Monday, January 19, 2015

Lectionary Notes for Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B (Ordinary 3)

Readings for 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, 1/25/15:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10, Psalm 62:5-12, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20

Jonah 3:1-5, 10:

  • This is the only week Jonah appears in the lectionary, so consider reading other sections, or expanding your focus, so that people get the full story.
  • The interesting thing about this story, not included in today's text, is that Jonah wasn't happy that God was sparing the people. In fact, Jonah knew that God was likely to be merciful and spare the people, and this is what most upsets Jonah. Are you ever upset at the liberal way God shares grace with others? Why do you think this is? Sometimes I think we act as if God's grace will run out for us if God gives too much to others!
  • How would you feel as a resident of Nineveh? Are you open to others telling you that you are not following God? Generally, we don't like people telling us what to do, or telling us what we're doing wrong. But the residents of Ninevah get their acts together, and repent. And God shows mercy. (I think God can show us mercy, obviously, even when we are undeserving. But wouldn't it be nice to do our part for once?)

  • Psalm 
  • "For God alone my soul waits in silence" - silence is such a rare thing these days. As I type, there is the whirr of my laptop, and my TV in the background. This is typical. Silence is rare. Will you find silent time for God?
  • "My hope is from [God.]" What's your hope? Where is it from?
  • The psalmist urges us to put our trust in God - rank in the world is "but a breath" or "a delusion" - only God has real power.

  • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:
  • Paul clearly is anticipating a swift return of Jesus Christ to earth. But even though things didn't happen the way Paul was expecting, I think his words are still meaningful.
  • We're to live, in a sense, in the moment. I don't think this means to be irresponsible, or to not make plans, or to not take care of others, of obligations. But to live with an understanding that we have a different main purpose - to live as God calls us - and so to not let what is not important tie us down.

  • Mark 1:14-20
  • What's the good news? Sometimes, I think we believe the good news is that "Jesus Christ died for our sins." But according to Mark, Jesus himself was a proclaimer of the good news, and it was this: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe . . . "
  • "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." Are you fishing for people? What do you think Jesus meant by this? Evangelism? How? What kind?
  • Important: Don't forget that before you fish for other people, you should first be following Jesus. Any other way we try it is following only our own agenda.
  • Immediately! This is one of my favorite words in scriptures. We like things to happen in our lives in a convenient and fast way when it is for our own benefit - but how often do we respond to God immediately?
  • Sermon, "A New Name: Abram & Sarai," Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22

    Sermon 1/18/15
    Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22

    A New Name: Abram and Sarai

                What are you waiting for? What events, or situations, or circumstances, right now, are you waiting for to take place? A child or grandchild to be born? A birthday? A retirement? A vacation? And how often, like a child on a road trip, have you wondered, “Are we there yet?” As I child, I attended one of our church camps, Camp Aldersgate, every summer. And I couldn’t wait for my week of camp to come. I’d start packing way in advance. And then finally, we’d head for Aldersgate. The trip seemed to take forever. But when the trees changed into tall skinny pines, I knew we were close, at last. I was shocked, when I got older, to realize Aldersgate was only about an hour from home. Not even. How could that be? But from a child’s point of view, an hour drive may as well be a whole day spent stuck in the car. Perspective is everything.
                Today, we continue our series looking at the New Names given in the scriptures, we encounter two people who set out on what seems to them to be the longest of journeys. We meet Abram and Sarai back at the end of Genesis Chapter 11, when they’re listed in a genealogy after the Tower of Babel incident. If you don’t know about the Tower of Babel, check out Chapter 11. Anyway, we know from this that Sarai was considered barren. In ancient times, anytime a couple could not have children, the woman was considered barren, because the intricacies of fertility weren’t understood. It wasn’t known that sometimes men were the ones who could not father a child. However, in Sarai’s case, it seems that she, indeed, is the one struggling with fertility. At the start of Chapter 12, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And the next verse starts out, “And so, Abram went.” Before this scene, we know absolutely nothing about Abram. We have no idea why God would call him for such a task, such a journey, or why God would make him such a promise. All we know is: God calls, God promises, and Abram goes. The text tells us that Abram is 75 when he sets out on this journey.
                Throughout the next chapters of Genesis, we see Abram and Sarai travel to Canaan, the land which God promised them, and travel from here to there, living in different places, occasionally getting into scuffles with local leaders. They’d started out in what is now Southern Turkey, and make their way through modern-day Syria and Lebanon to Israel, and then spend time in Egypt and other nearby regions. And occasionally, throughout this time, God reiterates the promise to Abram: I will bless you, and make you a great nation. God says to Abram, “Don’t be afraid, I am your shield, and your reward will be very great.” But Abram is perhaps a bit skeptical. The years are passing. Abram says to God, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless … and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But God says to Abram, “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.” And Abram believes, and is called righteous.
                And more years pass. Sarai is frustrated. She finally decides that since God has prevented her from having children, she’ll offer Hagar, her slave, to Abram to bear children for him. Abram and Hagar have a son together, named Ishmael. Abram is now 86 years old. Unsurprisingly, Sarai, seeing Hagar and Hagar’s child with Sarai’s husband, begins to feel regret over the events she set in motion. She treats Hagar badly, but God promises Hagar that her son, too, is part of the promise. He, too, will be blessed.
                And more years pass. And finally, when Abram is 99 years old, and Sarai is 90, God again reiterates the promises to Abram. He gives them new names. Abram, which means Exalted Father, a hard name to bear for one who had no children, will be called Abraham, Father of Many. And Sarai, whose name meant Princess, will be Sarah, Princess of Many. And this time, God offers a timeline: by next year, they’ll have a son. And newly-named Abraham falls on his face laughing. He indicates that God must mean it is through Ishmael that all these blessings will come into fullness. But God says again – yes, Ishmael will be blessed. But the promises I’ve made to you hold true. And Sarah will bear a child. Later, Sarah herself will hear the news from God, and she, too, will laugh. But sure enough, she bears a son. And they name him Isaac, which means “Laughter.”
                What a story! What a journey! From the time that God promises Abram that he will become the father of many nations, to the time Sarah gives birth to their son Isaac, 25 years have passed. 25 years! God repeatedly renews the promise, reaffirms that the promise is still going to be fulfilled, but I’m sure none of us are surprised, or unsympathetic that Abram and Sarai seem so often to doubt that the promise is true. This promise of God is a long journey of unfolding. And in fact, it is not truly played out, this blessing, until several generations later, Moses leads the Israelites into the promised land. It is a blessing that unfolds over years, over decades, slowly, piece by piece.
                We talked a lot in November about God’s blessings in our lives. It is one thing to count the blessing you see around you in your life. But it is another thing entirely to nurture the promise of blessing that hasn’t yet been delivered. What blessings have you sought from God? What promises to you feel yet unfulfilled in your life? Have you found it easy to wait?  
    In my first religion class in college, I learned what is still one of my favorite theological concepts: Kairos. There are two common words for time in the scripture: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is the Greek word for our regular, ordinary, everyday time. Our human time. The seconds, the minutes, the hours, the days moving just as they do. But kairos – kairos is time in a different way. Kairos is God’s time – specifically, “God’s right time for action.” Usually the word “chronos” is used in Greek texts to talk about time. But in the gospels, for example, this “kairos” – God’s right time for action – is used more often than chronos – regular time. And that makes sense, because the scriptures are full of stories about God’s right time for things to happen. Kairos. God’s right time for action. I have no idea why Abram and Sarai needed to wait 25 years for God’s promise to come to fruition. But I believe that at the right time, God acts. Certainly God reminded them again and again that the fulfillment was on the way. And when the time was just right – for God’s plans – Isaac was born. Kairos.
    Have you ever tried to pry open the petals of a flower bud? It can be so tempting, when you see a flower that you’ve wanted to bloom, to just “help it along.” But your doing so is most likely simply to damage or destroy the flower altogether. I think Abram and Sarai tried to open some flower buds more than once in this story. Damage was done, especially, for example, to Hagar. They thought that they could find a way to sort of “help” God bless them, help God fulfill promises made. How tempted we are to do this sometimes! We try to offer God good ways to bless us. We try to set it all up, make our plans, and then ask God to add the blessing, make the promise fit to what we’ve put together. We are blessed, because even when we try to force God’s hand, God can work through the mess we make in the process. But waiting for the promises, the blessings, to unfold in our lives in God’s right time, in the unexpected ways that are better than our best plans – it’s the most beautiful bouquet of blessings you can imagine.
    I asked you to think of the nicknames by which you’ve been known, and how you got them. One of my nicknames I got in elementary school – it was Bisquik! My basketball coach gave me that name. He was known for giving every player a nickname. And I was so anxious to get my name! He once called me “Pearl” when I made a good series of foul shots, but that nickname eventually stuck on a teammate instead of me, and I was distressed. What would my nickname be? When would I get a nickname? I would even ask him about it, but he insisted I had to wait until something struck him. I had to wait for the right moment. Maybe “Bisquik” isn’t exactly flashy, but when my nickname was finally given, it was worth it for my one-of-a-kind name.
    When God names us, when God claims us, makes us new, fulfills promises in us, we find that our own small plans and visions pale in comparison. Instead of Abram, Exalted Father, God gives us Abraham, Father of Many, as countless as the stars. I can’t tell you why God’s plans sometimes unfold so much more slowly than we’d like. Only God knows that. I can only remind you of what most of you know. That looking back over our lives, our way has never turned out better than God’s way. Indeed, things have a marvelous way of bringing us to just the spot where we belong. I can tell you that serving at Apple Valley was never part of my plan. How could it be? I didn’t even know you were here! And yet, in what can only be God’s right time at work, here we are!
    God took Abram and Sarai’s laughter and drew from it their child, Laughter brought to life in the child Isaac. A promise fulfilled. The promises are being fulfilled in your life too. And in mine. And in this place. What shape will they take? Surely, only God knows. But that is so much more than enough. Amen.   

    Tuesday, January 13, 2015

    Lectionary Notes for Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B (Ordinary 2)

    Readings for 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, 1/18/15:
    1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20), Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

    1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20):
    • This is a great story of call, and along with today's texts from Psalms and John, makes a great day for preaching about knowing who we are and what we're meant to be doing. Combine that with the fact that this is Human Relations Day, celebrating, among other things, Martin Luther King Jr., in the UMC, and you've got the makings for a great day to inspire people to respond to God's call.
    • Samuel is confused about who is calling him. He keeps thinking Eli is calling him. But his confusion doesn't keep Samuel from being willing, again and again, to respond to the call. How have you been called? Have you shared your call story with your congregation?
    • Eli plays such an important role in this text, helping Samuel understand what is happening to him. It is an essential role in ministry to have people who are willing to support, endorse, and guide people who are trying to discern a call from God.
    • "the Lord . . . let none of his words fall to the ground." What a neat phrase - God keeping your words from being useless. All pastors should pray for such a gift!
    Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18:
    • Not only did God knit us together in our mother's womb, but this whole passage reads like we are in God's womb - hemmed in by God behind and before. Our life is in God's womb - that is a very peaceful and comforting thought.
    • It is both comforting to know that we can't go where God is not, but it is also a challenge, in a way. We're reminded that God, in a sense, chases us. We are "hem[med] in" behind and before. God is strategically cornering us. An aggressive God, who insists, perhaps, on having a relationship with us.
    • How weighty to us are God's thoughts! Indeed!
    • "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." This psalm affirms God and God's power, but also affirms our human worth and goodness - a rare scriptural combination. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. How well do you know that? How many in this society know that and are taught to know that?
    1 Corinthians 6:12-20:
    • This is a great passage. Paul argues that though something may be technically ok, lawful for one to do, it is still not necessarily beneficial. We worry a lot about rules and whether what we are doing is right or wrong, but sometimes we're worried only about "what we can get away with" instead of what is God's best hope for us.
    • "your body is a temple" Here, in a rare moment, is some of Paul's best non-dualistic thinking. Our body is meant for God, and we're meant to glorify God in our body. How do you go about doing that? I love watching dancers, because they are such a beautiful example of body as temple. But as a society, we're really bad, dangerously bad at glorifying God with our body.
    John 1:43-51:
    • This is the second time in this chapter that Jesus tells someone to "Come and See" - he has just told this to Andrew, when John the Baptist 'introduced' him to Jesus, and Andrew asked Jesus where he was staying.  Now, he tells this to Nathanael, when Nathanael asks Jesus a scriptural, "can anything good come out of Nazareth?" It is almost like Jesus gives him a dare, a challenge. "Want to know the answer? I dare you to come and see for yourself."
    • "Do you believe because of [this]?" I get the feeling Jesus doesn't want Nathanael to believe in him because of 'magic tricks' but because of something deeper. Jesus promises Nathanael that that something deeper will come. Why do you believe in Jesus?
    • "Follow me." Jesus doesn't give many details for them to base a decision on, does he? What is the most daring thing you've ever done? Who have you trusted based on such little information?

    Sermon for Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Year B, "A New Name: Beloved," Mark 1:4-11

    Sermon 1/11/15
    Mark 1:4-11

    A New Name: Beloved

                Tim: Today we’re starting a new series in worship called, “A New Name.” Each week, we’ll be looking at a different person in the Bible who goes by a new name. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon is called Peter. Saul becomes Paul. In each of these cases, the new name corresponds with a significant moment in their spiritual journeys. This is a series Pastor Beth’s been wanting to do since her first weeks at Apple Valley. Surviving a merger of congregations is a difficult task for churches. It usually isn’t all smooth sailing. And sometimes there’s a lot of residual grief and pain and tension and so on. Pastor Beth served as pastor for a few years at a church that was a United Church – Presbyterian and United Methodist– and when she first met with them, they told her about how firmly they thought of themselves as united. This made sense, because they had been merged together as one congregation for almost 40 years. And yet, Pastor Beth discovered that within two weeks of being there, she knew whether everyone was a Methodist or a Presbyterian! The differences between the denominations still stirred up trouble in the congregation all these years later. Making a new congregation out of older congregations isn’t an easy thing.
                The longer she’s here, the more Pastor Beth learns about the journey we’ve all been through to become one congregation – and she knows it wasn’t always easy, even still. But, she says, “I have to tell you, from this outsider’s perspective, you’ve done a remarkable job at becoming one congregation. Yes, I know what congregations some of you were once part of – but it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I interact with you. Every church has some traditions that are special, but I’ve also found you refreshingly flexible when Pastor Penny and I want to try something new. It’s really delightful to pastor that kind of congregation, because it means that there’s room in us for God to do something new.”
                And we serve a God who loves to make all things new. That’s one of the promises of the scriptures: In Christ, we are new creations. When we follow Jesus, we have an opportunity to let go of the past, let go of harmful behaviors, let go of destructive patterns in our lives. We can actually let go of hurting ourselves and each other, and claim new life in Christ, resurrected lives. So between now and the season of Lent, as we begin a new year, we’re also thinking about what it means to be new creations in Christ, children of a new birth, given new names. Today we do that as we celebrate Baptism of the Lord Sunday.
    Laura: Today, in our gospel lesson from Mark, we find Jesus at his baptism. Hopefully this text sounds a bit familiar – we just read most of it during Advent, the first section about John the Baptist. Mark is very brief in all things in his gospel, and so the actual baptism gets only three verses. John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, is in the wilderness, preaching baptizing people, a symbol of repentance and forgiveness of sins. He speaks about one who is coming who is more powerful than he, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And then, indeed, Jesus arrives, and is baptized by John. The other gospels have a bit of dialogue between Jesus and John where John wonders why Jesus needs to be baptized by John, but that is of no importance to Mark. He only says that Jesus comes to be baptized, and that when he was, as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit seemed to descend on him like a dove, and a voice spoke, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Other gospels have these words from God directed to the crowd – This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased. But in Mark, this message is right from God to Jesus – You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. This event marks the beginning of Jesus' ministry – from here he goes into the wilderness himself for a period, where he is tested and tried, and then he begins showing up in synagogues, preaching, teaching, and healing. But it begins, in a way, with this baptism. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
    Bev: A couple of years ago, Pastor Beth’s dearest friend Heather was struggling with the process of getting a learning permit for her then 16-year old daughter, who was ready to learn to drive. Somewhere along the way, Heather had misplaced her daughter’s Social Security card, which they needed to get Mickayla’s permit. Well, in order to get a new Social Security card, you need your birth certificate, which proves your citizenship, but you also need proof of identity – like a driver's license – which obviously she didn’t have. Of course, it turns out that you can also use a photo student ID card or a photo credit card or something like that, but proving your identity isn’t so easy.
    Every so often, you can read news stories about people who have accidentally been declared dead in paperwork even though they are quite alive! Somehow names and information got mixed up, and these folks had ended up with bank accounts frozen, unable to get loans or credit, had stopped receiving things like social security checks, and had real financial difficulties as a result of the mix-up. And, as crazy as it sounds, some people have had an extremely difficult time proving their identity, proving that they were really alive and who they claimed to be, once this mistake had been made.
    How would you prove your identity? Author John Reader, talks about how we keep trying to form our identity in different ways in contemporary culture. Sometimes we try self-as-commodity – we are sort of a “product” that can be branded and molded in a certain way. Sometimes we try self-as-consumer – “I shop therefore I am.” We try to take what we have, what we possess, and make it into who we are. Sometimes we try self-as-project, he says, constantly trying to put together a good-enough self by making sure we have the right trainings and qualifications and skills to be what we want and what is expected of us. Identity formation is an important process. We all go through a time or times in our life when we need to ask ourselves critically: Who am I? What do I believe? What is my life all about? But whenever we start building our identities from all these external sources, we are probably heading in a bad direction, never knowing our true selves. So who are you, really? What is your identity?
    Liz: Sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are. John Reader was right: if we look in the wrong places, we can find a million voices that will gladly tell us who we are and who we should be. But these voices don’t know us. God, who created us, knows us. Our identity is being shaped from the day we are born and before and onward. We might, the day we are born, have had our feet dipped in ink to make prints that would identify us. We have names that we were given that set us apart. But even our names aren’t who we are. When we celebrate a baptism in the church, we are celebrating the fact that we all know someone's identity. We are celebrating that the person is a child of God, made in God's image, and part of the body of Christ. That is our identity, our true self. It is something we all share in, but something that is made manifest in each one of us in a completely unique way. We are God’s beloved. With us, each of us, even you, even me, God is well-pleased. We are Beloved.
    Sometimes people get worried about baptisms when they have newborns. A lot of traditions and practices built up over time are hard to erase, and many pastors still find it hard to get people to believe that nothing bad happens to you if you aren’t baptized on a certain timetable. Baptism is a sacrament – and outward sign of an inward grace. And the inward grace is from God – God's unconditional love for us. Baptism, then, is a sign, a reminder to us of God's love. It is the thing we do to celebrate what is true no matter what. God made us. We are made in God's image. God loves us. Baptism is the reminder, the party, the celebration of that amazing fact. That’s why Jesus is baptized. It reminds him, as he starts what will be three years of heart-wrenching ministry that will lead to his death on the cross, that he is Beloved. Jesus is many things, and known by many names. But what he is first is God’s child, Beloved.  

    Tim: Isn't it nice to be reminded of who we are? Figuring out our identities in this world of competing voices can be exhausting. We can get off track. Lost. Mixed-up. Isn't it good to remember? Who are you? What is the true self buried under all those expectations placed upon you? What is your true self, when you strip away all those layers you’ve built up to fit in, to get ahead, to be good enough? Who are you?
    We have an opportunity to renew our baptismal vows, to remember the celebration that marked our true identity, so that we, too, might have strength for the journey that lies ahead. Do you need a reminder of who you are? Are you a disciple? Are you a follower of Jesus? Come, let God remind you. In whose image are you created? Who calls you by name? Come, let God remind you. You are loved without condition, part of God's own family. Come, Beloved, let God remind you. Amen.

    Tuesday, January 06, 2015

    Lectionary Notes for Baptism of the Lord, Year B

    Readings for Baptism of the Lord Sunday, 1/11/15:
    Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

    Genesis 1:1-5:

  • "In the beginning," so starts the word of God. What a great beginning. I believe that science and faith can go hand in hand. I believe that evolution doesn't have to contradict our believe in God as creator. This said, I can't ask for a better description of creation than the poetic opening of Genesis.
  • Also compare Genesis 1 with John 1 - John clearly tries to align himself with this style of writing, showing Christ's presence even at creation.
  • "wind from God swept over the face of the waters" - how would you draw this - visually represent it?
  • Note that here on the first day, and throughout creation, God declares things as "good." Creation is good.

  • Psalm 29
  • "The Voice of the Lord" - I guess I've never noticed this psalm before, which speaks primarily of God's voice.
  • It is also visualizing God creating or in relation to a strong and powerful thunderstorm, which may be based on a psalm to the Caananite god, Baal (see Chris Haslam's comments on this) God over the waters, God's glory thundering, breaking the cedars, flashes forth flames of fire, "the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness." What can we do with these images? Can we use our imagination to read the scriptures? Certainly this psalmist used imagination to create this imagery, to make God's voice come alive.
  • What imagery would you use to describe/envision God's voice in your life? I like the process theology metaphor of God's lure, God slowly luring me with God's voice until slowly, step by step, I followed.

  • Acts 19:1-7:
  • This passage represents a fulfilling of John the Baptist's words in our text from Mark today. John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water, but the coming baptism will be of the Holy Spirit. Paul happens upon folks who have been baptized by John, and he urges them to take this "Holy Spirit" baptism.
  • Paul and Mark both indicate that John's baptism is a baptism of repentance/confession/forgiveness. So how would you characterize the baptism of the Holy Spirit? As a baptism of grace? Do you think today that different denominations characterize the meaning of baptism differently like this? Some viewing it as a baptism of repentance, others as a baptism of grace? What do you think?
  • "spoke in tongues and prophesied" - what did they say? I always want more details, more information, more specifics.

  • Mark 1:4-11
  • 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 today?
  • Make sure you compare Mark's recording of this scene (remember Mark is the earliest gospel written) with the accounts in the other gospels. In Mark, God speaks directly to Jesus: You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased. Other accounts have God saying This is my Son. I prefer Mark's recording - God speaking directly to God's child.
  • We might all wish for the heavens to part and for a dove to descend and for God to declare in front of all that we are pleasing and beloved in God's sight, but it doesn't usually work quite that way for us. How does it work for us? How can we know God loves us? What are the markers and milestones in our lives and ministries? How can we play John to someone, preparing them, providing a space for them to begin their calling?
  • Friday, January 02, 2015

    My 2014 Reading List

    Books I Read in 2014

    I didn't read as much as I wanted this year, especially in the first several months. I did finish my DMin though, so perhaps reading what I had written over and over and over in the editing process counts in lieu of a few books....

    1.     Hamilton, Adam, 24 Hours that Changed the World (church Lenten study) - Pretty good. My congregation enjoyed this. 

    2.     Hamilton, Adam, Making Sense of the Bible (church Bible study) - I think this is a really excellent study. It's got a lot crammed into it, and will delve into some uncomfortable topics, but my folks took it mostly in stride. I think if pastors realize their congregants want and appreciate this kind of look at the Bible, it would make things easier from there on out. 

    3.     Kalas, J. Ellsworth, A Hop, Skip, and a Jumpthrough the Bible (church Bible study) - Not my favorite of his books. (Christmas from the Backside is) but this was a nice companion book to my Bible 101 class. 

    4.   Hamilton, Adam, Not a Silent Night (clergy Bible study) - Probably my least favorite Hamilton book to date. I felt like this was a "need to put out an Advent study" book. It wasn't awful. It was just not moving to me in any way. Forgettable. 

    5.     Lupton, Robert D., Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life - I got this thinking I would use it as a DMin resource, but it wasn't really what I was looking for. A decent read, although I think Lupton could push farther in a lot of areas, and still uses an "us" "them" breakdown that is not helpful sometimes. 

    6.     Livermore, David A., Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Another one I got thinking it would work for DMin research. This focuses on short-term mission trips and on pastors training other pastors outside the US. If you and your church are involved in either of those things, I recommend it. 

    7.     Borg, Marcus and Crossan, John Dominic, The First Christmas - I've had this for a while, and finally got to it. I really enjoyed it. I think it would be a great read for some of my atheist friends who think they've discovered the myth of Christmas, and some of my Christian friends who might benefit from understanding the multi-layered symbolism of the Christmas story. 

    8. Lewis, C.S., Miracles - Oh, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia are so good! So full of imagination! So open! His non-fiction - not so much. I'll give him this - he's got an interesting technique of argument. Reminds me of the apostle Paul. I'd love to see what he'd make of our scientific knowledge today. 

    9.     Smith Hill, Pamela, Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life - Loved this look at Wilder's life, especially the examination of the relationship between Laura and her daughter Rose and who really wrote what. (Smith Hill argues that Rose was an editor, not essentially a ghost-writer, and that Laura was forgiving of the large chunks of her writing that Rose lifted for her own work.) 

    11.  Monk, Theophane, Tales of a Magic Monastery - This is a book beloved by one of our CCYM coordinators, and thus, by our CCYM as a whole. I was glad to read the source of some of our favorite CCYM parables. 

    12.  Baum, Frank L., The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - My brother gave me his old kindle, and this was pre-loaded on it, so I read it. I like the movie better! (I know, I know.)

    13-15.  Roth, Veronica, Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant - Divergent was awesome. Insurgent was pretty good. Allegiant - boo. It isn't just the ending, which I hated, but won't spoil here. It was the way the third book just changed so many key elements of the first book that I loved. Unbelievable character actions. A total change in setting. A change in the whole world of the book. A letdown after a great start.  

    16.  Fielding, Helen, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy - I am a huge fan of Bridget Jones' Diary and The Edge of Reason, which are both hilarious. In this book (SPOILER ALERT), Mark has died, and Bridget is significantly older. I was SO disappointed we never got to see the rest of Bridget and Mark's relationship, their marriage, them parenting together. I don't mind Bridget growing up. I just wish we had gotten to see it happen.  

    17-19. Bracken, Alexandra, Darkest MindsNever Fade, In the Afterlight - A Young Adult series I heard about via some tumblrs I follow, appropriately enough. Excellent series. I hope it gets more widely read. 

    20.  Shapard, David M. and Jane Austen, Annotated Emma - An excellent read for this lover of all things Jane Austen. 

    21.  Norris, Bruce, Clyborne Park - CNY Playhouse is staging this show in the spring, and I read it before auditioning. I wasn't cast, but I'm so glad I read the script, and am looking forward to seeing the production. A contemporary look at race, housing, and the things we don't like to talk about out loud. 

    22.  Ehrman, Bart D., The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed - Since I'm obsessed with Judas, I had to read this. I've had this book for a while and finally got to it this year. I like Bart Ehrman's writing style and approach, but I realized I really don't care about Gnostic writing. I loved the parts where Ehrman explores the canonical gospels and theorizes about actual Judas. I also found the section on the discovery of the text to be intriguing. But the rest - not my thing. 

    23.  Ruhl, Sarah, In the Next Room -  Todd was reading a stack of plays for school, and I picked up this one out of the pile. It was ok. 

    Selected Audiobooks: Mostly I listen to really light stuff I wouldn't both reviewing, but a couple of standouts - 
    Eugenides, Jeffery, The Marriage Plot - This was really good. I loved reading about students in the midst of the explosion of semiotics and deconstruction. I had no real sense when my SUPA English introduced us to this stuff in high school how contemporary it was and how useful it would prove to know about later in my educational career. Also, the main character is named Mitchell Grammaticus, and I think that is the best character name ever.  

    Weiner, Jennifer, All Fall Down - I love all of her books, and feel sad when she's mislabeled as "chic lit." This book focuses on a young mother caught up in prescription pain med addiction. The protagonist isn't particularly likable, but I think that's ok. 

    Fanfiction: Admission - In this past year, I've read a ton of fanfiction. I had no idea when I started out looking for a version of The Hunger Games written from Peeta's perspective the whole world of fanfiction that existed. I subscribe to updates from a bunch of works-in-progress now, and there's something neat about getting a story chapter by chapter. My favorite, which I mentioned last year, is still, hands-down, When the Moon Fell in Love with the Sun. The author has been through a lot in her personal life in the last year, resulting in a slow update schedule, but it is worth the wait. 

    In Progress: 
    Poehler, Amy, Yes Please 
    Stookey, Laurence Hull, Let the Whole Church Say Amen!
    Dashner, James, The Maze Runner
    Shealy, Daniel and Louisa May Alcott, Little Women: An Annotated Edition
    Aslan, Reza, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

    Thursday, January 01, 2015

    Lectionary Notes for Epiphany Sunday

    *I have a sung communion liturgy for Epiphany here,* set to IN DULCI JUBILO/"Good Christian Friends, Rejoice." 

    Readings for Epiphany Sunday, 1/4/15:
    Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

    Isaiah 60:1-6:
    • On Epiphany Sunday, we use many light/dark images which correspond to good/bad, and sometimes, unfortunately, white/black. Make sure to double check your language for overtones that may be perceived as racist or convey a message that you don't intend!
    • "Lift up your eyes and look around." Sometimes things that we need/want/pray for/hope for are right in front of us, we just fail to see them because we are not looking. During seminary, I had the chance to travel to Ghana, West Africa, and walk across high-suspended canopy bridges in Kakum National Park. I had to remind myself to stop, breathe, and look around at the rain forest that I was crossing high above!
    • This passage is addressed to Israel, as the people have been permitted by the Persian King Darius to return to the Holy City Jerusalem. This is a homecoming story, an image of a big party thrown for Israel's return to itself.

    Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14:
    • Judgment and Justice - To me the word justice is so powerful because of its double meanings. We want to bring criminals to justice, to make sure they get what they deserve in terms of punishment, but we want to bring the oppressed justice, to make sure they get what they deserve: equality, shelter, food, health, etc. I'm reminded of the Newsboys song with the lyrics, "When you get what you don't deserve, it's a real good thing . . . when you don't get what you deserve, it's a real good thing."
    • This psalm is written as a sort of call for blessings on a king, perhaps at the beginning of his reign/coronation/special ceremony. In my NRSV translation, some of the phrases sound quite demanding of God. "Give the king your justice, O God." Are we willing to demand of God so boldly when we have wants/needs? When is or isn't this appropriate?

    Ephesians 3:1-12:
    • "This is the reason": Paul has been writing in the previous chapter about how both the circumcised and the uncircumcised are now one in Christ, who has broken down the dividing wall. This is the purpose of Paul's ministry, to bring the Good News to the Gentiles.
    • "Although I am the very least of all the saints." When I was younger, before I came to better terms with my good friend Paul, these statements of self-debasing always irritated me to no end! :)
    • "Mystery", from the Greek musterion, a secret thing or secret rite. Not so much in a 'whodunnit' sense, but in an awe and intrigue sense.

    Matthew 2:1-12:
    • Matthew emphasizes the importance of this event because the visit of the Magi (the Latin term) symbolizes recognition from non-Jewish figures of prominence who recognize the kingship of baby Jesus.
    • Note that there is no mention of 3 Kings. A lot of common thought about the wise men is something of Bible mythology, such as their number, their names (traditionally Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior), and their royal status. Of course, the wise men would not have arrived at the birth of the Christ child, as depicted in nativity scenes, but well after the birth, hence Herod's decision to kill male babies of two and under, to make sure the job was done.
    • What makes this story of the wise men the day of Epiphany? Writes Dennis Bratcher in this article, "The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ."

    Monday, December 22, 2014

    Lectionary Notes for First Sunday after Christmas Day, Year B

    Readings for First Sunday after Christmas Day, 12/28/14:
    Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 148, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:22-40

    Isaiah 61:10-62:3:

  • "my whole being shall exult in my God." How do you exalt God with your whole being? We think of ourselves so much as in our heads, so much about our souls, relegating our bodies to just be flesh-things that contain us on earth. But Isaiah sees a whole-body worshipping of God. Do you put your whole self into worship?
  • I don't usually feel inspired by bride-to-be imagery in the Bible, but I get what it means to convey. Have you ever been part of a wedding and the preparations of the wedding party? All decked out, in the best finery, with so much desire to please the other spouse-to-be. That's how we, God's people, are meant to feel about being ready to meet God.

  • Psalm 148:
  • I like Psalms that are simple and clear in their focus: Praise God, everything and everyone. It is a reminder to me, to us, in our worship preparations, to remember what is our focus: Praise God, everything and everyone. Sometimes we try so hard for something fantastic that we lose focus on why we put together such wonderful music, beautiful liturgies, and carefully crafted sermons. Praise God!
  • Psalms like this that include things like: sun, moon, starts, mountains, fire, hair, hills, trees, cattle, birds, young, old, men, women, rules, snow, and wind, all in one litany remind us of our relationship with ALL creation. A little stewardship of the earth, please? If the psalm says all creation praises God, we do a good job of putting a stop to the praise when we destroy the creation...
  • This image sort of reminds me of The Lion King when all the animals come to see the new baby Simba be ‘baptized’ – all creation is joining in. What a picture!
  • Creation is commanded by the psalmist to give praise because of its existence. Do we require more of God to give God praise? Do we only feel like praising when things are going our way or when we’ve received some desired request? Or do we praise because we are, because we have being?
  • V. 11-12 say that Kings and the regular people, rulers, young men and women, old men and women, all should praise together. Is that a good picture of worship today? How do we worship together from different walks of life? Who is missing from this full picture in our own congregations?

  • Galatians 4:4-7:
  • Adoption language. I have trouble with this language of Paul's. I don't know what to think. Are we only God's adopted children because of Jesus Christ, or are we God's children already because we are created in God's image? I can see good theological arguments either way. If we're God's adopted children, then that means like parents adopt children today, God choosesto be our parent. I like that image. But I don't like an implication that we're only God's children because of Christ. Aren't all people God's children?
  • What does it mean to be a child of God? Think about the place of children in the Bible - in Jesus' teaching. How are you entering God's kingdom in a childlike way?

  • Luke 2:22-40:
  • Simeon in particular has been waiting for sometime to see the Messiah, even though he had no idea when this would happen. What have you been waiting your whole life to see? What's worth such wait?
  • I feel sorry for poor Mary, hearing Simeon's confusing and upsetting words about her son. Do you think she thought he was a crazy man, or do you think she already had a feeling about what he said?
  • When you look at a child, can you envision in them all that they might be? God looks at us that way, I think, even when we are no longer young in years, always seeing all that we might be.
  • Lectionary Notes for Christmas Day

    Readings for Christmas Sunday, 12/25/14: 
    Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12), John 1:1-14

    Isaiah 52:7-10:

  • "beautiful feet" - I've known this verse, though not where to find it in the Bible, since I was in a summer-camp production of "Sandi Patti and the Friendship Company" in junior high, where "Beautiful Feet" was one of the songs. I looked all over for lyrics online, but couldn't find them. Beautiful feet - what a great image! Are your feet beautiful? What message do your feet carry from place to place? Do you bring peace with your feet? Salvation?
  • Isaiah speaks of the joy of Israel returning back home after exile to Babylon. When have you experienced your most joyful homecoming? When have you been away from home and not wanted to be away from home? Homesick? Without a home?
  • According to Chris Haslam, the reference to "God's arm" is a reference to God's power. Sort of envisioning a God-flexing-muscles picture.

  • Psalm 98
  • Oof - watch out - there's "God's arm" again, twice on one Sunday!
  • "Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy." Great imagery. How would you create this image?
  • This is a psalm of joy and thankfulness for God's action in someone's life, in the life of a whole people. How do you celebrate as an individual? As a community? Do we celebrate as nations? A world? How do we express our joy in God? Through worship? Action?

  • Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12):
  • Hebrews talks of Jesus as the reflection of God's glory. I think we are also reflections of God's glory, if we let ourselves be, let God makes us into these reflections. This is what it means to be created in God's image, isn't it?
  • "exact imprint of God's very being" - This makes fingerprints come to mind, or plaster casts of babies' feet.
  • The argument here seems to be: Jesus is better than angels. Was this a question in the early church? Chris Haslam says it was (sort of), actually.
  • think this passage from Hebrews may be the only non-gospel place that refers to Jesus' birth in the scriptures. But Hebrews' description sounds more like Revelation and less like Luke 2!

  • John 1:1-14:
  • This is John's take on a birth narrative. No shepherds, no angels, no Mary and Joseph, no manger. This is how John describes Jesus' coming into the world. The language is rich in metaphor, and though it lacks the characters of the traditional nativity, the point is still communicated without a doubt: 'And the word became flesh and lived among us'.
  • This is one of my favorite passages in the Greek New Testament, not only because of the easy, repetitive vocabulary :) but also because it is poetic and lyrical through the simple, repetitive structure. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
  • Passages like this from John provide the strongest basest for our Trinitarian Christian Creeds. Jesus was "in the beginning with God."
  • I think we are all, like John the Baptist, meant to testify, or witness, to the light. How do you do it? Witnessing means telling what you know about something, like at a trial. What do you know about the light that is Christ? 
  • Lectionary Notes for Christmas Eve, Year ABC

    Readings for Christmas Eve/Day, 12/24/14:
    Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20

    Isaiah 9:2-7:
    • This text is particularly meaningful in the midst of December in this part of the world, with the short days and sometimes seemingly perpetual darkness. It can be overwhelming. Our life without God's light is like a perpetual darkness. But the joy of Christmas is the coming of the light in the Christ-child.
    • The coming of the messiah comes as one who frees from oppression and lifts the burden from the downtrodden. Christmas comes to those in desperate need - sometimes we forget that, and think of Christmas as all for us and about us who can't honestly describe ourselves as oppressed.
    • "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." What is your name for the messiah? This year in my congregation, we are focusing on the appellation "Prince of Peace" in particular.
    • "there shall be endless peace" - what do you think Isaiah means by this? We look around and see that though Christ has come, we haven't experienced endless peace. Are we missing it? Is it yet to come? Do we have to aid in its coming, or does it happen in spite of us? What do you think?
    • I think we always have to be careful with light/darkness imagery to make sure we're not interjecting any racist overtones to our language. Obviously light/dark imagery is biblical and helpful in teaching, but we also have to watch out for ways talking about light as good and dark as evil can be hurtful to people of color. Just be mindful.
    Psalm 96:
    • The first verses don't distinguish this psalm for me from many others. Praise God, tell of God's salvations. Great is the Lord, greatly to be praised.
    • God judges with equity - as a judge is supposed to do. But so often we experience injustice even in the very justice system. God's justice is always - just!
    • Vs. 11 is some of the anthropomorphic language often found in Psalms, but I find it effective. Heaven, earth, sea, fields, and all that is in earth is glad for God's ruler-ship. The trees sing. To my mind come images from The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia with trees who could indeed sing praise.
    • We will be judged with God's truth. How do you understand that? With what else are we judged?   
    Titus 2:11-14:
    • Christmas Eve is the only time Titus appears in the lectionary, and I'm guessing people usually don't use the Titus text when we have so much to talk about in Isaiah and Luke. Poor Titus! But there's some good stuff in this short selection.
    • "The grace of God has appeared." - I really like this - Grace, something we think of as intangible and invisible, has become tangible, literally touchable, certainly visible, in the coming of the Christ child.
    • "bringing salvation to all" - emphasis mine. Salvation is for all.
    • "renounce impiety and worldly passions" - what are the 'worldly passions' you need to announce. Instead of a season of joy and abundance, it seems we often make the season instead one of gluttony and selfishness. But here we are called to live lives that are "self-controlled, upright, and godly." What would you have to change to make that true for yourself?
    • "zealous for good deeds" - I can try and trick myself all I want, but I know I can't honestly describe myself as one who is zealous for good deeds. Can you? I wish I could though - what a great description for someone.
    Luke 2:1-20:
    • I find it hard to write notes on this text and give a new look at words so familiar. But we have to look with new eyes and read with new ears, don't we? I find it hard to even preach on this text. Often on Christmas Eve I opt for monologues and drama, to try and let the story come alive. My goal is to try to engage the text in a five-senses sort of way: what do we see, hear, smell, touch, taste? And additionally: what is everyone feeling?
    • Mary, of course, is the star here (aside from the baby, obviously.) What does Mary feel? Is she stressed? Exasperated? Scared out of her mind? We don't know the details, but from the story we can't see that there's anyone there to help her through the birthing process except Joseph.
    • Why do you think God speaks to the shepherds? We have such warm fuzzy images of shepherds, but we don't really have a feel for the places of shepherd's in Jesus' day. Why are they included in the birth? Why not the innkeeper? A priest? Other townsfolk? What do you think the shepherds felt about what they saw (other than terror at the angels?!)
    • The shepherds told others about the baby Jesus. I wonder what was made of this news - crazy shepherds? Did years later people still wonder about the child? Know that the man Jesus was the baby they'd once heard about?
    • "Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." One of my favorite verses in the bible. What a brave, faithful young woman we find pictured in this text. 

    Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, "Hurry Up and Wait: Expecting," Luke 1:26-55

    Sermon 12/21/14
    Luke 1:26-55

    Hurry Up and Wait: Expecting

                The children have already done a good job of proclaiming the good news for us today, haven’t they? I especially appreciated that refrain, “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.” That’s what we’ve been talking about – that’s what you do with good news. You share it! You tell it! You invite others to hear it and be a part of it. You live it!
                But, I am a pastor, so I can’t entirely give up an opportunity to preach at least a little bit, especially in this season of Advent, especially when we’ve finally gotten to something that sounds a bit like a Christmas story. Today we got to hear all about Mary, in three segments. First, Gabriel tells her she’ll bear a son who will be Son of the Most High God. The angel calls her “favored one,” blessed one. Mary asks just one question, “how can this be?” And then she responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Her faith always astounds me, the way she just absorbs the angel’s frankly outrageous message.
    And then we see Mary go to visit her cousin Elizabeth, an older woman who is also expecting a child, John, who will be known as John the Baptist. We’ve been hearing a bit about him these past couple weeks. And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit – the first person in the gospels we hear about receiving the Holy Spirit – as Elizabeth notes that she and Mary both believe that God fulfills promises made – even these miraculous promises to them.
    And then finally, we get to the part we actually heard first, from Leona in our Call to Worship today: a song of praise, of hope, of Mary realizing that her child represents God turning the world upside down. This section of Luke is known as the Magnificat, “My soul glorifies/magnifies the Lord,” and it is one of my favorite passages of scripture. This passage is the longest single chunk of speech from a woman in the New Testament. Mary’s words echo those of Hannah, mother of Samuel in the Old Testament, who praises God when she is able to give birth after a long time of believing she could not have children. This song, Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is Mary’s vision of what Jesus’ birth will mean: the lowly are raised up and blessed by God. The proud are scattered. The powerful are brought down from their thrones. The hungry are filled, while the rich leave empty-handed. These words were considered so revolutionary that at different times in history – in Guatemala, in Argentina, and in India, the public reading of the Magnificat was banned. After all, if Mary’s words were taken serious, why, this Christ-child might upset the whole order of the world! And so we get a little insight into Mary – what she’s expecting in Jesus – through her response to Elizabeth.
                This Advent, I’ve been taking part in a Clergy Bible Study with some pastors in my area studying the Adam Hamilton book Not a Silent Night. The book focuses on Mary, and urges us to think about what happened to Mary after the crucifixion and resurrection, about what Mary went through when Jesus was a young child, and a young teen, and a young man. And of course, the book reflects on what Mary must have been wondering about after hearing the news from Gabriel that she would give birth to God’s son, the Savior. We talked briefly last week about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah John the Baptist was expecting. John expected the winnowing fork and the ax at the roots, ready to judge, but Jesus came preaching grace and forgiveness, and John had to wonder if Jesus was the person he was preparing for or not.
    Today, as we read these texts, I’m wondering about Mary’s expectations. I think of all of those I know who’ve gone through their first pregnancy. There is so much to hope for, to expect, to wonder about, to prepare for. But there’s only so much you can really learn from What To Expect When You’re Expecting. And no matter how you imagine your child, they will be different and more than you could have imagined. No matter how you imagined your life with a brand new life in it, you can never completely anticipate all that the child will bring to your life. You are full of expectation, without knowing exactly what to expect. And you have to prepare – you’d be crazy not to – all the while knowing that you couldn’t prepare for everything.
    As I think about Mary, I think about how long and short a pregnancy is all at once. The time goes by quickly, in some ways, but in other ways – how hard it must have been for Mary to wait to see what this child would really be. We read nothing of any additional visits from Gabriel from the time he told her she would have a child until the time the child is born and angels have sent shepherds to meet the newborn. Did she wonder if she had hallucinated? Was she crazy? Was she just going to have an ordinary child after all? Did she wish she’d asked more questions? She must have wondered not only what her child would look like, but also what he’d be like, a child who was a Savior. Was she supposed to parent him in the normal way? I just can’t imagine what was in her heart. On Christmas Eve this week, we’ll hear that when Jesus is at last born, what Mary does is treasure and ponder in her heart everything that happens.
    The angel told Mary she was favored, blessed, and Mary believed it. The angel told Mary nothing was impossible with God, and Mary believed it. The angel told Mary she would give birth to God’s child, and Mary said, “Here I am,” and “Now, God is going to turn everything upside down.” She couldn’t possibly be prepared for it, be expecting everything that would happen in the next decades of her life. And yet she was prepared for and expecting God to be faithful as always.
    I hope that is what this Advent has been, is, for you. It is hard to imagine what God has in store for us. But yet, friends, we can rely so completely on God’s promises being fulfilled that we can most certainly expect that the unexpected that God has in store will be all that we hoped – and more. Here we are, servants of God. Let it be with us according to God’s word. For blessed are we who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what is spoken to us by God. Amen.


    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    Lectionary Notes for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B

    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?

  • Luke 1:47-55
  • 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.

  • Romans 16:25-27:
  • "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?

  • Luke 1:26-38
  • 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?
  • Sermon for Third Sunday in Advent, "Hurry Up and Wait: Message," Luke 3:7-18

    Sermon 12/14/14
    Luke 3:7-18

    Hurry Up and Wait: Message

                Every year 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.”
                John obviously 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.    
                John tells 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.
                As 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.
                But our 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.
                Here’s the 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.