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December 13, 2015, 9:33 AM

Give More?


Philippians 4:4-7, NRSV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
 
Luke 3:7-18, CEB             
Then John said to the crowds who came to be baptized by him, “You children of snakes! Who warned you to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon? Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives. And don’t even think about saying to yourselves, Abraham is our father. I tell you that God is able to raise up Abraham’s children from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire.”
10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
11 He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”
12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. They said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to collect.”
14 Soldiers asked, “What about us? What should we do?”
He answered, “Don’t cheat or harass anyone, and be satisfied with your pay.”
15 The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. 16 John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 The shovel he uses to sift the wheat from the husks is in his hands. He will clean out his threshing area and bring the wheat into his barn. But he will burn the husks with a fire that can’t be put out.” 18 With many other words John appealed to them, proclaiming good news to the people.
 
“Give More?”
 
Earlier in the fall I discovered the Advent Conspiracy materials and was excited to make this our Advent journey this year.  However, I have to confess, as I began preparing for this Sunday, I was less excited by the theme of “Give More.” Give more? We had an awesome Stewardship campaign this year, with a wonderful response from the congregation. But haven’t really said enough for the time being on giving? And this close the Christmas, with all the activities of the season upon us, with shopping and parties and concerts and events…do we have any more to give? Is it fair to ask us to give more so close to Christmas?
 
And to compound this theme of giving more, we have John the Baptist in our midst.  What a juxtaposition of scriptures for today! First Philippians—“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, Rejoice!... And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will be with you.” “You children of snakes!” answers John. “Who told you to escape the coming judgment?!” Whew! And can’t you just picture John? I think he is the most visual of the characters we experience as we journey toward Christmas.  There he stands, on the banks of the Jordan, in the middle of nowhere. Dressed in camel fur, belt around the waist. A Nazarene—a religious order—that doesn’t cut hair or shave—so he has that long wild hair and beard, whipping about in the wind. Fists clenched, eyes a little wild, shouting across the coming crowd, “You brood of vipers!” Not the best way to start a sermon.
 
It is the third Sunday of Advent—Joy Sunday. Christmas is a week and a half away. Carols are in the air. We are getting a little tired from the busy schedule. Do we really have to spend time with this hairy, shouting prophet? Yes! O Joy!
 
John is wild, and harsh, and fanatical. He has come to shake people up, to shake them out of their complacency. The Lord is coming! Time to change your hearts and lives! And don’t think you can just lay back on the knowledge that you are a child of Abraham and therefore automatically ‘in’ with the covenant! No covenant living…not part of the covenant. This statement would have stunned and horrified the crowds. The covenant is the rock of their existence. They have been taught since childhood—you are a child of Abraham, a child of the eternal covenant. John insists that this is not the case. If they aren’t living the way the covenant calls them to, they are not in the covenant. It doesn’t matter that they are descended from Abraham.  Their response is absolutely natural—“What?!?! I’m not automatically part of the covenant?!?! Then what should I do!!!!!????”
 
What do you think they expected John’s answer to be? Were they quaking in their sandals? Thought he might make them walk through fire or some such thing? How much more amazing the answer!
 
“What should we do?” cries the crowd. Answer #1—Share what you have. Do you have two shirts? Then give one to someone who doesn’t have a shirt. Do you have food? Share with someone who does not. Share what you have. “What should we do?” cry the tax collector. Answer #2—Don’t take what isn’t yours. Only charge what you are authorized to charge. Be honest with your neighbors. Don’t take what isn’t yours. “What should we do?” cry the soldiers. Answer #3—Be honest as well. Be content with what you have. Wow! These are clear, simple, doable answers.
  1. Share what you have
  2. Don’t take what isn’t yours
  3. Be honest
  4. Be content with what you have.
This is fruitful living, covenant living, God’s way of living. Simple and to the point—what we learned in kindergarten. So why does God have to keep reminding us?
 
In these four Sundays of Advent, God reminds us because we do forget. We get bogged down in the weight of the world. We become overwhelmed, busy. We wrestle with such strong emotions through the holiday season. And we forget that we have an abundance to give that fills us up, does not empty us out. The Sundays of Advent reflect what we have to give. The first Sunday reminds us that we are a people of hope. What gift for a world filled with fear! We live in the hope of God’s commonwealth coming among us. We dwell in the hope of God’s image shining more brightly within us. We carry this hope everywhere we go in the world, giving it generously, and seeing it spread and grow.
 
The second Sunday of Advent reminds us that we are a people of peace. God’s peace, which passes all understanding, a peace that is grounded in justice. We carry this peace with justice into the world and speak up for the overlooked and unheard, we lift up the lowly as Mary’s song insists. And as we share that peace, it too spreads and grows. The third Sunday of Advent reminds us of joy—joy that thrives even in these dark days. Our joy is grounded in the sure knowledge that we are beloved of God, that we are kingdom citizens, that we live in the light of eternity. We share such joy with all the people we meet and watch it spread infectiously.
 
And finally, next Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent, reminds us that we are people of love. Not just that wonderful emotion, love, but that action verb. Love calls us to embody John’s call each and every day—Share what we have, don’t take what isn’t ours, be honest, be content with what we have. Love—acts of compassion, comfort, service.
 
Advent, the start of a new church year, reminds us that we live on the other side of that baptism John warns of. We have entered the waters of baptism and been washed by grace. We have been kissed by the holy fire of the Spirit and carry that spark within us. Jesus is continually burning away that chaff within us so that we can be pure grain.
 
The Sunday of Joy reminds us to bear fruit—share what we have, don’t take what isn’t ours, be honest, be content with what we have. So simple. Covenant living. Let us go forth today recklessly and generously sharing hope, peace, joy, and love…and shining brightly with the flame of Christ! Amen!



December 6, 2015, 9:27 AM

Prepare!


Malachi 3:1-4, CEB, revised
Look, I am sending my messenger who will clear the path before me;
        suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to God’s temple.
        The messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight is coming,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
Who can endure the day of the Lord’s coming?
        Who can withstand the Lord’s appearance?
The Lord is like the refiner’s fire or the cleaner’s soap.
The Lord will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver.
        The Lord will purify the Levites
            and refine them like gold and silver.
            They will belong to the Lord,
                presenting a righteous offering.
The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord
        as in ancient days and in former years.
I will draw near to you for judgment.
I will be quick to testify against the sorcerers,
    the adulterers, those swearing falsely,
        against those who cheat the day laborers out of their wages
        as well as oppress the widow and the orphan,
            and against those who brush aside the foreigner and do not revere me,
says the Lord of heavenly forces.
I am the Lord, and I do not change;
        and you, children of Jacob, have not perished.
 
Luke 3:1-6, CEB                
 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way for the Lord;
        make the Lord’s paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
    and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
    and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.
 
“Prepare!”
In the 7th year of Barack Obama’s presidency, while Mario Cuomo was governor of New York State, and Tom Wolf was governor of Pennsylvania, and Chris Christy was governor of New Jersey. During the papacy of Francis in Rome, God’s word came! It was the Word everyone had been longing for, generation upon generation. It was the Word that would change everything! It was the Word of God’s arrival among us. It was the Word of God’s Reign, Commonwealth, Kingdom coming upon us…Finally! That all-powerful word came to…Margaret Parish walking her Doug, Phil Young in his art studio, Lorrie Wolverton weeding her flowerbeds. That all-powerful word came to…Joyce Miller busily working at First UMC, Randy Wilson picking up his children, Robyn Jerauld working on her farm.  That all-powerful word came to…Mike DePauw conducting the high school band, Wendy Loucks busily shuttling children to activities, Leslie Kintner counseling college students. Prepare the way! It’s time! Change your heart! Change your life! Turn around! Turn toward God!
 
Oh, Luke knows how to tell this story! He lists all the powerful names, all the obvious players, all those who seek to convince the world that they are the game changers. And he exposes them as the supporters of the status quo that they are. And while he does that on one hand, he lifts up the lowly with the other. It is Mary’s song coming to life among us. Luke forces us to ask, “Where is God breaking into this world?” Not in Rome, not in Pilate’s main palace in Caesarea Philippi, not in Ituraea or Abilene. Not even in the Temple in Jerusalem! Certainly not in Washington DC, or Albany, or Harrisburg. Not even the Vatican or St. Peter’s Cathedral. Who is leading the way? Not Tiberius, not Pilate, not Herod, not even Anna or Caiaphas. It is John the Baptist…wild hairy prophet preaching in the middle of nowhere. Son of two nobodies who lived on the fringes of Temple society. Where is the pulse of transformation and change? Right here (take your pulse), beating in the hearts of God’s ordinary, extraordinary people!
 
And what does this Word speak to us, demand of us? Prepare! Straighten the twisted paths. Fill the dark valleys. Bring down the hills and mountains. Smooth out the rough places. Create even ground. For whom? Everyone! All humanity shall see the salvation of God! ALL! Everyone! On level, even ground! Everyone! Republicans and Democrats! Together! Liberals and Conservatives and everything in between! No one is left in the dark valleys. All humanity will see God’s salvation! This was the word Isaiah spoke to an exiled, lost and desperate people…Prepare! This was the word John yelled across the crowds who flocked to the wilderness longing for restoration…Prepare! This is the word God places upon us in this season of waiting and anticipation, not a passive waiting…Prepare!
 
It is so easy in our culture to set our eyes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and just fly over Advent. The stores have been blaring and blasting Christmas since Halloween! And I must confess, with the horrible events in our world over the past several weeks and months, it is tempting to set my eyes on Christmas Eve when we turn off the lights and pass that flame of Christ among us, and sing “Silent Night, Holy Night.” But if we do that, if we breeze past Advent to focus on Christmas Eve, the manger will be empty for us. We must journey through Advent to Christmas in the footsteps of Elizabeth and Zechariah, in the footsteps of that wild John the Baptizer, in the footsteps of Mary and Joseph, and that Jesus we hope to find there. We must journey in the footsteps of the prophets who worked so hard to prepare the way.
 
Advent calls us to prepare! Not by spending all of ourselves on decorations, shopping, parties, concerts, and events. Those are great things, wonderful things, but if we spend everything there we are not prepared for the true meaning of this season. We must spend ourselves also in preparing for God’s way coming among us, and first we do that by naming the paths and places we must make even and level. God has already given us the generalities, time in again across scripture, like in the Malachi reading: widows and orphans, foreigners pushed aside. Or from Matthew 25, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, sick and imprisoned, the stranger. It is our job to name and recognize the details that create these situations in our time. And we can name them.  Violence is creating widows and orphans in huge numbers, and then taking their lives as well—in shootings across our nation, in the Middle East, the Sudan. Millions are wandering and displaced—foreigners and strangers in desperate need. Food vacuums exist in our own cities where people can find good, nutritious food; and right here in Oneonta many wouldn’t make it week to week without the hot meal programs and food pantries.  Water is contaminated and causing sickness around the world.
 
And once we have named them, we prepare by acting! We stand together and stand up to those things creating the widows and orphans, and victimizing them. We work together to tear down the systems that leave people jobless, homeless, without adequate food or clean water, without access to health care and education! We act in concrete ways to transform those crooked paths and dark valleys into level ground!
 
Where are you called? What situations reach through the newspapers, news shows, iPad apps and grab your heart? That is your call to prepare! That is your invitation to be at work! That is our call to spend less on the things that keep the status quo, and to truly invest ourselves on preparing God’s way breaking in among us. That is our call to create level ground, so that ALL humanity will witness God’s salvation!
 
So on Tuesday, December 8 at 7:00 pm, let us gather in the Art Room downstairs…to Prepare! To act! No committee, planned action. If you can’t make it, let me know that you want to be part of the action. Let me know where you heart calls you to prepare God’s way. Together we can make the paths straight.
 
Let us pray…The Blessing for Advent by Jan Richardson:
PREPARE
Strange how one word
will so hollow you out.
But this word
has been in the wilderness
for months.
Years.
 
This word is what remained
after everything else
was worn away
by sand and stone.
It is what withstood
the glaring of the sun by day,
the weeping loneliness of
the moon at night.
 
Now it comes to you
racing out of the wild,
eyes blazing
and waving its arms,
its voice ragged with desert
but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself
again and again:
 
Prepare, Prepare.
 
It may feel like
the word is leveling you,
emptying you
as it asks you
to give up
what you have known.
It is impolite
and hardly tame,
but when it falls
upon your lips
you will wonder
at the sweetness,
 
like honey
that finds its way
into the hunger
you had not known
was there.
Amen.



December 2, 2015, 9:26 AM

Worship Fully


Jeremiah 33:14-16, CEB
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
 
Luke 21:25-36, The Message
25-26 “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.
27-28 “And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”
29-33 He told them a story. “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here. Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.
34-36 “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”
 
“Worship Fully”
Jeremiah was a…prophet (not a bullfrog), and he didn’t have any really good friends, not really any friends at all. Prophets were not popular people.  Jeremiah was called to be a prophet when he was just a boy, just a youth, and he wasn’t terribly thrilled to be called. He knew what being a prophet of God could entail.  Jeremiah spent most of his life as the ‘doom and gloom sayer’ of the Judean kingdom. God spoke through Jeremiah to the rulers of Judah, the temple leadership, the people of God, calling them to return to living God’s way. Through Jeremiah, God warned that the path the people were traveling led to doom and destruction. Needless to say, Jeremiah wasn’t invited to many parties, didn’t travel in social circles. When he showed up at the palace with his words of doom, he more often found himself in prison.
 
But those were not the words we heard from Jeremiah today. Our reading today is from the end of the book of Jeremiah, chapter 33. Here the prophet speaks not of doom and gloom, but of hope and promise. Here the prophet’s words, gifted by God, are of restoration and redemption. Why the change? Because all is lost. Four hundred years of David rule is over. Solomon’s glorious temple is destroyed. Holy Jerusalem is in ruins. God’s chosen people are massacred in the streets or carried away into slavery. They did not heed the words of warning, the call to turn back to God, and now they are lost, but God has not given up on God’s people. The people’s needs have changed and so God’s word has as well. In the face of violence and destruction, devastation and despair, God promises hope.
 
Hope… Believe it or not, hope is what apocalyptic literature is all about. Hope. The apocalyptic style of writing arose, such as the book of Daniel, about 300 years before Jesus. A new force swept over the known world, a new empire—led by Alexander the Great. Along with a new ruler, a new empire, Alexander brought something more, a culture that sought to seduce and supplant existing cultures. The Greek culture sought to unite the empire in similar living and values, along with the same emperor and government. It was a time of great fear and uncertainty for the conquered nations. Violence and darkness abounded. Apocalyptic scripture gave voice to this darkness, acknowledged the fear and doubt of the people, and then juxtaposed it with words of hope and promise and light. Apocalyptic texts proclaimed that thought the darkness was oppressive and foreboding, God’s future of peace, security, abundance and love was still the ultimate word, and would have the last say. The people of God were called to be a people who embodied God’s hope together in the face of such darkness.
 
Look at Luke’s telling of Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching in today’s reading. Sun and moon and stars and earth and seas in an uproar. Nations in chaos. The whole universe feels like it is falling apart. Everyone experiences these things. It is not a word just for some future, but a word for right now. Our world has certainly felt that way recently, like even the moon and stars shudder in the skies in the face of such violence and loss. Jesus asks his followers, asks us, in the face of such fear and darkness, how will you, how will we as a community, live? Will we give in to fear? Will we become distracted by worldly things, pleasures and worries? Or will we stand tall, with our heads held high? Will we together be alert and watchful? Will we embody faith and compassion?
 
If we choose to be examples of God’s beloved community in the face of darkness and fear, there is only one way to stand firm, and to remain standing until Jesus is literally among us…Worship; the opposing force to darkness. The book of Revelation, the ultimate apocalyptic scripture, boldly proclaims worship as the response to devastation. The dark and disturbing images of loss and violence in Revelation are contrasted and overcome by high points of heavenly worship, gathered about the throne of God. When the darkness seems to be winning, the scripture shifts and suddenly we find ourselves before the glorious throne of the almighty singing with the heavenly host, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might.” Worship is the cure for fear and despair.
 
Where do you find hope in worship? When we gather on a Sunday, do you find hope here? Do you experience assurance? Strength? Are you nourished by love? Do you leave here filled with that hope that is Jesus Christ, to guide you through the week? Where does worship continue outside this time and space? Small groups? Family time? Personal devotions? A life lived in worship?
 
Though it may seem contrary at times, to begin the countdown to Christmas with such apocalyptic scriptures, this year, with the headlines we have experienced, the events of our world, we are in deep need of these messages of hope and promise. It is right to begin a new church year grounded in hope through worship, in our gathered community, and during the week in our lives and in our living. Though sun, moon, stars, earth, and seas are in an uproar; though nations are in chaos; though the powers-that-be quake with fear; we stand tall, heads held high. Fear will not make us forget who and whose we are. Fear will not cause us to see others as our enemies. Fear will not make us put our own safety ahead of the needs of others. Fear will not cause us to betray our cherished values as followers of Jesus. We will be a people of hope!
 
The hope candle (first candle of Advent) is lit among us. The candle of hope is lit within us. This Advent season we will worship fully—together in our Sunday gatherings, during the week with our families and in small groups, in our private times of daily devotion, and in the way we live our lives every day. This year we join the Advent Conspiracy, and conspire to spread hope wherever we go. Amen!



November 22, 2015, 1:16 PM

Whose Kingdom Are We Building?


 
Revelation 1:4b-8, CEB
Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before God’s throne, and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and always. Amen.
Look, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye will see him, including those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. This is so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty.”
 
John 18:33-37, CEB
33 Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”
35 Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”
37 “So you are a king?” Pilate said.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”
 
“Whose Kingdom Are We Building?”
 
How many of you remember the 1981 award winning film Chariots of Fire? (show of hands) How many of you actually saw it, or most of it? (show of hands) For most who know of the movie, this is what we remember (movie clip). Chariots of Fire is based on the true story of two athletes from the United Kingdom competing in the 1924 summer Olympics in Paris, France—both sprinters. Harold Abraham is a young Jewish man attending Cambridge University. In the movie, we witness his struggles against anti-Jewish sentiments and divisive classism to race and succeed in his education. The other main character in the movie is Eric Liddell, a Scottish missionary recently returned from his work in China in order to train and compete in the games.
 
As Liddell boards the boat to cross the English Channel into France, he learns that his qualifying race at the Olympics, for the 100 meter sprint, is being held on Sunday. Liddell holds very strong views about what can and cannot occur on the Sabbath and suddenly realizes that to be true to his faith, his beliefs, he cannot run in the event he has been training for years to run. He suddenly must choose between adherence to his faith and loyalty to his country. In this clip he is speaking with Prince Edward, prince of Wales, as he shares his beliefs with his monarch. (movie clip, minute 2:20) In the end, despite strong pressure from the prince and others, Liddell chooses not to run, chooses following his beliefs over representing his country.
 
I am sure that many who watch Chariots of Fire were relieved they have never found themselves in such a position, but perhaps they, and we, don’t realize that we are in that same position every day. Daily we must choose between living God’s commonwealth in our lives or giving in to the world’s way of living. Today is Christ the King Sunday, or Reign/Rule of Christ Sunday. We 21st century Christians are often very uncomfortable with this day and this language. We don’t have kings or kingdoms. Very few places in the world operate that way. Most of the royalty we are aware of are now figureheads in their nations. We are a people of freedom, democracy, equality, community. We are living in the 21st century and long for a culture where men and women are equals, where hierarchy and patriarchy are passing away. And yet, we end our church calendar every year with this Sunday that speaks of kingship and rule. What are we supposed to do with that?
 
We are, of course, right to be uncomfortable with hierarchy and patriarchy in this day and age. Early church leaders chose this king and kingdom language to contrast Jesus’ realm with earthly kingdoms, and to lift up the vast differences. However, I argue that we are uncomfortable with this Sunday for a deeper reason than kingly language. We are uncomfortable with the purpose of this Sunday, which is to acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord, the one who ultimately rules our lives. This Sunday sits right here, on the cusp of Advent, on the edge of the hectic holiday onslaught, and demands we answer a critical question: Where does our true citizenship lie, in this world or in God’s realm?
 
The lectionary scholars have gifted us today with a gospel reading that is but a small segment of a much larger and longer encounter between Jesus and Pilate. If we read this encounter in its entirety, we see that Pilate isn’t really interested in Jesus and the conflict between him and the religious leaders. But, when it becomes apparent that the Temple authorities are not going to let this go, Pilate uses Jesus to mock and undermine the Temple leadership. Pilate is a man of the empire of Rome, he understands politics. He understands kingship. Pilate sets Jesus up as king over and against the Temple leaders and tricks them into confessing Caesar as their king on the eve of the Passover where the Jewish people confess God as their king. Pilate dresses Jesus in a purple robe, crowns him with thorns, beats him, and displays him to his people—“Here is your king! What would you have me do with him?” The leaders reply, “Crucify him!” To which Pilate responds, “You want me to crucify your king?” The Temple leadership fall into Pilate’s trap, “We have no king but Caesar!” Pilate nails a sign above Jesus’ head on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” He believes he has displayed the weakness of this Jewish would-be king, when actually he has helped establish Jesus as ruler of a kingdom that is unlike any other.
 
Jesus as king embraces the crown of thorns because he isn’t about hierarchy and dominance. Jesus as king embraces the cross as his throne because his realm is about grace and forgiveness and love. Jesus as king creates a realm of abundant and everlasting life, a realm without borders or boundaries. Jesus’ commonwealth is built within the hearts of those who follow him, and springs up wherever those followers live out that commonwealth with their lives. Jesus as king serves first as a witness to God’s truth, the faithful witness as Revelation proclaimed, a witness to the truth that God’s way is breaking into the world.
 
Jesus’ witness stands before us today, on Christ the King, Rule of Christ Sunday. And this witness asks us—whose kingdom are we building? Because each moment, every day, we are contributing to one kingdom or another. The choices we make, the priorities we set, the places where we invest ourselves are either building up God’s kingdom or are strengthening the world’s kingdoms. In how we use our time, our talents, our resources, our energy, and our focus we contribute toward a way of life and we proclaim with our lives where our priorities lie.
 
We are about to enter a brand new year in the life of the church. Next Sunday marks the beginning of a new church year with the start of Advent, and our anticipation of the coming of the Christ Child. Whose kingdom will we be building in the coming weeks? Will we contribute to the kingdom of consumerism? The kingdom of busy-ness? The kingdom of schedules? Or can we choose another way, and build God’s commonwealth around us, shining the true light of Christ over against the glare of holiday decorations? Whose kingdom will we build this year?
 
In the light of international attention, Eric Liddell proclaimed Jesus Christ and his commonwealth. As the world stood stunned at Liddell’s refusal to race, he used that moment to speak of our race of faith, our life with God. It might not be the whole world watching us, but we are being watched, others do look to us as examples. What will they see? The world? Or the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Let us close with Liddell’s words. (movie clip, minute 1:13)



November 17, 2015, 1:13 PM

Shine!


Mark 13:1-8, CEB
As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”
Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?”
Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many people will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ They will deceive many people. When you hear of wars and reports of wars, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places. These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.
 
“Shine!”
 
I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but it was early in my appointment here at First UMC Oneonta. Todd Loucks and I were meeting with the confirmation class to plan the big Pentecost-Confirmation Service. The class had been preparing for this big moment of commitment and promise. We had been talking about baptism and symbolic actions, and now were working with the class to add some personal touches to the service. So we asked them, “What would you like to have in the service?” They instantly answered, “A fog machine!” Of course. Todd and I laughed, and then we realized they were serious. “Look,” I said, “There is no theological justification for a fog machine in the worship service.” Never ask teenagers who are completing two years of theological education and reflection to theologically justify something. One of the youth immediately responded. They were about to make this huge commitment, to accept Christ and commit themselves to the church. They were moving from the ‘fog of uncertainty,’ ‘the fog of doubt,’ ‘the fog of the world’s way of living,’ and they were moving into the clarity and light of Christ. As a sign of that movement and commitment, they were enter the sanctuary from the fog of the Narthex, and into the spotlight of Christ, and walk down the aisle to the waters of Baptism. Amen! And now, our tradition is a fog machine in the Narthex and spotlights at the entrance of the Sanctuary.
 
Maybe we should do that as a congregation on Baptism of the Lord Sunday, the second Sunday in January, as we reaffirm our baptism for the new year?
 
These last few Sundays we have been spending time with Jesus and his followers in Jerusalem during the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And during these last days Jesus is trying desperately t0 pull his followers out of the fog and into the light. The disciples, from the rural regions of Galilee, are awestruck by the wonder of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. Their vision is clouded by the majesty of it all and they cannot see the new thing God is doing in Jesus Christ. They arrived in Jerusalem with all the excitement we celebrate every Palm Sunday, and upset the temple powers. The next day they journeyed to that Temple where Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and dove sellers, and upset the temple powers. Now they have spent the day at the temple where those powers have tested Jesus, questioned his authority, and challenged his interpretation of the Law. Each time Jesus turned their testing around and shone light on the corruption of the temple leadership. Just moments ago they encountered the destitute widow, victimized by the corruption of the temple, nonetheless putting all she had in the temple treasury, and Jesus lectured them on the behavior of the scribes, only seeking power and honor and privilege.
 
Jesus leads them outside, to one of the temple gates, where a disciple pipes up, in today’s reading, “Wow, Teacher! Look at these stones and these buildings! They are awesome!” Our initial reaction is to question the intelligence and hearing ability of these followers. Perhaps we don’t understand how completely impressive this temple was. The temple complex covered eight football fields. Its outer walls were approximately 15 stories high. Some of those stones were the size of my office. The temple itself was made of white marble and gold, and when the sun hit it, it was literally blinding. And this is the temple of God, where the very presence of God dwelt in the holy of holies. The temple itself wasn’t bad, its leadership was the problem.
 
But Jesus also needs his disciples to see beyond the glory of the temple. The temple was made by human hands, and it was finite. It would not last. In fact, as Mark was putting these teachings of Jesus to scroll, the temple was destroyed, or about to be. Jesus needs his followers to invest themselves in what God had sent Jesus to do, to build the commonwealth of God in the hearts of God’s people. Jesus needs these disciples to move out of their fog of wonder and awe of a building, and into the light of what God was doing in Christ Jesus.
 
Jesus certainly gains their attention. Standing in a gateway to the temple, most certainly with those temple powers tailing them to see what Jesus would get up to next, Jesus exclaims as crowds move past, “Do you see this enormous building? Not one stone will be left standing on another! All will be demolished!” Whoa! Blasphemy and sedition all in one fell swoop. It would be like someone entering the White House in Washington DC for a tour and saying, “Do you see this building! It is going to be razed to the ground! Boom!” Secret Services might want to have a word. I imagine that is why the four disciples wait until they have left Jerusalem and are on the Mount of Olives before they ask any questions.
 
What follows their questions about when and signs is the longest teaching from Jesus in the Book of Mark. Jesus, throughout, repeatedly calls the disciples to watch, to be alert, to take head. He warns about that insidious fog that will seek many ways to deceive them. It seems, at this moment, that Jesus has their undivided attention, that Jesus has pulled them out of that fog and a bit of light is glimmering in their eyes. But he can see that shining temple across the valley, and he is well aware of how the world seeks to lull people into complacency. He knows that the world urges people to place too great a value on things that are not God, even good things.
 
Jesus starts naming things that happen all too often in the world, things that have broken our hearts this week. Jesus starts naming things that rattle us, shake our foundations, and often make us want to huddle in the fog; fearful, angry, grieving. War…rumors of war. Nations fighting against nations. Earthquakes and famine. These things make us long to huddle in the familiar, turn our eyes inward to where we think it is safe, wrap ourselves in the fog of helplessness and hopelessness and despair. So first, Jesus assures his followers and us that these things are never the end, never the last word. Terrorists and bombings and loss and devastation do not get the final say. God is our Alpha and Omega, our Beginning and End. God’s final word is Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.
 
Second, Jesus takes these events that are going to happen, violence and disaster, and uses them as a wake up call for Jesus’ followers. When we witness these things happening, we spring into action. We move into the fog as beacons of Christ’s light of grace and dispels that dark fog, make it fade away. We embody the cross and the empty tomb and walk boldly into the chaos, sharing comfort and hope.
 
It has been a horribly foggy week, so many are still in shock over the amount of devastation and loss. Many right here around us are lost in the fog of anger and fear, loss and despair, and a sense of helplessness in the face of such violence. We are entering a very foggy season. The holidays are upon us. And there is such pressure to make this year’s celebrations bigger and better and brighter than last year’s celebrations. The world seeks to wrap us in fog, cloud our minds with the activities of the season, until we find ourselves worshiping the beautiful gifts God has given us instead of the Giver. But we can commit ourselves now to modeling another way, to shining the light of the Christ Child through the fog of Christmas decorations and flashy displays. There are so many people in the fog right now—struggling to move past the violence of this week, lost in the clouds of loneliness—grieving, depressed, stressed, ill, exploited, forgotten. They yearn for the light we carry within us.
 
Nations are clashing. Violence looms large. Disaster is striking for too many. Jesus calls us to action—watch, be alert, take heed! Jesus calls us to shine! Though we may not be able to do it today, literally, in our mind’s eye we take our place with the confirmands in the fog, and with boldness we step into the light of Christ…and we shine!

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