Readings for Fourth Sunday of Advent, 12/21/14: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:47-55, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16:
David feels bad that he's living in a nice house while God travels via tent in the ark. So he offers to build God a cedar house. And God says, "who says I need a house? I've been doing just fine without one!"
I think David's impulse is ours - wouldn't it be nicer if we could put God somewhere where we would always know where God was? But we get into trouble when our wanting to know where God is turns into wanting just to control God - period.
What would it mean if you would just led God travel through your life, and not try to restrict God to only a part of your life?
context: This is Mary's song of praise, the magificat, a response to her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who is also with child. This is a song, and can be set to music in worship, or read responsively like a Psalm.
Mary speaks as one who sees God's greatness already complete in the not-yet-complete actions of the birth of her baby, we see by the fact that she speaks about what God has done in the past tense. What trust, and what vision!
Mary's images of God are all about God who changes the usual order of things - a God who lifts up the lowly and removes the rich and powerful from their usual places. Obviously, as a young woman going through a strange ordeal, these concepts of God would be extremely meaningful to her, giving her hope.
"the mystery that was kept secret for long ages" - I've never thought of Jesus as a secret that was kept until his coming in human form. Is that what Paul means?
Maybe we keep Jesus a secret or mystery today, by not clearly sharing who he is and who he calls us to be. What do you think?
"my gospel" Paul says. He boldly claims the gospel as his own. Is the gospel yours too?
Gabriel twice names Mary as favored in this passage. Do you think she felt favored? Being favored by God in the Bible usually gets people into trouble!
I can't imagine reacting as coolly as Mary does. Could you take it all in like she does? Say, "Sure, ok." I just wouldn't believe it to begin with. And yet...Mary's nobody special before this happens to her. She's from a certain family line, but so are lots of people. She's just a faithful follower of God.
"nothing is impossible with God." Do you believe this? We have only 2 options really: we believe that really, things aren't always possible for God. That God's power is limited, because somehow, we are beyond God's power. Or, we believe that anything is possible for God, so God could make anything work through us. Those are really the only two possibilities. Which do you choose?
around this time, we see news stories and facebook posts and tv coverage of the
“War on Christmas.” There’s a story about whether or not you can say “Merry
Christmas” anymore or if you must say “Happy Holidays.” People urge us to
remember that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and warn against “taking
Christ out of Christmas.” Maybe you’ve even been frustrated by the
secularization of the season. I certainly get frustrated by the consumerism,
the commercialism, as if spending more and more money will somehow bring us a
more joyful and meaningful experience celebrating the birth of Jesus. But I
wonder, as we reflect on this season, what might happen if we worried less
about how others might try to “take Christ out” of Christmas, if such a thing
were even possible, and wondered more about how we, how you and I can produce any evidence that we’re
working to put Christ into our
preparation for Christmas. We can’t control what other people do, much as we
might like to. But we are, in fact, totally responsible for our own behavior.
And so, when it comes to Christ in Christmas, we have to ask: Are we putting Christ in? Rev. Robb McCoy
writes, “Nothing can take Christ out of Christmas as long as I strive to be
Christ in Christmas.” And that’s his sort of slogan for the season: “Be Christ
in Christmas.” He tries to think of tangible, meaningful ways that he can act
and live and interact as Christ in Christmas, and urges us to do the same. How
can we be Christ in Christmas?
Last week we talked about our role as
messengers. I asked what others would know from us about Christmas, about
Jesus, about God, with us as the messengers. We’re the messengers of God in
these days, the ones tasked with sharing the message, the good news. What kind
of messengers are we? Today, we turn our attention to making sure we know
exactly what our message is. What is
the message that we’re delivering? Last week we looked at John the Baptist,
messenger, announcing Jesus’ pending arrival, and today, we’re right back with
John again. But this time we look to Luke’s gospel for a little more insight on
the message that John was sharing.
As our text opens, crowds are coming out to John
to be baptized. Baptism like this was a cleansing ritual, practiced in many
traditions. It signified renewal, a fresh start. So folks are coming to John to
be baptized. But he’s not exactly warm and welcoming when he sees them: “You
brood of vipers!” he hells. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” He goes on to say that the crowds should not
expect to rely on their Judaism, their families, their history, their cultural
identity, to give them a free pass from responsibility. “Do not begin to say to
yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from
these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” In other words, yes, God has had
a special relationship with God’s people. But that doesn’t give you the freedom
to do anything you want. You still have to hold up your part of the
relationship, the covenant. John continues forebodingly: “Even now the ax is
lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good
fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
catches the attention of his audience – they begin asking him what they should
do. He replies to them, to tax collectors, to soldiers – whoever has two cloaks
must share, whoever has food must share, whoever has power , whoever has money
must be fair and just. The people are filled with expectation at John’s words,
and they wonder whether John himself might not be the messiah they are waiting
for. But he insists he is not: “I am not worthy to untie his sandals,” John
says. But, he leaves them, and us, with a compelling images of the messiah.
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather
the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
A winnowing fork was a farming tool used to toss wheat into the air, so that
the wind would catch the good grain and separate it from the useless chaff. Our
passage concludes, “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good
news to the people.”
Is John’s message “Good News?”
There’s such an underlying tone of threat, between the vipers, the ax, and the
winnowing fork. And yet, obviously his message was compelling enough to have
crowds flocking to him to be baptized, ready to say: I’m changing things in my
life starting now. John is sharing
with the crowds, with us, his vision of what the messiah will be. In
fact, John will eventually have to send word to Jesus to find out if he really
is the messiah, because Jesus certainly acted differently than John was
expecting. John sees judgment, just
as surely as Jesus comes with salvation – a bit different in emphasis.
John has a picture of the messiah that is his own – but the good news still
comes because of the core of what John is preaching, as we read last week:
Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What John is preaching, at heart, is
that all this preparation is for one who is coming who has the power to free us
from the consequences of our sins, one who has the power to cancel out the
results of our messes. And that, certainly, is good news. Remember, way back to
the summer, when we talked about what the good news was Jesus was talking
about. He came preaching about God’s kingdom, God’s reign, how it was here and
present and not far off and unattainable in this life. Good news. So both John
and Jesus preach the same action in light of this arriving kingdom: Repent. It
means literally: change the direction of your mind. Change the direction of
your life from all the other ways you’ve been wandering, and head in God’s
direction fast, because God’s realm is
right here, and you don’t want to miss out.A good message.
us, though, that we need to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” In other words,
baptism and saying you “repent,” you’re starting fresh is great – but let’s see some signs that will show that we’ve actually
heard – and lived – the message we’ve received. He gives some examples – to
tax-collectors, to soldiers, to anyone who asks – about how they, even those
who might normally be shunned or disliked or excluded – they – everyone – can bear the fruit of
repentance. And not only does John urge the crowds to prepare for the kingdom of God’s imminent arrival by acts of repentance
that make room for God, but also those
very acts of repentance, preparation, and renewal are in themselves signs of God’s kingdom. Whenever I think of John
the Baptist I always think of that phrase “the proof is in the pudding.” The
little proverb is actually a shortening of the original saying, “the proof of
the pudding is in the eating.” It means that you can tell how good a pudding is
not by describing but by actually eating it! Nothing will prove the goodness
like eating it will. That’s what John means about fruit – we can describe our
transformation all we want. But nothing will prove that our lives are transformed
better than our actually transformed
lives. Nothing will better demonstrate that we’re Christ followers than our actually following Jesus. And so, then,
nothing will better help us be messengers of the Christmas message than
actually being the message with our
very lives. Be Christ in Christmas.
Christians, we celebrate what is called incarnational
faith. Incarnation means for us first of all the event of Christ’s birth –
God became human. It means embodied.
Jesus is called God-with-us, Immanuel. As the gospel of John puts it so
beautifully, “and the word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Our faith is
embodied in God incarnate. Jesus is God-in-the-flesh, come to live among us. We
celebrate it as a sign of God’s great love for us, that when we failed to get
the message in so many other ways, God made the message tangible, made God’s
own self into the living embodied
message in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
incarnational theology doesn’t end there. It isn’t just that Jesus is the light
of the world. The gospels tell us that we,
then, as followers of Jesus, are the light too. We’re the light of the
world, meant to shine for others to see, so that they might see Christ within
us. We are the body of Christ in the world, the hands and feet of Jesus in the
world. We are the body of Christ, the embodiment of Christ, in fact the incarnation of Christ that lives in the
world today. We’re not just the messengers. We embody the message. We have the
potential, the power, the responsibility to
be Christ in Christmas.
amazing thing. When we seek to be Christ in Christmas, which is exactly
what we incarnational folks are supposed to
be, called to be, created to be doing, we are not only the messengers of this good news. We actually embody the
message itself. If we are Christ in Christmas, we become living, breathing,
walking and talking messages of good news. And when we do that, when we live
and breathe the good news, there’s no way we can miss the meaning of Christmas.
Friends, if you find yourself worrying that we’re losing our grasp on
Christmas, the best thing you can do is look into your hearts, and see if you
find Christ there. Is the light of Christ shining from you? Are you not only a
messenger, but the message? When people meet you, talk to you, interact with
you – and by people I mean all the
people – are they seeing Christ in you? If they do, we won’t have anything to
lament! Be the message. Be Christ in Christmas. Amen.
Readings for Third Sunday of Advent, 12/14/14: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28 Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11:
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me" - make sure to read this alongside Luke 4, where Jesus reads these words in the synagogue. Jesus does not read exactly what we read here. I like Jesus' spin better ;)
"bind up the brokenhearted" - I love this phrase. This whole passage is how I would prefer to describe evangelism, instead of describing it as trying to get people to "accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior." I think this passage gets at the heart of why we want to share Jesus - he's good news for those who've heard none.
"I the Lord love justice." Do you love justice? What does it mean to love justice for those who are oppressed?
"we were like those who dream." I like this verse - sounds like it should be from some Shakespeare play, some poetry. The psalmist talks about how surreal/unreal/dreamlike it felt to be restored, to be made whole again by God, to be returned to Zion. What, in your dreams, could God make of your life?
What great things has God done for you? For others?
"May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy." A good benediction!
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24:
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." A tall order, isn't it? Always? Without ceasing? In all circumstances? Can you do this? Always remember how blessed you are? Paul encourages us to always maintain our connection with God that reminds us who we are.
"the one who calls you is faithful" - Jesus is faithful, even when we are not. Sometimes I think we expect God to let us down because we let God down. We're setting our standard the wrong way. We should take our standard from God, who is always faithful to us.
John 1:6-8, 19-28:
Compare John's poetic introduction of John the Baptist to that found in the Synoptic gospels. John's writing is almost poetry, like he's setting a stage of characters, all of them getting ready for the appearance of Jesus.
John's gospel is the only one where John the Baptist self-identifies as speaking from Isaiah. John portrays a very self-aware John the Baptist, who knows who he is. What do you think? How do you think John the Baptist saw himself?
John describes Jesus as the light, and John the Baptist, not the light, testifying to the light. In Matthew, we read of Jesus saying that we are the light of the world. Do you think Matthew and John disagree, or show us different perspectives? Are you the light of the world? Do you testify to the light? Do you, like John the Baptist, know your role in this story?
week I've been thinking a lot about messages and messengers, and the kinds of
messages we send and receive. We’re bombarded with messages every single day,
certainly, from friends and family, from strangers we interact with each day,
from the media, from TV, from advertisements everywhere. A message is simply
some kind of content communicated from one party to another. And the one
delivering the communication, in whatever form, is the messenger.
particular, I’ve been thinking about what kind of messages I’ve been eager to communicate to others, and what
messages others have been eager to
communicate to me. I still remember learning how, in eighth grade English, to
write what the teacher called persuasive
essays – essays where the main point was for the author, the messenger, to
communicate a message that resulted in persuading the reader to share his or
her point of view on any particular subject. What kinds of messages have you
delivered that seek to persuade
someone? And when have you been persuaded by the power of a message you
received? Maybe at first nothing comes to mind, but I promise you, we are all
messengers and recipients of messages from more or less convincing messengers
multiple times every day. Of course, as a pastor, you might say that I give
what I hope are persuasive messages every week! I won’t deny that I hope my
preaching has an impact. Not only do
I want you to hear my message, a
message that I hope is grounded in how God is leading me to lead you, but I hope that my message has a
more concrete impact. I want you and me (I’m preaching to myself too!) to grow
closer to God, to change our behavior, to turn onto a new path, to follow Jesus
more closely, and I hope that my message is received and is persuasive.
a messenger in other ways too. I love the
musical Jesus Christ Superstar. If you let me talk to you for any length of
time about Superstar, I will try to convince you how awesome it is, how
meaningful, and try to persuade you to watch the movie or listen to the
soundtrack or take in a performance. I was pretty obsessed with the TV show
LOST, and I talked most of my family members into watching it. Can you think of
times when you convinced someone to do something, even something that seems
trivial, like getting them to start watching your favorite show? How did you do
it? What did you say that convinced them? On the flip side, I can think of
times when I was the one who was convinced, persuaded, by a message I heard. My
older brother Jim was the first one to go vegetarian in my family, and he was
definitely a big influence on me, persuading me to take the plunge many years ago.
What about you? When did someone’s message to you persuade you to do something
differently? When have you been persuaded to change your mind, your belief,
your plan of action, because of a message you received from someone?
Bible, the Greek word for messenger is “angelos.” As you can see, it looks a
lot like the word angel. In the Bible, what we think of today as angels are
called “messengers of God,” “angelos tou Theos.” The Greek word in the Bible
for “gospel” is “euangelion” which means “good message.” That’s how we describe
the Bible’s accounts of Jesus. They’re good messages! And our word for
“evangelism” – meaning, the spreading of the good news – comes from these Greek
words – good message. Euangelion. At this time of year, when we think of
angels, God’s messengers, usually our mind jumps right to the angel Gabriel,
telling Mary that she will bear a son, or the angel filling Joseph in on the
plans, or the angel telling the shepherds about Jesus’ birth, or the heavenly
host filling the skies. And those are certainly special messengers that are
part of the story of Jesus’ birth.
today, we’re talking about another messenger of God. Today, we’re in the gospel
of Mark. As I mentioned last week, this lectionary year focuses mostly on Mark.
I’ll tell you that Mark is my favorite gospel. It’s the oldest – it was written
first of the accounts we have in our Bible – and it is by far the shortest.
Mark is in a hurry. He says nothing in three verses that he can squeeze into
one instead. He’s sparse with details. But he gets to the point. He’s a gospel
writer, a sharer of the good message, and it is like he is so excited, so
bowled over by the news, so anxious to have you know about Jesus that he can’t
possibly get the story out fast enough. And so Mark’s gospel starts, “The
beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and by the end of
our reading today, John the Baptist is already preparing folks for Jesus’
arrival on the scene – not as a newborn, but as an adult, about to be baptized
in the Jordan, ready to start preaching and teaching. Unlike Matthew and Luke,
who talk about Jesus’ birth, describing the Christmas story, Mark gets right
down to business. Who needs a nativity story when you can get straight to the
point? Mark writes, The beginning of the
good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God as his first verse, and in it he
says who Jesus is – he is the Christ,
the Son of God. And his gospel certainly attests to why Jesus came. Of the birth of Jesus, Mark simply has no comment.
although Mark doesn’t describe Jesus’ birth, he certainly starts out with a
messenger who announces Jesus’ pending arrival. John the Baptist is an angel –
a messenger of God – in a very real way. John the baptizer appears in the
wilderness, in the way of Isaiah, proclaiming baptism, repentance, and
forgiveness, and announcing that someone was coming, the kingdom had arrived.
Israel was then under Roman occupation, and the Roman government was ruling
over the people. Their lives were monitored and controlled by these occupying
forces. So people were coming to John, repenting of their sins and being
baptized in anticipation of the one John said was coming, the one who would
bring with him God’s kingdom. John might be an interesting messenger if you
looked at his outside package. The gospels describe his appearance more than
that of most others, so it must have been notable: He’s described as “clothed
with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and
wild honey.” You get the sense that he stood out in crowd, John the Baptist.
But he was indeed a persuasive messenger. People were flocking to him to be
baptized, flocking to hear someone tell them to repent, turn their life around,
start fresh. He certainly had a compelling message, but clearly John was also
an effective messenger.
message is so compelling to you that you are transformed into an effective
messenger? The Bible is filled with unlikely sorts like John becoming effective
messengers because they’re so compelled by the message they have to share. Next
week we’ll spend more time thinking about the nature of the message John the
Baptist is sharing in particular. But I’m wondering – what messages have been
so important to you that you’ll tell anyone who will listen about them?
month, I’ve given us all the homework of inviting someone to join us in some
part, any part of our life here at
Apple Valley: worship, Bible Study, Caroling, Pageant, Blue Christmas,
Christmas Eve – I want you to invite someone to join you. I want you to be
messengers. The best messengers, though, are the ones who are so excited about
or convinced of their message that it can’t be contained. The best messengers
have had their own lives transformed by the message. As you think back over
your own faith journey, I wonder: who were the messengers who told you about
Jesus? What convinced you? What messengers helped shape your life so that you
ended up sitting here today? I think of the faithful example of humble
servanthood in my grandfather, Millard Mudge. I think of the steadfast faith of
my mom. I think of Sunday School teachers and pastors. I think of professors
and colleagues in ministry. Of authors, of activists – they’ve all shaped me,
delivered to me again and again in a thousand ways the message that guides my
life, the good news, this life of following after Jesus. Who are your
message about God-with-us, about this Christ-child we’re preparing for, have
you been delivering to folks? What would they know about this community and its
role in your faith journey from your life and your words? What would people
know about Jesus from the messages that you deliver with your life and your
words? As we continue to prepare of Christ’s birth, I wonder: What do people
who are not Jesus-followers know
about the meaning of Christmas from those of us who are? What message are we,
the messengers, sharing? If the messages we were delivering with our lives were
being overheard by a group of shepherds, would they make it to the manger? If
we were the messengers, preparing the way in the wilderness, would people be
changing their lives, preparing to meet Jesus, who was just about to arrive?
of God, here and now, we are God’s
messengers. We are. We’ve already
received the message. Let’s deliver it, with the urgency of Mark. With the
conviction of John the Baptist. With the persuasiveness that can only come from
those whose own lives have been transformed by it. Amen.
Readings for Second Sunday of Advent, 12/7/14: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2,
8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8
"Comfort, O comfort my people"
- ah, what gorgeous words. This God is a God who longs to comfort us, even
when we wander and stray.
This text and our text from Mark both
mention the wilderness, or desert. What happens in the Bible in the
wilderness? Think Israelites. Think Jesus' temptation. Lots of deep
spiritual transformation happens in the wilderness.
Where's your wilderness? What's been a
desert place in your life?
"Here is your God!" That's the
good news that Isaiah cries in this text: God is here, is present and real
in your lives.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
"[God] will speak peace to his
people." What does speaking peace sound like? How would you speak
peace to someone?
"for those who fear [God]" - do
you fear God? We're instructed over and over again in the scriptures not
to be afraid. What does it mean, then, to fear God or to be God-fearing? I
interpret it to mean we're to have an awe of God that is an awe we give only to
Some good imagery in v. 10: Steadfast
love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each
other." Great images. Love and faithfulness bound together. More
intriguingly, to me, righteousness and peace bound together. If only!
2 Peter 3:8-15a:
The author here is writing in response to
concerns, it seems, about the slowly-coming day of Christ's return. They
are ready and waiting for Christ to come again. So where is he
already? The author talks about how God's time and our time is
different. This is always a good reminder!
"regard the patience of our Lord as
salvation." The author argues that the longer it takes for Christ to
return, the more chance people have of finding salvation - God, he argues,
doesn't want anyone to perish, but wants all to come to repentance. I kind
of like his way of looking at things!
The opening of Mark's gospel wastes no
time with those birth-of-Jesus stories we like to hear so much about this
time of year. Mark gets to the point: "The beginning of the good news
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Sometimes I prefer Mark's method!
He seems to be saying, "Let's get right to the good stuff."
Here's another wilderness passage -
notice the similar language in this text and in Isaiah. John is for Jesus'
time a modern-day Isaiah, announcing the same message: "God is here!
Right here among you!"
John sees himself as facilitating Jesus'
ministry - preparing people for it. His role is so important, isn't it? Do
you know of people who play this kind of supporting role in ministry
As many of you have heard, starting next month I’ll be
working on a research project supported by a grant that I received from the
Louisville Institute that allows pastors to dig a little deeper in whatever
areas of ministry interest them. You’ll be hearing lots more about my research
in the coming months, since I hope to have you all be one of my churches that
participates in my research, but I can tell you that it’s an expansion of the
work that I already did in my Doctor of Ministry project. I’ll be continuing to
look at how congregations do outreach work, and how I can help congregations
become more deeply invested in outreach ministries.
When I was working on my Doctor of Ministry project, the
steps I needed to complete in order to finish my degree were all outlined very
carefully and specifically from the kind of paper I had to print on, to the
font, to the margins, to the forms I had to have people sign to participate in
my research. It was all spelled out – what to do to complete my work. But one of
the first things I had to complete was a research proposal. I had to put
together a 15 page proposal that stated my question – what was it my research
was hoping to answer; and then talked about why, theologically speaking, I
thought it was an important question to ask; and then stated my research
process – how I intended to go about answering the question; and then my proposal also had to include the
results I expected to get and why those results would be important. In other
words, before I even did any research, I had to write out what I expected the
results and significance of my research to be. It felt really strange to me at
first. But it’s really how most research in any field is done. You start with a
hypothesis – the answer you think you are going to get. And then you see if you
can prove, or end up disproving your answer. But you start with where you think
you’re going to end up. Otherwise, research would just be so open ended that it
would be mostly useless. If you weren’t looking for a particular answer, but
just exploring, it would be hard to make anything constructive out of what you
experienced, even if you took in a lot of data. Ok, sometimes, discoveries are
made accidentally, unintentionally. But most of the time, research provides
results because researchers started out visualizing the ending they were trying to reach.
People like to say that “it’s not about the destination,
it’s about the journey.” And in many ways, I believe this is true. But usually
this is true because we still have a destination in mind. The journey is
fantastic because we know where we’re heading. If you don’t know where you’re
going, trying to enjoy the journey is a bit more stressful! So with some
things, we begin by figuring out where it is we’re hoping to end up.
That’s a bit of the strategy with the lectionary readings
for Advent. Remember, the lectionary is the scheduled set of readings for the
church year – they go in a three year-cycle, each year focusing on one of the
synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with the gospel of John sprinkled
throughout. The new lectionary year begins on the First Sunday of Advent each
year – that’s the beginning of the church year. Which means, as I mentioned
last week, today is the beginning of a new church year. This is Year B,
focusing on Mark. And every lectionary year, the first text for the first
Sunday of Advent expresses similar themes: texts that sound an awful lot like
they’re about the end of the world. Isn’t that sort of a strange place to start
if our goal is to prepare for the birth of the Christ child?
In Mark’s gospel, we find ourselves near the end of the
book, with Jesus talking about the Son of Man coming to gather people to him.
Jesus says we’ll know that he is near just like we know summer is near – reading
the signs around us. And yet, at the same time, Jesus says, we don’t know the
day or hour this will take place. No one does, he says, not even Jesus. So the
best strategy: “Beware, keep alert. Keep awake.” When I read these words, they
sound both exhausting and anxiety-producing. How can we live on the edge all
the time? It reminds me of the color-coded terror-alert system we had in place
for a decade following 9/11, that never fell below yellow – an elevated level
of alert – for the entire time the system was in place. How useful is an
anxious system of constant alert, where anxiety becomes the normal level?
Surely, this is not what Jesus means. This is not the destination of Advent
we’re trying to reach, right? What is it that we’re longing for?
often, and especially in this season, I think children lead us. Now, I think children
are excited and anxious for Christmas to come, but I also know that young children
have a very skewed concept of time. Take my nephew Sam. He’s a little wiser now
at the ripe old age of 7 and a half. But for a while, anything in the past happened
ʺa couple weeks ago.” Things that happened ʺwhen he was littleʺ could be things
that were when he was an infant, two years old, or earlier this year. Or Sam
would talk about growing up – he defined this as the time when his feet would
finally touch the floor when he sits on a chair. And when he started
kindergarten, Sam was perplexed over what had happened to his friend from
pres-school, Alex – who is the same age as Sam – since he hadn’t seen him a while.
Sam mused: I think Alex must be a teenager now! Sam is indeed excited for Christmas
to come, as he is excited for most joyful things to take place in his happy
life. But Sam isn’t rushing time by.
Instead, I would say he is ready. He
is ready for the excitement he knows is on the way. A day, a week, a month – they
can all seem long or short to Sam depending on his mood. But he isn’t in a hurry.
He is just happy, and ready for Christmas when it comes, and although he’s
getting older and wiser, I hope he can savor that sweet state of joyful,
hopeful expectation for a few more years.
hopeful expectation – that’s what I think God wants for us. Joyfully, hopefully
we long for God’s will, God’s hopes, God’s dreams, God’s realm to be made
complete in us and in our world. We remain alert, excited, hopeful, on the
watch for signs of God’s kingdom moving among us and in us, and maybe even with
our help. I know I’ll probably drive many of you a little crazy with singing
more Advent Hymns during Advent than Christmas Carols. But the funny thing
about Advent hymns is that they usually do a really great job of reminding us
what exactly we’re getting ready for. Most Advent hymns don’t talk about baby
Jesus and a manger scene. They talk, instead, about the savior we long for, and
why the world stands in need of Christ’s coming in the first place. Take “O
Come O Come Emmanuel.” The first verse talks about captive Israel, mourning,
lonely, in exile, waiting for God to appear. And then the refrain, “Rejoice,
Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel.” Advent hymns are carols that tell us our destination and tell us how
much we need to reach that destination, and then sing with eager longing for
the journey that will help us arrive at that destination.
That’s what Advent is. Advent is preparation with a
destination in mind. We know what happens on Christmas. Jesus is born. But why
is that so important to us? What are we longing for? I wonder how often we’re
hurrying by the days of Advent, the days meant to prepare for Christmas, and we
don’t even really think about what we’re hurrying to or why. And then when
Christmas Day comes and goes, even as we’re really just starting the true
season of Christmas, we already feel like we’ve missed something.
in Advent isn’t to rush the days by to Christmas, and it isn’t to drag our feet in an effort to slow down time. Our
task is to figure out what we’re preparing for, so we can be ready. We are
called as people of faith to be ready for God however God shows up on earth, wherever
and whenever. It seems to happen in the most surprising ways. But always, God
comes to us, God who is with us in the flesh, Emmanuel. And so knowing we’re
heading toward God, joyfully, hopefully, eagerly, wakefully, we wait. Amen.
Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7,
17-19, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
"O that you would tear open the
heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your
presence" - Do you ever get so frustrated with the way of the world
that you want to call on God to break into the scene and rile things up? I
don't blame Isaiah's call. Its just that God hardly ever comes in the ways
Isaiah realizes this too, God's
unexpected ways: "when you did awesome deeds that we did not
expect" he says in v. 3 - what do you expect from God? Do you expect
"consider, we are all your
people." Isaiah is pleading a case here. He realizes people haven't
done much for God that would make someone want to stick around and
continue being neglected. But remember, Isaiah reminds God, we're yours! I
think God does remember.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19:
"let your face shine, that we may be
saved." I like this - God's shining face can save us. twice
emphasized. Think about Moses' face shining after he'd visited with God on
the mountain - the brilliance and glory of being in God's presence.
"how long will you be angry with
your people's prayers?" Is God ever angry with our prayers? Probably,
when they are so self-centered and calling on God to bring harm to those
we deem enemies. But if we interpret God not doing what we ask for as
God's anger, I think we've got it wrong...
"you have fed them with the bread of
tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure." Again, what
beautiful imagery - very poetic. I'm not sure I agree with the theology
expressed - but good writing! :)
1 Corinthians 1:3-9:
V. 9 - "called into the
fellowship" - Paul means the fellowship of saints, according to verse
2 of this chapter. You are called to be a saint - believe it! That's you
and me, called to be saints. Of course, Paul was talking about the
Corinthians, but we can take it for ourselves too. We probably all have a
short list of folks we think of as "saints" or at least
"saintly". What makes you think of them that way? How can you be
more like them?
"you have been enriched in him"
- I like this phrasing. Enriched by knowing Jesus.
These are the opening words to the
Corinthians - you can see how much Paul is trying to build them up, affirm
their faith, get them to stay committed. I think we all need someone who
can and will do that for us. And we can do that for someone else too -
build them up.
Advent always begins with surprising
"end times" texts that probably catch parishioners off-guard,
who are ready to sing Christmas carols. How do we refocus them and us?
This text is about time, and expectations and waiting. So is Advent. What
we do while we wait is important. Whether or not we live like something
exciting is going to happen in our world by God is important.
For me, descriptions of Christ's second
coming are not very important in the details. But what Jesus reminds us of
is that he does come again. I think he comes more than
once, always coming in unexpected ways. I know the passages refers to
"the big one", the big final return, but I like to think we can
think about Jesus returning frequently to our lives. And we're so often
"you do not know when the master of
the house will come" Another passage talking about end times, if
that's only as far as you are wanting to look. Better to think of it this
way: so often in my life I am putting things off - procrastinating - not
so much about day to day things, like sermon-writing :), etc., but about
big things: I will start giving more ... when I'm out of debt. I will take
risks for God .... after I get my DMin. I will speak out about what I
really believe .... after I'm ordained elder. But the day or hour is
unknown, and will arrive unexpectedly. I should stop acting like I have
something to wait for before I get to work the way God wants me to. The
time is NOW.
Readings for Reign of Christ Sunday, 11/23/14: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46 Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24:
This is a great passage, and goes so well with the gospel lesson for today. What vivid images of God as our shepherd!
God's preference is clear: "I will see the lost . . . I will strengthen the weak," and "the fat and the strong I will destroy." Which kind of sheep are you?
Compare this to Jesus' teachings about who he came to serve.
I will feed them with justice." What does it mean to be fed with justice? How do you feed your life with justice? Does working for God's justice in the world fill you up?
"It is God that made us, and we are [God's]; we are [God's] people, and the sheep of [God's] pasture." Again, imagery of being sheep in God's fold. We belong to God. We humans have a great need to belong. The best we can belong to is God.
"Worship the Lord with gladness." How do you worship? Do you find joy in your worship? Meaning? How do you keep from "going through the motions" of worship?
"Give thanks." This is a season of Thanks-giving. How do you give thanks? Giving thanks involves more than words - "giving" is an action word. How do you take action to give thanks?
I especially like the first part of this passage, verses 15-19. These verses sound like great words of blessing to speak on someone, a person of faith. To pray that God grants wisdom and revelation, enlightenment, riches of Christ's inheritance, knowledge of the immeasurable greatness of God's power. . .
Aside from that, this passage seems very typical of a lot of the epistle writing. Here is set up the metaphor: Christ as the head of the church and of the body, the church as the body of Christ, and thus under Christ, who is over all things, filling all things.
What passage in the gospels best describes the standards by which we gain eternal life? This passage tells us that it is our actions, not our words, that determines our eternal being. Do your words and actions match? What do your actions say about what you really believe?
Where have you seen Christ in unusual ways? Where have you seen Christ where you have not expected? Do you think others see Christ in you?
continue on in Matthew’s gospel, immediately following the Parable of the Talents
we talked about last Sunday, and we arrive at what we call the Parable of the
Sheep and the Goats. It is another one that is probably familiar to you, and it
is Jesus’ last parable, last major segment of teaching in the gospel of
Matthew. After this, things rapidly move toward the passion and crucifixion. So
in this last parable, Jesus tells about a future time of judgment when the Son
of Man will gather all people before him and separate them like you might sort
sheep and goats in a flock. “Son of Man” is a term used by Jesus to refer to
himself which means kind of like “the human of humans.” So Jesus, Son of Man,
king, will sort the people into two groups. To the sheep on his right, he’ll
say that they are blessed and can inherit the kingdom that has been prepared
for them from the foundation of the world. And they receive this treatment
because when “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me
something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you
gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you
visited me.” Only, those marked as sheep don’t ever remember seeing the king at
all – surely they would remember something so momentous! But no, the king tells
them: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my
family, you did it to me.” Then the whole scenario repeats with those on his
left who are like the goats, only this time the king says they are accursed for
not helping the king when they saw
him in need. And again, they don’t recollect ever seeing him, and again, the
king says that whenever they saw but did not help one of the “least of these,”
they also did not help the king.
Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is one that we know fairly well. We even mostly
like it, I think, this idea that in everyone we meet, we are encountering
Jesus. It sounds like a lovely idea, doesn’t it? The only problem, then, as is
often the case with Jesus’ teachings, becomes accounting for the wide gap
between our liking of this parable, our general, “Yes, that’s right”
affirmation of it, and a quick assessment of the world around us that shows the
pervasiveness of those who are sick
and poor and hungry and thirsty and without shelter or clothing, or who are in
prison or alone, and the ongoing struggle
of these persons. If we love this parable, and affirm this idea of “the
least of these” being ways we can encounter Jesus, come face to face with
Jesus, how come so many are still hungry and thirsty and sick and alone?
As I read through this familiar parable again, I started
to focus in on this phrase, the repeated question in the text: “When did we see
you?” Both those identified as sheep and goats
ask this question: “When did we see you?” they ask. “When was it that we
saw you hungry and did or didn’t give
you food, or thirsty and did or didn’t give you something to drink? And when was
it that we saw you a stranger and did or didn’t welcome you, or naked and did
or didn’t give you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and
did or didn’t visit you?” And to both groups, the king says that they truly
encountered the king when they saw and assisted – or didn’t – those he describes as “the least of these, who are
members of my family.” But whether the sheep or goats help those they see or
not, those who are the least of these, but also the king himself, both sheep
and goats see the ones they
encounter. Imperative to deciding to act one way or another is seeing the
person to begin with.
This, I think, is the key for us twenty-first century
readers. I think we’re exceptionally clever. We like to hear about this “seeing
Christ in people” stuff. But man, it is hard
to see Jesus in some people, and then, when we realize Jesus really means
it about the “least of these,” it’s hard to carry through on all this feeding
and visiting and clothing and comforting of people he describes. But, what if
we could just not see anyone at all?
If we don’t really see people, then
we don’t have to decide whether or not we know we’re looking into the face of
Jesus, who would be able to spur us to action. Have you ever had the experience
of running into someone in a store or at a restaurant who, for whatever reason,
you really would rather not talk to? And then it becomes a kind of frantic,
anxious game. Is it too late? Did they see you already? If they saw you, did they see you see them, or would it still be convincing
for you to pretend you didn’t see them? Suddenly you are staring at your feet,
or intently reading the ingredient labels, or forgot something back in the
aisle you just came down, or get a “phone call” that you really must take and
focus on. Sure, sometimes we really don’t
see someone. We’re distracted, concentrating on other things. But how often
are we trying not to see?
When we think about sheep and goats and Jesus’ words to
us, I wonder if most of the time we don’t feel like we’ve encountered Christ
because we’re putting up a great show of not
seeing the people we encounter. Maybe we don’t mean to at first. But I
think one way or another, we try not to see people because it will slow us
down. Interrupt our rhythm. We don’t have time. We’re busy and behind, and we
don’t want to get into all the baggage and all the effort and all the
awkwardness and all the uncomfortableness that comes with really seeing people. And so we don’t see. And
in our blindness, we miss chances, foolishly, to encounter Christ, face to
Earlier this year, as part of a campaign called Make Them
Visible, the Rescue Mission of New York City did a bit of an experiment for a
short documentary. They had the family members of half a dozen people dress up
and position themselves as homeless people on the street. And then cameras
recorded these half dozen people walking by, passing right by their costumed
family members. You can see in the picture on the screen this woman walking
down the street – and she passes right by
her mother, her sister, and her uncle. That’s her family, right there. But she doesn’t see them. This woman was not
alone. Everyone walked right by their own family members. Yes, they were
costumed, but their faces weren’t altered. Still, they went unseen. When shown
the videos of themselves walking by their family, the individuals were shocked.
Upset. Embarrassed. Would you see your family members on the street?
we see? I mean so much more in that question than asking whether or not we walk
by people seeking money on the street corners with our heads down, although
that’s a good question to ask. One of the many traits of Jesus we can seek to
imitate, that we can take as a model, is how he sees everybody. A man climbs a tree – and Jesus sees him. A woman
touches his cloak – and Jesus sees her. Children are pushed aside – but Jesus
sees them. Jesus sees us. And what’s
more – if we’re not where it’s easy to see us, Jesus will seek us, search us,
find us, go where we are. To the lepers outside the borders of the town. To the
Canaanite woman living in a gentile territory. Jesus will seek you out, find you.
What do we see? What would be different if in every setting in life, not just on the streets but including them,
we started asking ourselves who in any given situation we weren’t seeing? We just went through an election – what would
change if we wondered who we were looking right over when we considered a
political issue? How would the dynamics of the church – our church and the
church universal change if we asked: who aren’t we seeing? How would our
families be different if we asked: who aren’t we seeing in our families? Who’s
been invisible or overlooked? How would our schools, our workplaces, our
communities be different if we wondered: who am I missing? Who am I not seeing?
And then: what might happen if, like Jesus, we made sure we saw, even if it meant we had to seek people out, instead of
waiting for them to cross our paths?
This week your homework has two parts. First, I want you keep
track of how you spend your time all week. We think about time a lot – feeling
like it’s moving too slowly or too quickly or that we don’t have enough of it.
So keep track this week. How are you spending your time? At the end of each
day, or as the day unfolds, write how you’re spending your time. Part two: Keep
track of who you’re spending your
time with. Try to pay attention to who you see – or who you don’t usually see.
Who are you with during your week? Who aren’t
you with? Do you spend your week with people who are mostly like you? Do
you see all kinds of people? Keep track, all week, and if you’re willing, bring
it in next week to share, along with your commitment to who you’re going to try
to see more clearly in the months
One of the things that my mom loves the most is when all
of her kids are together and when we’re happy with each other. If all four of
us are enjoying spending time together, then my mother is in sort of a state of
sublime ecstasy, because the people she loves the most are happy and well, and
showing love for each other. That’s what I think God enjoys the most too. When
all of us, God’s children, are together, and enjoying each other, and showering
love on each other, happy to be in each other’s presence. So when we don’t see each other, when we even trynot
to see each other, for God, it is like we are walking right by our brothers
and sisters without seeing them. We’re walking by family. That’s what I think
this parable is really all about. Who are we walking by, and who are we
stopping to see? Because if we see,
we’ll find the face of Christ reflected there. And it is a sight to behold.
Readings for 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 11/16/14: Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30 Judges 4:1-7:
"Deborah, a prophetess" I think those words in themselves are pretty powerful. In a set of scriptures that certainly doesn't focus on women, it's great to find and lift out stories of strong women leaders in the Bible, the Old Testament even!
Not only is Deborah a prophetess, but she's also a type of military leader here. She may not physically fight in the battles, but she is making decisions about the armies and where they will go.
The Israelites cry out because they are oppressed, and God moves to respond, in perhaps unexpected and unusual ways. God responds to our cries for help. We have to look and see who God might use and how God might use them/us to respond to oppression.
We look to God like those under another's authority look to their authority (master, mistress.) How do these images translate today? So often, we feel resentful of those in authority over us, don't we? Especially if those in authority are abusive in their power. Who is a positive authority in your life? What kind of authority do they exercise? What kind of authority does God exercise over you?
"we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn . . ." Sounds like a very frustrated psalmist, eh? When do you reach your boiling point? How do you call to God when you've "had enough?"
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11:
"When they say, 'there is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them." Hm. We as a society are working awfully hard, at great expenses, for peace and security, aren't we? Our peace comes from Christ, and our security in our faith. Everything else? Maybe just cheap imitations.
children of light/children of darkness - just a 'caution' - be careful when using language of light=good and dark=bad. These images are valuable theologically, but can be harmful if they are communicated in ways that can have racial implications.
"encourage one another and build up each other" - do we do this? How often do you encourage others in their faith journeys? How do we, in tangible ways, build each other up?
What are the talents that you are afraid to use? Most of us have some talents we don't mind using, but others that we hide away. What are yours?
"to all those who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." At first, this statement seems like a terrible statement about rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. But that's not at all what Jesus means. Jesus says that God will entrust to us a lot to look over if we use what we've already got. If we pretend God's given us nothing, then God won't entrust to us other things that we'll just ignore. Sort of a "use it or lose it" philosophy.
I skipped a little ahead in the lectionary for the purposes of our "Giving Thanks" theme - so here's a sermon for this Sunday upcoming's text.
Giving Thanks: Talented
you’ve all been counting your blessings each day, as we focus on our theme of
Giving Thanks this month at Apple Valley. I've been enjoying the discipline of
looking back over my day and finding the joyful moments. I’ll admit to you that
there are days when it isn’t easy, when the blessings come less quickly to mind
than others. I know I’m blessed. But
some days I feel like I could more quickly make a list of things that went
wrong: I lost a treasured necklace. My mom’s car wouldn’t start. That bill was
four times as much as my brother was expecting it to be. We all have days like
that. As I talked about with the children today, one of the best things we can
do when we’re having trouble counting our blessings is to figure out how we can
offer a blessing to someone else
instead. It puts things back into perspective, and takes us out of the center. We
better remember our own blessings when we offer them to others. How can you be
a blessing? One of the best ways we offer thanks to God for our blessings is
my favorite authors and advocates for the poor is Shane Claiborne, a young man
who has tried hard to live as he believes Jesus wants him to. On his facebook
page this week he offered some reflections on how Christians figure out how
much is enough. He shared this story:
“I will never forget
learning one of my best lessons … from a homeless kid in India. Every week we
would throw a party for the street kids … 8-10 years old who were homeless,
begging … to survive … One week, one of the kids I had grown close to told me
it was his birthday. So I got him an ice cream. He was so excited he stared at
it mesmerized. I have no idea how long it had been since he had eaten ice cream.
But what he did next was brilliant. He yelled at all the other kids and told
them to come over. He lined them up and gave them all a lick. His instinct was:
this is so good I can’t keep it for myself. In the end, that’s what this whole
idea of generosity is all about. Not guilt. It’s about the joy of sharing. It’s
about realizing the good things in life – like ice cream – are too good to keep
for ourselves.” (1)
We give thanks to
God for our gifts by using our gifts,
sharing them, being so excited we’ve received them that we want everyone to
have a taste, to take part, to enjoy the blessing we’ve received. At least,
that’s what God hopes for us. Sometimes, though, we get ourselves turned around
about the gifts God gives to us. Sometimes we outright say “no thank
you” to the gifts God seeks to give us. Have you ever refused a gift? In about
a month, I will begin baking Christmas cookies. I make a lot of cookies. And every year, I send packages of about a dozen
or two cookies to friends from high school, college, seminary, and so on. I’ve
been doing this for at least a decade now! One year, after I sent out some
emails to get updated addresses for mailing, one of my friends responded saying
that she didn’t really want any cookies. They would go to waste. I have to
admit – I was crushed! I offered her the gift that represented much more than
showing off my baking skills, and she said, “No thank you.” Have you ever
refused God’s gifts to you?
Sometimes we receive a gift from God but we don’t open it
or don’t use it. Perhaps we’ve all experienced receiving a gift we really
didn’t want. A shirt that just isn’t
your style. A gift card to a restaurant you don’t really like. But maybe we’ve
also experienced the painful feeling of realizing you’ve given a gift that was
unwanted. A gift you give and never see again! Sometimes these giving mishaps
take place because the giver and receiver don’t really know each other so well,
don’t have a clear picture of each other. Maybe you’re giving to someone you
only know through work or school or in one setting. But God – God knows us
inside out. God can’t give us a gift
that doesn’t suit us. And God gives out of God’s own self the gift we have in
Christ. A gift marked with our own name. This is not a gift to put on a shelf!
This is not a gift to return to the store! The gifts God gives are meant to be
used, and opened, and shared.
gospel lesson today is a parable – the Parable of the Talents. It appears late
in Matthew’s gospel, in the midst of several other parables. A man going on a
journey calls his slaves to him and divides among them care of his property.
One slave receives one talent, one five, and one ten, each, we read, receiving
according to ability. The slaves who receive five and ten talents immediately
take them, trade with them, and double their money to present to their master
when he returns home. But the slave who received just one talent dug a hole and
hid the money, and returned it to his master on his return. When the master
returned, he praised the faithful servants for their stewardship of his
talents, and said, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave. You have been
trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” But when
the third slave returned the single talent to his master, explaining that he
thought his Master was hard-hearted and harsh, taking what was not rightfully
his; the Master rebuked the man, and took the one talent from him and gave it
to the one who had already been given ten. And so, Jesus concludes with that
strange sentiment: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they
will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what we have will
be taken away.”
that concluding sentence that I think is so hard to process at first. I think
the parable is about using the gifts God gives us, and being good stewards. But
then, that last sentence: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and
they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what we have
will be taken away.” I can understand God wanting us to use what we’ve been
given – but taking away from those who have nothing? Giving to those who
already have so much? Even if we’re talking about more than just money here,
isn’t that just a spiritual version of the poor getting poorer and the rich
getting richer? Will God take anything from those who already have nothing?
Does that make any sense?
Luther Snow reflects on this parable, focusing in on this very troubling verse.
He writes, “How can you take away something from nothing? It’s impossible. So
maybe ‘those who have nothing’ do have something after all. Maybe the point is
not how much we have, but how much we think
we have. The [slave] with the one talent had more than nothing, but he acted as
though he had nothing. He did nothing with the talent . . . He may have looked
at the other two [slaves] and thought, ‘Compared to them, I’ve got nothing’ . .
. It is as if the master is saying, ‘You had my valuable gifts in your hand,
and you didn’t think they were valuable.’” (1) So maybe we can better
understand what Jesus is saying when we think of it in this way: From those who
think they’ve been given nothing,
what they really do have will be taken away. And from those who feel like
they’ve been richly blessed, they’ll be blessed even more. The slave with one
talent didn’t have nothing. He had something precious – he just wouldn’t see
We’re practicing counting our blessings this month. And
we are indeed surrounded by blessings. But I think sometimes it is easier for
us to count the blessings that are outside
of us than the blessings that are within
us. Here’s what I mean: I can tell you that I was blessed this week to babysit
my sweet niece Sigourney. But it’s harder for me to say to you: I’m so thankful
to God that I have a loving heart that I can shower on Siggy in return. I’m
thankful that in part because of me, I know she’ll know what it is like to be
loved and cherished, because I have
the capacity to love and cherish her. I think we find it a bit harder to see
the gifts we’ve been given by God if we have to admit that we ourselves are gifted. God has put the blessings, the gifts, the
talents within us, to be shared from
the very core of who we are. Maybe it is hard because we don’t want to be
boastful or self-centered. We’ve all met people who are more than ready to tell
you how great they are, and that’s usually not an admirable quality! But it is
one thing to boast in your own awesomeness, and another thing to give thanks
for and treasure and use the gifts God has put in your heart with an intent to
humbly and happily serve and bless others.
I have asked most of my
congregations to complete some form of talents inventory like the one you
received today. Over the years, in all my congregations, I am always amazed at
how unwilling people are to believe or see that they are gifted. I started
adding the “three things you like doing”
question because most people were unable to admit that there were three things
they were good at doing. Friends,
admitting you are gifted isn’t about saying that you are all that. It isn’t
bragging. Saying you are gifted and talented is quite simply saying that
someone – in this case God – has given you a gift, talents. And denying it –
well, that is basically saying that God hasn’t given you anything! Not
discovering and using your gifts is
like refusing to open a present from God. It’s like burying a talent in the
ground. Kind of rude, isn’t it?! And it when it comes to showing gratitude for
your talents, giving thanks for your blessings, the best way to say thank you
is simple – use them. Use your gifts.
Use your talents, to serve and love God, and to serve and love one another. As
we think about giving thanks this month, I want us to think about how we can
better thank God by using our gifts and talents more fully. What gifts has God
given you that you’ve left wrapped? Unused?
the sermon today, we sang a hymn that we commonly refer to as “Take My Life and
Let It Be,” because those are the words that are the first stanza. It breaks in
an unfortunate place, though, because the title is actually, of course, “Take
My Life and Let It Be Consecrated.” That word, consecrated, as we discussed in Bible Study this week, means “to
make something ordinary into something sacred or holy.” That’s what we ask God
to do with all manner of ordinary things in our lives. And indeed, God makes
our ordinary stuff holy – from bread and cup, to pieces of colored paper and
shiny metal circles that we put into offering plates, even to our very lives.
That’s what we ask in this hymn: “Here are our lives God. Please, make them
holy.” Sometimes though, we act like what we really mean is what the first
stanza alone communicates: “Take my life and let it be.” (3) Leave me alone. Let me do what I want. Stay just like I
am. Let me bury my blessings in the ground. God wants so much more for us.
Please, don’t bury your blessings, your gifts, your talents, all that God has
given to you. Don’t live like our generous God has been stingy with you.
Instead, offer it to God. Offer it to your neighbors. Offer it to the waiting
world around you. And God will consecrate your life, and your cup will run
over, and your blessings will be too sweet not to share. Amen.