up.  He was not having any part of it.  It was not a silent night when Thomas was born.  There hasn’t been too many silent nights in our home since Thomas was born.  3 am feedings.  5 am diaper changing.  And we are living in the lap of luxury compared to Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  We have heaters that are thermostat controlled.  A Mattress that is hypoallergenic…It is not filled with hay.  Thomas’s crib is so well built that it can probably support my truck.  Jesus had none of this.  I can’t imagine it was a silent night.

    Nor should we make it out to be a silent night.  It was a night that change the world.  It was a night that angels filled the skies outside of Bethlehem and woke up sleeping shepherds.  The angels tell the shepherds that “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” - this isn’t just any news, but this is good news for all people.  This is good news for all those who have a room in Bethlehem.  This is good news for all those who are keeping watch over sheep in the fields.  This is good news is for ALL people.  “TO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Martin Luther writes, “[The Angels] do not simply say, Christ is born but to you he born; neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you I bring glad tidings of great joy. This joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all the people.”   Of what benefit would it be to any of us if Christ had been born a thousand times, and if it would daily be sung into our ears in a most loving manner, if I/we were never to hear that he was born FOR ME and was to be my very own?

    We keep searching for the perfect Christmas, that silent night of sort.  We keep searching for something that simply is not there.  What is there is a child who is both God and human.  What is there is a child who will one day grow up, teach us many things, show us many things, be willing to die for people he has never met.  To you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord.  Repeat after me, my brothers and sister.  To you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. To you. For you.  A child is born in the most humble and rudest of ways and he was born for you.

    He wasn’t just born for the kids.  There are lots of people who say they only do Christmas for the kids.  Christmas is not just for the kids.  Jesus was born for you.  Jesus was born for the the insiders.  He was born for the outsiders.  He was born for you.  And he will stay in your imperfect life, where all your best laid plans go a rye, he will stay in your heart even when you don’t have the space for him, and he will go wherever you go, because he came for you.  He came for all of us so that one day, we might not be scared of the grave.  He came to give us hope and show us that God loves the world so much that God would dwell with us, that God would want to be with us, that God would live like us, hurt like us, love like us, die like us and one day, show us that resurrection is possible. 

     Tomorrow will come and many of us will find ourselves driving here and there.  You will be picking up wrapping paper off the floor, searching for those gifts that you hid so well.  You will be eating lots of Ham and Turkey.  Tomorrow, we will once again search for that perfect, silent night and we probably won’t find it.  Tonight, however, the perfect night does comes. It comes because Christ dwells in our midst.  In the reading of scripture, singing of hymns, in the blessed sacrament of bread and wine and we, the angels, the shepherds, even the animals in the stable—tonight is made perfect because our God, our lord is present and we cannot stay silent no more. 

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
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