Monday, December 31, 2007


This week's scripture is Matthew 2: 1-15

This Christian holiday celebrates the revelation of Christ to humanity. It focuses on the visit of the magi to Jesus and his family.

There are a couple of things that I find particularly interesting about this week's scripture: one has to do with the ways in which God speaks to us; the other is about corrupt power.

In this passage both the magi and Joseph are warned by God in dreams to do something different than they had planned. The magi go home a different way to avoid Herod and Joseph flees with his family into Egypt because of the coming slaughter of the innocents in which Hebrew male children will be killed.

The magi and Joseph had to be open to listening to the possibility that God might speak to them through their dreams. Then they had to have cultivated an openness that would allow them to respond to what they heard...a quality of obedience if you will.

Unless you are one of those people who pays attention to their dreams on a regular basis, people in our day don't seem to think that God might be using their dreams to speak to them. But even if you don't pay attention to your dreams, think about the other ways that God might be speaking to us that we all too often miss. Is that chronic cough God's way of telling us it's time to quit smoking? Is that exhausted sleeplessness God's way of telling us that it's time to slow down and stop trying to prove that we're good enough? Are those 'body memories' and memory flashbacks God's way of saying it's time to deal with some old pain or trauma? The eyes and ears of our inner being have to be open to recieve these messages. And then we have to have cultivated the spirit of trust and obedience that will let us act on what we hear.

We don't get to this place overnight. It's a discipline, like learning to play an instrument, or paint, or do karate. We have to commit to it and keep on-even when we fail and feel clumsy. But somehow even those of us who are very committed and disciplined in other parts of our lives become ashamed and embarrassed by our own spiritual clumsiness and decide that such disciplines are for the more 'saintly'.

But just think....if Joseph had not cultivated that part of himself, would Jesus have been killed with all the other boy babies in that great slaughter? Our risking our clumsiness and keeping with our commitment to listening and following may have far reaching effects beyond what we ever may know.

The second thing is about Herod. Corrupt power always reacts in fear. It's afraid of being deposed. It's afraid of not being in control. And its fear often leads to violence of one sort or another. Careers are crushed. People are killed.

Jesus told us that we needed to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves." I think part of that has to do with being able to spot the fearful violence of corrupt power and to respond to it with a wisdom rooted in the kind of listening and obedience that were exemplified by Joseph and the magi. This may well be one of the big lessons for us today from this Epiphany season.

By the way....we're starting a new Bible Study/Discussion Group. We'll meet at the church on Monday nights at 7:00 p.m. We'll do any talking folks want to do about Sunday's sermon; and then we'll look together at the scriptures for the upcoming worship service. Out of this dialogue will come a lot of material for the next sermon. I'm really excited about this. I've done it in another setting and it wound up being-both for me and for the other participants-a tremendous growing experience. I hope you'll join us if you're able. Even if you don't normally worship with us, or you go to another church on Sundays, please feel free to come be part of this discussion.

Happy New Year to all.
Hope to see you on Sunday.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The First Sunday After Christmas

This week's scriptures are: Isaiah 44: 1-8 and Matthew 1: 1-11

A short week back a work for many of us.
The space beneath the tree is empty; or filled with opened presents from yesterday.
I hope it was a good day for you.

The Christmas Eve service went well.
We missed Joann and Jolly Davis a lot; and our prayers are with Jolly and his family in the loss of his mother, Ellen Davis. Her funeral will be on Wednesday in Columbia, S.C.

Christmas Eve we talked about how God had come to us in such a fragile, vulnerable condition. God trusted humankind with God's own self in the form of a baby. What an incredible trust. And, as we also talked about, Jesus continues to trust us with the care of the vulnerable in our world-making our response to them the criteria in his description of the final judgment.

Howard Thurman said it well in his poem:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fourth Sunday of Advent

This week's scriptures are: Matthew 1: 18-25 and Luke 1: 26-38.

This week will be crazy for many of us as we finish up shopping, plan trips to family (or clean for their visit to us), and respond to the social invitations of the season.

If you have a moment to pause, give some thought to the Huge amount of trust that Joseph and Mary had to exhibit for the Christmas event to take place. I've often wondered if the angel Gabriel had to go to many young women with the invitation to be the mother of God's Chosen One before he found Mary's "behold the handmaiden of the Lord."

And poor Joseph. What must he have thought. His unwillingness to shame spite of what it looked like had happened...represents a remarkable level of compassion. How many of us would be able to respond that way?

Few, if any, of us will be asked by God to usher in new ages of God's Kingdom. But we ARE being asked, on a daily basis, to participate in its growth. Even when sending the Messiah God needed human help. Now, today, God continues to ask us to be the Body of Christ; giving flesh and blood to God's love in the here and now.

On Christmas God's vulnerability was shown by God's willingness to become one of us, to be born: tiny, fragile, open to all the physical and emotional turmoil that make up being human. God continues that vulnerability in making you and me the way in which God shows His love in the world today. Are we as available as Mary? As trusting as Joseph? Are our eyes open to the new thing God might me trying to do in our world through us?

I hope to see you Sunday. The kids will be presenting the Christmas story as part of our worship. And there will be a Christmas Eve service on Monday evening. It would be great if you could join us for one or both of these.

May the celebration of the birth of Jesus be a time for you to pause, ponder, and be embraced by the Love of our creator.

Merry Christmas,

Monday, December 10, 2007

Third Sunday of Advent

This week's scriptures are Isaiah 35: 3-10 and Matthew 11: 2-15

You have to admire John the Baptist's courage in this story from Matthew...and Matthew's courage in including it his gospel. It's the place where this fierce, 'take no prisoner's' preacher is at his most human for us: this place where he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the One, or do we look for someone else?"

John is in prison. When he condemned Herod for having divorced his first wife so that he could marry Herodius, the wife of his brother (by the way, it's probable that Herod's brother Phillip was dead at the time) .... well that was just too much. Herod could deal with John being out there in the wilderness calling the common folk to repentence; and even going off on the scribes and Pharisees. But whenever you turn the call of judgement and the demand for repentance on the politically powerful you can expect them to respond forcefully (for a modern example of this; look at the U.S. government's investigation of Alliance of Baptists for traveling to Cuba).

I don't think that John the Baptist had any illusions about what was going to happen to him. Sooner or later Herod was going to get around to having him killed. And he's getting news of what Jesus is doing. Here are some of the things that, according to Matthew's gospel, John might have heard about that caused him to think about this:

Jesus'teaching is different from his own 'get tough' approach; Jesus touches a leper and heals him; Jesus also heals the servant of a Roman centurion and a demoniac in the country of the Gadarenes-so upsettings the economic life there that they beg him to leave; and finally, Jesus socializes with tax collectors and sinners, claiming that "It isn't the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. These are the very people (some of them) that John had called a "brood of vipers".

What's it like to come to the place where you can see the end of your life, and wonder whether you were right about where you committed energy-your very being? John is going to die. He knows he's going to die. He's going to die specifically because of his commitment to a vision of the Messiah, and he's wondering about whether Jesus is who he thought he was.

We're going to talk about Jesus' answer on Sunday. And sooner or later, we're going to look at each of the situations described above that might have given John reason to ask his question.

But for right now, I want to stay with the fact that even this giant of faith had to stop and ask himself whether his life had been spent for the right One; had been dedicated to the right vision. It is not a lack of faith that calls us to ask that question; it is wisdom, and a desire to know that the One we follow and the vision we've committed ourself to is worth living and dying for. The tragedy is when we don't ask the question.

See you Sunday.



Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Second Sunday of Advent

This week's scriptures are Psalm 72: 1-7 and Matthew 3: 1-12

Peace and Justice are important themes for the Gospel writers. They are also important themes for the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures that Matthew would be familiar with as he tried to demonstate that in Jesus the Kingdom of God had come-the Messiah had arrived. A lot of the writing of the O.T. prophets was, in part, their telling Israel that they did not have Peace because they had not pursued Justice.....meaning that their ignoring the needs of the poor and their amassing wealth at the expense of the needy had earned God's anger.

John the Baptist focused on these same issues in his preaching. Mark and Luke, along with Matthew paint an impressive picture of this wilderness prophet whose preaching clearly "took no prisoners." He drew a crowd and he knew how to "whoop" (as they used to say). And when asked what they needed to do, he answered them with the commandments of justice (see Lk. 3: 13-14).

And it's exactly this impressiveness that Matthew is attempting to deal with (at least in part) here, and also later in the description of Jesus' baptism. Because there were those who wondered whether or not John the Baptist was, in fact, the Christ-the promised Messiah.

I sometimes think that the reason many of them asked this question had to do with John's forcefulness, his willingness to stand apart and point a finger at those who were doing wrong. The idea of a God of Wrath fit well into John's preaching. And Jesus....well, Jesus .... Jesus was different. In Jesus we have the perfect blending of the way of life pointed to in Micah 6:8 "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." Love mercy, that was the difference. I think that made people wonder....Jesus loved mercy. So they wondered if he was really tough enough to be the messiah.

Lots of folks still ask the same question . Oh, they say it in different ways, but it's the same question none the less....."I guess this 'love your enemies stuff is okay for the neighbor who's dog barks too loud; but what about the terrorist, and the rapist, and the murderer? What about the Enron executive and the people who trade in human beings? There's got to be a different scale for them, doesn't there?" Regardless of where we fall on the theological or political spectrum, all of us have somebody that we're not sure should be allowed under the 'mercy umbrella.'

Is Jesus tough enough to really be the Messiah? Matthew was trying to answer that question, in part for his world. Is Jesus tough enough to deal with our world? That's the question that each of us has to answer for answer and then follow.

See you Sunday.